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.
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.
Syrian president says details fed through third parties and denies army’s use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs.
Al Jazeera, February 10
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said third parties, including Iraq, have been conveying information to Damascus about a US-led campaign of air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in his country.
In an interview with the BBC, broadcast on Tuesday, Assad said there was no direct cooperation with the U.S., whose air force has been bombing ISIL in Syria since September.
Asked if there was indirect cooperation, he said: “That’s true, through third parties, more than one party, Iraq and other countries, sometimes they convey message[s], general message[s], but there is nothing tactical”.
Bombardments on opposition-held towns have killed at least 44 people and wounded more than 100, Syrian activists say.
Al Jazeera, February 3
Syrian government air strikes on opposition-held towns across the country have killed at least 44 people and wounded more than 100, according to activists opposed to the Syrian government.
In Jassem in the southern province of Deraa, 16 civilians were killed in four air strikes on Monday, while 25 were wounded, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said.
The strikes came in response to a major rebel offensive that has been under way in southern Syria for months, said the SOHR.
AFP, January 30
Beirut – Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate fought Western-backed rebels on Friday as the militants pressed their bid to take control of a northern area, a monitor and a rebel statement said.
The fighting comes nearly three months after the al-Nusra Front expelled another group of Western-backed opposition fighters from Idlib province.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants launched their offensive against the Western-armed Hazem movement on Thursday in Aleppo province.
Deutsche Welle (Reuters, AP), January 28
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned the President Bashar al-Assad’s government against further rocket attacks on Wednesday as the focus remained on a Japanese hostage held in Syria by Islamic State (IS) extremists.
Israel evacuated its Mount Hermon ski resort on the Golan Heights on Tuesday after at least two rockets were fired, allegedly from Syrian army positions. Syria, however, made no claim of responsibility.
Yaalon on Wednesday said Israel had struck Syrian army artillery posts. It was a clear message, he said, that “we will not tolerate any firing towards Israeli territory or violation of our sovereignty.”
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. Last week, an Israeli air strike killed a Hezbollah commander.
Al Arabiya: Hezbollah claims Israel border operation
The incidents came several hours after Israel launched an air strike in Syria. Tensions that have escalated in the frontier area over the past 10 days after an Israeli strike in Syria which killed several Hezbollah men and an Iranian general.
Iran has told the United States on Tuesday that Israel “crossed Iran’s red lines” for killing an Iranian general in the attack on the Golan Heights.
“We have sent a message to the United States through diplomatic channels telling the Americans that the Zionist regime crossed Iran’s red lines by this action,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
“In this message, we said those responsible should wait to suffer the consequences of their act,” he added, in remarks carried by the official IRNA news agency.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said before the Israeli response that Washington had seen the news of Tuesday’s rocket firing and did not want “an escalation of the situation.”
Reuters, By Doina Chiacu, January 22
Washington – U.S.-led forces attacked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets with 21 air strikes in Iraq and 10 in Syria since Wednesday, the American military said.
Al Arabiya, January 13
U.S.-led coalition military forces launched a total of 27 air strikes on territories controlled by the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group (ISIS), an operation report said Monday.
Coalition forces conducted 11 air strikes on ISIS-held positions in Syria over the past 24 hours, including Kobane and Deir Ezzour.
The latest attacks on Kobane struck two large ISIS units, an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed 10 militant fighting positions, the report said. The strikes also knocked down five ISIS buildings and two staging positions used by the militant group.
While in Deir Ezzour, the coalition struck an ISIS oil refinery.
Fighters, bombers and remotely controlled aircraft conducted 16 airstrikes in Iraq, including Beiji, Ramadi, Tal Afar and Mount Sinjar.
Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
While nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
- In total 17 bombs were dropped on Syria and another 12 on Iraq targets.
- Raids destroyed vehicles, buildings and units belonging to Islamic State.
- Onslaught brings number of strikes since Christmas to more than 100.
Daily Mail, By Chris Pleasance, January 1
U.S. and Arab war planes launched 29 air strikes against Islamic State fighters and buildings across both Iraq and Syria overnight, according to military chiefs.
Syrian targets included he Islamic State’s defacto capital of Raqqa, and Kobane where Kurdish Peshmerga and YPG forces have been involved in street battles with extremists for months.
The city of Dayr az Zawr, which contains 600,000 people and is the largest in Syria’s east was also among the cities hit.
In Iraq targets were hit around the town of Mosul, which contains an important dam, Fallujah, which is located just to the east of Baghdad, and Sinjar, which thousands of Yazidis were forced to flee after ISIS fighters took the town earlier this year.
