10/31/12 By Derek Stoffel

In Syria's largest city, people are afraid to gaze into the sky.

Syria's air force has hammered Aleppo for the last three months. MiG fighter jets fire rockets. Helicopters dump barrels of explosives. And it's those residents who have tried to remain who are caught in the middle.

"My house was destroyed by an explosion," said Mohammad Kanazavah, who lives in central Aleppo. "I was very afraid."

Kanazavah's 13-year-old niece was killed in the attack, and his wife suffered severe injuries and remains in a local hospital. And there is no doubt in his mind who is at fault: the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

A CBC News team has just returned after several days in Aleppo province, near Syria's northern border with Turkey.

It is a region that became engulfed in the now 19-month uprising later than others. But it has recently seen some of the most severe violence.

Everywhere you turn in Aleppo, the scars of a brutal war pitting rebel fighters against government soldiers are evident.

Entire streets are littered with concrete blocks and rubble caused by mortar or rocket attacks. Walls are pockmarked, often from indiscriminate sniper fire.

A truce negotiated recently by the UN envoy slowed the fighting somewhat, but shelling and shooting continued in Aleppo.

"Every day, we face this," said Khaled Hafagi, referring to the near-constant bombardment of his city. "It is now normal for us to see bombs and explosions coming from the sky."

Hafagi's house was hit a month ago, leaving a large hole in his bedroom wall.

He sent his wife and children into the countryside, where it is safer. But he remains at home, like most in the city, not working because of the conflict.

Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world, has seen much of its history destroyed by the violence.

Parts of the Old City have been reduced to rubble. The city's covered souk, its historic market, burned as the two sides fought pitched battles last month. Two weeks later, its landmark Umayyad Mosque, a UN World Heritage Site, was also totally destroyed in the fighting.

But some residents are doing whatever they can to restore a sense of normalcy amid the chaos of what is now a war zone.

An elderly man named Abed now spends his days sweeping up dirt and broken glass from the streets in the city centre.

And a group of men associated with the Free Syrian Army are organizing garbage collection, to remove mounds of rotting trash from the streets.

"The regime is trying to make life so difficult, so that the people will turn on the rebels," said Haj Omar, the man responsible for the trash collection. "I will not let that happen."

As he puts it, "Bashar al-Assad bombs, but we will rebuild."

Source: CBC
Photo: Narciso Contreras/AP
10/31/12 By Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian activists claimed on Wednesday that the government was increasingly resorting to air power to shore up beleaguered army units battling rebel fighters for strategic territories in the north.

Government forces unleashed a string of air raids across the north of the country, as well as in the suburbs of Damascus, the Syrian capital, the activists said.

In Idlib Province, in northern Syria, the air offensive intensified against the key crossroads of Maarat al-Noaman, which the rebels captured in early October. Located in the middle of the supply route between Syria’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, Maarat al-Noaman is indispensable to the Syrian government.

As the two sides wrestle to control it, activists warned that a humanitarian crisis was looming. “Most residents of this area have been displaced,” said Ahmad Kadour, a spokesman for the rebels in the area. “It’s very cold, there is no heating and the most essential nutritional supplies have completely stopped. We can’t even get bread.”

Given the random shelling, the ill-equipped first aid stations are struggling to treat wounded civilians, he said. “There is an alarming lack of medical staff, and these hospitals can’t handle serious cases such as microsurgery, head injuries and amputations,” he said, speaking via Skype.

Also in the north, activists said the military dropped barrel bombs — old storage tanks or metal cylinders packed with explosives — from a helicopter, hitting a bakery in Atareb, west of Aleppo. “I saw pieces of bodies flying in the air,” said Aboul Haytham, an activist who said he was close to the bakery when the attack took place. Many of the victims were taken to Turkey because the local hospital could not handle them, he said.

The bakery, the only one in town, served thousands of people, he said.

Army units were staging raids on rebel hide-outs in and around Aleppo, reported SANA, the official Syrian news agency, inflicting heavy losses in men and matériel.

