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Posts tagged ‘Aleppo’

Aid Agency Chief: Syrian Refugees Creating ‘Regional Crisis’.

Image: Aid Agency Chief: Syrian Refugees Creating 'Regional Crisis'Syrian refugees walk among tents at the Karkamis refugee camp near Gaziantep, Turkey.

By Wanda Carruthers

In light of upcoming international peace talks between the opposing sides in Syria’s civil war, former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the numbers of refugees resulting from the war has created a “regional crisis” that demands attention.

“This is a regional crisis that demands a big international engagement,” Miliband, who is also president and CEO of aid agency International Rescue Committee, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday.

The conflict in Syria has resulted in a “scale of brutality … that hasn’t been seen for a very long time,” Miliband said.

As a result, millions of people are taking refuge in neighboring countries. He called for the international response to be “massively scaled up.”

Invitations were sent to 40 countries for a one-day meeting this week of foreign ministers for peace talks in Switzerland. Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League special envoy to Syria, will moderate the meeting.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the three-year conflict between Syrian rebels and the government of President Bashar Assad. Miliband maintained the upcoming peace talks would not end the war, but could bring attention to how the war is waged.

“I think it’s important to say that this peace conference, so called, no one believes it’s going to bring peace tomorrow. But it can address the conduct of the war, in terms of the targeting of civilians, in terms of the starving of the people in Aleppo [Syria],” he said.

Half of the Syrian population has been displaced from their homes into neighboring countries like Lebanon, Turley and Jordan, Miliband explained. He said the majority of those affected are “relatively middle-class people whose lives have been completely shattered.”

“The people caught in the middle are civilians,” he said. “The figures are what make this a potentially toxic crisis.”

“What you’ve got is kids without education. You’ve got parents who’ve lost loved ones. Sons, husbands, who’ve been killed. Who’ve lost everything at home. Who’ve been totally traumatized,” he added.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Dozens Killed as Syrian Airstrikes Pummel Rebel Areas.

Image: Dozens Killed as Syrian Airstrikes Pummel Rebel Areas

Syrians look at the aftermath of an airstrike on a rebel area of the northern city of Aleppo on Dec. 15.

Syrian government aircraft pounded opposition areas in the northern city of Aleppo and near the southern border with Jordan on Monday, a day after airstrikes killed at least 76 people, while the United Nations issued a record appeal for $6.5 billion to help the millions of Syrians uprooted by their homeland’s civil war.

President Bashar Assad‘s air force is his greatest advantage in the country’s civil war, and he has successfully exploited it to stem and even roll back rebel advances across the country. Human rights groups say Syrian military aircraft have carried out indiscriminate air raids that frequently hit civilian targets, such as hospitals, bakeries and residential areas.

The government has relied on its air power in particular in northern Syria, much of which fell to opposition fighters over the course of the past year. One of the major battlegrounds on that front is Aleppo, where Assad’s forces and rebels have been bogged down in a bloody fight since rebels launched an assault on the city in mid-2012.

With no end in sight to the fighting, the humanitarian situation is worsening among 8.8 Syrians who have been uprooted from their homes. Of those, 6.5 million are internally displaced and the other 2.3 million have sought refuge abroad.

In Geneva, the U.N. appealed to donors Monday for $6.5 billion in funds to help support the nearly 9 million Syrians uprooted by the conflict, the largest ever appeal for a single crisis.

The appeal is based on projections of continuing humanitarian needs because of the massive displacement of Syrians both inside and outside the country into 2014. Some $2.3 billion will assist people inside Syria and the remaining $4.2 billion is expected to help refugees and host communities in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, the U.N. said.

“We’re facing a terrifying situation here where, by the end of 2014, substantially more of the population of Syria could be displaced or in need of humanitarian help than not,” said High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

The situation in Syria has “deteriorated beyond all imagination,” and the country can’t afford another year of it, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York in his end-of-year press briefing.

Guterres said the Syria crisis is having a “dramatic impact” on the host countries’ economies, societies and security, adding that the refugee disaster spurred by the conflict is the largest since the Rwanda genocide and “probably the most dangerous for global peace and security since the second world war.”

The U.N. food agency, meanwhile, said it is expanding its emergency operation to provide food to more than 7 million Syrians driven from their homes by the violence. Recent assessments by the World Food Program show that almost half the population inside Syria is experiencing food shortages and more than 6 million people urgently need food to survive.

In 2014, the WFP plans to feed 4.25 million internally displaced Syrians and nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, the agency said in a statement Monday.

The food agency also plans to increase the size of its food basket to provide more calories per person per day as other sources of food are increasingly scarce for the most vulnerable.

