In Lebanon, bravado about Syrian civil war is replaced by foreboding

Two Sunni gunmen in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli where fighting has killed 25 people in eig

Two Sunni gunmen in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli, where sectarian conflict has taken hold. Photograph: Omar Ibrahim/REUTERS

Beirutis like to say that their city thrives on uncertainty. “We’ve been through worse,” is a common refrain. “We’re used to war every few years,” is another.

In the last few months, though, bravado has been replaced by uncertainty and fear. Residents are often heard discussing the steadily deteriorating region in more foreboding tones.

“Is war really coming?” they regularly ask each other. Amid the rumble and whirl of drills and construction cranes, many in Beirut prefer not to draw conclusions. But away from the capital, the countryside resounds to the unmistakable drumbeat of war.

The largely Sunni north has taken on an increasingly heavy burden as Syria has unravelled. Lebanese men have gone to fight on Syrian battlefields, from where hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled to Lebanon.

Two years of sporadic clashes between Sunnis in Lebanon’s second city, Tripoli, and a minority Alawite Shia community barricaded on a residential hilltop have recently taken the shape of a more enduring battle.

Here, the Syrian civil war is unmistakably cast as a sectarian bid, led by Iran, to keep Sunnis away from power in the Levant. Fighting has intensified in each of the last three weeks, as Hezbollah – the Shia militia-cum-political powerhouse – has emerged from the shadows to take a very public stake in Syria’s war.

The speech two weeks ago by Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, announcing his militia’s role in seizing from rebels the border town of Qusair has heightened tensions. There is an undeniable sense that a reckoning now awaits the Shias of Lebanon, and especially their patrons in Tehran and Damascus. Nasrallah’s belligerent speech has done far more than the two-year creep of chaos across the Lebanon ranges to crystallise what is now at stake.

Hezbollah’s victory in Qusair, on behalf of Assad’s regime, is widely viewed as a first step in the escalation of the group’s role on other Syrian battlefronts. Many Sunni communities in the north are increasingly viewing the conflict in straight-up sectarian terms, believing they are being inexorably drawn into a fight that extends well beyond Lebanon’s borders.

The Shia of the south, meanwhile, cast Hezbollah’s role in Syria as a pre-emptive bid to protect them from an ancient inter-Muslim foe, salafists or takfiris – fundamentalist streams of Sunni Islam who the Shia claim are trying to attack them. This mutual demonisation is clearly hardening sectarian positions in the south and north. It is also being felt in parts of the capital, where both sects live alongside each other. Here, tensions run just as high as in the respective heartlands.

In Lebanon’s moribund parliament, though, there seems to be some kind of a detente at play. “Hezbollah sends us messages constantly that they don’t want things to get out of hand here,” said one member of the opposition March 14 political bloc. “We believe them about that. But what has been unleashed could prove unstoppable.”

Meanwhile, Beirut’s construction boom – legacies of contracts signed in better years – continues unabated. Hotels, however, stand largely empty and high-street shopping strips are deserted. Lebanon is not yet a country at war, but nor is it at peace with itself.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/09/lebanon-bravado-syria-replaced-by-fear

Exercise ‘Eager Lion’ returns to Jordan

U.S. forces joined their Jordanian hosts and regional partners today to begin Eager Lion 2013, an annual multilateral land, naval and air exercise. The exercise takes place at various locations throughout the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan from June 9-20.

Eager Lion is a multi-national exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military partnerships and enhance security and stability in the region by responding to realistic, modern-day security scenarios. This year’s scenarios will focus on Integrated Air and Missile Defense, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Exercise Eager Lion demonstrates U.S. Central Command’s dedication to the Kingdom of Jordan and regional partners and the combined efforts to sustain regional security and stability.

“Eager Lion is an excellent example of teamwork that brings together military forces and inter-agency partners from around the world,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Catalanotti, Director, USCENTCOM Exercises and Training. “This exercise challenges the participants to respond to realistic, modern-day security scenarios by integrating a variety of disciplines in the air, on land and at sea. Our relationship with Jordan and the 19 partner nations involved in the exercise is built on a foundation of interoperability that brings us closer together and enhances regional stability.”

Regularly scheduled exercises such as Eager Lion allow U.S. forces the opportunity to operate with, contribute to, and learn from their Jordanian partners, all while promoting long-term peace in the region.

Exercise Eager Lion provides multilateral forces with the opportunity to promote cooperation and interoperability among participating forces, build functional capacity, practice crisis management and enhance readiness. Approximately 5,000 U.S. military personnel from all services will participate in this year’s exercise, along with U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft and ships.

