TIMELINE – 24th JANUARY 2013 14.53 GMT:
As Opposition forces make sudden advances in the southern province of Deraa and fighting with Government forces escalates, refugees flood into Jordan.
According to the Jordan Times late on Tuesday night, authorities had recorded 6,000 people crossing in a 12 hour period, just part of the 20,000 taken in in just over a week.
The Jordanian Government has appealed for international help in coping with the estimated 300,000 Syrian refugees sheltering in its country, 60-70,000 alone in the Za’atari refugee camp north of the capital Amman.
The BBC has a video report, HERE:
Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters have overrun several Army checkpoints within Deraa city itself and captured the nearby towns of Bosra and Ghabagheb.
Bosra in an ancient city with a citadel and a UNESCO World Heritage site Roman amphitheatre, one of the finest of its kind in the world.
The FSA have also attacked the 25th border police station in the town of Tal Shihab near the Jordanian border and continue to thwart regime attempts to take the Basr Harir suburb of Deraa.
Jet and missile attacks on FSA positions in Deraa have been reported this morning, further adding to the desperation of civilians to leave.
Similarly, the Syrian Air Force is continuing to strike the Damascus suburbs of Daraya, Douma, Moadamiyat al-Sham and Aqraba, where 3 Government tanks, in addition to a number of armoured vehicles, were destroyed by Opposition fighters yesterday. 8 jet strikes on Daraya have been recorded this morning, Thursday, alone.
There was also violent shelling yesterday on the Palestinian refugee camp of Husainiya, with many deaths.
Scud missiles, believed to have been fired from the Government’s Talkalakh base near Homs, came down on the Al-Bab suburb of Abu Taltal and in Kaljebrin, both in Aleppo province in the north, killing at least 23 people including a couple and their 3 children, the Hazrouni family from Abu Taltal.
Overall, at least 146 deaths were reported across Syria yesterday, Wednesday.
In Aleppo city itself, video analysis of the second bomb explosion on January 15th at Aleppo University, which killed at least 87, has revealed that it was almost certainly a rocket/missile strike, undermining the Government claims that the deaths were caused by car bombs.
The Government’s alternative claim was that they were “terrorist” missiles aimed at aircraft that had missed their targets, but the size of the explosions, the likely trajectory and distance travelled are not consistent with this theory either.
Slowed down the video reveals a missile coming in from the top right (near top of lamppost), HERE:
There are also unconfirmed reports today, Thursday, that Opposition fighters have breached the perimeter and entered Menegh military airport, a key Government installation near Aleppo. More information as it arrives.
Other reports confirm that Opposition fighters have taken the Al-Ghouna oil field in Hasaka province, HERE: and that another group of fighters have blown up the oil pipeline to the refinery on the Mediterranean coast near Banias.
In Raqqa city in the north-east, Opposition fighters staged an attack on the central prison, killing many Government troops, HERE: , while the Syrian National Coalition is reported to have intervened to try and stop fighting at Ras Al-Ayn between Jihadists and Kurdish militia, both of whom are against the Assad regime but fighting each other for control of the area.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov did his best to play down the evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria via Lebanon on Tuesday, denying that is part of a wider plan.
However, he did admit that the families of Russian diplomats had been evacuated earlier and at least 1,000 people of Russian extraction or married to Russian citizens had expressed a desire to their Damascus embassy to leave Syria.
One returning Russian woman, Natasha Yunis, who is married to a Syrian and ran a beauty salon in Damascus, said, “The Free Syrian Army is getting closer. We’ve been left without money, without light, without water. A bomb exploded near our house … The children hid”.
In the event, the 2 flights that Russia organised from Beirut contained only 77 people, but there are as many as 30,000 of Russian origin living in Syria at the last count. The BBC has a short video report, HERE:
Sergie Lavrov also lashed out at the Syrian Opposition and their “obsession” with the ousting of President Assad before any talks could take place, saying, “As long as this irreconcilable position remains in place, nothing good can happen. Armed actions will continue and people will die.”
Conversely, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said it was “inconceivable” to negotiate with anyone who “carpet-bombed” his “own country, his own history and his own people”.
Meanwhile, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said, “There should be a clear signal to the Syrian regime that what they have been doing, bombarding cities by airplanes, is a war crime,” adding that he expected the U.N. Security Council to step in “to stop this bloodshed.”
