Editors Note: The US was dismissive of any evidence until late April when Israel made the official announcement that it believed the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. Israel claimed that the Syrian had used them five times, whereas the US claimed two uses. Last week Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan claimed ‘at least 200′ uses stating that he had absolute proof. Obama has also stated that he had already seen the proof, but reiterated that ‘more specific information’ is needed. The UN however have said that only one incident of their use has taken place and that it was the rebels, not the Syrian government, who used them. This claim was dismissed out of hand by the US, with them stating that it was probably carried out by the Syrian military even though Syrian soldiers died as a result.
‘President Barack Obama has said the US has seen evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria.
However, speaking after meeting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he insisted it was important to get more specific details about alleged chemical attacks.
Earlier, residents of a north Syrian town told a BBC reporter how government forces had dropped poisonous gas canisters on them from helicopters.’
by Nick Tattersall and Matt Spetalnick
‘President Barack Obama said on Thursday he reserved the right to resort to both diplomatic and military options to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but insisted that U.S. action alone would not be enough to resolve the Syrian crisis.
Taking a cautious line at a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Obama voiced hope that the United States and Russia would succeed in arranging an international peace conference on Syria, despite signs of growing obstacles.
Erdogan had been expected to push Obama, at least in private, for more assertive action on Syria during a visit to Washington this week, days after car bombs tore through a Turkish border town in the deadliest spillover of violence yet.
Obama – who has been reluctant to arm Syrian rebels or become enmeshed militarily in the conflict – made no mention of deeper engagement in Syria during an appearance at the White House, where the leaders sought to project a united front.’
WARNING: Graphic content. Viewer discretion advised.
The al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra rebels have released two videos, showing their fighters executing Syrian soldiers. The Nusra rebels regularly release videos of executions, much to the concern of international organisations given their influence in Syria.
This first video, released on Wednesday [May 15], shows the execution of three soldiers in Raqqa, with a statement read saying it was “retaliation” for claimed government massacres in Baniyas and Homs.
This second video, released the following day, shows 11 soldiers, bound and blindfolded before being shot to death. The executioner in the video said the killings were ordered by “the sharia court for Deir Azzor.”
by John Hudson
‘Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) introduced a bill Wednesday to arm the Syrian rebels, the latest piece of legislation aimed at pressuring the Obama administration to intervene more aggressively in the protracted civil war. The bill provides lethal weapons to vetted members of the Syrian opposition and beefs up sanctions on weapons sales and petroleum sales to President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime.
In short, it has all the hallmarks of the bill Menendez introduced last week, but with a bipartisan sheen. As Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described the Menendez bill last week, “If you want to pressure the president into acting, it’s a pretty good bill …The last time the Hill moved on Syria was sanctions on Syrian oil in the summer of 2011. That pressured the president to move, and this could too.” Its new bipartisan gloss could give it that much more power.
The legislation is set to be taken up by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a markup session scheduled for Tuesday, May 21.’
by MARK LANDLER
New York Times
‘In a clear warning to Syria to stop the transfer of advanced weapons to Islamic militants in the region, a senior Israeli official signaled on Wednesday that Israel was considering additional military strikes to prevent that from happening and that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, would face crippling consequences if he retaliated.’
‘HUMAN Rights Watch and the Syrian opposition National Coalition have condemned a gruesome video apparently showing a Syrian rebel fighter cutting out the heart of a regime soldier and eating it.
“International news agencies and social media websites have been circulating a video clip in which a person claiming to be a member of the rebels in Homs performs a horrific and inhumane act,” the National Coalition said.
“The Syrian Coalition strongly condemns this act – if it is revealed to be true. The coalition stresses that such an act contradicts the morals of the Syrian people, as well as the values and principles of the Free Syrian Army.”‘
by Thomas Seibert
‘A Turkish opposition MP yesterday accused the Syrian rebel group Jabhat Al Nusra of planting the twin car bombs that killed 46 people in a frontier town this weekend.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, said he held the Syrian government responsible for the attack in Reyhanli. But Mehmet Ali Ediboglu, who represents the Republican People’s Party (CHP), claimed that rebels with links to Al Qaeda had exploited lax security in Turkey’s Hatay province.
He said he believed that Al Nusra had planted the bombs in the frontier area in a bid to drag Turkey into Syria’s civil war because the rebels have realised that they need help to overthrow Bashar Al Assad’s regime.’
by ALBERT AJI
‘Syria’s president on Tuesday slashed prison terms for an unspecified number of rebels convicted as “terrorists,” reducing their sentences by three quarters, state media reported.
