Syria Update: Assad Targets Sunni along Syria’s Coast
Recent violence against Sunni communities in Syria’s coastal region raises new concern over sectarianism in Syria. It also suggests to some that Assad will move to form an Alawi state. In fact, these events are perpetrated to demonstrate force and to drive a sectarian narrative that strengthens Assad’s base. Assad’s support in Qardaha has weakened, an influx of internally displaced persons has transfigured the coastal region, and there are opportunities to exploit these fluctuations in Assad’s position there.
Since May 6, the predominantly Sunni villages of Bayda and Baniyas have witnessed a sharp escalation in Sunni massacres. The pictures and videos emerging from Bayda are appalling. Entire families have been slaughtered, including countless children. According to testimonies from Bayda, some 400 people were killed and 300 disappeared; of those, roughly 200 were buried in a mass grave in the presence of the pro-regime militias on Saturday.
Of those buried, 150 were identified by name, while 50 bodies were difficult to identify because they were too disfigured or were of displaced persons from other areas. Similar numbers of people have reportedly been killed in the nearby city of Baniyas, and hundreds of residents have fled the area as the pro-regime militias continued to march from one Sunni village to another.
Syria: Brigade Fighting in Homs Implicated in Atrocities
Human Rights Watch has reviewed graphic evidence that appears to show a commander of the Syrian opposition “Independent Omar al-Farouq” brigade mutilating the corpse of a pro-government fighter. The figure in the video cuts the heart and liver out of the body and uses sectarian language to insult Alawites. The same brigade was implicated in April 2013 in the cross-border indiscriminate shelling of the Lebanese Shi’a villages of al-Qasr and Hawsh al-Sayyed.
It is not known whether the Independent Omar al-Farouq Brigade operates within the command structure of the Free Syrian Army. But the opposition Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army leadership should take all possible steps to hold those responsible for war crimes accountable and prevent such abuses by anyone under their command. Any party with the power to do so should do all it can to keep weapons from reaching the brigade. Human Rights Watch repeated its call to the United Nations Security Council to refer the Syria situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ensure accountability for all war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“One important way to stop Syria’s daily horrors, from beheadings to mutilations to executions, is to strip all sides from their sense of impunity,” said Nadim Houry, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “These atrocities are shocking but so is the obstruction of some Security Council members that still do not support an ICC referral for all sides.”
Report: German journalist held in Syria
A German journalist is being held by Syrian forces in the northern battlefield city of Aleppo, a Berlin newspaper reported online Monday, citing his call for help via a mobile phone text message.
Armin Wertz, an Indonesia-based veteran reporter writing for German and Asian media, had entered the conflict-torn country from neighboring Turkey in early May, said the Tagesspiegel daily, for which he works on a freelance basis.
In a first SMS sent on May 5, Wertz had told a friend and colleague in Germany that he was being held by Syrian police in Aleppo, but asked that his detention not be made public.
The journalist had however followed up with a second text message Sunday, explicitly appealing for help.
The report said Wertz was expected to be transferred to the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, which is under the control of regime forces.
The Tagesspiegel said Wertz had not said what he was being accused of but that he had entered the country without a press visa.
In conversation with Paul Conroy - Under the Wire: Marie Colvin's Final Assignment
Paul Conroy first met Marie Colvin in March 2003 in Syria. He was attempting to smuggle himself across the Tigris on a raft made of tubes stolen from lorries, with the aim to get into Iraq to cover the final assault on Baghdad. A firm friendship was forged over their many shared interests: sailing, whiskey, and their extraordinary dedication to covering the atrocities of war.
Having worked together in Libya in 2011, they were a natural pairing for an assignment to Homs. They were determined to cover the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown and the devastating impact this was having on civilians.
British PM talks tough action on Syria at press conference with President Obama
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he is not ruling out tougher action on Syria at a press conference with President Barack Obama.
Cameron, who is meeting with Obama in the White House at Washington DC, said there are plans to double non-lethal aid to Syrian opposition.
