Syria reportedly moving chemical weapons


U.S. officials are warily watching as Syria begins moving undeclared chemical weapons out of its storage facilities.

Syria’s Assad regime may be preparing to use the weapons against rebels fighting its control, or may be moving them to safeguard them against opponents and to confuse western governments, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Opposition leaders and western governments say as many as 15,000 people have been killed by the regime in nearly 16 months of the uprising.

The weapons in transit – which reportedly include serving nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide – are creating increasing concern in Washington and elsewhere.

“This could set the precedent of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] being used under our watch,” one U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal. “This is incredibly dangerous to our national security.”

The Obama administration has begun to hold classified briefings about the new intelligence, the paper reported.

The Syrian government rejected reports that it was moving its weapons.

“This is absolutely ridiculous and untrue,” said Syria’s foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, told the Journal. “If the U.S. is so well-informed, why can’t they help [U.N. envoy] Kofi Annan in stopping the flow of illegal weapons to Syria in order to end the violence and move towards the political solution?”

Russia says downing of Turkish plane not provocation


Russia said on Tuesday Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish warplane should not be seen as a provocation and warned world powers against using the incident to push for stronger action against Damascus.

It was Moscow’s first reaction to Friday’s downing of a Turkish military aircraft by Syrian air defenses, which gave a new international dimension to the worsening conflict in Syria.

Turkey’s NATO allies condemned Syria’s action as unacceptable but stopped short of threatening any military response. Turkey also plans to approach the U.N. Security Council.

“It is important that what happened is not viewed as a provocation or a premeditated action (by Syria),” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.

Moscow repeated its calls for restraint, warning that any political escalation would be “extremely dangerous” and threaten international efforts to salvage a moribund six-point Syrian peace plan drawn up by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

“Once again, we call on all sides to act exclusively in the interests of such an agenda (the peace plan) and not to take steps that go beyond its limits,” the ministry said.

“We believe that the best course of action is restraint and constructive interaction between the Turkish and Syrian sides in order to clarify all the circumstances of the incident.”

Syria provides Moscow with its firmest foothold in the Middle East, buys weapons from Russia worth billions of dollars, and hosts the Russian navy’s only permanent warm water port outside the former Soviet Union.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would attend a meeting on Syria that Annan is trying to arrange on Saturday but suggested it would not produce results without the participation of Iran, a close Syrian ally.

“Iran must be present. Otherwise the circle of participants will be incomplete and will not gather everybody who has influence on all Syrian sides,” Lavrov told reporters, on the sidelines of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Jordan.

Annan has also said Iran should attend, but diplomats say the United States, Saudi Arabia and others objected to the idea.

Putin later on Tuesday also voiced support for involving Iranian officials in talks seeking an end to the violence, saying it would be “counterproductive” to neglect Syria’s neighbor in negotiations to resolve the conflict.

“The more Syria’s neighbors are involved in the process the better because almost every neighboring country has some influence on some forces inside the country,” Putin said.

“It is better to involve Iran in this conflict resolution, receive its support,” he said.

Russia has used its power of veto in the U.N. Security Council to shield Syria from harsher international sanctions over Damascus’s crackdown on the 16-month-old revolt.

Moscow has backed Annan’s plan, insisting it is the only way to end the bloodshed in Syria and arguing firmly against any kind of military intervention.

So far Annan’s attempts to get the Syrian opposition and government to begin talks aimed at ending the conflict have failed, but he is pushing for a meeting of key regional players and permanent U.N. Security Council members in Geneva on Saturday, hoping to kickstart political negotiations.

Reporting by Gleb Bryansky in Amman and Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow, editing by Andrew Heavens

Report: Top Syrians ready to flee


Syrian regime officials reportedly are setting up escape and defection routes.

The British Daily Telegraph on Friday quoted U.S. officials as saying that officials in dictator Bashar Assad’s inner circle have contacted figures in the opposition and Western governments and have begun transferring funds out of Syria.

Col. Hassan Merei al-Hamade, a pilot of a MiG combat aircraft, this week flew his plane to Jordan, and other MiG pilots may do the same soon, the newspaper said.

“It is obviously a significant moment when a guy takes a $25 million plane and flies it to another country,” Victoria Nuland, the state department spokesman, said in Thursday’s briefing.

The Assad regime has for 15 months attempted to crush an uprising, killing thousands of Syrian citizens.