Around Damascus, warplanes attacked the eastern Ghouta district, an agricultural belt where fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army concentrate, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a rebel organization that tracks the conflict from Britain.

Several videos posted by activists showed black clouds of smoke billowing into the sky from the town of Saqba, after warplanes purportedly bombed residential neighborhoods and factories there. The videos could not be independently verified.

“Look at this! Arabs and the rest of the world, look at this shelling, which has been taking place for 10 days straight,” a man could be heard yelling out of camera range.

The Free Syrian Army, however, insisted that the government’s ground forces had managed to advance only a few yards in the area. “Regime forces are desperately trying to regain control of eastern Ghouta,” said Abu Ghazi, an activist. Government soldiers have failed to retake the towns of Irbeen and Harasta despite subjecting them to continuous airstrikes, he said.

In the town of Zamalka, 15 residents died and many more were wounded in two air raids targeting the downtown area, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group that tracks the violence.

In a related development, several Damascus residents complained that the number of jets and helicopters hovering overhead in the past few days had been unusually high, while security measures designed to weed out members or supporters of the rebel forces have increased to the point of paralyzing commerce.

Moaz, an activist in Damascus, said government troops had erected several checkpoints outside shops and the once-crowded cafes in the commercial area of Al Bohsa, known for its concentration of electronics shops, and in adjacent neighborhoods.

“Traders are sitting outside their shops doing nothing,” he said, with owners of sidewalk cafes taking in their tables.

In another Damascus development, a bomb exploded near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine, a sacred pilgrimage shrine for Shiite Muslims that is in an eastern suburb of Damascus. Accounts of the attack by the Syrian Observatory and Ad Dounia, a private satellite channel close to the government, differed.

An explosive device planted in a motorcycle detonated near a hotel by the shrine, killing eight people and wounding many more, the observatory said. But the television report said there were two bombs, one planted in a garbage can and a second that was dismantled before it exploded. SANA said six people were killed and 13 injured in the Sayyida Zeinab attack after an “armed terrorist group” planted a bomb in a garbage bag.

Source: NY Times

Photo: Xinhua/Wang Ye

BEIJING: Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Wednesday elaborated China's new four-point proposal on a political resolution to the Syrian conflict, urging all parties in Syria to cease fire and violence and begin political transition at an early date.

Yang made the proposal during his talks with UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who is visiting China for the first time since replacing former UN chief Kofi Annan as the international mediator on Syria on Sept. 1.

To facilitate the political settlement of the Syrian issue, China proposes the following:

First, relevant parties in Syria should make every effort to stop fighting and violence, and cooperate actively with the mediation efforts of Brahimi. Relevant parties should implement effective steps toward a cease-fire, for example region by region or phase by phase, expand the areas of cease-fire, realize disengagement, and eventually bring an end to all armed conflict and violence.

Second, relevant parties in Syria should appoint empowered interlocutors as soon as possible so that, assisted by Brahimi and the international community, they can formulate through consultations a roadmap of political transition, establish a transitional governing body of broad representation, and implement political transition so as to end the Syrian crisis at an early date. To ensure a safe, stable and calm transition, the continuity and effectiveness of Syria's governmental institutions must be maintained.

Third, the international community should work with greater urgency and responsibility to fully cooperate with and support Brahimi's mediation efforts and make real progress in implementing the communique of the Geneva foreign ministers' meeting of the Action Group for Syria, Mr. Annan's six-point plan and relevant Security Council resolutions. The positive efforts of the Arab League and countries in the region in search of a political settlement should be valued.

Fourth, relevant parties should take concrete steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The international community should increase humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and ensure proper resettlement of refugees beyond the Syrian border and timely aid for those in need within Syria. The Syrian government and various parties should render full cooperation to the work of the United Nations and relevant neutral institutions to provide humanitarian assistance in all conflict-affected regions and ensure the safety of their personnel. At the same time, humanitarian issues should not be politicized and humanitarian assistance should not be militarized.

The situation in Syria is at a crucial stage, and is important to the fundamental interests of the Syrian people as well as peace and stability in the Middle East, Yang said, adding, "A political settlement is the only viable solution in Syria."

