September 9, 2013
Terrified Christians claim Syrian rebels ordered them to convert to Islam on pain of death when they ‘liberated’ their ancient village. Opposition forces, including fighters linked to Al Qaeda, gained temporary control of the Christian village of Maaloula after fighting with regime forces. The reports have reignited fears about western support for the rebel groups, which are increasingly being infiltrated by Islamic extremists.
One Maaloula resident said the rebels, many of whom had beards and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great), attacked Christian homes and churches shortly after moving into the village. ‘They shot and killed people. I heard gunshots and then I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street in the old quarters of the village. Where is President Obama to see what has befallen us?
Another Christian resident said: ‘I saw the militants grabbing five villagers and threatening them and saying, “Either you convert to Islam, or you will be beheaded”.’ Another said one church had been torched, and gunmen stormed into two other churches and robbed them. The beautiful mountain village, 25 miles from Damascus, is one of the few places in the world where residents still use the ancient language of Aramaic, which was spoken by Jesus and his disciples.
Source = The Mail UK
September 9, 2013
The battle has thrown a spotlight on the deep-seated fears that many of Syria’s religious minorities harbor about the growing role of Islamic extremists on the rebel side in Syria’s civil war. In London, Secretary of State John Kerry said Syrian President Bashar Assad could resolve the crisis surrounding his purported use of chemical weapons by turning “every single bit” of his arsenal over to the international community by the end of the week. But Kerry, who joined British Foreign Secretary William Hague at a news conference in London, said that he thought Assad “isn’t about to do it.”
The United States has been seeking international support for limited strikes against Assad’s government, which it accuses of using chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 assault near the capital Damascus. The U.S. cites intelligence reports as saying the attack killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children, though other estimates are much lower. President Barack Obama is also seeking authorization from Congress for the strikes. Kerry reiterated the U.S. position that there is very compelling evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against his own people. Assad warned in an interview broadcast Monday on CBS that there will be retaliation against the U.S. for any military strike launched in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack. Assad said, “You should expect everything.”
Asked to elaborate, Assad said, “You should expect everything. Not necessarily from the government.” He added that the U.S. would “pay the price if you are not wise with dealing with terrorists.”
Assad denied U.S. official statements that said he was behind the Aug. 21 attack, saying his soldiers were “in another area” at the time. Asked about the case the U.S. is arguing, Assad said, “Nothing has been presented.” In Moscow, Russian and Syrian foreign ministers strongly pushed for the return of United Nations inspectors to Syria to continue their probe into the use of chemical weapons and again warned Washington against launching an attack. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after Monday’s talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem that U.N. chemical weapons experts should complete their probe and present their findings to the U.N. Security Council.
“We have agreed to push for the soonest return of inspectors,” Lavrov said.
Source = Fox News
September 5, 2013
“They entered the main square and smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary,” said one resident of the area, speaking by phone and too frightened to give his name. “They shelled us from the nearby mountain. Two shells hit the St Thecla convent.”
Until recently, the town had managed to remain mostly unaffected by the civil war that has already claimed more than 100,000 lives. A visit by The Daily Telegraph last year found it ringed by government checkpoints but suffering from the lack of pilgrims and tourists who are normally vital to its economy. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, rebel groups, a mix of the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra and the more moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA), attacked with full force. “First they took a brick factory owned by a Christian guy, who is now missing,” said the resident. “Then at around 5.30am, a car bomb detonated at the checkpoint at the entrance to the village.
“Some of the rebels entered a home near the checkpoint belonging to Yousef Haddad, a Christian. They tried to force him to convert to Islam.”
A nun living in a convent in the village told the Associated press that 27 orphans living in the convent were taken to nearby caves for shelter. Video footage posted on YouTube showed rebel fighters on a pick up truck with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back firing erratically from inside the mountain town. Christians, who make up approximately 10 per cent of Syria’s population, have increasingly become targets in the conflict as sectarian-minded foreign jihadists gain influence in the opposition ranks. Almost a third of the Syriac Christian population has fled the rebel-held northern town of Hassakeh after Christians became targets for kidnappings and assassinations.
