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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    ISIS Turkey SyriaANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish artillery hit as many as 10 Islamic State targets inside Syria on Sunday, a military official said on Monday.

    Up to 50 rounds were fired between 2 and 3 p.m. (1200-1300 GMT), the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Turkish broadcaster NTV said the targets were to the north of Aleppo.

    Militants from the Islamist group had launched an assault on Sunday on the Kurdish-controlled town of Tal Abyad on Syria's border with Turkey.

    Warplanes belonging to an international U.S.-led coalition responded with 10 air strikes to try to repel them, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. It said at least 45 Islamic State militants and 20 Kurdish militia fighters had been killed.

    While a U.S.- and Russian-sponsored "cessation of hostilities" came into effect in Syria over the weekend, the Syrian government, Russia and the U.S.-led coalition reserve the right to continue attacks against Islamic State or the al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front.

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the ceasefire covered only one third of Syria, but that he hoped it would be expanded to the whole country.

    The countries sponsoring the Syria peace process met in Geneva on Monday amid complaints that the cessation of hostilities was unraveling, with France demanding information about reports of attacks on rebel positions.

    (Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk and David Dolan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

    SEE ALSO: The US is urging Americans to leave Iraq before Mosul dam collapses

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    Kurdish fighters walk carrying their weapons towards Tel Abyad of Raqqa governorate after they said they took control of the area June 15, 2015. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    Defense ministers from the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State militant group discussed the possibility of a Syrian ground incursion two weeks ago but they have not made a decision, an aide to Saudi Arabia's defense minister said on Monday.

    "It was discussed two weeks ago in Brussels," Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said in a telephone interview from Riyadh. "It was discussed at the political level but it wasn't discussed as a military mission," he said.

    "Once this is organized, and decided how many troops and how they will go and where they will go, we will participate in that," he said. "We need to discuss at the military level very extensively with the military experts to make sure that we have a plan."

    Asseri also said the kingdom was now ready to strike Islamic State from Turkey's southern Incirlik air base, where four Saudi fighter jets arrived last week. The jets have not yet participated in any attacks, he added.

    The U.S. State Department said the Saudis had previously talked about the possibility of introducing ground forces in Syria to fight Islamic State, but there were many issues that needed to be discussed about a potential incursion.

    Deploying ground forces would be a major escalation for the 66-member U.S.-led coalitionagainst Islamic State, which has so far relied mainly on air strikes and arming and equipping moderate Syrian opposition groups.

    State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a news briefing in Washington that the Saudis had talked about "the potential of an introduction of some sort of ground force element in Syria" and that the United States would welcome such a contribution in the fight against Islamic State.

    Pentagon press secretary Admiral John Kirby

    "But there's a lot that needs to be discussed in terms of what they would do, what their makeup would be, how they would need to be supported by the coalition going forward. So there's a lot of homework that needs to be done," Kirby said.

    A U.S. defense official said supporting indigenous anti-Islamic State forces on the ground was a key component of the U.S. strategy against the group.

    "We will continue to provide equipment packages to vetted leaders and their units so that over time they can make a concerted push into territory still controlled" by Islamic State, the official said.

    "As a matter of policy, we won't comment or speculate on potential future operations," the official added.

    (Writing by Humeyra Pamuk and Mohammad Zargham; Editing by David Dolan and Lisa Shumaker)

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: IAN BREMMER: Ukraine's government will fall apart 'by the end of this year'

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    aleppo rubble assad regime air strike

    A cessation of hostilities agreement in Syria, brokered by the US and Russia, officially came into effect last Saturday.

    Though violence has not stopped, it has "plummeted,"according to AFP's Beirut correspondent Maya Gebeily. The number of airstrikes has also reportedly dropped from around 100 to about six to eight per day, Reuters reported, citing a Western diplomat. 

    Russia, which launched a bombing campaign on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad back in September, said it would halt airstrikes for 24 hours. It was meant to ensure that no groups included in the agreement — which applies to most moderate, anti-Assad rebel factions — were accidentally targeted. 

    But opposition activists in rebel-held areas say Russia is still bombing them, despite Moscow's claim that it would only target areas controlled by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State — jihadist groups excluded from the peace plan and considered fair game for airstrikes. 

