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Posts tagged ‘Lakhdar Brahimi’

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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Israel Hits Russia Weapons Shipment in Syria; Chemical Arms Sealed.

Israel carried out an airstrike on a Syrian military installation to stop a shipment to Hezbollah, as inspectors said Syria’s entire declared stock of chemical weapons has been placed under seal.

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television said Thursday that Israel had hit a Syrian air base in Latakia province, targeting a shipment of surface-to-surface missiles destined for the Lebanese Shiite movement.

A U.S. official confirmed to AFP that “there was an Israeli strike” but gave no details on the location or the target, while Israeli officials refused to comment.

“Historically, targets have been missiles transferred to Hezbollah,” allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad, the official said.

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Al-Arabiya quoted the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying explosions took place Wednesday near Latakia at an air defense base.

In May, Israel carried out two airstrikes inside Syria, and a senior Israeli official told AFP both targets were Iranian weapons destined for Hezbollah.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported Thursday that all of Syria’s chemical weapons were under “tamper proof” seals.

“All stocks of chemical weapons and agents have been placed under seals that are impossible to break,” OPCW spokesman Christian Chartier said Thursday.

“These are 1,000 tons of chemical agents [which can be used to make weapons] and 290 tonnes of chemical weapons,” Chartier told AFP in The Hague.

The OPCW also said Syria’s chemical arms production equipment had been destroyed.

Inspectors had until Friday to visit all the sites and destroy all production and filling equipment in accordance with a timeline laid down by the OPCW and a U.N. Security Council resolution.

The resolution, stating that the arsenal must be destroyed by mid-2014, followed a U.S.-Russian deal to avert military strikes on Syria after chemical weapons attacks near Damascus in August.

The West blamed those attacks, which killed hundreds, on Assad’s regime, which denied all responsibility and, in turn, blamed rebels.

The United States is “increasingly confident” the chemical arsenal will be eliminated by June 30, Thomas Countryman, a senior State Department official in charge of non-proliferation issues said.

IHS Jane’s hailed the “milestone” but cautioned that the work was far from over, noting that the entire arsenal is still under regime control.

“This is a very hurried process that has significant and real uncertainty associated with it. Only when the weapons are destroyed or removed from Syria will it be complete,” IHS Jane’s director for aerospace and defense consulting David Reeths told AFP.

The inspectors’ report came as international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met in Damascus with opposition members tolerated by the regime, part of a regional tour to garner support for proposed peace talks, dubbed Geneva II. He travels to Beirut on Friday.

Brahimi has been struggling to persuade a wary regime and an increasingly divided opposition to attend the conference.

On Wednesday, he met Assad for less than an hour, during which the president criticized foreign interference in Syria.

“The Syrian people are the only ones who have the right to decide on Syria’s future,” state media quoted Assad as telling Brahimi.

Earlier this month, Assad cast doubt on the possibility of his regime attending the Geneva talks, saying he would not negotiate with any group tied to the rebels or to foreign states.

The main opposition National Coalition has said it will refuse to take part in any talks unless Assad’s resignation is on the table, and rebel groups have warned participants will be considered traitors.

On the ground, the Syrian Revolution General Commission said regime forces had seized the town of Sfeira in Aleppo province after a 27-day siege, and the Aleppo Media Center, a network of activists, said rebels had completely withdrawn.

The army maintains several arms factories in the area.

The Observatory also reported a rebel mortar attack on Jaramana, a mixed Christian-Druze suburb of Damascus, that killed two women and wounded several people, and said at least eight other people were killed in an army rocket attack on southern Damascus’s Al-Hajar Al-Aswad neighborhood.

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More than 120,000 people have been killed in the 31-month rebellion against the Assad regime triggered by his bloody crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired democracy protests.

Thousands more have been detained both by the regime and by rebels, and many civilians, including foreign journalists, have gone missing, some abducted by jihadist groups.

One of those kidnapped, Polish photojournalist Marcin Suder, managed to escape his captors and is back home, Poland’s foreign ministry said Thursday.

© AFP 2013


Syria conflict: Israel ‘carries out Latakia air strike’.


“There’s every likelihood that this was the squadron that carried out the attack”, reports Quentin Sommerville

Israeli aircraft have carried out a strike near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, a US official says.

The official said the strike targeted Russian-made missiles intended for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Latakia is a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, where his Alawite community is concentrated.

This is believed to be sixth Israeli attack in Syria this year. Israel does not comment on specific operations.

Israeli officials have repeatedly said it would act if it felt Syrian weapons, conventional or chemical, were being transferred to militant groups in the region, especially Hezbollah.

