Syria News Feed

This site includes a selection of news items pertaining to the crisis in Syria and the international response. Personnel with the Syrian Transition Project maintain this site with what they consider to be among the most interesting and under-reported stories, drawing upon media outlets in the Middle East whenever possible.




Assad accepts Syria's Muslim holiday truce, envoy tells UN

posted Oct 24, 2012, 5:10 PM by Syrian Transition

24 Oct 2012 (Daily Star) The U.N.-Arab League mediator for the Syrian conflict told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accepted a ceasefire for the Muslim holiday starting Friday, though a final announcement was expected to come later.

"President accepted, statement to be issued tomorrow," a diplomat present at a closed-door briefing said mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told the 15-nation council via video link. He was speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Brahimi was expanding on remarks he made earlier on Wednesday to reporters in Cairo. After Brahimi spoke to the press in Egypt, the Syrian government appeared to contradict him, saying that its military command was still studying a proposal for a ceasefire with rebels on the Eid al-Adha holiday.

Asked if he could confirm Assad's personal support for the holiday truce, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said to reporters: "Good to see you."

On the way into the council meeting, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow hoped Brahimi's plan for a ceasefire during the Muslim holiday of would be successful.

"We support it very strongly," Churkin said. "We worked very hard in support of Mr. Brahimi in making sure there is a chance that might happen."

Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong echoed Churkin's remarks.

"We support a truce and we support Mr. Brahimi's effort," Li told reporters. "I think it's important for all parties to understand the importance of peace and stability."

"If there is 1 percent chance (of a ceasefire) then I think we should make 100 percent effort to make that happen," he said.

The United States and European council members blame Russia, a staunch ally and key arms supplier for Assad's government, and China for the council's deadlock on the 19-month-long conflict. Moscow and Beijing have vetoed three resolutions condemning Assad and reject the idea of sanctioning his government.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary said Washington also would like to see an end to the violence.

"And we'd like to see a political transition take hold and begin," she told reporters in Washington in an appearance with the visiting Brazilian foreign minister. "We've been calling for that for more than a year."

She said the United States was increasing its non-lethal support for the Syrian opposition, including working with local councils inside Syria. She said Washington also was working with its friends and allies to promote more cohesion among the disparate Syrian opposition groups with the aim of producing a new leadership council following meetings scheduled for Doha in the next several weeks.

Brahimi also told the Security Council that he needs its "strong and unanimous support."

"Another failure would lead to extreme escalation and spillover to other countries," a diplomat inside the meeting paraphrased Brahimi as saying.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay also emphasized the need for the council to overcome its impasse on Syria in an address to the 193-nation General Assembly.

"While taking into account important political concerns, it is urgent to find ways to avert the massive loss of civilians and human rights violations," Pillay said.

"International law obliges states to protect their people, and where a state manifestly fails to carry out this obligation, then the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people," she said.

Russia and China have repeatedly said they refuse to condone outside military intervention in Syria such as the NATO operation to protect civilians in Libya last year that led to the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his death at the hands of rebels who fought to oust him.

Brahimi told the council there was no longer a single safe place for Syrian civilians in the country and that the army continues to shell indiscriminately, diplomats said. He also spoke of a disregard for humanitarian law and human rights on both sides.

"Executions, kidnapping and arbitrary detentions (by the government) continue," a diplomat cited Brahimi as saying.

Islamic militant group in Syria rejects truce

posted Oct 24, 2012, 5:09 PM by Syrian Transition

24 October 2012 (AP)  The current international peace plan seeking to stop Syria's civil war suffered a major setback Wednesday when an al-Qaida-inspired militant group rejected a cease-fire proposed by the international envoy.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, said the government in Damascus and some rebel leaders had agreed to a four-day truce during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which starts Friday.

The modest scope of the proposal reflected how short the international community is on ideas — and even that appeared doomed. Both sides have agreed to previous, more ambitious cease-fires in the past only to break them, and neither side shows much interest in stopping the fight now.