Richard Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria who is no longer resident in the country, is in Istanbul in a bid to contact leaders in the country’s business community to join the opposition.

Opinion: Syrians need us


It’s time for us to act for Syria.

It’s been one year since the start of the Syrian revolution, and the organized Jewish community is still sitting on its collective thumbs, acting as if the turmoil is not its issue, and in any case, we can do nothing.

It is, and we can.

The criminal enterprise called the Bashar al-Assad regime has murdered more than 10,000 civilians since the Arab Spring crossed
the border into Syria. Assad, the London-trained ophthalmologist whom the West, and his own countrymen, once looked upon as the future of a new, free Syria, has proved himself the myopic heir to his father’s evil. He has the same story arc as Michael Corleone, with none of the charisma. 

Assad’s fixation on retaining power at all costs has offered the people of Syria no choice but to resist. His own choices are narrowing to whether he wants to die at the hands of a mob, à la Muammar Gadhafi, or in custody, à la Hosni Mubarak. Whichever way he goes, his actions now guarantee that there will be not a single tear left in Syria to shed for him. Watch the images of 13-year-old boys tortured by Assad’s forces, of Syrian neighborhoods flattened by his artillery, of Syrian women raped by his soldiers: Assad will go down as one of the great cowards and child-murderers of our time. His father, at least, would be proud.  

I understand there are ample differences between Syria and the other countries caught up in the Arab Spring. Syria’s army is even more in the regime’s camp. The opposition is even more dysfunctional and divided. Iran’s influence is greater. The Russians, whose legacy of support for Syria goes back to the Cold War, are even more invested in the status quo. As one Syrian expert told me, “Libya implodes; Syria explodes.” There is no reason to be Pollyannaish about the future: Assad has dug in, there is no good military option, and the best hope is to continue to use sanctions and financial pressures on the regime’s kleptocrats in the hopes of prying their grip off the nation’s throat.

But the stakes for the things American Jews care about are in some ways even higher. Here is a country smack on Israel’s northern border, which shares precious water resources with Israel. A country that has fought several wars against Israel, and played a key role in instigating one of them — the Six-Day War. A country that is ideologically and militarily tied to Iran, which has supported it with armaments and populated it with Hezbollah and Hamas. A country that has meddled in Lebanon, to Israel’s — and Lebanon’s — detriment.

A government in Syria that cared more about its own people and less about demonizing, blaming and attacking Israel would be a very good thing.

But no less important, the ideals that motivate the naked revolution are dear. Freedom from oppression. Hope for a better future. The development of the human potential of the Syrian people. 

Syria might seem small compared to what’s happening in Egypt and Iran. But people who know far better than I consider the revolution a breakthrough for the region. That’s why Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, told a group in Los Angeles earlier this month that Israel’s real focus now should be Syria and Lebanon:

“There is a way of supporting opposition and bringing it into Western alliance,” he said.

And Avi Dichter, the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet, took to YouTube last week to deliver a message to the Syrian people in Arabic:

“As a human being, as an Israeli, as a member of the Israeli parliament,” Dichter said, “it is painful to see such heinous crimes against civilians in Syria. I am wondering why the world keeps silent.”

When the former heads of Israel’s external and internal security services both agree that Syria should be a priority, maybe it should be.

This week I called a friend with deep roots in Syria. I asked my friend what we, as Americans, as Jews, could do to express our support. The answer is: a concert to raise funds for Syrian refugees.

There are 130,000 Syrian refugees living in difficult conditions in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. A concert that raises money to support the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the primary relief organization for Syrian refugees, would provide aid to people who have suffered at the hands of the Assad regime, and would be a symbol to the Syrians who remain inside their country that we are on their side. 

I asked my Syrian friend if his countrymen would look askance at the involvement of Jews and Israelis in organizing a benefit concert for them. Would they assume ulterior motives? 

“How could anyone criticize you for doing something good like that?” said my friend — who, you may have guessed by now, prefers to remain anonymous out of fear of the regime. “You are certainly doing a lot more than many people. Just do it. Stick to what matters, and do what’s right.”

There have been concerts for Syria in Chicago, London and even talk of one in Israel: Who in Los Angeles will step up?


Follow Rob Eshman on Twitter at
@foodaism.

