Iran Election Guide

Donate to EAWV

Or, click to learn more



Syria Live Coverage: Opposition Leaders Cancel Trip to Washington --- Why?

Statement from six of the 21 UN peacekeepers seized by an insurgent brigade on Wednesday

Interactive Map of the Fighting in Damascus - Regularly Updated:

View Syria - 2013 March 8 - EA Worldview in a larger map

1950 GMT: Friday Protests. With UN kidnappings and Damascus on fire, it's easy to lose the fact that today is Friday, and every Friday for almost two whole years there have been widespread protests. Today's protest theme roughly translates to "Your sectarian state will not pass," but that's a literally translation. Essentially, it means "Assad's sectarian state will not happen," a reference to Assad's efforts to stoke sectarian tensions, and a reference to the world's tendency to classify this conflict in purely sectarian terms.

An impressive rally today in Yabroud, north of Damascus (map). This area is on the edge of both rebel-controlled territory and some of the most substantial military bases in the Middle East, and is often attacked by regime airpower:

A large crowd in the Bustan al Qasr district in Aleppo (map):


Hasakah province, where Kurds are also protesting the regime:

1705 GMT: Analysis - Regime Blows a Chance. The capture of a UN convoy by Syrian rebels could have been a significant PR blow to the rebels. It could have demonstrated that radicals are growing within the rebel umbrella, and the more moderate voices were not only unable to control them, but were also unable to directly confront them (in fact, I think it did prove this to some extent). The regime could have used this to their advantage, shaking the confidence of foreign backers who had started to arm the rebels.

This latest episode, however, adds credibility to the argument that the rebels have been making - that they are willing to release the UN peacekeepers, but that it is simply too dangerous to release them because of the actions of the regime.

In other words, we now have to accept the possibility that part of the rebel narrative is accurate. So here's what I believe happened.

The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade is a group of radical Islamists. Days after executing a group of POWs in Daraa, they engaged in firefights in Jamlah. During this time, they decided to capture the UN convoy to use it as a shield against Assad in an effort to get Assad's forces to withdraw.

At this point the rebel leadership "freaked out." Salim Idriss, in the midst of setting up international arms deals, needed to act. He immediately decried the kidnapping, sending a strong message to the international community, and he then began to negotiate their release. At this point, Moaz al Khatib began to use softer language in order to not cause a rift between the rebel leadership and some of the extremists. The rebel leaders leaned hard on the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, convincing them to let the UN peacekeepers go, and persuading them to change their narrative - the story they would use was that the rebels took the UN peacekeepers into custody in order to keep them safe, and they would release them as soon as it was safe.

But it is not safe - Assad is continuing his bombardment. The UN appears to be convinced of this narrative (which appears to be true) While the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade appears to be radical, they also appear to be practical, and Idriss appears to be strong enough to handle the situation.

The Assad regime - they've managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory, and once again they look like the dangerous radicals in this equation.

1659 GMT: Rescue Operation Fails Due to Regime Shelling. There are reports that the UN convoy has had to withdraw from Jamlah, and thus has not picked up the UN peacekeepers being held by the rebels, but the cause appears to be the Assad regime's shelling. Both the UN and activists appear to be carrying the same story:

"When the U.N. vehicles entered into Jamla, the Syrian army shelled a nearby village. The U.N. cars then withdraw from Jamla," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman, who said earlier that the group was willing to hand over their captives.

In New York, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said Jamla was under intense bombardment from army forces, though he did not specify whether he was referring to the village or areas surrounding Jamla.

Ladsous also said he hoped a possible ceasefire would lead to the freeing of the peacekeepers, who have been held by rebels since Wednesday.

1640 GMT: Richard Engel Speaks. American journalist Richard Engel was kidnapped in Syria last December. According to Engel and others with him, pro-regime militiamen, "shabiha," captured his television crew. Engel has released parts of his diary in Vanity Fair. According to Engel, his captors tortured their victims and enjoyed every minute of it, even executing one of the men whom Engel was traveling with upon hearing that they were members of the Free Syrian Army:

They wanted to break us and terrorize us and make us docile. They were having fun doing it. Abu Jaafar was laughing most of the time. In the coming days we would become familiar with his short, repetitive, girlish laugh: Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh.

The doors of the container were closed again. The gunmen left us alone in the back of the truck. We could hear guns being charged outside. AK-47 rounds were chambered and ready to fire.

1616 GMT: UN Vehicles Picking Up Peacekeepers? Al Jazeera reports:

"Eight UN vehicles have arrived in Jamla to pick up the UN peacekeepers," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman, who is in contact with the group holding the UN peacekeepers.

There are already rumors that the mission has failed and the vehicles have turned back, but none coming from proven sources.

1550 GMT: Heavy Fighting Across Damascus. The fighting in Syria's capital is widespread - but the shelling is affecting an even wider area. A video shows smoke rising in Qabon, a district in north-central Damascus (map). Another video, posted by the LCC, shows streets filled with dust and smoke in Al Asali, in the southwest (map). More fighting is reported in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp (map).

