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August 1, 2016

Russian helicopter shot down over Syria

Russian helicopter shot down over Syria

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Monday, August 1, 2016

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Russia acknowledged one of their military helicopters was shot down today over Syria, killing the entire complement of five people aboard.

An Mi-8 helicopter – the type shot down.
Image: Aleksandr Markin.

This is the largest loss of Russian personnel Russia has officially recognized in their Syrian operations since those operations began last September. These operations have been ongoing in support of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad against rebels in the Syrian Civil War which has so far lasted five years.

Russian officials have said the helicopter had just delivered humanitarian aid to Aleppo and was returning to Russia’s main airbase in Latakia. Aleppo has been besieged since rebel-held areas in the Eastern part of the city were cut off by government forces last month.

The helicopter was shot down over the province of Idlib, where the dominant power is an alliance of rebel forces, including jihadist factions. Islamic State reportedly is not known to be active there.

Russia’s involvement in Syria has been controversial, and the West have said it is aiding a brutal crackdown by the Assad regime. According to Russian President Vladmir Putin, the target of the Russian campaign is Islamist terrorism.



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February 5, 2016

States pledge $10 billion for aid to Syria

States pledge $10 billion for aid to Syria

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Yesterday, a donor conference of nations was held in Westminster, London, United Kingdom to collect money for aid to Syria. UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced more than $10 billion were pledged in one day, for “food, medical care, and shelter”, and other purposes including creation of schools to benefit one million Syrian children by the end of the coming school year. Cameron also said this was the biggest sum ever collected for an international crisis in one day.

David Cameron, British PM, in 2014.

The “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference goal was more than $7 billion asked for by the United Nations and around $1.3 billion by countries of the region. Pledges included $3.3 billion from the European Union; $1.7 billion from the UK until 2020; $2.6 billion from Germany until 2018; and for 2016, $1 billion from France and $935 million from the United States.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkish prime minister, said a Syrian government offensive with Russian air support is sending about another 70,000 Syrians to the Turkish border, and expressed worry this would continue. Syrian rebels suspended Geneva, Switzerland peace talks with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, protesting the current offensive. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recently said Russian airstrikes have killed around 1,400 Syrian civilians.



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January 6, 2016

Donors pledge $10 billion for aid to Syria

Donors pledge $10 billion for aid to Syria

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Yesterday, a donor conference was held in Westminster, London, United Kingdom to collect money for aid to Syria. UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced more than $10 billion were pledged in one day. He also said the money will go to food, medical care, and shelter, also for the making of schools that will benefit 1 million of Syrian children by the end of the next year. David Cameron also said this was the biggest amount ever collected in one day.

David Cameron, British PM, in 2014.

The goal of the “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference was to reach more than $7 billion, the amount requested by the United Nations and $1.3 billion as requested by countries of the region. The European Union pledged $3.3 billion, UK pledged $1.7 billion until 2020, Germany said it will give $2.6 billion until 2018, France and United States pledged for 2016, France giving $1 billion and US giving $935 million.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkish prime minister, said he is worried about more airstrikes by the regime and that nearly 70,000 Syrians are going to its borders after an offensive of the government backed by the Russian airforce. This offensive caused the suspension of the Syria peace talks between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the rebels in Geneva, Switzerland. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian airstrikes have killed 1,400 Syrian civilians.



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October 31, 2015

United States to deploy troops in Syria

United States to deploy troops in Syria – Wikinews, the free news source

United States to deploy troops in Syria

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

The United States announced on Friday it will deploy ground troops in Syria in an effort to combat Islamic State (IS). The announcement came as diplomats from seventeen countries met in Vienna to discuss the Syrian crisis. It is the first time in four years external figures and allies to President Bashar al-Assad were in attendance.

Government officials have confirmed “less than 50” special operations forces will be sent to Northern Syria to advise Kurdish and Arab forces. In an address to the media senior administration official Josh Earnest stated, “They will help coordinate local ground forces and coalition efforts to counter ISIL.”

This decision to increase it’s presence in Syria is the first since the United States deployed airstrikes one year ago. In addition, A-10 ground-attack planes and F-15 tactical fighter jets will be sent to İncirlik, in Southern Turkey. The Northern Syrian area is currently held by Kurdish forces as they fight IS. Earnest stated “these forces do not have a combat mission”, and their role is to aid Kurdish forces with logistics and planning. To date the United States effort to train Arab forces has reportedly been unsuccessful.

A second meeting to further discuss the Syria conflict is set to be held in two weeks.



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August 24, 2014

Islamic State capture Syrian airbase

Islamic State capture Syrian airbase – Wikinews, the free news source

Islamic State capture Syrian airbase

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

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  • 23 May 2015: Islamic State captures Syrian city of Palmyra
  • 24 August 2014: Islamic State capture Syrian airbase
  • 23 September 2013: Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad
  • 8 September 2013: Wikinews interviews Scott Lucas, Eyal Zisser, Majid Rafizadeh about risks of US military intervention in Syria
  • 4 September 2013: Former Syrian minister of defense defects to Turkey
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Islamic State fighters are reported to have taken control of Tabqa airbase, the last government stronghold in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa, today after several days of fighting.