Embattled Assad to make speech on ‘internal issue’


Syria’s President Bashar Assad, locked in a violent struggle against a wave of unrest, is to make a speech on Tuesday on “the internal issue and international and regional developments,” state media said.

The SANA news agency gave no further details. Assad, whose forces are accused of killing thousands of protesters over the last 10 months, is coming under increasing scrutiny from neighboring states.

Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey, said on Monday his country was threatened by the conflict and should take a leading role in dousing it.

“The situation in Syria is heading towards a religious, sectarian, racial war, and this needs to be prevented,” he said.

The Arab League, which suspended Syria in November and announced sanctions, has sent a monitoring mission to Syria intended to judge whether it is complying with a peace plan calling for a withdrawal of troops from cities, prisoner releases and political dialogue.

Syrian opposition figures said on Monday the League mission, which began work two weeks ago, has so far succeeded only in giving Assad’s government more time to violently crush its opponents.

After a review meeting in Cairo on Sunday, the Arab League said Damascus had only partly implemented its pledges.

Adnan Khodeir, head of the monitors’ operations room in the Egyptian capital, said more observers would reach Syria this week, bringing the team’s strength to 200 from 165 now.

“The initial report is too vague, and it essentially buys the regime more time,” said Rima Fleihan, a member of the Syrian National Council, a leading opposition group in exile.

“We need to know what the League will do if the regime continues its crackdown in the presence of the monitors. At one point it needs to refer Syria to the U.N. Security Council.”

The League appears divided over whether to take such a step, which in the case of Libya led to foreign military intervention that helped rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi.

Russia and China have opposed any Security Council move on Syria, while Western powers hostile to Assad have so far shown little appetite for Libya-style intervention in a country that sits in a far more combustible area of the Middle East.

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the United States stood ready to provide the League monitors with technical help if asked.

Gunfire erupted near a car carrying Arab monitors away from an anti-Assad demonstration they had attended in the turbulent city of Homs on Monday, but no one was hurt, activists said.

As with most events in Syria, where most independent media are banned, it was impossible to verify the account.

Rami Abdulrahman, of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said keeping the Arab monitors in Syria without a substantial increase in their numbers would only “give the regime more time to deal with the Syrian revolution.”

TANKS HIDDEN

He said Syrian authorities had hidden tanks in military and security compounds or repainted armored vehicles in blue police colors to mislead monitors. Only a small proportion of the thousands of detainees seized during the unrest had been freed, he added.

Syrian officials say they are fighting “terrorism” by subversives armed from abroad, not a broad-based revolt against more than four decades of Assad family rule. The authorities say their foes have killed 2,000 security force members.

Arab League officials said the future of the monitoring mission, due to make a full report on January 19, depended on the Syrian government’s commitment to ending the daily bloodshed.

“If the … report comes out saying the violence has not stopped, the Arab League will have a responsibility to act on that,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a news conference after the Cairo meeting.

There was no formal Syrian government response to the Cairo meeting, but the state-appointed mufti Ahmed Hassoun, Syria’s most senior Muslim authority, gave a defiant message.

“The land of Sham (Syria) will not be humiliated,” he said in a Damascus church during multi-faith prayers for 26 people the government said were killed by a suicide bomber on Friday.

“Those who want Syria to be an arena for their own agenda against the will of its people, I say to the Arab League and to the United Nations that Syria has angels … that will fly over it until resurrection day,” Hassoun said.

The League communique called on the Syrian opposition to present its own political vision and asked the League’s secretary general to convene a Syrian opposition meeting.

Syrian opposition groups have struggled to unify or to form a widely accepted representative council.

They are split over the role of armed resistance in what began as a peaceful protest movement, the weight Islamist groups should have in any joint opposition body, and the scope for Arab, U.N. or other external action to drive Assad from power.

Opposition leaders meeting in Istanbul gave Burhan Ghalioun a one-month extension as head of the Syrian National Council on Monday, after earlier rejecting a draft accord he had signed with a rival opposition group.

Editing by Andrew Roche

Interior Minister: Suicide bomb kills 26 in Syria


A suicide bomber killed 26 people and wounded 63 in Damascus on Friday, Syria’s interior minister said, vowing an “iron fist” response to the carnage in the heart of the Syrian capital after similar attacks two weeks ago.

The blast came two days before an Arab League committee was due to discuss an initial report by Arab observers who are checking Syria’s compliance with an Arab plan to halt President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on nearly 10 months of unrest.

