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Posts tagged ‘International Committee of the Red Cross’

Gitmo Inmates Rejecting Repatriation in Algeria.

The Obama administration may be pushing to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, but that doesn’t mean all the prisoners want to go home.

Two Algerian prisoners being held at the Cuban naval base are fighting against being transferred out because they fear Islamist extremists will try to kill them when they discover the repatriated men don’t share their views on violence, a lawyer for one of them told The Wall Street Journal.
Robert Kirsch, who represents detainee Belkacem Bensayah, said sending him and the other Algerian detainee, Djamel Ameziane, back to the North African country is “the most callous, political abuse of these men,” and is being done so the Obama administration can show progress on closing the prison.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited both prisoners for their exit interviews this week, said Kirsch, and has asked the United States to reconsider sending them back to Algeria, a claim the Red Cross has not yet confirmed.
They would be returning to Algeria as Islamist violence is growing there and in other North African countries. According to government reports, North Africa now houses 15 al-Qaida affiliates, according to a recent Forbes report, and there have more than 1,000 attacks in Algeria, LIbya, Tunisia, and Morocco since 2010.
Cliff Sloan, the State Department’s special envoy on the Guantanamo closing, refused comment on specific cases, telling The Wall Street Journal that State is “moving ahead on the president’s commitment to close Guantanamo responsibly, and we are making progress.”
The Cuban prison, which former President George W. Bush opened in 2002, holds 164 prisoners, with 84 already cleared for release with restrictions. The government held a review last week for 21 more prisoners who are eligible to seek clearance, and nine others are either serving sentences or facing charges.
U.S. officials said they have already put off repatriation to some countries, including Tunisia, Syria, and Uzbekistan, along with Algeria, when detainees fear mistreatment upon going home.
Human rights activists say detainees’ fears must be taken seriously.
“When you hear people say they would rather spend the rest of their lives in Guantanamo than go to a particular place, you have to take that seriously,” said Andrea Prasow, a counterterrorism counsel with Human Rights Watch.
On Thursday, a senior Obama administration official, who was not named, said the United States does consider a detainee’s concerns, but 14 detainees have already been sent back to Algeria without incident.
Bensayah, 51, is one of six Algerians who were arrested in Bosnia for plotting to blow up U.S. and British embassies, and was turned over with the others to the United States in January 2002, shortly after Bush opened the prison. The other five have already been released, but a judge ruled Bensayah was an al-Qaida “facilitator” who planned to go to Afghanistan, but later backed away from the claims, ruling him eligible for release. Bensayah wants to return to Bosnia where his family lives, but the U.S. prefers returning prisoners to their own countries.
Amezian, 46, was caught trying to enter Pakistan from Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion that came after the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks. He has been fighting repatriation to Algeria since 2009 and wants to be resettled in Canada.
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© 2013 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.
By Sandy Fitzgerald

Colombian Rebels Free Former American GI.

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s main leftist rebel group on Sunday released a former U.S. army private who the guerrillas seized in June after he refused to heed local officials’ warnings and wandered into rebel-held territory.

Kevin Scott Sutay, who is in his late 20s, was quietly turned over to Norwegian and Colombian officials along with the International Committee of the Red Cross in the same southeastern region where he had disappeared four months earlier.

In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry almost immediately thanked Colombia’s government for its “tireless efforts” in securing the Afghanistan war veteran’s release. Kerry also thanked the Rev. Jesse Jackson for advocating it.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, renounced kidnapping as a condition for the launching of peace talks that began 11 months ago to end a half-century internal conflict.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had resisted efforts by the FARC to make what he deemed a “media show” of Sutay’s release and no images were made public of the early morning jungle handover.

Santos’ firmness on prohibiting a ceremonial release of Sutay included objecting to the FARC-endorsed intercession of Jackson, who met with rebel leaders in Cuba in late September and said then that he would go to Colombia to lobby for on behalf of Sutay’s release.

Sutay was delivered at 11:30 a.m. local time to U.S. government representatives in Bogota, according to a statement issued by the Cuban and Norwegian embassies. The Red Cross said in a statement that one of its doctors examined Sutay and he was in good health to travel and be reunited with his family.

