More Chemical WMD Attacks in Syria

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Syria rebels, government report poison gas attack

By Bassem Mroue – Yahoo News

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government media and rebel forces said Saturday that poison gas had been used in a central village, injuring scores of people, while blaming each other for the attack.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the poison gas attack Friday hurt dozens of people in the village of Kfar Zeita in the central province of Hama. It did not say what type of gas was used.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that people suffered from suffocation and breathing problems after the attack, apparently conducted during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. It gave no further details.

State-run Syrian television blamed members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front for using chlorine gas at Kfar Zeita, killing two people and injuring more than 100.

FILE: Aug. 28, 2013 citizen journalism file image provided by the United media office of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a member of UN investigation team taking samples of sands near a part of a missile that is likely to be one of the chemical rockets according to activists, in Damascus countryside of Ain Terma, Syria.

FILE: Aug. 28, 2013 citizen journalism file image provided by the United media office of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a member of UN investigation team taking samples of sands near a part of a missile that is likely to be one of the chemical rockets according to activists, in Damascus countryside of Ain Terma, Syria.

The TV report claimed the Nusra Front is preparing for another chemical attack against the Wadi Deif area in the northern province of Idlib, as well as another area in Hama. It did not explain how it knew the Nusra Front’s plans.

Activists in the village could not be reached Saturday.

An activist from Hama who is currently in Turkey and is on contact with activists and residents told The Associated Press that the attack occurred around sunset Friday. The man, who goes with the name Amir al-Basha, said the air raids on the rebel-held village came as nearby areas including Morek and Khan Sheikhoun have been witnessing intense clashes between troops and opposition fighters.

An amateur video posted online by opposition activists showed a hospital room in Kfar Zeita that was packed with men and children, some of whom breathing through oxygen masks. On one bed, the video showed six children on a bed, some appearing to have difficulty breathing while others cried.

The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the attack.

Chemical weapons have been used before in Syria’s 3-year-old conflict. In August, a chemical attack near the capital, Damascus, killed hundreds of people. The U.S. and its allies blamed the Syrian government for that attack, which nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar Assad’s forces. Damascus denied the charges and blamed rebels of staging the incident.

The Syrian National Coalition called on the United Nations to conduct a “quick investigation into the developments related to the use of poisonous gas against civilians in Syria.” The coalition claimed that another chemical weapons attack Friday struck the Damascus suburb of Harasta, though state media did not report on it.

An international coalition aims to remove and destroy 1,300 metric tons of chemicals held by the Assad government by June 30 in the wake of the August attack. Syria’s government missed a Dec. 31 deadline to remove the most dangerous chemicals in its stockpile and a Feb. 5 deadline to give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons. Assad’s government cited security concerns and the lack of some equipment but has repeated that it remains fully committed to the process.

In the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest and one-time commercial center, the Observatory and state television reported intense clashes Saturday, mostly near a main intelligence office in the city’s contested neighborhood of Zahra.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported earlier Saturday that several mortar shells hit the government-held neighborhoods of Hamidiyeh and Khaldiyeh, killing at least six people and wounding 15.

Aleppo became a key front in the country’s civil war after rebels launched an offensive there in July 2012.

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SOLG – Syria in Perspective – 2013 in Review

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The Year 2013 in Review - Syrian Liaison Opposition Group 

The Syrian Opposition Liaison Group (SOLG, a Stand Up America US project) was established in 2012 and has been aiding the true Free Syrian Army High Command to communicate its message to the world. Since there is so much confusion in that war torn, bloody land, and the world’s press is handed so much misinformation and propaganda, the SOLG has worked tirelessly to share the truth on the ground.

In doing so, MG Paul E. Vallely of Stand Up America US (SUA) and his Senior Middle East Advisor, Col. Nagi N. Najjar, have traveled to the region several times in 2013 on fact finding and humanitarian aid missions. On one of those trips last August, the SOLG obtained special permission to enter Syria under the protection of the true Free Syrian Army High Command on a fact finding mission to Aleppo, Syria.

The following video is a compilation of parts of their trip into the war zone. They visited many areas in the Idlib and Aleppo Governorates, meeting with crucial leaders on the ground, and witnessing the horror that is Syria. Since they were under heavy security, all provided by the true leadership of FSA Supreme Commander Col. Riad al Asaad, and his second in command, Col. Malik Kurdi, they were able to travel safely. Over 400 FSA troops provided the back bone of security deploying heavy weapons, vehicles, and security protocols.

Please watch the whole video here or at SUA:

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Middle East has decided it can no longer rely on America

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Editor‘s Note - In a stunning development, one obviously prompted by tensions between the US and the gulf oil states, many Sunni states were represented in Kuwait at a summit that focused on mutual defense because of the rise of Iran’s attempts at regional hegemony. The Middle East has decided it can no longer rely on America.

The timing was also important as Iran actually walked out of talks with the US and the west as reported Friday Alakhbar English:

Iran has quit nuclear talks with world powers, accusing Washington on Friday of going against the spirit of a landmark agreement reached last month by expanding its sanctions blacklist.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the major powers in the talks, both played down the suspension and said talks were expected to resume soon.

But Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said the US move went against the spirit of the deal struck in Geneva under which the powers undertook to impose no further sanctions for six months in exchange for Iran curbing its controversial nuclear activities.

In addition to creating their own joint military command, they called for interlopers, the rival foreign militias in Syria to leave the theater:

Gulf Arab states demanded foreign militias quit Syria and said President Bashar al-Assad must have no future role Wednesday, in a declaration his Iran- and Hezbollah-backed regime denounced as meddling. Wrapping up a two-day annual summit in Kuwait City, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s leaders welcomed what they described as the new Iranian government’s shift to a positive policy toward the six-nation bloc.

The GCC leaders also approved the formation of a joint military command, but postponed a decision on a proposed union. Adopting a firm stance on Syria, the GCC “strongly condemned the continued genocide that Assad’s regime is committing against the Syrian people using heavy and chemical weapons.” It called “for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria,” in a clear reference to Iran-backed Shiite militias from Iraq and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement which are supporting Assad’s troops against Sunni-led rebels. (Read more at Arab Times.)

Once again we see more evidence that the foreign policy of the Obama Administration and Secretary of State John Kerry has been an abject failure regarding Iran and Syria. John Kerry can play it down and use appeasing words, but he has been ‘punked’ once again. It must be asked again, what is Obama’s actual policy on any aspect of the Middle East?

Israeli/Palestinian talks – failure; Syria ‘red line’ – failure; Iran nuclear program/sanctions talks – failure; supporting the MB in Egypt – failure; reset with Russia – failure; failure after failure, and it reaches beyond to Afghanistan, China, and North Korea to name but a few. In fact, his foreign policy, and that of his last two Secretaries of State and UN Ambassadors – abject failures.

America is now less than a ‘paper tiger! Cross posted at StandUpAmericaUS.org, please read on:

Gulf nations to create joint military command

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab neighbors wrapped up a summit meeting in Kuwait on Wednesday by agreeing to establish a joint military command, paving the way for tighter security coordination even as their regional rival Iran pursues outreach efforts in the wake of its interim nuclear deal.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council also agreed to lay the foundations for a joint Gulf police force and a strategic studies academy, according to a summary of the group’s closing statement carried by the official Kuwait News Agency.

Gulf Nations Summit

Taken together, the initiatives suggest that the U.S.-allied Gulf states are seeking to do more to ensure their collective security amid the prospect of warmer relations between Iran and the West. The Islamic Republic agreed last month to freeze parts of its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from Western economic sanctions.

Many in the Gulf remain wary of Tehran’s intentions. Saudi Arabia in particular sees a stronger Iran as a threat to its own influence, and it and other Gulf states are major backers of the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government is backed by Iran. [Read more...]

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Al-Qaeda at 25

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Bin Laden is dead but the bad idea behind his terrorist organization lives on

By Stewart Post – National Post

As the Soviet army was preparing to limp out of Afghanistan a quarter-century ago after eight pointless years, Osama bin Laden and his hardline Egyptian allies gathered in northwest Pakistan to ask: what next?

The radical Palestinian cleric Abdullah Azzam wanted the Arabs who had fought the Soviets to take their battle to Israel. But what emerged from that three-day confab at bin Laden’s house was something far more ambitious.

Like boys forming a secret club, they drafted membership rules, an oath and a vague mission statement: “Al-Qaeda is basically an organized Islamic faction,” they wrote. “Its goal will be to lift the word of God, to make His religion victorious.”

The 25th anniversary of Al-Qaeda is, if nothing else, a milestone to the perseverance of a bad idea. Bin Laden is dead and his terrorist training camps are gone. But the notion that an army of religious fanatics can reorder the world through unrelenting violence has proven persistent.

Al-Qaeda was conceived as “a vehicle to promote a global jihadi revolution,” said Prof. Bruce Hoffman, director of the Centre for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. “And I think it’s still going on. It’s changed, of course, but I think Al-Qaeda was always as much an idea as an organization. And what we see is that the idea, unfortunately, still has considerable resiliency.”

While Al-Qaeda’s central command in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been decimated since the 9/11 attacks, it has spawned affiliates in pockets of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, where self-appointed soldiers of God have hijacked local conflicts and aligned them with Al-Qaeda’s global agenda.

Since 2003, Al-Qaeda has “absorbed or merged” with 10 terrorist groups and upped its presence in 19 countries, Prof. Martin Rudner of Carleton University wrote in a paper published this month in the journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. “In the words of a high ranking British intelligence official, ‘Al-Qaeda has split like a piece of mercury into different groups in different countries,’” he wrote.

Al-Qaeda had 15 members when it launched in the fall of 1988. What the founders envisioned was a base — al-qaeda, in Arabic — for their Egyptian-inspired ideology, which combines armed militancy with a claim to divine legitimacy.

What may have been its first act of terrorism occurred a year later, when Azzam was killed by a car bomb in Peshawar, eliminating bin Laden’s chief ideological rival. It was another nine years before bin Laden issued his infamous call to action, in which he urged the killing of “Americans and their allies, civilians and military,” and said it was “an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country.”