On Monday, a day after government helicopters dropped barrels packed with explosives on several Aleppo neighborhoods, the Britain-based Syrian observatory for Human Rights on Monday said the death toll from those strikes had risen to at least 76, including 28 children.

The government frequently uses barrel bombs, which contain hundreds of kilograms (pounds) of explosives and cause massive damage on impact. Amateur videos posted online showed the aftermath of Sunday’s airstrikes: buildings leveled by the explosions, rubble-strewn streets and smoldering wreckage of vehicles.

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said at least 12 neighborhoods were hit and put the death toll at 83. It said that number is likely to rise because of the large number of wounded and the lack of sufficient medical supplies.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, condemned the strikes, and accused the government of “waging a barbaric campaign on the city of Aleppo through which it seeks revenge and the spread of chaos.”

In a statement, the Coalition also said it has documented the names of 103 people who were killed and more than 350 who were wounded in Aleppo, in addition to 21 who died in the town of Dumeir in Damascus suburbs in air raids.

“The Assad regime continues to kill civilians across Syria, blocking aid convoys from reaching stricken areas, and refuses to release prisoners — practically consecrating through all of that, its rejection of a political solution,” it said.

The Syrian government and its opponents are scheduled to meet in Switzerland on Jan. 22 to hold their first face-to-face peace negotiations. Expectations for a breakthrough are low at the U.N.-brokered talks, which aim to find a political resolution to the conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people since it began in March 2011.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


UN Probes 7 Syrian Chemical Cases, Some After Aug 21 Attack.

Image: UN Probes 7 Syrian Chemical Cases, Some After Aug 21 Attack

Chemical weapons experts in UN vehicles leave a hotel in Damascus on Sept. 26.

U.N. chemical weapons inspectors in Syria are investigating seven cases of alleged chemical or biological weapons use, including three incidents around Damascus after the Aug. 21 attack which almost triggered U.S. air strikes.The inspectors expect to finalize their work in Syria on Monday and issue a report by late October that will give more details of the Aug. 21 incident which they have already said involved the use of sarin gas, a statement from the United Nations in Damascus said on Friday.

The United States and its Western allies said the initial report showed Damascus was behind the attack, which killed hundreds of people. President Bashar al-Assad‘s government has denied the accusation, blaming rebels instead.

The incidents also include an alleged chemical weapons attack in March in the northern town of Khan al-Assal, where authorities say rebels killed 25 people, including 16 soldiers. Rebels said government forces were behind it.

The two other cases from earlier this year both date back to April – one in the Aleppo district of Sheikh Maqsoud and another in the town of Saraqeb in the northern province of Idlib.

The three most recent incidents were in Bahhariyeh and Jobar, both east of central Damascus, on Aug. 22 and 24, and Ashrafiat Sahnaya to the southwest of the capital on Aug. 25, the U.N. statement said.

The team returned to Damascus on Wednesday to resume its work and “expects to finalize its activities in the country by Monday,” the statement said.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


IHS Jane’s Report: Islamic Extremists Dominate Rebel Fight in Syria.

Image: IHS Jane's Report: Islamic Extremists Dominate Rebel Fight in Syria

A fighter with the jihadist group al-Nusra Front, bearing the flag of al-Qaida on his jacket, holds position with fellow fighters in the Syrian village of Aziza, on the southern outskirts of Aleppo.

By Elliot Jager

Nearly half the rebel fighters in Syria’s civil war are Islamists or jihadists, according to an upcoming report by the intelligence analysts, IHS Jane’s.

“The insurgency is now dominated by groups which have at least an Islamist viewpoint on the conflict. The idea that it is mostly secular groups leading the opposition is just not borne out,” Charles Lister, author of the analysis said, according to a report in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. 

Some 100,000 fighters have been battling the Bashar Assad regime for two years but they are fragmented into hundreds of bands, some of which are loyal to larger factions. Almost all the rebels are Sunni. The regime is Alawite, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

The report to be published this week says around 10,000 rebel fighters have come from outside Syria and are fighting for factions linked to al-Qaida.

Another 30,000-35,000 are hardline Islamist Syrians who share similar views but who are focused on the civil war in their country rather than a wider international struggle.

Some 30,000 are more moderate Muslims, leaving just a small percentage being secular or nationalists.

European and American observers place the number of fighters even remotely tolerable to Western interests at less than one third of the opposition forces.

Western policymakers fear weapons they supply to the more moderate forces could wind up in hostile hands. The moderate fighters want to overthrow Assad, Syria’s authoritarian dictator, while jihadist groups want to transform the country into a hard-line Islamic state that is part of a regional Muslim caliphate.

