Tag Archives: Assad

Syrian forces kill American, British citizen accused of fighting alongside rebels.


Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...
Coat of arms of Syria — the “Hawk of Qureish” with shield of vertical tricolor of the national flag, holding a scroll with the words الجمهورية العربية السورية (Al-Jumhuriyah al-`Arabiyah as-Suriyah “The Syrian Arab Republic”). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
CNN Center- Atlanta, GA
CNN Center- Atlanta, GA (Photo credit: hpstyles)
English: Former president Hafez al-Assad was o...
English: Former president Hafez al-Assad was on display everywhere, Maaloula – Syria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Author - Ammar Abd Rabbo Source - http://flick...
Author – Ammar Abd Rabbo Source – http://flickr.com/photos/21499556@N04/2085667933/ License – Some rights reserved CC-BY-SA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Billboard with portrait of Assad and the text ...
Billboard with portrait of Assad and the text God protects Syria on the old city wall of Damascus 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Syrian state-run television reported Thursday that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed three Westerners, including an American woman and a British citizen, who they claim were fighting with the rebels and were found with weapons.
Syrian TV identified the woman, releasing what it claimed were images of her Michigan driver’s license and U.S. passport. It also released what is said was the name and passport of a British citizen. It did not identify a third person who it claimed was a Westerner.
The report said the three were ambushed in their car in the flashpoint province of Idlib in northwestern Syria, where government forces have been battling rebels for control.
TV footage showed a bullet-riddled car and three bodies laid out. It also showed weapons, a computer, a hand-drawn map of a government military facility and a flag belonging to the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.
The United States is aware of the claim that an American woman was killed and is working through the Czech Republic mission in Syria to obtain more information, a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN.
Citing privacy concerns, “we are unable to comment further,” the official said.
A family member of the American woman told CNN on Thursday she was informed by the FBI about the death. The family member said the FBI did not provide any details about how the woman died.
CNN is not identifying the family member, who lives in Michigan, until next of kin notifications have been completed.
British officials in London did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.
Al-Nusra Front
If the Syrian state TV report is true, it will not be the first time an American has been accused of fighting with rebel groups to overthrow al-Assad.
In March, a former U.S. soldier was arrested and charged by the U.S. government with illegally using a weapon on behalf of the al-Nusra Front.
Eric Harroun, 30, of Phoenix, was arrested by the FBI after returning to the United States from Syria, where authorities allege he fought with the militant group. He was charged with the alleged use of a rocket-propelled grenade.
The organization he allegedly fought with, al-Nusra Front, is one of several aliases used by al Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Nusra has claimed responsibility for more than 600 attacks in Syria, the Justice Department said.
An FBI affidavit says Harroun crossed into Syria in January 2013 and fought against al-Assad’s forces. He posted photos and videos of himself on the Internet handling RPGs and other weapons, it said.
Harroun served with the U.S. Army from 2000 to 2003.
Troubled talks
The report by Syrian state TV came on the same day that a leader of Syria’s main rebel coalition said the group may not participate in a conference aimed at brokering an end to the civil war.
“It is difficult to continue when Syrians are constantly being hammered by the Assad regime with the help of outside forces,” said George Sabra, acting chairman of the National Coalition, in a statement.
He cited the siege of Qusayr and attacks on Eastern Gouta, a suburb of Damascus, as well as what he said was an “invasion” by Iranian militia members in support of al-Assad.
Russia, which supports Damascus, expressed its own reservations. Conditions on the peace talks demanded by the National Coalition are too restrictive, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters, state news agency ITAR-Tass reported.
“One has the impression that the National Coalition and its regional sponsors are doing their utmost in a bid to prevent the beginning of a political process and resort to all means, including brainwashing in the West, to induce military intervention,” Lavrov is quoted as saying. “We regard such approaches as impermissible.”
In addition, the coalition “is not the sole representative of the Syrian people,” Lavrov said. “The coalition has no constructive platform.”
The National Coalition has demanded that al-Assad step aside as a condition for its participation in the talks, which were originally scheduled to be held this month in Geneva, Switzerland, but have been delayed.
The Syrian government has insisted that any talks be held without preconditions and has said that al-Assad will finish his term and must be qualified to run again in the 2014 elections.
Fighting rages on
Some 3,000 to 4,000 Lebanese Hezbollah fighters have been deployed to Syria, where they are fighting alongside government forces, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the Foreign Affairs Committee of France’s National Assembly.
The Lebanese fighters have been involved in a battle for Qusayr, a town of about 20,000 that sits astride one route to the Syrian coast and another to the Lebanese border.
For the rebels, holding Qusayr represents a way of limiting the regime’s ability to sustain itself.
On Thursday, the media office of the Syrian Coalition in Istanbul, Turkey, said in an appeal for help that the number of wounded citizens in Qusayr had exceeded 1,000.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said the fighting was part of its mission “to pursue terrorists in Qusayr and its countryside.”
‘One axis’
In an interview broadcast Thursday night by the Hezbollah television station Al-Manar, al-Assad was quoted by Lebanese media as saying, “Syria and Hezbollah are one axis.”
Hezbollah forces “are in Lebanon and Syria, on the border area,” al-Assad said.
According to the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper, he said, “There are groups of (Hezbollah) party fighters in the border areas with Lebanon. But the Syrian army is the one fighting and running battles against the armed groups, and will continue in this battle in order to eliminate” what he described as “terrorists.”
The president expressed skepticism that the talks proposed for Geneva would prove fruitful, the newspaper reported.
Al-Assad is further quoted as saying that “Syria received the first batch of the Russian S-300 missiles, antiaircraft systems” and that “the rest of the shipment will arrive soon.”
“The contracts are not related to the conflict,” he said. “We negotiate with them for various kinds of weapons for years. And Russia is fulfilling these contracts.”
Russia has been criticized by the West for reported sales of six S-300 air defense systems to Syria under a 2010 contract.
Moscow, however, has said such deliveries would conform with international law and has denied supplying Syria with weapons that can be used against civilians.