The meeting may decide whether to continue the mission or to refer Syria to the United Nations Security Council, perhaps paving the way for some form of international action, a scenario that many Arab countries are keen to avoid.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said he was sending a message with Khaled Meshaal, the Damascus-based leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, asking the Syrian government to work “with integrity” to halt the violence.

Interior Minister Ibrahim Shaar, quoted by state television, said 26 people had been killed in the blast in the Maidan district of Damascus, including 15 who could not be identified because their bodies had been shredded in the blast.

“We will strike back with an iron fist at anyone tempted to tamper with the security of the country or its citizens,” he said. He said that about 63 people had been wounded.

Some in the opposition said the government itself had staged the attack to try to show that it is fighting blind violence rather than a pro-democracy movement.

State television showed body parts, bloodstains and broken glass from the explosion. Several riot police shields were shown near a wrecked bus that was among several damaged vehicles.

On December 23 at least 44 people were killed by what Syrian authorities said were two suicide bombings that targeted security buildings in the Syrian capital, one day before the head of the Arab League observer mission arrived there.

GRISLY FOOTAGE

Syrian television footage of Friday’s blast showed yellow caution tape stretched around the wrecked bus and cars with smashed windows in a street. People collected body parts on blue plastic sheets amid pools of blood and scattered shoes.

Arab monitors in white baseball caps and orange vests inspected the area, taking notes and filming. A local police station was visible, apparently untouched by the explosion.

The TV showed crowds of angry locals gathered at the scene, chanting “God, Syria and Bashar only” and “God protect the army” and “With blood and soul we sacrifice for you Bashar.”

The monitors confirmed they had visited the scene. “We are only here to observe and document,” one of them told Reuters by telephone.

Syria bars most independent journalists from the country, making first-hand reporting impossible.

However, a BBC Arabic service reporter was able to accompany three Arab monitors on a five-hour visit to the town of Irbine, on the outskirts of Damascus, the BBC reported.

It was the first time foreign media were known to have been able to cover the activities of the monitors directly, although media access was a condition stipulated by the Arab League.

The BBC said it had been able to film, unhindered by the security forces, an anti-Assad protest in Irbine.

Protesters and residents told the observers, all Algerian diplomats, of harsh treatment at the hands of the security forces. The observers then witnessed a demonstration in which the crowd demanded Assad’s execution, the BBC said.

The League’s special committee on Syria is due to meet in Cairo on Sunday to debate the initial findings of the observer mission, which has been criticized by Syrian activists who question its ability to assess violence on the ground.

Arab states are wary of instability in Syria, which the Arab League has suspended for failing to honor its first peace plan. Syria has been a major regional player, allied with Iran and the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group.

Hezbollah, a political and militant group that fought a war with Israel in 2006, blamed the United States for the blast.

“This is a second step in the plan by evil American forces and those under its control in our region to punish Syria for its firm support of resistance forces against the Zionist enemy (Israel) and the West,” it said on its website.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in the popular uprising against Assad. The government says “terrorists” have killed 2,000 members of the security forces during the revolt.

FATE OF ARAB MISSION

The monitors began work on the streets on December 26 to try to verify whether the government was keeping its promise to pull troops and tanks out of cities and free thousands of detainees.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), an armed opposition force composed mainly of army deserters, condemned the Maidan attack and blamed the Syrian authorities. “This is planned and systematic state terrorism by the security forces of President Bashar al-Assad,” FSA spokesman Major Maher al-Naimi said.

An opposition activist, who asked not to be named, said Islamist militants were taking hold in Syria and may have been behind the blast. “I think we will be seeing more of these attacks in the coming days, I am sorry to say,” he said.

One Damascus resident, who gave her name only as Dima, said the city had been tense even before the blast. “Some friends who work in the security forces were warning my family since yesterday to stay at home,” she said. “The streets were empty.”

The violence in Syria has raged unabated since the Arab monitors arrived, with scores of people reported killed.

Security forces killed four protesters in Hama on Friday when they shot at people shouting anti-Assad slogans after weekly prayers, activists said.

Pro-Assad forces also wounded at least three protesters when they fired at a crowd at a Damascus mosque in a district where a security headquarters is located, a witness said.

The witness said pro-Assad militiamen and secret police agents fired water cannon and then assault rifles after the protesters in the Kfar Souseh district refused to disperse.

