A terrifying report on Communities Digital News April 25 notes an "Anti-Shia Alliance" convention held the previous week in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, attended by thousands of militant Sunnis who called for "jihad" against Shi'ite Muslims. Several Indonesian government officials were in attendance. During the conference, a Shi'ite journalist, covering the program for Ahlulbait Indonesia, reported being detained, interrogated, and beaten by group organizers and attendees. The international conference issued an "Anti Shia Declaration" which resolved that "The alliance will take any necessary measures to maximize the prevention of the proliferation of heretical teachings by Shia followers." In a speech, bin Zein al-Kaff, leader of Indonesiia's Anti-Heresy Front, said "It's time that we declared jihad against them…We should not tolerate them anymore."
The United States and Turkey have said they are following up on renewed accusations that the Syrian regime continues to use chemical weapons against civilians. If true, the government's use of such weapons would be a violation of its agreement with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, both of which it signed last September. Over the past few months, members of the Syrian opposition, including the main umbrella group the Syrian National Coalition, have accused the regime of using chemical weapons, mainly in the suburbs of Damascus, in areas such as Jobar and Harasta. "There have been at least four such attacks in recent months, involving high doses of chlorine and pesticides," said Sinan Hatehet, director of the Coalition's media office. He added that although the attacks only killed around 15 people, the chemicals were primarily being used as a psychological weapon.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated Moscow's support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad in an April 2 message delivered by a visiting delegation of the Russia-based Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, headed by the society's chairman Sergei Stepashin. In the message, Putin hailed Assad's war against "international terrorism" that he asserted is "backed" by Western nations. (Xinhua, April 2) The message comes amid reports from Jane's Defense Weekly that Assad's military started using longer-range Russian Smerch and Uragan rockets for the first time in February. Ruslan Pukhov, an adviser to Russia's Defense Ministry and head of the Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, confirmed that Moscow is supplying a "lifeline" of ammunition and parts for tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters to Damascus. Alexei Malashenko, Middle East analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said: "Russia is now doing everything to ensure that Assad wins convincingly. If Russia can show it's capable of carrying out its own foreign policy, regardless of America’s wishes, it will be a major achievement for Putin." (Bloomberg, April 2)
The death toll in the three-year Syrian conflict has exceeded 150,000, a British-based human rights group announced on April 2. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), 150,344 persons have died since the uprising began in March 2011. The death toll includes 51,212 civilians, including 7,985 children and 5,266 women. The numbers do not include the 18,000 detainees in regime prisons or the "thousands who disappeared during regime raids and massacres." SOHR estimates that the non-Syrian casualties to be approximately 70,000 more than the documented number, "due to the extreme discretion by all sides of the human losses caused by the conflict and due to the difficulty of communication in Syria." Finally, SOHR called on both sides to peaceably end the conflict.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) announced March 31 that a ceasefire agreement was reached in Syria's Yarmouk refugee camp. Husam Arafat, a PFLP-GC leader based in the West Bank, said in a statement that an agreement had been reached between Palestinian factions and other militant groups in the Damascus camp. Under the terms of the agreement, all non-Palestinian militants are to leave Yarmouk and "joint forces" are to be sent to take control of the camp. The statement did provide further information about the "joint forces."
An estimated 2,000 Armenians from the town of Kessab, on Syria's border with Turkey, have taken refuge in the coastal city Latakia following the occupation of their town by jihadist forces. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) reported on a number of eye-witness accounts of the looting and seizure of Armenian homes, stores, and churches in Kessab. The armed incursion began March 21, as rebels associated with the Nusra Front, Sham al-Islam and Ansar al-Sham crossed from the Turkish side border. Snipers targeted the civilian population and launched mortar attacks on the town and the surrounding villages. Syrian government troops reportedly tried to push the attackers back. (Asbarez, Asbarez, March 25)
Turkish Prime Miniter Tayyip Erdogan's banning of YouTube is making more headlines than the extraordinary leak that prompted the move. Posted to YouTube anonymously, it appears to show Turkey's intelligence chief and cabinet members discussing a possible attack on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Sultan Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan seemed to confirm the leak, telling a crowd of supporters: "They even leaked a national security meeting. This is villainous... Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?" The government said in a statement: "It is a wretched attack, an act of espionage and a very heavy crime to record and leak to the public a top secret meeting held in a place where the most delicate security issues of the state are discussed." But outrage over the leak seems intended to distract from the actual conent of the leak...
Syrian government troops backed by Hezbollah fighters on March 16 took the town of Yabroud near the Lebanese border, which was held by rebels inlcuding the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. Hours later, in apparent retaliation, the Shi'ite town of Nabi Othman in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley was struck by a suicide bombing that left four dead. (LAT, Reuters, March 17) Meanwhile, in comments sure to warm the heart of Bashar Assad, opposition leader Kamal al-Labwani of the Syrian National Council told Iran's Arabic-language al Alam new service that the Syrian opposition is willing to give up claims to the Golan Heights in return for Israeli military aid. "Why shouldn’t we be able to sell the Golan Heights because it is better than losing Syria and Golan at once," he said. (Haaretz, March 16)