Amnesty: Syria using starvation as ‘weapon of war’

n13-iconDPA reports: Syrian government forces are using starvation as a weapon of war, Amnesty International said Monday in a report detailing the siege of a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus.

“Syrian forces are committing war crimes by using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war,” Amnesty’s Middle East director Philip Luther said.

The group said 128 people had died of starvation since regime forces imposed a complete blockade on the Yarmouk refugee camp in July.

“The harrowing accounts of families having to resort to eating cats and dogs, and civilians
attacked by snipers as they forage for food, have become all too familiar details of the horror story that has materialized in Yarmouk,” Luther added.

About 51 fell victim to inadequate medical care, Amnesty said, quoting information provided by the Palestinian Red Crescent and human rights groups.

The main hospital in the area, which carried out 600 operations a month before the siege, is now operating without any qualified surgeons or medical supplies, health workers told Amnesty.

Some 17,000 to 20,000 civilians are thought to remain in the camp, Amnesty said. [Continue reading...]

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Is this Russia’s Stuxnet? Experts analyze Snake, Uroburos, Turla malware samples dating back to 2005

n13-iconTechworld reports: The mysterious ‘Uroburos’ cyberweapon named last week in Germany has been stalking its victims since as far back as 2005 and large enterprises and governments need to pay urgent attention to the threat it poses, UK security firm BAE Systems has urged.

German firm G Data’s recent analysis dubbed it ‘Uroburos’ while it is also known to some security firms as ‘Turla’. BAE Systems’ Applied Intelligence division, which today published its own research, prefers the catchier ‘Snake’ but under any name the picture is alarming.

According to BAE Systems, It now transpires that Snake has been slithering silently around networks in the US and its NATO allies and former Soviet states for almost a decade, stealing data, getting ever more complex and modular and remaining almost invisible.

To be clear, this isn’t any old malware. Snake is just too long-lived, too targeted, too sophisticated, too evasive, too innovative. It appears to be on par with any of the complex cyberweapons attributed to the US such as Flame, first analysed by Kaspersky Lab in 2012.

After several months of research, the UK firm takes what we know a lot further, offering for the first time some objective data on targets. Culling data from malware research sites (i.e. those to which suspected malware samples are submitted for inspection), it has been spotted 32 times in the Ukraine since 2010, 11 times in Lithuania, 4 times in the UK, and a handful of times altogether from the US, Belgium, Georgia, Romania, Hungary and Italy.

These are very small numbers but BAE Systems believes that on past experience they are highly indicative. While they represent a tiny fraction of the number of infections that will have occurred in these countries and beyond, they can be used to reliably infer that Snake has been aimed at Western and Western-aligned countries pretty much exclusively.

In a week Russia planted boots on the ground in the Crimean region of the Ukraine, this is an unfortunate coincidence because while BAE Systems refused to name the state as the culprit, G Data and others are convinced that the links are suspicious.

Hints of the malware’s provenance have surfaced from time to time. In 2008, the US Department of Defense (DoD) reported that something called, Agent.btz had attacked its systems, an incident later attributed on more than one occasion to the Russian state without further elaboration. [Continue reading...]

The 2008 attack targeted U.S. Central Command. A few days ago, threats coming from the Syrian Electronic Army via Twitter were also directed at #CENTCOM, an indication perhaps that this group, linked to the Assad regime, has its roots in Russia.

Softpedia reports: “SEA advises the terrorist Obama to think very hard before attempting ‘cyberattacks’ on Syria,” the hackers wrote on Twitter. “We know what Obama is planning and we will soon make him understand that we can respond.”

So far, the Syrian hacktivists have mainly targeted media organizations whose reporting they don’t like. Social media accounts have been compromised, and websites have been defaced. However, they claim that their attacks against the US government will not be of “the same kind.”

“The next attack will prove that the entire US command structure was a house of cards from the start. #SEA #CENTCOM,” reads the last tweet they posted.

The #CENTCOM hashtag suggests that the hackers’ next target is the US Central Command (centcom.mil).

The Syrian Electronic Army’s announcement comes shortly after the New York Times published an article about the United States’ intention to develop a battle plan against Syria. The use of cyber weapons is being taken into consideration.

