Posts Tagged ‘Assad’s government’

EU sanctions 16 more Syrians over chemical attacks

July 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley holds photos of victims as the UN Security Council meets in an emergency session in April about a suspected deadly chemical attack that killed civilians, including children, in Syria

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions against 16 more high-ranking military Syrian officials and scientists over chemical weapons attacks on civilians, a statement said.

The move by the bloc’s foreign ministers brings to 255 people now facing a travel ban and an assets freeze over President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on civilians during a five-year civil war.

“The EU added these 16 persons for their role in the development and use of chemical weapons against the civilian population,” an EU statement said.

The EU will release the names of those hit by the sanctions on Tuesday, it said.

The UN’s chemical watchdog, the OPCW, last month concluded that sarin was used as a chemical weapon in the April 4 attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun that killed at least 87 people including children.

The sanctions decision “shows the resolve of the UK and the rest of our friends in Europe in dealing with those who are responsible for chemical weapons attacks,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters just before the decision was announced.

Syria is already subject to an oil embargo, restrictions on certain investments, a freeze of the assets of the Syrian central bank held in the EU, as well as export restrictions.

It also is under sanctoins on equipment and technology that might be used for internal repression as well as on equipment and technology for the monitoring or interception of internet or telephone communications.

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Syria’s Humanitarian Debacle — Buses Attacked, Burned on Way to Evacuate Besieged Syrian Villages

December 18, 2016

BEIRUT — Several buses en route to evacuate ill and injured people from the besieged Syrian villages of al-Foua and Kefraya were attacked and burned on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian state television said.

Some buses, as well as Red Crescent vehicles, reached the entrance to the villages in Idlib province, which are besieged by insurgents.

The coalition of forces fighting for the government of President Bashar al-Assad are demanding people to be allowed to leave the two villages in exchange for allowing evacuations of rebels and civilians from east Aleppo.

Syrian state media said “armed terrorists” – a term it uses for insurgent groups fighting against Assad’s rule – attacked five buses and burned and destroyed them.

Rebel officials said an angry crowd of people, possibly alongside pro-government forces, carried out the attack.

A resident in the area told Reuters it was not carried out by the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which had previously said it had not agreed to the evacuation of the two villages.

Most of al-Foua and Kefraya’s residents are Shi’ite Muslims.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; editing by John Stonestreet)

Thousands of rebel fighters and Aleppo civilians are still trapped within the city as an uneasy truce between the two sides struggles to stay in place

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4044446/Killer-convoy-Writer-trapped-rebel-enclave-Aleppo-gives-harrowing-account-civilians-reportedly-hauled-buses-taking-refugees-safety-executed.html#ixzz4TCRvJJij
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Aleppo Reports Conflict Amid Accounts of Massacre by Iran-backed Militias

December 16, 2016 1:13 PM

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad sit on a tank as a convoy bringing people out of eastern Aleppo turns back in the direction of the besieged rebel enclave, Syria Dec. 16, 2016.

Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad sit on a tank as a convoy bringing people out of eastern Aleppo turns back in the direction of the besieged rebel enclave, Syria Dec. 16, 2016.

Russia said the operation to evacuate civilians and insurgents from eastern Aleppo has been completed, but opposition leaders say there are tens of thousands remaining in once rebel-held neighborhoods and accuse Iranian militias and Hezbollah of executing several men in the last convoy to leave the city.

According to Syrian opposition leaders, a convoy that left Aleppo Friday carrying 800 people, including rebel fighters, was stopped by Iranian-commanded militias in the Jisr al-Haj district, who forcibly disarmed the insurgents in breach of the cease-fire agreement, seized the team of civil defense workers overseeing the convoy evacuation, and killed three of them.

“Militias forced everyone to get off the buses, confiscated all individual weapons, forced men to get undressed to their underwear, killed three men and injured 7 others, then forced the convoy to go back to the besieged area of Aleppo city, and some buses are still missing,” said Ahmad Abo Al-Nour, who witnessed the events.

Another eyewitness among the evacuees said that about 20 buses accompanied by members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and International Red Cross in separate cars successfully navigated a checkpoint controlled by Russian soldiers but were subsequently stopped at a checkpoint by Shi’ite militiamen from the Lebanese movement Hezbollah.

FILE - A Hezbollah flag flutters in a government-controlled area, as seen from the rebel-controlled area of Karm al-Tarab frontline, near Aleppo international airport April 22, 2015.

FILE – A Hezbollah flag flutters in a government-controlled area, as seen from the rebel-controlled area of Karm al-Tarab frontline, near Aleppo international airport April 22, 2015.

Hezbollah killings reported

According to the eyewitness, who did not want to be named in this article, the convoy was halted for 15 minutes, then tanks and Hezbollah militiamen surrounded the convoy, fired indiscriminately in the air and expelled the accompanying Red Cross and Red Crescent workers. The militiamen forced all the men to get off the buses and confiscated their weapons and mobile phones.

Accompanied by his pregnant wife, a fighter who tried to resist was killed along with four others. They seized some of the civil defense cars and ambulances and forced the rest of the convoy back to the besieged pocket in eastern Aleppo.

Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, said the Aleppo evacuation was complete, with all rebels and their families who wanted to leave having done so. It put the number of evacuees at more than 9,500.

Opposition leaders and Turkish officials disputed the Russian claim, saying thousands still wanted to leave. Speaking in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said consultations were still underway with Russia and Iran, another key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, as well as “elements on the ground.”

An image from video taken on Dec. 13, 2016 of a general view of bomb damaged eastern Aleppo, Syria in the rain

An image from video taken on Dec. 13, 2016 of a general view of bomb damaged eastern Aleppo, Syria in the rain

Massacre fears

In light of the Russian announcement that the evacuation of civilians and fighters from a sliver of territory still controlled by the insurgents is now complete, fears are mounting that a full scale massacre may unfold.

U.N. officials say between 6,000-8,000 people have been evacuated this week from eastern Aleppo after regime forces recaptured most rebel districts. They estimate 50,000 people remain in a pocket still held by anti-Assad insurgents.

