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LATEST: Syrian Coalition & SMC: FSA Were On Outskirts Of Maaloula, Then Withdrew
The Syrian Coalition and the Supreme Military Council issued a statement on Friday in an attempt to clarify the Free Syrian Army’s role in the events in the Christian town of Maaloula on Wednesday. The Coalition said that Free Syrian Army destroyed two regime checkpoints in Maaloula and Jiba’din on the Homs-Damascus international highway on Wednesday, after which there were fierce clashes between FSA and regime forces, who were supported by pro-Assad “popular committees” militias near the main entrance to Maaloula.
However, the Coalition said, the FSA did not enter the town but remained on its outskirts for several hours before they withdrew “in order to save civilian lives and preserve the ancient cultural heritage of the city, as Bilaja Sayyaf, a nun speaking from Mar Takla monastery, confirmed yesterday”.
The Coalition and the SMC said they were concerned that “Assad will commit crimes against civilians in the town in an attempt to discredit the FSA.”
Videos: Protests In Aleppo: “It’s Not Just With Chemicals That Assad Is Killing Our People”
Footage from some of the Friday protests around Aleppo:
In the Salah Addin neighborhood, protesters denounced Assad’s massacres, chanting that it is not just with chemical weapons that Assad is killing Syrians. The protesters also called for the release of detainees. Some protesters praised Islamist faction Jabhat al Nusra:
In the Tariq Al Bab neighborhood, the protest outside the Al Aqsa Martyrs mosque featured a heavy Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham presence:
There were some ISIS flags at this protest in As-Sukari, where protesters chanted for freedom and called for the overthrow of the Assad regime:
Videos: Civilians Panic As Regime MiG Jets Bomb Binnish, Idlib
Footage from Thursday shows civilians panicking amid extensive destruction in the insurgent-held town of Binnish, Idlib, in the immediate aftermath of regime airstrikes.
Free Syrian Army Report for State Department on “Post-Assad Damascus Plan”
David Ignatius of the Washington Post, a long-time outlet for the “moderate” insurgency in Syria, offers both propaganda and a useful piece of information in his Friday column.
Ignatius begins with this assurance from an insurgent leader:
Gen. Ziad Fahd, the commander of the “southern front” for the Free Syrian Army, urged in a telephone interview Wednesday that the United States and its allies attack six air bases and three rocket-launching batteries around Damascus. He said that with these targets taken out, his 30,000 troops in the Damascus area “can launch attacks on the rest” of the regime’s forces in the south.
The rebel commander said that following an attack, his moderate wing of the opposition, organized in five sectors of the Damascus area, “is ready to take over government ministry buildings to ensure security and stop looting.” He said that the al-Nusra Front and other extremist organizations that are strong in northern Syria are relatively weak in Damascus.
Even more revealing is Ignatius’s referral to communication between the insurgents and the Obama Administration:
Endgame issues are addressed in a new report to the State Department, prepared this week by one of the Free Syrian Army’s key strategists. He outlines what he calls the “Damascus plan” for “handling the power vacuum in case of a sudden Assad collapse.” The plan includes steps for securing the chemical facilities; providing security in the city; protecting Alawites from reprisals; and working with the Syrian army.
Photo: Children At Friday Protests In Daraa Have Unusual Request For Ban Ki Moon
A teenager at a demonstration in Daraa today holds a sign that reads: Ban Ki Moon — Read The Book ‘How To Stop Worrying And Start Living‘
More photos from the protest in Daraa can be seen here.
Video: In Al-Harak, Daraa, FSA Can’t Stop Regime Airstrikes
Footage from Friday shows the Free Syrian Army trying to hit a regime MiG fighter jet to prevent it bombing the town of Al Harak in Daraa Province. The regime has relied on airstrikes to hit hard against insurgent-controlled positions, largely because the insurgency lacks anti-aircraft weapons so it is extremely difficult to counter the attacks:
Russia’s Defense Ministry Warns U.S. Against Hitting Assad’s Chemical Weapons Stocks
Moscow takes a new tack in its propaganda campaign against a U.S. strike on Syria, this time highlighting fears of potential disasters should Washington bomb the Assad regime’s chemical weapons sites. In a statement on Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said:
We are closely following the discussions in Washington parameters of a possible illegal U.S. intervention in the violent internal conflict in Syria. With particular concern we see the fact that the possible plans for a strike include military infrastructure to ensure the safety and security of the Syrian chemical arsenal.