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Assad taking advantage of U.S.-Russia split over Ukraine, observers say

a13-iconThe Washington Post reports: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is taking advantage of the rift between Russia and the United States over Ukraine to press ahead with plans to crush the rebellion against his rule and secure his reelection for another seven-year term, unencumbered by pressure to compromise with his opponents.

The collapse last month of peace talks in Geneva, jointly sponsored by Russia and the United States, had already eroded the slim prospects that a negotiated settlement to the Syrian war might be possible. With backers of the peace process now at odds over the outcome of the popular uprising in Ukraine, Assad feels newly confident that his efforts to restore his government’s authority won’t be met soon with any significant challenge from the international community, according to analysts and people familiar with the thinking of the regime.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s defiant response to the toppling of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has further reinforced Assad’s conviction that he can continue to count on Russia’s unwavering support against the armed rebellion challenging his rule, said Salem Zahran, a Damascus-based journalist and analyst with close ties to the Syrian regime.

“The regime believes the Russians now have a new and stronger reason to keep Assad in power and support him, especially after the experience of Libya, and now Ukraine,” he said. “In addition, the regime believes that any conflict in the world which distracts the attention of the Americans is a factor which eases pressure on Syria.” [Continue reading...]

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Armed militants retake Syria’s desperate Yarmouk refugee camp

n13-iconVice News reports: The world was horrified by a photograph of refugees lining up for aid in the destroyed Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria at the end of February. Since then attention has turned to events in Ukraine and Venezuela, but Yarmouk remains a desolate purgatory. The only thing left for the estimated 18,000 starving Palestinians still trapped in the camp to do is wait.

“We waited for the siege to end. We waited for the (relief) baskets to come. We waited for the world to notice us. All we do is wait and die,” one refugee told VICE News.

And that grim situation has just got worse. A brief ceasefire from the 14-month-long siege of Yarmouk — imposed by the Syrian regime in an attempt to starve out opposition militants — was secured by a fragile truce in late January. Then, last weekend, the fighters flooded back into the camp. The Syrian Army may invade next. [Continue reading...]

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Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening

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Inside the corridor of death — Assad’s war against Syrian civilians

syria-sniper

Zaher Sahloul writes: In the last day of my medical mission to Aleppo in October 2013, I was asked to examine a toddler who had arrived at our hospital after being shot in the head by a sniper one hour earlier. His name was Hamza Ramadan, and he was just three years old. His heart was beating, but he exhibited no other signs of life. I was told that snipers had targeted Hamza, his mother, and his sister as they tried to sprint through the passage separating the opposition-controlled east side of Aleppo to the regime-controlled west.

That two-block street has now come to be known as “The Corridor of Death” (“Maabar Almawet” in Arabic). Snipers perched on the roofs of three regime-controlled buildings at the end of the passage have turned the place into a killing ground. Hamza’s mother and sister were killed instantly. Their bodies were rushed to the hospital, along with Hamza’s, in the back of a car owned by bystanders. (Ambulances are a luxury in Aleppo. According to the World Health Organization, more than 75 percent of Syria’s ambulances have been damaged in the conflict.)

Since the start of the first demonstrations in 2011, the Syrian regime has tried to cast the whole opposition as extremists and terrorists. This has been an effective strategy, playing into the fears of al Qaeda and jihadists that are prevalent in the United States and Europe. The more recent influx of foreign jihadists into Syria has added some legitimacy to such claims. The Western media has fallen into the regime’s trap, portraying the conflict as a fight between the government and terrorists — and sometimes implicitly justifying the regime’s crimes against its own people. The reality, as I saw it, is far more malicious: The government of President Assad is waging war not only against an armed enemy, but also against its own population.

My medical mission to Aleppo was organized by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a group dedicated to helping the victims of the war. My aim was to serve the victims of war in that ancient city and world heritage site, now the epicenter of aerial bombing and shelling. No amount of disaster management or trauma care training could have possibly prepared me for the brutal reality of the hospital I visited. At the hospital, which was code-named “M-1″ for security reasons, the vast majority of our patients were local residents injured by shrapnel from barrel bomb attacks or indiscriminate shelling from fights between rebels and regime troops. But many, like Hamza, were civilians targeted in the most direct and ruthless way possible: by snipers.

