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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.

Silent Stories: Kidnapped, Threatened, Tortured.

Silent Stories is my monthly blog post giving voice to the persecuted Christians in our world today.

Kidnapped Clerics and Christians Fleeing, Syria

Two archbishops were kidnapped by gunmen on April 22, 2013, in the midst of civil war in SyriaGreek Orthodox Church leader Bishop Boulos Yazigi and Assyrian Orthodox Church leader Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim were ministering in the Aleppo countryside when they were taken at gunpoint.

More than 70,000 people have died in the conflict, churches are being destroyed, and Christians are being killed and tortured. The mass exodus of persecuted Christians is threatening the future of the Syrian Church. I urge you to join believers around the world inprayer for the end of violence in Syria and the release of the two kidnapped bishops.

Read More of This Silent Story:

By , Guide

Persecuted Church Group Organizes Day of Prayer for Syria.

As a result of the turmoil and uncertainty in Syria, churches will unite in prayer on Saturday in many places around the war-torn nation. (Open Doors USA)

Christians in Syria will gather this weekend to pray and fast for the Day of Prayer for Syria.

“Without the church, Syria has no future,” an Open Doors contact said last month about the horrendous conditions facing Christians inside the country and the refugees struggling in camps along the borders.

A report from Open Doors says some areas in the cities of Homs and Aleppo are being taken over by Muslim extremists, who are implementing Shariah law.

“We need food and medicines,” says an Open Doors contact in Aleppo. “But what our country needs most now is prayer. We have no option than to turn to God in this desperate situation. The most important thing the world can do for us now is pray.”

As a result of the turmoil and uncertainty, most churches in Syria will unite in prayer on Saturday in many places around the war-torn nation. This will be an extraordinary show of unity of Christian denominations in Syria, where the ongoing civil war has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

Syrian Christians are asking their brothers and sisters around the world to pray and fast with them on the Day of Prayer for Syria on Saturday.

“The situation in Syria is really desperate,” a contact in Damascus says. “We will all pray together in Syria, but we need every Christian in the world to pray. Please pray that the problems will come to an end and those causing the problems will stop. Pray that Syria will find Jesus.”

Another church leader explains that others joining with Syrian Christians in prayer would be a big blessing: “It is so powerful to pray like one family. It’s not that just our prayers aren’t enough for God, but if all the Christians in the world unite with one heart, we believe it will be a blessing for Syria and the whole earth. Words can’t describe how thankful we are that you will pray with us. We pray that God will bless everyone who is praying with us.”

“Join Christians in countries around the world who will pray for Syria on May 11,” says Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra. “Perhaps you can also pray in your churches the following day. Pour out your heart with pleas for the suffering Christians there. They are in need and asking for our prayers!”

Prayer requests from churches inside Syria include:

  • Healing for the injured and comfort for those who have lost loved ones
  • An end to the bloodshed
  • The children, as their childhood has been stolen from them
  • Unity and reconciliation among churches and denominations to continue
  • Rootedness of Christians in their land without fear of violence

Click here for more information, a list of specific prayer requests and to make a pledge to pray for Syria.



White House: Assad Likely behind Chemical Arms Use.

Image: White House: Assad Likely behind Chemical Arms Use

A Syrian victim who was injured in an alleged March chemical attack receives treatment by doctors at a hospital in Aleppo, Syria.


The White House says it’s highly likely that Syrian President Bashar Assad‘s regime, not the rebel opposition, was behind any chemical weapons use in Syria.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says there is certainly evidence that chemical weapons have been used. But Carney says the U.S. is highly skeptical of claims that rebels put them in play.

Earlier Monday, a member of a U.N. panel investigating in Syria said there were indications that rebel forces had used the nerve agent sarin.

Carney says the U.S. is still looking for conclusive evidence about chemical weapons use. He says there’s no timeline for the investigation.

Secretary of State John Kerry was leaving for Moscow on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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


Intercessors Target War-Torn Syria for Day of Prayer.

A general view of the damaged, historic Um Al-Zennar church in the old city of Homs, Nov. 8. Most churches in Syria will unite in prayer on Saturday, May 11, in many places around the war-torn nation. (Reuters/Yazan Homsy)

Most churches in Syria will unite in prayer on Saturday, May 11, in many places around the war-torn nation. This will be an extraordinary show of unity among Christian denominations in Syria, where the ongoing civil war has claimed over 70,000 lives.

Syrian Christians are asking their brothers and sisters around the world to pray and fast with them on this Day of Prayer.

“As Christians in Syria continue to suffer from the devastating effects of the two-year-old civil war, including killings, kidnappings, homelessness, lack of food and shelter and closing of schools, they are also seeing that God‘s hand is at work, as all denominations are joining in passionate prayer,” says Open Doors USA interim President/CEO Steve Ridgway. “Christians in Syria know only Jesus can bring redemption and true peace.

“I urge you to take time on May 11 to pray with Syrian believers and for the country of Syria. Also encourage prayer in your churches on May 12. Let’s stand together as one in Christ.”

On this Day of Prayer, May 11, churches all over Syria will unite in one heart before the Father. They will meet in their churches, homes and gathering places to send their cries to our Lord. Christians from different denominations, such as Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant/evangelical, will join together in prayer and fasting to plead before the Lord for His mercy on Syria and an end to the violence.

Due to the dangers of traveling in combat zones, Christians in Syria will be limited to gathering at local meetings planned all across the nation during this day. These groups will meet in homes, arenas and churches.

In Damascus, some of the churches will meet in an arena, but there will also be prayer in several suburbs of the city. The entire Christian community in Aleppo and the surrounding area is gathering to pray.

“This is a huge undertaking as it [a day of prayer with almost all denominations participating] has never happened in Syria before,” says a Syrian church leader.

Open Doors received a letter from leaders coordinating the Day of Prayer. In part, it reads:

“As you may know, the Christian church in Syria is experiencing a deep humanitarian crisis that is leading to the rapid loss of hope. In the face of violence and persecution, our brothers and sisters are striving to keep their eyes on the Lord and seeking His face in their country. Even in pain, suffering and death, God is using the church to accomplish His plan.”

On the ground in Syria, Open Doors, working with church partners, is helping facilitate food supplies, personal hygiene products, medical assistance, medicine and financial support for the homeless that pays the rent for apartments that provide temporary shelter. The Displaced Peoples Project also targets other countries, as worldwide, thousands of Christians are being forced to leave their original family homes and villages due to persecution and ravages of war.

A few prayer requests from churches inside Syria include:

  • The release of two Orthodox bishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, who were kidnapped April 23 in Aleppo, and other Christians who are missing;
  • Counseling for children who have been traumatized by violence;
  • For almost one-third of the Syrian population, who are either refugees outside the country or homeless inside Syria;
  • The return of peace.

For more information, a list of specific prayer requests and to make a pledge to pray for Syria, click here.



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