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Re: Sīrija

Nelasītas ziņa tas_pats_lv » 16 Nov 2013 23:01

Assad gaining ground in Syrian civil war
By RYAN LUCAS
— Nov. 16, 2013 12:14 PM EST
BEIRUT (AP) — Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have firmly seized the momentum in the country's civil war in recent weeks, capturing one rebel stronghold after another and triumphantly planting the two-starred Syrian government flag amid shattered buildings and rubble-strewn streets.
Despite global outrage over the use of chemical weapons, Assad's government is successfully exploiting divisions among the opposition, dwindling foreign help for the rebel cause and significant local support, all linked to the same thing: discomfort with the Islamic extremists who have become a major part of the rebellion.
The battlefield gains would strengthen the government's hand in peace talks sought by the world community.
Both the Syrian government and the opposition have said they are ready to attend a proposed peace conference in Geneva that the U.S. and Russia are trying to convene, although it remains unclear whether the meeting will indeed take place. The Western-backed opposition in exile, which has little support among rebel fighters inside Syria and even less control over them, has set several conditions for its participation, chief among them that Assad must not be part of a transitional government — a notion Damascus has roundly rejected.
"President Bashar Assad will be heading any transitional stage in Syria, like it or not," Omar Ossi, a member of Syria's parliament, told The Associated Press.
The government's recent gains on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, and in the north outside the country's largest city, Aleppo, have reinforced Assad's position. And the more the government advances, the easier it is to dismiss the weak and fractious opposition's demands.
"Assad wants to go to Geneva with credit, not debit," said Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general who heads the Beirut-based Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research. "He is trying day after day to gain on the battlefield, and when he goes to Geneva he can say, ... 'OK, here's the situation — we are strong on the field. What do you have?'"
The government has made its biggest gains in the suburbs south of Damascus, where army troops backed by guerrillas from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group and Shiite militants from Iraq have captured five towns since Oct. 11. The latest to fall was Hejeira, which army troops swept through Wednesday, just days after capturing the adjacent suburb of Sbeineh.
The troops were quickly followed by state television cameras eager to broadcast the victory: a two-starred government flag triumphantly planted amid bombed-out buildings, twisted rebar and rubble-strewn streets.
In northern Syria, Assad's forces have captured two towns this month — Safira and Tel Aran, southeast of the battlefield city of Aleppo — and have retaken a military base near Aleppo's international airport.
Aleppo, the country's largest city and former commercial capital, is a major prize in the war. Assad's military and the rebels have been battling over it since the summer of 2012, carving it up into rebel- and government-held areas and leaving much of the city in ruins.
In some ways, the recent run of government victories fit into the regular back-and-forth rhythm of the conflict over the past nearly three years, with the pendulum swinging in Assad's favor at the moment.
But the government advances around Aleppo hold greater trouble for the opposition since they suggest the rebels' grip on the north — much of which fell to anti-Assad fighters over the past year — is far more tenuous than once believed.
A confluence of factors has increasingly hampered the opposition's war effort in the north.
The rebels have been crippled by infighting since the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant aggressively pushed into rebel-held areas of the north this year. Fighters from the extremist group, most of them foreigners, have clashed repeatedly with more moderate rebel brigades, leaving scores dead on both sides.
Rebel groups, particularly the Islamic State but more mainstream factions as well, also have been engaged in a brutal side conflict with Syria's Kurdish minority, which has a large presence in the northeast and parts of Aleppo province.
Combined, these two wars-within-a-war have sapped the opposition's strength and undermined the effort to oust Assad.
They have also provided an opening for the Syrian leader to exploit.
"Fighting among ourselves has done a lot of damage," Abu Thabet, the commander of the Aleppo Swords Battalion, said by telephone. "Six months ago, the regime was always on the defensive and we would attack first. Now, after we started infighting, the regime is always on the offensive. They attack, and we defend." Abu Thabet spoke on condition he be identified only his nom de guerre to protect his security.
Rebels also have been frustrated by U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to seek a diplomatic path to disarming Damascus of its chemical weapons.
After an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds, Washington accused Assad's forces of carrying them out — though his government denied it. The U.S. then threatened military strikes against Syrian forces. The strikes were averted when Russia brokered a deal to destroy Assad's chemical arsenal by mid-2014.
Many in the opposition had held out hopes that American military intervention — even if limited in scale — would help tip the scales of a deadlocked civil war in the rebels' favor. Compounding their disappointment, many rebels saw the diplomatic deal as a giving green light to Assad to continue killing people with conventional weapons, as well as effectively making the Syrian leader a partner with the international community at least until the arsenal is destroyed.
At the same time, the flow of weapons and ammunition from across the border in neighboring Turkey to fighters inside Syria has slowed to a trickle, rebels say, as Ankara has grown increasingly concerned about the prominent role of Islamic extremists.
"Support from the military council of Aleppo and its suburbs has stopped completely," said Abu Thabet, referring to the rebel body that coordinates the weapons flow from Turkey to rebel battalions doing the fighting.
"This has all stopped," he said. "I'm on the ground, I really don't know what's going on with Turkey or the council, all I know is that we're not getting anything."

