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Posts tagged ‘Observatory’

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.

Syrian Opposition Group Accuses Rebel Unit of Torture.

BEIRUT — The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Tuesday accused a rebel battalion of torturing civilians and extorting money from them in Syria‘s northern city of Aleppo.

Torture, kidnapping and summary killings have become a daily aspect of Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war.

But the Observatory, a British-based group with a network of activists across Syria, said it felt compelled to single out the Badr Martyrs’ Battalion, a unit of the Free Men of Syria Brigade (Ahrar Suriya), after collecting a large number of witness accounts pointing to frequent detentions and torture.

“These types of incidents are increasingly common on both sides, unfortunately. Many of these people are civilians, not fighters. Incidents like this degrade the revolution that people started,” Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory, said in a telephone interview.

Abdelrahman emailed pictures of a man who he said had been tortured by the group. The man’s legs had the skin torn open in several places. His back was covered in open lash marks.

The man told the Observatory he had sustained the injuries while being detained for three days.

Other residents told the group that the same unit of Ahrar Suriya, which operates near Aleppo’s government-held district of Ashrafiyeh, had forced refugees as well as local residents to pay protection money.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, which began as peaceful protests but has degenerated into civil war.

The United Nations says both sides have committed human rights violations, though it has documented more abuses by Assad’s forces.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Battle over Syria’s Aleppo airport intensifies.

  • This citizen journalism image taken on, Sunday, March. 10, 2013 and provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrians standing next to dead bodies that have been pulled from the river near Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, Syria. Activists said the dead bodies of at least 20 men were pulled from a river that runs between regime- and rebel-controlled parts of the northern city. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

    View PhotoAssociated Press/Aleppo Media Center AMC – This citizen journalism image taken on, Sunday, March. 10, 2013 and provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC which has been authenticated based on its contents and other …more 


BEIRUT (AP) — New clashes erupted Tuesday in an intensifying battle for control over Aleppo’s international airport and nearby military bases in Syria’s north, activists said.

Rebels have tried for weeks to capture Aleppo’s international airport and nearby air bases as part of their campaign to erode the regime’s air supremacy in the 2-year-old conflict that the United Nations says has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

Rebels have made significant strategic advances in the north in the past months, capturing military bases, two dams on the Euphrates river and the city of Raqqa in the northwest — the first urban area to fall into opposition hands since the uprising against Assad’s regime began in March 2011.

The rebels also control large swathes of land outside of Aleppo. The battle for the city itself, Syria’s main commercial hub, is locked in a stalemate. Rebels pushed into the city in July and captured several neighborhoods and it has been a major battleground in the civil war ever since.

The army still holds large parts of Aleppo and maintains control over the airport, the country’s second largest. Crucially, Syria’s air space is firmly controlled by the regime in Damascus, which uses its warplanes to regularly bomb rebel strongholds.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes erupted anew on Tuesday around the airport and rebels also intensified their assault on the Nairab and Mannagh air bases near the strategic facility, which has not been handling fights for weeks because of the fighting.

There were also intense clashes at another nearby airfield known as Kweiras, according to the Observatory, a Britain-based anti-regime group that relies on a network of activists on the ground.

Fighting also raged for a second day in the central city of Homs as rebels tried to take back the poor neighborhood of Baba Amr, which they lost to President Bashar Assad’s troops a year ago.

Last year, government forces besieged Baba Amr for a month before rebel forces withdrew and the government seized control on March 1. Hundreds of people were killed in the siege.

On Sunday, rebels pushed back into Baba Amr and Syrian forces responded on Monday by firing heavy machine guns into the neighborhood, sending residents fleeing.

In Geneva, The U.N. food agency said the renewed violence in Baba Amr has forced at least 3,000 families to leave their homes in the contested area.

The World Food Program said in a statement that more than 1,000 of the displaced families have taken refuge in six schools in Homs and some 2,000 families are staying in public shelters or with relatives in different parts of the governorate.

It was unclear how much of the neighborhood rebels had seized or continued to hold after the latest fighting in the area.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that a Ukrainian journalist who was kidnapped in Syria is free after being held by rebels for more than 150 days.

Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebiynis said the reporter, Ankhar Kochneva, was expected to contact the Ukrainian embassy in Damascus later in the day.

