Facebook

Twitter

iTunes

RSS

HEAR THIS HOUR'S UPDATE

Entries in Syria (562)

Wednesday
Aug142013

Report: Sudan Supplying Arms to Syrian Rebels

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In a complicated arrangement, Syrian rebels have been getting arms supplies from the Republic of Sudan, the New York Times reports.

According to the paper, the Syrian opposition has been using weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles and small-arms cartridges that are made by Sudan and China.

The weapons are placed into rebel hands through a complex route, first being sold to Qatar, which opposes the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and then shipped through Turkey before winding up with opposition groups.

It remains unclear how much of an impact the weapons from Sudan have had in helping the rebels to fight the much-better-equipped Syrian army and its allies, including Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.

However, the action seems to underscore the frustration the Syrian opposition feels as it awaits military help from the U.S. and Europe, which has been slow in coming.

Furthermore, Sudan's arms shipments also likely won't please close allies Iran and China, which support al-Assad's regimes.

The Times explains the motivation might purely be financial, as the west African nation is in dire economic straits.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jul142013

Syrian Airstrike Hits 12th Century Castle

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(HOMS, Syria) -- Video has emerged of a Syrian airstrike hitting one of Syria’s most famous landmarks, Crac des Chevaliers. Opposition activists released footage showing a direct hit on one of the castle’s towers, followed by a massive blast.

“This is the destruction caused by MiG airstrike on the Crac des Chevaliers,” says one activist filming.

A second video shows severe damage inside the castle, and a third video features the sound of airstrikes overhead.

Built in the 12th century, the crusader castle is one of six UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country, once described by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) as the “best-preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world.” Known in Arabic as Qala’at el Hosn, or the “stronghold castle,” it is strategically located on a hill at the western entrance to Homs, not far from the Lebanese border.

Activists in the area tell ABC News that the castle, which is currently controlled by the opposition, has come under heavy aerial bombardment in recent days as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad battle for Homs.

It’s not the first time Crac des Chevaliers has been hit. In January 2013 activists uploaded footage purporting to be a government attack on the castle:

In July 2012, the Director General of UNESCO appealed for the protection of the castle and Syria’s other heritage sites including the ancient city of Aleppo, Palmyra, the Ancient Villages in Northern Syria and Damascus. Earlier this year, UNESCO added all six sites to its World Heritage in Danger list.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jul132013

Foreign Minister Says Iraq Can't Stop Iran Arms Shipments to Syria

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- Iraq does “not have the ability to stop” the transport of weapons from Iran to Syria through its airspace without help, Iraq’s foreign minister said on Saturday.

“We reject and condemn the transfer of weapons through our airspace and we will inform the Iranian side of that formally,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview published Saturday.

Without elaborating on what Iran may be delivering to Syria, Zebari said to anyone who thought Iraq was ignoring arms shipments, “I invite you, in the name of the government to help us stop these flights across Iraqi airspace.”

His comments come 10 months after ABC News first reported U.S. officials were furious with Iraq for allowing Iran to use its airspace, violating a U.N. Security Council ban on weapons exports from the Islamic Republic.

Last September, State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that the U.S. had warned Iraqi officials about the issue and as recently as March 2013, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Baghdad to begin inspecting planes flying from Tehran to Damascus.

“Anything that supports President Assad is problematic,” Kerry said in Baghdad. At the time, the New York Times reported that Iranian planes delivering arms to Syria passed through Iraq almost daily.

But Zebari said that their inspections had only turned up non-lethal aid including food and medicine.

The Syrian regime has long been propped up by the Shiite leadership in Iran, which sees the survival of President Bashar al-Assad as a key to its regional strength and leverage. In keeping Assad’s Alawite government afloat, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam, Tehran seeks to counterbalance the U.S.’s relationship with Israel and Iran’s Arab rivals.  Iran has sent money, weapons and fighters to support the Syrian army, though most of the extra manpower has come from Lebanon’s leading Islamic military and political force, Hezbollah, also supported by Iran.

Most recently, a senior State Department official told ABC News that according to the Free Syrian Army, Hezbollah and Iranian fighters played a key role on the ground in the battle of Qusair.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jun162013

David Cameron and Vladimir Putin Discuss Syria on Eve of G8 Summit

FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- On the eve of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in London Sunday to discuss the Syrian crisis.

Though Cameron and Putin both readily admit that they have disagreements over Syria, the two leaders said they both want to see an end to the conflict.

“We have a common goal and a common desire to provide conditions for the settlement of that conflict,” Putin said. “I can agree with the prime minister that it can, it should be done as soon as possible.”

