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Thursday, May 8, 2014
War Watch May 8 , 2014 -- Syria Rebel Commander( FSA - Ahmed Nehmeh ) captured by al - Nusra offers an embarrassing confession - note Nehmeh now blames ‘Donor Countries’ for rout , insists pullout was at the behest of Donors ! Items from Syria Direct ( May 6 and 7 , 2014 )
UN/OPCW envoy urges safe, unfettered access to remaining Syrian chemicals
UNITED NATIONS, May 08. /ITAR-TASS/. There are only 16 containers with chemicals remain to be removed from Syria but they are inaccessible because of the deteriorating security conditions, Sigrid Kaag, Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said on Thursday, May 8.
Speaking to reporters after a closed-door briefing to the UN Security Council, Kaag said that all that remains is the removal of 16 containers. “Then the operation can be concluded very quickly. It’s a matter of less than a working week in its totality and that allows the authorities to stay as close to the 30 June deadline as possible.”
She noted that 92% of Syria’s chemical weapons had been removed or destroyed in country so far. The remaining 8% is currently inaccessible due to the security conditions.
Kaag stressed that unfettered access is critical to ensure that the operation can be concluded quickly and on time.
“Significant milestones have been met but we do need that final push to achieve 100 per cent and to complete the work as foreseen in the entire chemical weapons elimination programme,” she said.
In addition to the removal operations, the Syrian authorities have destroyed buildings, equipment and empty mustard gas containers, and decontaminated other containers in a number of chemical weapons storage and production sites. A majority of these sites are now closed.
Chemical weapons will be destroyed by Britain, Germany, the United States, and Finland. When all of the Syrian chemicals from all storage sites have been loaded aboard the Danish and Norwegian cargo ships, they will be transported to various locations for destruction under the verification of OPCW inspectors.
The majority of Priority 1 chemicals will be neutralised at sea aboard the U.S. vessel MV Cape Ray, while a smaller amount will be neutralised at a land-based facility in Ellesmere Port, UK. The Priority 2 chemicals will be destroyed at commercial facilities in the U.S. and Finland. A facility in Germany will dispose of part of the effluent from the Cape Ray operations, the OPCW said.
The removal of the most critical material for destruction began on January 7, 2014, a week after the deadline for its completion set by an agreement brokered by Russia and the United States under which Syria renounced its chemical weapons material and joined 1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons.
On November 15, 2013, the OPCW Executive Council (EC) approved a detailed plan of destruction to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. In the plan, Syrian chemical weapons will be transported for destruction outside its territory to ensure their destruction in the “safest and soonest manner”, and no later than June 30, 2014.
Under Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) and decisions of the OPCW Executive Council, Syria’s entire chemical weapons programme is to be destroyed by June 30, 2014.
Syria renounced its chemical weapons material and joined 1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons under an agreement brokered last year by Russia and the United States.
Adding to the intrigue around the weekend capture of Free Syrian Army commander Ahmed Nehmeh by al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra, the commander has offered a confession surrounding the details of a November rout, one of the grievances Nusra is seeking to take him to court over.
Back in November, the rebels lost the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh, on the outskirts of Daraa, in a military rout that was blamed on “rivalries” and the pullout of Nehmeh’s troops from the town in the middle of a military offensive.
Nehmeh’s confession claims he was ordered to withdraw from the town by “donor countries” that are bankrolling the FSA’s military operations, meaning the US and other Western nations. He also claimed the orders were forwarded to him by Jordanian officials directly.
The commander says the Western nations told him they were concerned Nusra had too much influence in Khirbet Ghazaleh, and that it was giving the al-Qaeda faction too much influence in the southern front in general, so they ordered him to withdraw his troops during the fight to ensure the Syrian military would retake the town.
Two years into the siege of Homs, the Old City, the last neighborhood held by the rebels, has been evacuated today in a deal brokered by the UN and Iran. Most of the city had been retaken months ago, and the last holdouts were starving and out of the rebel supply lines.
Under the deal, the rebels agreed to hand over the Old City and flee north, into rebel-held territory. They agreed to give the military details about the booby traps set in the Old City as part of the deal to withdraw.
The civilians had all left the neighborhood back in February, in a deal negotiated during the Geneva II peace talks. Under that deal, those leaving couldn’t take weapons, and the military ran checks to make sure they weren’t rebels. This time, each rebel was allowed to take a rifle, and the busloads of rebels each took grenade launchers.