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Re: Sīrija

Nelasītas ziņa tas_pats_lv » 05 Jan 2014 17:40

Syria rebels demand al-Qaeda group surrender
Protesters rally against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, accused of brutal killings and kidnappings.
Last updated: 04 Jan 2014 21:26
Rebels fighting in Syria have given rivals from an al-Qaeda affiliate 24 hours to surrender, according to activists in the country.
Saturday's ultimatum comes amid days of deadly infighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in two northern provinces, Idlib and Aleppo.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels from an alliance of Islamist groups attacked positions of the fighters from ISIL, killing and capturing dozens of people on Saturday.
The ISIL has been blamed for brutal killings in areas under their control, turning many local residents against them and leading to a growing resistence to the al-Qaeda-linked group's grip on several areas of the country.
Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut in Lebanon, said the developments could signal a turning point in the war.
"This is the most serious violence between armed opposition and ISIL," our correspondent said.
Sixteen ISIL fighters were reportedly killed in the fighting in Aleppo and nearby Idlib on Friday, while at least 42 other ISIL fighters were wounded in Idlib alone.
Meanwhile, protesters in opposition-held parts of Syria chanted slogans condemning the al-Qaeda affiliate.
Ammar, an activist on the ground, described it as "the start of the revolution against ISIL", according to AFP news agency.
ISIL and Western-backed rebel forces are all fighting to overthrow Assad's regime, but tensions between different groups have been rife in recent months.
Several opposition factions, including a number of fighters united under the name "Army of Mujahedeen", were involved in Friday's fighting, according to the Observatory and local activists.
Both the Islamic Front and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, two key groups made up of tens of thousands of opposition fighters, also condemned ISIL on Friday.

Anti-ISIL protests

The fighting comes days after ISIL reportedly tortured and murdered a leading opposition figure, doctor Hussein al-Suleiman, known as Abu Rayyan.
His death was the latest in a string of beatings, kidnappings and killings attributed to the group, and prompted protesters to take to the streets under the slogan, "Friday of the martyr Abu Rayyan".
Amateur video shot in Aleppo on Friday reportedly showed protesters chanting: "Free Syrian Army forever! Crush ISIL and Assad!"
Abu Leyla, an Idlib-based activist, told AFP via the Internet: "I'd say about 90 percent of people in the opposition areas are against ISIL".
"They use violence and abuses to crush dissent. They are only Islamic in name. All they want is power," he said.
More than 130,000 people have been killed since the war in Syria broke out in 2011.

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Re: Sīrija

Nelasītas ziņa tas_pats_lv » 29 Jan 2014 15:11

In Syria, local ceasefires end shooting, but at what cost?
© AFP
Text by FRANCE 24
Latest update : 2014-01-27
While Syria peace talks in Switzerland crawl slowly forward, a different type of dialogue has been established on the ground in the war-torn country, where rebels and the regular army in several cities have agreed to ceasefires.
It is a phenomenon that is beginning to gain momentum. Truces have been signed in several Syrian cities, mostly in the province of Damascus, but local coordinating committees in the cities of Homs and Hama have also reported via social networks that they have concluded similar agreements.
"Yes, there has truces in Syria," a source who preferred to remain anonymous told FRANCE 24. "But they are not to the liking of everyone in the opposition; some refuse to recognize the deals.Most of the cities where there are agreements are around Damascus and were besieged and bombarded for months."
The most recent truce was agreed in Barzeh near Damascus in mid-January, but the source also cited the rebel strongholds of Douma and Daraya and other towns in the Ghouta region around Damascus.
At Moadamiyet al-Sham, three kilometers south of Damascus, a truce in late December broke a siege that had lasted for over a year and ended the daily bombardment. Food and medicine have reached residents .
"It’s working. Since the truce, not a single bullet has been fired in Moadamiyet al-Sham," said the source, who also emphasised that the local ceasefire gave the displaced, a third of the town's 15,000 population, a chance to return home.
These deals have been made for a variety of reasons, mostly humanitarian, but they follow a pattern. Rebels agree to hand over their heavy weapons while keeping their light arms. In exchange, the army stops shelling and allows the rebels to retain control of the area. The authorities allow food in and often restore electricity and running water.
After enduring bombardments and shortages the people in some towns have welcomed the truces, and the return of staple foods, with enthusiasm.