The future of the Middle Eastern country should be determined by the Syrian people themselves, and its sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity should be respected and preserved, according to Yang.

He called on relevant parties in Syria to take seriously and respond positively to the consensus reached by the international community on a peaceful settlement of the issue, launch inclusive political dialogue at an early date, and decide on the political system and development path of their country through equal, patient and extensive negotiations and consultations.

China has worked with the international community for a "just, peaceful and proper" resolution on Syria by upholding the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the basic norms governing international relations as well as peace and stability in the Middle East and the fundamental interests of the Syrian People, Yang said.

China has always supported the diplomatic mediation efforts of Brahimi and former envoy Kofi Annan, and is willing to work with the international community to make continuous efforts in this regard, Yang said.

Brahimi introduced the latest developments in Syria and his recent mediation efforts, especially his visit to the country itself and related nations. He said political resolution is the only feasible approach to the complicated and sensitive situation in Syria and all parties involved should cease fire and violence so as to create conditions for a political resolution.

Brahimi thanked China for its firm support for his mediation. He also expressed appreciation for Chinese efforts toward a political resolution in Syria, as well as his hope that China will continue to play a positive and constructive role in this regard.

Source: Xinhua

Photo: Narciso Contreras/AP
10/31/12 By Barbara Surk

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian warplanes pounded opposition strongholds around Damascus and in the north Wednesday as President Bashar Assad's forces intensified airstrikes following the failure of a U.N.-backed cease-fire, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers reports from a network of activists on the ground, said government jets carried out five strikes in the eastern Ghouta district, a rebel stronghold close to the capital.

Three airstrikes also hit the rebel-held city of Maaret al-Numan, which straddles a key supply route from Damascus to Aleppo and has become a main front in the civil war.

No casualties were reported in Wednesday's strikes, the Observatory said.

However, at least 185 people were killed nationwide in airstrikes and artillery shelling the day before, pushing the total death toll since the conflict began in March 2011 to over 36,000, according to the Observatory's president Rami Abdul-Rahman. At least 47 soldiers were also killed Tuesday, the Observatory said.

Syria's crisis began as a peaceful uprising against Assad's regime inspired by the Arab Spring, but it quickly morphed into a civil war.

The international community remains at a loss about how to stop the war. A temporary truce timed to coincide with a major Muslim holiday last week failed to take hold as more than 500 people were killed in fighting during the four day period.

The U.S. and other Western and Arab nations have called on Assad to step down, while Russia, China and Iran continue to back him.

The U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, met Wednesday with China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to solicit Beijing's support for international efforts to stop the bloodshed.

Brahimi said he hoped "China can play an active role in solving the events in Syria."

Yang said that China is willing to work with the international community to make continuous efforts to achieve a "fair, peaceful and appropriate" resolution, according to Xinhua.

In the past weeks, the regime has intensified airstrikes on rebel positions and strongholds, particularly Maaret al-Numan, a city of 180,000 people that fell to rebel forces on Oct. 10.

A former resident of the city said more than 70 homes have been leveled as a result of air bombardments this week alone.

"The Syrian air force doesn't leave the skies. When the warplane goes, the helicopter comes," the resident who identified himself as Ahmad told The Associated Press in a phone interview on Wednesday. He spoke from a nearby village and would only give his first name for fear of reprisals from the regime.

Most of the city's inhabitants have fled due to heavy fighting, Ahmad said.

"Everyone has fled, you can't live here anymore," Ahmad said, adding that rebel groups, including the al-Qaida inspired Jabhat al-Nusra, had flocked to the area to defend it.

The inability to sustain even a limited truce has raised fears of a prolonged conflict in Syria that could drag in its neighbors such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday expressed "great sadness" that the holiday cease-fire had failed and said his government was done talking to Assad's regime.

That prompted angry comments from the Syrian government against its former ally.

Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdessi, accused Turkey of having "destructive policies" against Damascus and claimed Davutoglu, was "targeting the security and stability" of Syria.