Putin holds back on Syria missile delivery

missile

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow has held back on delivering sophisticated S-300 missiles to the Syrian regime, while UN investigators said they have “reasonable grounds” to believe both sides in the conflict have used chemical weapons.

Putin, a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Russia has so far refrained from supplying the powerful S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Assad’s regime for fear of upsetting the delicate balance of power in the volatile region.

His remarks came as fighting raged on in Syria’s besieged city of Qusayr, with both sides battling for control of the strategic post, and as US, Russian and UN representatives prepared to meet in Geneva on Wednesday to hammer out details of proposed peace talks.

Putin — who has used Russia’s veto at the UN Security Council to shield Assad’s regime from repeated attempts to impose UN sanctions — said Moscow had already signed a contract to deliver S-300s.

But he appeared to back down from Moscow’s earlier insistence that the missiles would be a “stabilizing factor” that could deter foreign intervention in Syria.

“The contract was signed several years ago. It has not been realized yet,” Putin said at a joint press conference with European Union leaders in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg.

“We do not want to upset the balance in the region.”

The weapon could theoretically shoot down Israeli jets and harm any Western military support missions.

But Putin warned the West and Arab states allied to the opposition that any attempt to resolve the crisis through outside force was “doomed to failure.”

Syria’s civil war, which has already cost more than 94,000 lives in 26 months of fighting, has threatened in recent weeks to turn even more dire with reports that chemical weapons — albeit in small amounts — had been used by both sides.

UN investigators in Geneva added to those suspicions Tuesday by reporting they had reason to believe chemical weapons had been used by both Assad’s troops and rebels fighting them.

“Allegations have been received concerning the use of chemical weapons by both parties,” said the Commission of Enquiry on Syria in a report to the UN Human Rights Council.

There are “reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons,” added the investigators.

It was the first time the commission — tasked with probing human rights violations in Syria since 2011 — added the suspected use of chemical weapons to its long list of war crimes committed in the country.

The commission also called for Damascus to grant full access to Syria for another group of experts tasked by UN chief Ban Ki-moon with investigating the possible use of chemical weapons, who have been barred by the regime.

Commission member Carla del Ponte, a high-profile former war crimes prosecutor, warned however that focusing too heavily on chemical weapons could overshadow the overall suffering in the country.

The report was released as diplomats from Washington and Moscow as well as the United Nations prepared to meet in Geneva on Wednesday to try to hammer out terms that could get Assad’s camp and the rebels to negotiate directly for the first time.

Putin himself said the chances of the proposed peace conference taking place were being harmed by reports of atrocities such as those captured on a video apparently showing a rebel eating the body parts of a slain Syrian soldier.

“I hope that such participants of the negotiations do not appear” at the proposed Geneva talks, Putin said.

“It would be hard to work with such people,” deadpanned the Russian leader, known for his black humor.

Uncertainty in recent days over whether Russia had in fact delivered S-300s to Syria had further strained Moscow’s already tense relations with regional governments and the West.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a special visit to Russia last month to convince Moscow not to make the shipments.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also voiced concern.

– Warplanes pound Qusayr –

The latest fighting on the ground saw a missile strike near Syria’s biggest city Aleppo kill 26 people and government warplanes pound Qusayr.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were numerous dead on both sides but gave no other details.

The Observatory also said shellfire near the Russian embassy in Damascus had killed a civilian and wounded a member of the security forces.

A representative of the Russian embassy in Damascus told AFP two Syrian security guards had received injuries but that no embassy staff had been killed or hurt in the attack.

US-based group Human Rights Watch meanwhile said its mission to Aleppo had concluded that the bodies of 147 men pulled out of a local river between January and March were “probably” executed in government-controlled areas of the northern city.

Chemical weapons use in Syria reaching ‘new levels of brutality’: UN

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A UN report on Syria says limited quantities of unknown chemical agents have been used in at least four attacks in a civil war that has reached “new levels of brutality.” It said there’s proof of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Commission of Inquiry on Syria, tasked since 2011 with investigating human rights violations, said it had “reasonable grounds” to believe rebels have used toxic agents, although the “majority” of attacks were probably committed by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Commission inquiry chair Paulo Pinheiro told reporters in Geneva that investigators could not “determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator.” Conclusive proof may be obtained from test samples taken from victims or the soil of suspected areas, but so far Damascus has barred a team of experts from the country.

