Posts Tagged ‘Bashar al-Assad’

Iran, Russia and Turkey diplomats meet ahead of Syria summit

November 19, 2017


© AFP/File | More than 330,000 people have been killed since Syria’s war began in March 2011
ISTANBUL (AFP) – Top diplomats from Iran, Russia and Turkey met Sunday morning in Antalya to discuss the civil war in Syria ahead of a three-way summit in the Russian city of Sochi on Wednesday.Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran and in the southern Turkish city for the closed-door meeting, an official said.

He declined to provide further details on the meeting, which comes as violence is diminishing in Syria’s six-year war although a political solution still seems out of reach.

Moscow, Tehran and Ankara are sponsoring the so-called Astana peace talks, named for the Kazakh capital where they are regularly held, which calls for the creation of “de-escalation” zones in key areas of Syria.

Although Turkey has supported rebels looking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s government, it has muted its critiques of the Syrian regime, which is backed by Russia and Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani for the Sochi summit, where talks on reducing violence and ensuring humanitarian aid are on the agenda.

According to the Anadolu news agency, Putin and Erdogan have already met five times this year and spoken by telephone 13 times.

Erdogan last met Putin for talks in Sochi on November 13, agreeing on the need to boost elements for a lasting settlement.


“There Simply Is No Russia-U.S. Partnership. Time and Again We Find that the U.S. Cannot Trust Russia.”

November 18, 2017

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Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia votes against the UN resolution on extending the chemical weapons probe.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a CNN contributor and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of “Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN) — The limits of just what the United States and Russia can do together in Syria came into full view this Thursday. And it provided yet another reality check to those who say the United States and Russia can find common ground from which to push forward when it comes to ending the civil war in Syria.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

“Need all on the UN Security Council to vote to renew the Joint Investigative Mechanism for Syria to ensure that Assad Regime does not commit mass murder with chemical weapons ever again,” President Donald Trump tweeted just before his UN Ambassador Nikki Haley backed a resolution to renew a mechanism that would allow the UN to keep investigating chemical weapons atrocities in Syria.
At the afternoon’s end, it was clear the Trump tweet fell on disinterested ears, as Russia exercised a veto on Syria for the 10th time, this time to block investigators from continuing their work holding the Syrian regime and all other parties to the civil war accountable for using chemical weapons.
“By using the veto to kill a mechanism in Syria that holds users of chemical weapons accountable, Russia proves they cannot be trusted or credible as we work towards a political solution in Syria.” Haley tweeted afterward.
In reality there is not much the two sides have in common in their objectives in the Syrian civil war. And Thursday’s vote threw into plain view just how much the United States needs to get involved — diplomatically — to bring an end to the conflict in a way that doesn’t just result in cementing the status quo and leave the Syrian regime with the territory it has won, plus the terrain the US backed forces have gained.
Trump may be focused on finding ways to cooperate with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Syria. But the conscious uncoupling of Syria from all the other areas where the United States and Russia find themselves on opposite sides has a very real limit, as Thursday showed. And it is an idea that has always been more wishful thinking than on-the-ground reality.
The United Nations last week found the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad responsible for an April sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a town held by rebel forces. The attack killed more than 80 people and, for a moment, captured the world’s attention in the horror of seeing children and adults dying in the attack’s aftermath. President Trump responded quickly to the chemical weapons attack by launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase. The UN investigation into responsibility followed..
The Joint Investigative Mechanism matters. Holding the Syrian regime, ISIS and all others who may use chemical weapons accountable is important. Not just for Syria. But to show that those who deploy these weapons against mothers and fathers and little ones, wherever in the world they might be, will be held responsible for these atrocities. They must be investigated and held accountable: for leaving little ones gasping for air, for leaving parents without children and for rendering children orphans.
This is not about global politics, but about ground-level justice for little ones and their families.
Or, as UK Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft said Thursday on Twitter, “Today the world can see that Russian policy is to protect #Syria, whatever the cost to Russia’s reputation.”
The United States will push forward when the Geneva talks on Syria’s future come next month. These talks about a political solution will test America’s diplomatic will as Russia continues to shape facts on the ground. And as Russia pushes to protect the Assad regime from accountability for using chemical weapons against its people, the limits of just where the United States and Russia can find common ground should be fresh in the minds of American policymakers. Front of mind should be the effort to help find a peaceful settlement for Syrian moms, dads and little ones caught in the crossfire of a hellish civil war for far too long.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley warns: ‘We should never trust Russia’
The Hill
UN Ambassador Haley warns: 'We should never trust Russia'
© Getty Images

