Syrian air force general ‘killed by rebels

An air force general from Syria has been killed by rebels in central Damascus.

According to state television, Abdullah Mahmoud al-Khalidi was shot dead on Monday night in Rukn al-Din district.

The attack appears to be the latest in a string of rebel attacks on high-level figures from President Bashar al-Assad’s administration.

In July, a bomb killed the country’s defense minister and Mr. Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat.

“As part of their campaign to target national personalities and scientists, armed terrorist groups assassinated Air Force General Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi in the Damascus district of Rukn al-Din,” the broadcaster said.

Mortal Bomb from Syria kills at least 3 in Turkey

Three people including a child were killed and at least nine others seriously wounded when a mortar bomb fired from Syria hit Turkey’s southeastern border region of Akcakale on Wednesday.

“It landed in the middle of a residential area and it hit a house. Three people died, we learned from the hospital,” Mayor Abdulhakim Ayhan said. “The people who were living in the house died, including one woman and child.”

The conflict in neighboring Syria has affected border areas in the past when stray bullets have flown into Turkish territory. A mortar bomb fired from Syria damaged homes and workplaces in Akcakale last Friday but there were no deaths.

In April, Turkey officially reported an incident to the United Nations in which at least five people, including two Turkish officials, were wounded when cross-border gunfire hit a Syrian refugee camp in Kilis, further west along the frontier.

Turkey beefed up its troop presence and air defenses along its 900-km border after Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet in June.

At least 50 Nigerians evacuated from Syria- Ashiru

About 50 Nigerian s have been evacuated from Syria following the ongoing crises in the country, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Olugbega Ashiru said on Monday.

Mr Ashiru said that the evacuees complied with government’s directive to leave Syria and he advised others to vacate the Middle East nation.

“We have evacuated quite a lot of Nigerians from Syria. It was not an airlift exercise like we did in the case of Libya because they are very few.

“From the report I got, those moved so far are less than 50, long before the situation deteriorated we advised them to move.

“Some have decided to stay behind but it is their choice,” he said.

The minister also said that the families of the Charge d’Affairs and officials at the embassy had been relocated to the neighbouring nation of Lebanon “and they are very safe there.”

March 15, 2011 marked the beginning of the crisis in the troubled Middle Eastern nation, with public demonstrations as part of the wider Arab spring and developed into a nationwide uprising.

Pope appoints Nigerian archbishop into vatican position

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Lebanese and Nigerian clergymen to a Vatican department aimed at countering growing secularisation in a sign of attention to two problematic regions for the Catholic Church.

The Vatican said the Archbishop of Beirut of the Maronites, Paul Youssef Matar, and the Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, would be joining the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.

Despite the raging conflict in Syria, which has also raised tensions within Lebanon, the pope is expected to visit Beirut on September 14-16 with a message calling for peaceful coexistence between religions in the region.

Thousands of people have been killed in Jos in recent years in clashes between the Christian and Muslim communities including a suicide attack on a Catholic church in March in which a dozen people were killed.

Benedict created the pontifical council for new evangelisation in 2010.

 

Syria rebels kill seven, bomb explodes near U.N. monitors

Syrian rebels killed at least seven pro-government militiamen in a Damascus suburb on Wednesday, activists said, and a large explosion hit a convoy accompanying United Nations ceasefire observers in the southern province of Deraa.

Residents and members of the Free Syrian Army watch as United Nations observers arrive at Qusair town.

The Damascus attack with rocket-propelled grenades on a bus carrying the fighters through the suburb of Irbin prompted the army to seal off the area and respond with shelling, activist Mohammad Saeed said.

The sustained violence, nearly four weeks after a ceasefire deal was brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan, has led to warnings this week from the Red Cross, Arab League and Annan himself that Syria is slipping into civil war.

Annan’s ceasefire deal was part of a wider plan aimed at ending 14 months of turmoil since protests erupted in March last year against President Bashar al-Assad. The demonstrations have now been overshadowed by an increasingly armed rebellion.

Violence in Syria has sharply divided world powers. The U.S. envoy to the United Nations declared on Tuesday that Assad’s government had not fully implemented any part of Annan’s plan, while Russia’s ambassador, who has been more supportive of Damascus, said “things are moving in a positive direction”.

Activists and state media said Major-General Robert Mood was in Deraa when an explosion hit cars accompanying the U.N. monitors tasked with observing the implementation of Annan’s April 12 ceasefire deal.

The pro-government Addounia television said eight members of the security forces were wounded in the blast. It said the explosion happened in front of the U.N. observers, but there were no reports that any of them were hurt.

Despite an initial pause in fighting on April 12, a promised ceasefire has not taken hold. Nor has the carnage in Syria stopped, despite a parliamentary poll on Monday which the government promoted as a milestone on its path to reform but which the opposition dismissed as a sham and boycotted.