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks established the Al-Qaeda brand but if its larger strategy was to become the doctrinal headquarters for a global conflict, it has accomplished that. “I would say that it’s proven to be a tremendous success. It’s outlived its founder and leader, and that in and of itself is proof of its viability and vitality,” Prof. Hoffman said. “At the end of 2013, it’s a thriving enterprise.”

Wherever they have popped up, Al-Qaeda fighters have succeeded by being the most militant, dogmatic fighters on the battlefield. They have deliberately targeted civilians, eliminated rival factions that challenged them and mastered the use of propaganda to tap popular discontent and perversely cloak their political agenda in religious terms, quoting from scripture to justify horrific violence.

Many had hoped the Arab Spring would be the end of Al-Qaeda, which was irrelevant as popular protest brought down one Middle East regime after another — something decades of terrorist violence had failed to accomplish.

For a while, Al-Qaeda stumbled around in Mali and Yemen. Its affiliates pulled off high-profile attacks at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, an Algerian gas plant and Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall. But it was the Syrian conflict that put Al-Qaeda “back in the game,” as a declassified Canadian Security Intelligence Service report put it.

Extremist factions that follow Al-Qaeda doctrine — notably the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Al Nusrah Front — are entrenched in Syria now, and they have brought with them suicide bombings, beheadings, and their aggressive version of Islamic law, forcing women, for example, to wear only the black head-to-toe robes of ultraconservatives.

Since 2003, Al-Qaeda has "absorbed or merged" with 10 terrorist groups and upped its presence in 19 countries, a recent journal article noted. - Romaric Ollo Hien/AFP/Getty Images

Since 2003, Al-Qaeda has “absorbed or merged” with 10 terrorist groups and upped its presence in 19 countries, a recent journal article noted. – Romaric Ollo Hien/AFP/Getty Images

“They are mostly foreigners coming to impose their ideologies on us,” a Syrian who was tortured by ISIL members in Raqqa province, told the BBC this week. His crime: he was deemed a “non-believer” for supporting secularism. [Read more...]

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New-Old Borders in the Middle East

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By Yoel Guzansky, Erez Striem – INSS (Institute for National Security Studies)

Although the formal map of the Middle East has not changed since the onset of the so-called Arab Spring (with the exception of Sudan), the old borders do not reflect the reality on the ground. As a result of the regional upheavals, tribal, sectarian, and ethnic identities have become more pronounced than ever, which may well lead to a change in the borders drawn by the colonial powers a century ago that have since been preserved by Arab autocrats.

The iron-fisted Arab rulers were an artificial glue of sorts, holding together different, sometimes hostile sects in an attempt to form a single nation state. Now, the de facto changes in the Middle East map could cause far-reaching geopolitical shifts affecting alliance formations and even the global energy market.

Syria, for example, encompasses different communal groups and is currently divided into at least three political entities, each with its own armed forces: (a) a corridor going from the south, through Damascus, Homs, and Hama to the northern coast of the Mediterranean, controlled by the Assad regime and the Alawites; (b) northern areas of the country and major cities such as Idlib and Dir a-Zor controlled by various Sunni opposition forces, with the battle over other cities – including Aleppo and Damascus – not yet decided; and (c) the areas under Kurdish control. Sunni opposition forces are split among those who advocate the establishment of a democratic, liberal state in Syria, and those interested in the establishment of an Islamic emirate. Several of these groups, including elements from outside of Syria, are already caught in a violent struggle.

From Noria Research

From Noria Research

Image Courtesy Noria Research

The Kurds in Syria are likely to try to establish an independent political entity in the areas under their control. Unlike other minorities in Syria, the Kurds (numbering about 3 million and in control of most of Syria’s oil reserves) have suffered much persecution. The Kurdish militias have exploited the chaos in the country and seized control of areas in the northeast abandoned by the Syrian army. Senior Kurdish officials have declared that the Kurds are interested in establishing an independent zone, and the Kurdish National Council, a representative body comprised of most of the Kurdish political parties, signed an agreement with the Syrian National Council whereby the Kurds would enjoy some type of autonomy in the future united Syrian state. But until Syria unites again it may be that Kurdish autonomy will be a fait accompli. At the same time, this possibility is overshadowed by divisions among the Kurdish organizations, some of which are supported by elements outside of Syria.

The possible model of independent Kurdish autonomy in Syria is anchored in the successful model of Kurdish autonomy on the other side of the border, in Iraq. While the Kurds in Iraq continue to take an active part in the country’s political process, Kurdistan is enjoying self-government in almost every aspect of life.

The district is run by an independent parliament, and the Kurdish armed forces are separate from Iraq’s security establishment. In recent months, and to Baghdad’s chagrin, Kurdistan has even started to sign independent oil and gas discovery and production contracts with foreign energy companies. The Kurdish zone enjoys the highest levels of security and economic growth in Iraq and provides training and arms support to the Kurds in Syria. [Read more...]

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