Obama re-election signals new phase in Syria war
By DALE GAVLAK and DAVID STRINGER | Associated Press – 2 hrs 8 mins ago
ZAATARI, Jordan (AP) — Western efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad shifted dramatically Wednesday, with Britain announcing it will deal directly with rebel military leaders and Turkey saying NATO members have discussed using Patriot missiles to protect a safe zone inside Syria.
The developments came within hours of Barack Obama's re-election, with U.S. allies anticipating a new, bolder approach from the American president to end the deadlocked civil war that has killed more than 36,000 people since an uprising against Assad began in March 2011.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting a camp Wednesday for Syrian refugees in Jordan, said the U.S., Britain and other allies should do more to "shape the opposition" into a coherent force and open channels of communication directly with rebel military commanders.
Previously, Britain and the U.S. have acknowledged contacts only with exile groups and political opposition figures — some connected to rebel forces — inside Syria.
"There is an opportunity for Britain, for America, for Saudi Arabia, Jordan and like-minded allies to come together and try to help shape the opposition, outside Syria and inside Syria," Cameron said. "And try to help them achieve their goal, which is our goal of a Syria without Assad."
The Turkish official who reported Patriot missile discussions between his nation and its allies, including the United States, said planning for the safe zone inside Syria had been put on hold pending the U.S. election.
The foreign ministry official spoke on condition of anonymity because of ministry prohibitions on contact with the media.
He also said any missile deployment might happen under a "NATO umbrella," though NATO has insisted it will not intervene without a clear United Nations mandate.
"With the re-election of Obama, what you have is a strong confidence on the British side that the U.S. administration will be engaged more on Syria from the get-go," said Shashank Joshi, an analyst at London's Royal United Services Institute, a military and security think tank.
On the ground in Syria, rebels were making a new push into the capital Wednesday, clashing heavily with troops in the suburbs of Damascus, including Ghouta and Harasta. The regime's capital stronghold has seen a surge in violence this week with some of the fiercest clashes in months.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said the Syrian military was shelling another suburb, Beit Saham, with tanks and mortars, killing at least 18 people in that neighborhood alone.
In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said talks with rebel military leaders would not involve advice on military tactics or support for their operations. Hague also insisted that Britain would not consider offering weapons to Assad's opponents.
Face-to-face meetings with military figures will take place outside Syria, Hague said. Diplomats from the U.S., Britain, France and Turkey are already scheduled to meet with Syrian opposition groups on Thursday in Doha, Qatar, though there has been no announcement that those talks will include discussion with rebel fighters.
He said U.K. diplomats will tell rebel commanders to respect the human rights of captured Assad loyalists, amid concern over abuses carried out by both sides.
"In all contacts, my officials will stress the importance of respecting human rights and international human rights norms, rejecting extremism and terrorism, and working towards peaceful political transition," Hague told lawmakers.
At the Zaatari camp, which houses about 40,000 of the estimated 236,000 people who have fled into Jordan from Syria, Cameron said he would press Obama at the first opportunity to drive forward efforts to end the 19-month-old conflict.
Cameron plans to convene a meeting of Britain's National Security Council in London devoted entirely to Syria and discuss how the U.K. can encourage Obama to pursue a more direct strategy.
"Right here in Jordan I am hearing appalling stories about what has happened inside Syria, so one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis," he said.
Talks with those who had fled the violence had redoubled his "determination that now, with a newly-elected American president, we have got to do more to help this part of the world, to help Syria achieve transition," Cameron added.
He flew to the camp by helicopter with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and announced that Britain would offer an extra 14 million pounds ($22 million) in humanitarian aid, bringing its total funding to 53.5 million pounds ($85.5 million) — making it the second largest donor after the United States.
Cameron later held talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the capital, Amman.
Stringer reported from London. Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report
Aftermath of airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, today while internet was cut. NSFL/NSFW
Airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. Nov 29, 2012. Unknown number dead and injured, children included.
There appears to be no other target than civilians.
The airstrike occurred just hours after the government of Syria disconnected the country from the internet in what is believed to be an attempt to cover up mass killings like this. More info on the internet outage below:
"Starting at 10:26 UTC on Thursday, 29 November (12:26pm in Damascus), Syria's international Internet connectivity shut down. In the global routing table, all 84 of Syria's IP address blocks have become unreachable, effectively removing the country from the Internet.We are investigating the dynamics of the outage and will post updates as they become available."
Not really. Came across this comment in the reddit thread:
Quick note on what they say in the video: They Allahu Ackbar out of extreme stress, and also because they think they might die. Some Muslims believe that a Muslim's last words ought to be Allahu Ackbar, so they try to say it when they are in danger, that's why you see men shouting it when there is a lot of violence around.
It can also mean "Oh God" or "Oh my God" sometimes, it is here used to express very heavy despair, grief and fear.
Another linguistic note. The kid calls the filming man "Uncle." He says "Please help me Uncle" and when they help him he keeps repeating "God bless you, god bless you."
Associated Press - Ghassan Hitto, the Syrian opposition's newly elected interim prime minister, speaks during a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. Hitto has ruled out dialogue with …more
ISTANBUL (AP) — The man chosen to head the Syrian opposition's new interim government is a Syrian-born American citizen who has spent decades in the United States working for technology companies and advocating for various Muslim causes.
Members of the opposition Syrian National Coalition elected Ghassan Hitto in a vote early Tuesday to head an administration they hope will provide an alternative to President Bashar Assad's regime and help coordinate the fight against his forces.
"The new government will work from the starting point of complete national sovereignty and the unity of the Syrian land and people, which can only by achieved through continued determination to topple Bashar Assad, his regime and all its pillars," he said in a speech in Istanbul.
Much remains unknown about the body that Hitto will lead, including how many ministers it will have and if it will receive enough support to project its authority inside Syria, where it is supposed to set up operations.
The head of the coalition, Mouaz al-Khatib, threw his support behind the new body, and the head of the coalition's military leadership, Gen. Salim Idris, did the same Monday before the results were announced.
But the new government could find it difficult to become the top rebel authority in Syria. A patchwork of rebel brigades and local councils has sprung up in areas seized from government forces, many of them struggling to provide services and running their own security, prisons and courts.
Hundreds of loosely affiliated rebels groups are involved in the civil war against government forces, and they are unlikely to submit to an outside authority unless it can provide them with aid such as arms and ammunition.
Due to his many years in the United States, Hitto is little known inside Syria and even among some members of the mostly exile coalition.
Coalition member Salah al-Hamwi, who is in charge of the coalition's local councils in Hama province, said he had worked with Hitto to deliver aid and was impressed that he had left his life in the U.S. to use his skills for Syria.
"He has the mind of an accountant, not an emotional mind, so he is very good at analyzing what needs to be done," he said.
Others in the coalition complained of his selection.
Veteran opposition figure Kamal al-Labwani said he suspected Hitto had been put in place by larger political powers, like Qatar, which has heavily financed the opposition, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
He also said he as a coalition member never got to meet or question Hitto before his election.
"I wanted to ask him what the women in Daraya wear and what's the population of Homs?" he said, suggesting that Hitto was out of touch with Syria.
"I wanted to ask him how many years he's lived in Syria," he said. "He left when he was young."
Hitto won 35 of the 48 votes cast by the coalition's 63 active members.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland welcomed Hitto's election, saying the U.S. was aware of his aid work.
"This is an individual who, out of concern for the Syrian people, left a very successful life in Texas to go and work on humanitarian relief for the people of his home country," she said.
She added: "We're very hopeful that his election will foster unity and cohesion among the opposition."
Hitto's many years abroad and fluent English could facilitate his efforts to win international support for his government. He called on the international community on Tuesday to grant his government Syria's seats at the Arab League and the United Nations.
Hitto was born in Syria's capital of Damascus in 1963 and moved to the United States as a young man, where he earned double bachelors' degrees from Purdue University and an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University, according to the coalition.
He worked for IT companies and advocated for a number of Muslim causes. After 9/11, he helped found the Muslim Legal Fund of America, which provides legal support to Arabs, Muslims and Asians. He also helped run an Islamic private school in Garland, Texas. Its website describes it as a place "where knowledge, faith, academics and character meet!"
Hitto is a member of Syria's Kurdish ethnic minority, though he is not considered a representative of the community, which has not joined the coalition.
He is married to a teacher and has four children.
In a speech to a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2012, he spoke of his son, Obaida, who was applying to law school when "he made up his mind ... to help the people of Syria." His son has since been in the embattled city of Deir al-Zour, shooting videos to post online.
The elder Hitto left Texas late last year to move to Turkey, where he helped run the coalition's aid program to Syria.
In the video of the Fort Worth rally, posted online in September, Hitto criticized Assad's regime for deploying its army to suppress political protests while not sending it to take back the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and later annexed.
"They were faced with live bullets, with tanks, with soldiers, an army that did not bother to fire a single bullet to claim or to attempt to reclaim its own occupied land for 42 years," he said.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed reporting from Washington.
US sending troops to Jordan as Assad issues warning
Updated 1 hour 22 minutes ago
The US is reinforcing its troops in Jordan to prepare for a possible spill-over of violence from neighbouring Syria.
Some 150 US military specialists were sent to Jordan last year, and defence secretary Chuck Hagel said he had ordered an army headquarters team to bolster the mission, bringing the total American presence to more than 200 troops.
"These personnel will continue to work alongside Jordanian Armed Forces to improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios," Mr Hagel said.
"The deployment of the troops is part of US-Jordanian military cooperation to boost the Jordanian armed forces in light of the deteriorating situation in Syria," Jordan's information minister Mohammad Momani told the AFP news agency.
The announcement came as Syria's president Bashar al-Assad said Western nations would suffer the consequences for what he said was their support for Al Qaeda militants in his country's civil war.
"The West has paid heavily for funding Al Qaeda in its early stages in Afghanistan," Mr Assad said.
"Today it is supporting it in Syria, Libya and other places, and will pay a heavy price later in the heart of Europe and the United States."
The extracts from the interview with a Syrian television station were published on the Syrian presidency's Facebook page.
Mr Assad was speaking a week after Syria's rebel Al-Nusra Front, one of the most effective rebel forces battling his troops, formally pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
The United States has designated the Nusra Front a terrorist organisation.
The presence of militant Islamists in Syria's two-year conflict poses a quandary for Western powers who favour Mr Assad's overthrow, but are alarmed at the growing influence of the Islamists in Syria.
"The truth is, what is happening is that we are mainly facing extremist forces," Mr Assad said in the interview.
The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which started as mainly peaceful protests two years ago but has evolved into a civil war.
U.S. believes Syria used chemical weapons but says facts needed
Thu Apr 25, 2013 3:48pm EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence agencies believe Syria's government has likely used chemical weapons on a small scale, the White House said on Thursday, but added that President Barack Obama needed "credible and corroborated" facts before acting on that assessment.
The surprise disclosure triggered immediate calls for U.S. action by members of Congress who advocate deeper American involvement in Syria's bitter civil war.
The White House said the U.S. intelligence community assessed with varying degrees of confidence that the chemical agent sarin was used by forces allied with President Bashar al-Assad. But it noted that "the chain of custody is not clear."
When Israel said "we think Syria used chemical weapons" the State Department was like "hrumph hrumph we know nothing of the sort!" Another typical mark of the "don't rock the boat" Obama administration.
#1 You embarrass yourself by the fact that you think I'm a, "libtard."
#2 You embarrass your family by thinking using a term like "libtard" makes you sound intelligent or clever. You must be the type that is blown away by the "genius" of the phrase, "lamestream media."
#3 Lighten up Francis. You are worse than the most severe Obamabot. When anything that can be possibly construed as a knock on anything right-wing, you have a ragfest and act like somebody called your mother a whore.