It’s a tricky balance. If the West looks as though it is not seriously interested in removing Assad this could push the relative moderates closer to the Islamists, Lister of IHS Jane’s says.

The CIA has now begun arming Syrian rebels overtly, the Washington Post reported last week. 

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

How God Is Moving in Syria Despite Heartbreaking Persecution.

Syrian Christians pray
Lebanese and Syrian Christian Maronites pray for peace in Syria, in Harisa, Jounieh. (Reuters/Hasan Shaaban)

In this exclusive interview with Charisma News, Jane (not her real name), a Syrian Christian, gave us a firsthand account of what it’s like to be a Christian in the war-torn country during this dangerous and uncertain time.

Charisma News: This is a classic case of where the media has trumped up the story in Damascus where 1,100 people were gassed on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
Jane: Actually, we read everything, and we said to our people here that most of the media lie about what happened. We know there’s a lot of kidnapping of people. We know a guy who’s 17 years old who was kidnapped, and he said there were hundreds of bodies, and a lot of children and women were kidnapped. Many times they burn them, take pictures and show villagers, and everyone’s talking about this. That may have happened, but we don’t know the real truth. Yesterday the UN, in a closed meeting, said, “We don’t have any information that the Assad soldiers did that. And we already have a group from the UN inside Syria, and they don’t find any proof, so we remain until there is proof toward this situation.” Both sides may use chemicals, and we are sure the rebels are using the chemicals because we are there.

Charisma News: What do you see God doing in spite of all the persecution and what’s being reported?
Jane: We are now experiencing that this is the best spiritual time for Syria and other countries, like Egypt, because as much as their suffering is great, they are growing. We experience how refugees run away from their places because of the bombing from the government. They came to Damascus and to the churches, and they came to find the truth of the real God.

Many of the Muslim families came to our church, and now our church has 2,000 families of refugees. They told us, “We don’t know if this is the real Islam.” We said, “Yes, this is Islam. This is what they teach in Quran.” They said, “We don’t want to follow Muhammad anymore. We don’t want Islam. We want to know the real God.” So we give them New Testaments, and we follow up with them, have meetings, preach the gospel, and then we give them food. Thank God, we saw how He is moving among those families that before we couldn’t reach because they don’t even know there are Christians in this country. They are covered; it’s very hard. So we thank God, because everything happens because of His goodness.

We saw that this war is not from God because of how much the terrorists came and tried to strip the Christians, telling them to go out from the country—“This is our country. It’s our country.” At the same time, we are experiencing how much evil is active now because there is a big change on the other side, where we have a lot of opportunities to show Jesus Christ. And we have one prayer a day for the country for six months, inviting people from any denomination—Muslim denominations and Christian denominations—and we pray with them for the country. And when we pray, we pray for Sunni and Shia and Christians and Jews and enemy religions. We pray for all denominations, and we pray for all people. That prayer meeting, God opened from this prayer to make resolutions among Sunni and Shia.

We believe God is doing miracles because He promised us from 2004 that a big revival is coming. It wasn’t like we were expecting. We expected big places, a crowd of people would come to the place. But His way is opposite, not like our ways, because this is through the war. Thank God, at the same time, we believe that somebody is being saved. We are waiting and believe that God will change the situation for victor[y], and we are using the suffering time that believers get stronger and people come more. Even though we have a lot problems, a lot of suffering, a lot of hurting, we still, we can’t do anything but stand still.

Charisma News: How can we pray for the situation there?
Jane: American believers have to wake up and know that there are other members of the body who are suffering. It’s very important to have more information about what’s happening on the other side because suffering is caused by the people who are supported by your government, by your taxes and your money.

It’s very hard for us when we are walking on the street and there are a lot of mortars above our heads and around us. Thank God He protects the believers. But this is the life we are living now. We walk down the street, and we don’t know if we will come back to our home or not. Everyone is going from Syria, from Damascus and Aleppo. We are leaving our home, and we don’t know if we will come back. It’s a very hard life because every moment we are expecting death. We hear of tortures, kidnappings, 500 die, 700 die, 200 die. This is a big problem. My area now is very dangerous, but we’re still alive, thank God.

You have to pray for awakening of your government. Because one day those people who are supported by your government, they will kill your people. Believe me, this is their aim. This is their goal. We want you to pray for that, that the country will stop the killing, stop the Syrian forces, that terrorists will not be supported by the Turkish board or the Muslim board. It’s very hard for us when we heard how much people come against our country. It’s very, very dangerous for us.