Beyond the ceasefire and monitoring mission, Annan’s plan also calls for free access for journalists, humanitarian aid access and political dialogue between the government and opposition. So far, 60 of some 300 monitors have arrived with the whole team expected to be assembled by the end of May.

CROSS-BORDER FIRE

Lebanese residents in the border town of al-Qaa said Syrian troops fired across the border into Lebanon on Wednesday, killing a 75-year-old woman and wounding her daughter.

In the northern province of Idlib, one man was killed and three others wounded during heavy clashes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A Reuters journalist in Idlib city heard gunfire throughout the night.

Heavy clashes were also reported in Hama city and in Deir al-Zor, where residents say government forces carried out raids and arrests. Two security members were killed and one man was killed by unknown gunmen, the British-based Observatory said.

The United Nations says Syrian forces have killed 9,000 people since the uprising erupted in March 2011. Syrian authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed Islamist militants who they say have killed 2,600 soldiers and police.

Syrian U.N. envoy Bashar Ja’afari displayed on Tuesday a CD that he said contained 26 confessions from Arabs who were caught in Syria and had come from Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere through Turkey and Lebanon “to perpetrate terrorist acts in Syria”.

He said another 15 foreign fighters had been killed by Syrian security forces, and urged Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to stop “their sponsorship of the armed rebellion.”

The commander of Syria’s rebel Free Syrian Army has threatened to resume attacks on Assad’s forces, saying he could no longer stand idle while a government crackdown on protests continued, a pan-Arab newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“We will not stand with folded arms because we are not able to tolerate and wait while killings, arrests and shelling continue despite the presence of the (U.N.)observers who have turned into false witnesses,” Asaad said, according to the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

“Our people are also demanding we defend them in the absence of any serious steps by the Security Council which is giving the regime a chance to commit more crimes,” he added.

REUTERS

Pope appeals for peace in Nigeria and other troubled countries

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday appealed for peace in the world’s trouble spots during his Easter message, but one of the holiest days for Christians was marred by fresh violence in Nigeria and Syria.

Pope Benedict XVI gives the Urbi and Orbi blessing at the end of the Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square at the the Vatican Sunday, April 8, 2012.

Speaking before a crowd of 100,000 in Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Square, the pope called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria where fighting continues to claim lives.

“Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community,” he said.

The pontiff also voiced hope that the thousands of refugees fleeing the crisis were given help to relieve “their dreadful sufferings.”

Pope Benedict XVI’s comments came as UN peace envoy Kofi Annan said he was shocked at the “unacceptable” escalation of violence in Syria, where 130 people were killed on Saturday in one of the bloodiest days since protests against President Bashar al Assad’s regime erupted in March last year.

At least 11 more people were killed on Sunday as Mr Assad’s regime insisted it would not pull out from cities in Syria unless there were written guarantees from rebels.

Turning to Iraq, the pope encouraged people to “spare no effort in pursuing the path of stability and development,” while also urging Israel and the Palestinians to “courageously take up a new the peace process.”

He also called for peace and stability to return to Mali after a military coup last month and condemned the “savage terrorist attacks” on Christian churches in Nigeria.

“To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of its citizens,” the pope said.

His words came as at least 20 people were killed in northern Nigeria after a car bombing outside a Christian church while an Easter service was being held inside.

Heavy fight in Syria kills three

Syrian security forces clashed Monday with gunmen in an upscale neighborhood of the capital Damascus killing at least three people.

The fight broke out when security forces stormed an apartment used as a hideout by an “armed terrorist” group in Mazzeh after evacuating the building of all inhabitants.

The forces allegedly killed two of the gunmen and arrested the third while a member of the security forces also lost his life.

A resident of the western Mazzeh district said automatic rifles and machine guns were used in the two-hour clash that ended at about 4 a.m. local time. “We also heard three strong explosions,” said the man who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal.

He added that the clash was close to the Swiss embassy and the home of Maj. Gen. Assef Shawkat, the deputy chief of staff for security affairs who is married to President Bashar Assad’s sister, Bushra.

Armed rebels are active in Damascus’ suburbs and satellite towns but rarely venture into the heart of the capital where Assad’s troops are deployed in force.

The new fight shows that rebels can still strike in the heart of the capital despite successful government offensive in the past weeks in the suburbs of Damascus, in the central city of Homs and the northern region of Idlib.

An activist in the capital said the clashes occurred near the Political Security Directorate building. He said the clashes were followed with raids by security forces who were searching for the attackers.

On Saturday, three suicide bombings in Damascus killed 27 people. Two of them also targeted government security buildings.

On Sunday, an explosion killed two and wounded 30 in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest.

Syria’s deputy Oil Minister resigns to join opposition

Syrian deputy oil minister, says he is resigning to join the revolt against the government.

The 58 year old minister is the highest level political figure to abandon the government of President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising erupted a year ago.

