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Posts tagged ‘Free Syrian Army’

Saudi Royal Family Member Blasts Obama’s Iran, Mideast Policy.


By Greg Richter

A member of the Saudi royal family told The Wall Street Journal his country should have a seat at the Iran nuclear negotiations.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, brother of Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, told The Journal that the Obama administration worked behind his country’s back to secure the recent deal allowing a lifting of sanctions for six months as talks continue.

Saudi Arabia and Israel, America‘s two closest allies in the region, both complained about the deal, saying it took them by surprise. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany were involved in the talks with Iran.

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In an interview The Journal characterized as rare in its bluntness, Prince Turki also talked about U.S. policy in Syria, which he characterized as bordering on “criminal negligence.”

President Barack Obama failed to take action against the Syrian government after warning that use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” demanding reprisals.

According to The New York Times, Prince Turki, said: “We’ve seen several red lines put forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white.”

“The U.S. gave us the impression that they were going to do things in Syria that they finally didn’t,” Prince Turki said outside the World Policy Conference in Monaco. “The aid they’re giving to the Free Syrian Army is irrelevant. Now they say they’re going to stop the aid: OK, stop it. It’s not doing anything anyway.”

Prince Turki repeated the concerns of Israel and some members of Congress, who say the Iranian sanctions don’t go far enough to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“It’s important for us to sit down at the same table,” Prince Turki said. “We have been absent.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 

US Fighters Pose Security Risk on Return From Syria.


Federal officials say Americans are joining the bloody civil war in Syria, raising the chances they could become radicalized by al-Qaida-linked militant groups and return to the U.S. as battle-hardened security risks.

The State Department says it has no estimates of how many Americans have taken up weapons to fight military units loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people over 2 ½ years. Other estimates — from an arm of the British defense consultant IHS Jane’s and from experts at a nonprofit think tank in London — put the number of Americans at a couple dozen. The IHS group says al-Qaida-linked fighters number about 15,000, with total anti-Assad force at 100,000 or more.

This year, at least three Americans have been charged with planning to fight beside Jabhat al-Nusrah — a radical Islamic organization that the U.S. considers a foreign terrorist group — against Assad. The most recent case involves a Pakistan-born North Carolina man arrested on his way to Lebanon.

At a Senate homeland security committee hearing this month, Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., said: “We know that American citizens as well as Canadian and European nationals have taken up arms in Syria, in Yemen and in Somalia. The threat that these individuals could return home to carry out attacks is real and troubling.”

The hearing came about two weeks after the FBI and other officers arrested Basit Sheikh, 29, at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport on charges he was on his way to join Jabhat al-Nusrah. Sheikh, a legal resident of the United States, had lived quietly, without a criminal record, in a Raleigh suburb for five years before his Nov. 2 arrest. A similar arrest came in April in Chicago. And in September, authorities in Virginia released an Army veteran accused of fighting alongside the group after a secret plea deal.

In August, outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller told ABC News that he was concerned about Americans fighting in Syria, specifically “the associations they will make and, secondly, the expertise they will develop, and whether or not they will utilize those associations, utilize that expertise, to undertake an attack on the homeland.”

Current FBI Director James Comey said this month that he worried about Syria becoming a repeat of Afghanistan in the 1980s, after the Soviet invasion, with foreign fighters attracted there to train. The FBI refused to say whether it has directed agents to increase efforts to stop Americans bound for Syria.

In the case of Sheikh, his North Carolina home isn’t considered a breeding ground for terrorist activity. But Aaron Zelin, who works for both the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, notes that Sheikh lived about three hours from the hometown of Samir Khan, the editor of an English-language al-Qaida magazine who was killed in a drone attack in Yemen.

Sheikh is charged with planning to assist a group the State Department has declared a terrorist organization. It’s not illegal for Americans who also hold citizenship in another country to fight in that country’s military. But American citizenship can be lost for voluntarily serving in foreign armed forces hostile to the U.S.

For five months this year, Sheikh didn’t know he was being monitored as he posted messages and videos on Facebook expressing support for jihadi militants fighting Assad’s forces, according to a Nov. 2 sworn affidavit by FBI Special Agent Jason Maslow in support of the warrant to arrest Sheikh.

In August, Sheikh commented to an undercover FBI employee’s posts on a Facebook page promoting Islamic extremism. The two struck up an online relationship, the affidavit said. Sheikh told the informant he planned to trek to Syria to join “a brigade in logistics, managing medical supplies.” Days later, Sheikh said he’d bought a one-way ticket to travel to Turkey in hopes of making contact with people who would get him to Syria.

