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News, January 2013
Syrian foreign minister offers rebels cabinet deal
© AFP file photo
In an interview on state TV late Saturday, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem offered the country’s rebels participation in a new cabinet, on the condition they lay down their arms, take part in talks and reject foreign intervention.
By News Wires (text)
Jan 20, 2013, France 24
Syria’s foreign minister invited the country’s rebels on Saturday to lay down their weapons and take part in a national dialogue, saying everyone who participates will be included in a new Cabinet with wide executive powers.
Walid al-Moallem said in a live interview on state TV late Saturday that any opposition parties could join the Cabinet as long as they reject foreign intervention in Syria. The Syrian government has started contacting “representatives of the Syrian people,” he added.
Earlier this month, President Bashar Assad dismissed calls that he step down, vowing to keep fighting the rebels. Assad also proposed a national reconciliation conference, elections and a new constitution - concessions offered previously over the course of the uprising that began in March 2011. The opposition says that Assad can play no role in a resolution to the conflict.
“I tell the young men who carried arms to change and reform, take part in the dialogue for a new Syria and you will be a partner in building it. Why carry arms,” al-Moallem said in the hour-long interview. “Those who want foreign intervention will not be among us.”
He accused Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey of arming and financing the rebels in Syria. He said that Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-linked group which the U.S. has declared a terrorist organization but which fights alongside Syrian rebels, had brought fighters from 27 countries to fight in Syria.
Last month, the international envoy tasked with Syria’s crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, proposed a plan to end Syria’s war with a cease-fire followed by the formation of a transitional government to run the country until new elections can be held.
Brahimi did not mention Assad by name, but said the transitional government would have “full executive powers” and would replace the Syrian leader. The plan was unveiled by world powers at an international conference in Geneva in June. Al-Moallem said that the Geneva conference does not require Assad to leave power.
The interview came as activists reported violence in different areas of Syria.
In the northern province of Idlib, Syrian troops fought intense battles Saturday against rebels who are trying to capture two military bases in the northwest and step up their attacks on army compounds elsewhere in the country, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said the rebels destroyed at least one tank near the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. The rebels, who have been battling for weeks to take control of bases in Wadi Deif and Hamdiyeh, are working to cut off supply routes to the compounds, the Observatory said.
Attacks on government bases are a recent focus of fighting in Syria’s civil war, which according to the United Nations has left more than 60,000 people dead since the conflict began in March 2011.
Last week, rebels captured the nearby air base of Taftanaz in a significant blow to President Bashar Assad’s forces, who increasingly rely on airpower.
The rebels also have been trying to capture other air bases in the northern province of Aleppo, and, according to activists, were attacking the air base of Mannagh near the Turkish border.
In Turkey, state-run Anadolu news agency said Syria’s air force targeted a mosque and a school building that was apparently sheltering displaced Syrians in the town of Salqin, some four miles (six kilometers) from the border with Turkey in Idlib province. Dozens of people were killed and wounded.
At least 30 people wounded in the attack were taken across the border to Turkey for treatment, and two died in Turkish hospitals, the news agency said.
The displaced Syrians were eating when the school was attacked, according to Anadolu, who interviewed witnesses who has crossed into the Turkish border province of Hatay. The wounded included women and children, the agency said.
Syria’s official news agency SANA said troops had targeted rebel hideouts in Salqin, killing and wounding some of them.
Also in Turkey on Saturday, members of the newly-restructured Syrian opposition held a conference in Istanbul aiming to nominate representatives for a transitional government.
“We have some ideas, some proposals,” said one opposition member, Abdul Ahad Astephoa, without mentioning any specifics.
The group, known as the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, was formed in Qatar in November amid international pressure to unite factions within the opposition.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said the government was sending reinforcements to the central city of Homs where rebels have controlled some neighborhoods for more than a year. Residents of Homs, Syria’s third largest city, were one of the first to rise up against Assad and many refer to it as “the capital of the revolution.”
“It seems they are preparing for a big attack on Homs,” Abdul-Rahman said by telephone.
The Observatory and the LCC said troops attacked several suburbs of the capital, Damascus, as well as Homs and the southern rebel-held town of Busra al-Harir. The shelling and air raids targeted the Damascus suburbs of Douma, Daraya and Moadamiyeh where regime forces have been on the offensive for weeks, they said.