Map of Syria with Raqqa province in light green
Image: KureCewlik81.

The loss was confirmed by Syrian state television, who reported a “successful evacuation of the airport” and that the government forces were continuing local operations against “terrorist groups”. This is the third military base in the province to fall to the extremist group in recent weeks, after reports of them seizing weapons during their advances in neighboring Iraq.

Monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported over 300 Islamic State fighters were killed in the fighting since Tuesday, with over 150 government soldiers killed in the same time frame. Clashes reportedly continue in the area around the base.

The airbase reportedly contained several squadrons of warplanes, tanks, and artillery.

Elsewhere, Islamic State fighters were reported to have withdrawn from the area around Homs and to have retreated east, giving up the area to fighters of the al-Nusra Front. Other rebel groups backed by Western countries have also been fighting the Islamic State, but tend to lose those confrontations.

The ongoing fighting is a continuation of the Syrian Civil War, which started in 2011 as protest groups confronted forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Fighters of the Islamic State had previously fought alongside other opposition groups, but its treatment of individuals led to fighting between them.



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September 23, 2013

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Over the past week, diplomatic actions have averted — or, at least delayed — military strikes on Syria by the United States. Wikinews sought input from a range of international experts on the situation; and, the tensions caused by Russia’s support for the al-Assad regime despite its apparent use of chemical weapons.

File:Ghouta chemical attack map.svg

Map of areas affected by chemical weapons in Ghouta, Syria.
Image: FutureTrillionaire.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Tensions in the country increased dramatically, late August when it was reported between 100 and 1,300 people were killed in an alleged chemical attack. Many of those killed appeared to be children, with some of the pictures and video coming out of the country showing — according to witnesses — those who died from apparent suffocation; some foaming at the mouth, others having convulsions.

Amongst Syria’s few remaining allies, Iran, China, and Russia continue to oppose calls for military intervention. In an effort to provide a better-understanding of the reasoning behind their ongoing support, the following people were posed a range of questions.

Interviewees

  • Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.
  • Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Politics from the University of Sydney, Australia
  • Farideh Farhi, an Affiliate with the Graduate Faculty of Political Science, and lecturer, at the ̣̣University of Hawai’i, Honolulu
  • Mehran Kamrava, Professor and Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
  • William Martel, Professor of International Security Studies at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts
  • Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, England
  • Walter Posch, an Iran expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, Germany; and,
  • Sam Roggeveen, a fellow of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia

Wikinews Q&A

Iran, China, and Russia have remained as allies to the al-Assad government despite the alleged use of chemical weapons in Ghouta on August 21, 2013. Wikinews queried the listed subject-matter experts regarding the diplomatic relations between these nations, and the reasoning behind such.

China

File photo of United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York.
Image: Patrick Gruban.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png There are suggestions China wants to maintain its financial ties with Syria as its third largest importer in 2010. Would you agree with this?

  • Brown: I don’t think that is China’s key priority. China has a massive economy, and Syria is a very minor player in this. It has some, but not much, energy from Syria. Its real concerns in the current conflict are for stability, and geopolitical.
  • Farhi: China’s conduct in Syria has been similar to its conduct elsewhere. It has given support to Russia in international forum such as the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] and has acted opportunistically wherever its economic interest could be pursued. But, Syria is really not an area of interest for China. Its actions and support for the Russian position is derived from its general concerns regarding American imperialism and unilateralism.
  • Mitter: China will want, in general, to maintain financial ties with Syria as it does with many countries. China’s general position is that internal politics of countries should not interfere with economic ties.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think China is talking from experience when it says that foreign countries shouldn’t get involved with Syria’s internal affairs?

File photo of interviewee Sam Roggeveen.
Image: Sam Roggeveen.

  • Roggeveen: That stance reflects China’s history as a weak, developing country with a host of territorial disputes with its neighbours. Beijing does not want to set international precedents that will allow third parties to interfere with, for example, the Taiwan issue, Tibet, the East China Sea or the South China Sea.
But increasingly, China’s stance will conflict with its growing strength and growing responsibilities on the world stage. China is already the world’s second biggest economy and a major strategic power in the Asia Pacific [region]; and, it will increasingly be expected to take up responsibilities that come with such power. Also, as we saw in the case of Libya — where China sent a fleet of ships and aircraft to evacuate its nationals — China has interests and citizens all over the world, both of which need to be protected.
  • Brown: It [China] has always stood by non interference of other counties in the internal affairs of sovereign states; though, this position has changed over time since it was formulated on the back of China’s experience of colonisation in the early part of the twentieth-century. Its main priority now is to not see the escalation of issues, as was seen in Iraq and Afghanistan; where it runs the risk of being sucked into lengthy conflicts with no real gameplan, and no clear outcome that is relevant to it. It does not see the Syria[n] conflict [as] one where there is a an easy, viable, alternative option waiting to govern the country. And, it is very sceptical about US and others’ claims that they can control this problem.
  • Farhi: Yes, rejection of interference in the internal affairs of other countries — particularly of a military kind — is a principled Chinese position in areas where China doesn’t have an over-riding interest.
  • Mitter: China has been a hardline advocate of strong territorial sovereignty for decades. This is, in part, a product of its own history of being invaded and occupied by other countries.

