January 14, 2013
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his family have been living on a warship, with security provided by Russia, intelligence sources told a Saudi newspaper.
An Al-Watan report Monday says the family and Assad aides are residing on the ship in the Mediterranean Sea and that he travels to Syria by helicopter to attend official meetings and receptions.
Otherwise, he stays on the warship, the sources told the Arabic language newspaper.
BEIRUT — A Syrian airstrike tore through a house in a rebellious suburb of Damascus Monday, killing at least 13 people including eight children as the government ramped up its operations against the opposition strongholds ringing the capital, activists said.
Government forces have used warplanes and multiple rocket launchers over the past 24 hours in what activists described as some of the heaviest barrages of the Damascus region since President Bashar Assad’s regime launched an offensive in November to dislodge rebels from the capital’s outskirts.
The air raid struck a home with residents inside early Monday in the southern suburb of Moadamiyeh, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights and other activists said. Neighbors pulled the 13 bodies from the rubble, the Observatory said, adding that at least seven more people remained trapped.
Syrian state media refuted that account, and blamed rebels for the deaths in Moadamiyeh. The official SANA news agency said “terrorists” fired a shell at the neighborhood from nearby Daraya, hitting a residential building and causing casualties. The government refers to the rebels as terrorists.
“The noise from the bombardment is astounding today,” a fighter who only identified himself as Iyad said by satellite phone from an area near Moadamiyeh.
“The regime is using all kinds of weaponry, they are shelling Moadamiyeh from nearby mountains,’ he said, adding that telephone lines to the area have been cut.
BEIRUT | Mon Jan 14, 2013 3:25pm EST
(Reuters) – Syria’s civil war is unleashing a “staggering humanitarian crisis” on the Middle East as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee violence including gang rape, an international aid agency said on Monday.
Opposition activists said an air strike on rebel-held territory southwest of Damascus killed 20 people, including women and children, adding to the more than 60,000 people estimated to have been killed in the 21-month-old conflict.
Over 600,000 Syrians have fled abroad – many to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – as violence has spread and international efforts to find a political solution have sagged.
Refugees interviewed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) cited sexual violence as a major reason they fled the country, the New York-based organization said in a 23-page report on the crisis published on Monday.
Gang rapes often happened in front of family members and women had been kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed, it said.
“After decades of working in war and disaster zones, the IRC knows that women and girls suffer physical and sexual violence in every conflict. Syria is no exception,” the group added.
Rebels and government forces have both been accused of human rights abuses during the conflict, which began with peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
The unrest turned violent after government forces fired on demonstrators and has since become a full-scale civil war.
Fierce winter weather has worsened the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees. The IRC urged donors to step up planning and funding in the expectation that more Syrians will flee.
“Nearly two years into Syria’s civil war, the region faces a staggering humanitarian disaster,” the IRC report said.
CHERNIVTSI, January 13 (RIA Novosti) – Moscow believes that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s exit cannot be a precondition for a deal to resolve the country’s crisis, Russia’s foreign minister said on Sunday.
“Our partners are convinced that President Bashar al-Assad’s exit is essential as a precondition. This is a precondition, which is not mentioned in the Geneva Communique and cannot be fulfilled, because this does not depend on anyone,” Sergei Lavrov said in comments on Friday’s three-party Syria meeting with international Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and US diplomats.
“President Assad announced initiatives to invite all opposition members for a dialogue. Yes, probably, these initiatives are not far-reaching, someone may think they are not serious enough. But this is a proposal,” Lavrov said after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kozhara commenting on Assad’s peace plan.
Last week, President Assad proposed a plan to resolve the country’s crisis which includes a national reconciliation conference, the formation of a new government and an amnesty.
The Syrian opposition has rejected the peace initiative, calling it “empty rhetoric”.
Russia’s foreign minister called on Syria’s opposition to announce their ideas on “how to enter a dialogue.”
Syria has been engulfed in a bloody civil war between various opposition forces and government troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad since March 2011.
According to UN estimates, over 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising.
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 14, 2013 7:15 EST
Rape has been a “significant” weapon of war in the conflict raging in Syria since March 2011 and is the “primary” factor in the exodus of women and children refugees to neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon, an aid group said on Monday.
In its report, “Syria: A Regional Crisis,” the US-based International Rescue Committee (IRC) described rape “as a significant and disturbing feature of the Syrian civil war”.
“In the course of three IRC assessments in Lebanon and Jordan, Syrians identified rape as a primary reason their families fled the country,” the report said, calling for urgent attention to the issue.
“Many women and girls relayed accounts of being attacked in public or in their homes, primarily by armed men. These rapes, sometimes by multiple perpetrators, often occur in front of family members.”
The IRC said it was also told of attacks in which women and girls were kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed.
Syrian survivors rarely report sexual violence due to “the stigma and social norms around the dishonour that rape brings to women and girls and their families,” the IRC said.
Many interviewed by the IRC said survivors fear retribution by their assailants, being killed by “shamed” family members, or in the case of girls, being married off at an early age “to safeguard their honour,” the report said.
The IRC said survivors who flee face a shortage of medical and counselling services, in addition to “unsafe conditions in refugee camps as well as elevated levels of domestic violence.”
Published: 13 January, 2013, 23:55
Edited: 14 January, 2013, 12:08
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has urged the Syrian opposition to suggest a viable peace plan following the Syrian President’s recent call for dialogue.
The Foreign Minister admitted that the initiatives forwarded by Assad in his speech on January 6 in which he invited the Syrian opposition to dialogue may be considered not far-reaching enough by some, “but these are initiatives.”
“If I were in the opposition’s place, I would present…counter-ideas on ways to establish dialogue,” he suggested.
Lavrov emphasized that the opposition’s demand that President Bashar al-Assad be removed from power as a precondition for peace talks was not realistic.
“This is a precondition that is not contained in the Geneva communique (agreed by world powers in June) and which is impossible to implement,” Lavrov said Sunday following his talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.
The Geneva communiqué, as accepted by world powers in June, calls on both sides to adhere to an interim government; the document does not prevent Assad from participating in any future negotiations on the creation of a new government.
“We are hearing from opposition groups that they have decided to fight till final victory, so how can we talk about implementing the Geneva communiqué,” Lavrov asked.
The minister warned that having Assad’s resignation as a precondition for peace may provoke “more and more casualties”.
“Those who support such approach should be responsible for this,” he explained.
The question of Assad’s political future in Syria remains a bone of contention between Russia and the Western powers concerning a possible solution to the conflict.
Joe Sterling and Saad Abedine
January 11, 2013
Syrian rebel fighters said Friday they have captured a strategic northern military base used by the government to bomb opposition strongholds.
Rebel fighters and militants from various Islamic groups, including the jihadist al-Nusra Front, took part in the offensive, an opposition spokesman said.
They’ve seized control of buildings, ammunition and military equipment at the base in Idlib province, the opposition said, signaling a major blow to President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
DEBKAfile Special Report January 11, 2013, 10:30 AM (GMT+02:00)
At a joint news conference Friday, Jan. 11, retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, cleaned the Pentagon’s Syrian desk ready for incoming Secretary Chuck Hagel. Boiled down to essentials, their triple message was that Bashar Assad could not be stopped from using chemical weapons if he chose to do so, that securing the CW sites after Assad’s fall was the job of the “international community” and that no US ground troops would be sent to Syria.
Panetta and Dempsey essentially confirmed a fact first reported by debkafile in the third week of November: US naval, air and marine forces were withdrawn from Syrian offshore waters following the White House’s decision to stay clear of military involvement in the Syrian conflict. After extending Syrian opposition forces diplomatic support for nearly two years, the Obama administration is dumping the Assad headache in the laps of Syria’s immediate neighbors, Turkey, Jordan and Israel, and casting the rebels adrift.
This decision was spelled out with crystal clarity by Panetta and Dempsey at a joint Washington press conference in Washington:
“The United States is increasingly focused on how to secure Syria’s chemical weapons if President Bashar al-Assad falls from power,” said the outgoing defense secretary. In reference to the problem while Assad is still in place, Panetta emphasized that the United States is not considering sending in ground troops.
At one stroke, he refuted Western and Israeli media claims of American and Israeli special forces operating at the chemical weapons sites.
His words also broadly hinted to Bashar Assad that, if he kept his hands off using his chemical arsenal, he would enhance his chances of staying in power, because after America’s exit from the war scene, no other military force would be around to help the opposition remove him.
Panetta was less clear about the so-called “international community” – an amorphous entity in every sense. He said: “I think the greater concern right now is what steps does the international community take to make sure that when Assad comes down, there is a process and procedure to make sure we get our hands on securing those sites. That I think is the greater challenge right now.”
The US government was discussing the issue with Israel and other countries in the region, he said, but ruled out deploying American ground forces in any “hostile” setting. He repeated: “We’re not talking about ground troops.”
The defense secretary did not say exactly how this international coalition would function or whether it would go into action if Assad himself embarked on chemical warfare. Neither did he refer to the claim leaked by British intelligence this week that the Syrian stock of 50 tonnes of un-enriched uranium, enough for weapons grade fuel for five nuclear devices, had gone missing and may have passed to Iran.
Gen Dempsey, addressing the same press conference, spoke about the current problem: He said that if Assad chose to use his chemical stockpiles against opposition forces, it would be virtually impossible to stop him. Preventing the launch of chemical weapons “would be almost unachievable,” he said “… because you would have to have such clarity of intelligence, you know, persistent surveillance, you would have to actually see it before it happened.”
He added that “messaging” to the Syrian ruler publicly warning him that the use of chemical weapons would cross a red line, established a deterrent, because “he might think it would prompt outright US or international intervention leading to his downfall. But that’s different from preemption.”
Dempsey was repeating Panetta’s implied message to Assad that avoiding chemical warfare would extend the life of his regime, say our sources.
US military sources later told reporters that, while Dempsey and Panetta believe sarin gas will break down after 60 days – “That’s what the scientists tell us,” Dempsey said, US government sources have suggested that “Syrian sophistication with chemical weaponry may leave the combined, weaponized sarin deadly for up to a year.” Sarin, they say, is exceptionally hard to dispose of.
debkafile reports: This confusion is compounded by the decoys used by the Syrian army to conceal its chemical weapons stocks, which are now believed to have been distributed among different Syrian Air Force bases.
Israel has responded to the US withdrawal from the Syrian arena with a decision announced by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that Israel has started erecting a special security fence along its 57-kilometer boundary with Syria.
Ankara’s response has been to segregate Turkey from the Syrian conflict behind the six Patriot anti-missile batteries provided by NATO and place them on the border of its embattled neighbor in defensive array.
Indeed, both countries have retreated to defensive postures. However, neither the Patriots nor the wall will be much use should chemical weapons fall into rebel hands, including the Islamist terrorists in their ranks, and they decide to use them.
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