Please pray that God will stop the terrorists and not let them enter any more. Already we have 600,000 terrorists—from Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt and many areas. We also want you to pray for the Turks because they are now trying to build a kingdom of God above Syria. This is the dream of the believers, except for Syria.

At the same time, we are expecting more and more people coming to Jesus Christ, and we want you to pray for distributing the New Testament. We have had good experiences with this. Many years ago, our church had a vision to have one New Testament for each Syrian—that’s 23 million. In our country, the government gave us permission, and we distributed more than 300,000 New Testaments. But during the war, we distributed 50,000 and 20,000 audio New Testaments and 3,000 children Bibles. This is a big aim, and we are already doing it in no time. Thank God He is using this ministry, and we have many, many experiences about how God is using this ministry and people being blessed by the New Testament.

We want you to pray also for the children, for the situation, the economic situation. People are very down. People don’t work now. Prior to the situation, if someone has any problem, they can’t go to the police station because the police station is controlled by the terrorists, and we can’t have any solutions from the government. We need real protection and for God to stop this war.

Charisma News: Like you say, the reality of death is everywhere. I’m sure every time you step out, there is a supernatural protection on you.
Jane: We can be kidnapped any time because of our faith. We expect our daughters may be kidnapped. It’s not an easy life. We expect death. We are always prepared for death. I told my daughters that someone may come and kill us at our door.

The terrorists are full in this country. You will see some blood, you will have some pain, but He will open the heavens, and we will enjoy being with Jesus and angels, and He will say, “I forgive you, God loves you, Jesus loves you.” Many times He will use us and will glorify His name through our life, but we are in a very dangerous situation.

We need your prayers. We are blessed by this suffering, and we are aimed at winning. What’s happened in America? We are really worried. The Christians, the believers there, are sleeping. They don’t know anything about suffering in other countries. They are blind.

We are not supporting the regime, but we know that the regime with people is much better, and we can accept it, and we can live with them from Sunni. Before, we had a big freedom to worship God, and we could do huge events and no one would stop us—Muslim or other nations—because we had the freedom from our government. They gave us a church where we could do whatever wanted—even rent a big stadium. You can do what you want, and no one can stop you.

I had a female friend who was once asked, “Why do you get the New Testament in school?” She’s a believer from a Muslim background. The principal of the school is against her, but the government agreed that the people who are following what is written in the New Testament are the best and follow exactly what is written. “Go, and no one can stop you because of this book, we support printing it, and everyone who wants to read it can read it. Call me if someone stops you.” We have a lot of stories like this. In the end, people who produce the New Testament get protection from the Secret Police because it is very legal to distribute them in our country.

We had freedom before. Assad wasn’t against them and ministry, but his fault was he wanted to give freedom to all, and the last time, when we had freedom under Assad’s regime, it was like going crazy. In 10 years, they were building mosques in a crazy way and wondering why we have so many mosques. We are afraid one day they’ll say we don’t have freedom of religion. So Assad gives all people freedom. We are Christians. We keep the situation. While we are not weak, we begin to grow.



Russia: Report Blames Syrian Rebels for Chemical Weapons Attack.

A 100-page report that Russia says it has compiled details what the country says is evidence that the Syrian rebels carried out a deadly sarin gas attack in an Aleppo suburb in March.

The document, disclosed late on Wednesday by the Russian Foreign Ministry, appeared to counter accusations that forces loyal to President Bashar Assad where behind the attack in the Khan al Asal suburb, McClatchy reports.

The foreign ministry said the report was delivered to the United Nations in July — and that it included detailed scientific analysis of samples that Russian technicians collected at the site of the alleged attack.

The investigation of the March 19 incident was conducted under strict guidelines established by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Russia said. The international agency governs adherence to treaties prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, according to McClatchy.

Russia said samples that its technicians had collected had been sent to OPCW-certified laboratories in Russia.

The document itself was not released, McClatchy reports.

The foreign ministry, however, drew a pointed comparison between what it said was the scientific detail of the report and the far shorter intelligence summaries that the United States, Britain, and France have released to justify claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21.

The longest of those summaries, by the French, ran nine pages, McClatchy reports.

Further, each relies primarily on circumstantial evidence to make its case, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, and they disagree with on some details, including the number of people who died in the attack, according to McClatchy.

“The Russian report is specific,” the ministry said in a statement. “It is a scientific and technical document.”

No immediate comment was available from the United States, McClatchy reports.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Todd Beamon

Aleppo: A city where snipers shoot children.

