SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS
IN APPALLING “MESSAGE TO AMERICA” ISLAMIC STATE BEHEADS US JOURNALIST AND BAITS USA TO ATTACK IN SYRIA:
TIMELINE – 20th AUGUST 2014 12.56 GMT – UPDATED 19.46 GMT:
On Monday, the Islamic State issued a video threatening to attack American targets worldwide if the US did not stop its airstrikes in Iraq.
Part of the video, which showed a photograph of an American who was beheaded in Iraq sometime after the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 and carried the chilling message “We will drown all of you in blood”, can be seen, HERE:
Yesterday the Islamic State carried out that threat by posting a video of the bloodthirsty and grisly execution of the American journalist James Foley, who was captured by militants in the Idlib province of Syria on November 22nd 2012.
In the 5 minute propaganda video entitled “A Message to America” and too awful to show here, Foley, aged 40, is seen kneeling in the desert wearing an orange jumpsuit and making a statement, presumably prepared by his captors, blaming the US Government for his death.
He then goes on to say, “I wish I had more time, I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again, but that ship has sailed.”
His masked executioner standing next to him, who speaks with a British accent, then warns the US, “You are no longer fighting an insurgency. We are an Islamic Army and a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide.
So any attempt by you Obama to deny the Muslims their rights of living in safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people.”
The militant is then seen sawing at Foley’s neck, the video goes blank and then Foley’s body appears lying on the ground.
At the end of the video, another American journalist captured a year ago near the Syrian/Turkish border, Steven Sotloff, is shown, also wearing an orange jumpsuit, with the warning that “his fate depends on President Obama’s next move”.
As Charles Lister, a commentator of Middle East affairs, has observed, it almost sounds like a taunt of Obama to strike the Islamic State in Syria.
Audio extracts from the Islamic State video can be heard, HERE:
Diane Foley, Jame’s Mother, issued a statement saying, “We have never been prouder of our son, Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.
We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world”.
James Foley was an experienced war journalist who had previously been held by pro-Gaddafi fighters in Libya for 40 days.
He can be heard talking about his work in this interview with the BBC when he was in London to help raise money for Anton Hammerl, a fellow photo-journalist who was killed in Libya in 2011, HERE:
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, describing the the execution as “shocking and depraved”, cut his holiday in south-west England short to return to London to discuss the news, especially the involvement of a British national as executioner.
Around 400 to 500 British men, mainly of Asian origin, are thought to be fighting for the Islamic State. Comment from the US Government is expected later.
President Hollande of France has called for an international conference to discuss ways for nations to form a united front against the Islamic State.
Writing in Le Monde he said, “We can no longer keep to the traditional debate of intervention or non-intervention. We have to come up with a global strategy to fight this group”.
COMBINED KURDISH/IRAQI FORCE EVENTUALLY RECAPTURES MOSUL DAM BUT IRAQIS FORCED TO RETREAT FROM ATTEMPT AT TIKRIT:
President Obama’s broadcast announcement on Monday that the “Mosul Dam” had been recaptured was somewhat premature as fighting continued yesterday, Tuesday, and is stil reported in the dam area in the hills to the south-west, today, Wednesday.
Although the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi Army Special Forces captured the eastern side of the dam by Monday, their advance to the western side was hampered by booby-trapped buildings, mines and roadside IED explosive devices left by the Islamic State, most of which have now been removed. Al Jazeera reports that Iraqi explosive experts removed more than 150 devices from the Dam area, which is littered with destroyed Islamic State vehicles, HERE:
Over the last 3 days up to yesterday, the US reports 35 airstrikes against the Islamic State, hitting 90+ targets.
Obama said on Monday, “We will continue to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide against ISIL by supporting the new Iraqi government and working with key partners in the region”.
His comments on the murder of James Foley are awaited.
Sky News has an interesting video of 3 men captured by the Kurdish Peshmerga who are suspected Islamic State (IS) fighters. All claim not to know each other or have met IS commanders, but one of them clearly appears in an IS video, HERE:
The UN has launched plans to help support 500,000 people who have fled mainly into Kurdish territory ahead of the Islamic State advance.
One man, Khalof Khodede, has described how he “played dead” under the fallen bodies of his friends when the Islamic State entered his Yezidi village, Kocho, and executed 80 of his male compatriots.
Threatened with death if the Yezidi refused to convert to Islam, all said “yes” out of fear, until the Sheikh in the village, upholding his faith, said “no”.
They were then all taken out into the desert and shot, with hundreds of others, including women and children, disappearing. You can read more in Reuters Iraq news.
Following the appointment of new prime minister designate in Iraq after Al-Maliki finally admitted defeat in his attempt to retain power, Kurdish Ministers have rejoined the Iraqi Government in a rare show of unity. They will need all the support they can get.
The Iraqi Army launched an attempt at dawn on Tuesday to recapture the city of Tikrit but after hours of fierce fighting fell back by late afternoon, with reports of at least 100 Shia militia dead. According to information received, they never even got beyond the suburbs of the city, though other Shia militia are reported to have destroyed the grave with rocket-propelled grenades of their old adversary (Sunni) Saddam Husein, Iraq’s former dictator.
Other sources say that the Islamic State in putting up heavy resistance in Tikrit, captured 30 Iraqi Army soldiers and destroyed 25 Army vehicles.
It appears that the US intervention in Iraq to save the Yezidi may well have been prompted by representatives of a small Yezidi community of 300 families in Lincoln, Nebraska in the US who travelled to Washington and reduced US Government officials to tears with the desperate appeals and calls for help that they were getting from Mount Sinjar. You can read more, HERE:
It may well be that the Iraqi Army and the Kurds may not be able to defeat the Islamic State on their own and that the US and other powerful nations will have to reconsider their policy of minimum involvement.
Paul Rogers in this article predicts that even the very cautious President Obama may be forced to act, HERE:
Courtesy of the Institute for the Study of War, the latest illustrated situation report, here:
REPORTS SAY THAT MORE THAN 6,000 RECRUITS JOINED ISLAMIC STATE IN JULY, WHILE US AUTHORITIES BAN ALL COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS OVER SYRIA:
Terrifyingly, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in London, now estimates that the Islamic State has 50,000 fighters in Syria, their territorial gains and the establishment of a “caliphate” apparently attracting around 6,300 recruits to their training camps in Aleppo and Raqqah provinces in July alone.
