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News, June 2012
Dozens Killed in Fighting in Syria, CIA Transfers Weapons to Opposition Fighters Through Turkey
Assad's militiamen 'ambushed and killed' in Aleppo
By News Wires (text)
France 24, June 22, 2012
At least 26 regime supporters were killed in an ambush in the northern province of Aleppo on Friday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"At least 26 supporters of the regime -- believed to be militiamen -- were shot dead in the west of the province of Aleppo," the watchdog said, adding that regime forces have shelled villages in the area for several weeks.
France calls on Syria army to defect
The French foreign ministry called Friday for the Syrian military to desert en masse the day after a Syrian air force colonel defected after landing his MiG fighter in Jordan. "Yesterday's defection leads us to call on members of the Syrian army and security forces to continue these defections, these desertions and no longer to obey the Damascus regime's criminal orders," ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told journalists.
Amateur video posted on YouTube and distributed by the Observatory showed piles of mangled bodies of young men, their clothing soaked in blood. At least two of the bodies in the footage were wearing fatigues.
"These are shabiha (militiamen) of Bashar al-Assad's regime," the narrator said, withiout identifying himself.
State television said "armed terrorist groups have committed a barbaric massacre, killing more than 25 people."
They were "shot" and their bodies "mutilated," it said, adding that others were kidnapped and their fate remains unknown.
More than 15,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Assad's rule erupted in March last year, according to the Observatory's figures.
As militants join Syria revolt, fears grow over arms flow
Friday, June 22, 2012, 9:17am EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
As evidence mounts of Islamic militant forces among the Syrian opposition, senior U.S. and European officials are increasingly alarmed by the prospect of sophisticated weapons falling into the hands of rebel groups that may be dangerous to Western interests, including al Qaeda.
In an interview with Reuters, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta articulated U.S. worries that shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, also known as MANPADS, could find their way onto the Syrian battlefield.
Intelligence experts believe that hundreds, if not thousands, of such weapons were looted from arsenals accumulated by late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and are floating on the Middle East black market.
"I think it's fair to say that we have a concern about the MANPADS coming out of Libya," Panetta said in the Thursday interview. "We've had an ongoing view that it was important to try to determine where these MANPADS were going, not only the concern that some of them might wind up in Syria but elsewhere as well," he said.
Panetta added that he had seen no direct intelligence yet that such missiles had made their way to Syria. He did not specifically cite the rebels as potential recipients.
But other U.S. and allied officials voiced that concern, while saying they had no evidence that Syrian rebels had yet acquired MANPADS.
SIGNS OF AL QAEDA JOINING REBELS
The urgency of Western concerns stems as much from the recipients of the weapons as the weapons themselves. High-level sources at multiple national intelligence services report increasing evidence that Islamic militants, including al Qaeda and its affiliates and other hard-line Sunni groups, had joined forces with opponents of the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who has advised President Barack Obama on counter-terrorism policy, said that al Qaeda and other militants were "deeply engaged" with anti-Assad forces. He cited public pronouncements by senior al Qaeda figures, including the group's leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, that urged Sunni rebels in Syria to kill members of Assad's Alawite Muslim minority.
A western government source said that Al-Nusrah, a "spinoff" from al Qaeda's Iraq-based affiliate, was responsible for at least some atrocities that have occurred in Syria. The source said the group publicly confirmed its role in killings.
Worries that sophisticated weapons could make their way to the wrong kind of Syrian rebels are one reason Washington remains wary of deeper U.S. involvement in the fighting.
"It stands to reason that if any Middle Eastern nation is even considering giving arms to the Syrian opposition, it would take a measured approach and think twice about providing arms that could have unintended consequences," a U.S. official said.
Nonetheless, U.S. and allied officials say their Saudi and Qatari counterparts have discussed how MANPADS could be used by Assad opponents to bring down Russian-made helicopters the Syrian army is using to redeploy its troops rapidly between trouble spots.
But such missiles also could be used against other targets, including civilian airliners, one reason for the U.S. and allied concern.
After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the CIA, with Saudi backing, provided sophisticated shoulder-fired Stinger missiles to Islamic militants seeking to oust Soviet troops.
The missiles played a significant role in the Soviets' ultimate defeat in Afghanistan. But they also became a major headache for U.S. and western counter-terrorism agencies when anti-Soviet militants morphed into anti-Western militant factions including al Qaeda.
SAUDI ARABIA, QATAR ARMING REBELS
U.S. and allied officials acknowledge Syrian rebels have been receiving arms supplies from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirate of Qatar. But they said that the sophistication of the weapons being delivered had until recently been low.
An allied government source said it was clear wealthy individuals in Qatar and Saudi Arabia also were helping to finance anti-Assad groups.
The Saudis are on record calling for Assad's ouster. Earlier this year, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, told an international conference that Assad's "regime has lost its legitimacy and resembles an occupation authority...There is no way out of the crisis except through a transition of power, peacefully or forcibly."
In January, Qatar went even further when its ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told the CBS TV program 60 Minutes that Arab troops should be sent in to "stop the killing" by Assad's forces.
