Sunday, April 27, 2014

Syria Updates April 27 , 2014 ---Developments of note in the ongoing War in Syria ........ Is the Iraq Government cutting off supply lines for Syrian jihadist Rebel Groups ? Key takeaway -- "The army struck eight tanker trucks in Wadi Suwab inside Syrian territory as they were trying to enter Iraqi territory to provide the (jihadist) Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with fuel," Brigadier General Saad Maan said. The attack, which occurred in eastern Syria as the convoy tried to approach the border, was the first time Iraq's military has said it carried out an offensive in Syria ........ Syria has 8% of chemical material left: monitor -- Sigrid Kaag of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told reporters in Damascus that 92.5 percent of Syria's chemical materials had been removed from the country and destroyed. She called it "significant progress," although she called on Syria's government to ensure remaining materials would be eradicated by the end of April.

Iraqi helicopters hit convoy in Syria

Eight people killed in convoy from Syria which Baghdad says was aiming to supply Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Last updated: 27 Apr 2014 14:07
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Iraqi army helicopters has attacked a self-declared jihadist convoy inside eastern Syria as it tried to approach the border, killing at least eight people, an interior ministry spokesman said.
Sunday’s raid was the It was the first time Iraq's military has said it carried out an attack in Syria.
"The army struck eight tanker trucks in Wadi Suwab inside Syrian territory as they were trying to enter Iraqi territory to provide the (jihadist) Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with fuel," Brigadier General Saad Maan said.
"Our responsibility now is to protect our border and to protect the border from the other side, because there is no protection from the other side," Maan said.
He said there was no coordination with the Syrian regime over the strike.
ISIL emerged in Iraq in the wake of the US-led invasion in 2003, and later appeared in Syria during the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
The brutal methods its fighters used in Syrian areas under their control turned other opposition groups against them, and they were pushed back by other rebel groups into their stronghold in northeastern Syria, where they still hold territory.
The vehicles were travelling to the western Iraqi border province of Anbar, where ISIL has been battling Iraqi security forces and controls the city of Fallujah.
The group has also launched bombings in the capital Baghdad, including an attack on a Shia political rally on Friday that killed 36 people.

Syria chemical weapon updates.....

Syria has 8% of chemical material left: monitor

Damascus, April 27, 2014
First Published: 19:03 IST(27/4/2014)
Last Updated: 19:04 IST(27/4/2014)
Syria still holds around eight percent of its chemical weapons material, missing a deadline to remove or destroy it all, the mission overseeing the destruction of its arsenal said Sunday.
Despite the slip, the head of the mission, Sigrid Kaag, said she was still hopeful a June 30 deadline for the complete destruction of Syria's chemical arms would be met.
Syria's parliament meanwhile announced four new candidates have submitted applications to run in presidential elections scheduled for June 3.
And Iraq's interior ministry said Iraqi army helicopters attacked a jihadist convoy in eastern Syria as it tried to approach the border, killing at least eight people.
Speaking in Damascus, Kaag said 7.5-8.0 percent of Syria's declared chemical weapons material remained in-country, at "one particular site."
"However, 92.5 percent of chemical weapons material removed or destroyed is signficant progress," she said.
"We also however need to... ensure the remaining 7.5-8.0 percent of the chemical weapons material is also removed and destroyed."
Of that amount, 6.5 percent would be removed from Syria, she said.
"A small percentage is to be destroyed, regardless, in-country. That can be done. It's a matter of accessing the site," she added.
She acknowledged the security challenges facing the mission, but said Syria was required to meet its commitments nonetheless.
Under a US-Russian deal negotiated last year, Syria signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and agreed to hand over its entire chemical arsenal by June 30 of this year.
- Success 'around the corner' -
"Success is around the corner and this last push is very much needed," Kaag said.
"The 30 June deadline is around the corner... and we are hopeful that this is possible and will be met."
In addition to the remaining chemical material, there is a dispute over whether Syria will have to destroy 12 remaining chemical weapons production sites.
Damascus wants to seal the sites, which it says have already been rendered unusable, but Western countries want them completely destroyed, fearing that they may be reopened in the future.
There are also questions over alleged chlorine gas attacks in Syria in recent weeks, which the regime blames on a jihadist group but activists say were carried out by government forces.
Syria's government agreed to turn over its chemical arsenal last year as Washington threatened military action after a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that reportedly killed some 1,400 people.
Activists and much of the international community blamed the attack on the regime, which denied responsibility.
New presidential candidates
Syria's parliament speaker on Sunday said four new candidates had announced they would compete in the country's June 3 presidential election, which is expected to return President Bashar al-Assad to power.
He has not yet announced his candidacy, though he has strongly suggested he will run.
The four candidates announced Sunday are Sawsan Haddad, Samir Maala, Mohammed Firas Rajjuh and Abdel-Salam Salameh.
Haddad, the only female candidate so far, was born in 1963 and is a mechanical engineer from Latakia province in the northwest, Assad's Alawite heartland.
Maala is an international law professor from Quneitra province in the south.
Rajjuh was born in Damascus in 1966 and Salameh, born in 1971, is from central Homs province.
They join a businessman, Hassan Abdullah al-Nuri, who studied in the United States, and independent MP and former communist Maher al-Hajjar as candidates.
The candidates are all largely unknown, with few details immediately available about their backgrounds or political leanings.
Elsewhere in the country, Iraqi helicopters opened fire on a convoy of tanker trucks in eastern Syria, Iraqi's interior ministry said.
"The army struck eight tanker trucks in Wadi Suwab inside Syrian territory as they were trying to enter Iraqi territory to provide the (jihadist) Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with fuel," Brigadier General Saad Maan said.
He said the strike was not coordinated with Syria's government.
The vehicles were travelling towards the western Iraqi border province of Anbar, where ISIL has been battling Iraqi security forces and where militants have seized the town of Fallujah.