“We can overcome these differences if we recognize that we share some fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian people choose who governs them, and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them,” said Cameron, speaking to reporters after the meeting.

The two discussed how best to use the G8 Summit to help bring an end to the bloodshed in the embattled Middle East country. Cameron said they agreed that the G8 must back the work of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The challenge for the G8 and for this process,” Cameron said, “is to try and put aside some of the differences and to focus on the common ground, where we both want to see a peace process, a transition, take place.”

Though they agreed upon the need to work to overcome their differences, Putin did make a point to defend Russia’s support of the Assad Regime.

“Russia supplies to the legitimate government of Syria in full compliance with the norms of international law,” he said. “We're not breaching anything.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jun162013

Syria Crisis to Top G-8 Summit Agenda

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(COUNTY FERMANAGH, Northern Ireland) -- The civil war in Syria is expected to dominate much of the discussion as President Obama sits down Monday with the Group of Eight leaders in Northern Ireland, just days after the White House confirmed the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“They’ll clearly discuss the situation in Syria, to include the most recent chemical weapons assessment that we’ve provided, the efforts that are underway to support both the opposition but also a political settlement in the country,” Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes told reporters Friday.

The Obama administration has said it will provide more “direct support” to the Syrian opposition now that the president’s “red line” has been crossed. The U.S., he added, has “steadily increased both the size and scope of our assistance” to the Supreme Military Council, the armed wing of the Syrian opposition.

“At the same time, you know, this is a fluid situation. So it’s necessary for [the president] to consult with all the leaders at the G-8 about both our chemical weapons assessment and the types of support we’re providing to the opposition,” he added.

The president will also, however, have to sway Assad’s allies, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama and Putin will meet face-to-face at the G-8 summit for the first time in a year.

Russia has publicly questioned American evidence that Assad used chemical weapons and does not agree that Assad must step down from power for a political settlement to be successful.

“What Russia has articulated to us, and publicly, is that they don’t want to see a downward spiral,” Rhodes said. “They don’t want to see a chaotic and unstable situation in the region. They don’t want to see extremist elements gaining a foothold in Syria. And the point that we’ve made to Russia is that the current course in which Assad is not being appropriately pressured to step down from power by those who continue to support him in the international community is bringing about those very outcomes.”

“We still continue to discuss with the Russians whether there’s a way to bring together elements of the regime and the opposition to achieve a political settlement. We have no illusions that that’s going to be easy,” he added.

While the Syrian crisis will overshadow much of the summit agenda, there are many other topics up for discussion, including economic reform, trade and the fight against terrorism.

Obama is expected to defend his administration’s phone and internet surveillance programs as vital counterterrorism tools. “He’ll be able to discuss with the other leaders the importance of these programs in terms of our counterterrorism efforts in particular, the constraints and safeguards that we place on these programs so that they have oversight against potential abuses,” Rhodes said.

“And all of these countries at the G-8 are important counterterrorism partners. And together we’ve worked with them on an intelligence and security relationship to foil terrorist attacks in the United States and in Europe, and of course Russia shares a significant counterterrorism interest with us as well,” he said.

In addition to participating in a series of high-level meetings, the president will also deliver a major address in Northern Ireland at the Belfast Waterfront Convention Center. This will be the president’s first opportunity to address at length the support that the U.S. has provided to the peace process in Northern Ireland and to the development of its economy.

After two days of summit meetings, the president will travel to Berlin, where he will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck, and deliver a major address at the historic Brandenburg Gate.

The short three-day trip to Europe will be also a family affair for the president. The first lady and daughters Sasha and Malia will be joining him.

Mrs. Obama and her daughters will attend the president’s speech in Belfast and then break off to travel to Dublin, while the president is busy with summit meetings. There, they will tour Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university and “explore the archives that they’ve gathered to document the Obamas’ Irish ancestry,” Rhodes explained.

The first family will reunite in Berlin.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun032013

McCain Says Al-Assad Has 'Upper Hand' in Syria

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Senator John McCain's visit to Syria last week was a secret, but he's not holding back on what he thinks is the status of the two-year-long conflict and it isn't good.

Appearing on CBS' Face the Nation Monday, the Arizona Republican accused the U.S. of sitting back and watching as President Bashar al-Assad gains "the upper hand" on the Syrian opposition.

McCain said the fighters that he met during his unannounced and quick sojourn into Syria from Turkey were neither al Qaeda or extremists elements but "some very strong and good people who are fighting for freedom and are being massacred as we speak."