Nearly 5,000 of these are Syrians, 800 of whom have fought previously for the Al Nusra Front or other Opposition brigades. The other 1300 fighters are from Arab, European, Caucasian, East Asian and Chinese origins as well as Kurdish fighters, 200 of whom have fought previously with other brigades, the other 1,100 entering through Turkey. For many, the Islamic State (IS) with both vast amounts of money and equipment appears to be the army to be with.
Typically, IS pays its fighters $400 a month, plus housing and heating and car fuel allowances, with extra for those with a wife (s) and children.
(EDITOR: If this correct and true, then the moderate Opposition will be depleted and the Islamic State will continue to grow, unless the West decides to do something urgent and serious about this awful threat to the rest of the civilised world)
On the ground in Syria, the Islamic State failed to take over the Tabqa airbase in Raqqah province last night, Tuesday, despite a suicide bomber detonating a truck near the entrance yesterday, but has taken control of a number of important barriers protecting the base.
They also continue to pound it with mortars and shells, while the Assad regime fires long range Grad missiles from other parts of Syria to try and deter IS from getting any nearer. Rockets fired from within the base hit the Alexandria district of Tabqa town.
This afternoon, Wednesday, there are unconfirmed reports that IS have shot down a MIG at the base. This video shows some of the fighting, (Arabic only) HERE:
Pictures have appeared on the Internet of 2 more men “crucified” at the main roundabout at the entrance to Raqqah city, apparently for planting explosive devices designed to hurt the Islamic State.
In Hama province, the more moderate Opposition brigades have continued their campaign against Assad’s forces, a car-bomb hitting a gathering of troops in Um Khurayzah in the desert east of Hama city and taking an important barrier near Qmhana, just to the north-west of the regional capital.
Opposition fighters in Hama province have also stormed the village of Qubaybat Abu al Huda which is near the pro-Assad village of Maan, north-east of Hama city and targeted a regime tank inside the School of Veterinary Medicine in a battle on the north-western approaches to Hama, reported 2 days ago, HERE:
Opposition sources say that the Assad regime additionally executed 3 pilots at Hama airbase for “disobeying orders”, named as Colonel Nawfal Diop from Latakia, Brigadier Ahmed Ghanem from Latakia, and Colonel Sami Rizk from Sweida. (EDITOR: Odd, if confirmed, as the regime can hardly afford to be losing pilots)
In Aleppo heavy fighting was reported yesterday at Bureij on the edge of the Sheikh Najjar industrial city north-east of the city between the Islamic Front and Government troops and there are additionally reports that the Islamic State have destroyed both a tower and radar inside the Quwaires airbase. The Islamic State are also said to be attacking the regime at Deir Ez-Zour airport.
In Damascus province, Hezbollah is reporting that they killed the Islamic State commander in charge of training suicide bombers to mount car-bomb attacks in Lebanon, plus 3 other Jihadists, while in Eastern Ghouta the Opposition are claiming that they have shot down another regime plane that was bombing their residential areas.
Once again near Damascus Opposition fighters have attacked and taken a barrier and buildings at the “Management of Military Vehicles” facility.
In Daraa, the Opposition report a new chemicals attack of some kind by Assad, HERE: and HERE: , while a huge aid convoy was allowed into Opposition-controlled areas of Daraa province escorted by fighters, HERE:
There may be some truth in an earlier report that a regime plane was downed by the Opposition using a heat-seeking missile as the US Federal Aviation Administration has now banned all commercial flights from overflying Syria after a report released yesterday, Tuesday, by the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research organization, in which it says that there are now more than 300 anti-aircraft systems, including shoulder-held ManPads, in the hands of Opposition groups.
Syrian refugees driven back across the border to Assad’s control from Arsal in Lebanon after their camps were shelled and set on fire now find themselves between “ a rock and a hard place”. If they stay in Syria they are in danger and have nothing, if they return to Lebanon the UN says they are not refugees if they can return to Syria and “deactivates” them from the UNHCR refugee programme.
Volunteers like Mohamed, run themselves ragged raising funds for essential aid for food, rent and medical treatment. You can read more, HERE:
Lastly, we can always rely on the good people of Kafranbel in Idlib province to keep a sense of focus:
SYRIA NEWS: ASSAD LAUNCHES MAJOR AIRSTRIKES ON ISLAMIC STATE AS THEY THREATEN TO OVERRUN HIS LAST BASE IN RAQQAH PROVINCE:
TIMELINE 18th AUGUST 2014 UPDATED 16.48 GMT:
In a sudden change of direction, the Assad regime, which has largely ignored the Islamic State, has pounded 43 of their positions over the weekend with both jet and barrel-bomb strikes.
Until now Assad has been largely content with allowing the Islamic State to attack and try to eliminate the Al Nusra Front and the more moderate Opposition.
However, the Islamic State’s attack on Tabqa Airbase, the last military position that the regime holds in the whole of Raqqah province, seems to have provoked a more direct response.
The more moderate Opposition, who are fighting the Islamic State and the Assad regime and pinched between them in Aleppo province, will not be disappointed.
According to activist sources, 31 fighters of the Islamic State (IS) were killed in regime air attacks on Raqqah city on Sunday, plus 8 civilians.
Targets included the Military Justice and Political Security headquarters, along with two hospitals and a bus terminal.
Around the town of Tabqa, 15 civilians and an unknown number of IS fighters were wounded, some of them critically, in 11 regime airstrikes.
Further east 5 airstrikes hit IS positions in Deir Ez-Zour province, some of them on the Omar Oil Field, and also targeted with barrel-bombs were IS towns in Aleppo province such as Manbij.
Further air raids on Raqqah city are reported today, Monday, while intense fighting is said to be ongoing in 4 villages near Tabqa Airbase, including Ajil and Khazna, with casualties on both sides.
Activists are predicting the fall of the airbase very shortly. The attacks on the Islamic State have not been mentioned in the Syrian state media.
In Hama province, Opposition fighters continue to make progress, destroying a tank howitzer at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine west of Hama City, firing more Grad missiles at the Hama military airport and north-west of the regional capital, advancing into Al-Safsafiyah. An attack on the western edge of Hama city can be seen, HERE:
On Friday there were reports that another regime aircraft crashed on its way into Hama military airport and more recently that Opposition fighters have shot down a MIG-23 over Tizin, just west of Hama city, capturing the pilot. Some reports say the MIG was hit by a “heat seeking missile” but this is unconfirmed.