Mousab Abu Qatada, a spokesman for the FSA in Damascus and the Damascus suburbs, denied that the attack on Maaloula had been sectarian. “We are trying to protect the minorities and the holy sites of Syria. We promise to protect it against the criminal regime,” he said. Residents said the rebels had been pushed back to Safir hotel in the mountains, where they had been based since March this year. The resident said: “They have been annoying the Christian people of the village since then. A Christian farmer cannot go up there to his land unless he is accompanied by a Muslim resident of the village.”
Source = The Telegraph
September 9, 2013
“Sure,” Kerry replied. “He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a rapid and remarkable chain of events, Syria welcomed the idea of turning over all of its chemical weapons for destruction on Monday, and President Barack Obama, though expressing deep skepticism, declared it a “potentially positive development” that could head off the threats of U.S. air strikes that have set the world on edge. The administration pressed ahead in its efforts to persuade Congress to authorize a military strike, and Obama said the day’s developments were doubtless due in part to the “credible possibility” of that action. He stuck to his plan to address the nation Tuesday night, while the Senate Democratic leader postponed a vote on authorization.
The sudden developments broke into the open when Russia’s foreign minister, seizing on what appeared at the time to be an off-the-cuff remark by Secretary of State John Kerry, appeared in Moscow alongside his Syrian counterpart and proposed the chemical weapons turnover and destruction. The Syrian quickly embraced the idea, and before long U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did, too. Obama, who appeared Monday evening in interviews on six TV networks, said the idea actually had been broached in his 20-minute meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week on the sidelines of an economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Obama said he directed Kerry to have more conversations with the Russians and “run this to ground.”
The president said he would “absolutely” halt a U.S. military strike if Syria’s stockpiles were successfully secured, though he remained skeptical about Assad’s willingness to carry out the steps needed. “My objective here has always been to deal with a very specific problem,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News. “If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference.” He cast Russia’s proposal as a direct result of the pressure being felt by Syria because of the threat of a U.S. strike and warned that he would not allow the idea to be used as a stalling tactic.
Source = AP
September 9, 2013
BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian activist group says the army is attacking hills overlooking a rebel-held Christian-majority village near the capital Damascus. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says fighters from the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front and the Qalamon Liberation Front still control Maaloula, an ancient village that is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria. Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said troops attacked the hills around Maaloula early Monday under the cover of heavy shelling.
Source = Bloomberg Business News
September 8, 2013
ONE OF THE foremost concerns expressed by members of Congress considering President Obama’s request for authorization of a military strike in Syria is that U.S. action will end up empowering actors who are even worse than Bashar al-Assad: in particular, al-Qaeda affiliates who have been prominent in fighting the regime. The worries are legitimate. But if they prompt legislators to oppose American military action, the threat to both Syria and U.S. national interests from the jihadists will grow worse.
As The Post and other news organizations have reported, al-Qaeda groups such as the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have used suicide bombings, beheadings and other brutal tactics to gain control over at least one provincial capital in northeastern Syria, as well as areas adjacent to the Turkish border. They have been prominent in battles between regime and opposition forces in areas across the country. They are determined to create a safe haven for al-Qaeda in Syria — like that which existed in Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 2001 — while imposing a Taliban-style fundamentalist regime.
However, the strength of the al-Qaeda forces has been exaggerated. Foremost among the myth-mongers is Russian President Vladimir Putin, a staunch Assad supporter who on Wednesday claimed that “al-Qaeda units are the main military echelon” of the Syrian rebels and that Secretary of State John F. Kerry lied to Congress when he asserted otherwise.
In fact, if anyone is willfully distorting the truth it is Mr. Putin. Both U.S. and independent intelligence estimates show that the 11 jihadist groups identified in Syria make up a small minority of the anti-government forces. U.S. officials say they constitute 15 percent to 25 percent of fighters. Elizabeth O’Bagy, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who has travelled extensively inside Syria, reports that al-Qaeda and mainstream rebel forces are largely separated from each other and control different pieces of territory. She says that the jihadists are less interested in defeating Mr. Assad than in establishing a safe haven.
Source = Washington Post