“I saw three people on the ground and I do not know if they are dead or alive,” said the witness, who lives nearby.

Arab government sources said on Thursday the League monitors would pursue their mission in Syria, despite criticism from Qatar’s prime minister that they had made mistakes.

Syrian activists say the Arab monitors have had inadequate access to trouble spots, a charge denied by Damascus.

Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Tim Pearce

White House warning: Assad must end crackdown or face ‘additional steps’


The Obama administration warned that the international community will take “additional steps” to pressure Syria’s rulers to end their crackdown unless they agree to the full withdrawal of forces from residential areas.

The statement issued Wednesday by the White House, reiterating Obama administration calls for Bashar Assad to quit power, was the first to hint at possible military intervention.

“We urge Syria’s few remaining supporters in the international community to warn Damascus that if the Arab League initiative is once again not fully implemented, the international community will take additional steps to pressure the Assad regime to stop its crackdown,” the statement said.  “Bashar al-Assad should have no doubt that the world is watching, and neither the international community nor the Syrian people accept his legitimacy.”

The Arab League initiative calls for a full withdrawal from residential areas, the release of political prisoners, and unfettered access by monitors and media.

President Obama has led an international effort to cut off Syria from the world economy and tighten sanctions since the regime began targeting democracy protesters in the spring, but until now has resisted calls for military intervention.

U.S. officials have said that unlike Libya, where limited NATO intervention helped rebels oust the leadership, Syria poses a more difficult challenge because of the deeper entrenchment of its rulers in the military and because the opposition is not as cohesive.

UN: Syria in state of civil war, death toll 4,000


Syria is in a state of civil war with more than 4,000 dead and increasing numbers of soldiers taking up arms against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the top U.N. human rights official said Thursday.

“We are placing the figure at 4,000, but really the reliable information coming to us is that it is much more than that,” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a news conference.

“I have said that as soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms – I said this in August before the Security Council – there was going to be a civil war. At the moment that’s how I am characterizing this,” she said.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is holding an emergency session on Syria Friday following a report by an independent U.N. commission of inquiry that said Syrian forces have committed crimes against humanity including executions, torture and rape.

“I intend to add my voice to the finding of the commission of inquiry with regard to evidence pointing to the commission of crimes against humanity,” said Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge who will address the one-day session in Geneva.

Pillay noted that she had called in August for the Security Council to refer Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity.

“In my own view, based on our own monitoring of the situation, there is need for prosecution of perpetrators at the highest level for crimes against humanity,” she said on Thursday.

The Arab League put Syrian VIPs on a travel ban list on Thursday and European Union foreign ministers readied a raft of economic sanctions against Assad to press him into stopping an eight-month military crackdown on popular protests.

“I want to endorse what was said to me by one of the Arab state ambassadors who is sponsoring the special session tomorrow, and that is of course they also feel totally hopeless, they feel that the sanctions will bite because the wealth is concentrated on the family around him,” Pillay said, in a reference to Assad.

“And they feel that the momentum has to be maintained. So the Council session is important, my statements are important, eventually to get to the Security Council and also to get the message to those who are holding back on drastic action by the Security Council, so they will also understand this is serious.”

Russia and China, which both have oil concessions in Syria, teamed up in October to veto a Western-backed Security Council resolution condemning Assad’s government for violence.

The two powers, joined by Cuba, are also trying to tone down an EU resolution being presented at the rights forum Friday that would strongly condemn Syria and call for the U.N. report on crimes against humanity to be sent to the Security Council, diplomats said.

The United States is among the official co-sponsors of the EU text.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles

Syrian security forces kill 16 in biggest protests to date


Syrian security forces shot dead at least 16 protesters on Friday as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across the country in the biggest protests so far against President Bashar Assad, Al Jazeera reported.

Assad, facing the greatest challenge to 40 years of Baath Party rule, has sought to crush demonstrations. But although rights groups say some 1,400 civilians have been killed since March, the protests have continued unabated and swelled in size.

“These are the biggest demonstrations so far. It is a clear challenge to the authorities, especially when we see all these numbers coming out from Damascus for the first time,” said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Read more at JPost.com.

Security forces kill seven as protests continue across Syria


Syrian forces shot dead seven people as protesters demonstrated against President Bashar Assad across the country on Friday, a prominent rights campaigner said.