In this regard, we warn the U.S. government and its allies from any attacks on chemical facilities and adjacent territories. Such actions would represent a dangerous new twist in the tragic development of the Syrian crisis. There would be a threat of emissions of highly toxic chemicals, with consequences for the civilian population and the environment. In addition, it is possible that as a result of such reckless actions, terrorists and militants could gain access to chemical munitions or chemical warfare agents. From here it is but a step toward the spread of chemical weapons not only in Syria but also beyond its borders.
The Ministry of Defense warn that a U.S. strike could lead to repercussions similar to those experienced during the First Gulf War in 1991, when the U.S. bombs Bunker 13 in Al Muthanna, Iraq:
Only now – after more than 20 years – is work expected to start on decontamination. For the civilians in Syria and other regional countries, the consequences could be even more severe.
Russian Landing Ships, Command & Control Vessel En Route To Syria
The Russian Navy has said that two landing ships, the Novocherkassk and the Minsk, of the Black Sea and Baltic Fleets have passed through the Dardanelles and are en route to Syrian waters together with the Pryazovia command and control ship. A Navy spokesman said that the landing craft will move to designated areas of the Eastern Mediterranean, where they will carry out tasks designated by the Navy command in the area. The command and control ship will carry out a separate task designated by the General Staff.
Chairman Of Russia’s State Duma: I Deeply Regret Congress Refusal Of Joint Discussion On Syria
Russia — via its State media — continues to position itself as firmly opposed to a military strike on Syria, but keen to pursue a “diplomatic solution”.
RIA Novosti on Friday quotes the Chairman of the State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin, as expressing “deep regret” that Russian lawmakers will not be traveling to Washington to discuss the Syria issue with their American counterparts.
Naryshkin is quoted as saying, “The refusal of U.S. Congress representatives to meet with a delegation of Russian parliamentarians to discuss the Syria problem causes me deep regret.”The proposal for a bilateral meeting between Congress and Russian lawmakers was made by Valentina Matviyenko, Chairman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation.
“Pentagon Ordered to Expand Potential Targets in Syria”
While one part of The New York Times is fed an “exclusive” which looks like propaganda to check US intervention in Syria, another part is fed information of expanding American plans for airstrikes:
President Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria in response to intelligence suggesting that the government of President Bashar al-Assad has been moving troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons….
Mr. Obama, officials said, is now determined to put more emphasis on the “degrade” part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike…
For the first time, the administration is talking about using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles. There is a renewed push to get other NATO forces involved. Was New York Times “Exclusive” of Insurgents Executing 7 Regime Soldiers A Propaganda Operation? On Thursday, we reported on a New York Times story that a group of insurgents had captured and executed seven regime soldiers, with an “exclusive” video provided by a former opposition fighter. At the time, we noted: “What is even more interesting is how The New York Times extrapolates this one incident and a small faction into extremism through the insurgency, ‘Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in West’.”
This morning, there is much discussion that the video used by the Times — and thus the incident — not recent but from spring 2012 in Idlib Province. The initial report in the Times said the executions were “in April”, implying that they occurred five months ago. An updated version of the article changed the date to “the spring of 2012″.
Interesting questions arise: given that the US Congress is now debating military intervention and support to the insurgency, who fed the video and the “former opposition fighter” to a top Times reporter as an “exclusive” story of an event from this spring rather than 17 months ago?
If the video is what it purports to be, and was taken last April, then the New York Times story would benefit from some background of other events at that time. In April 2012, there were reports by defectors from the Syrian Arab Army that the regime was carrying out mass executions of pro-opposition civilians and regime soldiers who refused to comply, including in Idlib.