Continue reading the main story


image of Kevin ConnollyKevin ConnollyBBC News, Jerusalem

Israeli air-raids on military targets inside Syria have become one of the strangest sub-plots of the civil war.

This is thought to be the fifth or sixth such attack this year but it is Israeli policy not to offer any public comment on specific operations.

Syria too – for all its decades of hostility towards Israel – hasn’t offered any military response and has tended to say little or nothing about the operations.

Israel has said publicly that it won’t allow the Assad regime in Damascus to transfer powerful rockets and missiles to its allied Shia militia Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, where they could threaten targets in Israel.

The Syrian government caught in a grinding civil war of attrition within its borders does not have the capacity for any kind of military confrontation with Israel – avoiding public comment may be a way of reducing pressure from its own people and from the wider Arab world for some form of retaliation.

Israel’s silence gives it some kind of deniability – even if no-one really doubts it is responsible.

The US, Israel’s closest ally, may be a little concerned. The consignment of expensive weapons destroyed is thought to have come from Russia, and Washington won’t want to see Russian displeasure provoked at a moment when its co-operation is needed to keep alive any hope of peace talks.

Reports of the strike came as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said all Syria’s declared equipment for making chemical weapons had been destroyed, one day before a deadline.

Action by the OPCW was agreed following allegations, denied by the Syrian government, that its forces had used chemical weapons in civilian areas – and after the US and France threatened military intervention.

Delicate moment

A US official said the Israeli strike took place overnight from Wednesday into Thursday.

Reports circulated on Thursday of explosions near Latakia, but the cause was not clear.

“Several explosions were heard in an air defence base in the Snubar Jableh area,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist network.

Neither Israel nor Syria have commented on the reports. Earlier this year, Mr Assad had promised to respond to any future strikes by Israel.

One unnamed US official told the Associated Press that the missiles targeted by Israel were Russian-made SA-125s.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut says the reports come at a delicate moment, with the Russians – who apparently made the weapons that Israel is said to have targeted – working closely with the US to get a peace conference on Syria off the ground.

Russia has been a key backer of President Assad’s, continuing to supply his government with weapons during the conflict in Syria.

Lakhdar Brahimi: “We are making progress. Whether that progress will be enough… is not certain”

The UN Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has told the BBC he believes progress was “certainly being made” on preparations for an international peace conference in Switzerland – widely referred to as Geneva 2.

Continue reading the main story

Alleged Israeli strikes on Syria

  • July 2013: Reports citing US officials say the Israeli air force struck a missile warehouse in Latakia
  • 5 May 2013: Two Israeli air strikes reportedly hit a military complex around Jamraya, north-west of Damascus
  • 2 May 2013: Israeli planes launch a strike targeting shipment of ground-to-ground missiles at a warehouse at Damascus airport, according to US intelligence sources
  • January 2013: Syrian military says Israeli jets carried out an air strike on a military research centre north-west of Damascus

But he said it was not certain if it was enough for the conference to take place, as planned, on 23 November. He said he hoped to announce a date soon.

Speaking in Damascus, at the end of his first visit to the capital since December, he said “people are realising more and more there is no military solution and don’t see any way of getting out of this horrible situation except through Geneva”.

‘Constructive partner’

On Thursday, the OPCW said in a statementthat its teams had inspected 21 of the 23 chemical weapons sites in Syria.

It said two sites were too dangerous to visit, but equipment from those sites had already been moved to places where it could be inspected.

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the BBC that his government was co-operating, and was making a contribution to freeing the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.

Lyse Doucet reports from Damascus

“I hope those who have always thought of us negatively will change their minds and understand that Syria was, is, and will be always a constructive partner,” Mr Mekdad said.

Syria’s next deadline is mid-November, by which time the OPCW and the Syrians must agree a detailed plan to destroy the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Syria has until mid-2014 to destroy the chemical weapons themselves.

Syria’s arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of the nerve gas sarin, the blister agent sulphur mustard and other banned chemicals, stored at dozens of sites.

The uprising against Mr Assad began in 2011. More than 100,000 people have been killed and more than two million people have fled the country, according to the UN.

Syria’s Assad deluded by his inner circle, U.N. envoy Brahimi says.

CAIRO (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been convinced by his inner circle that his country is the victim of a broad conspiracy led by terrorists, U.N./Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Thursday.

Brahimi said hope for a solution to the crisis, which began as a peaceful pro-democracy uprising but has turned into a conflict on largely sectarian lines, lay in the hands of Russia and the United States.