The spokesman insisted it was the unwillingness of Turkey and Gulf states to cease supporting the rebels that doomed the truce, the state-run SANA news agency reported late Tuesday.

Damascus views the rebels as terrorists and accuses them of being foot soldiers in a foreign plot to destroy Syria.

Also Wednesday, SANA said a bomb hidden in a garbage bag exploded in an area near Damascus that is home to a Shiite Muslim shrine, killing six people and wounding 13. The Observatory said at least eight people were killed.

The blast occurred in a suburb of the capital housing the golden-domed shrine of Sayeda Zeinab, the Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter, which is popular with Iranian worshippers and tourists.

The U.N. refugee agency, meanwhile, said it delivered badly needed humanitarian aid to internally displaced Syrians in the northern cities of Aleppo and Idlib, as well as in Homs in the center of the country and Hassakeh and Raqqa in the northeast. Speaking in Jordan, UNHCR's regional spokesman Ron Redmond said cooking materials, blankets, mattresses, and sanitary supplies were delivered to almost 3,000 Syrians who fled the fighting in the past weeks and have been left homeless.

Source: AP


Beirut: The Syrian regime has transformed a military airport in Hama city into one of the country’s most-feared prisons, where detainees are crammed into hangars and deadly torture is rife, activists, watchdogs and former inmates say.

Known as the site of a 1982 uprising which was crushed amid tens of thousands of deaths by President Bashar Al Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez, Hama has also suffered in Syria’s current uprising.

Activists in Hama took part in the modern uprising that broke out in March last year but following an almost six-week siege in the summer of 2011, the army and security forces took full control of the city.

Open dissent has since been nearly impossible, with detentions carried out almost daily by the security forces, monitors and activists say.

Those detained are often sent to Hama military airport, which is not only sending warplanes on air raids but also being used as a prison by the feared Air Force Intelligence service.

“The airport is known for being the place where the worst human rights abuses of all the detention centres are committed against detainees,” a Hama-based activist who identified himself as Abu Gazi told AFP via Skype.

“Detainees are tortured wherever they are taken, whether it’s a security branch or a makeshift detention centre in a hospital,” said Abu Ghazi.

“But the airport is terrifying. People pay bribes just to be transferred from there to other detention centres.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a watchdog that has documented rights violations in Syria since 2006, said the airport has become notorious “for the ugliest forms of torture and murder of detainees”.

“After the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March last year, the authorities began to kill demonstrators and launch a frenzied crackdown against anyone suspected of participating in the uprising,” it said in a statement this week.

With so many suspected activists detained and its prisons overflowing, the regime resorted to using a range of public facilities across the country for detentions, from football stadiums to schools, activists and monitors say.

The Britain-based Observatory said it has documented at least 700 cases nationwide in which detainees have been tortured to death and many others in which torture led to permanent disability.

Hama military airport has gained the worst reputation of all among these unofficial prisons, according to Observatory director Rami Abdul Rahman.

“Thousands of prisoners, young and old, have suffered the most brutal forms of torture and murder, unchecked by any sense of morality or accountability. Since it is not an official prison, there are no records kept of detainees,” he said.

“Sometimes more than 500 detainees are crammed inside one aircraft hangar, which can reach above 50 degrees Celsius in the summer and has led to the deaths of many people with heart disease or breathing issues.”

The Observatory said the bodies of those who died were left for days among the prisoners, who had no access to toilets and were forced to defecate in the hangar.

The Observatory relies on a countrywide network of activists, lawyers and medics in civilian and military hospitals.

In an account of his time at the airport, activist Mourad Al Hamwi, who was held for 75 days from early July, described horrific conditions.

“We were 57 detainees in a dungeon only four-by-three-metres wide. When I arrived I had to squeeze myself into the forest of legs in the cell,” he said in the account provided to AFP.

“The smell of blood mixed with festering mildew and sweat was suffocating. The lice, cockroaches and insects found an excellent environment there,” 25-year-old Hamwi said.

The detainees ranged from pre-teens to elderly men, some half dressed, some naked, and all of them covered in bruises.

“One man said he was arrested because of a mix-up in names. Another told me sarcastically he was charged with possessing ‘weapons’.”