Sheikh said he backed out because “he could not muster the strength to leave his parents,” the affidavit said. Sheikh said he had traveled to Turkey last year hoping to join the fight in Syria, but became dispirited by his experience with people who claimed to be part of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army. After Sheikh expressed online support for Jabhat al-Nusrah and interest in traveling to the war zone, the FBI employee suggested Sheikh contact a person with the group — another FBI informant.

Sheikh made contract, describing Jabhat al-Nusrah as the most disciplined group of anti-Assad fighters, the affidavit said. “I’m not scared,” Sheikh wrote, according to the affidavit. “I’m ready.”

Two federal public defenders appointed to represent Sheikh are barred by local court practice from discussing their cases, spokeswoman Elizabeth Luck said. Sheikh’s father, Javed Sheikh, said his son was falsely accused but that he trusts U.S. courts to find the truth.

A federal magistrate ruled that Sheikh should be detained until his trial because there was clear evidence that he wouldn’t appear if released on bond and that there was a “serious risk” to the community if he were freed.

Basit Sheikh’s arraignment is scheduled for January. He could face up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

An Interim Choice for Syria.


Image: An Interim Choice for Syria

An University student shows Syrians how to prepare for a chemical attack in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. (Getty Images)

In the northeastern part of Syria — contiguous to Iraq and Turkey — lies al-Hasaka or the Triangle, also known as al-Jazeera province.

As large as Lebanon, this area is inhabited by roughly four million Kurds, one million Christians and a half million Arabs. Assad forces have practically left the area, and Kurdish militias have set up patrols, stopping al-Qaida militias trying to enter these districts.

This region should be the foundation for a free Syria. Here we should nurture a free zone inside Syria with the potential to grow rapidly and defeat both the Assad regime and the Jihadists.

With U.S. and western help, the Kurds, Christians, and Arabs who populate this region can establish a liberated zone with its cities, rivers and expanded airports that should serve as the receiving area for aid.

The current Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups can be invited to join in this region. This pluralist “smaller Syria” would become the basis for liberation of the country — and the establishment of a pluralistic and peaceful society for all Syrians.

Sound unrealistic?

I would argue this is no more unrealistic than the hope that Vladimir Putin and the Russians will broker an honest peace in Syria.

In fact, if you examine the three current Beltway solutions to the Syrian crisis, we should recognize why turning to this plan will offer a real, long-term hope for a pluralistic and peaceful Syria.

President Obama has made the case for a “limited strike” against Assad and the forces who are presumed responsible for the horrible chemical gassing of more than a thousand civilians — after more than 100,000 Syrians have already been brutally killed in the civil war.

The president wanted this limited strike to force a weakened Assad to negotiate a settlement to the conflict. But seasoned observers know there will be no mediated solutions to this conflict. It has gone too far and divisions are too deep.

I would also argue that other Beltway solutions offer no more hope than those offered by Obama.

The isolationist argument is to simply allow both sides to fight it out because America has no horse in this race. “Let Allah sort it out,” says Sarah Palin. This “safe option” is incredibly dangerous.

If there are two radical forces — those of Assad and al-Qaida — in the game, each will receive more reinforcements and eventually settle their battles via some Islamist medication — or worse still, a manufactured war with Israel. Even if that war is avoided, we will be left with two extremist and heavily-armed terror groups in Syria.

Another option put forward by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona is equally dangerous. He wants to fully arm the rebels in an attempt at toppling Assad. The naïveté of this choice is that it can be manipulated by Islamist lobbies who will redirect U.S. assistance to their radical brethren inside the opposition, instead of to secular forces.

This could end up empowering al-Qaida and producing future Benghazi-like attacks in Syria.

Meanwhile, all of these positions could lead to war with Iran and Hezbollah or, in view of this administration’s natural tendency toward retreat, could culminate in another victory for radicals.

That is why I suggest a practical, but irreversibly winning option for the creation of a free Syria. We have in this region a group of vetted allies in place and al-Qaida and the Nusra Front contained. We have a region in which the Assad regime is not omnipresent. Those in the U.S. who are concerned about aiding two menacing forces can partner in the al-Hasaka region with free and independent Kurds, Christians and Arabs.

Those who want to arm the rebels will have an area ready to be supported.