Attempts by The Associated Press to locate relatives of Sutay after his capture were unsuccessful. His service record lists his hometown as Willow Spring, North Carolina.

Sutay was in Colombia as a tourist, the U.S. Embassy has said. The FARC said it captured him on June 20 in the municipality of El Retorno in the southeastern state of Guaviare.

When it announced his capture, the FARC said it suspected him of being an agent of the U.S. government, whose close military assistance in training, logistics, surveillance and intelligence since 2000 has helped Colombia’s government badly weaken the rebels.

“What would you think of a man who is in a war zone, who has a secret camera in his watch, who is carrying [global] positioning equipment . . . who has a military uniform in his suitcase?” FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda said after the rebels announced his capture.

But local officials in Guaviare and U.S. reporters who ran into Sutay there all said that he appeared to be nothing but a tourist who was determined to walk through miles of thick jungle toward Colombia’s eastern border.

Pentagon records provided to The Associated Press said Sutay was a private born in 1985 who served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer from November 2009 to March 2013 and who was deployed in Afghanistan for the year ending November 2011.

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

Taliban Launch Crippling Attack on Kabul International Airport.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Seven Taliban insurgents including suicide bombers attacked the main airport in the Afghan capital early on Monday, with explosions and gunfire heard near an area that also houses major foreign military bases.

The attackers took up positions inside a partially constructed building next to the international airport, interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said, and fought Afghan security forces for about four hours before the raid ended.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Roads were sealed off and flights out of the airport were quickly canceled, while incoming flights were diverted to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Attacks on the heavily guarded airport, used by civilians and the military, are relatively rare and represent an ambitious target for insurgents, with recent assaults staged against less well-protected targets.

While it did not escalate dramatically, Monday’s assault will add to mounting concerns over how the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces will cope with an intensifying insurgency once most foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The airport is home to a major operational base for NATO-led forces that have been fighting Taliban and other insurgents for 12 years and is bristling with soldiers and police, guard towers and several lines of security checkpoints.

The attack began at about 4.30 a.m. local time, soon after morning prayers, and plumes of smoke were seen rising from behind razor-wire fences at the airport. The fighting ended about four hours later.

Police said the attack appeared to be centered on the military side of the airport, to the west of the civilian terminal, and that the attackers were dressed as police.


Kabul Police Chief General Mohammad Ayub Salangi told Reuters two suicide bombers blew themselves up and another five were killed in the fighting. There appeared to be no casualties among Afghan security forces or civilians.

Another police source said the attackers were wearing Afghan Border Police uniforms in order to avoid detection before they launched the assault.

Salangi also said a van packed with explosives hidden under vegetables was destroyed when security forces fired a rocket-propelled grenade at it.

The Taliban said the attack was part of its 2013 “spring offensive”.

“Today . . . there was a massive attack on the foreign military side of Kabul airport,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a text message sent to reporters.

“The enemy has suffered major casualties,” he said. The Islamist group often exaggerates the damage and casualties from attacks on Afghan government and foreign military targets.

The Afghan Air Force, a number of logistics bases and the International Security Assistance Force‘s (ISAF) counter-narcotics office are also located in or near the airport.

Embassies in the diplomatic zone in the center of Kabul were locked down and emergency alerts were heard ringing from several Western missions and military bases soon after the attack began.

Two ISAF Black Hawk helicopters briefly circled the area while Afghan soldiers fired at the building where the gunmen were holed up, a Reuters witness said.

The attack follows other recent assaults on the International Organization for Migration in Kabul and the International Committee of the Red Cross in the eastern city of Jalalabad that killed four people.

In April 2011, a rogue Afghan air force officer shot and killed eight U.S. servicemen and a civilian contractor in the worst attack at the airport since the war began.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Syria Situation Deteriorates as Russia Blocks UN Declaration.

UNITED NATIONS  — Russia has blocked a U.N. Security Council declaration of alarm over the bloody siege of the Syrian town of al-Qusair by Syrian troops and Hezbollah guerrillas, Security Council diplomats said.