The Syrian government denied it has made a decision, saying it is studying the proposal, and rebel leaders have expressed doubts.

An extremist group, Jabhat al-Nusra, which has joined the fight against President Bashar Assad, also rejected the truce.

"There will be no truce between us and the prideful regime and shedder of the blood of Muslims," the group said in a written statement posted Wednesday on militant websites. "We are not among those who allow the wily to trick us, nor are we ones who will accept to play these filthy games."

While the group is on the extreme edge of the rebel groups fighting in Syria, it also expressed a sentiment most of them share: that after 19 months of deadly violence, there is little faith that Assad's regime will abide by any agreement.

Brahimi told reporters in Cairo Wednesday that Assad's government had agreed to the truce and would issue a statement on the matter later "today or tomorrow." He did not say how it would be monitored.

Brahimi met with Assad in Damascus on Sunday after talks last week with opposition groups inside and outside Syria. He has said he received promises but not a commitment from them to honor the cease-fire.

Speaking by videoconference from Cairo on Wednesday, he told the U.N. Security Council that he hopes a temporary cease-fire in Syria can break the cycle of violence and allow a political transition to start, a U.N. diplomat in the closed meeting said.

He also said another failure would let the conflict worsen and spill over to other countries, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

In Damascus, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said Wednesday that proposal was still "being studied" by Syrian army leaders and that Syria's decision would be announced Thursday.

Another opposition leader said he had little hope the truce would hold. Abdelbaset Sieda, head of the exile Syrian National Council, said opposition fighters have told him they are willing to adhere to it but will respond if attacked by regime forces.

"This regime, we don't trust it, because it is saying something and doing something else on the ground," Sieda said by phone from Sweden.

Brahimi's proposal is far more modest than a six-point plan by his predecessor as Syrian envoy, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. A cease-fire was the centerpiece of Annan's proposal and was to lead to talks on a peaceful transition.

But the truce broke down soon after it started and the two sides returned to all-out war, although Annan said the regime was the main aggressor.

Violence continued around Syria Wednesday. A car bomb exploded in the Tadamon neighborhood of Damascus, killing at least eight people, said Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Regime warplanes struck the village of Mar Shureen near a strategic rebel-held town in the country's north Wednesday, killing five members of an extended family, activists said.

The village is just outside the town of Maaret al-Numan, about a mile (nearly two kilometers) from a Syrian military camp that has been the site of fierce fighting for several days.

Opposition fighters seized Maaret al-Numan, which lies along the main highway between Aleppo and Damascus, earlier this month. That has disrupted the ability of Assad's army to send supplies and reinforcements to the northwest where troops are bogged down in a stalemate with the rebels in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

Syria's uprising started in March 2011 with anti-regime protests. The conflict has since turned into a civil war. Anti-regime activists say more than 34,000 have been killed.

Syrians Agree to a Cease-Fire Few at UN Expect Will Last

posted Oct 24, 2012, 5:08 PM by Syrian Transition

24 Oct 2012 (Bloomberg) President Bashar al-Assad and some Syrian rebel groups agreed to a cease-fire during the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival this week, said United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who’s been working on a truce for two months.

Most groups involved in the Syrian conflict have agreed to the cease-fire, Brahimi told the Security Council today, saying he hoped it could allow space for a political transition to start even though there are no quick fixes, according to a diplomat in the room.

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said Brahimi’s proposal is still “being studied” by the armed forces, according to the Associated Press. Brahimi, who briefed the council by video link from Cairo, said Assad will announce his agreement tomorrow, according to the diplomat, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the closed-door session.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was skeptical the deal will last. There are “too many players and too many spoilers as well,” he told reporters in New York. “It’s happened before that our best hopes were not borne out.”

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. supports the cease-fire and would like to see it lead to a political transition and a lasting end to the violence. She said she would like to see the UN Security Council adopt a “framework” to achieve those results and include “some consequences” for those who fail to abide by such a plan.