File photo of interviewee Rana Mitter.
Image: Rana Mitter.


Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png China abstained from a UN Security Council resolution on Libya — do you think they are trying to reprise what happened in Libya in terms of regime change?

  • Roggeveen: China and Russia suspect the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine, which was used by Western powers to justify the Libya intervention, was a smokescreen for regime change. So, they are wary of seeing something similar happen in Syria. China also prefers not to be on its own in the Security Council; so, if the Russians come down against a Libya-like resolution, [the] chances are that China will join them.
  • Brown: They felt there was clear mission-creep with Libya. What, however, has most emboldened them in opposing action in Syria is the position of Russia; which they have been able to stand behind. Diplomatically they dislike isolation, so this has proved the issue they have taken cover from.
  • Farhi: Libya has set a bad precedent for many countries who supported, or did not object to, NATO action. So, yes, the Libya example is a precedent; but, in any case, the Syrian dynamics are much more complex than Libya and both Russia and China — as well as Iran — genuinely see the attempt to resolve the imbroglio in Syria through military means as truly dangerous. In other words, they see the conduct of Western powers in the past two years as spawning policies that are tactically geared to weaken the Assad regime without a clear sense or strategy regarding what the end game should be. Particularly since at least part of the opposition to Assad has also elicited support from Islamic radicals.
  • Mitter: In general China is reluctant to take decisive action in international society, and [at] the UN. It prefers its partners, such as Russia, to take on confrontational roles while it tries to remain more neutral and passive.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think a political solution is the only realistic means to resolve the Syrian issue?

File photo of interviewee Kerry Brown.
Image: Kerry Brown.

  • Roggeveen: At the moment, both sides [in Syria] evidently feel they can still obtain their objectives through force. Perhaps one of them will be proved right; or, perhaps there will be a long-term stalemate with Syria split between regime and opposition forces.
One important change is the chemical weapons agreement; which now makes it much more difficult for the US or Israel to intervene militarily. The deal also gives the regime some degree of status as a legal authority with which outside powers must negotiate. That weakens the hand of the opposition; but, it could open a door for an international diplomatic intervention to achieve — firstly — a cease fire. and perhaps then something more substantive.
  • Brown: There is no appetite for the kinds of expensive and very hard interventions [undertaken] in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, in any case, the US and its allies don’t have the money to fund this, and their publics evidently feel no case has been made yet for getting involved. People are weary of the endless arguments in the Middle-East, and feel that they should now be left to deal with their own issues. China, in particular, has tried to maintain as strong a […] network of benign support in the region as possible, while avoiding getting sucked into problems. There is no viable opposition in Syria that would make it easier to justify intervention; and, no easy way of seeing how this tragic civil war is going to be easily ended.
  • Farhi: Syria has become the arena for a proxy war among regional and extra-regional players and yes its civil war will not end until all key players and their external supporters develop a political will to end the conflict. For the conflict to end, the bankers feeding the conflict should agree to stop funding it.
  • Mitter: Yes. But, it will depend on Russia, China, and the US, being able to come up with a compromise solution. That looks [to be] a long way off.

Iran

Free Syrian Army soldiers involved in the civil war.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png For many years, Syria has been considered Iran’s “closest ally”. What vested interest does the Iranian government have in keeping Bashar al-Assad in power?

  • Kamrava: These interests are primarily strategic, with both countries sharing common interests in relation to Lebanon — particularly the Hezbollah group — and [as] deterrence against Israel[i intervention].
  • Martel: Iran’s interests align very closely with that of Russia in supporting Syria and opposing the United States. Further, during this last week, President Putin offered to help Iran build a second nuclear reactor. The policies of Russia, Iran, and Syria align quite closely; thus leading some — such as myself — to argue that we are seeing the rise of an “authoritarian axis” of states, whose policies are coordinated.
  • Posch: First, Syria was Iran’s only ally against Saddam Hussein and [an] indispensable partner in Lebanon since the early 1980s.

Kurdish supporters of Syria’s Democratic Union Party in Afrin.
Image: Scott Bobb.