More than 70,000 Syrians have been killed in almost two years of fighting. Damascus refers to the rebels, who range from local fighters to foreign jihadists, as “armed terrorist groups”.

“He (Assad) sees the protests as a universal conspiracy against his country fuelled by terrorists. And his inner circle is the one that convinces him of that,” Brahimi said during a visit to the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.

Syria‘s main opposition coalition this month endorsed an initiative by its president, Moaz Alkhatib, offering to talk to Assad’s government about a political transition based on his departure after 13 years in power.

Brahimi praised Alkhatib’s initiative, saying it had embarrassed the Syrian government, and called on Washington and Moscow to take a lead.

“If Russia and the United States reached a real agreement, it would be easy for an international decision to be taken, but past meetings between the two states’ foreign ministers and their aides were disappointing,” he said.

Russia, one of Assad’s two main foreign backers along with Iran, has recently distanced itself from him and stepped up its calls for dialogue as his prospects of retaining power have decreased. However, it still insists that Assad’s departure, a main demand of the opposition, must not be a precondition.

Washington has repeatedly called on Assad to step down and says he has lost his legitimacy.

(Reporting by Ayman Samir; writing by Yasmine Saleh; editing by David Stamp and Kevin Liffey)



UN envoy backs Syrian opposition’s call for talks.


AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A Syrian opposition leader’s call for dialogue is a test for the intentions of President Bashar Assad, the international envoy to Syria said Sunday, as fighting raged between rebels and government forces in at least three Syrian provinces.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, said the proposal by Mouaz al-Khatib, the president of the opposition coalition, “has opened the door and challenges the Syrian government to fulfill its often-repeated assertion that it is ready for dialogue and a peaceful settlement.”

“This initiative is on the table and will be on the table,” Brahimi told reporters in Cairo following talks with Arab league chief Nabil Elaraby.

“We believe that if a dialogue begins in one of the U.N. headquarters, at least initially, between the opposition and an acceptable delegation from the Syrian government, it will be a start for getting out of the dark tunnel in which Syria is placed,” Brahimi added.

But in a statement Friday, the opposition’s main umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, said it would not allow President Bashar Assad or members of his security services to participate in talks to end the crisis.

It did not rule out, however, dialogue with some members of his ruling Baath party, saying it welcomed talks with “honorable people” from all parts of society who “have not been embroiled in the crimes against the Syrian people.”

Still, neither side has proposed a concrete plan for the talks.

Technically, al-Khatib’s offer no longer stands. Although he did not rescind it officially, he warned he would revoke it by last Sunday, if the regime didn’t release tens of prisoners — which it didn’t.

Meanwhile, Syrian Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham told fellow lawmakers in a session Sunday that dialogue is the path that must be pursued under a political agenda Assad proposed in January to end the nation’s 23-month-old conflict.

“All Syrians must work within the framework of this program to resolve the crisis in the country,” Laham said, pleading to “all Syrians, from all sects and orientation, to confront terrorism facing us.”

Addressing the same session, Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi admitted that sanctions and rebel attacks “are beyond the capacity and the ability of any country to bear.”

He said the economic blockade imposed by the European Union, the United States and some Arab states has had a “negative impact” on the health sector, although he did not elaborate.

Rebel attacks, he added, have damaged 2,500 high schools and caused serious power outages, reducing electricity distribution by up to 60 percent nationwide.

He also blamed a shrinking oil supply — which he said now meets around 40 percent of the country’s needs — on rebel attacks on oil refineries.

Earlier Sunday, Syrian Electricity Minister Imad Khamis told the state news agency, SANA, that electricity has been restored in most parts of the Syrian capital and that power will gradually reach the south as technical teams were trying to restore power completely. He blamed the blackout on an unspecified fault in high-voltage lines.

The power outage plunged Damascus into darkness late Saturday and affected much of southern Syria, mainly the provinces of Daraa and Sweida along the Jordanian border.

The Syrian capital’s 2.5 million residents have grown used to frequent power cuts as the country’s nearly 2-year-old conflict has damaged infrastructure and sapped government revenue. A fuel shortage makes it hard for residents to run backup generators.

A similar blackout struck the same areas on Jan. 20. The government blamed that outage on a rebel attack, and power was restored to most areas the following day.

Also Sunday, an explosion in traffic circle northwest of downtown Damascus killed one person and wounded another, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

It was unclear what caused the blast in Abbasid Square, which sits on the western side of the neighborhood of Jobar, where rebels from the suburbs have been trying to push in the capital and clashing with government troops for more than a week.