And then there's always Darayya to the west (map):

1541 GMT: Heavy Shelling in Damascus - Also Protests. Damascus is being hammered, mainly from artillery stationed on the high-ground north of the city. This was taked today (according to the narrator) in Zamalka, east of Jobar (map):

Amazingly, however, perhaps only two kilometers away from this scene, in the Saqba/Zablatani area (map), this anti-Assad protest was held in a side street in order to protect the protesters from shrapnel:

One activist we've been in contact with for almost two whole years in Zilal. Today I asked her if Jobar had been evacuated of civilians:

Jobar is almost empty and there is no longer a single street still safe. People of Jobar are nostalgic for the demonstrations that took place there (in Fridays in the past).

1438 GMT: Death Toll Low, but Rebels in Heart of Damascus. The good news - the death toll is lower so far today than we are used to seeing. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 32 people have been killed so far today across Syria:

10 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs, 5 martyrs in Idlib, 5 martyrs in Aleppo, 4 martyrs in Homs, 4 martyrs in Dara'a, 3 marytrs in Deir Ezzor, and 1 marytr in Hama

See our note on the casualty figures posted by the LCC.

The bad news is that A) the number will rise and it's too early to take away much information and B) lower deaths doesn't necessarily correspond to less violence.

What I mean by B) is that in many areas where the violence is the worst today, many residents have already fled. Some of those neighborhoods are relatively unfamiliar with this level of violence, or at least they were only a few weeks ago. For instance, the Jobar district of Damascus has been intensely shelled, and intense fighting has penetrated all the way into the Abaseen district where violence was nearly unheard of and unfathomable before this latest rebel assault.

The LCC posts several videos from Jobar today, but this one, with nearly constant explosions and a city filled with smoke, may be the best overview:

And now news that the rebels may have pushed all the way to -- or even captured -- Abbasid Stadium (map):

If Abbaseen stadium has fallen, then Jobar may soon be completely secured, and the main objective of this latest rebel offensive will have been realized. Jobar is a major gateway, funneling rebel territories in the east into the center of Damascus - and Abaseen is the major crossroads that blocks that gate.

We've moved an interactive map of today's fighting in Damascus to the top of this entry.

1408 GMT: Croatia IS Selling the Rebels Arms. British MP Tom Watson reports that Croatia flew 75 planes full of weapons to Jordan, with the full knowledge that these arms were for the Syrian rebels. According to Watson, both the Croatian and UK governments knew about the shipments.

One of his main sources is a Croatian daily newspaper. EA's Joanna Paraszczuk reports:

Croatian daily Jutarnji List (JL) reports that Zagreb has become an international hub for the transporting of weapons to Syrian opposition forces. Citing "diplomatic sources", the report says that in the period between November 2012 and February this year, a total of 75 civilian transport aircraft flew from Zagreb's Plesno airport loaded with weapons destined for Syrian rebels. JL claimed that the weapons originated elsewhere in Europe and that Washington organized the consignments.

JL's source said that Turkish company Turkish Cargo -- a subsidiary of Turkish Airlines -- carried the first two or three consignments, and afterward Jordanian International Air Cargo took over the shipments.

JL said that previous reports suggested senior Croatian military officials had coordinated with the US to transport surplus Croatian weapons to Syria, its source indicated that the plan of arming the rebels has a "much broader context", and that the US is working with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey to transport the arms.

According to the source, Croatia's role is twofold -- providing surplus weapons including M79 Osa and RPG-22 rocket launchers, RBG-6 grenade launchers and M60 recoilless guns. Other weapons have also been brought to Croatia from several European countries -- including Britain -- and are shipped to Syria from Pleso via Jordan, the source said.

JL said that knowledge of the operations came to light after it became apparent that there were an unusually high number of Jordanian transport aircraft operating out of Pleso.

JL emphasized that the story shows that Croatia is a reliable ally of the US, which played an important role in Croatia's accession to NATO and the EU; and which supplied the Croatian Army with weapons.

James Miller reports for duty. Thanks to Scott Lucas and EA's staff for getting us started this morning.

1226 GMT: UN Peacekeepers – No Talks. Abu Essam Taseel, from the media office of the "Martyrs of Yarmouk" brigade that captured 21 Filipino peacekeepers on Wednesday, has said "There are no negotiations between any parties."

In contrast to yesterday’s reports that the Philippine government was in talks to secure the release of the soldiers, Taseel added that "Negotiations should be between (the United Nations) and the regime of Bashar al-Assad to stop the bombing and lift the blockade of the area so it can be safe."

1137 GMT:UN Peacekeepers. Fearing for their lives in light of the continuing fighting nearby, eight UN peacekeepers have abandoned their posts in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria and retreated to Israeli territory.

The soldiers, posted near the village of Jamala, belong to the same battalion as the 21 Filipino peacekeepers who were kidnapped by Syrian rebels on Wednesday and have yet to be released despite ongoing talks with the government of the Philippines.