That pocket, however, may be shrinking rapidly. Russian military officials Friday said regime forces were inside the pocket, and there were unconfirmed reports of pro-government units engaging in mopping up operations.

There still are high numbers of women and infants that need to get out, according to World Health Organization officials. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has accused the Syrian government of carrying out “nothing short of a massacre” in Aleppo, and he has warned that the way in which Aleppo falls will determine whether peace talks will even be possible in coming weeks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged all sides to agree on a nationwide cease-fire. Speaking Friday during a visit to Japan, he said Moscow and Ankara were working on a round of peace talks to be held in Kazakhstan between the Assad government and opposition.

Syrian officials provided a different version of what’s happening with the evacuation. They said Friday they had suspended the operation, which U.N. officials had calculated would take weeks, because rebels had failed to observe an agreement to lift their own siege of two pro-government Shi’ite towns, Foua and Kefraya, which lie west of Aleppo in neighboring Idlib province.

Fighters and civilians who have been evacuated were taken in convoys to rebel-held parts of Idlib.

Russian and Syrian army soldiers gather at the last checkpoint before the front line with rebels, in Karam al-Tarab, east of Aleppo, Syria, Dec. 4, 2016.

Russian and Syrian army soldiers gather at the last checkpoint before the front line with rebels, in Karam al-Tarab, east of Aleppo, Syria, Dec. 4, 2016.

Stalled evacuation

A Syrian official overseeing the operation told the AFP news agency the evacuation had been halted “because the militants failed to respect the conditions of the agreement.” Syrian state media also accused rebels of trying to smuggle captives and heavy weapons as they left the besieged enclave.

Later on Friday, rebel commanders said an al-Qaida-linked militia group had agreed to ease its siege on Foua and Kefraya, and that evacuations from the two towns were likely to start shortly. Whether that would lead to a resumption of the evacuation from eastern Aleppo remains unclear.

Seven-year-old Bana al-Abed and her mother, Fatemah, whose plight in eastern Aleppo has captured the world’s attention through Twitter, appealed Friday for help to U.S. first lady Michelle Obama in a video message sent to NBC News.

“I talk to you as a mother,” Fatemah said in the message. “I implore you to help us … because we are so afraid.”

The message ends with a plea from seven-year-old Bana: “Hello, Mrs. Obama. Please help us.”

http://www.voanews.com/a/aleppo–reports-conflict-accounts-massacre-iran-backed-militias/3639343.html

“The Clintons are American Royalty So We Have to Believe Them” — “There is serious corruption here and most of the media are enablers” — Mainstream media happy to look the other way when it comes to Hillary’s lost emails, the Clinton Foundation, and other scandals

August 30, 2016

America no longer has the “leftwing journalism” — There is just the Obama-Clinton journalism or the whacky far right for people who cling to their guns and God, build walls and hate…

Biggest New York Times shareholder, donated between $1 and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation

Google ‘Clinton AP story’ and see what happens

Hillary Clinton speaks at a press conference announcing a new initiative between the Clinton Foundation, United Nations Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, titled Data 2x on December 15, 2014 in New York City.

Hillary Clinton speaks at a press conference announcing a new initiative between the Clinton Foundation, United Nations Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, titled Data 2x on December 15, 2014 in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton and her media allies have been working overtime to put out numerous fires that continue to pop up and spread during the final weeks of her campaign for president. Recently, the flames have gotten more difficult to smother as reports of Clinton’s frail health have bled into the mainstream media, despite the unanimous and unilateral decision by the MSM to treat anyone who even raises a question as akin to a Holocaust denier. (On Sunday night, for example, Huffington Post fired contributor David Seaman and deleted his columns simply for linking to a Hillary health video that’s been viewed four million times.)

Julian Assange stoked more flames when he suggested a murdered DNC worker was the Wikileaks source for the DNC hack. Most recently, the Associated Press released a blockbuster story concluding that more than half of the people Clinton met with as secretary of state gave donations to the Clinton Foundation.

Despite these ongoing scandals, Clinton’s close yet questionable ties to media outlets such as Google, CNN, PBS and The New York Times have seemed to pay off. These entities have gone out of their way to censor negative stories about Clinton, particularly ones involving the Clinton Foundation. There’s one common thread though these media outlets suppressing harmful Clinton stories all share: they’ve donated to the Clinton Foundation.

 

On Aug. 23 the Associated Press broke the story citing that more than half the people outside of the government that Clinton met with as she served as secretary of state gave money to the Clinton Foundation, either personally or through companies or groups. The AP report concluded that 85 out of 154 people she met with from the private sector either donated to her charity or pledged commitments.

The AP drew this conclusion by reviewing some of Clinton’s schedule from when she was secretary of state. They obtained these records after a federal judge ordered the release of them stemming from a lawsuit they filed against the State Department in 2015. (The AP is reporting that the State Department won’t finish releasing the rest of Clinton’s schedule till after the presidential election despite their request for it by October 15.)

'Clinton AP' Bing search.

‘Clinton AP’ Bing search. (Screenshot: Bing)

This bombshell, compounded with Clinton’s use of a private server as secretary of state, is fueling allegations that she was involved in a pay-to-play operation. But the story has been suppressed by Google in its searches—just as it has done in the past with stories that paint Clinton in a negative light.

When searches related to this story were entered into the Google web browser last week, results for “Clinton AP story” were limited to stories from leftwing publications discrediting the story—including this report from Vox: “The AP’s big expose on Hillary meeting with Clinton Foundation donors is a mess.”

The same terms in a Bing search yielded more balanced headlines, like “Clinton campaign, AP battle over story on foundation ties” from Market Watch.

Once again, Google has gone out of its way to censor damaging reports about Clinton.

google v bing

Google vs Bing. (Screenshots: Google/Bing)

When users typed “media coverage of the Clinton Foundation” into Google it returned results such as CNN’s “Associated Press Botches Hillary Clinton report and response.” In Bing, one gets articles such as “Mike Pence Slams the Media and Clinton Foundation in Virginia.”