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley on Wednesday said the United States should never trust Russia.

“Take it seriously. We cannot trust Russia. We should never trust Russia,” Haley told NBC News.

Haley’s comments contrast that of President Trump, who has suggested he is open to warmer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Justice Department on Wednesday charged two Russian security service officers in the 2014 hacking of the Yahoo network. Haley’s comments about the Kremlin followed the Justice Department’s announcement.In her first appearance in front of the U.N. last month, Haley condemned Russia for its annexation of Crimea.

“I consider it unfortunate that the occasion of my first appearance here is one in which I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia,” Haley said at the time.

“We do want to better our relations with Russia, however, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.”


Russia blocks Syria gas attacks probe, again

November 18, 2017


© Timothy A. Clary, AFP file picture | The UN Security Council votes to extend investigations into who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria on October 24, 2017. Russia voted no


Latest update : 2017-11-18

Russia cast a second veto in as many days at the United Nations Security Council on Friday to block the renewal of a probe to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

A draft resolution put forward by Japan would have extended the UN-led Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) for 30 days to allow time for negotiations on a wider compromise.

But Russia used its veto power to prevent adoption after 12 council members voted in favor of the measure, effectively ending the mission. China abstained, while Bolivia voted no.

It was the 11th time that Russia has used its veto power to stop council action targeting its ally Syria.

“Russia is wasting our time,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council after the vote. “Russia has no interest in finding ground with the rest of this council to save the JIM.”

“Russia will not agree to any mechanism that might shine a spotlight on the use of chemical weapons by its ally, the Syrian regime,” she said.

“It’s as simple and shameful as that.”

A resolution requires nine votes to be adopted at the council, but five countries — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — can block adoption with their veto power.

Japan put its proposal forward after Russia on Thursday vetoed a US-drafted resolution that would have allowed the expert investigators to continue their work for a year.

A separate Russian draft resolution that called for changes to the JIM failed to garner enough support, with just four votes in favor.

“Any extension of the JIM’s mandate for us is possible only provided fundamental flaws in its work are rectified,” said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.

Fictitious investigation

The Russian ambassador accused the JIM’s leadership of having “disgraced itself with its fictitious investigation” of the sarin gas attack at the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun.

The panel “signed its name on baseless accusations against Syria,” he charged.

In a report last month, the JIM concluded that the Syrian air force had dropped the deadly nerve agent on Khan Sheikhun, leaving scores dead.

The April 4 attack triggered global outrage as images of dying children were shown worldwide, prompting the United States to launch missile strikes on a Syrian air base days later.

After the veto, the council met behind closed doors at Sweden’s request to hear another appeal for a temporary extension, but Russia again refused, diplomats said.

Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog said council members must “make sure that we are absolutely convinced that we have exhausted every avenue, every effort before the mandate of the JIM expires tonight.”

Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, who holds the presidency, told reporters after the meeting that the council “will continue to work in the coming hours and days constructively to find a common position.”

The final efforts turned to finding some technical ruse that would have allowed the JIM to avoid shutting down and would not require a resolution, diplomats said. 

UN officials confirmed late Friday that the panel would end its work at midnight (0500 GMT Saturday) as there was no decision from the council to keep it in place.