    The Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC), an umbrella group encompassing many of Syria's more mainstream rebel groups, compiled a list of all of the suspected violations and sent it out in a press release on Tuesday.

    The Committee claims that regime forces and/or Russian warplanes have attacked rebel-held positions in Homs, Hama, Damascus, Quneitra, Daraa and Idlib since Saturday.

    The Institute for the Study of War mapped Russia's airstrikes before and after the agreement took effect. The maps showed that while Russia's bombing campaign has slowed, its warplanes have continued to aggressively target rebel-held positions northwest of Syria's largest city, Aleppo. 

    View the maps below:


    The recent push by Assad's forces — backed by Russian air cover and Iran-backed Shi'ite militias — to cut off rebel supply lines from Turkey into Aleppo has resulted in some of the most significant battlefield gains for the regime since the Syrian civil war war erupted in 2011.

    The maps showed that Russian airstrikes have also targeted areas in Idlib province and around Homs.

    French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault addressed these accusations in a press conference on Monday.

    "We have received indications that attacks, including by air, have been continuing against zones controlled by the moderate opposition," Ayrault told reporters at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, according to Reuters.

    He then "demanded" that the task force charged with overseeing the cessation of hostilities "meet without delay" to resolve the disputes.

    The Russian Ministry of Defense, for its part, said that both moderate and terrorist opposition factions had violated the agreement repeatedly since Saturday's truce. 

    "According to the Chief of the Russian center for reconciliation of opposing sides in Syria Lieutenant General Sergei Kuralenko, in the course of 24 hours, 9 events of the ceasefire violation were registered," the ministry wrote on its Facebook page.

    Major world powers took part in a meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in early February to announce the terms of the plan, which was to be implemented with the help of two task forces focused on providing humanitarian aid to besieged cities and creating modalities to end the violence.

    SEE ALSO: Russia says there is no 'plan B' for Syria — but all the evidence suggests otherwise

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    NOW WATCH: Here are the countries with the most recruited fighters in Iraq and Syria

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    U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of the U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 30, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    NATO's top commander warned that Russia and Syria have turned the refugee crisis into a "weapon" against the West at a time when it lacks resources to counter a "resurgent, aggressive" Russia.

    US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, who commands the 28-member military alliance, said the flow of hundreds of thousands of migrants from war-torn Syria into Europe has had a destabilizing effect throughout Europe, from the Balkans to Scandinavia, and that has worked to Moscow's advantage.

    "Together, Russia and [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's] regime are deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve," Breedlove told the US Senate Armed Services Committee on March 1.

    Breedlove said Moscow and Damascus are deliberately fueling the mass displacement of Syrians, including through Russia's indiscriminate bombing of opposition targets and the Syrian leader's use of barrel bombs in civilian areas.

    "These indiscriminate weapons used by both Bashar al-Assad, and the non-precision use of weapons by the Russian forces, I can't find any other reason for them other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else's problem," said Breedlove, who is also the commander of US troops in Europe.

    "This is putting great pressure on the nations of Europe," he said.

    Potential Trojan Horses

    Migrants Refugees Greece

    Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin dismissed Breedlove's accusations. "Shifting the blame: the specialist on bombing Afghan weddings has accused us of 'non-precise bombing'," Rogozin wrote on his Facebook page on March 2. 

    Breedlove said the massive flow of refugees is also bringing with it potential Trojan horses in the form of criminals and terrorists -- some of them Europeans who got training in Syria and may be planning attacks on the West.

    "This criminality, the terrorists, and the returning foreign fighters are clearly a daily part of the refugee flow in Europe," Breedlove said.

    The Islamic State group is "spreading like a cancer" within the flow of migrants, "taking advantage of paths of least resistance, threatening European nations," he said.

    In addition to the dangers posed by terrorists, Breedlove warned that opposition to the large influx of migrants among nationalists in Europe could lead to violence.

    NATO last month got involved in the refugee crisis for the first time through a new mission to patrol the Aegean Sea and stop people smugglers who have been ferrying migrants from Turkey to Greece.

    'Existential Threat'

    Russian Navy

    The four-star general reaffirmed the assessment of other Pentagon top brass that Russia poses a growing threat to the United States itself.