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The price will be high, but the key to Syria lies in Putin’s Moscow.


Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...
Coat of arms of Syria — the “Hawk of Qureish” with shield of vertical tricolor of the national flag, holding a scroll with the words الجمهورية العربية السورية (Al-Jumhuriyah al-`Arabiyah as-Suriyah “The Syrian Arab Republic”). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Rifa'at and Hafez al-Assad.
Rifa’at and Hafez al-Assad. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Bashar and Asma al-Assad, President and first-...
Bashar and Asma al-Assad, President and first-wife of Syria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Talk about a tough neighbourhood. The unfolding tragedy in Syria has claimed more than 75,000 lives and created more than two million refugees; the Assad regime has used nerve agents against its own people; and Syrian rebel groups have videotaped executions and even engaged in cannibalism in the name of God. Lives have been lost and red lines have been crossed. Yet there seems to be no end in sight.
Besides the human cost to the people of Syria, the failure to address the crisis carries three main risks to all who have an interest in preserving peace and stability in the Middle East. First, the fires of tribal and sectarian
blood-feuds are not easily doused in our region. The longer this conflict goes on, the greater the chances that a post-Assad Syria will end up a Somalia – a failed state of constantly warring factions.
Second, the more often chemical weapons are used, even on a small scale, the greater the chances that they will be employed en masse. So too, with each passing day, the prospects grow that these weapons will fall into terrorist hands. Israel is acutely aware of this danger and is committed to doing whatever is necessary to prevent Hizbollah from obtaining Syria’s lethal arsenal.
Third, the Syrian crisis, dangerous as it is, detracts leaders from effectively tackling a problem whose risks are far more acute – a nuclear-armed Iran.
Admittedly, there are no easy answers for dealing with Syria. True, Assad’s armed forces are weak and debilitated by infighting. His air force and air defence systems could be destroyed in a relatively short time by powers both inside and outside the region. But that won’t necessarily end the fighting or secure the chemical weapons.
The other alternatives – a US, Nato or Turkish imposed “no fly zone”, the establishment of a safe corridor for refugees, and US or Israeli strikes against the chemical weapons facilities – are also not without significant risks.
While all these must remain on the table, right now the best chance for a successful resolution of the Syrian crisis is a diplomatic initiative led by Russia.
The Kremlin has at its disposal the necessary leverage to convince Assad to leave, or at least to stop the fighting. The Russians, for whom the naval bases in Tartous and Latakia have strategic importance, have invested a lot of political capital, financial resources and prestige in the Assad dynasty over the past four decades. They trained and equipped the Syrian army; they provided it with intelligence gathering capabilities. And they are on first-name terms with the Syrian generals who command the chemical weapons units.
Russian military support for Syria is not a thing of the past. Their readiness to provide Assad with improved radars for the Yakhont surface-to-sea missile systems is deeply concerning. Even more worrying is their intention to supply the Syrians with the S300 anti-aircraft system, which could alter the delicate balance of weapon systems in the region.
But despite this support, the Russian leadership, shrewd as ever, well understands that the Assad regime is ultimately doomed, even if the Kremlin prefers not to say so publicly. Nor does Russia want to see Islamic fundamentalists ruling Syria or endless civil war in a failed state. Russia has every reason to be a leading partner in a post-Assad Syria and to protect its strategic interests there.
That is why, in a mirror-image of what happened in Libya, where Russia was asked to support a European-led effort backed by the US, here Russia must be convinced to lead the international effort in Syria.
The Russians, like all of us, are far from perfect. But they are an important world power with special relevance to Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. Their interests and perspectives have to be seriously taken into account.
There will definitely be a price to be paid for Russia’s readiness to lead. Missile defence in Europe could be raised, as well as issues related to the “near abroad” (Ukraine, Belarus and the likes), the Caucasus power balance, possibly even some energy and trade concerns. But all these should not deter us from entering into this dialogue. They are all legitimate interests of Russia. The international diplomatic arena, though, is a Gestalt where everything is dependent on everything else. And the cards held by the US, Europe and other players make the West’s hand as strong, if not stronger, than the Russian one.
The Russians, however cool they play it, fully understand the urgency of the Syrian issue and the risks. They will surely drive a hard bargain. But President Putin operated in a very responsible manner when it came to the supply of advanced air defence systems to Iran. We still have several months before the S300s in Syria could turn operational. And however modern and effective the system is, it is not invincible or indestructible.
I believe that with the right approach, President Putin will act responsibly again, and I believe that a successful Russian-led effort in Syria could help transform its attitude towards constructive cooperation in other sour international theatres.
There is no reason why a mutually agreed special role for Russia in post-Assad Syria, to include recognising its naval interests, could not be found. While US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent diplomatic efforts have not yet borne fruit, he and his administration should be applauded for trying sincerely to tackle it.
Given the high costs of allowing the carnage in Syria to continue and the high risks entailed in alternative courses of action, we should not abandon the effort. The key to Syria still lies in Moscow, and there is no time to wait.