Bustan al-Kasr

Bustan al-Qasr is the last remaining crossing point between the rebel and regime-held sides of Aleppo. Snipers are rife and the atmosphere tense, yet hundreds are forced to use it every day to get to work, to study and buy food.

“Today, at about midday, I treated someone who had been shot in the arm,” Sam tells me. “He was a child, they usually are. I think that the snipers are aiming for kids, just kids.”

Sam, crouching behind sandbags at the Bustan al-Qasr crossing point, is the only doctor on hand to treat those targeted by the snipers.

He is 25, speaks in an urbane North American drawl and has humorous eyes twinkling above his surgical mask.

He is the son of Syrian exiles who settled in Canada. “I was in the final year of my studies to become a cardiac surgeon,” he tells me.

Sam - a doctor in Aleppo

But then he felt that he had to come here. Now he sleeps in a room in the field hospital where he works. And in his time off, he comes to Bustan al-Qasr to wait for the snipers to open fire.

The pavement he sits on is dotted with dark brown blood stains.

“On average I treat about 10 people a day, every single day, but Fridays are always the worst,” he says. “Yesterday about 30 people were shot here.”

Everybody reacts differently to the sound of the sniper’s bullet.

When shots ring out, the sea of people in the marketplace parts as most people press themselves against the walls of the buildings – as if, somehow, that will save them.

Map of Aleppo

But the fatalistic ones just carry on walking straight down the middle of the road in a gesture of defiance.

“Sometimes they just fire in the air, to scare people,” I am told. But sometimes they do not – Sam’s work bears witness to that.

The frenetic energy of Bustan al-Qasr’s marketplace is super-charged with fear.

“At first we stayed away,” a market trader tells me. “But then we started coming back. What else can we do? We have to live.”

Escaping snipers

Sara is an activist and a student and she runs the gauntlet every week. Her home is on the rebel side of the city and she crosses over to pick up her notes from the University, which is in the regime-held part.

During exams, she crossed almost every day in her determination to do well. “One day I crossed in the morning, and by the time I came back 15 people had been killed there,” she says.

She did pass her exams but she is disappointed with her marks. “I did better last year,” she tells me. “No wonder,” I reply.

And many families in wartime Aleppo can only buy food if they cross over into opposition-held territory.

Until recently, the checkpoint was controlled by a group of rogue rebel soldiers who tried to extort money from the already desperate people using it.

Makeshift protection against snipers in Bustan al-KasrBuses and sandbags are used to try to protect people from snipers

The last time I came to Bustan al-Qasr they tried to arrest me and confiscate my camera. But then a sniper opened fire. In the confusion, I escaped.

Now it has been taken over by Ahrar Sureya, one of the city’s largest rebel brigades. It is progress for the people who use the crossing point, but also a sign of how fluid and unstable Aleppo’s testosterone-charged local politics has become.

This is a city of fiefdoms. Last week Bustan al-Qasr belonged to the criminals. Today it belongs to Ahrar Sureya. And next week, who knows?

The rebels take me to meet Abu Yassin, a senior official in the rebel-held part of the city’s Sharia Court police force, who is now in charge at Bustan al-Qasr.

On a corner where the main street meets a side road he points to the buildings where the snipers are stationed, in a government-owned tower block, in an apartment building, in a minaret.

“There are 72 snipers aiming towards us,” he says. “And they only ever shoot at civilians.”

Some people in the rebel areas want the crossing point closed altogether. Those at Friday demonstrations here no longer call for democracy, or freedom, or human rights. They want the complete dismemberment of this already fractured city.

Boy holds placard demanding that the crossing point be closedA young boy calls for the closure of the crossing point

And while closing Bustan al-Qasr might stop regime informants coming into the rebel side of the city, it would be disastrous for many.

It would mean failure for Sara, and maybe starvation for the families on the regime-held side. Because however chaotic, however deadly, Bustan al-Qasr is a lifeline.

It is the last artery connecting a divided city and the only choice for many people.

And the mass of human beings who throng around it – Sam in his field clinic, Sara with her lecture notes and the market traders in the sniper’s sights – tell the real story of Aleppo’s conflict: one of people trying to carry on with their lives amidst a war they never chose.

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By Hannah Lucinda SmithBustan al-Qasr, Aleppo, Syria



Syria: US Lying on Chemical Weapons Use.

Image: Syria: US Lying on Chemical Weapons Use

By Todd Beamon

Syria’s foreign ministry said the United States was lying about chemical weapons use to give it an excuse to intervene in the country’s two-year-old civil war.

“The White House…relied on fabricated information in order to hold the Syrian government responsible for using these weapons, despite a series of statements that confirmed that terrorist groups in Syria have chemical weapons,” it said.