Even before the fall of Saddam in 2003, Iran reinterpreted the basically pragmatic cooperation in the field of intelligence and security. Ever since Syria was part of a so called “axis of resistance” consisting of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the sole common strategic denominator of these different actors is hostility against Israel, which is always depicted as an aggressor against whom the Muslims should resist — hence, the [designation as an] “axis of resistance”. Of course, forming an alliance ‘officially against Israel’ serves another purpose too: to take a stand against Saudi Arabia without naming it. Much of the current crisis in Syria has to do with this scheme.
  • Farhi: Syria supported Iran during the Iran–Iraq war; and, that dynamic forged a long-standing relationship between the two countries that includes economic, political, and military cooperation. In more recent years, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have self-identified as [an] axis of resistance against Israeli–American involvement in the region. Despite this, Iran initially mostly followed the Russian lead in the Syria. However as other regional players — such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as extra-regional players such as the United States — began to see, and articulate the weakening of, the Assad regime as a first step to the weakening of Iran, this enhanced Iran’s threat perception, and gave it [an] incentive for further involvement in support of Assad.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Do you think Iranian support for the Syrian government is a way of standing up against UN sanctions imposed on them, and opposing American imperialism?

  • Kamrava: No. Iranian–Syrian relations are rooted in common strategic interests rather than in assumptions about US imperialism, or the role of the UN sanctions.
  • Martel: Both Iran and Syria share a strategic interest in undermining the influence of the US and the West.
  • Posch: Definitely not. The sanctions track is a different one, checking American “imperialism” — as you call it — is, of course. one aim.
  • Farhi: As has become evident in the past few weeks, the primary interactive dynamic regarding the Syrian imbroglio is being played out mostly in terms of US–Russian rivalry; and, Iran is following the Russian lead.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png The UN has “overwhelmingly” confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria. Do you think both sides have used chemical weapons?

File photo of interviewee Mehran Kamrava.
Image: Mehran Kamrava.

  • Kamrava: It is undeniable that chemical weapons were used in Syria. But, I have not yet seen conclusive evidence for the responsibility of the use of chemical gas by one side or another. Until valid evidence is made available — proving who used chemical weapons — affixing blame to either the government forces, or to one of the fractious rebel groups, is only a matter of speculation.
  • Martel: I remain skeptical that anyone other than the Syrian government used chemical weapons. It is widely accepted that the Syrian government was behind the use of chemical weapons.
  • Posch: I think the Report is quite clear on that.
  • Farhi: I —as an academic, with no access to on the ground information — am in no position to know whether both sides have used chemical weapons.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that part of Iran’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: religion and strategy?

Former President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who stepped down earlier this year.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

  • Kamrava: No, I do not agree. Iran’s “vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad” is [a] product only of Iran’s strategic calculations.
While foreign policies anywhere may be expressed — and justified — through slogans and ideological rhetoric, they are based on strategic considerations and calculations. Despite common, journalistic misconceptions, religion has not played a role in Iranian foreign policy; whether in relation to Syria or anywhere else.
  • Martel: Iran’s vested interest in Syria is entirely geo-strategic. Iran’s support [for] Syria is designed to undermine US power and influence. For Iran, no policy objective is more important than to possess nuclear weapons. When the U.S. declared a “redline” if Syria “used or moved” chemical weapons, and then backed away from that redline, it is likely that Iran’s leadership drew one principal conclusion:
the US redline on Iran’s nuclear program is in doubt, the US commitment to preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons is in doubt,
and that Iran likely will test US resolve.
In strategic terms, doubts about the credibility of the US redline on Iran dwarfs any concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons.
The belief in Iran — that the US may not be willing to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons — could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It is difficult to exaggerate just how dangerous a nuclear-armed Iran is for regional and global security.
  • Posch: No, it is strategy, and perhaps ideology. Religion doesn’t play too much [of] a role, even though the conflict has been thoroughly “sectarianised”. This happened a few years back when the Saudis baptised (if that term is appropriate) the “axis of resistance” to “shiite crescent”. The domination of the Syrian Baath Party by members of one sect plays no role in Iran’s security equation. Attempts to convert Syrian Alevites to Mainstream Shiites are initiatives of some individual Ayatollahs. I have already mentioned the strategic aspect, [an] axis of resistance against Israel and Saudi Arabia simultaneously; to this I would add Iranian concern over the Kurdish issue.
  • Farhi: The Assad government is a secular government, and Iran’s relationship with it has nothing to do with religion or religious affinities. The relationship is a complex one — and, as mentioned before — forged as a strategic bond during the Iran–Iraq War, when Saddam’s regime was deemed aggressively expansionist by both regimes.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Iran is home to the world’s most populous Shiite Muslim nation. The Syrian rebels are Sunni. Could this be a Sunni vs. Shiite alignment in the Middle East?

File photo of interviewee Farideh Farhi.
Image: Farideh Farhi.