And from the BBC....

International chemical watchdog calls on Syria to destroy remaining toxic chemicals

The Associated Press
Sigrid Kaag of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons speaks during a press conference in Damascus, Syria on Sunday, April 27, 2014. Kaag told reporters in Damascus that 92.5 percent of Syria's chemical materials had been removed from the country and destroyed. She described it as “significant progress,” though she says the government needs to ensure the remaining materials are eradicated by the end of the month. (AP/Photo)
Associated PressLeave a Comment SHARE
By ALBERT AJI and BARBARA SURK, Associated Press
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The head of an international mission to Syria charged with destroying the country's chemical weapons called on President Bashar Assad's government Sunday to ensure it meets a deadline to destroy all its toxic chemicals amid a raging civil war.
Also Sunday, four more candidates announced their candidacy for Syria's upcoming June presidential election, state television announced, a poll Assad is expected to win.
Meanwhile, clashes raging through the northern city of Aleppo killed and wounded at least 70 people, activists reported.
Sigrid Kaag of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told reporters in Damascus that 92.5 percent of Syria's chemical materials had been removed from the country and destroyed. She called it "significant progress," although she called on Syria's government to ensure remaining materials would be eradicated by the end of April.
"I strongly encourage (the Syrian government) to go for that last push that we can really talk of hundred percent removal and destruction," Kaag said.
Syria missed an April 13 deadline to destroy all its chemical weapons in accessible locations. International experts say that could impact on reaching a June 30 deadline to remove all Syria's chemical weapons.
"An important (achievement) has been made in permanently closing down production facilities," Kaag said, adding it came in "a very short period of time and under difficult and challenging security conditions."
However, experts have not had access to 12 chemical weapons production facilities yet, Kaag said.
She said the timely removal of toxic chemicals had become even more pressing to ensure "none of the chemical weapons material falls in the wrong hands," referring to rebels trying to overthrow Assad who include the increasingly influential al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
She said fighting in areas where sensitive sites were located could rapidly deteriorate, making a "timely and swift extraction even more" important.
Syrian officials did not comment on Kaag's remarks.
The international community aims to remove and destroy 1,300 metric tons of chemicals Syria stockpiled to turn into poison gas and nerve agents.
The effort was sparked by an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of people. The attacks were blamed on Assad's government and brought the United States to the brink of military intervention in Syria. Damascus denied involvement.
In recent weeks, activists have accused government forces of attacking rebel-held areas with poisonous chlorine gas, according to Associated Press interviews with more than a dozen activists, medics and residents on the opposition side.
Syria denies the allegations, and they haven't been confirmed by any foreign country or international organization.
But if true, they highlight the limitations of the global effort to rid Syria of toxic material.
Meanwhile, Sawsan Omar Haddad, a 51-year-old engineer from the coastal province of Latakia, became the first woman to register as a candidate in Syria's upcoming June 3 presidential election.
In a state television broadcast Sunday, parliament speaker Jihad Laham said Haddad had registered her candidacy a day earlier.
Another three candidates also registered Sunday, bringing the total number of contenders to six.
The other three who registered Sunday were Samir Ahmed Moalla, a 43-year professor of international law from the southern province of Quinetra; Mohammad Firas Rajjouh, 48, from Damascus; and Abdul-Salam Salameh, 43, from the central province of Homs.
Assad has suggested he would seek a third, seven-year term, though he has not announced his candidacy yet.
Analysts said they expected at least one candidate to run against Assad to give the election a veneer of legitimacy.