“The United States, in resorting to a shameful use of pretexts in order allow President Obama’s decision to arm the Syrian opposition, shows that it has flagrant double standards in the way it deals with terrorism.”

The United States asserted late Thursday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s military has used chemical weapons against opposition force, crossing President Barack Obama’s “red line” that would bring more American involvement in the crisis.

“The Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including sarin, on a small scale multiple times in the last year,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. “We have a high degree of confidence in this information.

“This is a high-confidence assessment,” Rhodes reiterated.

He added: “The use of chemical weapons crosses a red line. This is a clearly evolving situation is Syria.”

The new assessment and decision came as Assad’s surging forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies turned their guns on the north, fighting near the northern city of Aleppo and bombarding the central city of Homs after having seized the initiative by winning the open backing of Hezbollah last month and capturing the strategic town of Qusair last week.

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With outgunned rebel forces desperate for weapons after their battlefield setbacks, Rhodes, said the president had decided to provide “direct military support” to the opposition.

Rhodes said the president was considering both political and military options, but suggested deeper involvement may not be imminent. The estimate is that as many as 150 people died during as many as four such chemical attacks, he said.

“We realize that this is a small portion of the catastrophic deaths in Syria,” Rhodes said. More than 90,000 people have died in the conflict, he said.

“We’ve prepared for many contingencies in Syria,” Rhodes added. “We are going to make decisions on further actions on our own timeline.”

The White House said earlier intelligence assessments that indicated Assad likely used such weapons had now been corroborated. However, the officials said the administration has not determined how it will respond.

Obama has said repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and constitute a “game changer” for U.S. policy on Syria, which until now has focused entirely on providing the opposition with nonlethal assistance and humanitarian aid.

Congress was also being notified of the chemical weapons determination on Thursday in classified documents sent to Capitol Hill, the officials said. The finding was aided by evidence sent to the United States by France, which along with Britain, announced last week that they had determined that Assad’s government had used chemical weapons in the two-year conflict.

The administration’s finding brought praise from Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“We appreciate the President’s finding that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on several occasions,” the senators said in a statement. “We also agree with the president that this fact must affect U.S. policy toward Syria.

“The president’s ‘red line’ has been crossed,” they continued. “U.S. credibility is on the line. Now is not the time to merely take the next incremental step. Now is the time for more decisive actions.”

McCain even said on the Senate floor that he understood that Obama had decided to arm the Syrian rebels, though Rhodes said he could not “inventory” the new assistance that the U.S. would now provide.

So far, the United States has provided $515 million in humanitarian aid to the rebels, Rhodes said.

Today’s announcement followed deliberations between Obama and his national security aides as pressure mounted at home and abroad for more forceful action on the Syria conflict, including a sharp critique from former President Bill Clinton.

The arrival of thousands of seasoned, Iran-backed Hezbollah Shi’ite fighters to help Assad combat the mainly Sunni rebellion has shifted momentum in the two-year-old war, which the United Nations said on Thursday had killed at least 93,000 people.

U.S. and European officials anxious about the rapid change are meeting the commander of the main rebel fighting force, the Free Syrian Army, on Friday in Turkey. FSA chief Salim Idriss is expected to plead urgently for more help.

Obama has so far been more cautious than Britain and France, which already forced the European Union this month to lift an embargo that had blocked weapons for the rebels.

After months of investigation, the White House laid out its conclusions on chemical weapons use by Assad’s forces but stopped short of threatening specific actions in response to what Obama said would be a “game changer” for Washington’s handling of the conflict.

“Our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” Rhodes told reporters.

“Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information,” he said. “The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete.”

Rhodes said the U.S. military assistance to the rebels would be different in “both scope and scale” from what had been authorized before, which included non-lethal equipment such as night-vision goggles and body armor.

Pressed on what the United States would do next, Rhodes said the White House would share the information with Congress and U.S. allies but will “make decisions on our own time line.”

Syrian rebel and political opposition leaders immediately called for anti-aircraft and other sophisticated weapons.

Western governments that predicted months ago that Assad would soon fall now believe that support from Tehran and Hezbollah are giving him the upper hand. But they also worry that sending arms to rebel fighters could empower Sunni Islamist insurgents who have pledged their loyalty to al Qaeda.

While Britain and France have yet to announce their own decisions to start arming the rebels, their diplomats have been making the case that the best way to counter both threats is to beef up support for Idriss’ mainstream rebel force.

Strengthening the FSA with money, weapons and ammunition, they argue, would help combat Assad and also provide a counterweight among the rebels to al Qaeda-linked groups.