  • Kamrava: No. While sectarianism may be the lens through which some of the Syrian rebels see their fight against the government, ultimately the contest is over state power and capitalizing on opportunities created by the Arab uprisings in general; and, the Syrian civil war in particular. Sunni–Shia ‘alignments’ have nothing to do with it.
  • Posch: Usually, the Sunni–Shia divide is something Iranians and Saudis play up in order to put pressure on one another; usually, they were also able to deescalate. Syria, however, is the game-changer — for the simple reason that nobody believes the Saudis would control the post Al-Qaeda Networks in Syria. What Iran fears is an increase of the most-radical Sunni anti-shiism, the so called takfiris, spilling over onto Iranian territory.
  • Farhi: The Sunni governments in the region are working hard to use sectarian tensions as an instrument to fan popular resentments, in the region, towards Shi’ite Iran. But, the rivalry is actually political; and, has to do with the fears rivals have of what they consider — I think wrongly — to be Iran’s hegemonic aspirations in the region.
Sectarianism is an instrument for shaping regional rivalries, and not the source of problems, in the region.

Russia

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, meeting Syrianan president Bashar al-Assad, on a visit to Syria in 2010.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Russia is one of Syria’s biggest arms suppliers. Do you think this means Russia’s interest lies in economic benefit, as opposed to the humanitarian crisis?

  • Blank: Although Russia sells Syria weapons, Russia’s main interest has nothing to do with humanitarianism or economics.
Rather, its main interests are to force the US to accept Russia as an equal — so that Moscow has an effective veto power over any further American actions of a strategic nature there and elsewhere — and second, to restore Russia’s standing as an indispensable great power in the Middle East without whom nothing strategic can be resolved.
It should be noted that in neither case is Russia actively interested in finding solutions to existing problems. Rather, it seeks to create a bloc of pro-Russian, anti-American states and maintain simmering conflicts at their present level while weakening US power.

File photo of interviewee William Martel.
Image: William Martel.

  • Martel: Russia’s principal interests in Syria are twofold. First, Moscow’s support is geopolitical in design. It is designed precisely to undermine and weaken American influence in the Middle East and globally. The extent to which Russia can undermine American influence directly helps to bolster Russia’s influence. For now, Russia is such a vastly diminished power — both politically, economically, militarily, and technologically — that Russian policymakers are pursuing policies they believe will help to reverse Russia’s strategic decline.
Second, Syria is Russia’s strongest ally in the region, if not the world, while Syria is the home to Russia’s only foreign naval base.
  • Farhi: Syria is Russia’s only solid strategic ally in the Middle East. Syria, in effect, is a Russian client. Russia’s interests lie in maintaining that foothold, and perhaps extending it.
It also has a concern regarding the civil war in Syria spawning what it considers to be extremist Islamist activities, which it has had to contend with within its own borders.

File photo of interviewee Stephen Blank.
Image: Stephen Blank.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you believe Russia distrusts US intentions in the region — in the sense of countering the West on regime change?

  • Blank: It is clear that Russia not only does not trust US interests and judgment in the Middle East, it regards Washington as too-ready to use force to unseat regimes it does not like and believes these could lead to wars; more importantly, to the attempt to overthrow the present Russian government. That is critical to understanding Moscow’s staunch support for Assad.
  • Martel: Russia’s policymakers understand that American and Russia interests directly diverge. Russia seeks to undermine US geopolitical influence, and increase its own. It is using its support of the Syrian regime to accomplish that objective. American interests, by contrast, are largely to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.
Appallingly, Russia is supporting Syria despite the fact that all evidence points to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
One would think that American policymakers would be more critical of Russia; which is directly supporting a regime that used poison gas to slaughter its own men, women, and children.
  • Farhi: It is less about trust and more about protection of geopolitical interests and prevention of even more dire consequences if Assad goes. It is true that Russia feels that the United States and NATO went beyond the mandate afforded to them by the UN Security Council in going after regime change in Libya.
However, Russia’s geopolitical, and economic, interests in Syria are much more important; and, the relationship between the two countries [is] much deeper.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The Russian Government accepts that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. How does it come to claim that the rebels are behind the attacks even though it is widely accepted that the al-Assad government has stocks of weapons?

A BM-14 multiple rocket launcher, similar to the type likely to have launched the M-14 munitions found by UN Inspectors on August 26.
Image: Vlad.

  • Blank: It [Russia] simply intends to defend Assad to the hilt; and is hardly unwilling to lie — especially as its intelligence service is notorious for fabricating mendacious and biased threat assessments, and is not under any form of effective democratic control.
  • Martel: Russia’s claims that Syrian rebels were behind the chemical weapon attacks is, frankly, inexplicable. Worse, Russia’s basic credibility is undermined by such statements.
  • Farhi: Russia claims Syria has presented it [with] evidence that the rebels have used chemical weapons; and Russia, in turn, has given the evidence to the UNSC. It has also called the UN report one-sided and biased. The bottom line is — the claim that the opposition to the Assad regime is at least as culpable in the violence being committed in Syria, opens the path for Russia to continue calling for a political solution [which] brings to the table all parties to the conflict in Syria, including Assad and his supporters; something the multi-voiced opposition has so far refused.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that Russia’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: economics and ideology?