If the administration wishes to conduct punitive raids against regime targets without aiding al-Qaida, it can, over time, empower the real allies to move forward from this particular zone. The development of a free Syria is the most viable option for the United States, Europe and the rest of the international community. This is where endangered minorities can be protected and joined with liberals and secular members of the Arab Sunni majority.

The United States and Russia have been attempting to find negotiated solutions to the chemical weapons crisis, and have declared that they reached a compromise. Assad is supposed to allow the UN to move in and dismantle the weapons of mass destruction and the opposition is supposed to accept the deal.

The latter rejected the deal because it keeps Assad untouched. The Russians state they will pressure the dictator but only if the opposition recognizes his role at the Geneva talks. In addition, it is less likely the Jihadists of al-Nusra would go along, and not likely that Moscow would accept a Chapter 7 resolution targeting its ally in Damascus.

It is also unlikely that the Obama Administration will transform any limited strike into a regime changer campaign, for fear of clashing with the Iranians and Hezbollah. The bottom line is clear: Putin and Obama are not partners on ending Syria’s ordeal. They are producing a pause to find another status quo after Assad breached it with the use of chemical weapons in August.

The war will go on, and what is needed is a game changer on the ground. The third option we’re proposing is the most efficient way to free more Syrians and weaken both Assad and al-Qaida.

Syrians yearn for freedom. Americans yearn for effective foreign policy. Let’s start building toward that end.

Dr Walid Phares is the author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East which in 2010, predicted the Araab Spring and its evolution. He serves as a Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counter Terrorism. Read more reports from Walid Phares — Click Here Now.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

McCain: Syrian Deal with Russia is ‘Meaningless’.


Image: McCain: Syrian Deal with Russia is 'Meaningless'

By Melanie Batley

The deal between the United States and Russia on Syria’s chemical weapons is “meaningless,” Sen. John McCain said Monday. It erodes America’s credibility in the Middle East and will ultimately be unenforceable, he said.

“It’s clear we’ve bought into [this] idea that Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad are serious about real dismantlement of these chemical weapons when there is no penalty in the United Nations Security Council for failure to comply,” The Arizona Republican said on CNN.

“The whole agreement is meaningless . . . It’s a laudable goal but there’s no real way to achieve it.”

The deal, McCain said, gives Putin “a major place in the Middle East,” while giving the Assad regime a green light to continue to escalate attacks on the Free Syrian Army rebels fighting to overthrow him.

“Two years ago, the president said Bashar al-Assad must go. If anything, this ensures he stays in power,” McCain said.

The United States, McCain said, has lost all credibility in the Middle East by saying Syria crossed the “red line” in its use of chemical weapons yet failing to retaliate with military action.

“The Iranians, Israelis, and North Koreans will take a lesson from this,” he said.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Read Latest Breaking News from Newsmax.com http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/McCain-Syria-agreement-meaningless/2013/09/16/id/525860#ixzz2f4jImmIm
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Lebanese Paper: Syria Has Moved Chemical Weapons Materials To Iraq.


Syria last week moved 20 trucks carrying material and equipment used to manufacture chemical weapons into neighboring Iraq, the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal reports.
The Al-Mustaqbal report, which was picked up by the Jerusalem Post, came just a day after Washington and Moscow struck a deal stipulating that Syrian President Bashar Assad‘s regime should destroy its chemical arsenal to avert an American military assault.
Al-Mustaqbal reported the trucks crossed the Iraq-Syria border Thursday and Friday. Border guards did not inspect their contents, raising suspicions the trucks contained illicit cargo, according to the newspaper.
Al-Mustaqbal, a publication that has long been affiliated with anti-Syrian political elements in Lebanon, quoted a denial from Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan.
Maan said security forces were deployed along the border and were checking all vehicles coming into the country.
“Iraq today is not Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq,” he said. “These accusations are all rumors and . . . no one believes them.”
Last week, the head of the Free Syrian Army, which is fighting to topple the Assad regime, told CNN that opposition intelligence indicated Damascus was moving chemical arms out of the country.
“Today, we have information that the regime began to move chemical materials and chemical weapons to Lebanon and to Iraq,” Gen. Salim Idriss claimed.
Idriss said the rebels were not interested in the new U.S.-Russian deal over Assad’s chemical-weapons arsenal.
“Russia is a partner with the regime in killing the Syrian people,” he said. “A crime against humanity has been committed and there is not any mention of accountability.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Joel Himelfarb

BREAKING: While Obama Sleeps, Syria Moves Chemical Weapons To Iraq.


