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.
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.”
You’ll no doubt recall the hue and cry when Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his stand on nuclear non-proliferation and his attempts to engage the Muslim world. Both the right and left in this country had great sport at this — and here I’ll agree — premature awarding of a prize to a man with few signal accomplishments in foreign policy, apart from being “not Bush”.
Six years later and I think it’s time to give him the Prize for real this time. Think about this past year: for a man who started his administration hoping to hit singles and doubles in foreign policy (consumed as he had to be by the domestic economic crisis), he’s kind of knocked a couple out of the park, provoking admiration from aboard and from mainstream Americans, and consternation from the idiot fringe that will sit on perches and poop all day, parroting “Obama bad, BRAWK!” Read More
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
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
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.
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.