Abdo Hussameddin, who is one of two deputy oil ministers, announced his defection in a video posted on YouTube on Wednesday.

Wearing a smart jacket, collar and tie, and sitting in a high-backed armchair, he read out a four-minute denunciation of the regime he said he had served in one capacity or another for the past 33 years.

Mr Hussameddin, who had served as deputy oil minister since August 2009, said “I tell the regime, which claims to own the country, you have nothing but the footprint of the tank driven by your barbarism to kill innocent people.”

He said he was stepping aside although he knew that his house would be burnt and his family persecuted by the regime.

The Syrian government has not publicly commented on Mr Hussameddin’s announcement.

Red Cross to aid shattered Syria rebel area

The Red Cross said it would bring aid to the shattered former Syrian opposition enclave of Baba Amro on Friday, after government forces pushed out rebels in a victory for President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to crush a year-long uprising.

A Syrian official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates declared that the Syrian army “cleansed Baba Amro from the foreign-backed armed groups of terrorists.”

The residential district became a symbol of opposition resistance to Assad after government troops surrounded it with tanks and artillery and shelled it intensively for weeks, killing and wounding civilians cowering in its ruined buildings.

As rebels withdrew on Thursday from Baba Amro, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) warned of a “massacre” in the district.

Activists said Syria’s army had begun hunting down and killing insurgents who had stayed to cover their comrades’ “tactical retreat”, although the reports could not be verified.

One pro-government figure said troops had “broken the back” of the uprising and the rebel withdrawal heralded impending victory over what he termed a Western-backed insurgency.

In Beirut, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Syrian authorities had agreed that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC could enter Baba Amro to evacuate casualties and to take food and medicine to civilians trapped by the fighting and siege.

“We have positive indications from the Syrian authorities to go in. We are ready to enter Baba Amro to evacuate first the sick and wounded and to take food and medical supplies,” Samar al-Kadi, ICRC spokeswoman in Beirut, told Reuters.

The ICRC later said a convoy of seven trucks were on their way in snowy conditions from the Syrian capital Damascus to Homs and hoped to arrive within an hour.

The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said on Thursday it was leaving the district — normally home to 100,000 residents — in what it termed a “tactical withdrawal”. Only a few thousand remain in Baba Amro.

Conditions in the heavily bombarded district are hellish. TV footage showed heavy snow and freezing weather, with residents lacking electricity or fuel for heating. There is also a shortage of food and medical supplies.

Barely a building has escaped damage from artillery shelling and many are pock-marked with bullet holes. In a rare show of unity with Western powers, Russia and China joined other Security Council members at the United Nations in expressing “deep disappointment” at Syria’s failure to allow the U.N. humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos to visit the country, and urged that she be allowed in immediately.

It was the first statement on Syria from the council, which has been deadlocked on the issue, since August last year. But it was not immediately clear how far Moscow and Beijing — hitherto Assad supporters — had shifted their position.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeared to distance himself further from Assad in an interview with a group of European editors, saying he had no special relationship with the president.

“It is up to the Syrians to decide who should run their country … We need to make sure they stop killing each other,” the London Times quoted Putin as saying on Friday.

As news of the opposition pull-out from Baba Amro spread, video footage released on the internet appeared to show the bodies of American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik being buried in Homs, where they were killed in shelling eight days ago.

The Syrian official said the corpses of Colvin and Ochlik were found by the Syrian authorities.

French journalists Edith Bouvier, who was wounded in the same bombardment, and William Daniels arrived in Lebanon on Thursday, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy said, the last of a handful of reporters trapped in the city.

Armed rebels and defecting soldiers have been spearheading the revolt against Assad that began with largely peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring, but escalated after a bloody government crackdown.

According to activists, at least 17 rebels were killed with knives after they were chased into nearby fields.

SCENTING VICTORY
As the drama unfolded in Homs, Taleb Ibrahim, a Syrian analyst close to the government, said the military’s operation in Homs had “broken the back of the armed groups”.

“It’s the beginning of Syria’s final victory over the Qatari, Saudi, French, American and Zionist conspiracy against Syria,” he told Lebanon’s Hezbollah-run al-Manar television.

A Lebanese official close to Damascus said Assad’s government was determined to regain control of Homs, Syria’s third city, which straddles the main north-south highway.

“They want to take it, whatever happens, without restraint, whatever the cost,” the official said, asking not to be named.

He said defeat for the rebels in Homs would leave the opposition without any major stronghold in Syria, easing the crisis for Assad, who remained confident he could survive.

President Assad, a London-trained eye doctor, is increasingly isolated internationally in his struggle to crush the armed insurrection.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul told Reuters on Thursday that Russia and Iran would soon realize they had little choice but to join international diplomatic efforts for Assad’s removal.

“I think in time Russia will see its support has been abused by the Syrian regime. They will recognize this fact when they see the heavy weapons being used against the people in Syria.
That is not very tolerable, not even for Russia,” he said.

The United Nations says Syrian security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians since the revolt began last March. Syria’s government said in December that “armed terrorists” had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police during the unrest.

Reuters

U.N. says, more than 7,500 killed in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could be classified as a war criminal, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said as the United Nations announced more than 7,500 civilians had been killed by his forces since the start of the revolt.

At least 25 people were killed in the shelling of opposition strongholds by Syrian forces on Tuesday, activists said. In Homs alone, opposition groups said hundreds of civilians had been killed or wounded in the 24-day-old assault.

As world dismay grew over the bloodshed, France said the Security Council was working on a new Syria resolution and urged Russia and China not to veto it, as they have previous drafts.

An outline drafted by Washington focused on the humanitarian situation in order to try to win Chinese and Russian support and isolate Assad, Western envoys said. But they said the draft would also suggest Assad was to blame for the crisis, a stance Russia in particular has opposed.

In the besieged district of Baba Amro and other parts of Homs, terrified residents were enduring dire conditions, without proper supplies of water, food and medicine, activists said.

A wounded British photographer managed to escape from Homs, but the fate of French reporter Edith Bouvier was not clear.

“There are credible reports that the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General for political affairs Lynn Pascoe told the U.N. Security Council. “The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people.”

Syria’s government said in December that “armed terrorist groups” had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.

Asked by a U.S. senator whether Assad could be called a war criminal, Clinton told a Senate hearing: “There would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category.” She added, however, that using such labels “limits options to persuade leaders to step down from power.”

Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution on February 4 that would have backed an Arab League call for Assad to step down. China indicated a possible shift late on Tuesday when it told the head of the Arab League it supported international efforts to send humanitarian aid to Syria.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also urged political dialogue in Syria, something ruled out by his opponents, and Russia has warned against interference in Syria’s affairs under a humanitarian guise.

Syria’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, stormed out of the U.N. Human Rights Council after calling on countries to stop “inciting sectarianism and providing arms” to Syrian rebels.

He said foreign sanctions were preventing Damascus from buying medicines and fuel. The European Union imposed additional punitive measures on Tuesday.

Reuters

Bombardment of Syria’s Homs resumes

Heavy bombardment of the Syrian city of Homs resumed on Tuesday after at least 95 civilians were killed on Monday in an offensive to put down a popular revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, activists and residents said.

Bombardment of Syria's Homs resumes

“The bombardment is again concentrating on Bab Amro. A doctor tried to get in there this morning but I heard he was wounded,” Mohammad al-Hassan, an activist in Homs, told Reuters by satellite phone.

“There is no electricity and all communication with the neighbourhood has been cut,” he added.

The authorities say the military is fighting “terrorists” in Homs bent on dividing and sabotaging the country.

Syria, a majority Sunni Muslim nation, has been since 1970 under the rule of the Assad family from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

The attack was renewed on the day Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to meet Assad in Damascus and discuss ways to try to end the uprising, although Moscow has vetoed a resolution against Syria at the United Nations Security Council.

Catherine al-Talli, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Council, said the attack on Homs was aimed to show Moscow that Assad was in control and he could serve until his term expires in 2014.

“Assad needs to look strong in front of the Russians. He has not managed to control Homs since the eruption of the uprising and now that he has seen that he faces no real threat from the international community it appears that he wants to finish off the city,” Talli said.

“There are live television feeds from Bab Amro and the whole world can see indiscriminate shelling of civilians. This has not stopped him.”

Death toll rises in Syria as 96 more are killed in Monday clashes

Almost 100 people were killed in a series of violent attacks in war-torn Syria on Monday, including 55 civilians who died in the attacks, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Death toll rises in Syria as 96 more are killed in Monday clashes

Among the 96 that were killed, 25 soldiers, 10 dissident soldiers and six members of security services died in what is one of the mosts bloodiest days in Syria since the revolt against embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

In a statement, the watchdog group said 40 civilians were killed in Homs, a flashpoint region in Syria. Nine were killed in Syria’s southern Daraa region where the revolt began more than 10 months ago, five in outlying districts of Damascus and one in northwestern Idlib region.

Monday’s violence follows even more killings on Sunday when 80 people, an equal mix of civilians and military personnel, were killed in deadly clashes.

As the country slowly descends into a deadly civil war and the death toll rises daily, Syrian opposition has called on the international community to intervene and bring an end to the killings.

The United Nations Security Council met today to discuss finding a lasting solution to the violence. They have been accused of sitting back and watching as the violence spills out of control.

Reports say over 7,000 have been killed since the start of Syria’s uprising in March 2011. The past three months have easily been Syria’s bloodiest, resulting in 3,029 deaths.