Regime stratagem?

One non-negotiable element of the agreements is that the rebels, who early in the uprising adopted their own flag, must hoist the Syrian flag over each town.
Fabrice Balanche, a Syria specialist and director of the Research Group in Mediterranean and the Middle Eastern studies at the University of Lyon, however, said that the demand that the official flag be flown where it could be seen as a sign of good faith was part of the regime’s strategy of using truces to retake territory, regain control and save its forces.
"Raising the official flag that the rebels view as representing the government is not only symbolic. The sight of the hated banner might make other rebel groups want to attack the town," Balanche said.
"Disarmed and weakened, those who have signed the truce might be driven to seek the protection of the army. That will further the regime’s objective of drawing them closer.”
This is precisely what happened in Khanasser, a small town north of Hama. After months of shelling and despite internal disagreements on the subject, the rebels in the city reached a truce with the army. As soon as the official flag was hoisted, the city was attacked by the al- Nosra Front, after which it had to seek help from the army.
The truces are recent a recent development and are linked to the rise of the jihadist groups,the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant and al- Nosra.
“After almost three years of conflict, the rebels that can be described as moderate are exhausted," said Balanche, pointing out that those groups who were supported by the West no longer receive aid, unlike the jihadists who are supported by Saudi or Qatari donors.
The more moderate rebels remain caught between a rock and a hard place: at the mercy of the regime that is prepared to win the struggle by force, on the one hand, and the moderate rebels' former allies the jihadists, on the other, with whom they have been at war now for months.
Limited by time and scant resources, the moderate rebels are less focused on fighting the regime in order to concentrate their struggle against the jihadists they view has having hijacked their revolution.

No easy decisions

The decision to surrender heavy weapons to the regular army was not made without opposition in Moadamiyet.
At the end of December, AFP reported that Abu Malek, an official of the town's local council, said that the few thousand people still left there were highly divided over this condition. Some believed the most important thing was to feed population, while others wanted to continue fighting the regime until the end and not surrender their arms.
Nonetheless, the condition was accepted and the truces multiplying around Damascus are putting a stop the shooting and saving lives. For Balanche, such truces may foreshadow at least a part of a solution to the crisis.
While international diplomatic action is essential, Balanche said, the Syrian crisis will ultimately be resolved at the local level.