Meanwhile, concern about the deteriorating situation in Syria was heightened as fighting spread into Lebanon’s territory and a leading Sunni cleric called for a holy war against the Syrian government. Humanitarian efforts by the Red Cross to address civilians caught in the crossfire are being rebuffed, and in Vatican City Pope Franics lamented the defenseless victims of the violence.

With the U.S. hopeful that peace talks in Geneva would begin shortly, weekend developments brought further concern of how the world’s powers might influence the two-year-old civil war that has killed more than 80,000 people.

Britain, president of the 15-nation council, had circulated a draft statement to fellow Security Council members voicing “grave concern about the situation in Qusair, Syria, and in particular the impact on civilians of the ongoing fighting.”

Qusair, near the Syrian-Lebanese border, is usually home to an estimated 30,000 people. Fighting for control of the town has raged for two weeks. Rebels trapped in Qusair have pleaded for military help and medical aid for hundreds of people wounded in the onslaught by government forces.

Syria’s state-run news agency reported that the government told the UN that the International Committee of the Red Cross also won’t be allowed into Qusair until military operations are concluded there.

Security Council statements must be agreed unanimously. Russia blocked the draft text, saying it was “not advisable to speak out as the U.N. Security Council didn’t when Qusair was taken by the opposition,” a council diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Another diplomat confirmed the remarks.

Moscow’s move to block the statement highlights the deep chasm between Russia and Western nations on how to deal with Syria. Russian diplomats in New York did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The draft statement, obtained by Reuters, also urged forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to oust him “to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties and for the Syrian Government to exercise its responsibility to protect civilians.”

It appealed to Assad’s government “to allow immediate, full and unimpeded access to impartial humanitarian actors, including U.N. agencies, to reach civilians trapped in al-Qusair.”

Diplomats said Russia told council members that the best way to deal with Syria was through intensive diplomacy. However, one council diplomat noted that Russia continues to sell weapons to Assad’s government.

Moscow in turn has accused Western and Gulf Arab governments of providing money, arms and other forms of support to the rebels. It is an allegation Assad’s government has also repeatedly made.

Russia and China have opposed efforts in the Security Council to impose sanctions on Assad’s government and vetoed three resolutions condemning it.

Moscow and Washington are trying to organize a peace conference in Geneva this month that would involve the government and rebels. There has been wrangling over who should participate in the conference and no date has been set for it.

In the meantime, the conflict threatens to draw more entities into it.

A Lebanese security official said Sunday that Hezbollah fighters and Syrian rebels exchanged fire in a remote area of eastern Lebanon. Hezbollah and Syrian rebels are at odds in the civil war, but rarely have their clashes extended into Lebanese territory.

Leading Sunni Muslim cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi on Saturday called for holy war against the Syrian government after fighters in response to Hezbollah support of Assad. Al-Qaradawi is among the prominent Muslim scholars who have been vociferous supporters of the revolutions that have shaken the Arab world in the last two years.

On the humanitarian front, Pope Francis decried the “plague of kidnappings” in Syria as he spoke from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.

Both rebels and pro-regime forces have abducted political foes, members of rival sects and others, including journalists, to settle scores or for ransom. Among those snatched were two Orthodox bishops who were abducted in April.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Clash Over Hunger Strike at Guantanamo Bay.

Guards clashed with prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison Saturday as the military moved hunger strikers from a communal section of the detention center into single cells on the U.S. base in Cuba, officials said.

The commander of the detention center ordered the transfer because prisoners participating in the hunger strike had covered up security cameras and blocked windows, making it difficult to monitor their health during a protest that has lasted more than two months, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a military spokesman.

Prisoners fought guards with makeshift weapons that included broomsticks when troops arrived to move them out of a communal wing of the section of the prison known as Camp 6, Durand said. Guards responded by firing four “less-than-lethal rounds,” he said.

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There were no serious injuries from the rounds, which included a modified shotgun shell that fires small rubber pellets as well as a type of bean-bag projectile, said Army Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba.

“I know for sure that one detainee was hit but the injuries were minor, just some bruises,” Julian said.

The confrontation came a day after a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross finished a three-week visit to Guantanamo to meet with prisoners and assess conditions.