The use of snipers gives the lie to government propaganda. Snipers know exactly whom they’re shooting. When snipers look through their telescopic sights at someone’s head or chest, they know if the target is a child or a fighter. According to the Aleppo Civilian Medical Council, snipers in the “Corridor of Death” gun down five to 20 civilians every day. Most of the victims die instantly. Those who survive are likely to suffer lifelong disabilities: amputations, loss of an eye, or spinal cord injury and paralysis are just a few on a long list of possibilities. The Oxford Research Group reports that 11,420 children (aged 17 and under) were recorded killed in the Syrian conflict by end of August 2013, from an overall total of 113,735 civilians and combatants killed. One in four of those child deaths were caused by small arms fire, including children targeted and summarily executed by snipers. Hamza was one of those unlucky children. [Continue reading...]

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Syria: The roots of Jabhat Al Nusra’s pragmatism

Abu-Musab-al-SuriHassan Hassan writes: A top Sharia official in Jabhat Al Nusra, the Al Qaeda formal affiliate in Syria, has acknowledged for the first time that his faction is influenced by the teachings of Abu Musab Al Suri, a Syrian jihadist who fought the Assad regime in the 1970s and 1980s, before becoming one of the world’s most renowned jihadist ideologues. The acknowledgement did not spark much media attention, but is hugely significant for understanding the ideological underpinnings of Syria’s jihadist groups.

Dr Sami Al Oraidi – who was mentioned by Jabhat Al Nusra leader Abu Muhammad Al Jolani in his only media interview as an official who represents the group’s ideology – listed 19 recommendations by Abu Musab on his Twitter account, writing: “We have been able to implement some of them, but we could not implement others.”

The idea that the group is influenced by Abu Musab’s teachings had been long suspected by some jihadist watchers. On this day last year, I wrote in this space that multiple sources had told me that the ideologue’s writings had been cited privately by members and leaders of Jabhat Al Nusra. But the revelation by the group’s official is the first evidence to the claims. In practice, the influence by Abu Musab can help to explain the group’s dynamism, relative to like-minded groups.

The essence of Abu Musab’s teachings is that a new generation of jihadists should be committed to an “individualised” jihad, which places their ideology above and beyond any organisational affiliation. This way of thinking is geared towards shielding the jihad from organisational mistakes through decentralisation: jihadists could pursue their aims without waiting to be guided by an elite vanguard that made all the important decisions.

In the United States and Europe, the legacy of Abu Musab is often associated with lone-wolf attacks, which pose a profound security challenge for the West. But in Muslim-dominated societies such as in Syria, “individualised jihad” and other aspects of Abu Musab’s teachings play out differently.

In practice, jihadists in Syria focus on ensuring that the country will remain a place to wage jihad on a personal or group level, regardless of the political outcome. The priority is to establish deep ties with local communities even if that requires flexibility on some principles.

The strategies derived from Abu Musab’s guidelines to win hearts and minds are largely four-fold: provide services to people, avoid being seen as extremists, maintain strong relationships with communities and other fighting groups, and put the focus on fighting the regime. [Continue reading...]

In 2006, Lawrence Wright wrote: Suri was born into a middle-class family in Aleppo, Syria, in 1958, the year of bin Laden’s birth. Red-haired and sturdily built, he has a black belt in judo; his real name is Mustafa Setmariam Nasar. He became involved in politics at the University of Aleppo, where he studied engineering. Later, he moved to Jordan, where he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that opposed Syria’s dictator, Hafez al-Assad. In 1982, Assad decided that the Brotherhood posed a threat to his authority, and his troops slaughtered as many as thirty thousand people in the city of Hama, one of the group’s strongholds. The ruthlessness of Assad’s response shocked Suri. He renounced the Brotherhood, which he held responsible for provoking the destruction of Hama, and took refuge in Europe for several years. In 1985, he moved to Spain, where he married and became a Spanish citizen; two years later, he found his way to Afghanistan, where he met Osama bin Laden. [Read more...]

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American gangsters fighting for Assad

gangster

The Washington Post reports: Two Los Angeles gang members appear to have joined the flow of foreigners flocking to fight in Syria – in this instance, on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. In a video posted online, the two men boast that they are on the front lines and fire their guns in the direction of what they call “the enemigos.”

One of the men identifies himself as Creeper from the Sur-13 or Surenos, a loose affiliation of southern California gangs linked to the Mexican mafia. He rolls up his sleeves to show his gang tattoos and greets fellow gang members Capone-E and Crazy Loco.