1013 GMT: Aleppo. Video has emerged claiming to be of insurgent gunmen harassing and slapping "The Yellow Man of Aleppo".

The Yellow Man --- Abu Zukur --- has been a prominent feature of Aleppo life for years. Dressed in yellow, he is often seen hailing the shouts of passers-by. There are rumours, some sensational, about what he actually "does", but he will not offer any clue in interviews. Instead, he says:

I chose [to dress entirely in] yellow because it’s a colour that gives people happiness and joy. People loved me from the beginning and I want to repay them that love. Plus, no-one has ever done this before! There have been countless politicians, but there’s only one Yellow Man.

1001 GMT: Russian Position. In an interview with the BBC, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said there is "absolutely" no chance of Moscow telling President Assad to step down: "You know that we are not in the regime-change game. We are against interference in domestic conflicts."

Lavrov, due in London next week for talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, conitnued, "I can only say it is not for us to decide who should lead Syria. It is for the Syrians to decide."

Despite his firm insistence over Assad, Lavrov said of Russia and Britain, "I don't think we are far apart as far as the eventual goal is concerned. We both want Syria to be united, to be democratic. We both want the Syrian people to choose freely the way they would like to run their country."

0954 GMT: Abducted UN Peacekeepers. The latest video statement, released this morning, from some of the 21 peacekeepers held by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade:

0829 GMT: A Syrian Kurdistan. Wladimir van Wilgenburg reports on the expanding influence of Kurdish groups, including the takeover of oilfields, in northern Syria:

A Syrian Kurdish party called the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia, the Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG), are increasingly using the power vacuum to create a form of Kurdish autonomy similar to that which Iraqi Kurds enjoy.

The PYD has set up local councils, security forces and Kurdish-language schools, creating a parallel government in the north of Syria.

0807 GMT: Abducted UN Peacekeepers. A Philippines military spokesman said this morning that insurgents holding 21 Filipino peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights are insisting Syrian troops leave the area before the men are released.

Raul Hernandez said, "The demand of the rebels for the re-positioning of Syrian forces in the area of Jamleh is still outstanding so this is still being worked out."

The insurgent want the Syrian troops to move 20 kilometers back from Jamleh, he said.

Herrnandez assured, "We are trying to intensify our negotiations with the rebel groups."

0657 GMT: Casualties. The Local Coordination Committees claim 111 people were killed on Thursday, including 23 in Damascus and its suburbs, 23 in Aleppo Province, 18 in Homs Province, and 17 in Idlib Province.

The Violence Documentation Center records 51,681 deaths since the start of the conflict in March 2011, an increase of 104 from Wednesday. Of the dead, 41,763 were civilians, an increase of 58 from Thursday.

0647 GMT: Abducted UN Peacekeepers. The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade continues to hold 21 United Nations peacekeepers, abducted on Wednesday, after a series of changing statements yesterday.

The Brigade, having initially said the 21 Filipinos were taken near the Golan Height because the UN force was allowing movement and operations by regime troops, asserted that they were "protecting" the peacekeepers from heavy fighting. They claimed they would release the men once the Red Cross arranged a convoy.

A Youth Media Channel from Daraa Province has been uploadkng a series of video statements by the captives (see top of entry):

0630 GMT: Opposition Trip to US Cancelled. Obama Administration officials said Thursday that political and military leaders of the opposition --- including the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, and military commander Salem Idriss --- have cancelled a visit to Washington for a series of high-profile meetings.

The plans included the first encounter between al-Khatib, who met US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome last week, and President Obama.

including an expected stop at the White House, administration officials said Thursday, underscoring the challenge the United States faces in cultivating a still-evolving political movement.

Curiously, given that news of the expected trip emerged early this week, the officials said al-Khatib told Kerry in Rome on 28 February that this was not a good time to visit.

The sources said they believed al-Khatib had decided work on building up the Coaliton instead of taking long foreign trips. They also claimed the Syrians might be wary about being seen to line up too closely with the Americans.

The officials said they hoped the visit might be possible in April.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

« Iran Live Coverage: "UN Human Rights Investigator Bribed by US", Regime Claims | Main | US Audio Feature: Drones and Senator Paul's "False Drama" Filibuster --- Scott Lucas with Monocle 24 »

References (5)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Response: android
    EA WorldView - Home - Syria Live Coverage: Opposition Leaders Cancel Trip to Washington --- Why?
  • Response
    Response: my review here
    Superb Web-site, Carry on the beneficial work. Appreciate it.
  • Response
    Response: Eyelash Growth
    EA WorldView - Home - Syria Live Coverage: Opposition Leaders Cancel Trip to Washington --- Why?
  • Response
    EA WorldView - Home - Syria Live Coverage: Opposition Leaders Cancel Trip to Washington --- Why?
  • Response
    EA WorldView - Home - Syria Live Coverage: Opposition Leaders Cancel Trip to Washington --- Why?

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>