The UN’s humanitarian chief Valerie Ann Amos, sitting alongside him, said, “The humanitarian situation in Syria is already catastrophic and it’s clearly getting worse. What we are seeing now are the consequences of the failure of the international community to unite to resolve the crisis.”
Back in Syria more detail emerged about Assad’s new Syrian Defence Force, designed to defend neighbourhoods from Opposition attack. The first of the units passed out and paraded after training at a football stadium in Homs.
The first Women’s unit has 450 recruits aged between 18 and 50 and they are on duty manning checkpoints 4 hours a day and the rest of their time carrying on with their normal jobs.
The women’s training includes “shooting Kalashnikovs, machineguns, handling grenades, attacking opposition checkpoints, controlling our checkpoints, conducting raids and courses on military tactics,” said a commander. You can read more, HERE: and see a video of the women’s passing out parade, HERE:
Lastly, in a feat of over-optimistic illusion, the Syrian Government’s Religious Endowments Minster, Mohammed Abdel Settar, called for a “million-man prayers” in mosques this Friday to “appeal for the re-establishment of security in the country” (EDITOR: On the Government’s terms of course).
“Syria”, he burbled on, “Will prevail against the conspiracy launched by hostile states, carried out by their proxies and slaves, and led by Wahhabi infidels from abroad” (referring to the strict Wahhabi fundamentalism based in Saudi Arabia).
An interesting article also emerged in Al-Arabiya, claiming that Assad had told the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on his last visit that he was in fact to prepared to sacrifice and destroy Damascus if necessary in order to win the war. You can read more, HERE:
While Assad sits in his comfortable presidential palace and rants and schemes, 100’s of thousands of his countrymen now suffer. Al Jazeera has a video report of the appalling conditions in the Atmeh refugee camp, the only one in Syria, as the refugees live in fear and struggle to survive, HERE:
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TIMELINE – 22nd JANUARY 2012 14.55 GMT:
The war came yet closer to the regime’s supporters in Damascus over the weekend when for the first time the electricity went out for a prolonged period in the upmarket areas in the centre of the capital, including affecting properties owned by the Assad family and the President’s businessman cousin Rami Maklouf.
The power failed on Sunday night and was out for at least 22 hours. The Electricity Minister, Imad Khamis, blamed the outage on “terrorists”, saying that they had brought down high-voltage power lines and it had affected sub-stations and generators.
He expected power to be fully restored to the capital by this morning, Tuesday.
For President Assad’s supporters it was, despite all the Government’s desperate reassurances, another sign that war closes in on Damascus and the end is approaching. Opposition fighters are reported fighting within 800 metres of Damascus Old City, once a tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
One local resident said, “Inside Damascus’ Old City, you can’t escape the muffled sounds of shelling and fighter jets and even machine guns fired off nearby”.
To add to the misery and desperation, the Syrian Government yesterday raised the prices of petrol, wheat and flour. 95-octane gasoline (petrol) went up to 60 Syrian pounds ($0.75) per litre, flour from the equivalent price of $419 per ton to $434 and soft wheat, needed to make bread which is already in short supply,to the equivalent of $337, up from $321.
Last week the Government increased the price of diesel and heating oil by 40% to 35 Syrian pounds ($0.43) per litre, but on the black market it is already being valued at 115 Syrian pounds ($1.15) per litre.
The extent of the queues for fuel in the capital can be seen in Khalid Bin Waleed Street, filmed, HERE:
The increased price announcements were followed by another explosion on Monday in the wealthy area of Dumar in Damascus causing an unknown number of deaths.
Not surprising then that Jordan has reported another huge influx of 12,000 Syrian refugees in just the last 6 days, over 25,000 having crossed the border since January 1st.
Jordan says it is hosting 300,000 refugees, 176,000 of whom are registered with UNHCR, the UN refugee organisation. The UN is predicting 1.1 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries by June if the war does not end soon.
Two shells from an unknown source landed near the Russian embassy in Damascus on Saturday, perhaps prompting the airlift of “100” Russian citizens announced yesterday. As heavy fighting continues along the road to the International Airport and it remains closed to civilian aircraft, the Russians said they would bus their citizens to Beirut in Lebanon, where “2 planes” would be waiting to take them to Moscow.
(EDITOR: Quite why “2 planes” is unclear. Either the Russians have very small aircraft or they are moving all the fat people first!)
In the event, reports from Russian diplomats say that as many as 150 people were being bussed from Damascus this morning, Tuesday, and more will be moved “as and when required”.
Russian naval ships are currently carrying out exercises in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, which include the use of landing craft and removing people from the shore.
Yet again there are also renewed reports from Dubai (reported on this blog some time ago) that Assad’s Mother, Anisa Makhlouf, has taken up residence there with other members of the Assad family.
Bushra Al -Assad, who has broken with the President, Bashar Al-Assad, several times, moved to Dubai in September and enrolled her 5 children in a private school after her husband was killed in a FSA bomb explosion in Damascus.
And in yet another desperate move the Assad Government has also formed a paramilitary force called the “National Defense Army” which will made up of men and women who were formally members of the “popular local committees”, most of whom are loyal members of the ruling Ba’ath Party and from all sects in Syrian society.
According to reports the members of the new armed militia are being trained in guerrilla warfare techniques to defend their own neighbourhoods by “advisers” from Iran and members of Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed militants.
The new force is already reported to be active in Homs province, supposedly leaving the Syrian Army free to fight elsewhere.
Similarly, the FSA is busy also training its recruits in urban warfare. This Al Jazeera video report, filmed at a captured army base on the outskirts of Damascus, shows the realistic training exercises, HERE:
Heavy fighting continues around Damascus, the regime sending yet more reinforcements to attack the Opposition held suburb of Daraya and even pounding it with ground to ground Grad missiles, not caring who they kill. Continuous airstrikes are also being reported on Douma and the East Ghouta region, another centre of Opposition strength, with successive rocket attacks on an area between Hamouriyeh and Jisreen.
Further north in Idlib province, the FSA has announced a campaign to free Idlib city from Assad regime control and on Monday launched attacks against 7 heavily armed Government checkpoints on the outskirts of the provincial capital.
A ground attack on Ma’arrat al-Numan has been repelled, HERE: and 3 tanks and an armoured vehicle sent there to reinforce the assault were destroyed.
In addition a checkpoint between Ma’arrat al-Numan and Khan Shaykhoun has been freed from government forces, opening another route towards Latakia, which many consider will be the Assad regime’s last stronghold.
However, the FSA is already well entrenched in Latakia province, local fighters using their extensive knowledge of the mountains to their advantage and holding large areas of territory. An excellent article on the looming fight for Latakia, HERE:
In Aleppo province heavy fighting continues in all areas, but particularly around Quwayres airbase, HERE: Within Aleppo city itself, the water supply suddenly came on again, causing citizens to rush around filling containers of drinking water before it was shut off again.
In Hama province on Monday at the Alawite town of Salamiya, east of the provincial capital, a suicide bomber blew up a car outside the local headquarters of the popular committee and the Shabiha. At least 30 people were reported killed, including a number of leading members of the local and regional Ba’ath Party.
Regime forces plus Shabiha accompanied by Hezbollah fighters have continued a major onslaught on the neighbourhoods of Jobar and Sultaniya and the village of Kafara’aya near Homs and heavy attacks are reported on Opposition positions near Deraa in the south and at Deir el-Zoiur and Raqqa.
In the extreme north-east clashes are also continuing between Jihadists and the Kurdish Popular Protection Units in Ras al-Ayn near the Turkish border, killing at least 56 fighters on both sides over the last 6 days.
In Istanbul, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) meeting over the weekend failed to reach consensus on the make-up of a “transitional government” and an attempt to elect former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab as leader of the new administration-in-exile did not come to fruition.
Instead, the President of the SNC, Moaz Alkhatib, left the meeting early to fly to Qatar to try and garner financial guarantees for a new government, if and when it comes into power. The Opposition politicians are due to meet in Paris on 28th January to discuss their plans with 20 supporter countries.
Yesterday also saw the arrival by sea and the unloading of the first NATO Patriot Missile systems from Germany in the Turkish port of İskenderun. They will now be transported by road to their positions near the Turkish – Syrian border and be fully operational early in February. The BBC has a video report, HERE:
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TIMELINE – 20th JANUARY 2012 14.25 GMT:
Perhaps signalling a sign of its desperation, the Assad regime’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, said yesterday that the “nationalistic Opposition” could join a Cabinet, if they agreed to “lay down their arms” and rejected foreign intervention.