There are also reports, today, Monday, that all communications, including the Internet, have been cut off in Hama city.
North of Hama city on the main highway to Aleppo, now firmly controlled by the Opposition, Opposition fighters claim to have killed 16 regime soldiers and destroyed another Syrian Army tank with a TOW missile near Morek, HERE:
An attempt by Assad troops from Kernaz, north-west of Hama city, to break the Opposition hold of the main highway running north at Al-Jalamah village, has so far failed.
A clash between pro-Assad loyal residents and Shabiha (armed Assad militia), for unknown reasons, in Shathah on the Ghab Plain in Hama province is said to have resulted in 20 dead, the Syrian Army intervening with heavy weapons to bring the dispute to a halt.
In the northern part of Aleppo province heavy battles are ongoing between the more moderate Islamic Front (IF) and the extreme Islamic State (IS), with IS retaking Dudiyan village near the Turkish border and IF hitting back with everything they have got, HERE:
IF also moved reinforcements into the northern part of Aleppo province last night to hold the Islamic State at bay, HERE:
In Aleppo city itself, the Opposition have been shelling the sniper positions on the very top of Aleppo City Hall, which sits in the very heart of regime-controlled western Aleppo, west of the Aleppo Citadel, HERE:
The Assad regime, of course, continues to drop barrel-bombs on all Opposition-held areas of the city, Hanano district alone recording a total of 398 airstrikes, among them hits on 13 schools, 6 mosques and 3 hospitals.
In the Sadcop area of Aleppo, Opposition activists say that 25 members of Hezbollah have been killed in clashes.
In Damascus, 20 pro-Assad fighters were reported killed yesterday after an Opposition tunnel-bomb exploded under Daraya and in Sweida province, largely the home of the Druze community in the far south and not one we hear much about, a complete blackout of electricity is reported after clashes between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Assad’s troops in the Lajat area.
Not all resistance in Homs province is broken. These Opposition fighters were “hard at work” firing on Assad’s fighters at Umm Sharshuh due north of Homs city, HERE:
EDITOR: Like me you may have been wondering why Iraq justifies US intervention but not Syria with 170,000 dead? Al Jazeera asked much the same question in this filmed discussion between Middle East experts, here:
ABOMINABLE ISLAMIC STATE NOW ACCUSED OF EXECUTING AS MANY AS 1,100 IN THE LAST 2 WEEKS ACROSS SYRIA AND IRAQ:
TIMELINE – 18th AUGUST 2014 13.16 GMT:
According to reports emerging from both Iraq and Syria, the abominable Islamic State may have executed as many as 1,100 people in both countries in the last 2 weeks.
A massacre is said to have occurred in Kocho, a Yezidi town not far from Sinjar in nothern Iraq. Over a 2 day period invading Islamists from the Islamic State gathered people in the town square and ordered them to convert to Islam.
80 men who refused were immediately executed. 300 women and children were also said to have been driven away to Tal Afar where most of the foreign Islamic State fighters are stationed.
Additionally, in an unconfirmed report, another 300 men from Kocho were said to have been driven out into the desert and executed along with older women from the other transport.
People of other faiths, Christians and Jews for example, are seen by the Islamists as “people of the Book” and can pay a tax if they do not wish to convert. In contrast, the Yezidi are given no such option.
The Islamic State regard their spiritual beliefs as those of “devil worshippers”, so it is either “convert or die”.
The young women captured are believed held to either be sold on as “slaves” or forced to be “wives” to Islamic State fighters. The children will be sent to schools to be raised as “good Islamists”
In Syria reports from there suggest that the Islamic State have now executed 700 members of the Sunni Shaitat tribe in Deir Ez-Zour province.
Formerly allies, the Shaitat revolted earlier this month after 3 of their number were arrested by the Islamists, breaching an agreement not to do so.
As fighting between the 2 sides broke out, the Shaitat then went on drive the Islamic State out of 3 of their villages.
However, retribution was swift and crushing. The 700 executed so far are believed to be males all between the ages of 16 and 60 and therefore potential combatants.
Back in Iraq, members of the Yezidi people who have escaped from Mount Sinjar and reached Kurdish controlled Iraq, remain distressed as they receive phone reports of members of their families executed or kidnapped or no news at all.
One man said he was only male member of his family remaining out of 15 executed by the Islamic State and his wife and daughter are in prison.
In other cases, some families have received muffled calls, made surreptitiously from terrified young Yezidi women held in Islamic State jails awaiting their fate.
One young pregnant teenager, separated from her husband, said it would be better that the US bombed the prison and killed them outright rather than be forced to marry extreme Islamic fighters. You can read a report in the Daily Mail, HERE:
Some Yezidi men, forced to leave older members of their families behind on Mount Sinjar in order to save the younger ones, are now making the perilous journey to return back up the mountain to search for missing relatives or to bury those who did not make it. The BBC has a video report HERE: and Sky News, HERE:
Other Yezidi men have been signed up by the YPG, the Kurdish militia that was mainly responsible for carving out a safe route for the Yezidi to escape Mount Sinjar and which is now training them in Kurdish Syria to fight the Islamic State.
IRAQ NEWS: KURDISH FORCES, BACKED BY US AIRSTRIKES, RECOVER GROUND AT MOSUL DAM AND 3 MAINLY CHRISTIAN TOWNS:
On the ground in Iraq, the Kurdish Peshmerga, backed by US and Iraqi airstrikes have attemped to retake territory currently held by the Islamic State.
Numbers vary but more than 60 airstrikes against the Islamic State are said to have been made through the weekend and from 6.00am this morning, Monday, 43 of them by the Iraqi Air Force and the rest by the US.
In 2 waves of strikes against the Islamists on Sunday, using a mixture of fighter jets, bombers and drones, the US Air Force (USAF) claimed to have destroyed or damaged 13 armed vehicles, seven Humvees, two armoured personnel carriers and 2 checkpoints, a vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft artillery gun, and an IED emplacement.
Most of the strikes have been in the region of the Mosul Dam, which the US, the Kurds and the Iraqi Government are desperate to reclaim, being the major source of power and water for the whole country.