The other says he is called Wino, and belongs to a gang called Westside Armenian Power. Members of the Armenian Christian minority in Syria are known to be staunch supporters of Assad.

The video was posted on YouTube yesterday by MEMRI after being posted on Facebook on December 6. MEMRI is a pro-Israeli propaganda outfit based in Washington DC. However, based on the content of the Facebook page of Westside Armenian Power member, “Wino Ayee Peeyakan,” there seems little reason to doubt that he has indeed hooked up with Hezbollah fighters and has spent time in Syria.

wap

In March, 2011, the FBI reported:

The Southern California crime ring called Armenian Power may look like a traditional street gang — members identify themselves with tattoos and gang clothing — but the group is really an international organized crime enterprise whose illegal activities allegedly range from bank fraud and identity theft to violent extortion and kidnapping.

Operation Power Outage — a nearly three-year investigation conducted by our Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force in Los Angeles — culminated last week with the arrests of 83 Armenian Power members on a variety of federal and state charges that include racketeering, drug trafficking, smuggling cell phones into prisons, and theft from the elderly. All told, the group allegedly bilked victims out of at least $10 million.

In one scheme, Armenian Power — known as AP — caused more than $2 million in losses when members secretly installed “skimming” devices in cash register credit card swipe machines at Southern California 99 Cents Only stores to steal customer account information. Then they used the skimmed information to create counterfeit debit and credit cards to empty accounts.

“There is no crime too big or too small for this group,” said Special Agent Louis Perez, who supervises the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force that built the case against AP.

“This is not just a group of thugs committing crimes in their neighborhood,” added Perez. “AP is sophisticated, and they have international ties. That’s what sets them apart from traditional gangs.”

Perez is quick to point out, though, that despite their white-collar crimes, “these are dangerous people. Just because they make money through fraud, these guys are not accountants. They use violence to get what they want,” he said, explaining that one AP extortion trademark is to shoot people in the legs “to send a message.”

AP membership — thought to number about 200 — consists mainly of individuals whose heritage goes back to Armenia and other Eastern Bloc countries. While the group got its start as a street gang in East Hollywood in the 1980s, AP is now less concerned with controlling neighborhood turf as it expands its criminal activities with other organized crime groups.

For example, AP is closely allied with the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that controls much of the narcotics distribution and other criminal activity within California’s correctional facilities. AP’s leadership also maintains ties to Armenia and Russia and deals directly with top organized crime figures in those countries — even to the point of using respected organized crime mediators — known as “thieves-in-law” — to settle disputes.

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Disappointed Syrians warn Ukrainians not to seek U.S. help

a13-iconMike Giglio reports: Some Syrians have a simple message for Ukrainians waiting for a response from the U.S. and the West as the crisis in Crimea unfolds: Don’t get your hopes up.

The Syrian uprising grinds into its third year this month, and many in the opposition see a long string of broken promises from an international community that voiced support for their fight to overthrow their Russia-backed president, Bashar al-Assad.

With Russia now sending its forces to the Ukrainian region of Crimea, and with worries that it might invade the mainland, western leaders have been swift with recriminations. President Barack Obama warned Russia on Friday that there would be “costs” for its aggression.

But Syrian rebels and activists reiterated one piece of advice for the Ukrainians whose protest movement toppled the country’s president, a Russian ally, last week. “Make sure that you achieve whatever you’re aiming for with your own hands,” Abdullah Ismail, a rebel coordinator based on the Turkish border, told BuzzFeed. “That’s the only way to avoid relying on promises.”

“Ukrainians must believe only in themselves,” said Barzan Iso, a Syrian-Kurdish journalist and activist.

In interviews, each of the Syrians was quick to point out the sea of differences between the two countries and between their two revolutions. Their advice was meant not to draw a comparison, but to help those Ukrainians against Russian intervention better understand their enemy — and, even more so, their supposed allies in the west. [Continue reading...]

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Victories for Putin will help Assad

a13-iconAaron David Miller writes: As go Putin’s fortunes, so go those of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However the crisis turns out, with one possible exception, the Syrian regime is likely to benefit. And that exception is the highly unlikely contingency that Putin is so weakened from a botched policy in Ukraine or an uncharacteristically bold response from the United States and the West that he is permanently damaged and diminished, or removed from power. Not likely.

The possibility that events in Ukraine will leave Putin victorious will only buck up al-Assad further and demonstrate that Russian street cred is rising. After all, in September, Putin masterfully intervened and used diplomacy to stay a U.S. military response against al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Now Putin appears to be standing up to the international community and ready to use force to protect Russia’s interests in Ukraine. He’s clearly not prepared to do that for Syria. But victories for Russia, particularly in the face of the West’s empty rhetoric and red lines, can only reinforce al-Assad’s conviction that he’s betting on the right ally.

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‘There’s no hope left’: the Syrian refugee camp that is becoming a township

f13-iconRobin Yassin-Kassab writes: This must be how the Palestinian camps began their slow transformation into towering townships. The Syrian families here are still living in canvas or plastic tents, but the little shops selling falafel and cola on the Atmeh camp’s “main street” are now breeze-block and corrugated-iron constructions. And now nobody dares talk about going home.

Atmeh camp, just inside Syria, hugs the Turkish border fence. It is December, and the population has risen in the six months since I was here in June, from 22,000 to almost 30,000. This new settlement is one of many – there are more than 6 million people displaced inside Syria, and more than 2 million in neighbouring states. The camp’s population dwindles and swells according to the vicissitudes of battle. When the regime reconquered (and obliterated) the Khaldiyeh quarter of Homs last July, an additional 50 to 60 families a day arrived.

Six months ago, when I last visited, I was able to travel deep into liberated Syria – as far as Kafranbel in the south of Idlib province – with nothing to fear from the Free Army fighters manning checkpoints. This time I don’t dare go as far as Atmeh village, sitting on the nearby hilltop, because it is occupied by al-Qaida franchise the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis). Last June the camp’s residents referred derisively to the mainly foreign jihadists as “the spicy crew”. Now they are a real threat – abducting and often murdering revolutionary activists, Free Army fighters and journalists. This development contributes greatly to the gloom of the camp’s residents.

In the camp, the steaming vats of the Maram Foundation’s charity kitchen are cooking the same meal they were six months ago: lentil soup. Children wait with buckets in the red mud outside for lunch to be distributed. Also on the main street is a new clinic and one-room dentist (funded by the Syrian-American Medical Society). Dr Haytham grins as he complains about the conditions. The roof leaks, and the recent snowstorm has flooded his crowded space, destroying electrical equipment. As he serves us tea, a boy called Mahmoud, aged about five, walks in to observe us, his face marked by post-treatment leishmaniasis scars (a resurgent disease caused by the sand flies which prosper in uncollected rubbish). Mahmoud seems a pleasant child at first, but after a smiling photograph with one of our group his mood flips; he violently pinches the hand of the man he’d been cuddling up to and then takes to whipping his older sister with a cable. “Nobody can control him,” somebody remarks. “He doesn’t have a father.”

Fatherless, husbandless, homeless … When I ask a man where he’d come from he changed the name of his town from Kafranboodeh to Kafr Mahdoomeh, “the Demolished Village”. I ask him why. “Because they haven’t left one house standing, nor any animals in the fields. What will we ever return to? The whole town’s gone.” [Continue reading...]

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ISIS retreats from key Syrian town

n13-iconThe Washington Post reports: Radical fighters staged a strategic retreat from a key Syrian town on the Turkish border Friday amid growing tensions with rival rebel factions that threaten to erupt in a new war.

The retreat from Azaz of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ended a five-month reign of terror by the renegade al-Qaeda faction, which has used its position in the town to control access to Turkey and compromise supply routes for more moderate rebels.

The withdrawal could signal a new phase in the intra-rebel fighting that has pitted more moderate factions against extremists across northern Syria in the past two months, undermining the wider battle against forces loyal to President Bashar ­al-Assad.

The exit came a day ahead of a deadline issued by Jabhat ­al-Nusra, the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, for ISIS to cease confronting rival rebels or face a new war. Commanders speculated that the ISIS fighters, who have resisted previous attempts at mediation, chose to pull out from Azaz to reinforce strongholds elsewhere in preparation for further conflict. [Continue reading...]

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British ex-Guantanamo inmate denies Syria-related terror charges

n13-iconReuters reports: A British man once held at Guantanamo Bay turned human rights campaigner told a court in London on Saturday he would plead not guilty to providing training and funding terrorism in Syria, police said.