Appearing completely delusional, he also said that any discussion of President Bashar al-Assad’s future was “unacceptable”, knowing full well that the Opposition will hold no talks with Government until Assad has stood down. The main Opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, also welcome foreign intervention and there is therefore no chance of Muallem’s offer becoming a reality.
Seemingly acknowledging though that Assad is presiding over a “sinking ship”, Muallem said, “The US continues to have the president’s departure as a condition of regime change, ignoring the fact that the captain of a capsized ship does not jump into the first boat”.
That he should make such suggestions at this time is interesting, as clearly the Syrian Army are unable to push back the Opposition fighters and the Free Syrian Army and their independent allies continue to chip away at territory around Aleppo, in the rural areas and in the suburbs of Damascus.
The Army has been trying to retake the capital suburb of Daraya for 2 months but has not succeeded, despite bombarding it continuously.
Daraya was the subject of rocket and jet attacks again yesterday and today, Sunday, and dozens are reported killed or injured. 80 explosions were heard in Daraya on Saturday morning alone and Government tanks continue to shell the area indiscriminately as can be seen in this video footage, HERE:
The strain is also being felt in central Damascus where many people from the suburbs have now moved and been taken in by relatives or friends. Some houses are reported to be accommodating as many as 30 to 50 people and bread queues are starting to stretch into waits that last hours.
Inside the “Damascus Bubble”, citizens still drink hot chocolate inside cafes and civil servants still get on public transport to go to work, but the petrol queues now snake around the block and talk is of “high energy biscuits”, food normally reserved for countries in famine.
The BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports from Damascus, HERE:
In more rural areas, local residents have now taken to illegally cutting down trees in order to provide fuel for cooking and to keep warm. Al Jazeera has a video report, HERE:
Lyse Doucet has also now filed a video report and an updated article on the massacre at Hasawiya. What has emerged is that this was the work of the Alawite militia, the Shabiha, and latest reports suggest that as many as 150 died in the village.
Off camera women talk of how they were stripped naked and 44 were raped. Up to 100 men may have been kidnapped and the BBC saw of evidence of executed bodies that had been burnt in an attempt to destroy the evidence. The BBC has an article and video report (moderately gruesome), HERE:
This latest outrage prompted Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to plead with the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation, but Russia and China remain intransigent, continuing to block any move that criticises President Assad. Syria has never signed up to be an ICC member and the Security Council is the only body that can order such an investigation.
Pillay’s plea followed hard on a letter sponsored by Switzerland and now signed by 58 countries to the Security Council making a similar request.
Muallem, Syria’s Foreign Minister, accused some of the signatories of using “deceit and double standards”, requesting a human rights investigation on one hand and supplying weapons and ammunition to the Opposition on the other.
In Aleppo this morning, Sunday, it is reported from the FSA that Opposition forces have taken Base 599, one of the military emplacements defending Aleppo International Airport and there are heavy clashes around the Muhallab military barracks in the Sabeel district.
At the Menegh helicopter base, Opposition forces are able to freely survey the airfield and are within shooting distance of the aircraft remaining, HERE:
Russia, in another sign of the increasing isolation of Syria’s largest city, has suspended the operation of its consulate in Aleppo.
In the extreme north-east in Ras Al Ayn, the Kurdish National Council has called on the Syrian Opposition to stop Jihadists shelling Kurdish militia positions with tanks and heavy machine guns. Several hundred Jihadists crossed from Turkey earlier in the week and there is some suspicion that the Turkish authorities, in support of their own campaign against Kurdish militants both inside and outside Turkey, are encouraging the conflict between the two sides.
In Hasaka province, clashes between the Syrian Army and Kurdish Defence Units are being reported around the village of Karzero, just east of Al-Rmeilan city, Syria’s oil capital. The Syrian Army reportedly retreated under fire and 24 soldiers are said to have defected.
Lastly, on the “unconfirmed report” front there is one that the head of the police in Latakia has defected and another that a defected MIG pilot has attacked Assad military sites in the mainly Alawite neighbourhood of the mixed sect town of Moadamiyat al-Sham near Damascus.
At first Opposition activists thought the plane was attacking Opposition targets, but after several rocket strikes and the activation of Syrian Government air-defence systems, they concluded that the pilot had turned against the Assad regime. What happened to him or the plane is not know.
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