“The ICRC continues to follow the current tensions and the hunger strike at Guantanamo very closely and with concern,” spokesman Simon Schorno said. “If necessary, an ICRC team will in coming days return to Guantanamo to assess the situation of the detainees on hunger strike in view of this latest development.”

Camp 6 had previously been a section of the camp reserved for detainees who followed prison rules. In exchange they were allowed to share meals and pray together, have nearly round-the-clock recreation time as well as access to satellite TV, computer games and classes. It held a majority of the 166 prisoners at the base before the hunger strike began.

The guards moved the hunger strikers and all other detainees at the communal section to single cells in a separate wing of Camp 6 around 5 a.m. Saturday. Prisoners will eventually be allowed back into communal living conditions in the future if they follow rules, while hunger strikers will be held in single cells, Durand said.

“For now, housing detainees in individual cells will enable us to observe them more closely,” he said.

Tensions had been high at the prison for months. Lawyers for prisoners said a hunger strike began Feb. 6 in protest over their indefinite confinement and what the men believed were tighter restrictions and intrusive searches of their Qurans for contraband. Prisoners offered to give up the Muslim holy book that each one is issued by the government but officials refused, considering it a tacit admission of wrongdoing.

“This is exactly the opposite of what they should be doing,” Carlos Warner, a federal public defender in Ohio, said of the decision to move prisoners into single cells instead of negotiating an end to the strike. “The military is escalating the conflict.”

The military said 43 prisoners were classified as hunger strikers under a definition that includes missing nine consecutive meals. Lawyers for prisoners have insisted the strike is much more widespread and say almost all of the men are refusing to eat.

Officials were also concerned that some men were surreptitiously starving themselves to avoid being classified as hunger strikers and force fed. The military said it was conducting individual assessments of all the prisoners.

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



UN Human Rights Chief Calls for Closing Gitmo.

Image: UN Human Rights Chief Calls for Closing Gitmo

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay.

The U.N. human rights chief called on the United States on Friday to close down the Guantanamo prison camp, saying the indefinite imprisonment of many detainees without charge or trial violated international law.
Navi Pillay said the hunger strike being staged by some inmates at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in southeastern Cuba was a “desperate act” but “scarcely surprising”.

“We must be clear about this: the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

U.S. President Barack Obama pledged four years ago to close the controversial facility, opened by the Bush administration in January 2002 to hold men captured in counter-terrorism operations after the deadly Sept. 11 attacks on America.

Pillay voiced deep disappointment at the U.S. government’s failure to close Guantanamo despite its repeated commitments, but welcomed comments by a White House spokesman last week reiterating the intention to do so while citing congressional legislation as the prime obstacle.

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About half of the current 166 detainees have been cleared for transfer either to home countries or third countries for resettlement, Pillay said. “As a first step, those who have been cleared for release must be released,” she said.


“Others reportedly have been designated for further indefinite detention. Some of them have been festering in this detention centre for more than a decade,” she said.

Guantanamo detainees accused of crimes should be tried in civilian courts, especially as the military commissions “do not meet international fair trial standards” despite improvements since 2009, said Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge.

Of the 166 remaining detainees, only nine have been charged or convicted of crimes, according to military records. The 166 detainees are from 23 countries, the Red Cross says.

Forty inmates are currently staging a hunger strike to protest against their indefinite detention, according to a U.S. military spokesman at Guantanamo. Some have lost so much weight that they are being force-fed liquid nutrients through tubes inserted into their noses and down into their stomachs.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited Guantanamo regularly since it opened to check on conditions of detention and ensure humane treatment. It is currently carrying out its 93rd visit, expected to last another week.

The ICRC sent a doctor and another delegate to Guantanamo on March 25, a week earlier than planned because of concern about a growing hunger strike among detainees, the humanitarian agency said at the time.

An ICRC team of 13 now there are discussing issues including the hunger strike separately with authorities and in private interviews with inmates, ICRC spokesman Alexis Heeb said.

“Detainees can raise any problem they want to bring to our attention, this can be issues of detention, Koran issues, requests for medical attention,” Heeb told Reuters on Friday, referring to media reports about searches of Korans for contraband.

