Days after it was reported that Lebanese authorities are barring entry to Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria, The Guardian tells us of the sudden flight of Syria's "well-heeled elite" into Lebanon—predictably meeting no interference from authorities. With nearly 2 million already in refuge beyond Syria's borders according to the UNHCR (up from 1.4 million just four months ago), and hundreds of thousands more internally displaced, many facing hunger and harsh conditions for well over a year now, it is almost satisfying to see the pain get passed around to the regime's favored lackeys. But the threat of US air-strikes which has sparked this exclusive exodus also looms over Syria's commoners—as we saw in Libya, "smart bombs" and "surgical" targeting still have a habit of wiping out civilians. And yes, there is something utterly perverse about the world sitting and watching, arms folded, as Syria escalates to genocide—as in Darfur. But the threat is very real that US intervention will internationalize the conflict, and set off a regional or even global conflagration...
Palestinian refugees fleeing the violence in Syria have been refused entry into Lebanon for three weeks now. Since Aug. 6, according to Human Rights Watch, the Lebanese government has turned back Palestinians, who had originally sought refuge in Syria when they were forced from their homes in 1948 and 1967, and are now fleeing once more with their descendants, this time from the conflict in Syria. A source at the Lebanese General Security confirmed to IRIN news agency that the government is no longer letting Palestinians from Syria into Lebanon. Makram Malaeb, program manager for the Syrian response at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said exceptions would be made for "humanitarian cases."
The Israeli air force struck the compound of a Palestinian militant group in Lebanon Aug. 23—hours after a different organization claimed responsibility for four rockets fired into northern Israel from Lebanese territory, causing some damage but no casualties. Israel's military said, "The pilots reported direct hits to the target." Lebanese media said the target was a position of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), whereas the rocket salvo was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an Islamist group that similarly claimed rocket fire on Israel in 2009 and 2011. Israeli army spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai actually said the rockets were "launched by the global jihad terror organization"—standard Israeli military lingo for the al-Qaeda network. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened retaliation after the rocket strikes: "Anyone who harms us, or tries to harm us, should know—we will strike them." Yet the retailiation didn't strike "them." (AFP, Lebanon Daily Star, Aug. 23)
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights posted to its Facebook page Aug. 21 claims, based on witness reports, of a chemical gas attack on the eastern Damascus suburbs. Dozens were reported killed and hundreds injured in the towns of Erbin, Zamalka, Ein Terma and East Ghouta. Al Jazeera puts the death toll at "at least 100," and notes that Syrian authorities dismissed the reports as "baseless." The Syrian National Coalition is apparently putting the toll at 650 lives. The claims coincide with a visit to Syria by a 20-member UN team to investigate three sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used over the past year. Al Jazeera and Russia Today report Moscow's rejection of the claims. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the timing of the claimed attack "makes us think that we are once again dealing with a premeditated provocation." Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich charged that "biased regional media have immediately, as if on command, begun an aggressive information attack, laying all the responsibility on the government."
Up to 20,000 refugees have crossed from Syria into Iraqi Kurdistan in the past three days, apparently fleeing fighting between Kurdish militias of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Salafist factions led by the Nusra Front. The PYD reportedly drove Salafist forces from the northeastern town of Ras al-Ain, taking control of a border post on the Turkish frontier. But the Salafists are apparenlty launching bloody reprisals, with refugees who have fled to Iraq reporting massacres in Kurdish villages.
A Syrian rebel offensive targeting Alawite villages close to President Bashar Assad's hometown of Qardaha in the coastal governorate of Latakia has seen some 200 people killed and left nearly 3,000 families displaced since the start of the month. Both the Free Syrian Army and jihadist factions including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the Mujahedeen Brigade are taking part in the "battle to liberate the coast," the Alawite heartland where support for Assad runs deepest. FSA military commander Salim Idriss told Saudi-owned news network Al Arabiya that his forces are fighting against regime troops, not Alawite civilians, and pledged that there would be no reprisals. Rebel forces have taken control of 11 Alawite-majority villages since the offensive began, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (Al Arabiya, Aug. 13; Al Bawaba, Aug. 7)
At least 28 Palestinian refugees were killed in Syria during July as refugee camps in the country continue to be dragged into the civil war. The UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, estimates that the homes of 44,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria have been damaged by conflict, and that half of the approximately 500,000 Palestinian refugees in the country are now displaced either within Syria or in neighboring countries. An UNRWA staff member was killed in Syria in July, the seventh to have been killed in the conflict; 13 of the agency’s staff in Syria are detained or have been reported missing.
A rocket strike near an important Shi'ite shrine in the southern suburbs of Damascus killed one of its custodians July 19. The gold-domed Bibi Zainab shrine, said to hold the remains of the daughter of Shia founder Imam Ali and ground-daughter of the Prophet Mohammed, is now being protected by hundreds of volunteer Shi'ite fighters from Iraq and Hezbollah troops. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened "grave retribution" if any harm befalls the shrine. (Reuters, July 20) Shi'ites held mass rallies in Islamabad, Karachi and other Pakistani cities against the attack on the shrine. (GeoTV, INP, July 12)