  • Blank: As I said above, Russia’s interest in Assad is bound to two geopolitical factors: maintaining the security of its regime; and, equally important, weakening America in the Middle-East — if not globally — and ensuring that Russia’s great power status is thereby ensured.
  • Martel: Russia’s vested interest in protecting Syria’s al-Assad is driven by geopolitics.
To support Assad, is to counter US policy and influence; which is precisely what Putin’s government seeks to accomplish. In many senses, Russia’s support for Syria is entirely secondary to Russia’s strategy of reversing its two-decade long decline in every measure of power. With its weak economy, dependence on petroleum for half of its national income, and increasingly authoritarian government, Russia has relatively little to offer the world — other than to oppose the United States as part of its strategy of reversing its decline.
While Russia’s geopolitical influence clearly increased as a result of its support for Syria, its long-term economic prospects remain quite dim.
  • Farhi: It is economic as well as political.
Syria is a customer of Russian arms and goods; hosting a naval supply base in Tartus. But, as mentioned above, Russia has serious concerns regarding what comes after Assad. For Russia, the current regime is better than chaos or control by Islamists.
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September 8, 2013

Wikinews interviews Scott Lucas, Eyal Zisser, Majid Rafizadeh about risks of US military intervention in Syria

Wikinews interviews Scott Lucas, Eyal Zisser, Majid Rafizadeh about risks of US military intervention in Syria

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

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Image: Scott Lucas.
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The United States President Barack Obama announced last Saturday he was seeking Congressional authorisation for military intervention in Syria.

Looking for more-qualified input, Wikinews interviewed: professor Scott Lucas, an expert in American Studies, from the UK’s University of Birmingham; the President of the International American Council on the Middle East, Majid Rafizadeh; and, professor Eyal Zisser, a Syrian expert, from Tel Aviv University.

Discussing the risks involved with US military intervention in Syria, Wikinews posed a range of questions to these experts on the region’s political climate.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Is it possible for the US to take military action to deter further use of chemical weapons without getting dragged into the civil war?

  • Prof. Scott Lucas: The US is already involved in the civil war — the question is to what extent.
The US has given political support to the opposition and insurgency since late 2011, and from summer 2012, it has pursued covert support to the opposition fighters.
However, the Obama Administration has been hesitant about overt support for insurgents throughout the conflict, and that has affected co-ordination of covert efforts. In June, the Administration finally said it would provide overt military assistance, but then pulled back and failed to deliver any public aid.
Had it not been for the August, 21 chemical weapons attack, that position would have persisted.
  • Majid Rafizadeh: It depends on the scope of the military operation. If United States conducts limited military operation, as the adminstration argues, and if US only targets some of the Syrian government’s military installments, it is less likely that United States will be drawn into the Syria’s civil war. It would be a political suicide for Syria, Iran or Hezbollah to respond.
On the other hand, if Assad observes that the balance of power is tilting against him inside the country, he might use chemical weapons in the future despite US limited strikes.
  • Prof. Eyal Zisser: Yes, it[sic] the attack is limited. And If the Americans only use missiles. They can cause severe damage, but leave Assad in his palace, and not being dragged into the civil war.

The United States President Barack Obama with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year.
Image: Pete Souza.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Will military intervention from the US affect long term relations between the United States and Russia?

  • SL: Of course, significant military intervention by Washington will affect relations between the US and Russia, but the long-term effect cannot be predicted.
It is dependent on Russia’s reaction — so far, Moscow has been able to pressure the US into caution, but a decision for intervention by the US might call Russia’s bluff, so to speak, and force some caution by the Russians. Already, Moscow has said it will not join a fight against any US military action.
And, of course, the long-term relationship is dependent on the political and military success of any US intervention.
  • MR: Military intervention, in the classic sense of putting troops on the ground, will definitely affect US-Russian long term political relationships. It might heighten the diplomatic tensions. However, the limited military operation is less likely [to] change US-Russian long term economic, geopolitical, and political relationships.
  • EZ: No. They need each other in many other places of the world. Russia knows that the US is a super power and will not be interested in a real conflict with Washington.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The British Parliament voted against military intervention in Syria, do you think this has affected their relations with the United States?

  • SL: No — had the Obama Administration been united and decisive for intervention, there might have been some effect. But the Obama Administration’s divisions mean its first priority is getting some coherence in Washington, rather than blaming London.
  • MR: I don’t think so. I believe that [the] UK has been [the] staunchest ally of the United States for decades. One instance of opposing parliamentary vote will not have impact on US-UK relations.
  • EZ: Maybe. But Britain is not an important power any more, so the affect will be only in the symbolic field.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia could back Syrian intervention if there was conclusive proof of regime guilt. What sort of evidence would be needed and can this level of assurance be given?