Items from Syria Direct.....


Rebels claim regime base in Quneitra
Free Syrian Army-affiliated fighters published video Sunday seeming to show their takeover of Syrian army positions on the Eastern Tel Ahmar Hills in Quneitra province. The rebel victory comes two weeks after opposition fighters claimed control of the western portion of the Tel Ahmar Hills—which lie less than 2km from Israeli positions in the Golan—following a siege that started in February. “The hills are important because they look out over all the roads in southern Quneitra, so Syrian government troops can constantly target the Free Syrian Army’s resupply routes,” said Quneitra-based activist Jamal al-Joulani Abu al-Abbas in comments to Syria Direct. The claims come as part of a fresh rebel push in southern Syria, with opposition fighters announcing control last week of the Tel al-Jabia military base in western Daraa province, less than 25 km southeast of the Tel Ahmar Hills. The developments raise the possibility that they could consolidate their hold over a contiguous strip of militarily valuable territory less than 100 km southwest of the Syrian capital.
Chemical weapons deadline passes Sunday with Syria close to goal
The Syrian government has yielded more than 86.5 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal as it faces Sunday’s deadline set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  Although Syria missed the pre-determined cut-off date spelled out in the September 2013 agreement, the OPCW recently lauded “a significant acceleration in the pace of deliveries to Latakia this month” in a statement issued Thursday. Despite this international acknowledgement, Syria’s government has faced fresh accusations of chemical attacks over the past two weeks, with the United States and France citing “indications” that it had used illegal chlorine gas in the town of Kafr Zeita in Hama province. On Thursday, Reuters reported OPCW chief Ahmet Uzuncu has considered launching an investigation into the chlorine attacks.
Proposed ceasefire in Homs’ al-Waer as rebels face “slow suicide”
Following a 72-hour ceasefire, opposition fighters and regime troops in the Homs neighborhood of al-Waer were negotiating an agreement Sunday to allow transit of humanitarian aid and provide safe passage for withdrawing rebels to the north of the province. “For rebels, staying in Homs is a slow suicide,” a doctor working in a rebel-held field hospital, told Syria Direct Sunday. “The situation for injured people has become catastrophic with the continued absence of food and medicine.” Thousands of displaced Syrians have taken refuge in al-Waer, many from the 13 encircled neighborhoods of Old Homs three kilometers to the east, only to face a similar government-imposed blockade on humanitarian aid. Syrian government forces have inched forward since beginning a final push for the neighborhoods last week, announcing Saturday they had advanced in the encircled of Bab al-Houd enclave.
UNRWA reaches Yarmouk with aid, condemns killings of Palestinian children
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced Saturday that it had successfully delivered food parcels to nearly 500 families in southern Damascus’s Yarmouk camp, marking the third consecutive day of deliveries after a 15 day suspension due to fighting in the predominantly Palestinian area. The resumption of aid began last Thursday, four days after UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness warned that UN food aid in Yarmouk had completely run out, leading to widespread reports of malnutrition amongst a civilian population estimated at over 20,000.  Saturday’s delivery brings the total number of aid delivered in Yarmouk to 5,579 food parcels over the last two months, with each food parcel feeding an average family for up to ten days. Also on Saturday, UNRWA issued a statement condemning the deaths of three Palestinian children between ages seven and 11 in March and April; two were killed in Homs and one in Daraa, with one struck in the head by a stray bullet and two killed by explosions.
Yarmouk campUNRWA delivered aid to Yarmouk refugee camp for a third consecutive day Saturday, following a 15 day suspension. Photo courtesy of AbuBakerAljanabi.