France in particular has developed good relations with Idriss while providing funds and non-lethal support, and seems eager to send him military aid.

Among those whose comments put pressure on Obama to act was one of his predecessors, Bill Clinton.

“The only question is: now that the Russians, the Iranians and Hezbollah are in there head over heels … should we try to do something to try to slow their gains and rebalance the power so that these rebel groups have a decent chance to prevail,” the former president was quoted by newspaper Politico as saying.

Assad’s government says its next move will be to recapture Aleppo in the north, Syria’s biggest city and commercial hub, which has been divided since last year when advancing rebels seized most of the countryside around it.

Syrian state media have been touting plans for “Northern Storm,” a looming campaign to recapture the rebel-held north.

The United Nations, which raised its death toll for the war to 93,000 on Thursday, said it was concerned about the fate of residents if a new offensive is launched.

“All of the reports I’m receiving are of augmentation of resources and forces (for an Aleppo offensive) on the part of the government,” U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay told Reuters Television.

Assad’s army appears to be massing some troops in its footholds in Aleppo province, particularly in Shi’ite areas such as the enclaves of Nubel and Zahra, although some opposition activists say the government may be exaggerating the extent of its offensive to intimidate rebel supporters.

Activists reported fighting in the area around Aleppo on Thursday, especially near an airport that rebels have been trying to capture. The government has also launched an offensive in Homs, the closest big city to its last victory in Qusair and one of the last major rebel strongholds in the country’s centre.

“There was a fourth day of escalations today on the besieged neighbourhoods of Homs’ old city. Early in the morning there were two air strikes … followed by artillery and mortar shelling,” said Jad, an activist from Homs speaking via Skype.

“More than 25 rockets fell in one area and then the area was combed with tanks. … The shelling is still going on now.”

Ahmed al-Ahmed, an activist in Aleppo, said the government’s reinforcements in the north were just a distraction from Homs.

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“They’ve turned the world’s attention to watching northern Aleppo and fearing an attack and massacres as happened to our people in Qusair, to get us to forget Homs which is the decisive battle.”

Hezbollah’s participation has deepened the sectarian character of the war, with Assad, a member of the Alawite offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, backed by Shi’ite Iran and Hezbollah, while Sunni-ruled Arab states and Turkey back the rebels.

The 7th century rift between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam has fuelled violence across the Middle East in recent decades, including the sectarian bloodletting unleashed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion and the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990.

Leading Sunni Muslim clerics met in Cairo on Thursday and issued a call to jihad against Assad and his allies on Thursday, condemning the conflict as a “war on Islam.”

Associated Press, Reuters and AFP contributed to this report.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Islamists Said to Execute 15-Year-Old Syrian Boy for Heresy.

Aleppo, Syria
Aleppo, Syria (Bernard Gagnon / Creative Commons)

Members of an al-Qaida-linked Islamist group in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo executed a 15-year-old boy in front of his parents on Sunday as punishment for what the group regarded as a heretical comment, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Mohammad Qataa was shot in the face and neck a day after being seized, said the pro-opposition monitoring group, which is based in Britain and uses a network of observers across Syria.

“The Observatory cannot ignore these crimes, which only serve the enemies of the revolution and the enemies of humanity,” said the group’s leader Rami Abdulrahman.

A photo released by the Observatory showed Qataa’s face with his mouth and jaw bloodied and destroyed, as well as a bullet wound in his neck.

The Observatory, which based its report on witness accounts of the killing, said Qataa, who was a street vendor selling coffee in the working-class Shaar neighborhood, had been arguing with someone when he was overheard saying: “Even if the Prophet Muhammad comes down (from heaven), I will not become a believer.”

The gunmen, who belong to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a militant group that started off known as the Nusra Front, took Qatta on Saturday and brought him back alive in the early hours of Sunday to his wooden stand, with whiplash marks visible on his body.

“People gathered around him and a member of the fighting brigade said: ‘Generous citizens of Aleppo, disbelieving in God is polytheism and cursing the prophet is a polytheism. Whoever curses even once will be punished like this.”

“He then fired two bullets from an automatic rifle in view of the crowd and in front of the boy’s mother and father, and got into a car and left,” the report said.

Abdulrahman said the boy’s mother had pleaded with the killers, whose Arabic suggested they might not be Syrian, not to shoot her son. Qataa’s parents said the youth had taken part in pro-democracy demonstrations in Aleppo.

Since last year, large parts of the city have fallen under the control of Islamist brigades, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, as well as other rebel units.



Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom.; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Christopher Wilson

© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Dershowitz: Why Israel Must Remain Strong.