The UN report came as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius claimed to have conclusive evidence sarin gas was used in Syria. Laboratory tests there “prove the presence of sarin in the samples in our possession,” he said in a Tuesday statement cited by the Associated Press, saying it “now is certain that sarin gas was used in Syria multiple times and in a localized way.”

The statement did not get into whom is believed responsible for using the deadly nerve agent in Syria, according to France24, but did say “[i]t would be unacceptable that those guilty of these crimes benefit from impunity.” Also Tuesday, Britain said it had also found evidence of sarin gas use in Syria, reported AP.

The UN report, without much detail, lists the time and locations of four alleged chemical attacks: The Khan al-Asal neighborhood of Aleppo and Uteibah, both on March 19, the Sheikh Maqsood district of Aleppo on April 13, and on the northwestern town of Saraqab on April 29.

Syria’s UN ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui dismissed the report, saying the commission “excessively exaggerated their conclusions and outcomes” and “totally neglects the substantial events, or even marginalizes them.”

Commission member Carla del Ponte, a former war crimes prosecutor, warned that the issue of chemical agents could overshadow the mass suffering of Syrians in a war that has killed more than 94,000 people and displaced millions.

“We have so many deaths in Syria now… so please don’t make the use of chemical weapons in Syria now the most important issue,” she told reporters. The UN report says at least 17 new massacres are under review, which makes a total of 30 since September.

“The war in Syria is a major catastrophe of our time,” Pinheiro said. “Syria is in free-fall,” and “brutality has become a tactic of war,” including forcing child hostages to witness torture, and 86 child combatants killed.

The report comes a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States had arrived “late” to the Syrian peace process, with political unrest now quickly escalating in neighboring Turkey. “This is a very difficult process, which we come too late,” Kerry said after a State Department meeting with Poland’s foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski.

“We are trying to prevent the sectarian violence from dragging Syria down into a complete and total implosion where it has broken up into enclaves, and the institutions of the state have been destroyed, with God knows how many additional refugees and how many innocent people killed,” Kerry added.

The UN commission urged the international community to find a diplomatic solution that would include all Syrians, and called on world leaders to restrict arms sales feeding the war, despite a recently lifted EU arms embargo on Syria and Russia’s sale of the S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system to Damascus. It’s unclear when those missiles will arrive.

Qusayr captured: Syria’s army regains control of strategic town

Qusayr

Qusayr, a strategically important town in Syria, has been recaptured by Bashar al-Assad’s forces, who are being aided by Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah.

The town — located along major supply routes in between Damascus and the Mediterranean — was the center of intense clashes between the two sides over the past two weeks.

Syrian TV reported that the rebels withdrew overnight, and had suffered large casualties in the battle. Many also surrendered during the final offensive by the government’s forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization, also confirmed that Qusayr had fallen based on reports from activists and medics on the ground.

“The army and Hezbollah have succeeded in taking Qusayr after an intense bombardment of the town overnight,” the Observatory said. “The rebels have withdrawn to other areas because they were short of ammunition.”

The Army said in a statement that their recapturing of Qusayr sends “a clear message to all those who share in the aggression on Syria … that we will continue our string of victories until we regain every inch of Syrian land.”

“We will not hesitate to crush with an iron fist those who attack us. … Their fate is surrender or death,” the statement added.

Syria’s bloody two-year civil war has left upwards of 80,000 people dead, and has spilled over into neighboring countries both in its sparking of sectarian violence and the thousands of displaced Syrians seeking refuge.

Fighting was still ongoing in Dabaa and Buweida Al Sharqiya, the last village in the area under rebel control.

UN Report:- Chemicals used in Syria

 

 

In a new UN report, it emerges that chemical weapons were, indeed, used in the Syria rebellion. While it is impossible to determine which side has used these weapons, we can ascertain from the report that they were used at four locations, namely, Khan
Al-Asal, Aleppo, 19 March; Uteibah, Damascus, 19 March; Sheikh Maqsood
neighbourhood, Aleppo, 13 April; and Saraqib, Idlib, 29 April.

The UN has also further recommended that all arms transfers to any party be immediately suspeneded, in favour of peace talks. It is to be seen whether the Russia or the US actually heed this warning

We, at the Defence Journal, also want to present the facts as they are, so we shall also enclose the relevant copy of the report, along with a few choice lines from it

Report:-

http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A-HRC-23-58_en.pdf

Some points:-

136. As the conflict escalates, the potential for use of chemical weapons is of deepening
concern. Chemical weapons include toxic chemicals, munitions, devices and related
equipment as defined in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development,
Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction. Also
applicable is the 1925 Geneva Protocol which Syria has ratified.e
The use of chemical  weapons is prohibited in all circumstances under customary international humanitarian law and is a war crime under the Rome Statute.