The New York Times has taken its censorship a step further; the day after the AP story broke there was no mention of it in their entire paper and this has remained the case until late Monday afternoon—a week later—when Maggie Habermanfinally mentioned that “[Clinton] and her campaign have denounced an Associated Press report.”

On Sunday, CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host, Brian Stelter, defended Clinton and attacked AP’s Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. Instead of questioning Clinton’s dubious conduct as Secretary of State, Stelter questioned why the AP published the story in the first place and labeled it as “misleading.”

Hillary Clinton and husband, Former U.S. President Bill Clinton address the audience during the Opening Plenary Session: Reimagining Impact for the Clinton Global Initiative on September 22, 2014.

Hillary Clinton and husband, Former U.S. President Bill Clinton address the audience during the Opening Plenary Session: Reimagining Impact for the Clinton Global Initiative on September 22, 2014. (Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Paul Joseph Watson, editor-at-large at Infowars.com, is responsible for bringing concerns of Clinton’s health into the mainstream media. Watson consulted doctors and detailed the evidence of Clinton’s health problems in a YouTube video that has gone viral amassing almost four million views. Since then, many well-renowned doctors, neurologists, and radiologists have expressed concerns for Clinton’s health publicly.

Beth Israel Medical Center’s Dr. Bob Lahita made a compelling argument for Clinton’s health concerns and called for Clinton to be assessed by an impartial panel of physicians during an appearance on Fox Business. Dr. Drew said in an interviewwith KABC “McIntyre in the Morning” that he’s “gravely concerned” about her health. Suspiciously, that episode has been removed from KABC’s website and Dr. Drew’s show on HLN—owned by a division of Time Warner which is the same parent company that owns CNN—was canceled eight days after he made the negative assessment about Clinton’s health.

On the other hand, CNN attempted to debunk harmful reports about Clinton’s health by suggesting that concerns for the Democratic presidential nominee’s health are both a conspiracy and sexist. And once again, Google has gone out of its way to censor these damaging reports about Clinton. The tech company is suppressing stories about Clinton’s health in its search bar.

google v bing v yahoo

Google vs Bing vs Yahoo. (Photo: Google/Bing/Yahoo Screenshots)

When you type in “Hillary Clinton’s he”, the auto-complete suggestions pull results that have nothing to do with the trending issues of Clinton’s personal health, such as “Hillary Clinton’s headquarters” or “Hillary Clinton health plan.” When the same terms are put into Bing, several suggestions regarding the trending topic of the state of her health appear, such as “Hillary Clinton health issues” and “Hillary Clinton has seizure.” In Yahoo’s search engine, simply typing “Hillary” pulls up suggestions such as “Hillary Clinton illness,” “Hillary Clinton health issues” and “Hillary Clinton seizure.”

Julian Assange opened a can of worms when he suggested in a recent interview that murdered DNC worker Seth Rich was the Wikileaks source for the DNC hack that resulted in the resignation of three top level officials at the Democratic National Committee. This fueled Clinton body count stories on the Internet that list people tied to the Clintons who have died under freak circumstances.

Google has suppressed these stories in their search engine as reported on Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends. When you type in “Clinton body,” car repair shop results pop up. The same search terms in Bing and Yahoo pull up results such as “Clinton body count” or “Clinton body bags.” The report also notes that when you type in Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump’s name into Google’s search engine, both positive and negative stories appear.

A report came out Friday revealing that PBS’s “Newshour” removed negative comments about Clinton in Judy Woodruff’s interview with Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein. A Stein supporter discovered the edits after he compared the FaceBook Live version with the broadcast and YouTube versions. The edits PBS removed from the interview included Stein’s criticism of Clinton’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Obamacare.

“Newshour” has done one report about the Clinton Foundation scandal in a softballpiece titled “A glimpse inside operations at the Clinton Foundation.” In the segment, Woodruff’s co-host Hari Sreenivasan, conducted interviews with James Grimaldi of the Wall Street Journal, Columbia University’s Doug White and Clinton Foundation President Donna Shalala. A Media Research Center study found that the Clinton Foundation “charity fraud” story has only received a total of four minutes and 24 seconds devoted to it from the three big networks this year.

For comparison sake, the incident in which Donald Trump allegedly pretended to be his own publicist—in 1991—garnered eight times more coverage.

To understand why The New York Times, Google, CNN and PBS would censor negative information about Clinton, particularly, stories revolving around the Clinton Foundation scandal, all you have to do is follow the money. All of these companies have donated—in some cases up seven figures—to the Clinton Foundation. Carlos Slim, Chairman & CEO of Telmex, the largest New York Times shareholder, donated between $1 and $5 million. Google donated between $500K and $1 million.

The parent company of CNN, Time Warner Inc., gave between $50k to $100k to the foundation. (Woodruff, who serves as co-host and managing editor of PBS “NewsHour”, gave $250 to the foundation’s Clinton Haiti Relief Fund in 2010.) It’s no wonder these media entities are reluctant to report harmful stories on Clinton, specifically ones surrounding the Clinton Foundation, since in doing so they could be implicating themselves in this evolving scandal.

Her charges of a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ were false. It was not a conspiracy, and President Clinton’s false statements about his affair lead to his impeachment.

A deeper look into Google’s ties to Clinton, specifically while she was secretary of state, exposes more reasons why the tech giant has a vested interest in censoring the AP’s bombshell story. Wikileaks exposed that Google teamed up with Clinton’s State Department to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2012.

In leaked emails between Clinton’s staff and Google executive Jared Cohen—who worked for Clinton at the State Department before joining Google—Cohen details Google’s plan to get involved in the region and to boost Assad defections. The exchange proves that the tech company worked in concert with the State Department to topple Assad’s government. Further proving Google’s involvement with US foreign policy, Cohen helped draft the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft Initiative, which called for using Internet and social media technologies to pursue diplomatic goals.