If the dam were breached it would case massive destruction all the way down the Tigris to Mosul and beyond.
Kurdish reports on Sunday claimed that that the Peshmerga had retaken the dam, but latest reports this morning, Monday, say that fighting in ongoing after 3 days. The battle is complicated in that the Islamic State (IS) have left buildings and the approach roads to the Dam booby-trapped with explosive devices.
The USAF have released this footage of the destruction on Saturday of an IS armed pick-up truck, (left) and a (US-made) Humvee (right):
The Kurdish forces, reinforced with 16 military Humvees and mechanised bomb-disposal equipment supplied by the Iraqi Government, have also crossed the Tigris river and recaptured the mainly Christian towns of Batmaiya, Baquqa and Telasqaf 18 miles from Mosul city.
Transport planes from the UK, Canada and Germany have been arriving in Erbil, the capital of Kurdish Iraq delivering both aid and equipment.
While US President Obama has told Congress that the air strikes are necessary to protect “US interests”, UK premier David Cameron has admitted that Britain may well have to go beyond just supplying aid to taking military action which may take months to be effective. Cameron additionally said that anyone flying the Islamic State flag in the UK would be arrested.
US fighter jets are also reported to be overflying the Haditha Dam on the Euphrates to prevent the Islamic State from capturing it.
South-west of Baghdad the Islamic State and their allies have taken control of a bridge across the Euphrates between Fadiliyah and the capital after a long battle, while they are also reported to have killed 26 Shia militia fighters 8 kilometres from Samarra.
At Khanaqen, a Kurdish city in Diyala province, there are unconfirmed reports that a Quds force (Iranian special forces) has arrived to fight the Islamic State at Jalawla.
David Cameron described the Islamic State as “a poisonous and extremist ideology”. You can make up your own mind by taking a look at their online magazine.
Called Dabiq, the magazine is apparently named after a town of that name in northern Aleppo province in Syria, where in 1516 the Arab Khalif Sulaiman ibn ‘Abd al Malik defeated the Ottoman Empire. Khalif Malik’s tomb remains in the town north-west of Aleppo city and it recently came under the control of the Islamic insurgents.
The online magazine is a slick mixture of absurd rhetoric manipulated from the Koran, news of Islamic State “successes” with high quality photographs, attacks on almost anyone who disagrees with them and a pledge to “invade Saudi Arabia, Persia (Iran) and Rome”. You can see for yourself, (pdf) HERE:
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has an illustrated update from the weekend, here:
SYRIA NEWS: REGIME RECAPTURE MLIEHA BUT AT COST OF 1,000 ASSAD DEAD & OPPOSITION ALSO UNDER PRESSURE FROM JIHADISTS IN ALEPPO:
TIMELINE – 16th AUGUST 2014 11.28 GMT:
In Hama province Opposition fighters have taken control of Arzeh village and Tel Sheyha and are now just 3 kilometres north of Hama military airport which they have pounded with Grad missiles and mortars, setting off fires in the base. The effects of the fighting can be seen on the western edge of Hama city, especially at night, HERE:
In Homs province it is reported that some of those who agreed to lay down their weapons in Old Homs after an brokered deal with the Assad regime have died under torture, while around Mount Sha’ir north-west of Palmyra, heavy clashes are occurring between Government troops and the Islamic State.
On the subject of torture, 4 former detainees at Assad’s Sednaya military prison in 2014 have given testimony to Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirming the evidence of 55,000 photographs released by the former Assad policeman known as “Caesar” (HERE).
All four of the former detainees told HRW that they had witnessed the death of fellow detainees in Sednaya prison in Damascus following a combination of beatings, torture, malnutrition, and disease. You can read more, HERE:
In Daraa province a car bomb exploded on Friday near a mosque in Opposition-controlled Namar killing 14. The perpetrators of the attack are unknown.
Opposition forces in Daraa province have attacked the Kassara checkpoint north-west of Inkhil and forced the regime to withdraw 25 soldiers from the Nbhaat checkpoint in Daraa city after heavy mortar fire.
However, moderate Opposition fighters are seriously under pressure in Aleppo province and near Damascus.
At Mlieha, Assad’s troops backed by Hezbollah, took control of most of the town on Thursday after months of fighting, but at very heavy cost. Opposition sources estimate that 1,000 pro-Assad fighters have been killed in battles around Mlieha in the last 4 months alone.
The loss of Mlieha, just 7 kilometres (4 miles) from central Damascus, is a blow to the Opposition as it is seen as the gateway into the Opposition-held Eastern Ghouta area and a main supply route.
In the northern part of Aleppo province, the Opposition are losing ground to the Islamic State who overran 8 villages between Aleppo city and the Turkish border on Wednesday and captured Baghaydin village near the frontier on Thursday. 40 Opposition fighters were reported killed and 12 from the Islamic State.
The Islamic State appears to be heading north for Azaz, which could cut the moderate Opposition supply lines from Turkey and south to Marea, which would threaten all the Opposition districts in the eastern half of Aleppo city where they are already under pressure from Assad’s forces and constant barrel-bomb attack.
You can read more in Charles Lister’s grim analysis on prospects for the moderate Opposition in Syria, HERE:
EDITOR: The following was published in February 2014, but I missed it then – a plea for Syria issued by Stephen Hawking, the physically disabled scientist with the brilliant mind:
“What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?
When I discuss intelligent life in the universe, I take this to include the human race, even though much of its behaviour throughout history appears not to have been calculated to aid the survival of the species. And while it is not clear that, unlike aggression, intelligence has any long-term survival value, our very human brand of intelligence denotes an ability to reason and plan for not only our own but also our collective futures.
We must work together to end this war and to protect the children of Syria. The international community has watched from the sidelines for three years as this conflict rages, engulfing all hope. As a father and grandfather, I watch the suffering of Syria’s children and must now say: No more”.
You can read the whole of Stephen Hawking’s article on Syria, HERE:
A beautiful story from Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp, held by the Opposition and still under siege and attack in the southern part of Damascus city.
Reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s film, “The Pianist”, while bombs fall and people starve, 26 year old Ayham al-Ahmed plays the piano and organises a singing group for children called “Buds of Yarmouk”.
18,000 residents still just about survive in Yarmouk. Before the siege Ahmed weighed 70 kilos, now he weighs just 45 (99 lbs). The children sing of those that have gone – “You have been gone for a long time… you who are in Beirut, in Turkey, we miss you” – and raise the spirits of those who remain.
Piano playing is not without its dangers. Moving his piano from street to street with his friends, Ahmed incurred the wrath of extremists who had invaded the camp, before withdrawing under the a recent truce.
“For them it is haram (religiously prohibited). They threatened to break my fingers,” Ayham says, “so I played early in the morning while they slept.”
You can read more of Ayham’s story, HERE:
The 14th August also marked the date this week that 2 years ago Austin Tice, an American freelance journalist disappeared in Syria in 2012, with no contact or information since. His parents have just celebrated his 33rd birthday and written a letter that they hope he will somehow read. Their moving story is in the Washington Post.
SYRIA NEWS: CRISIS ATTAINING “EPIC PROPORTIONS” AS TURKEY STRUGGLES TO COPE WITH REFUGEES AND 12,020 CIVILIANS KILLED BY ASSAD’S AIRSTRIKES:
In northern Syria, the Yezidi escaping from Mount Sinjar are finding refuge in a small refugee camp, Camp Nowroz, in the Kurdish area before moving on to cross back into Kurdish Iraq.
The people arriving here have walked 40 miles in heat that ranges between 40 and 50 degrees C during the day and plunges into much colder temperatures at night. At this refugee camp just over the Syrian border, there were 20 families 2 weeks ago – now there are 15,000 people.
Syrian Kurdish forces are recruiting young Yezidi men to fight against the Islamic State and putting them into training programmes. “We didn’t ask for this war, but we no choice but to fight back”. The BBC Syria news service has a video report.
As if displacement and losing your home is not enough, Syria seems to be suffering the worst drought for 50 years, destroying wheat crops and olive groves.
In Turkey the strain of the enormous ingress of Syrian refugees is beginning to show with riots in the town of Gaziantep after a Turkish landlord was allegedly stabbed by a Syrian refugee. 50 Turkish residents were arrested in the riots, while 12 Syrians were wounded.
The Turkish authorities have now moved 2,000 people from 400 families by bus to refugee camps outside the city and at the same time called on international help to ease the burden and cost of looking after 1.2 million displaced Syrians.
This article relates the experiences of Syrian refugees escaping altogether and heading down the road to Europe, HERE:
While an article in the Huffington Post on Syria news says that “Syria has Become a Humanitarian Catastrophe of Epic Proportions”.
A video from the Mercy Corps who are working to alleviate the crisis, is here:
As if all of that were not enough, Syrian VDC @lopforum has documented as at 14th August 2014, 12,020 civilian deaths from Assad’s airstrikes, of which 4,903 have died in 2014 alone.
95.4% of all airstrike deaths are civilians, of which 26.2% are children, 13.4% women – and just 4.5% combatants.
67% of civilian airstrike deaths in 2014 were caused by barrel-bombs. 562 victims were aged under 5.
Making a nonsense of the justification for air attacks by Assad’s military that they are “eliminating terrorists”, just 574 of the documented deaths recorded above have been of Opposition fighters. You can read more data, HERE:
IRAQ NEWS: US SCALES DOWN MOUNT SINJAR OP AFTER SPECIAL FORCES ASSESSMENT, AND MALIKI FINALLY “THROWS IN THE TOWEL”:
TIMELINE – 15th AUGUST 2014 11.55 GMT – UPDATED 21.55 GMT:
Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, finally threw in the towel on Thursday and admitted defeat in his bid to be re-elected, proceeding in a televised broadcast to publicly hand over to his successor.
With PM designate Abadi and politicians for other parties standing next to him, Maliki said, “I announce before you today… the withdrawal of my candidacy in favour of the brother Doctor Haidar al-Abadi”. While Abadi has just under a month to form a new government, Maliki remains in post and commader-in-chief of the armed forces.
Maliki’s acceptance of defeat was hailed by the US as “a step forward” and the hope now is that Abadi can form an administration that is inclusive of all sections of Iraq’s society, especially Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, who can work together to defeat the onslaught by the Islamic State.
There are still question marks over Maliki’s rule as he is seen to have conducted affairs totally in favour of the Shia population leading to the alienation of the Sunnis and the current crisis where Sunni tribes supported the advance by the Islamic State, and also to have authorised the military to drop barrel-bombs on Fallujaha and other locations.
Perhaps his departure has already spurred a positive Sunni reaction. According to reports coming out of Iraq today, Friday, members of more than 25 prominent Sunni tribes have taken up arms against the Islamic State (IS) and their allies west of Baghdad in an uprising that started at 6.00am. According to Anbar province’s police chief, Major general Ahmed Saddak, the uprising is backed by the security forces and in initial fighting 12 IS militants are reported killed.
After 20 US marines and special operations personnel spent 24 hours on top of Mount Sinjar on Wednesday, having since returned to base, the US administration has concluded that following humanitarian aid drops and hard work by the Kurdish Peshmerga and Kurdish militia, the YPG, to guide people off the mountain, only about 4 – 5,000 Yezidi people remain.
This is a far cry from the 20,000 to 30,000 reported earlier in the week.
If their assessment is correct, the Pentagon will not now send a rescue mission to airlift those remaining, who should be able to leave under cover of darkness led by the Peshmerga as groups have been doing every night for the last 10 days. The US special forces reported that they found pallets of aid supplies on the mountain that had not been opened.
2,000 of the Yezidi remaining on Mount Sinjar are resident there and may not want to leave. Interestingly, they believe the mountain is the final resting place of Noah’s Ark after the great flood described in the Bible subsided. The BBC’s Paul Wood reports from the top of Mount Sinjar, HERE:
(EDITOR: Let’s hope the US assessment is right. Hospitalised Yezidi MP Vian Dakhil [who broke a leg, not a wrist as reported earlier, in a helicopter crash on Mount Sinjar] says that there could be as many as “80,000 still on the mountain”, particularly on the south side.) The Wall Street Journal has an alternative assessment, HERE:
You can read President Obama’s statement of the Mount Sinjar situation, HERE:
Britain’s SAS special operations unit is also widely reported to have been operating in northern Iraq for the last 6 weeks in support of the Americans and Kurds. Britain made 7 air drops over Mount Sinjar and has given Iraq £13 million ($21.7 million) in aid.
