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Syria Today: UN Appeal on "Record" Aid for Syrians --- Significant Step or Meaningless Gesture?

On Friday, the United Nations launched an appeal for $5.2 billion --- the largest amount it has ever requested --- for aid operations in Syria and neighbouring countries.

Here's the catch: the UN had another appeal earlier this year for $3 billion --- and only $1.4 billion has been pledged.

The UN said last month that 5.2 million of Syria's pre-conflict population of 20.8 million people were either refugees or displaced inside the country. On Friday, the organisation estimated that the current number of 1.6 million refugees will reach 3.45 million by the end of 2013, with 6.8 million needing assistance inside the country.

The Wounded from Qusayr

Al Jazeera English reports from Arsal in Lebanon, where some of those wounded during the three-week battle for Qusayr have been taken:

Hezbollah Denies Its Fighters Captured In Damascus Province

Hezbollah's media relations office issued a statement Saturday denying a report that insurgents had captured several of its fighters in Damascus province.


"Hezbollah categorically denies these baseless reports," the statement reads.

The response comes after Local Coordination Committees announced on Friday that the Free Syrian Army had succeeded in capturing several Hezbollah and the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade fighters in Damascus province after seizing "several posts west of Muadhamiyat as-Sham".

The Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade --- which first appeared around 14 months ago --- has said via social media that its aim is to defend the Shia Zaynab Shrine in southern Damascus. The Guardian's Martin Chulov profiled the group in a story earlier this week, noting that:

Interviews with serving and former members of Abu Fadl al-Abbas suggest that upwards of 10,000 volunteers – all of them Shia Muslims, and many from outside Syria – have joined their ranks in the past year alone. The group's raison d'etre is to be custodian of Shia holy sites, especially Sayyida Zeinab, a golden-domed Damascus landmark, but its role has taken it to most corners of Syria's war. It is now a direct battlefield rival, both in numbers and power, for Jabhat al-Nusra, the jihadist group that takes a prominent role among opposition fighting groups.

Demonstration In Aleppo

The video below shows a crowd of what appeared to be mostly boys and young men marching an unspecified neighborhood of Aleppo, many waving Islamic State of Iraq flags. Halab News Network, which posted the video, said that the marchers demanded the creation of an Islamic state in Syria.

Car Bomb In Homs

Eight people have been killed, including three women and a teenager, in a car bomb attack on a Shia neighborhood of Homs, Syrian state TV has reported.

State-run al-Ikhbariya TV said the car was booby-trapped.

Video: Scud Attack On Kfar Hamra And Ma'ara, Aleppo

The video shown below shows what activists said was a double Scud missile strike on Kfar Hamra, a village just outside Aleppo. Another strike took place in Ma'ara, west of Aleppo and roughly halfway between that city and the Turkish border, again according to activists.

Map showing the location of Kfar Hamra:

View Larger Map

LBCI in al-Bweida al-Sharqiya, al-Qusayr

Lebanese broadcaster LBCI sent a team of reporters and a camera crew to the village of al-Bweida al-Sharqiya on the northern outskirts of al-Qusayr. LBCI said that their team was able to enter the village after insurgent fighters left.

LBCI reporters said that the village was empty and that there were scenes of destruction.

The Syrian Army showed the reporter around an elementary school in al-Bweida and a soldier explained that it had been used by insurgents as a makeshift hospital. Empty metal-framed beds still remain in several of the schoolrooms --- the floors of which are covered in blood. Dressings and other medical supplies are stored on shelves in some of the rooms. Wounded insurgents from al-Qusayr were evacuated to the village after regime forces captured it.

LBCI also sent a crew into al-Qusayr on Friday, and were told by Syrian government officials that there were plans to clear the city --- all but destroyed after three weeks of heavy fighting --- so that residents could return to their homes.

State Media: Regime Forces Take Village Near Qusayr

State news agency SANA claims that regime forces "restored security and stability to al-Buweida al-Sharqiya" village, near Qusayr --- the strategic town re-claimed by the Syrian military this week --- and the Lebanese border.

An "official source" said the village was occupied after "eliminating the last gatherings of terrorists there".

Civilians and wounded fleeing the fighting in Qusayr had gone to al-Buweida.

Propaganda of the Day

State news agency SANA headlines that Syria's envoy to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Fayssal al-Hamwi, has affirmed the regime's commitment to cooperation with the UN "in addressing humanitarian needs".

During a session on Friday over the UN's plan to meet humanitarian needs, al-Hamwi said Damascus had a plan "which includes around 100 projects covering various vital sectors".

The UN has been appealing to the regime for months to allow access to civilians in areas affected by the conflict, claiming more than 4 million people have been displaced inside the country. Last week, Damascus turned down an appeal by the Red Cross to reach those trapped in the besieged town of Qusayr.

However, Al-Hamwi "pointed out the great burden Syria is shouldering in terms of meeting needs and tackling challenges caused by targeting infrastructure".

Kurds v. Insurgents in the North

Claimed footage of Kurdish fighters retaking villages near Efrin from insurgents --- local militia have been fighting elements of the insurgency, including the Free Syrian Army, for weeks:

UN to Russia on Offer of Peacekeeping Troops: Thanks, But No Thanks

The United Nations said on Friday that it cannot accept Russia's offer to replace peacekeepers from Austria in the Golan Heights, because an agreement between Israel and Syria bars permanent members of the Security Council from the UN mission.

The UN expressed appreciation for Moscow's statement, made on Friday by President Vladimir Putin after Austria said it would recall its 380 troops from the 1000-strong monitoring force in the demilitarised zone between Syria and Israel-occupied territory.

The UN is asking others in the force, notably the Philippines and India, to increase their troop contributions and is looking at the possibility of new countries sending troops, while asking the Austrians to slow down their departure.


The Violations Documentation Center reports that 62,973 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since March 2011, an increase of 124 from Friday. Of the deaths, 48,630 were civilians, a rise of 65 from yesterday.

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