Kochneva, who has written for Syrian and Russian newspapers, was kidnapped in western Syria on Oct. 9. Russian media reported she had been held by members of the Free Syrian Army opposition group. Perebiynis said he had no further information on her.

The Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted Kochneva as saying she walked away from the house where she was held, skirted a rebel guard post and then walked about 15 kilometers (9 miles) through fields until finding a villager who helped her.

According to the newspaper, Kochneva said she was abducted near the city of Homs while riding in a taxi to Damascus.

The abductors released a video in which Kochneva said she was working as a Russian agent, but the newspaper quoted her as saying the recording was made under duress.

Russia is a staunch ally of Damascus, supplying the Assad regime with weapons and shielding his government from tougher U.N. sanctions.


Associated Press writers Anna Melnichuk in Kiev, Jim Heintz in Moscow and John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report.


By BARBARA SURK | Associated Press

Massacre of over 100 reported in Syria’s Homs.

  • Residents stand near buildings damaged by what activists said were missiles fired by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Daraya January 18, 2013, in this picture provided by Shaam News Network. REUTERS/Kenan Al-Derani/Shaam News Network/Handout

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – Residents stand near buildings damaged by what activists said were missiles fired by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Daraya January 18, 2013, in this picture …more 

BEIRUT (Reuters) – More than 100 people were shot, stabbed or possibly burned to death bygovernment forces in the Syrian city of Homs, a monitoring group said on Thursday, and fierce fighting raged across the country.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said women and children were among the 106 people killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad forces who stormed Basatin al-Hasawiya, a poor district on the edge of Homs, on Tuesday.

The massacre in the central city came the same day twin explosions killed over 80 people at Aleppo’s university in the north, according to the group.

Reuters cannot independently confirm reports due to reporting restrictions in Syria.

Syrian warplanes and troops pursued a countrywide offensive on Thursday, activists and state media said, bombing rebel-held areas and clashing with insurgents who have pushed into cities.

Government forces clashed on Thursday with insurgents in the cities of Deraa, Hama, Homs, Aleppo, Damascus and east of Deir al-Zor, the Observatory said. Only the coastal Assad strongholds of Latakia and Tartous were spared violence.

Opposition activists said 15 people, including 7 children, were killed when an air strike hit a family home in Husseiniyeh, a suburb on the outskirts of the capital.

They sent Reuters footage of people dragging the limp bodies of children out of the rubble.

In Hama province, the government said it had secured some areas and displaced families were returning to the area of Zor Abi Zaid after armed forces “cleansed the area completely of terrorists”, a term authorities use for the rebels.

Activists and Turkish news agencies reported renewed clashes on the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain, where rebel forces have been fighting armed Kurdish groups for control.

The local Turkish Dogan news agency said one man on the Turkish side of the border was wounded by a stray bullet overnight and that schools in the area had been closed due to the clashes on the Syrian side.

In the power vacuum, some Kurdish groups are trying to assert control over parts of Syria through fights with rebels and government forces. The Observatory said clashes broke out between Kurdish militants and the Syrian army in Rameilan, a town in the northeast.


Activists said 17 members of the Khazam family had been killed during Tuesday’s raid on Basatin al-Hasawiya.

“The Observatory has the names of 14 members of one family, including three children, and information on other families who were completely killed, including one of 32 people,” Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory, told Reuters.

“This needs to be investigated by the United Nations,” said Abdelrahman, a Syrian who has documented human rights violations in Syria since 2006 and now reports on killings by both sides.

The United Nations says 60,000 have been killed in the 22-month-old conflict. Several massacres have been reported, most blamed on pro-Assad forces but some also on rebel fighters.

The town of Houla in Homs province was the scene in May 2012 of the killings of 108 people, including nine children and 34 women, which U.N. monitors blamed on the army and pro-Assad militia.

The United Nations sent observers to Syria in April 2011 but after several attacks on their convoys they left in August, complaining both sides had chosen the path of war.

Abu Yazen, an opposition activist in Homs, said the rebel Free Syrian Army occasionally entered the farmland of Basatin al-Hasawiya to attack a nearby military academy.

“Assad’s forces punish civilians for allowing the rebels to enter the area,” he said. Other activists said the raid was carried out by pro-Assad militia.

The government and opposition blame each other for two explosions at Aleppo’s university on Tuesday which killed at least 87 people, many of them students attending exams, in the deadliest attack on civilians to hit the commercial hub since rebels laid siege to it over the summer.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the attack was “beyond horrific”.

“According to eyewitnesses, regime jets launched the strikes,” she said on her Twitter account.

Russia, which has backed Assad throughout the revolt both in rhetoric and through its veto of U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Assad, dismissed suggestions Damascus was behind the explosions.

“I cannot imagine any bigger blasphemy,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists during a visit to Tajikistan.

(Additional reporting by Erika Solomon and Alex Dziadosz in Beirut, Roman Kozhevnikov in Dushanbe, Russia, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Jonathon Burch in Ankara; Editing by Andrew Roche)

(This Jan. 17 story was corrected to change the date of Houla massacre from May 2011 to May 2012 in the seventeenth paragraph)


By Oliver Holmes | Reuters

Syrian warplanes bomb rebellious Damascus suburbs.

  • Men help a wounded civilian after a mortar attack in the Saif al-Dawlah neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. The revolution against the Syrian regime started in March 2011 with peaceful protests but morphed into a civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people, according to a recent United Nations estimate. (AP Photo/Andoni Lubaki)

    View PhotoAssociated Press/Andoni Lubaki – Men help a wounded civilian after a mortar attack in the Saif al-Dawlah neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. The revolution against the Syrian regime started …more 


BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian fighter jets on Sunday bombed Damascussuburbs in a government offensive to dislodge rebels from strategic areas around the capital, activists said, as clashes raged around army bases and airfields in the country’s north.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said warplanes were hitting towns and villages around the capital, while regime forces targeted other neighborhoods with artillery and mortars. At least nine people were killed when a shell hit eastern Ghouta district, the group said.

Also Sunday, Turkish state media said Assad’s fighter jets bombed the Syrian town of Azaz near the Turkish border.

At least 34 Syrians wounded in the airstrikes were brought across the border to the Turkish province of Kilis for treatment, the state-run Anadolu agency said. Seven died of the injuries, the report said.

The Observatory said troops were battling rebels in the suburb ofDaraya a day after government officials claimed the army had taken much of the strategic area, which lies on the edge of a major military air base southwest of the capital.

In northern Syria, government forces were fighting rebels over an air base and the international airport of the city of Aleppo. The airport includes a military base.

Syrian troops have been pushing since November to regain Daraya, which had a population of about 200,000 before the fighting. Thousands have fled the relentless violence, among more than 2 million Syrians who have been internally displaced during the civil war. At least half a million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Because of its strategic location, rebel control of the Daraya poses a particularly grave threat to the capital.

The suburb is flanked by the key districts of Mazzeh, home to a military air base, and Kfar Sousseh, where the government headquarters, the General Security intelligence agency head office and the Interior Ministry are located.

While Assad’s loyalists appear to have an upper hand on the Damascus front due to the regime’s air power, the rebels dealt the government a major blow in the north by capturing a sprawling air base in Idlib province on Friday.

Rebels retained control of the Taftanaz base Sunday and intensified their assault on the Mannagh air base and the international airport in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, activists said.

Among the rebels taking part in the battle are fighters from Jabhat al-Nustra, an Islamist group that the U.S. has branded a terrorist organization. Washington said the group, among the most organized and effective rebel forces on the ground, is affiliated with al-Qaida.

Syrian official statements regularly play up the role of Islamist militants in the civil war and refer to the rebels as terrorists.

More than 60,000 people have been killed since the revolt started almost two years ago.

Heavy fighting was reported Sunday in the northern province of Deir el-Zour, involving attacks by warplanes, activists said.

Last month an international aid group, Doctors Without Borders, said tens of thousands of Syrians, many of them wounded, are trapped in Deir el-Zour.

In Aleppo, where rebels fought troops to a stalemate last year, the two sides clashed near the air force intelligence building in the Zahra neighborhood.

The state-run SANA news agency said an army unit killed “a number of terrorists and destroyed a convoy of cars that was transporting weapons, ammunition and terrorists” in Deir el-Zour.

Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi formed a ministerial committee to conduct dialogue with opposition groups, SANA reported. The dialogue is part of efforts to implement a peace plan Assad outlined in a speech a week ago.

In his first address to the nation in six months, Assad rejected international calls to step down and offered to oversee a national reconciliation conference, while rejecting any talks with the armed opposition and vowing to continue fighting them.

The speech was condemned by the U.S. and its Western and Gulf Arab allies, while Assad’s backers in Russia and Iran said his proposal should be considered.

In a rare demonstration in Damascus, dozens of protesters staged a sit-in at the Justice Ministry on Sunday, demanding the minister move against merchants who activists claim are trying to profit from the crisis by raising prices of cooking gas, flour and bread.

Food prices have soared in the past year in Syria, as the value of the local currency plummeted because of the conflict and an international ban on oil exports.


Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.


By BARBARA SURK | Associated Press

Syrian warplanes bomb suburbs of the capital.

  • A civilian looks at a destroyed home in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The area is immersed in a Syrian civil war that the United Nations estimates has killed more than 60,000 people since the revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. (AP Photo/Andoni Lubaki)

    Enlarge PhotoAssociated Press/Andoni Lubaki – A civilian looks at a destroyed home in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The area is immersed in a Syrian civil war that the United Nations estimates has killed more than …more 


BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian ground and air forces bombarded rebel strongholds on the outskirts of Damascus and other areas around the country Friday while anti-government forces targeted a military post near the capital with a car bomb, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said warplanes targeted neighborhoods around the capital including Douma, which troops have been trying to recapture for weeks. Two air raids there Thursday killed 12 people and caused heavy damage.

The Observatory added that a car bomb blew up outside a military intelligence building in the northern Damascus suburb of Nabk but had no immediate word on casualties.

An amateur video posted online showed a strong explosion with black smoke billowing from Nabk and the narrator said the blast targeted the military intelligence facility. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.

The violence came two days after the U.N. said that more than 60,000 people have been killed since Syria’s crisis began in March 2011 — a figure much higher than previous opposition estimates.

Damascus-based activist Maath al-Shami said government troops were firing rockets and mortars from the Qasioun mountains overlooking the capital down at orchards near the southern suburbs ofDaraya and Kfar Sousseh. The Observatory says troops were also fighting rebels in Aqraba and Beit Saham, also south of Damascus, near the capital’s international airport.

The army command said in a statement Thursday night that troops carried out operations in suburbs of the capital including Douma and Daraya.

“Regime forces are facing very strong resistance in Daraya,” said al-Shami via Skype, but said thatgovernment forces had been able to advance down the main street in the suburb.

The government capture of Daraya would provide a boost to the regime’s defense of Damascus. It is close to a military air base as well as the government’s headquarters and one of President Bashar Assad’s palaces.

In the north, rebels resumed a week-old offensive against regime-held airbases. The government’s air power poses the biggest obstacle to advances by opposition fighters.

Activists said there were battles around the military air base of Taftanaz in the northern province of Idlib close to the Turkish border and near the international airport of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial center.

Fadi al-Yassin, an activist based in Idlib, said the rebels killed on Thursday the commander of Taftanaz air base, a brigadier general.

“The battles now are at the gates of the airport,” al-Yassin said via Skype. He added that it has become very difficult for the regime helicopters to take off and land at the base.

He said warplanes taking off from airfields in the central province of Hama and the coastal region of Latakia are participating in attacking rebels around Taftanaz.

The Syrian Army General Command said troops directed “painful strikes” against the “armed terrorist groups” of Jabhat al-Nusra, a group the U.S. claims is linked to al-Qaida-linked organization. The Syrian military says the extremist group is carrying out the Taftanaz attack, and that dozens of fighters were killed.

Aleppo airport has been closed since Monday. A government official in Damascus said the situation is relatively quiet around the facility, adding that it is up to civil aviation authorities to resume flights.

A man who answered the telephone at the information office at the Damascus International Airport said, “God willing, flights will resume to Aleppo very soon.”

Syrian rebels are fighting a 21-month-old revolt against the Assad regime. The crisis began with pro-democracy protests but has morphed into a civil war.


By BASSEM MROUE | Associated Press

Fighting rages around Syrian military air base.