This and other contributions will certainly be needed. Since the Islamic State invaded northern Iraq, approximately 1.5 million people have been displaced, most of them ending up in Kurdistan with some towns pushed to breaking point.
The UN has given the Iraq situation its highest emergency rating in order to speed aid deliveries and an estimated $312 million is needed just to meet current needs.
The UN Security Council is also due to pass a resolution shortly isolating the Islamic State by stopping countries buying their oil and banning recruitment to their armies.
To some peoples’ horror, Islamic State supporters have appeared on London’s Oxford Street handing out leaflets urging readers to emigrate to the new “Caliphate”.
Passers-by who confronted the group say they were racially abused. The Iraq news in the Daily Mail covers the incident.
EU diplomats, led by the UK and France, are also meeting today to discuss sending arms to the Kurds who are continuing the battle against the Islamic State on the frontline, HERE:
US jet fighters and drones additionally struck at the Islamic State (IS) again yesterday, Thursday, destroying 2 armed vehicles that were firing at the Kurds and later targeting a MRAP, a heavily armoured US-made vehicle originally supplied to the Iraqi Army and lost by them in the rapid IS advance.
There are unconfirmed reports that the US is considering military intervention from the air in Iraq’s Anbar province in order to protect Baghdad. Scott Lucas of EAWorldview comments on the whole messy situation of the US and Iraq and Syria, HERE:
The BBC’s Iraq news service has a video report on the whole situation.
Extraordinary photograph of the aftermath of Tuesday’s aid helicopter crash on Mount Sinjar, taken by Moises Saman who was in the aircraft at the time:
IRAQ NEWS: DESPITE 3 OR 4 AIRSTRIKES A DAY, US ADMITS IT IS UNLIKELY TO STOP THE ISLAMIC STATE IN THE LONG RUN:
TIMELINE – 13th AUGUST 2014 12.55 GMT:
The United States has continued carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) checkpoints and multiple vehicles near Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, flying as many as 100 sorties a day mostly for intelligence gathering but including 3 or 4 laser-guided direct hits.
The missions now include F-16s and F-15E Strike Eagle bombers flying from a base in Turkey, as well as FA-18s based on the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and armed drones.
However, the latest military assessment is that the strikes while slowing the IS advance, will not stop it. Already, IS are hiding there resources.
Lieutenant-General William Mayville, the Pentagon’s director of operations, said, “Where they have been in the open, they are now starting to dissipate and to hide amongst the people. Targeting is going to become more difficult”.
The bombs dropped were “unlikely to affect Isil’s overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria”, he added.
While the US is unlikely to get involved in a major way by putting more troops on the ground, a further 130 special operations personnel have been sent to Iraq to “help with humanitarian issues”.
The BBC has a comprehensive report with videos, HERE:
Over Mount Sinjar, the US have now flown 6 missions to drop aid supplies and the UK 5 drops in 3 separate rounds using 2 Hercules transport aircraft.
Last night’s (Tuesday) UK airdrop included 2,640 reusable water purification containers filled with clean water and 528 shelter kits. The British Government has also agreed to send larger Chinook helicopters to Iraq, which can carry as many as 55 people, to assist in getting trapped Yezidi off Mount Sinjar.
Britain has also agreed, using its forces based in Cyprus, to transport trucks from the Jordanian Army across the Middle East to Iraq to help in the rescue effort.
The UN says the Yezidi are still at risk of genocide and estimates that around 35,000 have now been rescued, while between 20,000 and 30,000 remain in the mountains.
The Iraqi Army, in conjunction with Kurdish Peshmerga troops, has been operating flights to and from the top of Mount Sinjar to rescue trapped individuals, but the aircraft are only designed to carry a handful of people.
One Iraqi helicopter, a Russian Mi-17 crashed on Mount Sinjar yesterday, Tuesday, killing the pilot after delivering aid and taking off again with a number of Yezidi refugees.
Three journalists on board were injured, as was the only Iraqi Yezidi MP, Vian Dakhil, who made an impassioned plea in the Iraqi Parliament last week to save the Yezidi (scroll down to video of this in report of 6th August).
One journalist said, “If we had been 50 metres higher, we would all be dead”. Vian Dakhil suffered a broken wrist. The crash is thought to be an accident and no Islamic State fighters were believed to be in the area at the time.
Most of the escaping Yezidi are walking down the northern slopes of the mountain range and entering Kurdish controlled areas in north-east Syria, from where they can re-enter Kurdish Iraq. Local Syrians in Hasakah province have been reported helping where they can with food, clothing and transport.
However, Duhok the first major town in Iraqi Kurdistan hosting refugees is said to be at breaking point with 104,000 plus officially registered refugees already and tens of thousands arriving.
This report from the BBC gives a flavour of their desperation, some having walked for 10 hours on more at stretch carrying small children and seeing their relatives stabbed, shot or taken away by Jihadists who seemed to have deliberately targeted young women and the vulnerable, HERE:
Helpful graphic from the Washington Post, here:
IRAQ NEWS: WHILE JIHADISTS PRESS ON TOWARDS BAGHDAD, MALIKI OUT-MANOEUVERED AS IRAN SWINGS SUPPORT BEHIND HIS SUCCESSOR:
A spokesman for the Islamic State and their Sunni tribal allies is quoted as saying, “We are on the outskirts of Baghdad & we’ll arrest Al-Maliki and Al-Abadi”, referring to the reluctant outgoing prime minister and his nominated replacement.
Clashes between the Islamic State and the Iraqi Army were reported yesterday just a few kilometres north of Baghdad at Tarmiya, Khan Bani Saad, Hosseinieh and Rashidiya.
Nouri Al-Maliki, the caretaker Prime Minister of Iraq who has shown a desperate reluctance to stand down, has to his credit publicly told the military not to interfere in the political process and Army units and Shia militia that took up positions on the street at strategic points across the capital, were said yesterday to be withdrawing to their bases.
It looks as though Al-Maliki is finished, with the nomination of Haider Al-Abadi by the Iraqi president to take his place and a request that he form a new government within 30 days.
Al-Abadi’s appointment has been endorsed by the United States and other Western nations, Saudi Arabia and even Maliki’s former main backer, Iran.