137. The Government has in its possession a number of chemical weapons. The dangers
extend beyond the use of the weapons by the Government itself to the control of such
weapons in the event of either fractured command or of any of the affiliated forces gaining
access.

138. It is possible that anti-Government armed groups may access and use chemical
weapons. This includes nerve agents, though there is no compelling evidence that these
groups possess such weapons or their requisite delivery systems.

139. Allegations have been received concerning the use of chemical weapons by both
parties. The majority concern their use by Government forces. In four attacks – on Khan
Al-Asal, Aleppo, 19 March; Uteibah, Damascus, 19 March; Sheikh Maqsood
neighbourhood, Aleppo, 13 April; and Saraqib, Idlib, 29 April – there are reasonable
grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used. It has not been
possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their
delivery systems or the perpetrator. Other incidents also remain under investigation.

140. Conclusive findings – particularly in the absence of a large-scale attack – may be
reached only after testing samples taken directly from victims or the site of the alleged
attack. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that the Panel of Experts, led by Professor
Sellström and assembled under the Secretary General’s Mechanism for Investigation of
Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, is granted full access to Syria.

Iraq warns Israel on using airspace in Iran strike

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Baghdad has warned Israel that it would respond to any attempts by the Jewish state to use Iraqi airspace for a strike against Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, a top Iraqi minister told AFP.

The remarks from Hussein al-Shahristani, deputy prime minister responsible for energy affairs, mark the first time a senior Iraqi official has publicly warned Israel against entering its airspace — the most direct route — to hit targets in Iran.

Shahristani also said that Iraq had received assurances from Washington that the United States would not use its airspace to attack Iran, which Western powers believe is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Tehran has repeatedly denied the claim.

“The (Americans) have assured us that they will never violate Iraqi airspace or Iraqi sovereignty by using our airspace to attack any of our neighbours,” Shahristani said in an interview in his office in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone.

“We have also warned Israel that if they violate Iraqi airspace, they will have to bear the consequences.”

The minister said that the issue had been discussed in Iraq’s national security council, and the warning had been passed to Israel “through countries that they have relations with”.

Asked how Iraq would react to any such Israeli attempt to target Iran’s nuclear programme, Shahristani said: “Obviously, Iraq wouldn’t be disclosing its reaction, to allow Israel to take that into account.”

Western powers led by Washington along with Israel are at loggerheads with Iran over allegations that its nuclear programme is aimed at developing an atomic weapon.

Tehran has repeatedly rejected the charges, and in turn accuses its arch-foes Israel and the United States of waging a deadly campaign of sabotage against its disputed nuclear programme, which it insists is for peaceful purposes.

Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, has refused to rule out military action against Iran.

Shahristani said a similar policy applied to the use of Iraq’s airspace for any military action in neighbouring Syria, where rebels have fought a bloody civil war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.

Iraq has sought to avoid publicly taking sides between Assad and those opposed to his rule, fearful of a violent spillover of the conflict in Syria, with which it shares a 600-kilometre (375-mile) border.

But Baghdad has been accused by the United States of turning a blind eye to Iranian flights through its airspace carrying military equipment for Assad’s regime.

International powers have imposed biting sanctions on Iran in a bid to force it to cooperate and open up its nuclear programme for more invasive investigations, but Shahristani said that because of Iraq’s economic ties with its eastern neighbour, it would only abide by UN sanctions, and not those implemented by Washington and Europe.

He pointed in particular to Iraq’s need for gas imports from Iran in order to fuel its power stations, with the country attempting to rebuild its badly-damaged electricity infrastructure.

“Iraq has its own national interest,” he said. “Power generation is very critical … and there is no way we can fuel our new power stations, that are being constructed and will be ready before the end of the year, without having gas from Iran.”

“We expect the US, as our ally, to understand the need of the Iraqi people for power generation. If any friend can make the gas available from other sources, by all means, we would be very happy to consider that option.”

“But, given our geographical location, the only gas available to Iraq is from Iran now, and we have explained this to our American friends.”

He added that Iraq had held talks earlier this year with Syria and Iran for a gas pipeline that would go from Iran through Iraq to Syria, but no funds or timeline had been agreed for the proposed project.

Another pipeline carrying gas from Iran to supply power stations in Baghdad and central Iraq is under construction, he said.