Lebanese daily says 20 trucks crossed into Iraq last week, bearing equipment and material used for manufacturing chemical weapons

Syria has moved 20 trucks worth of equipment and material used for the manufacturing of chemical weapons into neighboring Iraq, the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal reported on Sunday. The government in Baghdad has denied allegations that it is helping the Syrian government conceal chemical stockpiles.

syria-transfers-chemical-weapons-to-iraq

The report came just a day after the United States and Russia struck a deal stipulating that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime would destroy its chemical arsenal to avert an American military assault.

The newspaper reported that the trucks crossed the boundary separating Syria with Iraq over the course of Thursday and Friday. Border guards did not inspect the contents of the trucks, which raises suspicions that they contained illicit cargo, according to Al-Mustaqbal.

Al-Mustaqbal, a publication that has long been affiliated with anti-Syrian political elements in Lebanon, quoted a spokesperson for Iraq’s interior ministry, Saad Maan, as saying that security forces were deployed along the border and were checking all vehicles coming into the country.

“Iraq today is not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq,” he said. “It is not an Iraq which resorts to the use of chemical weapons against its own people or against its neighbors.”

“These accusations are all rumors and are useless and no one believes them,” he said. Last week, the head of the Free Syrian Army told CNN that opposition intelligence indicated Assad was moving chemical arms out of the country.

“Today, we have information that the regime began to move chemical materials and chemical weapons to Lebanon and to Iraq,” General Salim Idriss told CNN.

“We have told our friends that the regime has begun moving a part of its chemical weapons arsenal to Lebanon and Iraq. We told them do not be fooled,” Idris told reporters in Istanbul.

“All of this initiative does not interest us. Russia is a partner with the regime in killing the Syrian people. A crime against humanity has been committed and there is not any mention of accountability.” source – JPost

by NTEB News Desk

McCain: Rebels Fighting Assad Feel Abandoned by US.


Sen. John McCain says the cause of rebels fighting Syria’s President Bashar Assad has been obscured in the rapid-fire military and diplomatic events following a chemical weapons attack near Damascus.

McCain says, quote, “I feel very badly for my friends in the Free Syrian Army today.”

The Arizona Republican tells MSNBC he’s not against negotiating to defuse the chemical weapons issue. But McCain also argues, “There’s nothing that will drive Syrians more into the hands of extremists than to feel they have been abandoned by the West.”

One of the persistent questions about U.S. policy in war-ravaged Syria is to what extent the terrorist network al-Qaida is involved in the efforts to end Assad’s rule. McCain said President Barack Obama should have acted more forcefully against Assad many months ago.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Syria Rebels Still in Historic Christian Town of Maalula.


DAMASCUS, SyriaSyrian rebels were still positioned in a historic Christian town near Damascus on Wednesday, a day after they announced they were ready to withdraw, a security source told AFP.

“The army has not yet retaken Maalula. The battles are raging on, but [the army] is making progress,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “The rebels still hold some pockets of resistance inside Maalula and its surroundings.”

Rebels announced on Tuesday they would withdraw from Maalula, but that their withdrawal was “conditional” on pro-regime forces not taking their place.

“The army and its shabiha [militias] must not enter into the town,” a spokesman for the rebels said via an online video statement.

“To ensure no blood is spilled and that the properties of the people of Maalula are kept safe, the Free Syrian Army announces that the town of Maalula will be kept out of the struggle between the FSA and the regime army,” the spokesman said.

On Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and residents said rebel forces, including jihadists linked to al-Qaida, had overrun Maalula.

The town, home to about 5,000 people, is strategically important for rebels, who are trying to tighten their grip around Damascus and already have bases all around the capital.

Civilians started fleeing the town nearly a week ago, fearing an imminent escalation.

Picturesque Maalula, nestled under a large cliff, is considered a symbol of the Christian presence in Syria.

© AFP 2013
Source: NEWSmax.com.

Jihadists Force Syria Christian to ‘Convert at Gunpoint’.


Jihadists who overran Syria’s ancient Christian town of Maalula last week forced at least one person to convert to Islam at gunpoint and executed another one, residents said Tuesday.

“They arrived in our town at dawn on Wednesday and shouted ‘We are from the Al-Nusra Front and have come to make lives miserable for the Crusaders,” an Islamist term for Christians, said a still frightened woman who identified herself as Marie.

She spoke to AFP in Damascus, where she was attending the burial with hundreds of others of three Christians from Maalula killed in last week’s fighting, the long line of mourners led by a brass band playing dirges.

“Maalula is the wound of Christ,” mourners chanted as they marched through the narrow streets of the capital’s ancient Christian quarter, their voices nearly drowned out by the rattle of automatic gunfire in honor of the dead.

There was an irony in that, as the assault on Maalula came only a couple of weeks before a major feast, the Exaltation of the Cross.

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Maalula, around 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Damascus, is one of the most renowned Christians towns in Syria, and many of its inhabitants speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

Home to around 5,000 people it is strategically important for rebels, who are trying to tighten their grip around the capital and already have bases south and west of Damascus.

Maalula could also be used as a launching point for attacks on the highway between the capital and Homs, a key regime supply route.

Clashes first erupted on Wednesday, when Al-Nusra Front fighters and other Islamists attacked an army checkpoint at one entrance to the town.

The advance raised fears of attacks on churches or Christians in the town, but on Friday, the opposition Syrian National Coalition said rebels had withdrawn.

On Saturday, the Observatory said rebels were fighting pro-regime militias in western Maalula, and were also clashing with Syrian troops on its outskirts.

Tuesday night, the Free Syrian Army said rebels had withdrawn from Maalula to spare its people and heritage, but only on the condition that the regime kept its forces out as well.

Recalling the events last Wednesday, 62-year-old Adnan Nasrallah said an explosion destroyed an archway just across from his house that leads into the town.

“I saw people wearing Al-Nusra headbands who started shooting at crosses,” said Nasrallah.

One of them “put a pistol to the head of my neighbor and forced him to convert to Islam by obliging him to repeat ‘there is no God but God.'”

“Afterwards they joked, ‘he’s one of ours now.'”

Nasrallah, who spent 42 years running a restaurant in the US state of Washington named after his hometown, said he was devastated by what happened in Maalula.

“I had a great dream. I came back to my country to promote tourism. I built a guesthouse and spent $2,000 installing a windmill to provide electricity in the town.

“My dream has gone up in smoke. Forty-two years of work for nothing,” he lamented.

But worse, for him, was what he said was the reaction of his Muslim neighbors when the town was seized by the rebels.

“Women came out on their balconies shouting with joy, and children… did the same. I discovered that our friendship was superficial.”

But Nasrallah’s sister, Antoinette, refused to condemn everyone.

“There are refugees from Harasta and Douma [in the suburbs of Damascus] that we have taken in, and they are spreading the poison of hatred, especially among the younger generation,” she said.

The most tragic story was that of Rasha, who recounted how the jihadists had seized her fiance Atef, who belonged to the town’s militia, and brutally murdered him.

“I rang his mobile phone and one of them answered,” she said.

“Good morning, Rash rush,” the voice said, using her nickname. “We are from the Free Syrian Army. Do you know your fiance was a member of the shabiha [pro-regime militia] who was carrying weapons, and we have slit his throat.”

The man told her Atef had been given the option of converting to Islam, but had refused.

“Jesus didn’t come to save him,” he taunted.

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© AFP 2013
Source: NEWSmax.com

McInerney: World Silent as Middle East Christians ‘Wiped Out’.


Christians are being “wiped out” in the Middle East and little attention is being paid to their plight, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney claimed Thursday.

“Through the whole Middle East, the Christians are being wiped out, and nobody is saying anything,” he said on “Fox & Friends.”

“That’s why I’m very concerned about any resolution to go to war without clear objectives, because, as we know, once you break it, you own it. We’ve got enough scar tissue,” McInerney said.

Hundreds of Christians have fled Syria due to the violence, according to a BBC report.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday Syrian President Bashar Assad has been protecting “Christians for a number of decades,” while Islamic rebels have attacked Christians.

“Their churches are destroyed, burned and looted in many areas. Christians feel they are not accepted and wanted and are being killed and slaughtered in areas where extremists consider them atheists,” an unnamed church official in Syria told the Religious Freedom Coalition.

McInerney said that more information is needed about the rebel forces fighting the Assad regime, since it is hard to distinguish who exactly they are.

“The rebel armies are two main factions. One is under Col. Riad Al-Asaad, [founder and a commander of the] Free Syrian Army,” he said. “Then you had the Supreme Military Council, under Gen. [Salim] Idriss, in which the Kataras, and later the Saudis, helped rise up in support.

“There is a question on both … I think we need some very good due diligence. We do not have it when people say they are good rebels over there and bad rebels,” McInerney said.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Wanda Carruthers

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