Video: Cars Burn In Al Wa’er, Homs, After Regime Shelling
Footage from early Friday morning shows cars burning in the Al Wa’er district of Homs, as the regime continues to target the area with artillery fire. Activists are reporting that a number of civilians in the area have been injured.
Although the regime made an enormous push to retake all of Homs, Assad’s forces have so far not yet managed to gain complete control over the city. As a result, regime forces continue to shell neighborhoods, including Al Wa’er, which has a high concentration of civilians, many of them people who fled from other parts of Homs and the surrounding areas.
Video: Church In Erbeen, Damascus Suburbs, Burns After Regime Artillery Shelling
Footage from Friday shows the town church in Erbeen in East Ghouta on fire as a result of heavy regime artillery shelling this morning, Erbeen is one of the sites hit by the August 21 chemical weapons attacks.
Videos: Regime Pounds Muadamiyyat Ash-Sham With Surface-to-Surface Missiles
At least five surface-to-surface missiles hit the West Ghouta town of Muadamiyyat Ash-Sham on Friday morning, as regime forces also strike the town with artillery fire.
Muadamiyyat Ash-Sham is one of the sites hit by the August 21 chemical weapons attacks. The regime has launched a fierce offensive against it and other insurgent-controlled towns in the Damascus suburbs, but so far has been unable to gain control.
Footage posted a short while ago shows at least one of the missiles hitting the city:
While many civilians fled Muadamiyyat Ash-Sham, many are also trapped inside the town, and are suffering not just because of the bombardments but also because the regime has imposed a siege on the area, meaning that food and other supplies cannot get through.
Civilian Deaths As Regime Continues Strikes Against Taftanaz, Idlib Province
Footage from Thursday shows extensive regime strikes on the insurgent-held town of Taftanaz in Idlib Province. Activists say that at least five people were killed and ten more injured in this attack:
WARNING — GRAPHIC IMAGES
The regime’s brutal strikes on Taftanaz have continued for days, as Assad uses the lull before a possible U.S. led strike to step up his efforts to make gains against insurgent-controlled areas. This footage from September 1 shows survivors of an airstrike in Taftanaz hunting for relatives and friends in the rubble:
The Local Coordination Committees claim 87 people were killed on Thursday including 17 women and 14 children.
Of the deaths, 25 were in Idlib Province, 22 in Aleppo Province, and 19 in Damascus and its suburbs.
The Violations Documentation Center put the number of dead at 72,295 since the conflict began in March 2011, an increase of 132 from Thursday. Of the dead, 54,549 are civilians, a rise of 110 from yesterday.
On Thursday, the world’s media focussed efforts on watching non-Syrian politicians, while in Syria itself, fighting and shelling continued throughout the country as the regime used airstrikes and barrel bombings in its push to take the Damascus suburbs and key towns in Idlib Province in the north and Daraa Province in the south.
For all the attention paid to it, little beyond rhetoric came out of the G20 summit in St Petersburg. After hours of monitoring US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for any sign of a shift on their respective positions, both the Guardian and Al Jazeera English finished the day by reporting tweets like this:
Arguably, the most important political signal came from New York, not St. Petersburg. The US Ambassador to the United Nations confirmed that Washington would not seek authorization from the UN Security Council — given an inevitable Russian veto — for military intervention: “[There is] no viable path forward.”
Meanwhile, in northwest Syria, regime warplanes pounded Saraqeb, the site of a claimed chemical weapons attack earlier this year, with barrel bombs:
And in the south, an EA correspondent with extensive Syrian contacts comments on conflicting accounts of what happened in the town of Maaloula:
Rebels erased a checkpoint near the Christian town, followed some retreating regime forces to the town, and killed them. The rebels then retreated.
And what of lurid reports that insurgents burned Christian churches while they were inside Maaloula? Videos show “Islamists” protecting a church. After rebels withdrew, the regime shelled and destroyed a church. It is now all over regime supporters’ [Facebook] pages as “Jabhat al-Nusra bombed church and killed Christians.
Fighting in the center of Maaloula, and insurgents declaring their presence:
Insurgents in front of a church declare it should not be attacked: