Category - Levant

‘More than 230,000 killed’ in Syria conflict

AFP, June 9

Beirut – Syria’s brutal conflict has left more than 230,000 people dead including almost 11,500 children since it broke out in 2011, a monitoring group said Tuesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented the deaths of 230,618 people.

The toll includes 69,494 civilians, among them 11,493 children and 7,371 women.

Combatants account for a majority of those killed, with 49,106 regime forces and 36,464 government loyalists among the dead.

Turkey votes amid debate on presidential system

Ruling AK party seeks two-thirds majority in parliament, aiming to replace parliamentary system with a presidential one.

Al Jazeera, By Umut Uras, June 7

Voters in Turkey are casting their ballots in a parliamentary election that could lead to fundamental changes in how the country is governed.

Sunday’s election is being held amid strong economic promises and debates on the Kurdish issue.

The polls are to open at 8am local time (0500GMT) and close at 5pm (1400GMT), with non-official results expected by the end of the day.

The political atmosphere is tense, with bombings targeting the country’s Kurdish-oriented left-wing party and harsh rhetoric emanating from party leaders and the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Amid the ruins of Syria, is Bashar al-Assad now finally facing the end?

As Isis surges ahead and the Syrian regime teeters on the brink of collapse, our Middle East correspondent, winner of the 2015 Orwell prize for journalism, reports on the deadly struggle for dominance in the region.

The Guardian, By Martin Chulov, May 23

One evening at the end of March, a Syrian rebel leader returned from a meeting across the border in Turkey and called an urgent gathering of his commanders. The five men turned up at their boss’s house in Idlib province expecting to receive the same pleas for patience that they had always heard and more grim news about cash and weapons being hard to find. This time, though, they were in for a shock.

“He arrived looking eager,” said one of the commanders. “That caught our attention straight away. But when he started to speak, we were all stunned.”

The leader, who asked that his unit not be identified, said he told his men that the grinding war of attrition they had fought against the Syrian government since early 2012 was about to turn in their favour.

“And the reason for that was that I could now get nearly all the weapons I wanted,” he told the Observer. “For the first time they were not holding anything from us – except anti-aircraft missiles. The Turks and their friends wanted this over with.”

Istanbul Goes Into Security Lockdown to Stop May Day Rallies

NBC News, May 1

Istanbul — Istanbul went into a security lockdown on Friday as thousands of police manned barricades and closed streets to stop May Day rallies at Taksim Square, a symbolic point for protests.

Citing security concerns, authorities shut down much of the city’s public transport and dispatched riot police to block Taksim off from demonstrators. A traditional rallying ground for leftists, the central square saw weeks of unrest in 2013.

Hundreds of flag-waving protesters gathered in the nearby Besiktas neighborhood, where they were held back by lines of police. Thousands of protesters also gathered to march in the capital Ankara.

Critics say President Tayyip Erdogan and the government have become more authoritarian ahead of June elections.

“This meeting is peaceful and is not armed,” opposition politician Mahmut Tanal, holding a pocket-sized book of the Turkish constitution, told Reuters in Istanbul. “People want to express their problems but the government doesn’t want those problems to be heard ahead of elections.”

Armenian Church to canonize 1.5 million genocide victims

AFP, By Irakli Metreveli, April 23

Yerevan – The Armenian Church prepared Thursday to canonise up to 1.5 million Armenians massacred by Ottoman forces as tensions over Turkey’s refusal to recognize the killings as genocide reached boiling point.

The ceremony, which is believed to become the biggest canonisation service in history, comes ahead of commemorations expected to see millions of people including heads of state Friday mark 100 years since the start of the killings. The Armenian Apostolic Church announced the canonisation service for the “martyrs of the Armenian Genocide,” calling for a “prayerful participation in this historic event.”

The service will be held in Armenia’s main church, Echmiadzin, an austere fourth-century edifice believed to be the Christian world’s oldest cathedral. The ceremony will run from 1300 GMT and end at 1515 GMT to symbolize the year when the massacres started during World War I.

“Today’s canonisation unites all Armenians living around the globe,” Huri Avetikian, an ethnic Armenian librarian from Lebanon who arrived in her ancestral homeland to attend the service, told AFP.

The Independent: System Of A Down perform in Armenia for the first time to mark genocide’s 100th anniversary
NPR: System Of A Down, Armenia’s Favorite Sons, On Facing History

Thousands Trapped Inside Syria’s Yarmouk Refugee Camp As ISIS Takes Over

Reuters, By Oliver Holmes, April 4

Beirut – Islamic State has taken control of 90 percent of a Palestinian refugee camp on the Damascus outskirts where 18,000 civilians have suffered years of bombing, army siege and militia control, a monitoring group said on Saturday.

The hardline group’s offensive in Yarmouk gives it a major presence in the capital. Islamic State, the most powerful insurgent group in Syria, is now only a few kilometers from President Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power.

The United Nations has said it is extremely concerned about the safety and protection of Syrians and Palestinians in the camp. Civilians trapped there have long suffered a government siege that has led to starvation and disease.

“The situation in Yarmouk is an affront to the humanity of all of us, a source of universal shame,” U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness said.

“Yarmouk is a test, a challenge for the international community. We must not fail. The credibility of the international system itself is at stake,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict from Britain, said Syrian air force jet bombed the camp on Saturday.

Electronic Intifada: “Catastrophe” in Yarmouk as ISIS seizes camp

As Syria’s civil war enters fifth year, Kerry says Assad talks necessary

Comments from top US diplomat come as fighting continues in conflict that has displaced millions, killed around 220,000

Al Jazeera, March 15

The bloody civil conflict in Syria entered its fifth year Sunday, amid continued bombing of the country’s civilians and an admission by Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. will have to negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad if an end of fighting is to be achieved.

Washington has long insisted that Assad must be replaced as part of a political transition in the country. But in the face of no end to the violence and the rise of a common enemy in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Kerry’s comments appear to indicate a softened stance towards the Syrian leader.

In the interview broadcast on Sunday, Kerry did not repeat the standard U.S. line that Assad had lost all legitimacy and had to go.

“We have to negotiate in the end,” Kerry said. “We’ve always been willing to negotiate in the context of the Geneva process,” he added, referring to a 2012 conference that called for a negotiated transition to end the conflict.

AFP: Britain: Assad has no role in Syria’s future
Al Jazeera: Turkey slams Kerry’s call for dialogue with Assad

U.S. restates Assad must go as war enters 5th year

Al Arabiya, March 13

Marking the fourth anniversary of the civil war, the United States on Thursday made a fresh call for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on urged the Security Council to take “determined measures” to end the war.

“For four years the Assad regime has answered Syrians’ calls for freedom and reform with unrelenting brutality, authoritarianism and destruction,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

“As we have long said, Assad must go and be replaced through a negotiated, political transition that is representative of the Syrian people.”

Without the departure of Assad, it would not be possible “to fully stabilize” the country, Psaki said.

Islamic State ‘abducts dozens of Christians in Syria’

BBC, February 24

Islamic State (IS) has abducted dozens of Assyrian Christians from villages in north-eastern Syria, activists say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 90 men, women and children were seized in a series of dawn raids near the town of Tal Tamr.

Some Assyrians managed to escape and made their way east to the largely Kurdish-controlled city of Hassakeh.

It comes as Syrian Kurdish fighters backed by US-led air strikes continue to advance into IS-held territory.

Turkey, US Sign Deal To Train, Arm Syrian Rebels: US Embassy

AP, By Desmond Butler, February 19

Istanbul — Turkey and the United States signed an agreement Thursday to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State group, said the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

The two countries have been in talks about such a pact for several months. The deal was signed Thursday evening by U.S Ambassador John Bass and Turkish Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, said Embassy spokesman Joe Wierichs. He gave no further details.

Sinirlioglu called the deal “an important step” in the strategic partnership between Turkey and the United States, according to Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency.

The Turkish government has said the training by U.S. and Turkish soldiers could begin as early as next month at a base in the central Anatolian city of Kirsehir, and involve hundreds of Syrian fighters in the first year. The U.S. has said the goal is to go after the Islamic State group, but Turkish officials have suggested that the trained rebels could also target the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.

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