During his time in detention, Hamwi said at least 40 people were tortured to death.

“One of them, Jihad Saleh, had his hands bound to his feet behind his back and was left lying on his stomach without food. He starved to death in the corridor outside my cell.”

Another man was being held in a cell along with his family, including four children.

“They broke his leg when he confessed he was a rebel. He choked with tears as he told me he was prepared to sacrifice one of his sons to save the rest of his family,” said Hamwi.

“What is happening to Syrian detainees is hidden from the eyes and ears of the world. We have no one else but God.”

Source: AFP/Gulf News
10/31/12 By Sarah Lynch and Ruby Russel

CAIRO -- The Syrian government began a nationwide series of airstrikes Monday in what activists and analysts say is a serious escalation of the 19-month-old Syrian conflict.

Air attacks by forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad killed 18 civilians Tuesday and destroyed numerous buildings in the rebel-held cities of Maaret al-Numan and Duma, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The cities straddle supply routes from the capital Damascus to Aleppo, Syria's largest city and a main front in the civil war.

Tuesday's airstrikes came a day after what activists called the heaviest and most widespread bombing campaign nationwide on what was to be the final day of a truce that never took hold.

"The increased use of aerial bombardment means higher civilian casualties and that the regime isn't holding back â?? it's escalating," said Shadi Hamid, director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center.

According to the observatory, more than 500 people have been killed since Friday, when the four-day, internationally brokered cease-fire was supposed to start.

Hamid said the regime is showing it will place no limit on the military force it is prepared to use. Though the observatory estimates Assad has killed 35,000 of his people, Hamid says Syria "hasn't used the full might of its military yet."

Syria analysts say Assad is forced to rely more heavily on air assaults because his military is unable to push rebels out amid increased defections from his army and better coordination of operations by the rebels.

Assad's government on Tuesday blamed the rebellion on terrorists. State-run media reported that a senior air force general was shot getting out of his car in Damascus.

Activists said there were more than 60 airstrikes across the country on Monday, and videos sent out by activists showed clouds of smoke rising from towns across the country including Aleppo and Damascus and its suburbs. Locals in the towns that were hit searched the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors.

One video posted from a northern village in Idlib province showed a boy buried up to his neck in debris as people tried to dig him out. The video's authenticity could not be confirmed.

The cease-fire, the first internationally coordinated efforts to stop the violence since Kofi Annan's peace plan in April, was a farce from the start, Hozan Ibrahim of the opposition Syrian National Council said.

"The regime has shown it is not interested in achieving a political solution to the crisis," Ibrahim said. "Now they are putting the rebels in front of the toughest scenario â?? carrying on until the end, until only one side is left and the other is totally wiped out.

"Apparently there is no way out. And the international community doesn't appear to impose any real sanctions on the regime. We are at a kind of dead end now."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said he was "deeply disappointed" that the two sides didn't honor the cease-fire, saying only international unity would bring about an end to the violence.

"As long as the international community remains at odds, the needs, attacks and suffering will only grow," he said.

Most of the West and much of the Arab world wants Assad to step down, but Russia and China have backed the regime and blocked the U.N. Security Council from taking stronger action. The rebels continue to press for Western military assistance, but no country has stepped forward to provide it.

Activists said that may change now that the violence is increasingly spilling outside Syrian borders, to Turkey and Lebanon. "This may trigger some reaction sooner or later from the international community," Ibrahim said. "They can't just wait until millions of people are killed and the whole region becomes unstable."

"The whole region is unstable because of the situation the regime is creating and this may trigger some reaction sooner or later from the international community," Ibrahim said. "They can't just wait until millions of people are killed and the whole region becomes unstable for years."

Source: AP/USA Today/The Spectrum

Photo: Reuters/SNN/Handout
10/31/12 By Mariam Karouny and Oliver Holmes

Syrian rebels said on Wednesday they had formed a brigade of sympathetic Palestinians in a Damascus district to fight armed Palestinians aligned with President Bashar al-Assad.