The row over the chemical weapons inquiry came as the United Nations was preparing a new round of peace talks to open on November 28 in Geneva to try to end the six-year war.

The joint UN-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) panel was set up by Russia and the United States in 2015 and unanimously endorsed by the council, which renewed its mandate last year.

Previous reports by the JIM have found that Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that the Islamic State group used mustard gas in 2015.

Syria: Russia blocks extension of chemical attacks probe

November 17, 2017

BBC News

Men receive treatment after a gas attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun
Image captionA nerve gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April killed more than 80 people. Reuters photo

Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended an international inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

It is the 10th time Moscow has used its veto powers at the UN in support of its ally since the conflict began.

US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, accused Russia of undermining the organisation’s ability to deter future chemical attacks.

The Russian ambassador dismissed the criticism.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was set up in 2015 to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks. It is the only official mission investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Moscow strongly criticised the inquiry when it blamed the Syrian government for a deadly nerve agent attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April. Syria denies using banned chemical weapons.

Mrs Haley described the latest Russian veto as “a deep blow”.

“Russia has killed the investigative mechanism which has overwhelming support of this council,” she said.

“By eliminating our ability to identify the attackers, Russia has undermined our ability to deter future attacks.”

What is the Joint Investigative Mechanism?

  • Created in 2015 with unanimous backing from the UN Security Council and renewed in 2016 for another year
  • Involves the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
  • Has previously concluded that Syrian government forces used chlorine as a weapon at least three times between 2014 and 2015
  • It has also found that Islamic State militants used sulphur mustard in one attack.

The Security Council rejected a Russian-drafted resolution to extend the inquiry but with changes to membership of the panel. The draft also called for the panel’s findings on Khan Sheikhoun to be put aside.

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said it was Western countries who had sabotaged the inquiry.

“Some council members refused to support our draft and now they have full responsibility for terminating the JIM,” he said.

“This just proves again that the anti-Damascus fever is the only real priority for them and that they have manipulated the JIM for their own purposes.”

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks against a Russian resolution at the UN in New York, November 16, 2017
US ambassador Nikki Haley accused Russia of undermining efforts to stop chemical attacks. Reuters photo

Japan later tabled a draft resolution that would extend the JIM for another 30 days, as opposed to the one-year extension in the US-written draft blocked by Russia. The council was due to vote on the new resolution later on Friday.

Russia, the UK, China, France and the US all have veto powers at the Security Council.

The attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April left more than 80 people dead and prompted the US to launch missile strikes on a Syrian airbase.

Last month a UN Human Rights Council inquiry concluded a Syrian air force jet was responsible, dismissing statements from Russia that the jet had dropped conventional munitions that struck a rebel chemical weapons depot.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the incident in Khan Sheikhoun was a “fabrication”.

Abo Rabeea says he is still suffering from the suspected chemical weapons strike in Khan Sheikhoun

Trump urges U.N. council to renew Syria chemical arms inquiry

November 16, 2017

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U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he and Vice President Mike Pence depart the U.S. Capitol after a meeting to discuss tax legislation with House Republicans in Washington, U.S., November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday urged all members of the U.N. Security Council to back the renewal of the international inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, saying it was needed to prevent President Bashar al-Assad from using the arms.

“Need all on the UN Security Council to vote to renew the Joint Investigative Mechanism for Syria to ensure that Assad Regime does not commit mass murder with chemical weapons ever again,” Trump said in a note on Twitter.

The 15-nation council was due to vote on Thursday on rival U.S. and Russian bids to renew the international inquiry, diplomats said on Wednesday, a move that could trigger Russia’s 10th veto to block action on Syria.

(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Eric Walsh)

Russia, Iran, Turkey to Meet Over Syria Amid Tensions With U.S.