Finger Pointing
The Syrian government and opposition fighters last agreed to a halt in hostilities in April. Within days the conflict resumed as each side accused the other of failing to abide by its terms. France’s ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, today repeated what he said months ago when a promised cease-fire was violated: “The proof of the cake is in the eating.”

Assad’s government has been fighting a 19-month uprising that the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says has killed more than 30,000 people, and the UN has registered more than 350,000 people who have fled from their homeland. The conflict has spilled over into Lebanon and Turkey.

“The cease-fire is mostly about Eid, and I assume that it will not last very long because of the tensions on the ground,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said in an interview. “I don’t think it will be honored.”

Rebel Doubts
Herve Ladsous, the UN’s peacekeeping chief, said this week that the organization is making contingency plans to send a new peacekeeping force to Syria should a cease-fire take hold and pending a Security Council mandate, the Associated Press reported. The previous UN monitoring force withdrew in August.

Abdelbaset Sieda, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, said yesterday that while rebel fighters are willing to halt fighting during the holiday, they will respond if attacked, the AP reported. Sieda says he doubts the regime will honor the cease-fire and that Brahimi doesn’t have “any mechanism to observe the situation,” the AP said.

Assad declared an amnesty for rebels who lay down their arms while excluding those accused of terrorism, the state-run Sana news agency said Oct. 23. Those surrendering weapons to the Syrian authorities within a month will be pardoned and released, Sana reported, while those considered to have committed offenses under the country’s Terrorism Act will still face prosecution. The offer lasts for 30 days.

Syrian opposition announces democratic transition report in Cairo

posted Oct 22, 2012, 7:22 PM by Syrian Transition

22 Oct 2012 (Egypt Daily News) Syrian opposition figures discussed on Sunday the future of Syria after the predicted departure of Bashar Al-Assad at the Arab Forum for Alternatives in Cairo.

Fifty-five Syrian political activists and researchers representing all aspects of the Syrian opposition spectrum gathered in Cairo to announce a report titled “supporting a democratic transition of power in Syria.” The report is produced by The Day After project, which aims to find solutions to the challenges faced in the Syrian transitional phase, and to prevent further bloodshed in Syria.

Naguib Ghadban, Syrian opposition figure and a member of the executive committee of The Day After project, said that the idea of the project came from following the Arab Spring revolution, in which the Arab leaders tried to maintain their seats by claiming there are no other alternatives for their rule.

“We decided to counter this stereotype by founding this report, which was conducted by figures representing all the religious, ethnic and ideological groups in Syria. Our report seeks to create a new social contract between the new Syrian nation and its citizens, where the importance of equality and rule of law shall persist,” said Ghadban.

Ghadban said the report focuses on the notion of transitional justice, which grants the different Syrian groups equal rights.

He added the Syrian revolution is not a sectarian one, asserting that Shi’as, Sunnis, Christians and Kurds participated in the revolution against the tyrant Bashar Al-Assad. He added Syria won’t be divided into different independent states. However, he said that Syrian Kurds might have local autonomy, due to their cultural and linguistic differences.

Ghadban mentioned that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is a national group, which has participated in the struggle of the Syrian people. He added that the Muslim Brotherhood accepted the charter of the national council stating that Syria is a civil state.

Afraa Galaby, Syrian activist and a member of the executive committee of The Day After project, asserted the importance of the rule of law in the transition from dictatorship towards democracy. She added the rule of law in Syria depends on protecting the infrastructure and information databases. She said the Syrian regime is trying to destroy everything before they resign from power, including databases of Syrian citizens’ information.

Afraa also mentioned that there are currently more than 20,000 political detainees in Syria, predominantly youth, including children.

Afraa asserted that Turkey is a democratic country helping the Syrian opposition morally. She denied the possibility of further Turkish intervention in Syria after the departure of Al-Assad.