Ammar Qurabi, Cairo-based head of the Syrian National Human Rights Organization, said three people were killed in the town of Maarat al-Numaan on the eastern edge of Idlib province, and another was killed in the central Damascus district of Midan. Three additional protesters were killed overnight in Harasta.

“There is also heavy shooting on protesters in the city of Homs and in the Damascus suburb of Saqba,” Qurabi told Reuters. He said security forces killed three Harasta residents in overnight assault on suburb.

The violence comes after three people were killed by security forces during an overnight protest in a Damascus suburb.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israel to UN: Syria’s border provocations carry serious potential for escalation


The Israeli delegation to the United Nations has dispatched a complaint letter to the UN chief and the president of the UN Security Council condemning Syria’s “dangerous provocations” on its border with Israel on Sunday.

Haim Waxman, the deputy chief of Israel’s delegation to the UN, stressed in his letter that the Syrian government bears the responsibility for any harm caused to the individuals who tried to breach the disengagement line with Israel on Naksa Day, the anniversary of Israel’s victory in the 1967 war.

According to Syrian media reports, Israel Defense Forces soldiers killed 22 protesters trying to cross from Syria into Israel on Sunday.

Waxman emphasized that the IDF acted with restraint while handling the protesters and that Israel had repeatedly alerted all parties regarding the “explosive potential of protests planned for June 5 2011.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Clinton: Syria’s brutal crackdown on protests is a sign of weakness


In some of her strongest remarks yet on Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham said Thursday the brutal crackdown against protesters demonstrated the government’s weakness, though she stopped short of saying President Bashar Assad must quit.

Syrian soldiers and tanks surrounded the city of Hama, which President Bashar Assad’s father laid waste to in 1982 to stamp out an earlier uprising, an activist said. Government forces also used clubs to disperse 2,000 demonstrators on a northern university campus.

Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, is trying to crush an uprising that exploded nearly two months ago and is now posing the gravest threat to his family’s 40-year ruling dynasty. The level of violence is intensifying as forces move into more volatile areas, and the United States called the crackdown “barbaric.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Report: Over 50 killed in bloody ‘day of rage’ clashes


At least 50 protesters were killed in in pro-democracy demonstrations throughout Syria on Friday, including 15 in the south Syrian town of Daraa, according to opposition members.

Casualties have been reported throughout the country in Homs, Latakia and Rastan, in Syria’s latest ‘day of rage’.

Earlier Friday, a hospital source reported that Syrian security forces killed 15 villagers at the entrance to the south-Syrian city of Daraa on Friday, saying they received the bodies of the villagers that were riddled with bullets.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

U.N. human rights body passes resolution condemning Syria crackdown on protests


The top United Nations human rights body condemned Syria on Friday for using deadly force against peaceful protesters and launched an investigation into killings and other alleged crimes.

The 47-member forum, which held an emergency session at U.S. request, endorsed a U.S.-sponsored resolution by 26 votes to 9 with 7 abstentions.

“Member states came together to condemn the brutal tactics used by the Assad regime to silence peaceful dissent,” U.S. human rights ambassador Eileen Donahoe said in a statement.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Syria forces deploy near Baniyas as regime cracks down on protesters [MAP]


Syrian security forces deployed in the hills around the coastal town of Banyias on Tuesday in preparation for a possible attack on the coastal city to crush the five-week popular uprising in the country, a protest leader said.

“Forces wearing black and carrying AK-47s deployed today in the hills. Armored personnel carriers passed by the highway adjacent to Baniyas at night,” Anas al-Shaghri said from the town, which has seen intensifying pro-democracy protests against the rule of President Bashar Assad.

“We are expecting an attack any moment. We will receive them at the gates with our bare chests,” Shaghri said.

Protests in Syria have spread across the entire country in the weeks since the demonstrations first began in the southern city of Daraa. View Syria protests in a larger map

Read more at Haaretz.com.

U.S. condemns Syria’s ‘brutal repression’ of protesters


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the Syrian government on Tuesday for the harsh way it had responded to pro-democracy protests, while the State Department spokesman said Syria must make more progress on reforms.

“In a series of side meetings I also had the chance to discuss a number of issues, including Syria,” Clinton said after a London meeting of international powers on Libya.

“I expressed our strong condemnation of the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrators, in particular the violence and killing of civilians in the hands of security forces,” she added.

Read more at Haaretz.com.