November 16, 2017


By Henry Meyer and  Taylan Bilgic

  • Putin, Erdogan, Rouhani to discuss Syrian conflict in Sochi
  • Russia accuses U.S. of maintaining ‘occupying force’ in Syria
U.S. forces accompany Kurdish fighters near the northern Syrian village of Darbasiyah in April.

Photographer: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

Russia, Turkey and Iran hold summit talks on Syria next week as Ankara threatens a possible attack on U.S.-allied Kurdish forces and tensions rise between Moscow and Washington over the future of the war-torn state.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host his Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani, on Nov. 22 in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss Syria and regional developments, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news service said Thursday. The three powers are key players in Syria, where they’ve spearheaded a cease-fire initiative and are now cooperating on a political settlement.

As the battle to defeat Islamic State nears its end, Russia is stepping up criticism of U.S. military involvement in Syria after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this week that American forces could stay on to ensure a political transition in the country. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday branded the U.S.-led coalition as “practically occupying forces” because they’re operating in Syria without the agreement of the government in Damascus.

Putin, whose military campaign in Syria since 2015 has reversed the course of the civil war and shored up his ally, President Bashar al-Assad, is at odds with U.S. policy that calls for the Syrian leader to leave power eventually as part of any peace agreement. Iran is also a major supporter of Assad, deploying troops and sending Iranian-backed militias to fight in Syria against opposition forces.

‘Joint Steps’

Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed in a joint statement at last week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam to support a political reconciliation in Syria with the participation of Assad. The U.S. doesn’t see a future for Assad in Syria at the end of the process, a State Department official said.

Turkey, which backed rebels seeking to overthrow Assad, warned this week that it may undertake a military operation against Kurdish forces in the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin, who are allied with the U.S. against Islamic State. ‘We’ve discussed joint steps with Russia,” Erdogan said before flying to Sochi on Monday for talks with Putin.

Turkish relations with Russia plunged into crisis after its air force downed a Russian fighter plane on the Syrian border in November 2015. The two countries have since repaired ties and have grown increasingly close, with Putin and Erdogan meeting five times already this year.

— With assistance by Selcan Hacaoglu, and Ilya Arkhipov

Israel Sees Rising Threat From Iran After ISIS

November 16, 2017

Like Islamic State, Iran and Hezbollah call for Israel’s destruction—but they have greater military capability

JERUSALEM—While much of the world celebrates the impending defeat of Islamic State, Israeli officials look at Syria and see little reason for joy. To them, a lesser enemy is being supplanted by a far more dangerous one—Iran and its allies.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is consolidating control, and his forces—aided by Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah—are eliminating Islamic State’s final pockets in the country while inching closer to the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

“Every place we see ISIS evacuating, we see Iran taking hold,” warned Sharren Haskel, an Israeli lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. “We have been dealing with this threat of Iran through Hezbollah on our northern border [with Lebanon], and we would not want to see the same setup on our Syrian border.”

Like Islamic State, Iran and Hezbollah call for Israel’s destruction. But unlike Islamic State, they have the military capability to pursue that goal.

With the Israeli-Lebanese border largely quiet since the devastating war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, Iran and its allies don’t disguise their desire to open a second front in Syria.

“Iran’s goal is clear: to establish regional hegemony in the Middle East and to surround Israel from all directions,” said Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, who heads a right-wing religious party allied with Likud and sits in the country’s security cabinet. “We’ve made it clear this is unacceptable and indeed, we will act to prevent it.”

To Israel, that’s a strategic challenge much more severe than anything Islamic State could do.

“ISIS, unlike Iran, doesn’t have an air force, missiles, sophistication and they are not supported by anyone, not by a superpower like Russia,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Amos Gilead, the head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy, an Israeli think tank, who served until earlier this year as director of policy and political-military affairs at the Israeli defense ministry.