Turkey Can't Afford Its Saber-Rattling

posted Oct 22, 2012, 7:22 PM by Syrian Transition

22 Oct 2012 (Wall Street Journal) The Turkish Parliament's Oct. 4 vote authorizing the use of troops against Bashar Assad's regime has pushed the tension between the two nervous neighbors to a new threshold. Most Turks agree that Assad has no place in the future of Syria. What they want is a peaceful transition based on Syrians' free will and via international dialogue and political support.

The hard-power path the Turkish government appears to be taking, however, could lead instead to a disastrous escalation of violence.

Syria is now in a state of all-out civil war, with the death toll reaching more than 30,000 and tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the country each day. Turkey serves as a secure haven for those who are desperately in need of aid, and my Republican People's Party (CHP) supports the government's humanitarian measures. But we oppose using the refugee issue as a pretense for meddling in Syrian affairs.

To bring peace to Syria, the international community must ensure that all legitimate factions in Syria have an effective voice in determining their country's future. What we have instead is a bloody stalemate in which different international players are arming factions of their choice.

Enlarge Image

Associated Press
The lawmakers seen during a debate at Turkey's parliament in Ankara on Oct. 4.

For its own defense, Turkey had to respond to the deaths of its citizens, and it has done so by returning fire across the border under the new rules of military engagement. But Parliament's authorization of war is risky and unwarranted. The vote demonstrates the apparent preference of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for becoming an actor in the conflict instead of a party to its resolution—even though polls, such as a recent survey by the German Marshall Fund, have found that a majority of Turks are opposed to the AKP's aggressive stance on Syria.

The CHP voted against the AKP plan for four reasons:

• Given the complex religious and ethnic divides of the conflict, we believe diplomacy is the only way to achieve peace in Syria. The removal of Assad cannot be the end goal; rather, the ultimate objective must be the establishment of a legitimate, democratic and secular regime to replace him. This will not be possible without negotiations that involve all parties. Injecting troops onto an already chaotic battlefield will only increase the bloodshed.

• Opposing military intervention by Turkey is far from a vote in favor of the brutal oppression of Assad. Rather, it is rejection of the legitimacy, the rationale and the wisdom of further intrusion in Syrian affairs. A unilateral decision in favor of war would reframe the Syrian crisis as a conflict between just two countries. Turkey cannot afford to bear this burden alone.

• The threat of troop deployment is unlikely to be an effective deterrent. Turkish officials have already stated that Turkey has no intention of going to war with Syria. In that light the Oct. 4 vote does not look serious and could therefore embolden the Assad regime. On the other hand, if Turkey does intervene, it could drag in other neighbors and world powers. This could inflame tensions with the Kurds, who live on both sides of the border.

• Turks simply do not want this battle—their longstanding ties with Syrians remain strong, and border skirmishes are not a good enough reason to launch a full-scale war.

As the leader of Turkey's main opposition party, I presented in August a comprehensive plan under which all sides of the conflict would be joined at the negotiating table by the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the Arab League, the EU and Iran. But the AKP promptly dismissed the plan and continued to support opposition fighters, deepening the chaos.

Turkey's long tradition of secular and open governance, and its relationship with the Syrian people, make it a pre-eminent actor in forging a diplomatic solution for Syria. Bringing more force into an already bloody situation is unlikely to do anything other than continue to tear apart a country already victimized by its dictator. What we need in our region is not another war, but peace.

UN plans peacekeeping force for Syria, if ceasefire holds

posted Oct 22, 2012, 7:21 PM by Syrian Transition

22 Oct 2012 (AllVoices) The head of United Nations peacekeeping, Under-Secretary-General Herve Ladsous, said that the UN has made plans to assemble a peacekeeping force proposed by a special envoy for Syria, if a ceasefire during Eid al-Adha, from Oct. 26 to 29, takes hold.