The ICRC has a clear position of being opposed to forced feeding or forced treatment and upholds the principle of leaving the right to detainees to choose his or her fate, he said.

ICRC President Peter Maurer is expected to raise concerns about Guantanamo in talks next week with senior U.S. officials during his three-day visit to Washington, Heeb said.

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“We continue to hold detainees under the internationally recognized Law of War and in keeping with the best of our core values, safeguarding and humanely treating all who are in our care and custody, there. Assertions that present some alternate narrative simply do not withstand intellectual rigour,” a U.S. Department of Defense spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale, told Reuters in response to Pillay’s statement.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


Aid flows to rebel-held parts of Syria previously inaccessible.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may have allowed humanitarian aidinto previously inaccessible rebel-held parts of Syria to try to win the loyalty of the residents, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. refugee agency, said on Friday it had reached an opposition-held area of north Syria for the first time and found about 45,000 displaced people in appalling conditions.

The Syrian government agreed to give the United Nations access to the zone of Azaz, north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, enabling a convoy to deliver tents and blankets to needy people living in the open in freezing temperatures.

More than 2 million people are estimated to be internally displaced within Syria and more than 700,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries due to the nearly two-year conflict between Assad and rebels seeking to overthrow him.

“We think that one thing they (the Syrian authorities) may have calculated is that they ought to pacify some of the country by making sure that aid got through,” Anne Richard, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said in a conference call.

“So there has been a change in their approach, but it’s hard to speculate what’s really motivating them,” she added, saying she had asked U.N. officials, “and that was the only answer I had heard, was that they perhaps wanted to keep some of the people in the countryside loyal to them.”

Separately, an International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, official said the group had recently been able to deliver aid with the government’s consent to other opposition-held parts of Syria, including Houla in Homs province.

“The reason why this area is interesting is that it is opposition-held, and it has been sealed off for three months, where potentially no or very, very little humanitarian aid has entered into this area,” Andres Kruesi, deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, said in an interview posted on the Geneva-based aid agency’s site on Wednesday.

Kruesi said the ICRC and volunteers from the Homs branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had delivered mostly food aid and hoped to make a second delivery of food and medical supplies next week.


“It was quite a success that we have gained this access last week and we have done so with the consent of all parties involved,” he added, saying that included the various security services on the Syrian government side and representatives of the armed opposition.

Kruesi said the ICRC also was able to enter Tall Kalakh, which he described as a small city on the border with Lebanon that was one of the early hot spots of the conflict and where he said most houses were riddled with bullet holes.

“But over the last weeks now, there has been a local accommodation, negotiated at the government level, where the armed opposition and government have agreed on a ceasefire, which we now try to follow up with humanitarian aid,” he said.

“So the challenge over the next weeks will be to follow up on this field trip and to gain access to similar areas like … Houla that are encircled, to negotiate with a multiplicity of stakeholders,” he said. “We have to replicate this in other governorates (provinces), including also in rural Damascus.”

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated on January 17 that 4 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance across all 14 governorates in Syria. Of those, 3 million lacked food and 2 million were displaced.

(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Peter Cooney)



Syria’s Assad vows he won’t be forced into exile.


BEIRUT (AP) — The bravado sounded familiar. Like the leaders of other countries swept away by Arab Spring uprisings, Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed to never be forced into exile and to die in his homeland.

Assad dug in his heels even as world powers move to boost the opposition in Syria‘s civil war — the latest turn in a nearly 20-month-old crisis so overwhelming that even the Red Cross says it can no longer cope.

“I am not a puppet, I was not made by the West for me to go to the West or any other country,” Assad said in an interview with RussiaToday, which posted excerpts Thursday on its website. “I am Syrian, I am made in Syria, and I will live and die in Syria.”

The rare interview — in which the 47-year-old president spoke in English with his words translated into Arabic — was posted online two days after British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that Assad could be allowed safe passage out of Syria if that would guarantee an end to the civil war.

