Syria: Alawite dissidents break with regime

In some very inspiring news, opposition activists from Syrian President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect publicly broke ranks with the regime at a meeting in Cairo March 31, and urged their fellow Alawites in the army to rebel, Reuters reports. "We call on our brothers in the Syrian army, specifically members of our sect, not to take up arms against their people and to refuse to join the army," the delegates said in a statement. "[T]he Alawite sect was and is being held hostage by the regime," stated the communique, which was read out by Alawite activist Tawfiq Dunia. "One of the goals of the Syrian revolution is to restore the national identity and free the Alawite sect from the family of the ruling regime."

UN announces probe into Syria chemical weapons

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced on March 21 that the UN will initiate a probe into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Syrian government requested the probe earlier this week after anti-government forces carried out an attack on a village near Aleppo. Ban declared that the investigation will involve other international bodies such as the World Health Organization and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In his remarks, Ban stated that any use of chemical weapons would be a serious crime and that the Syrian government has the primary responsibility of ensuring the security of chemical weapons. Ban said that the investigation would start as soon as possible.

Syria massacres: regime, rebels blame each other

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces on March 1 accused government troops of executing 72 people and burning their bodies in a village near the northern city of Aleppo. The Aleppo Media Centre, run by a network of anti-regime activists, said children, women and elderly people were among the victims, who it said were targeted on suspicion of collaborating with opposition fighters. (Al-Shofra, US CentCom, March 1) Controversy still surrounds a Jan. 15 massacre at the village of Haswiya, on the edge of the central city of Homs, where some 100 were killed, a BBC reporter seeing charred bodies still lying inside one of the houses. Syrian security forces who escorted the BBC team to the site of the killings insisted they were the work of the Nusra Front rebels. Opposition activists say the pro-regime Shabiha militiawas to blame. (BBC News, March 11) 

Syria war internationalizing fast

About 20 UN peacekeeping troops from the Philippines were detained by Syrian militants near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights March 6. The peacekpeers were monitoring the ceasefire between Syria and Israel. A group calling itself the Martyrs of Yarmouk told BBC News they had taken the troops to stop Syrian forces from shelling them. The name of the militant group seems to invoke either the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus which was bombarded by Assad's forces last year, or the 638 CE Battle of Yarmouk in which the Holy Land first fell to the Muslims—or perhaps both. The abductions come as Israel protested to the UN Security Council about shells from Syria landing in its territory. "Israel cannot be expected to stand idle as the lives of its citizens are being put at risk by the Syrian government's reckless actions," ambassador Ron Prosor wrote. "Israel has shown maximum restraint thus far." (Reuters, March 5) He did not make clear if the shells landed in Israel proper or the Golan Heights, which are not internationally recognized as Israeli territory.

Kurdish wild card in Syria conflict

Recent reports (LAT, Jan. 19) have militia forces of the Kurdish National Council battling jihadist rebels of the Nusra Front for control of villages along Syria’s northeast border with Turkey. The jihadists seem to be alarmingly well-armed, using tanks and artillery to attack Kurdish positions and civilian neighborhoods in Ras Ayn village. There is a growing sense that the Islamization of the rebels is solidifying an alliance between the secular-minded Kurds and the Damascus regime—with much fear about the role of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the separatist group in Turkey which is on the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

Lebanon issues warrant for Syrian official

A Lebanese judge on Feb. 4 issued an arrest warrant for a top Syrian intelligence official and his aide for alleged involvement in a bombing plot in Lebanon. Brigadier General Ali Mamlouk is accused of being involved in plotting a series of bomb attacks with former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha. Samaha, who was branded a global terrorist by the US Department of the Treasury, was arrested in August for allegedly plotting to incite violence in Lebanon with the aid of Mamlouk and Syria. In October Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, a top Lebanese counter-Syrian intelligence official, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut believed to be in connection to his networks discovery of Samaha and Mamlouk's bomb plot.

Armed left behind Ankara embassy blast?

A suicide bomber blew himself up Feb. 1 in front of the US embassy in Ankara, killing himself and a Turkish security guard, and damaging the entrance to the building. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan identified the bomber as Ecevit Şanli, allegedly a member of the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C), an armed left faction oriented towards opposing Turkish involvement in NATO. (WPHurriyet Daily News, Feb. 1)

Israeli air-strikes on Syria-Lebanon border

Israeli warplanes carried out an air-strike overnight on Syrian territory near the border with Lebanon. Unnamed US and "regional" (presumably Israeli) officials said the target was a weapons convoy with a shipment that included Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah, which would be strategically "game-changing" in the hands of the militant group. Damascus called the strikes an act of "Israeli arrogance and aggression" that raised the risks that the two-year-old civil conflict in Syria could spread beyond the country's borders. The regime said a research facility in the Damascus suburbs had been hit, and denied that a convoy had been the target. The attack comes days after Israel expressed concerns that Damascus' stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah. Israel had no official statement on the air-strikes.

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