More Middle East Crossroads

  • In Saudi Purge, Echoes of Putin and Xi November 6, 2017
  • Kurds Face Setbacks Across the Middle East November 2, 2017
  • As Wars Wind Down in Syria and Iraq, Jordan Sees Opportunity October 26, 2017
  • Mideast Conflicts Flare Up as ISIS Fades October 17, 2017

In fact, Islamic State militants who for years have controlled a small patch of land in an area where the Golan Heights meet Syria and Jordan have never troubled Israeli settlements just across the border fence.

Recognizing Israeli concerns about the Iranian threat, the U.S., Russia and Jordan have been negotiating de-escalation agreements between rebels and the regime in southern Syria that would prevent Iran and its militias from coming too close to Israeli positions on the Golan. It isn’t clear, however, to what extent Russia will be able to enforce those deals.

Israel, meanwhile, is threatening to act unilaterally if its so-called “red lines” are violated. It has already done so many times with airstrikes against Hezbollah targets in Syria—many of them targeting weapons shipments bound for the group in Lebanon.

Those “red lines” include the creation of permanent Iranian bases, airfields or naval facilities in Syria, the transfer of long-range precision missiles to Hezbollah or the establishment of plants to produce such missiles in Syria or Lebanon.

Israeli officials aren’t just worried about Syria.

The endgame of Syria’s war has also prompted the Palestinian Sunni Muslim movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, to renew links with Shiite Iran. Those ties had been weakened by Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions.

The way Israeli officials see it, the defeat of Islamic State has left their country essentially surrounded, with Iranian proxies or allies active on three of its five borders.

“One of the great tragedies of the international coalition against ISIS was to bring Iran de facto, Russia, Assad and the United States on the same side in a situation which ultimately benefited Assad and the Iranians,” said Michael Oren, deputy minister in the Israeli prime minister’s office and a former ambassador to Washington. “We have to grapple with the consequences of this, unintentional or not.”

These new challenges emerge at what seems like a golden period in Israel’s history. The civil wars and insurgencies that ravaged Israel’s foes after the Arab Spring in 2011 proved a major boon for the country’s security and drew international attention away from Israel’s own conflict with the Palestinians.

The Syrian war, by destroying the Syrian army and eliminating most of its chemical-weapons capability, removed the main conventional military threat on Israel’s borders. The spike of sectarian rivalry between Iran and the Saudi-led Sunni camp, meanwhile, brought Israel closer than ever to Saudi Arabia and some of its allied Gulf monarchies.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi summed it up like this: “The Arab Spring was supposed to be a democratic movement. But it ended up to have a spring for Israel and chaos in the Arab region.”

Indeed, while the rest of the Middle East is reeling, Israel’s economy is booming and its cities are safer from attacks than they have been in decades.

“Israel’s position in the world is better than at any time in our national existence,” Mr. Oren said. However, he cautioned, this doesn’t mean the country can lull itself into complacency.

“Hezbollah has at least 130,000 rockets and is capable of hitting every city in Israel, including Eilat. We have to operate on the assumption that Hezbollah and Iran are building up these capabilities not just to have them, but someday to use them. They are saving them all for us.”

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at

Netanyahu signals Israel will act with free hand in Syria

November 13, 2017


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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem November 12, 2017. REUTERS-Abir Sultan

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he has put the United States and Russia on notice that Israel will continue to take military action across the frontier in Syria, even as the two powers try to build up a ceasefire there.

“We are controlling our borders, we are protecting our country and we will continue to do so,” Netanyahu said in public remarks to members of his right-wing Likud party in parliament.

“I have also informed our friends, firstly in Washington and also our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria, including in southern Syria, according to our understanding and according to our security needs.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday affirmed joint efforts to stabilize Syria as its civil war wanes, including with the expansion of a July 7 truce in the southwestern triangle bordering Israel and Jordan.

Israel has been lobbying both leaders to deny Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shi‘ite militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan Heights frontier, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Sunni-led rebels.


Netanyahu’s remarks echoed those on Sunday by Israel’s regional cooperation minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, who sounded circumspect about the ceasefire deal and said Israel has “set red lines and will stand firm on this”.