Homs had once been the center of the rebellion, but as the war has dragged on most of the rebel held territory is now in the north and east of the country, while everything from Homs to Damascus is held by the government.
An estimated 222 rebel combatants from Old Homs were transported under United Nations supervision into the rebel-held northern suburbs of Homs on Wednesday. while a convoy of humanitarian aid entered the rebel-encircled, Shiite pro-regime towns of Zahra and Nubl.
The evacuation began five days after rebels and government troops agreed to a truce whereby between 2,200 and 2,400 rebels, wounded people and civilians will leave Old Homs and hand it back to the government.
A rebel combatant kissed the ground in Old Homs before departing the city in a United Nations-supervised evacuation Wednesday. Photo courtesy of @eldorar1.
Rebels show video of arrested Syrian colonel disqualified from presidential race
Opposition fighters broadcast video footage Tuesday purporting to show Colonel Muhammad Hussein al-Kana’an—a Syrian army officer and recently disqualified candidate for Syria’s June presidential elections—confessing that he entered the presidential elections under orders from the Syrian Army.
The Free Syrian Army-affiliated Tbarak a-Rahman Brigade claimed to arrest al-Kana’an this week, with fighters displaying the colonel’s military identity card for the camera. Al-Kana’an says he submitted an application to run for president after receiving threats from army brass when the orders were not obeyed. The colonel also says that he was arrested by opposition forces while traveling on the Damascus-Dar'aa highway, perhaps in a sign that the regime does not have the tight control over the vital artery leading to Jordan that it claims to.
In the video, the colonel calls the election process in Syria “a political game and media fabrication, adding that that all other candidates were subjected to the same pressures and threats. Syria’s Supreme Constitutional Court announced Sunday that it had disqualified all but three presidential candidates—among them current President Bashar al-Assad—of the 23 who originally applied.
Iran state media deletes IRGC comments on Syrian presence
Iran’s Fars News Agency deleted comments made by a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (ICRG) on May 4th that Iran has a military presence in Syria, Radio Free Europe reported Tuesday.
"Today we fight in Syria for interests such as the Islamic Revolution,” the Fars agency, which is close to the ICRG, reported Commander Hossein Homedani as saying. Within hours, the report was deleted from the Fars website, which also quoted Hamedani as saying the Syrian government is no longer “at the risk of collapse.” The cached version of the original Fars report is availablehere.
Iran has officially denied its soldiers are fighting for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite numerous reports in its own state media. This week, official Iranian news outlets reported that at least four IRGC members were killed in recent weeks defending the Shiite Sitt Zaynab shrine outside Damascus. The recent agreement between Syrian rebel groups and government troops in Old Homs included a provision whereby Syrian rebels would release a female Iranian prisoner.
On Wednesday, Iranian media cited a recent study by an Iranian parliamentarian that credits “Iran’s transfer of experience to Syria on organizing public forces and training more than 150,000 Syrian voluntary young forces,” as key in turning the tide of the Syrian conflict in favor of Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The Jabhat a-Nusra-affiliated Sharia Court in Syria’s southern Daraa province released video footage Tuesday showing Amhed a-Nimah, the controversial former head of the FSA’s Daraa’s Military Council, confessing to having undermined the rebel campaign in Daraa while conspiring with foreign countries.
In the video, a-Nimah, who was abducted by Jabhat a-Nusra in an unknown location earlier this week, claims responsibility for the fall in mid-2013 of the strategic town of Khirbet al-Ghazalah to regime forces. Al-Nimah says that he refused to cooperate with Jabhat a-Nusra in the battle for the town based on orders from Jordan and other foreign powers, who were concerned about the al-Qaeda affiliate’s growing popularity in the area.
By refusing to cooperate with a-Nusra, al-Nimah says, the result was “one failure after another, all because pro-rebel states are controlling us and imposing their policies on us; they don’t want an Islamic project to succeed here, or for there to be an Islamic power.”
During his tenure as military chief in Daraa, a-Nimah faced frequent accusations of being a puppet for Jordanian, Saudi, Israeli and American intelligence. “We hold the FSA’s military leadership, and especially the traitor Ahmed a-Nimeh, responsible for the fall of Khirbet al-Ghazaleh,” said the Khirbet al-Ghazaleh Media Office in a May 2013 statement.
In our News Roundup, we summarize the day's most important events from local sources inside Syria.Subscribe here to have it delivered to your inbox.