  • SL: This is not a scientific question — we already have extensive evidence establishing the near-certainty of major regime attacks with chemical weapons on 7 towns on August 21.
Putin’s statement was a political move: it ostensibly re-confirmed the Russian opposition to US intervention while giving Moscow a way to step back if the UN inspectors return a damning report.
  • MR: It is difficult, if not impossible, to provide Moscow with the evidence that they are looking for. In order to provide that specific information several criterions should be met. First of all, the soil of the location where the alleged chemical weapons are used, should immediately be examined after the incident. The Syrian government has not allowed immediate access to these places and usually reports come out days after. Second, and more fundamentally, a concrete and observable evidence is needed for Russia showing that Assad’s government has used it as opposed to the rebels.
  • EZ: No the Russians are not after the truth but after their interests even if Assad admits that he used such weapon the Russians will be against any intervention.

Bombed out vehicles in Aleppo during the Syrian civil war.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would US military intervention on Syria be a violation of International law?

  • SL: This is a grey area, especially as there will not be an endorsement by the United Nations Security Council. Supporters of the action say it can be justified under the recent doctrine of humanitarian intervention, but that is more a political rather than legal judgement.
  • MR: Legally speaking, it is [in] violation of [the] United Nations Charter. According to [the] UN Charter, use of force is permitted only in case of self-defense or UNSC’s [United Nations Security Council] approval. Neither of these two cases apply for US use of military force against Syria. However, this does not mean that our current international law is devoid of any shortcomings. The International system has some shortcomings because of the structure of the UNSC, where one member can veto a resolution and block actions.
  • EZ: Technically — yes because they did not get an approval from the UN.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Does the United States seem to be wanting to engage in regime change in Syria as opposed to preventing further chemical attacks?

  • SL: No, the Obama Administration has been uncertain about — and many of its members opposed to — regime change, and that is still the situation. The military, in particular, is opposed to significant, long-term intervention because of its concerns over a fragmented, diverse opposition and what happens if Assad falls.
  • MR: If there was an efficient alternative to Assad, US would have seen the regime change to its political benefits and interests. However, United States does not seem to have articulated any precise agenda towards Syria yet. The policy is more ” Wait and See” policy; observing and reacting as things unfold in Syria and the region.
  • EZ: No Obama does not want it, he finds himself being dragged into a war he has no interest in.
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August 25, 2013

Soldiers in Syria reportedly \’suffocated\’ while seizing chemicals, weapons in Damascus suburb

Soldiers in Syria reportedly ‘suffocated’ while seizing chemicals, weapons in Damascus suburb

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

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According to state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), during a battle with rebels yesterday the Syrian army seized a stockpile of chemicals, canisters, weapons and gear located in a warehouse tunnel in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus. In a post on the social networking website Twitter, SANA claims some soldiers involved in the battle were exposed to some kind of chemical agent and in some cases “suffocated,” but the number of those killed, if any, was not reported.

“Army heroes are entering the tunnels of the terrorists and saw chemical agents”, said SANA, as quoted by Al-Alam News Network. “It is believed that the terrorists have used chemical weapons in the area”, quoted by CNN. The Syrian government often labels members of the Free Syrian Army and other rebels as “terrorists.”

SANA says government forces were fighting rebels and pushed into Jobar where they seized the items in a warehouse. In a video by SANA and published by RT News, at least one of those items, a box labeled “coverall – CW protective,” was made in the United States. Antidotes for chemical agents allegedly from the “The Qatari-German Company for Pharmaceutical Industries” and materials from Saudi Arabia were also among the items seized. Pictures also show grenades, rockets and what appear to be several other unknown chemical agents. Government forces say the stockpile belonged to rebels and opposition forces.

The country’s largest opposition group, The Syrian National Coalition (CNFROS), released a statement denying the use of chemical weapons in both today’s and Wednesday’s battles. They deny even possessing chemical weapons saying the “information disclosed by the regime [is] false” and the accusations attempt “to disguise and conceal his Assad’s] repeated and systematic crimes against Syrian civilians.”

The seizure comes just days after government forces were accused of carrying out a large-scale chemical attack in the Ghouta region of Damascus on Wednesday. Reports say anywhere between 100 and 1,300 people were killed in the attack. Prior to today’s incident and after Wednesday’s alleged chemical attack, government forces heavily bombed the area.

The fighting comes as United Nations observers arrived to investigate claims of chemical weapons use elsewhere in the nation. According to one report, government forces have retaken control of Jobar.


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  • “Syrian army bombs Damascus suburbs after allegedly using chemical weapons on them” — Wikinews, August 23, 2013

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December 2, 2012

Leaked Syrian government emails indicate weapons supplied to Hamas

Leaked Syrian government emails indicate weapons supplied to Hamas

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

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Emails allegedly hacked from Syrian government accounts, leaked onto the Internet, indicate Iran and Syria are supplying weapons made in Ukraine and Belarus to Hamas in Palestine.

One of the leaked letters from the Syrian Embassy in Tehran, requesting Iranian tourist visas for the Syrian Ambassador’s brother and son, who have Romanian citizenship.
Image: Syrian Embassy.