Israel’s military has said it has carried out around 100 strikes in Syria. Attacks have targeted suspected Hezbollah or Iranian arms depots or have come in retaliation for shelling from the Syrian-held Golan.

A U.S. State Department official has said Russia had agreed “to work with the Syrian regime to remove Iranian-backed forces a defined distance” from the Golan Heights frontier with Israel, which captured the plateau in the 1967 Middle East war.

The move, according to one Israeli official briefed on the arrangement, is meant to keep rival factions inside Syria away from each other, but it would effectively keep Iranian-linked forces at various distances from the Israel-held Golan as well.

Those distances would range from as little as 5-7 kilometers (3-4 miles) and up to around 30 km (18 miles) depending on current rebel positions on the Syrian Golan, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Ori Lewis and Richard Balmforth

Amnesty slams Syrian regime for crimes against humanity

November 13, 2017

Amnesty International says the Syrian regime has conducted unlawful sieges aimed at forcing civilians from their homes ahead of “reconciliation” accords. It accuses Damascus of using “surrender or starve” tactics.

Ruined street in Aleppo(picture alliance/Zumapress)

The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has committed crimes against humanity and war crimes by subjecting cities to unlawful sieges that gave civilians no choice but to give up or die, rights group Amnesty International said on Monday.

In a new report entitled “We leave or we die,” Amnesty examines four so-called “reconciliation” agreements between the Syrian government and the armed opposition that were preceded by sieges and unlawful bombardments that forced civilians to live in dire conditions and caused widespread displacements.

The pacts under consideration were concluded in Daraya, Madaya, eastern Aleppo city and the al-Waer neighborhood in Homs city between August 2016 and March 2017.

“Over the past five years, the Syrian government and, to a lesser degree, armed opposition groups have enforced sieges on densely populated areas, depriving civilians of food, medicine and other basic necessities in violation of international humanitarian law. Besieged civilians have further endured relentless, unlawful attacks from the ground and the air,” the report says.

Read more: Concerns grow about abuses, war crimes in Syria

hospital in Atareb near Aleppo (Reuters/A. Abdullah)Hospitals have been among civilian infrastructure damage in government airstrikes

‘Crimes against humanity’

Amnesty said the forced displacement of civilians, often not carried out for reasons of civilians’ security or military necessity, amounted to a war crime under international law. The rights body further concludes that “the sieges, unlawful killings and forced displacement by government forces are part of a systematic as well as widespread attack on the civilian population, therefore constituting crimes against humanity.”

The group appealed to the international community to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. It also called for those investigating rights abuses to be given unhindered access to the country.

Long-running conflict

The Syrian conflict, which has its roots in peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011 that were brutally suppressed by the government, has since grown into a complex war involving a multitude of parties, including government forces backed by Russian air power, anti-government rebels who have received US backing, Kurdish forces and an array of extremist Islamist groupings.

Read more:  Syria conflict: What do the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran want?

More than 330,000 people have been killed and millions displaced amid the violence.

As recently as Sunday, scores of Syrian civilians at two displacement camps were killed by artillery fire, according to the Britain-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Amnesty’s report was based on interviews with 134 people, including displaced residents, humanitarian workers and experts, journalists and UN officials. The group also used videos and satellite imagery to corroborate witness accounts.

Israel Is in No Hurry to Do the Saudis’ Bidding in Lebanon

November 13, 2017

The Israeli army is not about to cross the border despite the Saudis’ anger at Iranian meddling and the Syrian drone that Israel shot down in the north

By Amos Harel

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Hezbollah supporters cheer as they listen to a speech of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, November 10, 2017. Bilal Hussein/AP

The first leader to exploit claims that Saudi Arabia is trying to push Israel into a new military confrontation in Lebanon is also the most devoted reader of Israeli and foreign news reports – Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. In a speech broadcast Friday on Lebanese television, Nasrallah claimed that the Saudis had declared war on Lebanon and Hezbollah, and warned Israel not to intervene lest it pay a heavy price.