A Britain-based rights group reported that at least six rebel field fighters were killed Sunday in clashes with Assad’s army in the suburbs of the capital, the northern province of Hama and the southern restive town of Daraa.

The U.N. says nearly 70,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict since the revolt began in March 2011.

In a related development, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay pressed for international action to help stem the bloodshed, but acknowledged that achieving that won’t be easy. She alleged that Assad’s regime had committed crimes against humanity and should be referred to the International Criminal Court.


Hendawi reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Ben Hubbard in Beirut, Lebanon, and Geir Moulson in Berlin, Germany, contributed to this report.


By JAMAL HALABY and HAMZA HENDAWI | Associated Press

U.S., Russia, U.N. to meet Syrian opposition on Saturday.

AMMAN (Reuters) – Senior officials from the United StatesRussia, the United Nations will meet theSyrian opposition in Munich on Saturday to discuss a political transition in the country, Syrian opposition sources said.

The meeting will be the first where the United States sits down with Russia, which has influence with the Syrian military, and the Syrian opposition in a new push to end the civil war which has left 60,000 dead.

Syrian National Coalition President Moaz Alkhatib will meet U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Syrian Coalition officialssaid on Friday.

The meeting, on the sidelines of the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe, comes after Alkhatib survived a challenge to his authority after saying he would be willing to talk with Syrian officials without Assad stepping down first.

“Alkhatib was informed by Brahimi that it will be a four-way meeting. He is going to Munich alone,” a high-level Coalition member said.

“I think Russia warmed to the meeting after Alkhatib’s proposal (to talk to Syria officials). The Coalition has adopted a position of constructive vagueness on whether Assad should step down first for a transition to happen, and it has stirred things up,” the Coalition member said.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Jon Boyle)



Syria says talk of Assad’s removal unacceptable.

  • Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks at the Opera House in Damascus January 6, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA. REUTERS/Sana

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks at the Opera House in Damascus January 6, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. REUTERS/Sana

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria’s foreign minister said on Saturday any discussion of President Bashar al-Assad’s future was “unacceptable”, a week after an international envoy said the president should not be part of a transitional government.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem‘s comments showed the government has dug in against foreign pressure for a deal with the rebels fighting to topple Assad.

“No one should dare discuss the position of the president … this is unacceptable,” he told Syrian state television in an interview.

World powers have been deadlocked in their efforts to promote a transitional government they hope could prevent more bloodshed in the 22-month-old uprising against Assad, which has turned into a civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people.

United Nations and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who recently visited Assad and Syrian officials, told Reuters a week ago Assad should not be part of a transitional government.

Syrian officials condemned his comments and said the mediator was biased toward governments supporting the rebels.

Moualem said Assad’s proposal earlier this month for a new parliament and constitution was the only way forward out of the conflict. He reiterated the embattled leader’s argument that only “nationalistic opposition” could participate.

Their definition excludes the armed opposition or any group that supports intervention in Syria’s conflict, even though they are now the driving force of the rebel movement.

The opposition, for its part, has rejected anything but Assad’s removal.

International talks in Geneva last June, led by Brahimi, proposed a transitional government but left open Assad’s future. The proposal foundered after opposition backers like the United States insisted Assad not play a role, while Russia, Assad’s main arms supplier, said foreign powers should not impose restrictions on the transition.


In his interview with Syria TV on Saturday, Moualem said Assad’s proposed initiative for national dialogue was Damascus’s only accepted reading of the Geneva transition plan.

“There were a lot of ambiguities (in the Geneva proposal) and we were unable to clarify them. So this Syrian political program is our interpretation of the transitional period mentioned in the Geneva declaration,” he said.

“We will not discuss anything outside of this program.”

Assad’s pitched a three-stage initiative earlier in January which calls for national dialogue, creation of a new constitution, and a new parliament, followed by national referendums. But the reforms are similar to previous ones made by the Assad, which the opposition rejected as superficial.

Moualem said all those who wanted reform would accept it.

“What more democracy could one want than this?”

The current government, he said, would lay the groundwork for dialogue and transition over the next two to three months. He said efforts would continue despite daily clashes, which now regularly kills more than 100 Syrians per day.

“The question is if the violence doesn’t stop should we continue with the dialogue or not? I say we should continue.”

The minister also said that Syria’s borders, a large portion of which have fallen into rebel hands, should be brought back under control by international efforts.

“This issue is actually something for the United Nations. They should come up with a mechanism, but what mechanism? It must be something that the Syrian government agrees to.”

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Jason Webb)


By Erika Solomon | Reuters

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