The latest round of bombings against ISIS targets in the Middle east takes the number of strikes since Christmas above 100, as the U.S.-led coalition attempts to weaken the radical group.
The news came as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that the death toll from the four-year civil war topped 76,000 in the last year alone.
An estimated 17,790 were civilians, including 3,501 children, making it the deadliest year of the war.
Hurriyet Daily News, By Erdinç Çelikkan, December 28
Ankara – With 2014 soon coming to an end, potentially the year’s biggest archeological discovery of an underground city has come from Turkey’s Central Anatolian province of Nevşehir, which is known world-wide for its Fairy Chimneys rock formation.
The city was discovered by means of Turkey’s Housing Development Administration’s (TOKİ) urban transformation project. Some 1,500 buildings were destructed located in and around the Nevşehir fortress, and the underground city was discovered when the earthmoving to construct new buildings had started.
TOKİ Head Mehmet Ergün Turan said the area where the discovery was made was announced as an archeological area to be preserved.
“It is not a known underground city. Tunnel passages of seven kilometers are being discussed. We stopped the construction we were planning to do on these areas when an underground city was discovered,” said Turan.
The city is thought to date back 5,000 years and is located around the Nevşehir fortress. Escape galleries and hidden churches were discovered inside the underground city.
Hasan Ünver, mayor of Nevşehir, said other underground cities in Nevşehir’s various districts do not even amount to the “kitchen” of this new underground city.
AFP, December 29
Beirut – The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group have murdered nearly 2,000 people in Syria – half of them from an important Sunni tribe – since announcing their “caliphate” in June, a monitoring group said Sunday.
“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented the execution by ISIS of 1,878 people in Syria between June 28 when it announced its ‘caliphate’ and December 27,” the group said in a statement.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activist and medical sources on the ground in Syria, is based in Britain.
doesn’t look very cheerful this year.
Blue and white Christmas lights twinkle over the shops near my apartment in Beirut’s Christian quarter; pricy boutiques display elaborate nativity scenes. But people are having trouble getting into the festive mood. ‘Do you think the war will come here?’ asks my landlady nervously, not for the first time. There is no rush to battle, no electric charge in the air, just a rather depressed feeling among Lebanese that their country can no longer escape the violence over the border in Syria. The black flag of the so-called Islamic State has appeared after Friday prayers in some mosques in the north. The assumption is that Lebanon will be the next place the jihadis target. Still, there are reasons to hope.
CNN, By Lorenzo Ferrigno, December 16
A top United Nations official on Monday told the Security Council she has “run out of words” to describe the worsening situation in Syria.
“Every time we use a new figure in relation to the Syrian crisis, we say that it is unprecedented. We have run out of words to fully explain the brutality violence and callous disregard for human life which is a hallmark of this crisis,” Valerie Amos, the U.N. chief for humanitarian affairs said.
Nearly 200,000 people have been killed in the 3-year Syrian conflict and one million injured, Amos said, describing a war zone with three combative parties fighting each other with no regard for the thousands of civilians and children caught in the middle.
The Syrian government has used barrel bombs in densely populated areas and “arbitrarily detained” citizens and subjected them to serious beatings and torture. Armed opposition groups have taken locals hostage and killed civilians by using explosive mortar and car bombs. ISIS has committed “mass victimization” of civilians, including murder, enslavement, rape, displacement and torture, Amos said.
Al Jazeera: Scores of Syrian soldiers, opposition fighters killed in battle for bases
Reuters, By Oliver Holmes, December 7
Beirut – Syrian state television said on Sunday that Israeli jets had bombed areas near Damascus international airport and in the town of Dimas, near the border with Lebanon.
An Israeli army spokesman said he would not comment on the “foreign reports”.
Israel has struck Syria several times since the start of the three-year conflict, mostly destroying weaponry such as missiles that Israeli officials said were destined for their long-time foe Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon.
“The Israeli enemy committed aggression against Syria by targeting two safe areas in Damascus province, in all of Dimas and near the Damascus International Airport,” state television said, adding that there were no casualties.
AP: Syria says Israeli airstrikes hit near Damascus
New York Times, By Helene Cooper, November 24
Washington – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and a beleaguered national security team that has struggled to stay ahead of an onslaught of global crises…
The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.
Related, Andrew Bacevich on the Middle East: Five Bedrock Washington Assumptions That Perpetuate Our Middle East Policy Train Wreck.