Google’s controversial relationship with Clinton has raised enough eyebrows that the Oracle Corporation is using its resources to launch the Google Transparency Project. The mission is to shed sunlight on Google’s relationships with Clinton and President Barack Obama. The GTP has already produced a series of investigative reports on Google including one that reveals that there were 18 former State Department officials that joined Google as executives and five Google officials who acquired senior positions at the State Department.

Clinton has brushed off reports of her bad health as nothing more than conspiracy theories. In 1998, Clinton used a similar technique to bat down allegations that then President Bill Clinton was involved in an extramarital affair in the White House with intern Monica Lewinsky. We now know that her charges of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” were false. It was not a conspiracy, and President Clinton’s false statements about his affair lead to his impeachment.

Hillary Clinton’s new catch phrase in response to the AP’s explosive report is that there’s “a lot of smoke” but “no fire.” If that’s truly the case, one really has to wonder why there’s an outright refusal to release the rest of her schedule from when she served as Secretary of State until after the November presidential election.

Source: http://observer.com/2016/08/media-orgs-donate-to-clinton-foundation-then-downplay-clinton-foundation-scandal/

A retired editor of one of America’s very big and well known newspapers told Peace and Freedom, “There is serious corruption here and most of the media are enablers.” “The Clintons are American Royalty that we helped get elected — So we have to believe them. Obama too.”

Related:

Hillary Clinton says she and Bill were ‘dead broke’
By Jon Greenberg, Politifact,

U.N. Admits Role In Haiti Cholera Outbreak That Has Killed Thousands
http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/08/18/490468640/u-n-admits-role-in-haiti-cholera-outbreak-that-has-killed-thousands

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The Trump campaign has assembled a list of many recent articles about the Clinton Foundation, Here:
https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/hillary-clinton-short-circuits-trying-to-defend-the-clinton-foundtion

Turkey Thrusts More Tanks into Syria — YPG fighters retreating to the east of the Euphrates river, a red line for Turkey

August 25, 2016

Reuters

Thu Aug 25, 2016 4:34am EDT

By Humeyra Pamuk and Umit Bektas | KARKAMIS, TURKEY

At least nine more Turkish tanks entered northern Syria on Thursday as part of an operation aimed at driving Islamic State out of the border area around Jarablus and stopping Kurdish militia fighters from seizing territory, Reuters witnesses said.

A senior Turkish official said there were now more than 20 Turkish tanks inside Syria and that additional tanks and construction machinery would be sent in as required.

“We need construction machinery to open up roads … and we may need more in the days ahead. We also have armored personnel carriers that could be used on the Syrian side. We may put them into service as needed,” the official said.

Turkish army tanks drive towards to the border in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

The deployments are part of “Operation Euphrates Shield”, in which Syrian rebels backed by Turkish special forces, tanks and warplanes on Wednesday entered Jarablus, one of Islamic State’s last strongholds on the Turkish-Syrian border. It is Turkey’s first major U.S.-backed incursion into its southern neighbor.

The sound of gunfire, audible from a hill on the Turkish side of the border overlooking Jarablus, rang out early on Thursday and a plume of black smoke rose over the town.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Islamic State had been driven out of the town and it was now controlled by the Syrian rebels, who are largely Arab and Turkmen. He said the operation was targeting both Islamic State and the Kurdish YPG militia, whose gains in northern Syria have alarmed Turkey.

Ankara views the YPG as an extension of Kurdish militants who have fought a three-decade insurgency on its own soil, putting it at odds with Washington, which sees the group as an ally in the fight against Islamic State.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday that YPG fighters were retreating to the east of the Euphrates river, a red line for Turkey, foreign ministry sources in Ankara said.

In a telephone call, the two emphasized that the fight against Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq would continue together, the sources said.

Speaking during a visit on Wednesday to Turkey, a key NATO ally with the alliance’s second-biggest armed forces, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden also tried to soothe Turkish concerns about Kurdish territorial gains in Syria.

He said there should be no separate Kurdish entity in northern Syria and the country should remain united. Kurdish militia fighters would not receive U.S. support if they failed to pull back east of the Euphrates as promised, he said.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Edmund Blair and David Dolan)

Includes video:

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-turkey-idUSKCN10Z07J

Related:

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Turkish-backed rebels takes Jarablus from Islamic State

August 25, 2016

Russia complains about a “further degeneration of the situation”

By Al Jazeera and News Agencies

Syria: Turkish-backed rebels ‘seize’ Jarablus from ISIL

Rebels take full control of strategic border town in massive operation backed by Turkish and US air strikes.

Jarablus, a strategic Syrian town on the border with Turkey, has been controlled by ISIL fighters for two years [EPA]

Turkish tanks and hundreds of opposition fighters thrust deep inside Syrian territory on Wednesday in a lightning operation that within hours pushed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters out of a key Syrian border town.

The air and ground offensive – the most ambitious launched by Ankara in the Syria conflict – made rapid progress towards Jarablus throughout the day, as rebel fighters captured ISIL-held villages surrounding the strategic border town.

“Jarablus can now be considered fully liberated,” Ahmed Othman, a commander in the Free Syrian Army, told Al Jazeera from the scene, while another rebel spokesman said ISIL fighters had fled towards al-Bab to the southwest.

Turkey offensive in northern Syria takes aim at ISIL and Kurds

“The attack started in the morning and we were able to take control of a number of villages near the town. After a few hours and after controlling the hills surrounding the town, ISIL felt the danger. A large number of ISIL fighters withdrew south towards al-Bab, which is still under [ISIL, also known as ISIS] control.”

Jarablus, a strategic town on the border with Turkey, had been controlled by ISIL fighters for two years. The group is now left with only one stronghold in Syria’s northeast – al-Bab.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation was also targeting Kurdish militia fighters – strongly opposed by Ankara but backed by the US as a key ally in the war against ISIL – who had also been closing in on Jarablus.

“We have said ‘enough is enough’ … This now needs to be resolved,” Erdogan said.