The online activist group known as Anonymous takes responsibility for the leak, which comprises over 2,000 emails and other files totaling around 1 gigabyte. The leak is part of Anonymous’ ongoing campaign known as ‘#OpSyria’ or ‘Operation Syria’ on the social networking website Twitter.

On Monday at 2030 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), ‘Par:AnoIA,’ one of many Twitter accounts connected to Anonymous, stated that the group would “release a stash of Syrian Government emails in the next 24h, featuring Kofi Annan correspondence, cash & weapon deliveries.” Three hours later the same user announced a leak of “1 Gigabyte [of] internal emails from [the] Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs” onto the internet.

The first email leaked was called a “teaser”, from the Syrian embassy in Tehran on November 20, to the British embassy in Belarus. In the communique, the embassy confirms the Iranians are supplying helicopters and Ukrainian made weapons to Hamas, which operates mostly from the Gaza Strip in Palestine. “1.2D projectiles of Ukraine origin found in Egypt and Syria” are some of the weapons being sent to Palestine along with “EC725 Helicopters“.

“Since 2008 Iran is the main transit point for Palestine armament”, says the email. It also goes on to say the weapons are made in Ukraine as part of “2008 arms trade operations sanctioned by The [Ukrainian] Minister of Defense Anatoly Gritsenko.

Although evidence could suggest Iran’s willingness to supply arms to Hamas, in a report compiled on November 2, by the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Iran is trying to stop weapons from being sent into Syria for the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The report quotes Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who called for the FSA “to lay down their arms to be able to deliver their demands to the Syrian government.”((ar)) In regards to the civil war in Syria, Khamenei went on to say that if outside entities “were to provide the opponents in every country of weapons from outside the country, it is natural that the regime responds to opponents”((ar)).

This is not the first time Anonymous has hacked into Syrian government email accounts. In February, the group hacked into 78 Syrian government email accounts and leaked the usernames and passwords associated with them. The accounts accessed reportedly belonged to aides of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. One of the leaked emails, allegedly written by a press aide at Syria’s mission at the UN in New York named Sheherazad Jaafari, talks about Assad’s preparation for a December 2011 television interview with ABC NewsBarbara Walters. In it, Jaafari wrote about ways the Syrian president might be able to manipulate the television audience.

“The American audience doesn’t really care about reforms. They won’t understand it and they are not interested to do so…. American Psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are ‘mistakes’ done and now we are ‘fixing it.’ … Its[sic] worth mentioning also what is happening now in Wall Street [Occupy Wall Street] and the way the demonstrations are been suppressed by police men, police dogs and beatings,” wrote Jaafari.



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May 28, 2012

UN Security Council condemns violence in Houla, Syria

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Monday, May 28, 2012

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  • 4 March 2012: China asks Syrian regime and opposition to cease fire
  • 25 February 2012: Syrian citizen journalists risk death, targeted; city of Homs facing starvation
  • 5 February 2012: UN resolution on Syria vetoed by Russia and China
  • 24 January 2012: Wikinews Shorts: January 24, 2012
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The United Nations Security Council has condemned the recent killing of civilians, including women and children, in the Syrian village of Houla.

The Security Council stated in a press release that it “condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse”, and that the attacks “involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood”. Referring to the Syrian Government and the armed opposition groups, the Security Council emphasized that all forms of violence by all parties in Syria must stop. It reaffirmed the Council’s “strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria”.

The UN stated in a separate press release that “The circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear”. The press releases by the UN or the Security Council have not directly accused any party, neither the Syrian Government, nor any of the various opposition groups, for this event.

The Syrian Government has denied any involvement in the killings. The spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Jihad Makdesi, described a “tsunami of lies” against the Government, and said “We unequivocally deny the responsibility of government forces for the massacre”. He said this event was not characteristic “of the heroic Syrian army”. He further stated “terrorists” were responsible for the killings, as there were “no Syrian tanks or artillery in the vicinity [of Houla]”.

The United Kingdom, a nation strongly opposed to the current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, blamed the massacre on the Syrian Government. Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Lyall Grant, said that “The fact is it is an atrocity and it was perpetrated by the Syrian government”, without elaborating specifically the evidence that led to this conclusion.

Russia, an ally of Syria, questioned the extent to which the Syrian Government was involved in the killings. Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Alexander Pankin, said “There are substantial grounds to believe the majority of those who were killed were either slashed, cut by knives or executed at point-blank distance. It is difficult to imagine that the Syrian government would not only shell, but also use point-blank execution.”

Additionally, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov compared the Houla killings and Western blame of the Syrian Government to the early 1990 killings of 45 Albanians in the Kosovo village of Racak. The killings were used as a justification for NATO bombings of the former Yugoslavia. However, the pretext was not supported by international forensic experts, and the report produced by these experts was never released.

About 108 civilians, including 49 children and 34 women, are reported to have been killed in Syria in violence on May 25 and in the early hours of May 26. Hundreds of additional civilians are reported to have been wounded.



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