More than 100 dead in regime assault near Homs
The Syrian army left at least 106 civilians dead in a 24-hour assault outside the city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday. The group said some of the victims were burned in their homes while others were shot or stabbed.
By News Wires (text)
More than 100 people including women and children were killed by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday in Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.
The Britain-based group said some of the 106 victims were burned in their homes and others were either shot or stabbed when pro-Assad forces stormed Basatin al-Hasawiya, a impoverished district of the central Syrian city.
Reuters cannot independently confirm reports due to reporting restrictions in Syria.
“The Observatory has the names of 14 members of one family, including three children, and information on other families who were completely killed, including one of 32 people,” Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory, told Reuters.
“This needs to be investigated by the United Nations,” said Abdelrahman, who reports on atrocities committed by both sides of the 22-month-old conflict.
Syria’s conflict began as a peaceful protest movement in March 2011 and has since become a full-scale civil war that has claimed more than 60,000 lives.
Death count climbs at Aleppo University bombsite
The death toll from the twin blasts that tore through the campus of Aleppo University has risen to 87 with more than 150 people injured, a watchdog said on Wednesday, making the attack one of the bloodiest in Syria's 22-month conflict.
The death toll from two massive blasts that ravaged the campus of a Syrian university has reached 87, anti-regime activists said Wednesday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the number of those killed in Tuesday’s blasts at Aleppo University could rise even further because medics have collected unidentified body parts and some of the more than 150 injured are in critical condition.
It remains unclear what caused the blasts, which hit the campus as students took exams, setting cars alight and blowing the walls off dormitory rooms.
The opposition and the government have blamed each other for the explosions, which marked a major escalation in the struggle for control of Aleppo – Syria’s largest city and once the country’s main commercial hub.
Activists said forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launched two airstrikes on the area at the time of the blasts, while Syrian state media said a “terrorist group” – the government’s shorthand for rebels – hit it with two rockets.
Either way, the explosions shattered the relative calm of the sprawling, tree-lined campus, signaling that Syria’s civil war has reached areas that were mostly spared the violence that has killed more than 60,000 people and reduced entire neighborhoods all across the nation to rubble.
The competing narratives about what caused the blasts highlighted the difficulty of confirming reports from inside Syria.
The Syrian government bars most media from working in the country, making independent confirmation of events difficult. Both anti-regime activists and the government sift the information they give to journalists to boost their cause. And civilians stuck in the middle avoid talking to the media, fearing reprisals from both sides for speaking their minds.
Aleppo has been the focus of a violent struggle for control since rebel forces, mostly from rural areas north of the city, pushed in and began clashing with government troops last summer.
The university is in the city’s northwest, a sector still controlled by the government. Both activists and the Assad regime said those killed in Tuesday’s blasts were mostly students taking their mid-year exams and civilians who sought refuge in the university dorms after fleeing violence elsewhere.
Activists said a government warplane carried out two airstrikes on the university. To support their claim, they circulated a video they said showed a small trail of smoke left by a jet. They could not explain why the government would strike an area controlled by its forces.
“We have no idea why the plane hit there, but it was very clear that it was a plane that struck,” said an Aleppo activist reached via Skype who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.
Syria’s state news agency said a “terrorist group” – government shorthand for rebels _ fired two rockets at the university from an area further north. It did not give numbers for the dead and wounded.
The scale of destruction appeared inconsistent with the rockets the rebels are known to possess.
On Tuesday, Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told a Security Council meeting on combatting terrorism that “a cowardly terrorist act targeted the students of Aleppo University” as they sat for their mid-terms. He said 82 students were killed and 152 were wounded.
Syria’s crisis began with political protests in March 2011 but quickly descended into a full-blown civil war, with scores of rebel groups across the country fighting Assad’s forces. The U.N. said this month that more than 60,000 people have been killed in the violence.
A massive prisoner exchange is underway between Syrian officials and Syrian rebels in several cities across the crisis-hit nation, including Damascus, Latakia, Homs, Idlib and Aleppo.
Some 2,130 Syrian civilians will be released by Damascus in exchange for the return of 48 Iranians currently held by Syrian rebels...
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