Image: Dershowitz: Why Israel Must Remain Strong

Syrian opposition fighters are seen in the northern city of Aleppo. (Getty Images)

By Alan Dershowitz

Alan M. Dershowitz‘s Perspective: Fareed Zakaria explained why neither side in the Syrian conflict is likely to surrender: “People fight to the end because they know that losers in such wars get killed or ‘ethnically cleansed.’”

In this kind of war the words “ethnically cleansed” do not mean displaced or made refugees. They mean, as Zakaria further explained, massacred: “Then you have phase 2, which is the massacre of the Alawites, the 14 percent of Syria that has ruled and that will be a bloodbath.”

Nor will the massacres and bloodbaths be limited to combatants, or even civilian officials, if the past is any indication. Babies, women, the elderly and everyone else will become targets of the vengeful blood lust.

Already somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 Syrians have been killed, the vast majority of them civilians. According to United Nations investigators, some have been killed by chemical weapons and thermobaric bombs (that suck the oxygen out of the lungs of everyone in the area.)

There have been at least 17 massacres between mid-January and mid-May of this year alone. And there is no sign that the bloodshed is abating. Whether the death toll is closer to 80,000 or 100,000, this figure is more than all the people killed in nearly a century of conflict between Israel and its enemies — a conflict that includes half a dozen wars and thousands of acts of terrorism and reprisals.

Even if one credits the worst allegations against the nation state of the Jewish people, Israel has killed fewer civilians since it came into existence 65 years ago than any country in history facing comparable threats over so long a time frame.

The world seems unaware of this remarkable fact because the media and international organizations focus far more on Arab and Muslim deaths caused by Israel than on those caused by fellow Arabs and Muslims.

Neither is Syria the first bloody battleground on which Arabs have massacred Arabs and Muslims have massacred Muslims. Black September in Jordan, the protracted war between Iran and Iraq, the civil war in Lebanon, and the killings in post-Saddam Iraq are only some of the bloodiest battles that resulted in many thousands of civilian deaths.

Imagine then what would happen if Israel were ever to lose a war with its Arab and Muslim enemies (as it almost did when it was attacked on Yom Kippur in 1973 by the Egyptian and Syrian armies.)

The hatred directed against Jews in general and Israel in particular by Israel’s enemies is far more malignant than the animosity between Sunni and Shia Muslims or between Muslim and Christian Arabs. It is taught in schools, preached in mosques and repeated in the media. There would be no mercy shown. Israeli armies would not be allowed to surrender and be repatriated, as the Egyptian army was when it was trapped in Sinai at the end of the 1973 war.

Israeli civilians would be targeted as they already have been by Hamas and Hezbollah rockets fired in the direction of large population centers. The goal of the first war against Israel was expressed by one of its leaders, who proclaimed: “this will be a war of extermination.” The desire for revenge has only grown over the course of further warfare and more defeats.

Every Israeli lives under the grim shadow of this reality. Nor do they count on timely outside intervention to prevent massacres. Remember, this is a nation built on the memory of the Holocaust, during which the world — including the United States, Great Britain and Canada — shut their gates on those seeking to escape genocide.

That is why Israel will never surrender and will always fight to the end. That is why Israel needs a nuclear deterrent, unsatisfactory as it may be in a part of the world where suicide in the name of Islam is a virtue to so many of Israel’s enemies. That is why Israel must always maintain a preventive option, whereby it attacks the enemy military that is poised to attack Israeli civilians. That is why Israel must always maintain qualitative military superiority over the combined resources of its enemies.

This is also why Israel should make every reasonable effort to make peace with the Palestinians, as it has with the Egyptians and the Jordanians, but without sacrificing its security and its ability to successfully resist attack.

The first duty of every democracy is to protect its civilians against enemy attack. Thus far, Israel, though vastly outnumbered, has done a good job. The changes now occurring in the Arab and Muslim world make Israel’s future somewhat less certain, as does Iran’s movement toward nuclear weaponry capable of inflicting a second Holocaust on Israel’s six million Jews and one million Arabs.

Yet so many in the international community seem unsympathetic to Israel’s situation. Whenever it seeks to defend its civilians, by attacking military targets, though inadvertently killing some civilians on occasion, there is a disproportional outcry against the Jewish state. Selective boycotts, divestment and other sanctions are directed only at Israel by people ranging from Alice Walker to Steven Hawking.

Israel must not allow these immorally selective threats of delegitimation to deter it from protecting its citizens against the threat of Syrian-type massacres.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School. Read more reports from Alan M. Dershowitz — Click Here Now.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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