"We are getting ourselves ready to act, if it is necessary and a mandate is approved," Ladsous told reporters, when asked about reports of the force being prepared, AFP reported.

Last March, the Security Council authorized the establishment of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), with up to 300 unarmed military observers to ensure the success of the six-point plan of international envoy Kofi Annan. But when the mission realized that there is no point of its existence as the violence continued—even targeting the mission's car several times—they left Syria and kept some of their team for tasks related to the UN.

The deputy secretary general of the Arab League, Ahmad bin Hilli, said Monday, "Unfortunately, the hope of establishing a truce in Syria for the holiday is weak.
“The signs on the ground and the reaction of the Syrian government do not show a real willingness to respond positively to this initiative," he said.

Meanwhile, the special representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Bogdanov, visited Iran on Monday to discuss the Syrian crisis and discuss regional issues, Fares news said.

He will also meet the Islamic republic's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, the report added.

In a related development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed that next week the UN and Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, will visit Moscow to discuss the ways to apply the Geneva communique, which states that the transitional government in Syria could include members of the current regime.

In July, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the United States, China, Russia, France and Great Britain), as well as Turkey and countries representing the Arab League, agreed on the principles of a transition in Syria.

Opinion:

There will be no truce, and this is expected. However, diplomatic efforts continue to maintain the survival of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, despite his massacres.

It is surprising that the council is unable to issue a decision. Why doesn't the International Criminal Court issue an arrest warrant for Bashar and his regime because of its massacres against humanity?

I do not know why the international organizations and the Arab League avoid comparing the regime of Bashar to that of Gadhafi. Bear in mind that the Libyan revolution was in February 2011 and the international and NATO decision to intervene was in March 2011!

Moreover, the number of Libyan casualties at that time did not exceed 200. However, yesterday more than 175 people were killed in Syria, raising the death toll to nearly 40,000 since the beginning of the popular revolution against the regime of Bashar.

I guess I am not exaggerating when I say that the international community is involved with Bashar by supporting him in killing innocent people.

Russian and Iranian moves are not of my concern at all, because both support the Assad regime and reject any foreign interference in the country and accuse Western and Arab countries of arming the rebels fighting his forces.

Nevertheless, Lakhdar Brahimi's visit to Russia to discuss a transitional government, the regime of Bashar being part thereof, is surprising. At the same time, I do not think that the regime of Bashar will agree to it.

The diplomatic efforts are still going on, and top-level Vatican delegation is to visit Syria soon to discuss ways to solve the Syrian crisis peacefully.

Finally, the Free Syrian Army is only interested in liberating Syria and will constantly fight for their target. They also do not count on anyone's help. They do not even consider any peaceful solution except the elimination of Bashar regime.

For your information, my own sources confirm that most of the cities of Homs and Aleppo, despite the bombing and murder, are under the control of the Free Syrian Army. Almost no trace of Bashar’s regime can be seen there.

Gunmen, soldiers fight in Lebanon in spillover from Syria

posted Oct 22, 2012, 7:20 PM by Syrian Transition

22 Oct 2012 (Reuters) At least seven people were killed and dozens wounded in gunbattles in the Lebanese capital Beirut and coastal Tripoli on Monday in further unrest linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria, security and hospital sources said.

The clashes have heightened fears that Syria's civil war with its sectarian dimensions is now spreading into Lebanon, pitting local allies and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against each other.

The Lebanese army promised decisive action to quell the violence, which was touched off by the assassination of a senior intelligence officer last week.

That killing has plunged Lebanon into a political crisis and the army command urged party leaders to be cautious in their public statements so as not to inflame passions further.

It issued the warning after troops and gunmen exchanged fire in Beirut's southern suburbs overnight and on Monday morning while protesters blocked roads with burning tires.

Many politicians have accused Syria of being behind the killing of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, an intelligence chief opposed to the Syrian leadership, who was blown up by a car bomb in central Beirut on Friday.