Joe Biden, the US vice president who met Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, reassured Turkey that Washington had instructed the Kurdish YPG that crossing west of the Euphrates River could mean the total loss of American support.

“They cannot, will not and under no circumstances get American support if they do not keep that commitment. Period,” he said.

The Turkish government has accused the YPG of being an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The Turkish state has waged war against the separatist group for more than 20 years.

“The YPG has been the US-led coalition’s strongest ground partner in the war against ISIL, but Turkish leadership wants the US to sever ties with the Kurdish faction,” said Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border.

Rapid advance

Wednesday’s operation – named “Euphrates Shield” – began at around 4am (01:00 GMT) with Turkish artillery pounding dozens of ISIL targets around Jarablus.

Turkish F-16 fighter jets, backed by US-led coalition planes, also hit targets inside Syria.

A dozen Turkish tanks then rolled into Syria in support of Syrian opposition fighters who had also crossed, with as many as 5,000 rebel fighters – including groups such as the Turkmen Sultan Murat Brigade, Sukur al-Jebel, Sham Front and Feylek al-Sham.

The rapidity of the advance was in complete contrast to the long-grinding battles where Kurdish forces had taken towns in northern Syria such as Kobane and Manbij from ISIL.

As well as tanks, an AFP photographer in the area of Karkamis, opposite Jarablus, saw several smaller military vehicles believed to be carrying the pro-Ankara Syrian rebels.

Security sources quoted by Turkish television said a small contingent of special forces had travelled into Syria to secure the area before the larger ground operation.

Turkey wants to show it is serious about taking on ISIL, which has been blamed for a string of attacks inside the country, including a recent attack on a Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep that left 54 people dead, many of them children.

Ankara was long been accused of turning a blind eye to the rise of ISIL in Syria and even aiding its movements across the border, claims the government had always vehemently denied.

READ MORE: YPG launches assault to take all of Syria’s Hasaka

Earlier this month, a coalition of primarily Kurdish fighters led by the YPG pushed ISIL fighters out of Manbij, a strategic city that lies west of the Euphrates river.

Saleh Muslim, head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the YPG’s political wing, tweeted that Turkey was now in the “Syrian quagmire” and would be “defeated” like ISIL.

But a senior US administration official told AFP that Washington had already been “syncing up” with Turkey for Wednesday’s operation and US advisers had been involved in a planning cell.

The Turkish air strikes were the first since a November crisis with Russia sparked when the Turkish air force downed one of Moscow’s warplanes.

A dozen ISIL targets were destroyed in Wednesday’s air strikes. Turkish artillery meanwhile destroyed at least 70 ISIL targets, according to Turkish television.

READ MORE: Almost 18,000 died in Syria’s prisons, says Amnesty

The movements come at a critical juncture for Turkey in Syria’s five-and-a-half-year war, and there are growing signs that Ankara is on the verge of a landmark policy shift.

Turkey has continuously called for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, putting Turkey at odds with the embattled leader’s main supporters – Iran and Russia.

But Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim acknowledged for the first time over the weekend that Assad was one of the “actors” in Syria and may need to stay on as part of a transition.

In a note of discord after news broke of the Turkish-backed operation on Wednesday, Russia said it was “deeply concerned” by the situation on the border and warned of a “further degeneration of the situation”.

Assad’s government – which has has little control of country’s northeast since 2012 – condemned the incursion as a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/syria-turkish-backed-rebels-seize-jarablus-isil-160824162712114.html

Russian, Syrian air strikes hit densely populated parts of Aleppo, flattened buildings in some of the heaviest recent raids, use of barrel bombs and mortar attacks also reported — “This is to kill them all”

June 6, 2016
Mon Jun 6, 2016 12:14am EDT

Civil defence members try to put out a fire at a site hit by airstrikes in Idlib city, Syria June 5, 2016. REUTERS/AMMAR ABDULLAH
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Nearly 50 air strikes hit rebel-held areas in and around the Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday in some of the heaviest recent raids by Russian and Syrian government aircraft, residents and a monitoring group said.

The group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also said an unidentified war plane had crashed in countryside south of Aleppo, in an area where Islamist rebel fighters are battling the Syrian army and Iranian-backed forces. It had no information on what caused the crash.

A civil defense worker said at least 32 people were killed in the rebel-held parts of the city during the air strikes, with 18 bodies pulled from flattened buildings in the Qatrji neighborhood, the worst hit.

The monitor said dozens of barrel bombs – oil drums or cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel- were dropped by helicopter on densely populated districts.

“This week-long campaign of bombing is very intense and day by day it’s getting worse … it is the worst we have seen in a while,” said Bebars Mishal, a civil defense official in rebel-held Aleppo.

For their part, rebels hit government-held areas of Aleppo in what Syrian media said was an escalation of mortar attacks on the western districts.

State media said attacks on Sunday on Hamadaniyah, Midan and other neighborhoods by insurgents killed at least 20 people, in the second day of intense shelling of government-held areas. The death toll over the whole weekend was at least 44.

Aleppo, the country’s largest city before the war, has been divided for years between rebel and government-held zones.

Full control of Aleppo would be a huge prize for President Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s military intervention since September has helped to bolster Assad’s government.

Syria issued a toughly worded statement denouncing Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, holding them responsible for the latest surge in rebel attacks and accusing them of wrecking any effort to reach a U.N.-backed political settlement.

Damascus says that along with several major Western countries, those regional countries finance and train Islamist rebels seeking to topple Assad’s government.

In the northwestern province of Idlib, meanwhile, residents said Syrian and Russian jets bombed the rebel-held provincial capital, setting fire to a bustling market in the heart of the city. More than 30 people were injured, at least three killed and dozens were unaccounted for, according to an activist contacted in the city.

The Idlib strikes came just days after some of the heaviest raids on residential areas for months, killing more than 30 people and injuring dozens on May 31. Idlib has been a relative haven for thousands of displaced Syrians.

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ATTEMPTS TO ENCIRCLE INSURGENTS

The air raids in Aleppo on Sunday came in the wake of strikes on civilian areas on Friday that residents said were the most intense in over a month.