About 150,000 Palestinian refugees live in the Syrian capital's Yarmouk camp, a sprawling area of concrete apartment blocks, where some residents support the 19-month-old uprising against Assad and others fight alongside Syrian soldiers.

"We've been arming Palestinians who are willing to fight ... We have formed Liwa al-Asifah (Storm Brigade) which is made up of Palestinian fighters only," a rebel commander from the Suqour al-Golan (Golan Falcons) brigade told Reuters.

"Its task is to be in charge of the Yarmouk camp. We all support it and back it," he added.

Rebels said they and the new brigade will attack Yarmouk fighters loyal to Ahmed Jibril, head of the Syrian-sponsored Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), accusing Jibril's men of harassing camp residents and attacking Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters.

"Now they are targets for us, targets for all the FSA. All of them with no exceptions," said another Syrian rebel commander who asked not to be named.

Some PFLP-GC fighters had handed their weapons to the rebels, the commander said, calling on others to follow suit and threatening to assassinate pro-Assad figures.

Syria hosts half a million Palestinian refugees, mostly descendants of those admitted after the creation of Israel in 1948, and has always cast itself as a champion of the Palestinian struggle, sponsoring several guerrilla factions.

But Syria's uprising has split Palestinian loyalties, with many joining anti-Assad protests. The Islamist Palestinian Hamas movement closed its offices in Damascus earlier this year.

A bomb exploded early on Wednesday under the car of a Syrian army colonel in Yarmouk, but he was not in the vehicle and there were no casualties, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict.

It was not clear if the incident was related to the tension between Syrian rebels and Palestinian factions in Yarmouk.

More than 180 people were killed in Syria on Tuesday, many of them in government air strikes, the Observatory said.

It estimates that at least 32,000 people have been killed since March 2011 when peaceful protests against Assad's rule erupted. They were violently repressed, leading to a civil war.

Source: Reuters


Airstrikes by Syrian jets and shells from tanks leveled a neighbourhood in a restive city near Damascus, the capital, reportedly killing 18 people, including four women and five children.

Tuesday's bombardment of the city of Douma, northeast of the capital, left residents scampering over a huge expanse of rubble and using their hands to dig up mangled bodies, according to activist videos posted online.

The army also fired mortar bombs into the Damascus suburb of Hammouria, killing at least eight people, activists said.

In Damascus city, Syrian fighter jets reportedly hit targets inside the capital for the first time on Tuesday, dropping four bombs on the neighbourhood of Jobar, near the opposition-held suburb of Zamalka, where rebel fighters were locked in fierce clashes with the army.

There were no reports of casualties in the bombing run, which AFP news agency correspondents said was heard across the capital.

Also on Tuesday, Syrian rebels claimed in an Internet statement they had assassinated an air force general in Damascus.

State television said that Major General Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi, was killed in the northern Damascus district of Rukn al-Din by "terroritsts".

The general, who it said was in charge of training, as well as an air force intelligence specialist, was shot dead on Monday evening as he left a friend's home, a security source in Damascus told AFP on condition of anonymity.

'Heaviest bombing campaign'

In the northwestern province of Idlib, activists said 28 civilians had been killed in the town of Maarat al-Numan and released video footage of men retrieving a toddler's body from a flattened building.

The army has been battling rebels for weeks for control of the town, which is on a key supply route between Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo.

The latest violence came a day after what activists called the heaviest and most widespread bombing campaign nationwide.

The death toll for what was supposed to be a four-day cease-fire between government forces and rebels exceeded 500. The truce, brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar brahimi, ended on Monday, and each side accused the other of violating it.

Activists speculated that the government's heavy reliance on air power reflected its inability to roll back rebel gains, especially in the north of the country near the border with Turkey, where rebels have control of swathes of territory.

Tuesday also saw clashes between rebels and troops backed by Palestinian fighters at the Yarmuk refugee camp, home to 148,500 Palestinians on the edge of the capital.

Anwar Raja, spokesman for the pro-Damascus Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said its forces clashed for about an hour with rebels trying to infiltrate the camp but that there were no casualties.