The full interview will be broadcast Friday, the TV station said. It was not clear when or where it took place. Assad was seen in a gray suit and tie, casually talking and also walking with RT’s reporter outside a house.

Assad has made only a few appearances public since the revolt began in March 2011. Last month, state TV showed him praying on the floor of a Damascus mosque for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

As the two sides battle for the upper hand, civilians are bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Peter Maurer, the head of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, said the civil war has been in a downward spiral for months.

“We can’t cope with the worsening of the situation,” Maurer said. “The seriousness of the crisis is deepening with every day and this trend has been uninterrupted since summer.”

The Red Cross has improved its transportation and logistics, making it easier to bring in truckloads of food and medicine, but it has become overwhelmed by the dire need of hundreds of thousands of people struggling inside Syria, he said.

The daily death toll in the civil war has been averaging 100 or more recently, according to activists’ accounts. The fighting pits rebels and troops, and the violence includes artillery shelling and regime airstrikes on rebel-held areas.

Assad’s defiant vow to “live and die” in Syria echoed statements by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak andMoammar Gadhafi of Libya — two Arab dictators who said they would never leave their homelands before popular revolts swept them from power.

In February 2011, Mubarak vowed he would “die on Egyptian soil,” and Gadhafi had said he was ready to die “a martyr” in Libya. But both men suffered humiliating downfalls. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for failing to stop the violence that killed nearly 1,000 protesters. Gadhafi was captured and killed.

In the Russia Today interview, Assad also warned against foreign military intervention.

“I don’t think the West is headed in this direction. But if it does, nobody can predict the consequences,” he told the station.

Assad has made such warnings before, saying any attempt to meddle in the Syrian crisis would cause the entire region to burn.

But world powers have shown no appetite for military intervention, and there are fears that arming the fractious opposition could backfire, with powerful weapons falling into the hands of extremists.

Still, the West is taking steps to boost the Syrian opposition.

Britain on Wednesday called on the U.S. to do more to shape the Syrian opposition into a coherent force, saying the re-election of President Barack Obama is an opportunity for the world to take stronger action to end the deadlocked civil war.

Washington has been pressing for a new, more unified opposition leadership that will minimize the role of exiles and better represent those risking their lives on the front lines. The initiative was being discussed Thursday at an opposition conference in Doha, Qatar.

The meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey, both leading backers of the Syrian rebels, as well as Western diplomats and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.

On the table is a proposal to set up a new leadership team that would become the conduit for international support to rebel-held areas in Syria. The U.S. has suggested that the main group in exile, the Syrian National Council, can no longer claim a key leadership role and must make way for those representing activists inside Syria.

Under the plan, the SNC would receive 22 out 60 seats in the new group, while each of Syria’s 14 districts would have one member. The author of the plan, Syrian dissident Riad Seif, and representatives of the SNC and other opposition groups met in a Doha hotel Thursday to try to hammer out an agreement.

Seif said after a day of negotiations that he expected a decision by Friday.

He said he was “very optimistic” it would win approval and that most Syrians would be satisfied with the new leadership. The council would form an executive body that would run rebel-held areas until the fall of the Assad regime.

In exchange for setting up the new body, the Syrian opposition can expect international recognition, billions of dollars in financial support and help in “protecting people against war planes and heavy weapons,” he said.

Seif said that after a yes vote, the Friends of Syria, an alliance of countries supporting the uprising, would meet in Morocco at the end of November or beginning of December.

Further down the road, the international community hopes for negotiations on a political transition between the opposition and those in the Assad regime who were not involved in bloodshed and corruption. The opposition has agreed to such talks, in principle, but said it could take many more months of a war of attrition before Assad is ready to leave Syria.

Although Assad remains deeply isolated worldwide, Russia has remained one of Syria’s most loyal and powerful allies, shielding Damascus from strong international action at the U.N. Security Council.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday criticized the West for supporting the opposition, saying foreign powers should try to force both sides to stop fighting.

“If their priority is, figuratively speaking, Assad’s head, the supporters of such approach must realize that the price for that will be lives of the Syrians, not their own lives,” Lavrov said in remarks posted on his ministry’s website. “Bashar Assad isn’t going anywhere and will never leave, no matter what they say. He can’t be persuaded to take that step.”