Abadi, also a Shia, was formerly a supporter of Maliki, but it is hoped he will be more inclusive of other sectarian and minority groups in Iraq, notably the Sunni and the Kurds.
A suicide car bomb however went off yesterday at a checkpoint near the home of newly-appointed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad and Maliki is today, Wednesday, still trying to hang on by his fingertips.
In a televised speech this morning he said, “The violation [President's appointment of Abadi] that occurred has no value and its consequences have no effect. I confirm that the government will continue and there will not be a replacement for it without a decision from the federal court”.
France has also confirmed Wednesday that it will be supplying the Kurdistan Government in northern Iraq with arms, with permission of the Government in Baghdad, and that delivery will take place “within the coming hours”.
SYRIA NEWS: ISLAMIC STATE STILL ADVANCING IN SYRIA, WHILE FIRST ALAWITE OPPOSITION APPEARS AGAINST ASSAD:
50 kilometres (30 miles) north-east of Aleppo city, Islamic State fighters took control yesterday, Tuesday, of the towns of Turkmen Bareh and Akhtareen plus a number of surrounding villages, including Masoudiyeh, Dabiq and Ghouz, forcing the Opposition fighters of the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic Front to retreat.
Fighting was reported as ongoing for control of another village in the area, Arshaf.
The capture of these towns and villages by the Islamic State (IS) is seen as a “strategic prize” as it puts them in good tactical position to attack Marea and Azaz. Marea is a base for the more moderate Islamic Front and Azaz is very near the Turkish border and its capture would strengthen the self-declared “Caliphate”.
This most recent IS advance was helped by the decision of the Islamist Dawud Brigade to change sides from the moderate Opposition and to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is now surrounded near Aleppo by the Assad regime on one side and the Islamic State on the other, though fighting is reported between the FSA and their allies and the Syrian Army around Aleppo Central Prison the Al-Brej area in the industrial city, the Air Frce Intelligence building and the Al-Rasul Al-A’zam mosque.
This video shows a recent Opposition mortar attack on an Assad regime position in Aleppo, HERE: and another the destruction of an Assad tank (location unknown) firing its last shell just as a TOW anti tank missile strikes, HERE:
The Assad regime has continued to drop barrel-bombs on Islamic State fighters attacking the Quwaires airbase in Aleppo province and the Tabqa airbase in Raqqah province.
The Islamic State now controls around 33% of Iraq and 35% of Syria and although it may appear to be overstretched controlling such a vast amount of territory, it does so by instilling fear of retribution for disobediance in those people it rules.
This report from Reuters Syria news explains how the Islamic State is achieving its aims, including instilling in young children the Jihadist philosoply of fighting and killing the “infidel foe”.
A Saudi Mother was jolted into action when she saw an Instagram photo of her 10 and 11 year old sons in Turkey, when she thought they were on holiday with their Father in a nearby Gulf State.
A phone call to one of the sons resulted in a message from the Father to say he was taking them to “fight in Syria for the Islamic State”. Another photo has since appeared on the Internet with the Father infront of the Islamic State black flag and his two sons holding an AK47 and a grenade.
You can read more, HERE:
In Deir Ez-Zour city 2 more “crucifixions” by the Islamic State are reported and in Latamneh in Hama province a man was given 80 lashes, his head shaved and he was imprisoned for 3 days for uttering a standard curse about the poor state of power supplies, translating as “may the religion of electricity be damned”.
A video of the punishment and “court documents” relating to the case appeared on YouTube.
At the same time, an interesting sign of dissent has occurred in President Assad’s heartland in Latakia with the distribution of leaflets by the #Speak Up Against Assad, a campaign run by Alawites complaining about the cost of 60,000 soldiers in the Syrian Army who have given their lives to keep Assad in power.
The leaflets were distributed in Tartous, a Mediterranean city that used to be completely Alawite but has now taken in thousands from other sects all over Syria.
In Damascus province, Opposition fighters are reported to have taken over 2 Assad military barriers at Raas Al-Marra west of Yabrud in the Qalamoun region.
In Palmyra, Opposition forces report the arrival there of a damaged tank and ambulances carrying wounded after the Islamic State (IS) attacked a regime convoy on its way to relieve the Syrian troops under siege at Tabqa airbase.
While in this very complicated scenario, Kurdish YPG are reported to have inflicted heavy losses on the Islamic State at Al-Hiwac village in Hasakah province and to have repelled them in a further assault at Al-Himir.
IRAQ NEWS: KURDISH FORCES BOTH GAIN AND LOSE TERRITORY AFTER USA AIRSTRIKES, AS YEZIDI RESCUE OPERATION CONTINUES:
TIMELINE – 11th AUGUST 2014 12.35 GMT – UPDATED 19.30 GMT:
After 3 days of airstrikes by the United States against the Islamic State (IS), Kurdish Peshmerga troops have regained the towns of Makhmour and Al-Gwair, relieving the pressure on the Kurdish capital, Erbil.
The US has also made a decision to supply the Kurds directly with more sophisticated weapons in order to counter the extreme Jihadist offensive. While the Pentagon has not as yet been authorised to supply such arms, they will probably be funnelled through the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The French government is also in talks with its EU colleagues on supplying the Kurds with weapons, as well as supporting the UK and US aid drops to the thousands of people still trapped on top of Mount Sinjar, a barren ridge just under 1400 metres high and 60 kilometres long.
The UK airdrops included water, food and solar lamps which can also be used for recharging mobiles. Some of the US supplies were dropped without parachute, water containers shattering as they hit the ground. Video footage of the UK’s airdrop using Hercules transport planes, HERE:
In other areas, there are shepherds’ wells and raw lamb meat to eat, but without boiling or cooking, consuming these may lead to more health problems.
The US conducted a 4th round of humanitarian aid drops on Sunday, delivering 4,394 gallons of drinking water and 22,488 ready-to-eat-meals.
An aid drop by Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) was aborted on Sunday night after safety concerns about hitting those on the ground with parachuted supplies. The UK has subsequently decided to send some Tornado jets in the next 48 hours as well, not for attack, but because they are better equipped for surveillance and can identify safe drop zones
US airstrikes at the southern base of Mount Sinjar on IS positions have also made it easier for some of the trapped Yezidi population (scroll down – see earlier reports for further information) to escape. There is video footage of US Hornets launching from a carrier in the Gulf and striking the IS targets, HERE:
The Kurdish forces secured a road running north-west from Mount Sinjar to Kurdish Syria and from there around 10,000 Yezidi, walking for nearly a week, have now managed to cross back into Iraqi Kurdistan. However, they have lost everything and possess little more than the clothes they wear.