The Syrian Observatory said the Syrian government raids had targeted the main Castello road that leads into rebel-held Aleppo as part of a campaign to complete the encirclement of the city’s insurgent-dominated areas.

A Russian defense ministry statement on Sunday accused militant Syrian Islamist groups of firing mortars on the mainly Kurdish-populated Sheikh Maqsood neighborhood in Aleppo that overlooks the Castello road.

The monitor said 13 people, including six children, were killed on Saturday in the Kurdish-run area by insurgents’ mortars.

Rebels accuse the powerful Kurdish YPG of working with the Syrian army to cut the main artery by intensifying their ground attacks on the highway.

The Russians had on Saturday accused militants from radical Islamic groups of bringing at least 1,000 fighters into an area in the southern Aleppo countryside.

The militants have consolidated gains since Friday in the area around the strategic town of Khan Touman, rebels say.

The Nusra Front spearheaded an attack on Khan Touman last month, delivering one of the biggest battlefield setbacks yet to a coalition of foreign Shi’ite fighters supporting Syrian government forces..

Rebels say Russian jets on Sunday pounded insurgent positions in the area to prevent them from advancing towards the nearby town of Hader, which rebels say is a stronghold of Iranian-backed militias.

Also U.S.-backed forces on Sunday engaged with Islamic State fighters in an offensive that began last Tuesday against IS-held areas in Aleppo province, beginning with the Manbij area where they continued to seize more villages, according to Kurdish sources and the monitor.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

Related:

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Air strikes kill dozens in Syria’s Aleppo

Dozens killed in Aleppo air strikes as regime forces cross into Raqqa province for the first time since August 2014.

Men inspect damage after an airstrike on Aleppo''s rebel held al-Hallak neighbourhood [Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters]

Men inspect damage after an airstrike on Aleppo”s rebel held al-Hallak neighbourhood [Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters]

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At least 53 people, including children, have been killed in government air strikes in Syria’s Aleppo city, activists have said.

Dozens of barrel bombs – oil drums or cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel – were dropped by military helicopters on the heavily populated al-Qatriji neighbourhood, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said on Sunday.

Activists told Al Jazeera that at least 53 people were killed in the air strikers, while the Observatory gave a death toll of 32, including three children.

Eight others were killed in shelling attacks by rebels on regime-controlled areas in the city, it added.

At least 40 air strikes hit the rebel-held areas on Sunday in some of the heaviest recent raids by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as volunteer rescuing group White Helmets, have said.


READ MORE: Can the world provide Syrians with aid from above?


Rebels also hit government-held parts of Aleppo in what Syrian media said was an escalation in mortar attacks on the western parts of the country’s largest city before the war.

Syrian boy mourns his father, a White Helmet rescuer

 

State media said missiles fired on Hamadaniyah and the Midan areas by rebels left scores injured and several casualties in a second day of intense shelling of government-held areas.

According to the Observatory, at least 74 people in Aleppo have been killed in air strikes since May 31.

Zouhir al-Shimale, a local journalist, told Al Jazeera that Aleppo has been hit by intensive raids over the last few days.

“Every morning for the past few days over 50 air strikes and barrel bombs have targeted Aleppo. A local journalist was among those killed, while another journalist was injured.

“A rescue worker was also killed while he was saving an injured person, it happened within two minutes,” Shimale said.

See More:

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/air-strikes-kill-dozens-syria-aleppo-160605111131963.html

In pictures: Devastation reigns in Syria’s Aleppo

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Jihadi militants flock to Syria for all-out war against President Bashar al-Assad

May 19, 2016

By Tom Perry and Suleiman Al-Khalidi

BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) – Jihadi militants in Syria including al Qaeda are mobilizing again for all-out war against President Bashar al-Assad, taking advantage of the collapse of peace talks to eclipse nationalist rival insurgents that signed on to a faltering truce.

Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, the Nusra Front, was excluded from a ceasefire put in place in February and from peace talks that followed. The talks broke up last month, with Assad’s government and foes blaming each other for military escalation.

After lying low in the early days of the truce, Nusra has re-emerged on the battlefield as the diplomacy has unraveled, spearheading recent attacks on pro-government Iranian militias near Aleppo, Nusra commanders and other rebels say.

In the latest expansion of its profile, it and other groups have revived the Jaish al-Fatah, or the army of conquest, a military alliance of disparate Islamist rebel groups that won big victories against government forces last year.

Nusra’s resurgence could undermine the Western-backed rebel groups that signed up to the truce and attended the peace talks, and gives Assad’s government and its Russian and Iranian backers more reasons to press on with a war during which they have hit insurgents of all stripes.

“Jaish al-Fatah has returned, but this time in strength, and our goal is to spread to the major fronts in Syria,” said Abu Shaimaa, a Nusra Front commander, speaking to Reuters from rebel-held Idlib province, of the revival of the Islamist rebel alliance.

“We ask God that with Jaish al-Fatah’s return, the victories will also return,” added Zaher Abu Hassan, head of a Jaish al-Fatah media organization in Idlib.

The Islamist rebels still face the challenge of overcoming their own rivalries. One senior insurgent source said that while Jaish al-Fatah had made a comeback in one area, talks were still underway to relaunch the alliance more widely.

“In southern Aleppo, yes there is an operations room, but the goal is (to repeat it) on all the active fronts,” he said.

RECRUITMENT DRIVE

The insurgency against Assad is a patchwork of factions ranging from groups linked to al Qaeda or inspired by it, to those with a nationalist agenda that fight under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. Some of these groups have received military aid from the United States, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic State group, which broke away from al Qaeda, is in conflict with both other insurgent groups and Damascus as it fights for its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq. It has lost territory in recent months but still controls much of eastern and northern Syria.

Last year the Islamist rebel factions that formed Jaish al-Fatah put aside rivalries to drive the Syrian government out of Idlib province before thrusting into the areas near the coastal mountains that form the heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect. That advance helped prompt Russia’s decision to send its air force to bomb on behalf of Assad, tipping the war his way with the help of Iranian reinforcements on the ground.