The uprising began as mostly peaceful protests but quickly became a civil war. The fighting has taken on grim sectarian tones, with the predominantly Sunni rebels fighting government forces. Assad’s regime is dominated by minority Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.


Associated Press writers Karin Laub and Abdullah Rebhy in Doha, Qatar, Zeina Karam and Barbara Surk in Beirut, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report.


By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY | Associated Press

Red Cross reaches hundreds of civilians trapped in parts of Syrian city of Homs.

GENEVA – The International Committee of the Red Cross has delivered aid to hundreds of civilians trapped for months in the Syrian city of Homs.

The aid group says it was able to reach the neighbourhoods of Khalidiya and Hamidiya in the old city of Homs on Saturday after negotiations with the government and rebels.

It said in a statement late Sunday that 34 foreign delegates and Syrian Arab Red Crescent officialswere able to deliver medical aid to 100 wounded people.

The Geneva-based group says it also delivered medicine, food and hygiene items to “hundreds of civilians (who) have been unable to leave Khalidiya and Hamidiya for at least four months” because of fighting.

Homs has witnessed some of Syria‘s worst fighting since a popular uprising began there in March 2011.


By The Associated Press | Associated Press

U.N. says Syria video killings appear to be war crime.

GENEVA (Reuters) – A video that appears to show Syrian rebels killing soldiers who had surrendered probably constitutes a war crime that should be prosecuted, the United Nations human rights office said on Friday.

The disturbing incident looks to be the latest atrocity committed by opposition fighters seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad, Rupert Colville, a U.N. rights spokesman, said.

“It will be examined carefully,” Colville told a news briefing in Geneva, saying it may be difficult to identify the perpetrators and the location where the footage was recorded.

“But the allegations are that these were soldiers who were no longer combatants. And therefore, at this point it looks very likely that this is a war crime, another one,” he said.

The footage, which has been widely publicized around the world, has dealt a further blow to the rebels’ image and is embarrassing for their foreign supporters.

Anti-government rebels killed 28 soldiers on Thursday in attacks on three army checkpoints around Saraqeb, a town on Syria’s main north-south highway, a monitoring group said.

Some of the dead were shot after they had surrendered, according to video footage. Rebels berated them, calling them “Assad’s Dogs”, before firing round after round into their bodies as they lay on the ground.

“Unfortunately, this could be just the latest in a string of documented summary executions by opposition factions as well as by government forces and groups affiliated with them, such as the shabbiha (pro-government militia),” Colville said.

He told Reuters: “A year ago, reports of excesses and atrocities by opposition forces were few and far between. But towards the end of last year and increasingly during 2012, we’ve seen events like this happen.”


More than 32,000 people are estimated to have been killed since protests against Assad first broke out and then degenerated into full-scale civil war, with his forces using artillery and air strikes.

U.N. human rights investigators led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro have gathered evidence and testimony on atrocities committed by government forces as well as by armed rebels in the 19-month-old conflict.

In their last report in August, the investigators said government forces and allied militia had committed war crimes including the murder and torture of civilians in what appeared to be a state-directed policy.

The team has already drawn up a confidential list of suspects for future prosecution, either by an international tribunal or by a Syrian national court if feasible.

Carla del Ponte, the former U.N. war crimes prosecutor who has joined the inquiry, promised last month to bring high level Syrian political or military figures who may have ordered or committed war crimes to justice.

“There should be really no illusions that accountability will follow. There is a lot of evidence for many of these crimes that have been taking place,” Colville said on Friday.

“This video, if it’s verified, if the details become a little clearer, could well be part of that evidence,” he said.

Colville called once again on both sides to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law. “You can carry out conflict within the rules of war”.

The Geneva Conventions lay down rules that aim to limit the barbarity of war. They call for the protection of civilians and of those who no longer take part in hostilities, including captured soldiers and the wounded, who it says should be humanely treated in detention.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is the guardian of the 1949 humanitarian pacts, declined comment on the video on Friday, saying it had no firsthand information.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Osborn)


By Stephanie Nebehay | Reuters

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