Bashar Assad also reduced the sentences of an unknown number of convicted criminals ahead of the country’s independence day, according to a presidential decree.
Assad has issued several similar measures during the country’s two-year crisis, including pardons for those convicted of acts against the state, usually ahead of national holidays.
The opposition has dismissed such decrees as empty gestures, saying that many political prisoners and dissidents remain in Syrian jails. Syrian authorities deny there is an uprising in the country and refer to rebels as terrorists carrying out a foreign conspiracy.’
by Jason Beattie
David Cameron today announced a major escalation in British support for the rebel forces battling the Syrian regime.
The Prime Minister said the UK would send £10million in military aid and £30million extra in humanitarian help.
The money would go on “non lethal” military equipment such as body armour and armoured cars, he said.
Speaking on a visit to the United States for talks with Barack Obama, he said there growing evidence the Bashar al Assad government has used chemical weapons against opponents.
by Tim Marshall
‘If the proverbial fact-finding spaceship landed in the Syrian province of Latakia, the proverbial aliens might report back to Planet X that the most popular person on earth was a tall man with a moustache called President Bashar al Assad.
They would of course be wrong – he is far from the most popular man in Syria, let alone the world. He is hated by millions. However, our alien friends could be forgiven their error because in Latakia he is indeed popular.
In the main city, so far spared the worst of the war, the streets are jammed with cars bearing his image on rear windscreens. His picture appears on buildings, billboards, houses, lamp-posts, wherever there is space to depict the president as the father of the nation. ‘
‘Tunisian Foreign Minister Othmane Jarandi told AFP on Saturday that some 800 Tunisians are fighting in Islamist rebel ranks in Syria and said the country would work to repatriate its citizens taken prisoner there.
“We don’t have exact numbers, since several people left the country illegally, but the most accurate estimate is a maximum of 800,” fighting in Syria, he said.
Tunis has been criticised by non-government organisations and the opposition since diplomatic relations with Damascus were severed in February 2011, and has been accused of abandoning Tunisians in Syria to their fate.’
by Richard Spencer
‘The black flag of al-Qaeda flies high over Raqqa’s main square in front of the smart new governor’s palace, its former occupant last seen in their prison. Their fighters, clad also in black, patrol the streets, or set up positions behind sandbags.
The Islamists smashed up one of the two shops that sold alcohol. That much was pretty inevitable, the locals agreed. The other off-licence had already closed, as had the casino on the outskirts of town.
They brought in a radical cleric from Egypt to preach Friday prayers, and set up a sharia court in the city’s new sports centre with the support of other brigades. They had their fiefdom — an entire city to run only 60 miles from Nato’S border.
[..] In Raqqa, a once conservative but by all accounts not religious city, the triumph of al-Qaeda’s Syrian arm, Jabhat al-Nusra, would seem to be complete.’
‘A militant Palestinian group in Damascus said it is forming combat units to try to recapture Israeli-occupied territory, in particular the Golan Heights, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah that they would support such operations.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) said it was preparing for new operations after nearly 40 years of quiet on the Israel-Syria border.
The group, designated terrorists by the United States and others in the West, was most active in the 1970s and 80s but retains influence with Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon.’
by Aryn Baker
‘The video starts out like so many of the dozens coming out of the war in Syria every day, with the camera hovering over the body of a dead Syrian soldier. But the next frame makes it clear why this video, smuggled out of the city of Homs and into Lebanon with a rebel fighter, and obtained by TIME in April, is particularly shocking. In the video a man who is believed to be a rebel commander named Khalid al-Hamad, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, bends over the government soldier, knife in hand. He has sliced through the soldier’s fatigues and is working the knife though the pale skin of the soldier’s torso. He has already cut out the man’s heart. The man then cuts another organ free and stands to face the camera, holding an organ in each hand. “I swear we will eat from your hearts and livers, you dogs of Bashar,” he says, referring to supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Off camera, a small crowd can be heard calling out “Allahu akbar” — God is great. Then the man raises one of the bloodied organs to his lips and starts to tear off a chunk with his teeth.