Rebel sources gave differing accounts on how far the groups in Jaish al-Fatah had gone toward reviving the alliance, particularly on the extent of the involvement of Ahrar al-Sham, a powerful group widely believed to be backed by Turkey.

Ahrar al-Sham, an important component of the alliance last year, had backed the political track but has steadily distanced itself from U.N.-led diplomacy that failed to secure a full halt to air strikes, adequate aid deliveries, or a prisoner release.

Ahrar al-Sham and the Nusra Front, both powerful in northwestern Syria, joined forces in an attack that resulted in the capture of a government-held Alawite town in Hama province on May 13, though not operating under the Jaish al-Fatah banner.

The May 6 capture of another town, Khan Touman south of Aleppo, from pro-government Shi’ite militias including Iranians was openly attributed to Jaish al-Fatah, with rebels identifying Nusra and another group, Jund al-Aqsa, as the leading forces.

Insurgent sources said Nusra Front and its allies had deployed to southern Aleppo from nearby Idlib, one of their strongholds, to stave off attempted government advances that threatened to splinter rebel-held areas in two.

Hardline Sunni Islamist Sheikh Abdullah al-Mohaisany, a Saudi national, has meanwhile been on a new recruitment drive in Idlib. At one rally, captured in a video posted on YouTube, he urges all males over the age of 15 to join the jihad.

A resident of the area where the rally was held said around 300 youths had volunteered that day, and they would be funneled into Jaish al-Fatah factions.

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri has also weighed in on Syria in a voice message, lambasting the political process and urging jihadists to unite. His remarks were interpreted as a directive for the group to focus more of its attention on Syria.

“A DANGEROUS INDICATOR”

FSA groups that played a prominent role in the diplomatic process launched this year with U.S. and Russian blessing say they still have the upper hand over Nusra in important areas, notably the city of Aleppo itself, and areas of southern Syria near the border with Jordan.

FSA groups have been battling Islamic State at the Turkish border in recent weeks, while also fending off three government offensives just north of Aleppo, said Zakaria Malahefji, politburo chief of one such group, Fastaqim.

They say they will not return to peace talks until the situation improves on the ground. Reflecting the dim prospects for diplomacy, no date for talks emerged from an international meeting on Tuesday.

Another FSA commander said the prominent role played by the Nusra Front in recent battles was “a dangerous indicator” of where the war was headed if diplomacy failed completely.

The commander, a senior opposition official speaking on condition of anonymity, said Nusra had seized the moment to demonstrate its value to the insurgency and the futility of diplomacy.

“There is talk about the restructuring of Jaish al-Fatah, particularly after the victory in Khan Touman,” he said. “The lack of a political horizon and aid, or anything that brings relief to the people, raises the chances of the formation of Jaish al-Fatah and the alliance with Nusra.”

Noah Bonsey, a senior analyst with International Crisis Group, said the re-emergence of Jaish al-Fatah was an indicator of the political climate in the opposition and its realization that the cessation of hostilities was not sustainable.

The resumption of fighting was good for Nusra, he added: “This is giving them credibility, whereas the cessation appeared to be diminishing their credibility and highlighting real rifts between Nusra and the rest of the rebellion.”

Much of the opposition believed “that the regime and the Iran-backed militias were able to benefit from it, and that they need to join Nusra in reasserting offensive pressure”, he said.

(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Peter Graff)

Lebanon’s Justice Minister Resign In Protest Over Out-sized Influence of Hezbollah

February 21, 2016
21 February 2016 – 14H05
AFP
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© AFP/File | Lebanon’s Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, a fierce opponent of the country’s powerful Hezbollah movement, accused the group of being responsible for the political crisis in Lebanon that has left the country without a president for the last 21 months

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, a fierce opponent of the country’s powerful Hezbollah movement, said Sunday he was resigning over the group’s “domination” of the government.

Rifi’s decision comes two days after Saudi Arabia announced it was suspending $3 billion in aid to Lebanon’s army in protest over “hostile” positions it said were inspired by Hezbollah.

“There is an armed part that is dominating the government’s decision,” Rifi said in a statement, referring to Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah has used this government to consolidate its project of a mini-state. It wanted to use it as a tool to extend its control over the state and its decisions,” he added.

“I will not accept becoming false witness and covering for those trying to dominate the state and its institutions… that is why I am presenting my resignation.”

Rifi accused Hezbollah of being responsible for the political crisis in Lebanon that has left the country without a president for the last 21 months.

And he said the Iranian-backed party was “destroying Lebanon’s relations with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Lebanon’s political scene is deeply divided, with the government split roughly between a bloc led by Hezbollah and another headed by former prime minister Saad Hariri, to which Rifi belongs.

Hezbollah is a close ally of the Syrian regime, and is backed by Tehran, while Hariri’s bloc is close to Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, and is supported by Western powers including Washington.

The schism has been exacerbated by the war in neighbouring Syria, with Hezbollah sending fighters to bolster President Bashar al-Assad against an uprising that is supported by Saudi Arabia and Hariri’s political bloc.

Rifi’s resignation statement also cited alleged Hezbollah interference in the case of Lebanon’s former information minister Michel Samaha, who is facing charges of having planned “terrorist” acts.

Rifi accused Hezbollah of blocking his efforts to transfer the case against Samaha, a former close confidante of Damascus, to Lebanon’s highest court.

Samaha is currently free on bail as he faces retrial on charges of plotting attcks with Syrian security services chief Ali Mamluk.

US, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch Warn of Russian Air Strikes in Syria Killing Civilians

December 29, 2015

AFP

A Syrian youth carries an injured boy on December 9, 2015, following airstrikes said to have killed at least 11 in the rebel-held town of Hamouria, though it was unclear whether they were carried out by Russian aircraft or regime forces. AFP images

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States expressed concern on Tuesday at what it said was the heavy civilian toll of “indiscriminate” Russian air strikes in Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to his Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday and conveyed Washington’s worries.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner, citing reports from what he called “credible human rights organizations,” said: “Russian air strikes in Syria have killed hundreds of civilians, including first responders, (and) hit medical facilities, schools and markets.”

Toner added that in October and the first half of November, more than 130,000 Syrians had been forced to flee their homes, in part because of intensified Russian bombing.

Moscow has angrily denied reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Syrian rights groups that its air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government is hitting civilians.

It insists its operation is aimed at “terrorists” and that it takes care to protect civilians, while working with the United States and the United Nations to push for a negotiated end to the war.

But Toner said the United States had expressed its concerns to Moscow about “these indiscriminate attacks … on infrastructure, on medical facilities, on civilians.”

Kerry also complained to Lavrov about Friday’s killing of Syrian rebel chief Zahran Alloush, in an air strike claimed by Assad’s government.

Toner said the United States had concerns about the rhetoric and tactics of Alloush’s rebel group — Jaish al-Islam — but had noted that he was ready to take part in UN-mediated peace talks.

“It is our hope that it does not send a discouraging message to other members of the Syrian opposition … who have expressed a willingness to take part in this process,” Toner said.

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad Wants To Restart Peace Talks With Russia’s Help — U.N. accuses Syria of targeting civilian areas

December 27, 2014

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People inspect a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on al-Marjeh neighbourhood of Aleppo November 12, 2014

The use of barrel bombs, frequently dropped in Aleppo by the government, has been condemned by rights groups

Reuters

BEIRUT — Syria said on Saturday it is willing to participate in “preliminary consultations” in Moscow aimed at restarting peace talks next year to end its civil war.

“Syria is ready to participate in preliminary consultations in Moscow in order to meet the aspirations of Syrians to find a way out of crisis,” state television said, quoting a source at the Syrian foreign ministry.

Moscow, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has pushed to restart talks that collapsed in Geneva in February.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this month that he wanted Syrian opposition groups to agree among themselves on a common approach before setting up direct talks with the Damascus government.

But Lavrov did not specify which opposition groups should take part.

Russia has long backed Assad, including with arms supplies for Syria, but he has become a more important ally for Moscow since the 2011 Arab Spring protests toppled several autocrats in the Middle East, some of whom had close ties with Moscow.

(Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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From the BBC

Syrian planes and helicopters have dropped barrel bombs on Islamic State-held areas in the north-east, killing some 40 people, activists say.

The barrel-bombs, crudely made drums of explosives, were dropped during Thursday and overnight, targeting al-Bab and Qabaseen near Aleppo.

Activists say the government has stepped up air raids in recent days.

Some 200,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in 2011.

Another 3.2 million people have fled Syria and 7.6 million have been displaced inside the country.

Al-Bab, a city of about 100,000 people, has witnessed heavy government air strikes since September, when a US-led coalition started targeting IS in Iraq and Syria.

One Qabaseen resident, Yousef al-Saadi, told Reuters via Skype: “People were going about scraping a living and there were no armed groups in the market, only poor people. Why is Assad killing us? May God bring vengeance on him.”

The UN and rights groups have repeatedly accused Syria of targeting civilian areas.

On Friday, the Combined Joint Task Force said that the US-led coalition had carried out another 31 air strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.

Sixteen of Friday’s strikes were in Syria, with 13 of those targeting areas around Kobane on the Turkey border.

The 15 air strikes in Iraq were in seven different areas.

Men inspect a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria"s President Bashar al-Assad on al-Marjeh neighbourhood of Aleppo November 12, 2014

What are barrel bombs?

Barrel bombs are large cylindrical metal containers filled with explosive and shrapnel that are typically rolled out of the door of a helicopter.

The BBC’s Defence Correspondent Jonathan Beale says that the bombs were initially dropped from a low altitude, which afforded a reasonable degree of accuracy.

However Syrian government helicopters have been forced to drop them from greater heights because rebel fighters have managed to acquire surface-to-air missiles. This makes the air raids less accurate.

Despite being rudimentary weapons, their destructive power is considerable.

They are only one part of the arsenal that Syria has employed against civilian areas and their use could well constitute a war crime, our correspondent adds.

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http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30603679

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad holds signs with images of al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin after Putin was sworn in as president on Monday, in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus May 7, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled al- Hariri

Aleppo is mostly unrecognizable

Syria in ruins

By ALBERT AJI and DIAA HADID

DAMASCUS (AP) — Syrian state-run TV said Saturday that the government is prepared to take part in peace talks hosted by Russia next month, but the unnamed foreign ministry official it cited suggested the scope of the negotiations would be limited to “preliminary” talks meant to pave the way for a conference held in Syria itself.

The official was quoted as saying the government was “ready to participate in preparatory, advisory meetings in Moscow” that would “answer the aspirations of Syrians to find an exit from the crisis.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry had said Thursday that it hoped to host peace talks after Jan. 20 between the Syrian government and its fractured opposition. The nearly four-year conflict has claimed over 200,000 lives, displaced a third of Syria’s population, and nurtured an extremist group, the Islamic State, which now rules over vast swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq.

People inspect damage at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo’s district of al-Sukari March 7, 2014. REUTERS/HosamKatan

Russia is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and it is unclear whether any of the country’s opposition groups are willing to attend the talks.

The main Western-backed Syrian opposition has maintained that any negotiated settlement must include the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, a demand rejected by Assad’s government.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, has said that the first stage of talks would include members of both the government-tolerated internal opposition and opposition groups based abroad. In the next stage, they would be joined by Syrian government representatives.

But the Syrian foreign ministry official quoted on state-run television suggested that the Moscow talks were only meant to pave the way for a “dialogue conference” to be held in Syria.

“The preliminary, consultative meetings in Moscow are aimed at (finding) agreement on convening a dialogue conference between the Syrians themselves, without any foreign intervention,” the official said.

It is unclear whether Syria’s fractured opposition leaders in exile, or armed rebels on the ground, would attend a conference hosted in a government-controlled area of the country.

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Hadid reported from Beirut.