Syrian government announces plans to ‘resuscitate Homs tourism'
Pro-regime forces shelledthe rebel-held al-Waer district adjacent to Old Homs Tuesday, one day after Governor Talal al-Barazi told AFP that al-Waer might be the next goal for a truce.
A UN-supervised retreat of 2,500 rebels, injured people and citizens from the 13 encircled neighborhoods of Old Homs will begin this week. Meanwhile, four days after rebels in Old Homs and the government reached a ceasefire, al-Barazi announced plans to resuscitate tourism in Homs province. “Thanks to the sacrifices of the Syrian army, life will return in the province and tourism will be resuscitated,'' al-Barazi told official state news agency SANA, which added that the Ministry of Tourism was “working to document that damage wrought to archeological sites in Syria due to terrorist attacks.” If rebels inside Old Homs and the Syrian government uphold the terms of their truce, rebels will carry their light weaponry with them to rebel-held northern Homs province. Rebels have also reportedly agreed to identify booby traps inside the Old City.
HRW: Lebanon forcibly returned Palestinians to Syria
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday condemned the Lebanese government for having “forcibly returned about three dozen Palestinians to Syria on May 4, 2014” in addition to having “arbitrarily denied entry to Palestinians crossing over the land border from Syria.” More than half of the 540,000 Palestinians who lived in Syria before the Syrian conflict began in March 2011have been displaced, and 60,000 of them have sought refuge in Lebanon. HRW has previously documented the Jordanian government policy of barring entry to Palestinians fleeing Syria’s war, noting that “Jordanian authorities have forcibly returned over 100 Palestinians to Syria.” Meanwhile, UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunness announcedMonday that gunfire had interrupted aid distribution to Damascus’ Yarmouk Camp, where dozens of Syrians and Palestinians have starved to death in 2014 as a result of a government blockade.
Rebels destroy Idlib checkpoint, kill 30 government troops
Rebel fighters destroyed an army checkpoint near the M5 international highway in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Monday, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that the blast—which rebels executed using explosives planted in an underground tunnel—had killed some 30 government troops.
Pro-opposition Sham News Network reported Monday that Free Syrian Army and Islamic Front brigades had “destroyed the a-Sahaba checkpoint in its entirety.” The checkpoint forms part of the Wadi a-Deif military base just one kilometer east of the M5 highway connecting Damascus with central and northern Syria, and four kilometers northeast of the rebel-held town of Maarat a-Numan. Wadi a-Daif is considered one of the Syrian government’s most heavily fortified military bases in Idlib, and contains large stores of weapons and equipment used by regime forces.
Rebels destroyed a government checkpoint in the town of Wadi Deif in Idlib province on Monday using explosives planted in an underground tunnel. Photo courtesy of Suqour a-Sham.
Russia to sell Damascus fighter jets, Coalition condemns
The Syrian National Coalition on Tuesday condemned reports that Russia intends to furnish the Syrian government with 36 Yak-130 fighter jets by 2016, with Coalition member Nasser al-Hariri declaring that the news “will jeopardize international efforts aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria, and demonstrates Russia’s insistence on aiding Assad in shedding the blood of the Syrian people.” Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported Monday that Moscow plans to send Damascus nine aircraft by the end of this year, followed by an additional 12 in 2015 and 15 in 2016. The paper quoted a source saying that this arrangement “will fulfill obligations under a previously signed contract for the supply of 36 Yak-130 jets.” Kommersant reported last June that Syria had transferred roughly $100 million in advanced payment to Moscow for the first six jets.
US upgrades Coalition status in Washington ahead of Jarba’s visit
The US Department of State declared Monday that it had designated the Syrian National Coalition’s American offices as “foreign missions” ahead of the first official visit by Coalition President Ahmed Jarba to Washington, DC, in addition to announcing $27 million in new non-lethal assistance to the Coalition and further non-lethal equipment to officers in the Free Syrian Army.
The moves are intended to “empower the moderate Syrian opposition and bolster its efforts to assist those in need inside Syria,” according to the State Department announcement. In a statement Monday, Jarba called the announcement regarding the Coalition offices “an important step in the path toward a new Syria.” Jarba is set to meet with officials in Washington this week, and has stated his intention to lobby for the US government to provide Syrian rebels with advanced weaponry. The visit comes amidst mounting reports of US-made anti-tank weaponsbeing used by moderate rebels in Syria, with no clear information yet regarding the weapons’ origins.