There are more than 510,000 Palestinian refugees living in Syria, and their leadership is largely supportive of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

'Extermination of Syrians'

With Brahimi due in China in a bid to revive struggling peace efforts, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister, said the international community's failure to halt the fighting was making it complicit in the violence.

"What is happening in Syria is not a civil war but a war of extermination against the Syrian people," he told Al-Jazeera.

The war, he said, was being waged "with a license to kill, endorsed firstly by the Syrian government and secondly by the international community."

Meanwhile, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said at a news conference: "There is no point in engaging in dialogue with a regime that continues to carry out such a massacre against its own people, even during [the Muslim festival of] Eid al-Adha."

Reacting to Davutoglu, the Syrian foreign ministry, issued a statement, saying that Ankara "refuses to review its policy of destructive criticism which proved its failure on the ground and continues to publicly target the security and stability of neighbouring Syria".

Davutoglu's comments came a day after after Moscow called for negotiations with Damascus as the only way to end the escalating conflict.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister called on the West and regional players including Turkey to start negotiating with President Bashar al-Assad as well as the opposition to pave the way for a political solution in Syria, wracked by almost 20 months of conflict.

"Hardly anything will be accomplished without dialogue with the government, and that is the only problem that remains in the path towards a political process," Lavrov said after a meeting Brahimi.

Ankara had backed Brahimi's call for a Davutoglu said the failed truce left Turkey "deeply upset."

Brahimi said on Monday that the UN "is not considering" sending an armed peacekeeping force to Syria, though relevant officials were conducting contingency planning in case the Security Council ordered such a mission.

That is highly unlikely with Russia and China wielding vetoes.

Source: Al Jazeera
Photo: Narciso Contreras/AP
10/30/12 By Mike Giglio

When fighting broke out between rebel soldiers and Kurdish militiamen in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday, rebels quickly downplayed the violence, calling it a mistake and claiming that a government ruse was to blame. “The problem,” read a statement put out by the main rebel coalition, “was the result of a misunderstanding that was created by a regime plot.”

Rebels expected the government to continue its military assault on Aleppo and other major cities this past weekend, despite its promise of a ceasefire for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, and the truce was broken repeatedly before it expired on Monday night. But the clash with the Kurds was unexpected—and, as the rebel response suggests, a cause for alarm among the opposition.

A conflict with the Kurds—who make up an estimated 10 percent of the Syrian population, have armed forces of their own, and have so far managed to remain unaligned in the grinding war—would likely be damaging for the rebel coalition, which is already hard-pressed in its struggle to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “It would spell doom for them,” says Shashank Joshi, a Middle East analyst with the Royal United Services Institute in London. “It would stretch them far too thin. They are operating at the edge of their envelope.”

Thirty people died in the altercation between the Kurds and rebels, and soldiers from both sides were taken hostage, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The bloodshed reportedly started after some 200 rebels moved into Ashrafiyeh, a strategically important district in Aleppo with a high concentration of Kurdish residents. Analysts dismissed the idea that the government played a hand in inciting the violence. Instead, they say, it was more likely the result of suspicions between the two sides reaching a head as the battle for Syria’s largest city continues to unfold.

“Clearly this is not something that was orchestrated by the regime. It’s a very awkward issue for the rebels, because it underscores just how divided the opposition remains,” Joshi says. “The rebels don’t want to acknowledge this, but they’re viewed very skeptically by large parts of the Kurdish population in Syria.”

Unlike many in Syria, the Kurds do not necessarily see the rebels as welcome liberators—even though they have long suffered under Assad’s rule. Like the country’s Christians, the Kurds seem to be wary of reports of increasing religious radicalization inside the rebel forces. And if the rebels do emerge triumphant, many Kurds wonder where they’d stand in the new Syria.

The Kurdish regions are dominated by the PYD party, which many analysts tie to the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group that has spent decades battling for autonomy in Turkey. As the war intensified over the summer, the Assad government pulled its forces back from Kurdish-dominated areas, likely determining that any conflict with the Kurds would be too damaging to their fight against the rebels. The Kurdish-controlled areas have pushed to keep out of the conflict ever since.

One activist in the Kurdish city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria reports taking part in a recent demonstration in which protesters had the message: “No to the regime, and no to the rebels.”

“What can you do when one side is killing you in the name of the rebellion, and the other side is killing you in the name of dictatorship?” the activist, Barzan Iso, says.

“The Syrian Kurds have tried to stay out of this as much as they can, and just look out for themselves. They’ve tried not to get involved on either side,” says David Pollock, a senior fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “There’s a lot of suspicion and mutual mistrust between the Kurds and the main Syrian opposition. There’s no political agreement, and there’s a built-in rivalry over who’s going to take control of those parts of the country as the Assad regime weakens.”

Many Kurds are quick to point out that they have opposed Assad’s government for years—and that in 2004 they even waged an uprising of their own that resulted in a major government crackdown. And despite their suspicions, some Kurdish activists insist that Kurds and rebels are on the same side—and have sought to downplay the weekend clashes as well. “It’s a misunderstanding, and they’re going to fix it,” says one longtime Kurdish activist, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

So far, the details of Sunday’s fighting in Ashrafiyeh have been hard to nail down. “It’s really difficult to answer. Nobody knows, and nobody tells the truth,” says one activist who monitors the violence in Syria.

But Joshi, the RUSI analyst, points out that such misunderstandings are more likely in Aleppo, where control is fluid and the fighting is chaotic, than in the Kurdish areas of the countryside that the rebels have largely left alone. “Outside of Aleppo, they’re giving the Kurds plenty of room. They know what the ground rules are,” Joshi says. “There are incentives on all sides to keep the Kurds out of the conflict.”

Source: Daily Beast

10/30/12 By Fulya Ozerkan

ANKARA — Turkey is ruling out any dialogue with the Syrian regime, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Tuesday, a day after Moscow called for negotiations with Damascus as the only way to end the escalating conflict.

"There is no point in engaging in dialogue with a regime that continues to carry out such a massacre against its own people, even during (the Muslim festival of) Eid al-Adha," Davutoglu said at a news conference.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on the West and regional players including Turkey to start negotiating with President Bashar al-Assad as well as the opposition to pave the way for a political solution in Syria, wracked by almost 20 months of conflict.

"Hardly anything will be accomplished without dialogue with the government, and that is the only problem that remains in the path towards a political process," Lavrov said after a meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, the international peace envoy for Syria.

Davutoglu said that dialogue with Damascus would be a step that could "be legitimising the existing regime as the violence continues".

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, one-time ally of President Bashar al-Assad, fell out with Damascus after its deadly crackdown on popular dissent that erupted in March last year.

Turkey has since then sheltered some 108,000 refugees fleeing the conflict, as well as the exiled Syrian opposition's military and political leaderships.

Ankara had backed Brahimi's call for a truce during the Muslim holiday that never took hold, with each side accusing the other of violating it.

Davutoglu said the failed truce left Turkey "deeply upset."

More than 500 people were reported dead during the four-day Muslim Eid holiday despite the truce brokered by Brahimi, who said the civil war in Syria was going from bad to worse.

Brahimi, who became Syria envoy after his predecessor Kofi Annan quit when his five-point peace plan fell through, will go to the UN Security Council in November with new proposals to push for talks between Assad and the opposition.

"What matters now is to encourage peace through the strongest messages. We had maintained our relationship with the Syrian regime for months and delivered messages of dialogue," said Davutoglu.

"We still do, but first of all the Syrian regime must demonstrate the will to make peace with its own people," he added, arguing that negotiations while a civil war was raging could not yield any results.

Davutoglu also called for a transition process in Syria in which "people who were not involved in the bloodshed against Syrian people will play a role."

Turkey, who joined in Arab and Western calls for the ouster of Assad, has recently been engaged in dialogue also with Iran and Russia, backers of the Assad regime.

Davutoglu said consultations with Iran and Russia, as well as Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- which demanded that Assad step down -- would continue, adding that all parties should clearly tell the Syrian regime that it must stop committing massacres.

Source: AFP