Moazzam Begg, 45, who was released without charge from the U.S. military prison in Cuba in 2005, was detained at his home in Birmingham in central England last week and charged with terrorism offences dated between October 2012 and April 2013.

He appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court on Saturday and was remanded in custody to appear at London’s Old Bailey criminal court on March 14.

It is the first time he has ever faced any charges.

Begg was held by the U.S. government at Bagram detention center in Afghanistan, then Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, for nearly three years after being arrested in Pakistan in February 2002 suspected of being a member of al-Qaeda.

After his release, he founded Cage, a human rights organization that campaigns for the rights of people detained during counter-terrorism operations.

Cage accused British authorities of “retraumatising” Begg by refusing to grant him bail, saying this was part of a campaign to criminalize legitimate activism. [Continue reading...]

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ISIS withdraws from parts of northern Syria

n13-iconThe Associated Press reports: Members of an al-Qaida-breakaway group withdrew Friday from parts of the northern province of Aleppo, ahead of a Saturday deadline issued by another rebel group that could spark more infighting, opposition activists said.

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant evacuated from several towns north of Aleppo, including Azaz near the Turkish border, Aleppo-based activists who go by the names of Ibrahim Saeed and Abu Raed said. Rival fighters moved in shortly after, the activists and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The pullout came three days after the leader of a powerful al-Qaida-linked group in Syria gave the Islamic State a five-day ultimatum to accept mediation by leading clerics to end infighting or be “expelled” from the region.

The ultimatum, announced in an audio recording by the leader of the Nusra Front, aims to end two months of deadly violence between the Islamic State and other Islamic factions that activists say has killed more than 3,000 people. The infighting is undermining the opposition fighters’ wider struggle against President Bashar Assad’s government.

There has been no official reaction from the Islamic State so far but they most likely will reject the ultimatum, possibly leading to more deadly battles in the coming days.

Saeed said Islamic State fighters appear to be withdrawing toward their stronghold in the northeastern city of Raqqa, the first provincial capital in Syria to fall to the rebels. The Islamic State’s shadowy leader, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, once called it the group’s capital. [Continue reading...]

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Palestinians besieged in Yarmouk

Yarmouk

The Guardian reports: It is a vision of unimaginable desolation: a crowd of men, women and children stretching as far as the eye can see into the war-devastated landscape of Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

A photograph released on Wednesday by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, shows the scene when thousands of desperate Palestinians trapped inside the camp on the edge of the Syrian capital emerged to besiege aid workers attempting to distribute food parcels.

More than 18,000 people are existing under blockade inside Yarmouk, enduring acute shortages of food, medicines and other essentials. Much of the camp has been destroyed by shelling, and attempts to deliver aid to those inside have been hampered by continued fighting in Syria’s three-year-old civil war.

United Nations workers have delivered about 7,000 food parcels over recent weeks, following negotiations between the Syrian government, rebel forces and Palestinian factions within the camp. The most recent delivery, of 450 parcels, was on Wednesday. The UN acknowledges that the level of aid is a “drop in the ocean”. [Continue reading...]

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Syria: Leader of the Nusra Front challenges ISIS

n13-iconThe Associated Press reports: The leader of a powerful al-Qaida-linked group in Syria gave a rival breakaway group a five-day ultimatum to accept mediation by leading clerics to end infighting or be “expelled” from the region.

The ultimatum announced in an audio recording by the leader of the Nusra Front aims to end months of deadly violence between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other Islamic factions. The fighting has killed hundreds of people since the beginning of the year and is undermining their wider struggle against President Bashar Assad.

It comes two days after the killing of Abu Khaled al-Suri, who had acted as al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri’s representative in Syria. Rebels and activists believe he was assassinated by two suicide attackers from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Both the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are considered terrorist organizations by the United States.

Al-Zawahri has named the Nusra Front al-Qaida’s branch in Syria and broken ties with the Islamic State, which has increasingly clashed with rebel brigades in opposition-held areas of Syria. The Islamic State has angered other factions with its brutal tactics and campaign to Islamize areas under its control in the northeast.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in the fighting between the Islamic State and rebel groups, including the Nusra Front.

Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the Nusra Front leader, suggested in the audio recording arbitration by clerics to stop the infighting. He warned the Islamic State that it would be driven from Syria and “even from Iraq” if it rejected the results of arbitration. He did not elaborate on how his group might do that. [Continue reading...]

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