April 24, 2013 
Of all the methods used in the Syrian war, from barrel bombs to chemical weapons to starvation and even homemade rockets, rape may be among the most damaging.
Its effects are not directly seen, but as a report by the UN Security Council last month makes clear, “sexual violence has been a persistent feature of the [Syrian] conflict and the fear of rape has served as a driving motivation for families fleeing the violence.”
The UN report covers January to December 2013, and accuses both government and opposition forces of using rape as a weapon of war. The report stops short of quantifying which side has produced more sexual violence, but directly condemns “government forces and pro-government militias of using sexual violence, including rape, in detention centers and prisons.” The UN says it has also received allegations of sexual violence at checkpoints and during house searches.
Of rebel forces, the UN report states, “credible information has been provided in Homs, Damascus and Outer Damascus of sexual violence perpetrated against young women and girls in some opposition areas.”
Bl6ivU8CIAEZFB_.jpgA March 2014 UN report details the use of rape as a weapon of war in Syria.
Photo courtesy of @NewAmerica.
The Global Justice Center (GJC) in New York is an international human rights organization that works on embedding human rights rule of law and gender equality within international legal framework, from nations and international law, in an attempt to gain recognition for rape as a weapon of war.  
The GJC, an independent non-profit organization, is currently working to ensure access to safe abortion services for women raped in war and also looking at rape as a weapon of war and how that can be treated like other weapons and illegal tactics. 
In Syria, as in other war zones, the GJC’s Legal Director Akila Radhakrishnan explains toKristen Gillespie, “rape has been proven as an effective tool to destroy communities.”
Q: Why is rape so persistent in wars throughout the ages? Can we really say it successfully forces people to take one side over another in a war? Is it effective?
Sexual violence has been, I hate to use the word, successful, because the notions around sexual violence and the notions around the honor of a woman and how they're tied to the community help drive why it's so successful.
You rape a woman, you rape the community. You kick a woman out of the community, you start breaking it apart because it ostracizes and stigmatizes her and I think that's something we see across the board, not just in the Middle East.
Rape has been proven as an effective tool in conflicts to destroy communities. A lot of the wars we're seeing now are internal armed conflicts within countries. They're ethnic conflicts, they're civil wars, and so the battlefields are villages and communities.
It's not really men fighting men on traditional battlefields to gain particular military advantage. Civilians are being targeted as a way to win wars and this is one of the more effective ways they're doing that.
Sexual violence in isolation - I don't know that it is something that will bring a community down, but I think it’s been proven to help tear it apart.
Sexual violence has been a pervasive part of this [Syrian] conflict. In Rwanda, it was later discovered that sexual violence was one of the ways the genocide was being perpetrated - in part to destroy the community and the Tutsi population.
Q: What is the goal of rapists in a war setting? Is there a tactical purpose to it or is it simply punitive?
It could be both, but the punitive is often linked to the tactical. It is hard to say that all rapes in wars are motivated by one thing. In Syria there have also been a lot of reports of sexual violence within the detention facilities which may be linked and motivated in different ways from what's happening in cities and as a part of displacement processes.
We're not trying to give broad generalizations; the Global Justice Center is trying to open up the frameworks and see what are other creative avenues we can look at to combat this issue. We are still seeing it in a majority of conflicts.
Q: Could you talk about the long-term consequences of sexual violence?
There's definitely inter-generational harm associated with sexual violence. There's a lot of psychological damage. In certain cases, they have found that rape is used to transmit HIV. Children born from rape are often ostracized from their communities, and the denial of safe abortion services means that women often resort to illegal methods.
There are massive long-term consequences. Twenty years after Yugoslavia, we're still seeing women being traumatized [from their experiences] and who yet to have justice or accountability for these crimes that happened more than two decades ago.
Q: What are the prospects for some form of justice for rape in conflict zones?
I think we're starting to have more possibilities for prosecutions of sexual violence but there have only have been fewer than 70 prosecutions for crimes during the Bosnian war, for example, and the numbers there range from 20,000 to 50,000 women raped.
Q: What is your focus as the Global Justice Center?
There are huge stigmas associated with women being raped, as there is with men being raped. The UN is bringing that issue to the forefront. We focus on the impact on women and girls because it is an issue that disproportionately affects them.
We look at provisions under international law that discrimination based on sex and how this failure to treat sexual violence in the same way as other crimes can implicate some of those discrimination frameworks. But there is a definitely a renewed focus on the impact of sexual violence against men and boys.
Q: How do social stigmas prevent healing and treatment for rape victims?
People often don't go in for treatment because they don't want to be stigmatized for being raped - men or women.
For us it's important that attention that be focused on sexual violence against women and how it is being used strategically in conflicts. There's an important role for everyone to play in this, whether it's doctors being adequately equipped to provide care and treatments for sexual violence or whether it's the media reporting on this and bringing it out.
I think it's been hidden for far too long and is too pervasive an issue to continue to be hidden.