Two TIME reporters first saw the video in April in the presence of several of Abu Sakkar’s fighters and supporters, including his brother. They all said the video was authentic. We later obtained a copy. Since then TIME has been trying to ensure that the footage is not digitally manipulated in any way — a faked film like this would be powerful propaganda for the regime, which portrays the rebels as terrorists — and, as yet, TIME has not been able to confirm its integrity. Abu Sakkar has not commented on whether the man in the video is indeed him because he is currently fighting on the front lines in Syria, according to fighters under his command. The video became public on May 12 when it was posted online by a proregime group and is indeed now being used as propaganda by regime supporters (and has already been shared 1,115 times on Facebook and has over 46,000 views on YouTube). These 27 seconds of footage provide a glimpse at how brutal the Syrian war has become — and a startling example of how technology appears to be fueling that brutality.’
by Liz Sly
The Washington Post
‘Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are beginning to turn the tide of the country’s war, bolstered by a new strategy, the support of Iran and Russia and the assistance of fighters with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
A series of modest, scattered gains by government forces in recent weeks has produced no decisive breakthrough. But the advances have been made in strategically important locations and point to a new level of direction and energy previously unseen in the army’s performance, military analysts, rebels and Syrians close to the government say.’
by ALEXANDER MARQUARDT
‘[...] That large conflict is what many fear is the next chapter of Syria’s brutal two-year war. As it drags on, it has grown more sectarian and more likely to spill over into neighboring countries. In the immediate term, Lebanon would be foremost among them, directly pitting Hezbollah militants against al Qaeda-linked jihadists who have flocked to Syria from across the Muslim world.
Hezbollah fighters are already fighting those rebels on a relatively small scale in Syria, the group’s leader confirmed last week. Several dozen are believed to have been killed in the past several months, their bodies sent back to Lebanon for burial.
Most of the action they’ve seen recently has been defending the Lebanese Shiites living in over 20 border villages inside Syria, notably al-Qasr, home to Lebanese Shiites and Christians which has come under attack by fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra.’
‘Syria on Sunday rejected Turkey’s allegations that it was behind two car bombs that killed 46 people in Turkey and wounded dozens more.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told a news conference that “Syria did not and will never do such an act because our values do not allow this. It is not anyone’s right to hurl unfounded accusations.” Zoubi’s comments were the first official Syrian response since Saturday’s bombings in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, near Syria.
The Syrian minister alleged that Turkey is responsible “for all that happened in Syria and what happened in Turkey yesterday,” but did not explain.
He also launched one of the harshest personal attacks on Turkey’s prime minister by an Syrian official so far, demanding that Recep Tayyip Erdogan ”step down as a killer and as a butcher.”‘
Editors Note: Brzezinski’s article was written in response to John McCain’s piece calling for U.S. intervention in Syria, who along with Lindsey Graham and other Republicans are the main cheerleaders for getting involved, at least in public. Along with large parts of the media of course who don’t seem to be able to turn down a firework show when the opportunity comes along. Zbig, who isn’t exactly some peace loving, weed smoking hippy, argues: “the Syrian conflict is a sectarian war in a volatile region whose potential to spread and directly threaten American interests would only be increased by U.S. intervention.” Brzezinski you may recall, played a leading role as Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor in funding and arming the Mujihadeen prior to the Soviet Union becoming entangled in 1979. Later bragging how he gave the Soviets their own Vietnam.
by Zbigniew Brzezinski
‘[...] The struggle is between forces funded and armed by outside sponsors, notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran. Also participating are foreign religious groups not directly controlled by the sponsors, namely the Sunni Salafists and Iranian-aligned militias, not to mention intensely anti-Western al-Qaeda fighters. American involvement would simply mobilize the most extreme elements of these factions against the U.S. and pose the danger that the conflict would spill over into the neighborhood and set Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon on fire.
…Broader regional fighting could bring the U.S. and Iran into direct conflict, a potentially major military undertaking for the U.S. A U.S.-Iran confrontation linked to the Syrian crisis could spread the area of conflict even to Afghanistan. Russia would benefit from America’s being bogged down again in the Middle East. China would resent U.S. destabilization of the region because Beijing needs stable access to energy from the Middle East.
…The various schemes that have been proposed for a kind of tiddlywinks intervention from around the edges of the conflict—no-fly zones, bombing Damascus and so forth—would simply make the situation worse. None of the proposals would result in an outcome strategically beneficial for the U.S. On the contrary, they would produce a more complex, undefined slide into the worst-case scenario…’
‘Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told US media he has evidence that Syria used chemical weapons against opposition forces.
He said that missile remains were discovered and Syrian patients showed signs of wounds from chemical weapons.’
Abby Martin talks to Eric Margolis, award-winning columnist and author, about the US’s role in Afghanistan post 2014, hypocrisy over the war in Syria, and the US militaries evolution into colonialist wars.
‘Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to tamper his views on the likelihood of Syria’s use of chemical weapons with his belief that a peaceful resolution is possible in the Syria crisis, during a Google+ Hangout on Friday afternoon.
“We owe it to the world to try and get there and to explore in good faith whether or not we can avoid the bloodshed, avoid the violence,” Kerry said.