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Re: Sīrija

Nelasītas ziņa tas_pats_lv » 07 Feb 2014 00:50

Despite turmoil, Syria regime feels new confidence
By LEE KEATH
— Aug. 24, 2013 12:30 PM EDT
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The signs would seem bad for President Bashar Assad. Blasts echo all day long over the Syrian capital as troops battle rebels entrenched on its eastern doorstep. The government admits the economy is devastated. Allegations of a horrific chemical attack have given new life to calls for international action against his regime.
Yet the regime appears more confident than ever that it weathered the worst and has gained the upper hand in the country's civil war, even if it takes years for victory.
Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil traces a slow arc in the air with his hand to show how the country has reached a turning point in "the events" — the most common euphemism here for 2 1/2 years of bloodshed.
"If the previous trajectory was all negative, it is now on a new course of a gradual reduction of violence, until it goes back to zero," he told The Associated Press.
"The turning point changes the course of things, but it will take a while," he said. "I don't think the path downward will take as long as the path of escalation did."
There are multiple reasons for the new sense of assurance. The military scored a string of victories on the ground the past few months that blunted a rebel surge early in the year. Army offensives stalled or pushed back rebels in Damascus' suburbs. A rebel drive into a regime heartland in the western province on the Mediterranean coast was swiftly reversed over the past week. The bleeding of defections from the military to the rebellion appears to have slowed.
The regime also believes it has shored up its most serious vulnerability: the economy. Prices for food and clothes have quadrupled in some cases, the Syrian pound has plunged in comparison with the dollar, and the war has crippled production and trade.
But this summer, Syria's allies Russia and Iran effectively handed the government a lifeline, with credit lines to buy rice, flour, sugar, petroleum products and other staples. With that, the regime hopes it can keep an exhausted population clothed, fed, warm in the winter — and firmly on its side — enough to endure a long fight.
When asked whether Syria would have to pay back the credit lines in the future, Jamil smiled, saying, "It's between friends."
Also, the increasing presence of foreign jihadi fighters, many linked to al-Qaida, has played in the regime's favor. The Islamic militants' strength has made the United States and its allies wary of sending badly needed weapons to the rebels and of taking direct military action against Assad, for fear of what could come next if he falls.
Those worries could overcome any sense of outrage over the alleged chemical attack Wednesday in a Damascus suburb that rebels say killed more than 100 people, including many children. The rebels blamed the attack on the regime, an accusation the government has denied, claiming that foreign jiahdis among the rebels were behind it.
Fear of foreign radicals is also a powerful tool for keeping the population's support for the regime. State television gives a steady stream of reports of the "barbaric" nature of the jihadis. One station recently aired an interview with a purported "repentant" female rebel who spoke of jihadi sheiks issuing religious decrees allowing foreign fighters to rape Syrian women. Another station aired alleged audiotapes of a phone call between a Saudi extremist and a Syrian rebel about transporting sarin gas and planning other attacks.
Every suicide bombing — the trademark of foreign jihadis — gets front-page coverage, like a blast that ripped through an Aleppo restaurant Thursday, killing a girl and six of her guests at a party celebrating her successful high school test scores.
Revulsion at the jihadis also has a strong resonance with the public.
"People get infected by ideas. I'm a Sunni, I pray and I fast and I have faith in God. But I'm moderate. But there are people who listen to these lunatic ideas," said Abu Ahmed, who works at a dress store in Damascus' historic Hamidiya market.
He contended that the extent of the bloodshed has disillusioned even some who supported the calls for reform when peaceful protests against the regime first began in March 2011, only to be met by a fierce crackdown.
"Some people thought, OK, we'll see some change. But they didn't think about the consequences and what would be unleashed. Now anyone who thought that is rethinking it," said Abu Ahmed, fled to Damascus from a rebel-held suburb, leaving behind his property. He spoke on condition he be identified only by his nickname for fear of reprisals against him.
"We never thought it would reach this point, that we would become like Iraq or Libya. It was unimaginable. No one could conceive of this sort of chaos and bloodshed."
Syria's Sunni majority makes up the backbone of the rebellion against Assad's rule, which was dominated by members of the president's own minority Alawite sect. The mounting death toll in the conflict — at least 100,000 killed so far — and its relentless viciousness have stoked sectarian hatreds in the country. Still, the sectarian lines are not clean-cut. During his 13 years in power, Assad elevated some Sunnis to prominent positions. Others in the community prize the stability that his rule — while autocratic — ensured in the country.
Adnan Dirkawi, a 67-year-old Sunni who runs a real estate office in an upper middle class Damascus neighborhood, enthusiastically lists what he bills as Assad's achievements: the spread of electricity and water facilities to villages around the country, free or cheap education and health care, new universities and growing business.
"The vast majority of the people, 90 or 95 percent, have nothing to do with the events. They didn't want this," he said. "All this is why I'm very confident that things can go back to normal. I'm totally at ease about that. People are just waiting for this to end so they can go back to their lives."
He dismisses the sectarian hatreds enflamed by the war. "Syrians were never sectarian," he insisted, recalling carvings of a Jewish menorah, Christian cross and Muslim crescent on buildings in the historic Ottoman marketplaces of his northern city of origin, Aleppo.
That picture is almost certainly rosy, reflecting Damascenes' relative isolation from carnage that has gone on in large swaths of the country. It also reflects a line pushed incessantly on state media — that once the "foreign terrorists" trying to destroy Syria on behalf of enemies like Israel are stopped, the country can return to what it was.
Even if the regime is confident now that the danger of Assad's fall has passed, it has seemed unable to take back rebel-held territory in the north and east. The bitterness and sense of vengeance on both sides may never be resolved. And all bets are off if the West, prompted by the images of children killed in Wednesday's alleged gas attack, takes the dramatic step of direct military action.
Jamil, who touts himself as a voice of dissent within the government since he heads of one of Syria's officially approved opposition parties, says there can be no outright military solution. It's an "illusion" to think the Syrian army can "crush completely" what he calls a foreign intervention.
"Just like the Syrian army can't achieve a complete military victory, the armed groups can't either," he said. So he backs a negotiated political solution "to stop the burning of Syria."

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