However, without help from Washington and the West, McCain said the previous contention one year ago that al-Assad looked like he was on his way out doesn't apply anymore.

Repeating the assessment of Middle East analysts who say that the Syrian government has been boosted by Russian and Iranian weapons as well as Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, McCain said the quickest way to help the Syrian opposition is with a no-fly zone that would not entail any direct U.S. military involvement.

Meanwhile, as far as the upcoming peace summit in Geneva is concerned, McCain expressed doubts al-Assad would send representatives as long as he's prevailing on the battlefield.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May282013

Missile Strikes in Beirut Could Heat Up Syrian Conflict

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(BEIRUT) -- A rocket attack in Beirut is stirring fears that Syria's two-year conflict could drag Lebanon into a no-win situation.

On Sunday, two missiles struck a neighborhood where the militant group Hezbollah makes its headquarters.

While only four injuries were reported, it's believed the strike was a message from Syrian rebels to Hezbollah to stop supporting President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Hezbollah has sent fighters into Syria to assist al-Assad's attempt at remaining in power. However, Sunni Muslims in Lebanon oppose their involvement, siding with rebels who seek a new government in Syria.

Nonetheless, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has reiterated his group's commitment to help defeat his allies' enemies.

In a statement, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby "urged the leaders of Hezbollah to reconsider their stance and not get involved in the killing in Syria, stressing that the only way to protect Lebanon...is to protect Lebanon's internal unity."

The Arab League is concerned that sectarian violence could turn Lebanon into the next Syria.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
May272013

Sen. McCain Secretly Visits Syria, Meets with Rebels

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Sen. John McCain crossed the Syrian border to meet with rebel forces Monday, ABC News has confirmed.

McCain, one of the strongest critics of President Obama’s handling of the bloody two-year old conflict between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces, is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria since the civil war began.

The trip was first reported by The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin.

McCain traveled across the border from Turkey to Syria with Gen. Salem Idris, leader of the rebel forces known as the Supreme Military Command. Idris has become the principal interlocutor between the international community and the highly localized Syrian rebel movement.

ABC News confirmed that in meetings with rebel forces during McCain’s several-hour visit to Syria, rebel leaders called for more support from the U.S., including assistance in the form of heavy arms, airstrikes against the Syrian national army, and the enforcement of a no-fly zone.

McCain has also called for the administration to enforce a no-fly zone and provide additional assistance to the Syrian rebels.

McCain has made clear his belief that President Obama's not doing enough to help the Syrian rebels and that they are running out of time and ammunition.  Obama has been reluctant to send weapons, and is instead urging a negotiated peace.

The Obama administration announced in April that it would provide $123 million in non-lethal aid to the rebels.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
May242013

Syrian Activist Presents Plan to End Long Civil War

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Any plan to end the long conflict in Syria is worth considering at this point, no matter how far-fetched it might seem.

Opposition activist Moaz al-Khatib, who once led the Syrian National Coalition, is proposing that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be allowed to step down without fear of repercussions.

In a Facebook posting, al-Khatib outlined his plan, which would give the embattled Syrian leader three weeks from now to accept "a peaceful transition of authority."

When that happens, al-Assad would have a month to hand over the reins of power to either Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi or Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa.

Their rule would only be temporary, under al-Khatib's proposal, as Syria would switch from a transitional to permanent government within 100 days.

While al-Khatib's allies and the West would likely go along with the plan, the major stumbling block is al-Assad himself who has said he would fight to the death rather than give in to his enemies.

Nevertheless, al-Khatib contends his idea is "a practical response to the need of a political settlement ensuring a peaceful transition of authority."

What's more, he said the Syrian president could leave the country with 500 people of his choice to whatever nation will accept them.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
May232013

Kerry Pushing Al-Assad to Find Peace in Syria 

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(AMMAN, Jordan) -- Secretary Of State John Kerry is sending a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: either find a peaceful solution to the two-year civil war or be prepared to deal with the international community boosting aid to the foes of his regime.

Speaking ahead of the 11-nation "Friends of Syria" conference in Amman, Jordan Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy urged al-Assad, who has vowed not to surrender, to make "a commitment to find peace in his country."

Otherwise, Kerry warned that Washington and its allies will have no choice but to increase assistance to the Syrian opposition, which has thus far not included any weaponry.

Last week, Kerry and his Russian counterpart announced that the two nations would spearhead a conference in Geneva set for early June "to end the bloodshed which has cost tens of thousands of lives."

The plan is to involve both sides in the Syrian conflict as well as other members of the international community, although neither al-Assad nor Syrian rebels have committed to sending representatives to the summit.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio