In Syria, Two Opponents Of The Regime Fight Each Other
In a small border town in northern Syria, there are two groups that both oppose President Bashar Assad's regime. But instead of working in tandem, the Syrian rebels and a Kurdish militia have been battling each other in the town of Ras al-Ayn.
Sally Ali, a 26-year-old resident of Ras al-Ayn, told NPR by phone that the streets are completely empty. "It's a ghost town," she says.
She estimates about half of the town's residents fled to nearby villages; the other half are trapped in their homes by the ongoing violence.
The Kurdish militia is known as the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, and it has exercised almost complete control in Ras al-Ayn since government troops withdrew last July.
However, the rebels of the Free Syrian Army are eager to capture the strategically important border town and are suspicious that the PYD made a deal with Assad's government to facilitate its withdrawal.
France sees no sign Syria's Assad will be toppled soon
France said on Thursday there were no signs that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is about to be overthrown, something Paris has been saying for months was just over the horizon.
The uprising against Assad's rule is now almost two years old. 60,000 Syrians have been killed and another 650,000 are now refugees abroad, according to the United Nations.
France, a former colonial ruler of Syria, has been one of the most vocal backers of the rebels trying to topple Assad and was the first to recognize the opposition coalition.
"Things are not moving. The solution that we had hoped for, and by that I mean the fall of Bashar and the arrival of the (opposition) coalition to power, has not happened," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in his annual New Year's address to the press.
Fabius told RFI radio in December "the end is nearing" for Assad. But on Thursday, he said international mediation and discussions about the crisis that began in March 2011 were not getting anywhere. "There are no recent positive signs," he said.
Syrian rebels receive training in Geneva Conventions from Swiss
RTS has reported that the Swiss government trained Syrian rebels in Geneva Conventions' protocol in November.
The training in the rules of war took place near Lake Geneva in mid-November, with 15 Syrian participants.
It was kept secret until now for security reasons.
Who participated in the training is unclear but reports claim it included rebels both within and outside Syria.
More young Syrians disillusioned by the revolution
It was on a bus ride home from college that Ahmed lost his faith in the Syrian revolution.
The trip was long, about 400 miles across the desert from Damascus. As Ahmed swayed in his seat next to another man, the bus slowed and then stopped. Ahmed looked out the window. There were about 50 black-clad militiamen at a checkpoint, rebel fighters whose cause he had passionately supported.
Several entered the bus, gripping their rifles. They told the women on board, some without head coverings, to hide their faces. They told the men to take out their IDs and fold their hands behind their heads.
"We won't joke about this anymore," one warned. "This time, it's not a problem, but next time, women should cover their hair and behave like good Muslims."
Until that moment, Ahmed, a journalism student at Damascus University, had believed in the revolution. But as he watched the rebel soldiers, he saw his dreams of a democratic Syria being hijacked by extremists.
For Ahmed, at least for now, the revolution was over.
Many Syrian young people have followed a similar path in recent months. Excitement about the uprising that began in the spring of 2011 has turned to skepticism and fear as violence has grown and opposition militias, some funded by foreign extremists, have become increasingly influenced by Islamic fundamentalism.
Of course the regime has also been raiding, bombing, and shelling churches and mosques for a couple years now.
Syria rebels 'attacked' religious sites
Rebels in Syria have burned and looted the religious sites of minorities, Human Rights Watch says, warning that the 22-month old conflict could become increasingly sectarian.
"The destruction of religious sites is furthering sectarian fears and compounding the tragedies of the country, with tens of thousands killed," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of the US-based rights group, said on Wednesday.
"Syria will lose its rich cultural and religious diversity if armed groups do not respect places of worship. Leaders on both sides should send a message that those who attack these sites will be held accountable."
In the village of Zarzour in Idlib province, researchers found evidence of deliberate damage to the local husseiniya, a Shia place of worship, caused by opposition fighters in December.
Its windows were broken, prayer stones littered on the floor, walls charred from flames, and what appeared to be the remnants of a burned prayer rug lay on the floor.
Turkey urges UN action on Syria
Turkey has called on the UN Security Council to deal with war crimes and the humanitarian crisis in Syria, while Russia accused the Syrian opposition of holding up peace efforts.
In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday slammed the Syrian opposition for its "obsession" with toppling strongman Bashar al-Assad.
"It is Russia that made attempts to convince the Syrian opposition to start talks. ... Until now the opposition held back by seeking to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad," he added, according to Itar-Tass news agency.
"Our priority is not reaching a geo-political aim - like the toppling of al-Assad regime - but a stabilisation of the situation and a rapid end to the bloodshed to save Syrian lives," said Lavrov.
How Syria's bloodshed drove a peaceful protester into the battlelines
"Still alive," Abu Omar said ruefully, responding to my question of "How have you been?" It's become something of a standard reply.
We'd last seen each other in Damascus almost exactly a year ago, when Abu Omar and other activists devised an elaborate plan to smuggle us into the neighborhood of Kafarsouseh, right in the heart of the capital.
We had snuck out of our hotel at dark, changing taxis multiple times, trying to shake off any government spies who may have been following us. We'd devised a "signal": if my hat was on, it meant that we were fairly confident no one was behind us. If it was off, it would let Abu Omar know that we'd been tailed. He and the other activists knew only too well the price they would pay if caught.
It was a gamble for sure -- one we were acutely aware would have significantly more serious consequences for those moving us around.
3415 arrivals 2 Jordan since 10am yesterday (IOM). Refugees cont. to report large numbers in syria waiting to x. pic.twitter.com/RcUoJ670
FSA in besieged area of Homs retook a part of Qarabees neighborhood again, after fierce clashes & barbaric shelling that R still ongoing!
Retaking a part of Qarabees in Homs by FSA is very BIG deal, considering severe dearth of firepower after 230 days of suffocating siege!!
On the other hand massacres continue, while large amount of BIG lies R being prepared as pretext 4 not issuing UN resolution about Syria!!
Former US Amb to Syria Robert Ford confirms Guardian reports that Jihad Makdissi now in US as refugee.
Ford also confirmed to @IvanCNN that Assad's mother, Anissa Makhlouf, is in the UAE
Kerry on Syria : Engaged Assad when there was an opportunity, it's "ancient history", he must go. Even Russia realizes opposition progress
Kerry is a realist on Syria, he called on Assad to step down, consider arming opposition before the Obama administration.
Assad mother Anissa Makhlouf who left to UAE had strong influence on son, but Bashar's uncle Mohamad Makhlouf, is more influential.
Rubio: When opposition wins in Syria & they will win,they will be as angry at us as they are about Russia because we didn't get involved.
Why do you think jihadists went to Syria? Its because of all of you people who wanted to be in the gray zone. They filled your void.
The FSA is trying to liberate the shughoor village in the suburbs of JisrAlshughoor. There are at least 5 martyrs there now. Idlib
Just a heads up...Most of the Idlib news i used to tweet I am now reporting it on the Edlib News Network pages. Follow @EdlibNet !
Reports that the Alshughr area in JisrAlshughoor Idlib has been completely liberated!
15 tanks were seen headed towars Ariha from the Maasara checkpoint. Idlib Also 13 tanks were brought to the Maasara chpt from Hama
4 martyrs from Kafr`waid Idlib in Tishreen Damascus after shabiha lined them up and shot them all.