Opposition leaders want Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign, saying he is too close to Assad and his Lebanese militant ally Hezbollah, which is part of Mikati's government.

YOUNG VICTIM OF SNIPER

The worst of the clashes since late Sunday took place in the northern city of Tripoli, the scene of previous fighting between Sunni Muslims backing the Syrian insurgents and Alawites sympathetic to Assad.

Six people were killed and about 50 wounded in fighting between the Sunni neighborhood of Tabbaneh and the Alawite Jebel Mohsen, security and hospital sources said. The two sides exchanged rocket and gunfire, residents said.

Among the victims were a 9-year-old girl shot by a sniper.

Fighting in Beirut occurred on the edge of Tariq al-Jadida, a Sunni Muslim district that abuts Shi'ite Muslim suburbs in the south of the capital.

Residents had earlier reported heavy overnight gunfire around Tariq al-Jadida between gunmen armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Soldiers killed one gunman in Tariq al-Jadida, the army said, a Palestinian from a refugee camp who had shot at them.

The violence escalated on Sunday after thousands of people turned out in Beirut's Martyrs' Square for the funeral of Hassan, who was buried with full state honors in an emotionally charged ceremony.

As the funeral ended, hundreds of opposition supporters broke away and tried to storm the nearby government offices, prompting security forces to fire tear gas and shots in the air to repulse them.

The army command said in its statement that Lebanon was going through a critical time.

"We will take decisive measures, especially in areas with rising religious and sectarian tensions, to prevent Lebanon being transformed again into a place for regional settling of scores, and to prevent the assassination of the martyr Wissam al-Hassan being used to assassinate a whole country," it said.

Troops in full combat gear and armored personnel carriers stood guard at traffic intersections and government offices, with barbed wire and concrete blocks protecting buildings.

Beirut was noticeably quiet as people stayed at home because they feared being caught in more violence. In the downtown, many shops, offices, restaurants were shut or empty and the area was free of its normal traffic chaos.

Lebanon is still haunted by its 1975-1990 civil war, which made Beirut a byword for carnage and wrecked large parts of the city.

Since then it has undergone an ambitious reconstruction program and enjoyed periods of economic prosperity due to its role as a trading, financial and tourist centre. All that is now threatened.

POWER VACUUM

The crisis underscores local and international concern that the 19-month-old, Sunni-led uprising against Assad, an Alawite, is dragging in Syria's neighbors, which include Turkey and Jordan as well as Lebanon.

The slain Hassan was a senior intelligence official who had helped uncover a bomb plot that led to the arrest and indictment in August of a pro-Assad former Lebanese minister.

A Sunni Muslim, he also led an investigation that implicated Syria and the Shi'ite Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon.

Mikati offered to resign at the weekend to make way for a government of national unity, but President Michel Suleiman persuaded him to stay in office to allow time for talks on a way out of the political crisis.

Mikati, a Sunni Moslem, had personal ties to the Assad family before he became prime minister in January last year, two months before the anti-Assad uprising erupted. His cabinet includes Assad's Shi'ite ally Hezbollah as well as Christian and other Shi'ite politicians close to Damascus.

If he was to stand down before an alternative was worked out, it would mean the collapse of the political compromise that has kept the peace in Lebanon and leave a perilous power vacuum.

Ambassadors from the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France met Suleiman on Monday and appealed to Lebanese leaders to resolve the situation peacefully.

One Western diplomat, asked if he thought the Mikati government would survive, told Reuters: "I think it looks more likely today than yesterday that he will come through in the short term. It will take time to form a consensus on an alternative and in the meantime the security situation needs time to recover."

Turkish retaliatory fire has killed 12 Syrian soldiers: report

posted Oct 20, 2012, 7:20 AM by Syrian Transition

20 Oct 2012 (Reuters) Turkey's military has fired on Syria 87 times, killing 12 Syrian soldiers and destroying several tanks in retaliation for Syrian shells and mortars landing on Turkish territory, a Turkish newspaper reported on Saturday.

Turkey has been carrying out a series of retaliatory strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's forces fighting rebels along the border since Syrian shelling killed five Turkish civilians in a Turkish frontier town at the start of October.

Tension between the two neighbors, once close allies, is at its highest since Ankara turned against Assad last year over his violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

The report in the daily Milliyet newspaper, written by columnist Fikret Bila who is known to have good contacts with the military, cited unnamed military sources. Turkey's military, which rarely talks in public, could not be reached for comment.

The report said the retaliatory fire had been in response to 27 mortars or shells fired from Syria. Turkey had responded to every incident, it said.

Twelve Syrian soldiers had been killed as a result of Turkish fire, the report said. Five Syrian tanks, three armored vehicles, one mortar weapon, one ammunition vehicle and two anti-aircraft guns had also been destroyed and many other military vehicles had been damaged.

Eighteen mortar shells fired from Syria had landed in the Akcakale district of Sanliurfa province, where five Turkish civilians were killed this month, while nine had landed in Hatay province further to the west, according to the report.

Turkey had fired 69 times from Hatay and 18 times from Akcakale, it said.

The report also stated that Turkish F-16 war planes were on high alert at the Incirlik air base in Adana, some 100 km (62 miles) from the Syrian border. The fighters had been scrambled as recently as Friday in response to Syrian helicopters flying close to the shared border, it said.

Turkey's Chief-of-Staff General Necdet Ozel said this month that his troops would respond "with greater force" if shells continued to land on Turkish soil, and parliament has also authorized the deployment of troops beyond Turkey, heightening fears that Syria's civil war could drag in regional powers.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on Friday for all sides involved in the Syrian conflict to observe a ceasefire during the Islamic Eid al-Adha festival next week.

Syria jets resume bombarding town as clashes erupt

posted Oct 20, 2012, 7:19 AM by Syrian Transition

20 Oct 2012 (Daily Star) Syrian warplanes resumed bombarding the key northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan on Saturday, as clashes erupted on a nearby highway and an explosion rocked a town in Damascus province, a watchdog said.

The warplanes pounded Maaret al-Numan as they have daily since it was overrun by rebels on October 9, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

One rebel was killed in fighting after insurgents attacked a military convoy on the highway south of Maaret al-Numan, which connects the northern city of Aleppo with Damascus, the Observatory said.

The military wants to regain control of the highway to resupply units under fire in Aleppo for the past three months and assist 250 troops besieged in their Wadi Deif base.

On Friday, fighters there accused the regime of using cluster bombs in the attack, echoing claims by a rights group.

Rebels showed AFP debris from cluster bombs they accused the air force of dropping on residential areas, as well as dozens of others that failed to explode on impact.

Human Rights Watch has accused Syria of using cluster bombs, a charge denied by the military, which insists it does not possess them.

In Damascus province, plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the town of Harasta after a powerful explosion rocked it, followed by shelling that killed two civilians killed, the Observatory said.

Government forces arrested 20 people in Harasta, 10 kilometres (six miles) northeast of Damascus, while fierce fighting broke out in the nearby town of Irbin, the Britain-based watchdog said.

The latest violence comes a day after 133 people were killed nationwide, including 55 civilians, 45 soldiers and 33 rebels, according to the Observatory.

PM says Lebanon car bomb has links to war in Syria

posted Oct 20, 2012, 7:18 AM by Syrian Transition

20 Oct 2012 (AP) Lebanon's prime minister linked the massive car bomb that tore through Beirut to the civil war in neighboring Syria on Saturday, the latest signal that the crisis is enflaming an already tense region.

The blast Friday in the heart of Beirut's Christian area killed eight people, including the country's intelligence chief, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan.

The government declared a national day of mourning for the victims on Saturday, but protesters took to the streets, burning tires and setting up roadblocks around the country in a sign of the boiling anger over the bomb.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Saturday the explosion is linked to al-Hassan's recent investigation, in which he exposed an alleged plot by Syria to unleash a campaign of bombings and assassinations to sow chaos in Lebanon.

"I don't want to prejudge the investigation, but in fact we cannot separate yesterday's crime from the revelation of the explosions that could have happened," Mikati said at a news conference following an emergency Cabinet meeting.

Lebanon's fractious politics are closely entwined with Syria's. The countries share a web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, and Lebanon has been caught up in the fallout of from the civil war pitting Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces against rebels seeking to overthrow the regime.

The countries share a web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, often causing events on one side of the border to echo on the other. Lebanon's opposition is an anti-Syrian bloc, while the prime minister and much of the government are seen as pro-Syrian.

Al-Hassan's probe over the summer led to the arrest of former Information Minister Michel Samaha, one of Assad's most loyal allies in Lebanon.

Samaha, who is in custody, is accused of plotting a wave of attacks to spread sectarian violence in Lebanon at Syria's behest. Also indicted in in the August sweep was Syrian Brig. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, one of Assad's highest aides. He was charged in absentia.

Mikati also said he had offered to resign after Friday's car bomb, but the president asked him not to plunge the country into more uncertainty. Mikati said he suggested a national unity government but President Michel Suleiman asked him for some time to hold discussions with political leaders.

Mikati is facing deep political pressure from his opponents over the attack.

Friday's violence and subsequent protests threatened to plunge Lebanon back into a dark cycle of bombings and reprisal that made the country notorious during the 1975-90 civil war.

In the eastern town of Marj angry protesters tried to storm an office of the pro-Syrian Itihad group, but Lebanese soldiers pushed them away wounding five protesters, security officials said. They added that dozens of people who marched in protest in the border town of Moqueibleh came under fire from the Syrian side of the border forcing them to disperse without any injury.

The highway linking central Beirut with the city's international airport was closed, as well as the highway that links the capital with Syria, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

The bombing also raised fears that the crisis could lay bare Lebanon's sectarian tensions.

Many of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims have backed Syria's mainly Sunni rebels, while Shiite Muslims have tended to back Assad. Al-Hassan was a Sunni whose stances were widely seen to oppose Syria and Shiite Hezbollah, the country's most powerful ally in Lebanon.

Al-Hassan also played a role in the investigation of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a powerful Sunni figure.

A U.N.-backed tribunal has indicted four members of militant group Hezbollah, which along with its allies now holds a majority in Lebanon's Cabinet. Hezbollah denies involvement in Hariri's killing and has refused to extradite the suspects.

Al-Hassan's department also had a role in breaking up several Israeli spy rings inside Lebanon over the past few years, Lebanese officials said.

Member of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's parliamentary bloc Nuhad Mashnouk said al-Hassan's funeral will be held in Beirut Sunday afternoon and the late general will be buried next to Hariri's tomb.

Lebanon's top Sunni cleric, Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, condemned al-Hassan's assassination, calling it a "criminal explosion that targets Lebanon and its people." He called for self-restraint, saying "the criminal will get his punishment sooner or later."

Police and army troops sealed off the site of Friday's blast as military intelligence agents investigated what was the deadliest bombing in Beirut in four years.

Rafik Khoury, editor of the independent Al-Anwar daily, said the assassination was an attempt to draw Lebanon into the conflict in Syria, which has been the most serious threat to the Assad family's 40-year dynasty.

"The side that carried the assassination knows the reactions and dangerous repercussions and is betting that it will happen. Strife is wanted in Lebanon," Khoury wrote.

Sharbal Abdo, a Beirut resident who lives down the block from where the car bomb detonated, on Saturday brought his six-year-old son Chris and 12-year-old daughter Jane to see what happened the day before. They were both at school when the blast ripped through the area.

"They were very afraid yesterday, and cried a lot late into the night," Abdo said. "Today I decided to bring them here and show what happened. They need to face this situation. It may be their future."

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