  • In this image taken from video obtained from Bambuser, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke rises from buildings after an airstrike hit Douma City, Syria on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. Airstrikes continued across Syria on Thursday as Syrian President Bashar Assad's military stepped up its assault on areas that surround the nation's capital. (AP Photo/Bambuser via AP video)

    Enlarge Photo

    Associated Press/Bambuser via AP video – In this image taken from video obtained from Bambuser, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke rises from buildings after an …more 


BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops and rebels fought intense battles Thursday around a strategic air base in the country’s north and a suburb of the capital that government forces have been trying to capture since last month, activists and state media said.

The fighting is part of the escalating violence in a Syrian civil war that the United Nations estimates has killed more than 60,000 people since the revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels stormed parts of the Taftanaz air base in the northwestern province of Idlib before withdrawing. The state-run SANA news agency said government forces protecting the base “repelled the terrorists’ attempt to attack the airport” and inflicted heavy losses. The Syrian regime routinely refers to rebel forces as “terrorists.”

The Observatory said rebels resumed their assault early Thursday in an attempt to capture the base, which has resisted several opposition efforts to take the facility in recent months.

The rebels have been pursuing a strategy of attacking airports and military airfields, targeting five air bases in Idlib and the nearby province of Aleppo, trying to chip away at the government’s air power, which poses the biggest obstacle to advances by opposition fighters.

With its troops struggling to make headway — let alone gain ground — against the rebels in the field, the government has increasingly relied on its warplanes and helicopters to target opposition forces.

The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, reported clashes, air raids and shelling in several suburbs of the capital Damascus, including Daraya, which the regime has been trying to capture from hundreds of opposition fighters for weeks.

The pro-government al-Watan daily said Thursday that the army destroyed rebel strongholds in Daraya and inflicted heavy losses, adding that the area would be declared safe later in the day.

Daraya lies in a key location, and a government takeover there would provide a boost to the regime’s defense of Damascus.

The suburb is just a few kilometers (miles) from the strategic military air base of Mazzeh in a western neighborhood of the capital. It borders the Kfar Sousseh neighborhood that is home to the government headquarters, the General Security intelligence agency head office and the Interior Ministry, which was the target of a recent suicide bombing that wounded the interior minister.

Al-Watan said thousands of rebel fighters from the extremists Jabhat al-Nusra group have holed up in Daraya in preparation to storm Damascus. Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been branded a terrorist organization by the U.S. and which Washington claims is affiliated with al-Qaida, has been among the most effective fighting forces on the rebel side.

One of the airstrikes hit a building in the Damascus suburb of Douma. Amateur videos showed the top floor of the building heavily damaged as wounded were rushed away in cars and pickup trucks. Many of the wounded were covered with dust.

People rushed to rescue the wounded in a street that was covered with debris and mangled metal. The Observatory and the LCC said eight people were killed Thursday in Douma and nearby areas. Damascus.

The videos appeared genuine and corresponded with other AP reporting on the events.

In another air raid, the Observatory said dozens of people were killed or wounded in the town of Hayan in Aleppo province.

The Observatory reported that rebels attacked a power station in the central province of Hama. Syrian TV said troops protecting the station repelled the attackers.

The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees reported fighting and shelling in different areas of the southern province of Daraa, which borders Jordan. Daraa was the region where the anti-Assad uprising began in March 2011.

In Jordan, the U.N. refugee agency said Thursday that there has been a steady increase of Syrians fleeing into Jordan over the past two weeks.

UNHCR reporting officer Danita Topcagic said in the past three days, an average of 1,200-1,300 crossed the border, mainly due to fighting and skyrocketing prices of basic commodities.

Topcagic said refugees told UNHCR that the Free Syrian Army was also encouraging them to flee due to increased fighting in the area. Also, markets and shops are often shuttered making it difficult for people to find food, electricity and water supplies are intermittent and hospitals in many places have shut.

She said that in mid-December a daily average of 757 Syrians had crossed Jordan’s northern frontier, while in November the average number daily was around 600.

Syria’s civil war has turned more than half a million Syrians into refugees. Most have sought safe haven in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.


Associated Press writer Dale Gavlak contributed from Amman, Jordan.


By BASSEM MROUE | Associated Press

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