To viewers in Israel, Nasrallah seemed unusually stressed, and his tone sounded almost plaintive. His concerns about future Israeli moves didn’t match his past swaggering declarations in which he described Israeli society as a flimsy “spiderweb” that would collapse under Arab pressure. It seems the crisis created by the Saudis in Lebanon, with the forced resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, caught the Hezbollah chief off guard.

Nasrallah isn’t the only leader who seems to have slid into something now over his head. The Saudi gamble is a big one and there’s no guarantee that the kingdom’s aggressive stance will end in success, despite the enthusiastic support of U.S. President Donald Trump. In a statement, the State Department was much less enthusiastic. It called for Hariri to be restored to his post and warned other countries – namely Iran, but also Saudi Arabia – not to interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs.

The Washington Post has provided extensive details on Hariri’s resignation; it emerges that Hariri indeed served as a Saudi puppet. The resignation letter was dictated to him at a morning meeting in the royal palace, to which he had been summoned unexpectedly. He was later transferred to a villa in the Ritz-Carlton compound in Riyadh, in which Saudi princes and tycoons are being held following this month’s purge. There, Hariri is under the surveillance of the Saudi security services.

Israel, other than a public verbal assault on Iran a week ago, isn’t commenting on Hariri’s resignation. No official has responded to accusations that this was a Saudi-Israeli move against Iran and Hezbollah. And no steps have been taken to increase vigilance along the northern border, which would have suggested that the Israel Defense Forces was preparing something.

For now, it seems it’s the Saudis who may seek such a scenario, while Israel has no interest in a military confrontation. One should note that Saudi Arabia has counted on Israeli military action twice in the past, first hoping that Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear installations, and then counting on the IDF’s intervention against the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war. Both times it was disappointed, but vigorous Saudi actions are fueling tensions in an arena where Israel and Hezbollah are often only two mutual missteps away from war.

The Saudis’ steps were received with some surprise by Israeli defense officials and with even greater surprise by cabinet members who don’t follow the minutiae of daily developments. The basic regional instability, the number of players involved and the fast pace of events make it hard for analysts to forecast a few steps ahead.

Still, there may be deeper causes for the surprise afflicting the Israeli side, such as the procrastination in defining intelligence priorities and the intense focus in recent years on collecting operational intelligence at the expense of analyzing long-term processes.

The Syrians get bold

On Saturday morning, an Israeli Patriot missile shot down a drone that entered the demilitarized zone, contravening the separation agreement with Syria after the Yom Kippur War. The IDF believes it was a Syrian drone that was shot down only after the hotline with the Russians was used, to verify that it wasn’t a Russian one.

According to initial assessments, the Syrians sent the drone to gather intelligence on Israel and test the rules of the game along the border. This has been a recurring event recently, stemming from the Assad regime’s rising confidence after the stabilization it has achieved in the civil war and after the routing of the Islamic State by the U.S.-led coalition.

In a strong statement, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel held the Syrian regime responsible for every firing incident or any infringement of Israeli sovereignty along the border. He called on Assad to restrain all groups operating in his territory, saying that Israel would not allow “the consolidation of a Shi’ite axis in Syria that would constitute a forward position” for Iran.

This follows Israel’s threats to foil Iranian military moves in Syria. It also follows the BBC’s publishing of satellite photos showing, according to Western intelligence agencies, Iran establishing a permanent military base near Damascus.

Meanwhile, at a summit in Vietnam, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded the American-Russian-Jordanian agreement following the partial cease-fire in southern Syria. According to the agreement, there will now be a reduction and later a withdrawal of foreign combatants from the region.

For Israel, this is a positive declaration, but it must be backed by details and action. For now it seems Iran has no intention to leave Syria or withdraw militias linked to it.

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