Many Christians who were driven out of Qaraqosh and surrounding towns and villages by the Islamic State believe that they may never return, some saying that Christianity in Iraq is “finished”.
Clearly, the Islamic State is a formidable foe. Despite retreating from positions on the edge of Kurdistan following the US airstrikes, simultaneously over the weekend they have also recaptured from the Kurds most of the districts in the town of Jalawla in Diyala province and further south advanced to Mukayshfah, just 25 kilometres north of Samarra.
Kurdish Rudaw TV has an excellent report on rescuing the Yezidi from Mount Sinjar (under its alternative name Mount Shingal), (with English sub-titles) here:
IRAQ NEWS: INSTEAD OF FIGHTING THE ISLAMIC STATE, IRAQ ADMISTRATION IN POLITICAL TURMOIL AS MALIKI STRUGGLES TO SURVIVE:
On the political front, Iraq remains in a state of turmoil. On Sunday caretaker prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki made a surprise appearance on TV to call on the Army to “support the constitution” and declaring that he was going to take the new recently appointed President, Fuad Masum, a Kurd, to court for “violating constitutional rules”.
Masum has twice postponed calling Parliament together to request the appointment of the leader of the largest political block as prime minister, as factions manoeuvre to avoid choosing Maliki who is considered too Shia orientated and not inclusive enough of other ethnic groups such as Sunnis and Kurds.
Shortly before Maliki’s TV appearance, Shia militia and security forces loyal to him appeared on the streets of Baghdad and locked down the Green Zone where most senior politicians live. Fighting was also reported between Maliki supporters and Sunnis in the southern city of Basra.
According to Iraqi state television this morning, Monday, Maliki has already been to the High Court and got a ruling that the “head of the largest block” should be appointed prime minister and asked to form the next government.
Maliki clearly believes that is him, but this afternoon the main Shia group, the Shia National Alliance cast 130 votes for the deputy parliament speaker Haider al-Abadi to represent them and only 40 for Maliki.
Latest reports from Baghdad on Monday afternoon say that Maliki may still seek new alliances in parliament to put forward his candidature.
There is also some fear that he may use military force to retain power, making the whole Iraq situation far worse.
In a “slap-down” to Maliki, The US issued a statement yesterday saying, “The United States fully supports President Fuad Masum in his role as guarantor of the Iraqi constitution.
We reaffirm our support for a process to select a prime minister who can represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people by building a national consensus and governing in an inclusive manner”.
At the same time, Hilary Clinton, former US Secretary of State for Defence and a potential candidate for the next US presidential race, distanced herself from President Obama’s Middle East policy (or lack of one) yesterday.
Writing in Atlantic magazine she said, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad [in Syria] – there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle – the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”
Clinton advocated airstrikes against Assad in Syria but was overruled by Obama while she was still in office.
SYRIA NEWS: ISLAMIC STATE VIOLENTLY CRUSH TRIBAL REVOLT, WHILE ASSAD SHUTS DOWN “ALLOWED OPPOSITION” IN DAMASCUS:
In the United States, Senator John McCain, who has long advocated US military action against President Assad, has called for the American Air Force to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria too.
On the ground the Islamic State have been continuing their attack on the Quwaires airbase in Aleppo province, attempting to destroy Albatross jets parked near the runway.
In Raqqah province, the Islamic State is also involved in fighting a huge Assad armed convoy on the road between Sokhna and Raqqah city, which is probably being sent to reinforce Tabqa airbase, the last Assad military base in the province. So far they have managed to destroy 2 tanks.
At least 13 people were killed and 30 injured in Islamic State-controlled Raqqah city over the weekend following air raids by Assad’s warplanes. Among the injured were a mother and her unborn child. Doctors had to perform a caesarian section to rescue both the Mother and the child which had shrapnel in its head.
A photograph of a 7 year old holding up a decapitated head in Raqqah, which was apparently posted on Twitter last week by an Australian citizen, Khaled Sharrouf, has been called “barbaric” by the Australian Government. The boy is believed to be Sharrouf’s son.
And in Deir Ez-Zour province the extreme Islamists have quelled a revolt by the Shaitat tribe, reclaiming control of 3 villages they had lost earlier in the month. They are also reported to have have beheaded 2 of the Shaitat tribesmen and executed 23 others in the last 5 days.
In Maadi in the north-eastern part of Aleppo city, 16 civilians were killed and 17 wounded on Saturday night when the Syrian Air Force dumped a barrel-bomb on the residential building in which they were sleeping.
Today another 5 barrel-bombs were dropped on the Bab al-Nairab neighbourhood in the old district of Aleppo killing a further 10 civilians including 4 members of the same family.
A Civil Defence team rescued this one little toddler from the rubble, in this heartbreaking video, HERE:
6 people were also killed when an Assad air attack hit a grocery market in the Opposition-held town of Latamneh in the northern Hama countryside.
In Daraa province the Opposition have started a new offensive to take Government positions remaining between Nawa and Jassim and at the same time announced a new operations centre for 45 Brigades working together.
In Aleppo, the Opposition have also been bombarding a building believed to be a HQ for Hezbollah, HERE:
South of Damascus, Opposition fighters are reported to have killed Assad’s commander of the 68th Brigade in fighting.
In Damascus itself, on the political front President Assad re-appointed Wael al-Halqi as his Prime Minister and asked him to form a new Government and also clamped down on the so-called “allowed opposition”.
The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change and the Front for Change and Liberation, which have been allowed to operate in Damascus relatively unhindered since 2011, were today prevented from holding a press conference.
Assad’s security forces stopped the press conference from going ahead and prevented journalists from entering the building. The two opposition organisations were about to issue a document calling for opposition to all foreign interference in Syria as well as an end to a “military solution” to the conflict, plus the “passage from an autocratic regime to a democratic, pluralistic system”.
Perhaps this last call provoked the order to shut down the event, which according to Opposition sources, came directly from the presidential palace.