While confessing his belief that there is “strong evidence” that Syrian President Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons, Kerry pressed the importance for talks, as difficult as they may seem at the current moment.
“It’s not an easy path, but it is a path I think we, as a matter of conscience, are obligated to go down,” Kerry said.’
by Beth McLeod
‘[...] Andrew Harper, the Representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Jordan, is concerned that some of the 500,000 Syrian refugees in the country are increasingly turning to such desperate measures.
“We don’t have enough resources to give aid to all those who need it. The vast majority of refugees are women and children. Many of them are not used to going out to work, so survival sex becomes an option.”
His office in central Amman is surrounded by hundreds of newly arrived refugees, waiting in long lines to register for aid. He says the UNHCR has intervened with some families who have been offering their daughters up for early marriage.’
‘Russia is not planning to supply Syria with any weapons beyond the current contracts that are nearing completion, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The news comes amid speculations that Moscow might sell S-300 air defense systems to Damascus.
“Russia does not plan to sell,” Lavrov told reporters. He stressed that Russia has only been fulfilling contracts that have already been signed with Syria for defensive weapons.’
‘Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah says Syria will supply his forces with “game-changing weapons” despite alleged Israeli airstrikes aimed at stemming the flow of arms across the Syrian border with Lebanon.
Nasrallah made a TV appearance after Israeli warplanes reportedly launched strikes within Syrian territory on Friday and Sunday. In carrying out the attacks, Israeli fighters flew over Lebanon and allegedly fired air-to-ground weapons at their targets.
The airstrike were targeting Iranian-supplied missiles that were en route to Hezbollah, anonymous Israeli officials later told media, a claim which Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Muqdad dismissed on Thursday.
“They absolutely did not achieve their objective and they lied when they said they are targeting Hezbollah,”he said in an interview with AFP. He further promised that Syria would “respond immediately” to any future Israeli attacks against its territory.’
by John Glaser
‘Much has been made of the Obama administration’s decision to set up shop in Jordan under the pretense of containing the Syrian conflict and of training so-called moderate elements in the Syrian rebel opposition. That is the pretense that has so far been publicized in the news media and is thus the pretense that critics have denounced as a matter of policy.
The popular refrain among those who oppose US intervention in Syria has been that the Obama administration is siding with Sunni jihadists to unseat the Assad regime. I’ve argued that is not what is happening, or at least that it is grossly oversimplified.’
‘[...] In an interview with Al Ghad television broadcast last week, Mr Al Khatib advocated opening channels of communication with Islamic hardliners fighting against Mr Al Assad rather than declaring war on them.
“We refuse any radical thinking but this does not mean we can exclude them, they are Syrians and they have the right to speak up, and we need to enter into a dialogue with them. They are Syrians and for me a Syrian is worth more than the whole world,” he said.
Although he did not mention Jabhat Al Nusra by name, an opposition figure with close ties to Mr Al Khatib said the cleric favoured talks with them and even suggested Al Nusra send a representative to sit in on SNC military and political meetings, in order to improve coordination.’
Editor’s Note: Officials have stated that the decision to announce this new humanitarian aid is not related to the recent reports that the Obama Administration is considering arming the rebels. Much of the previous ‘humanitarian’ aid has consisted of supplies and training for the rebels.
by BRADLEY KLAPPER and MATTHEW LEE
‘The Obama administration is providing $100 million in new Syria aid, U.S. officials said Wednesday, but the money is for humanitarian purposes only and not linked to any decision on arming Syrian rebels.
[...] The new funds will help support 1.4 million Syrian refugees, including many in U.S. ally Jordan, and hundreds of thousands of other civilians still trapped by the violence inside Syria’s border. Total U.S. humanitarian assistance in the two-year war will climb to $510 million.
[...] While the cash influx will certainly be welcomed by aid groups and refugee organizations that have lamented a lack of financial support, it is unlikely to end the clamoring for lethal assistance among the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.’
Russians, U.S. agree to Syria talks, but anti-Assad opposition may refuse to participate ~ McClatchy
by Jonathan S. Landay and Hannah Allam
‘The United States and Russia agreed Tuesday to try to convene an international conference on ending Syria’s brutal civil war – possibly by the end of May – but the effort appeared to run into trouble within hours of its announcement with the key U.S.-backed opposition group reiterating that it won’t attend talks involving top Assad regime officials.
The bid to revive a long-stalled peace plan, unveiled in Moscow by Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, reflected both sides’ fears that worsening bloodshed, living conditions and waves of refugees are driving Syria to disintegration and threatening to plunge the region into sectarian mayhem.’