A U.S. official who recently discussed the issue with Saudi and Qatari representatives said the weaponry now being shipped to Syrian rebels consists largely of small arms that would enable regime opponents to "protect their children." Deliveries to the rebels of MANPADS would represent a serious escalation.
US PROVIDING NON-LETHAL SUPPORT
Some prominent U.S. Republicans are urging a big step-up in U.S. aid for Assad's opponents, including arms deliveries and even possible U.S. military involvement.
At a conference on Thursday hosted by the website Bloomberg Government, U.S. Senator John McCain suggested that the Obama administration's cautious policy regarding the Syrian rebels was "shameful" and urged a major escalation in U.S. involvement.
"So what do we do? First of all, we stand up for them. Second of all, we get them weapons. Third of all, we establish a sanctuary with our allies - no boots on the ground, no boots on the ground - and use our and our allied air power to protect that zone and we help these people in a fair fight," McCain said.
At the same conference, however, Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warned: "We are just really not in a good position today to fully identify all of the groups, all of the factions, who's winning that leadership fight," he said.
On Thursday, the New York Times reported that a small number of CIA officers had been deployed to southern Turkey, where they were helping U.S. allies decide which Syrian opposition elements should receive weapons deliveries.
The United States is understood to be supplying non-lethal support to Assad's opponents, such as financing and communications gear, possibly including monitoring equipment. The Times said that the Obama administration has held back on providing rebels with intelligence information, such as satellite photographs, on the activities of Assad's forces.
Riedel warned that Qatar authorities might not be too choosy about which Syrian rebels they are willing to supply with arms, though they would try to avoid giving them directly to al Qaeda.
"I don't think that Qatar and the Saudis are as concerned as we are about surface-to-air missiles," Riedel added.
Dozens feared dead in intensified clashes across Syria
DAMASCUS, June 21, 2012 (Xinhua) --
Clashes erupted Thursday evening in several suburbs of Damascus as the sound of gunshots reverberated across the Syrian capital, witnesses and media reports said.
Clashes took place between the Syrian troops and armed rebels in Damascus' suburb of Douma, Harasta, al-Razi orchards, Muadamyiah and Daraya, and clashes have become daily occurrences across Syria, particularly around the capital, the sources said.
Four civilians were injured Thursday by the explosion of a booby-trapped motorcycle near a mosque in the northern city of Aleppo, state-run SANA news agency said.
Quoting a source in the city, SANA said two terrorists driving a booby-trapped motorcycle blew themselves up causing their immediate death and injuring four citizens.
Separately, SANA said two government soldiers were killed and five others injured in clashes with armed groups in the countryside of northwestern province of Idlib.
A source in Idlib was quoted by SANA as saying that dozens of armed men were killed or injured in the clashes.
On the other hand, opposition activists reported heavy shelling by government troops in several Syrian areas, including suburbs of Damascus Thursday.
The activists' network, Local Coordination Committees, said heavy clashes occurred overnight Thursday in the Damascus' neighborhood of Kafar Souseh between government troops and Free Syrian Army, adding that military reinforcements were sent to the area to back up the Syrian troops.
It alleged that as many as 100 people were killed Thursday nationwide, a claim that couldn't be possibly verified as it's based on tallies and reports of unknown parties.
Another activists' network, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 32 people were killed across Syria Thursday.
Meanwhile, a group of volunteers from the Syrian Red Crescent and the International Red Cross have not yet succeeded in entering restive areas of central Homs province.
In a rare incident Thursday, a Syrian colonel pilot defect along with his MIG-21 fighter jet to neighboring Jordan, pleading for political asylum.
Colonel Hasan Hammadeh flew his jet for a routine training before curving towards the Jordanian border and went off the radar, landing in one of Jordan's military air bases affiliated to the Royal Airforce.
Jordan's cabinet afternoon decided to grant political asylum to the Syrian pilot, who was later branded by the Syrian Defense Ministry as "traitor to his homeland and military honor."
The 16-month-old crisis in Syria has turned into severe armed confrontation, with rebels carrying out attacks on government troops and establishments and the army responding heavily to the assaults.
CIA helping steering arms to Syrian opposition: report
WASHINGTON, June 21, 2012 (Xinhua) --
Central Intelligence Agency officers, in covert operations in southern Turkey, are helping steer arms to opposition fighters to fight the Syrian government, The New York Times reported Thursday, quoting American officials and Arab intelligence officers.
"The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria's Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar," the paper said.
The CIA officers, small in number, have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, "in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with al-Qaida or other terrorist groups," the report said.
The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the opposition fighters in Syria, but is supplying non-lethal such as medical supplies and communications equipment.
"By helping to vet rebel groups, American intelligence operatives in Turkey hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside of Syria and to establish new ties," the report said.
"CIA officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people," one Arab intelligence official was quoted as saying.
American officials and retired CIA officials said the administration was also weighing additional assistance such as providing satellite imagery and other detailed intelligence on Syrian troop locations and movements.
In addition, the administration is considering whether to help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service.
Washington and its Western allies want to see a political transition in Syria with the departure of President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia and China, meanwhile, call for a negotiated settlement to the 15-month-old violence in the Middle East country, voicing opposition to any forced regime change by outside interference.
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