He discussed the EU arms embargo and appeared keen on arming the Syrian rebels by pushing for more flexibility. Cameron said that Britain is supporting Lebanon and Jordan deal with the influx of refugees.
Obama said the US is continuing its efforts to increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington DC, said that the White House administration is trying to build up the idea that they are considering arming rebel groups. She said the concern has been they do not trust the rebel groups there.
Iran foreign minister warns of Syria breakup
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned on Monday of the possibility of Syria breaking up and its conflict spilling across the Middle East unless a political solution can end the bloodshed.
"God forbid, if there was a void, or disintegration, in Syria, this crisis would spill over into all countries in the region," said Salehi, whose country is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Instead, the Assad regime and its opponents should seek a political solution by setting up a transitional government until elections, he told reporters in Jeddah.
He also rejected foreign intervention in Syria, which is in its third year of conflict after protests against the regime in 2011 morphed into an armed rebellion.
"The Syrian people should have self-determination... It is not permitted that decisions made abroad get to be imposed on an ancient country and people like Syria," he said.
Syrian army takes villages near Qusayr: officer
WESTERN DUMAYNA, Syria: Syrian troops captured three villages in the strategic Qusayr area of Homs province on Monday, allowing them to cut supply lines to rebels inside Qusayr town, a military officer told AFP.
"The attack on the villages of Western Dumayna, Haidariyeh and Esh al-Warwar began this morning," the lieutenant colonel said on condition of anonymity.
"The fighting lasted for three hours until we established control over these villages, which are considered strategic because they lie on the road between the cities of Homs and Qusayr and will allow us to block supplies to the militants in Qusayr," he said.
Western Dumayna is some eight kilometres (five miles) north of the rebel-held town of Qusayr, which has been at the centre of fierce battles between opposition forces and the Syrian military, backed by pro-Damascus group Hezbollah.
Turkish government blames Marxists with Syrian connections for bombings
Rage grew in a Turkish town on Syria's border Monday in the aftermath of weekend bombings, as the government blamed Marxists with Syrian connections for the deadly attacks.
Gathered before the ruins left when two explosive-laden cars went off Saturday, residents of Reyhanli called on Turkey's government to step down, alleging that it has gotten their country too involved Syria's troubles.
Hours later, rescuers pulled out another corpse from the rubble and placed it in a black body back for transit, said CNN Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman. It brought the death toll to at least 47. Another 100 or so have been injured, authorities have said.
Expectations about Syria's future and prospects for talks barely hover above rock bottom as Obama & Cameron talk.
The word among US's European allies is that Kerry is well ahead of the state department on his Syria peace conference worked up with Russia
State Dept: Kerry in contact w/stakeholders in region, Brahimi, Cameron in hopes of pulling off the Syria summit he and Lavrov announced. Kerry has said that this meeting is based on original Geneva mtg, same pool involved, but no final list of participants yet
State Dept: Kerry, Ford focused on locking in participation of the opposition. Syrian opp has said they're encouraged by steps, will vote
State Dept: Amb Ford was on a preplanned trip to deliver aid, has had sev conversations w/Syria opp to get them on board for talks w/regime
State Dept: We've seen reports of Assad success, do see progress by regime in some cases, why it's so important for us to aid the opposition
State Dept: Assad has lost his legitimacy, steadfast in our belief that he has to go and working w/opposition and allies to do that. What happened to changing Assad's calculus, now calling for talks w/regime? State Dept: We've always thought political solution was best
Q from AP: Only change in calculus is that Assad is gaining ground, no? State Dept: We're not ready to throw in our hat here.
State Dept: It's likely this summit will happen past end of May now bec of all the players involved, determine right grp of participants
Q from Reuters: Are you committing that a conference will happen? State: We are not naive about difficulties of pulling all sides together
Amazing video of a helicopter being shot down over Abu Dhoor airport in Idlib http://youtu.be/1hrCIjoelqg
Fires erupt at the Shabibeh base after shelling it with mortars Idlib