    "Russia has chosen to be an adversary and poses a long-term existential threat to the United States and to our European allies and partners," Breedlove said.

    "Russia is eager to exert unquestioned influence over its neighboring states in its buffer zone... so has used military force to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, Georgia, and others, like Moldova."

    ALSO READ: Is Russia 'Weaponizing Refugees' To Advance Its Geopolitical Goals?

    He said the US ambassador to Ukraine in the last week had gotten reports of 450 attacks along the front lines in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists are fighting with government forces.

    "The report from the ambassador is there are several disturbing trends in those attacks, and that is that some of them are now happening in places that were heretofore quiet," Breedlove said.

    Top AP Photos 2015 Ukraine Soldier Military

    He said Russia has put "well above" 1,000 pieces of military hardware into Ukraine in the past year, including armored personnel carriers and artillery.

    Breedlove said Russia has been increasingly aggressive in the Arctic as well, militarizing the region. It has been testing sophisticated submarines in the Atlantic between Britain, Iceland, and Greenland, he said.

    Breedlove was in Washington partly to lobby for support for a proposed sharp increase in money available to US forces in Europe to counter the Russian threat.

    US President Barack Obama proposed quadrupling the coming year's budget to $3.4 billion to carry out NATO's European Reassurance Initiative.

    SEE ALSO: Russia's newest fighter jet is 5th-generation 'in name only'

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    NOW WATCH: Russia's military is more advanced than people thought

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    A boy looks on while residents inspect a damaged building in the rebel held besieged city of Douma, a suburb of Damascus, Syria February 27, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh A cessation of hostilities agreement in Syria, brokered by the US and Russia, officially came into effect last Saturday.

    In an attempt to monitor any breaches of the peace deal, the State Department set up a ceasefire hotline for those wishing to phone in any "firsthand knowledge of a violation of the cessation of hostilities."

    Late Saturday night, a Syrian journalist tried to do just that. But he was greeted by an operator who could barely speak or understand Arabic, according to the non-profit journalism organization Syria Direct.

    “I called at 12:45 a.m. Saturday morning, just 45 minutes into the ceasefire,” Orion Wilcox, a staff reporter at Syria Direct based in Jordan, said on Wednesday. “I didn’t expect an American to answer."

    "He answered in English but switched to Arabic. I started telling him in Arabic about reports we were getting from Homs province of specific ceasefire violations," Wilcox added.  “He’s really struggling and can’t understand me. I’m like, why is this American guy on the phone who can’t speak Arabic? I’d give a detailed account of something happening in Homs province and he would listen and his answer was: ‘Homs.’ That’s it."

    Though violence has "plummeted" in the wake of the agreement, breaches are still being reported by both sides. 

    Opposition activists in rebel-held areas say Russia is still bombing them, despite Moscow's claim that it would only target areas controlled by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State — jihadist groups excluded from the peace plan and considered fair game for airstrikes. 

    The Russian Ministry of Defense, meanwhile, said earlier this week that both moderate and terrorist opposition factions had violated the agreement at least nine times since Saturday's truce. 

    Lavrov KerryEven so, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that US officials had "not been apprised of any claims of any additional violations of any significance" since the truce came into effect.

    "These statements show that America has no idea what’s happening on the ground in Syria," Salim a-Rihal, a Syrian from Homs, told Syria Direct in response to Kirby's statement.

    The US' Special Envoy for Syria reiterated that the US remains committed to monitoring the ceasefire and will respond appropriately to any reported breaches. But that sources within Syria seem unable to adequately communicate with the State Department's ceasefire operators appears, to many, symbolic of the US' mismanagement of the conflict as a whole. 

    "We attempted to call the [Department of State’s hotline], but we don’t think they understood what we were saying," Abu Odei al-Homsi, an activist with the Ceasefire Monitoring Center in Homs, told Syria Direct.

    A State Department official responded to the complaints on Wednesday, telling Syria Direct that officials are "mindful and working to address the difficulties that some have experienced when calling in to convey reports of violations in Arabic."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    US Air Force General Breedlove NATO Pentagon Briefing

    A top United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commander said Tuesday that Russia and Syria are using migration as a tool to destabilize their European neighbors, and warned of “resurgent and aggressive” Russian behavior in the region.

    US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, Commander of the US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO, said that the migrant crisis facing Europe is allowing terror elements into the continent undetected, with actions by the Islamic State (IS), Moscow, and Damascus pushing people out of Syria and Iraq and into the European system.

    “Europe faces the dawning challenge of mass migration spurred by state instability and state collapse, a migration that masks the movement of criminals, terrorists, and foreign fighters,” Breedlove said at a Pentagon press briefing. “Within this mix, [IS] is spreading like a cancer, taking advantage of paths of least resistance, threatening European nations and our own with terrorist attacks.”

    Breedlove also said that his information suggests that radical foreign fighters have left from Europe to join groups like IS and subsequently reentered unchecked.

    “As many as 9,000 fighters have gone, and as much as 1,500 fighters have returned back to Europe,” he said, adding that they bring with them the potential for future terror attacks.

    Breedlove also had strong words for Russia, saying that its recent actions have placed it in opposition to US and NATO goals in the region, and that the Syrian government and its ally are “deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”

    Boat Syrian refugees“Europe faces a resurgent and aggressive Russia,” Breedlove said. “Russia has chosen to be an adversary and poses a long-term existential threat to the US and to our European allies and partners,” adding that “Russia seeks to fracture our unity and challenge our resolve.”

    He went on to say that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with Russian military support, has been using weapons such as unguided aerial “barrel bombs” to indiscriminately terrorize Syrians and drive them out toward Europe, bringing with them dangerous elements hiding within the growing refugee population.

    “It is a weapon of terror, and it is a weapon to get people out of a location, on the road moving, somewhere else, and make them someone else's problems,” Breedlove said of Syrian and Russian reliance on haphazard IEDs. “[T]his sort of indiscriminate use of unguided, imprecise weaponry has no other value that I know of other than to terrorize and get people on the road.”

    Breedlove suggested that the US should increase its troop levels in Europe to counter a Russian territorial push and to prepare for potential terror events, following a steady decline in the American presence there over the past decades.

    Germany Refugees Migrants SyriaAround 130,000 migrants have flooded Europe this year, far outpacing numbers from 2015. And while $760 million in aid is planned to be distributed throughout European nations to confront the influx of migrants, many countries maintain tight border controls or are already flooded with foreigners seeking refuge.

    Greece is in the midst of a migrant crowding that has created a bottleneck at its border, while nearby countries are closed to migration or are only allowing small numbers of people through each day, while thousands more remain stuck in border camps or on the streets.

    “With governments not working together despite having already reached agreements in a number of areas, and country after country imposing new border restrictions, inconsistent practices are causing unnecessary suffering and risk being at variance with EU and international law standards,” a United Nations refugee agency spokesperson warned Tuesday.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: IAN BREMMER: Greece is headed for a humanitarian disaster

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    A man walks on the rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel-controlled area of Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

    Syria's electricity supply was gradually returning after it was cut across the whole country on Thursday and Internet connections were briefly disrupted, state media said.

    SANA news agency quoted the electricity minister saying that the network was returning and would be restored to its earlier capacity by midnight. It did not say what caused the cut.

    It said earlier that the "electricity work has been cut in all governorates. Attempts to find the cause of the outage have begun."

    A Reuters witness confirmed that electricity had been cut in Damascus, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that power had been cut in the "vast majority of governorates".

    SANA reported the Syria Telecommunications Company as saying Internet services were partially halted "as a result of sudden damage to one of the network hubs and repair teams have been sent to fix it".

    Blackouts have become common for Syrians as fighting has raged throughout the country over the last five years, but it is rare for the whole country to be affected. 

    A ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia has been in place for six days now and has reportedly "greatly reduced" violence even though sporadic clashes still affect some cities throughout the country.

    SEE ALSO: Something very worrying happened when a Syrian journalist called the State Department’s ceasefire hotline

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    NOW WATCH: FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Obama hurt US credibility after Syria crossed his ‘red line'

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    coalition airstrike isis

    US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State on February 24 and 25 destroyed an IED production/storage facility and an oil-processing facility near Al Qaim, Iraq, and Abu Kamal, Syria.

    These were just two of dozens of precision strikes targeting members of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh, in Iraq and Syria each day as part of the Combined Joint Task Force's Operation Inherent Resolve.

    Though Syrian regime forces and opposition factions, as well as their international backers, are observing a tenuous cease-fire, Al Qaeda and ISIS targets are still fair game. Recently OIR airstrikes have severely limited ISIS' ability to make money and pay its fighters.

    In the video below, see the February 24 strike that disabled an ISIS IED production/storage facility:

    In a separate Facebook post, OIR released the following footage of a strike destroying an ISIS oil-processing facility:

    SEE ALSO: Watch the US-led coalition's precision airstrikes shred ISIS positions in Syria

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    NOW WATCH: EX-PENTAGON CHIEF: These are the 2 main reasons ISIS was born

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    U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of the U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 30, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    Russia and Syria are indiscriminately bombing Syrian civilians to drive the refugee crisis and "weaponise migration," a Nato commander has claimed.

    General Phil Breedlove, Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe and head of the US European Command, said weapons such as barrel bombs have no military value to hit precise targets and instead serve to terrorise those living in rebel-held territories.

    He told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the destruction formed part of a deliberate strategy to "get them on the road" and "make them a problem for someone else."

    General Breedlove told politicians including Senator John McCain:

    Russia’s entry into the fight in Syria has exacerbated the problem, changing the dynamic in the air and on the ground. Despite public pronouncements to the contrary, Russia has done little to counter Daesh (ISIS) but done a great deal to bolster the Assad regime and its allies. Together Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponising migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve. All genuinely constructive efforts to end the war are welcome but actions must speak louder than words.

    Vladimir Putin launched Russia’s intervention in Syria at the request of Bashar al-Assad in September and the Kremlin’s air strikes have supported a significant regime advance against the opposition.

    Moscow has insisted ISIS is its main target but opposition groups and Western leaders have alleged its strikes have mainly targeted areas controlled by the opposition, killing countless civilians.

    The Russian President helped broker the continuing ceasefire between regime forces, "moderate" opposition groups and their respective backers but ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other UN-designated terrorist groups were not party to the truce and fighting continues, albeit on a much smaller scale.

    Stranded refugees and migrants try to break a Greek police cordon in order to approach the border fence at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni, February 29, 2016.

    In the run-up to the “temporary cessation of hostilities” that started on Saturday, Russian and Syrian forces were accused of deliberately targeting hospitals and civilian infrastructure in possible war crimes.

    In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty International claimed it has "compelling evidence" of at least six deliberate attacks on medical facilities in the Aleppo governorate over the past 12 weeks.

    The regime’s advance sparked a new flood of refugees into Turkey as asylum seekers continued to arrive on Greek islands at roughly 10 times the rate they were during the same period in 2015, which was a record-breaking year.

    General Breedlove repeated concerns that ISIS can exploit the crisis to send its fighters into Europe, as it did before November’s Paris attacks.

    He said that the flow of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea was "masking the movements of criminals,terrorists and foreign fighters."

    "Within this mix, ISIL (ISIS) or Daesh is spreading like a cancer, taking advantage of paths of least resistance, threatening European nations and our own with terrorist attacks," he added on Tuesday.

    The US Army in Europe (USAREUR) is working with American agencies and international allies to track returning fighters and share intelligence on suspected extremists.

    In his written evidence to the US committee, General Breedlove said public opposition to the welcoming of refugees in some European countries could also pose a security risk.

    "Local nationalists opposed to a large-scale influx of foreigners could become increasingly violent, building on the small number of attacks against migrant and refugee housing observed to date," he noted.

    The UN’s former High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has urged countries not to use the threat of terrorism to turn their back on the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers continuing to flee conflict and persecution.

    russia airstrike syria

    "It is not the refugee outflows that cause terrorism, it is terrorism, tyranny and war that create refugees," he said.

    "It is clear that the Daesh (ISIS) strategy is not only to set Europeans against refugees, but within Europe, to set citizen against citizen within communities, community against community within countries, and country against country in the Union."

    More than 133,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, according to the UNHCR, with at least 400 drowning in the attempt.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Syria hospital

    Russian and Syrian government forces have been targeting hospitals as a strategy of war in Syria's conflict, according to an Amnesty International report.

    According to the report, there is "compelling evidence" of at least six deliberate attacks on medical facilities in the Aleppo governorate over the past twelve weeks, which killed at least three civilians, including a medical worker, and injured 44 more.

    The report notes that the attacks amounted to war crimes.

    Aleppo witnessed some of the country's fiercest fighting in the buildup to the partial cease-fire that came into effect Friday as government forces backed by Russian airstrikes cut off a rebel supply route from Turkey.

    A supply route to an opposition stronghold in the eastern part of Aleppo city remains open through another border crossing with Turkey, but it is far narrower and more dangerous than the one that used to run to the north.

    Amnesty said the attacks on medical facilities aimed to pave the way for pro-government ground forces to advance on northern Aleppo.

    On December 25, several missiles struck Baghdad Hospital in Hreitan, a town north of Aleppo City, killing a medical worker, and injuring 10 staff and 20 patients, a doctor and another medical worker told Amnesty International. It left the hospital in ruins.

    Some of the last families remaining in Hreitan fled as pro-government forces advanced on the town in early February. "I have lived in Hreitan all my life, and I have never seen it deserted," said a father to Amnesty International. "The airstrikes destroyed the city's infrastructure including hospitals so there are no more services for us to be able to survive."

    aleppo msf hospital bombing airstrike syria

    Meanwhile, Russia denies targeting civilians in its Syria campaign.

    Syria's president, Bashar Assad, has also denied targeting civilians, saying he is waging a war against terrorism, but he has said that it is a "rule of thumb" in war that innocent civilians die.

    The monitoring group Physicians for Human Rights has documented 346 attacks against medical facilities in the course of the five-year conflict, killing 705 medical staff.

    It said 315 of the attacks were conducted by Syrian or Russian forces. A report by the group last year said the Syrian government "systematically violated" the principle of medical neutrality by targeting medical facilities and doctors, detaining patients, and arresting, torturing, and executing doctors.

    Barrel bomb being dropped by helicopter

    On Tuesday, NATO Commander and US Air Force General Philip Breedlove asserted that the Syrian regime and Russian forces are “deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”

    Breedlove added that the indiscriminate use of crudely made barrel bombs only makes sense as a strategy to displace civilians. “This sort of indiscriminate use of unguided, imprecise weaponry has no other value that I know of other than to terrorize and get people on the road.”

    In October of 2015, Russia opposed a UN Security Council effort to condemn and attach sanctions to the use of barrel bombs in Syria. Russia has also been accused of using internationally banned cluster munitions in civilian areas of Syria. 

    SEE ALSO: Watch US-led coalition airstrikes destroy ISIS' IED and oil facilities

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    NOW WATCH: Refugee kids who fled Syria are thrilled with their first Canadian winter

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    Syria ceasefire

    AMMAN (Reuters) - In the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo, children are outside playing and many people are going to the shops safely for the first time in months thanks to a partial halt to the war that is providing relief even if most doubt that peace will take hold.

    "Look at the markets. Where were all these people hiding?” said a bewildered Mahmoud Ashrafi, speaking to Reuters by telephone after picking through opposition-held areas of Aleppo wrecked by barrel bombs and air strikes.

    While the "cessation of hostilities" has fallen short of halting the five-year-long war across the country, parts of Syria have enjoyed an unusual period of peace since the U.S.-Russian agreement came into effect on Saturday.

    The United Nations hopes the agreement will allow for peace talks to get under way towards settling the conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people and created refugee crises in the Middle East and Europe. More aid has been delivered into opposition-held areas since the agreement came into effect. 

    Just a few weeks ago, Syrians in opposition-held parts of Aleppo were trying to leave, fearing President Bashar al-Assad's advancing forces were about to impose a siege after cutting rebel supply lines north of the city. 

    But this week, some of those who fled Aleppo, which has seen some of the Syrian war's worst bombing and house-to-house fighting, have returned.

    Aleppo resident Jamila al-Shabani said she had been out seeing parts of the city she had not visited in a long time because of what she described as her "self-imposed confinement" at home. "People were afraid to go out," she said.

    "The park yesterday was a beehive where children and families flocked," added Abdullah Aslan, another Aleppo resident contacted by Reuters. "It was lovely and sunny. The park was full, people now when they go out with their families feel safer," he said.

    Before the war, tourists enjoyed Aleppo, Syria's second city and one of the oldest inhabited in the world. Architectural gems -- bathhouses, palaces, churches and mosques -- studded Aleppo's streets, making it one of the richest historical sites in the Middle East. Souks that traced their history back four millennia sold spices, the city's trademark laurel soap and the antique textiles that were coveted in Europe.

    Syria ceasefire

    Bustling market

    Residents contacted by Reuters described bustling scenes in the market, some likening it to the last-minute rush before the start of a big religious holiday. "People are more assured," said Abdul Munim Juneid, an orphanage supervisor.

    On the other side of the city, which is under government control, residents have also noticed a drop in insurgent shelling. But like Syrians in rebel-held territory, residents remain cautious and fearful. "Now, to a small degree, it is different. But there is still fear that any moment they will shell peaceful neighborhoods," said 28-year-old Suheib Masry. 

    Both rebel groups and the Syrian government say they are respecting the cessation of hostilities agreement, while accusing each other of violating it. 

    The pace of the war is virtually unchanged in some parts of northern Syria, notably on frontlines near the border with Turkey where rebels report attacks by government forces seeking to seal the frontier.

    The government is saying little about military operations in those areas, where rebel forces viewed as moderate by the West fight in close proximity to jihadists who are not included in the cessation of hostilities agreement.

    While the government says it is cooperating with international efforts, the opposition is voicing deep misgivings. It says aid deliveries are reaching a fraction of those in need and that Assad is pressing his war effort in violation of the agreement.

    Army helicopters have dropped leaflets calling on rebels to lay down their arms and vowing to fight those who resist.

    Syria ceasefire 

    "Calm before the storm"

    Residents in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, captured by rebels from government forces last year, fear it is only a matter of time before the next offensive begins. They say there has been no let up in government shelling there.

    "There is a lot of fear. There is paralysis with no buying or selling and those who have assets are trying to get rid of them," said Abdullah Akhras, talking from a village near the town. "It's the calm before the storm. This truce is nothing more than a preparation for a huge battle. They (the government) are now amassing forces to begin on every front."

    Still, in opposition-held areas near Damascus people are using the relative calm to see to long-neglected tasks such as repairing damaged homes and even tending to gardens.

    "We now see the kids in the neighborhood going and coming and playing," said Badran al Doumi, owner of a furniture store in the city of Douma to the east of Damascus.

    The noise of vehicles has replaced the sound of warplanes that so frequently bomb the area, residents say.

    Instead of carrying reports on casualty tolls from government attacks, the social media feed of a civil defense service operating in the area showed rescue workers repairing vehicles, cleaning mosques, and hosting a children's party.

    Just 9 km (5 miles) away across the frontlines in government-controlled areas of Damascus, 60-year-old Samira al-Shawki hoped the calm would last. "The sounds of blasts are fewer to a degree, but we want it to stay this way," she said. 

    (Additional reporting by Kinda Makieh in Damascus and Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Tom Perry and Peter Millership)

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    isis islamic state militantsISIS’ potential acquisition of radioactive material generates a potential scenario in which the Sunni extremist group may try to produce and use a “dirty bomb”.

    Over the past two weeks, radioactive material stolen from a facility in Iraq has reinvigorated fears regarding the capacity for ISIS to obtain nuclear compounds.

    The subsequent revelation that the ISIS-linked perpetrators of the November Paris attacks were also covertly surveilling a high-ranking Belgian nuclear official have only escalated these concerns further.

    In assessing these two developments together, the conclusion is substantial: ISIS nuclear espionage in Belgium demonstrates a focused intention to acquire radioactive substances, and the theft in Iraq denotes the ease and proximity of their attainment.

    Though the materials were recently found abandoned on the side of an Iraqi freeway, the acquisition of nuclear material may be within the capacity of ISIS.

    Considering the immense logistic, scientific, and technical barriers to assembling a full-fledged nuclear device, analysts have broadly recognized that ISIS may instead be plotting to craft a “dirty bomb” — a device combining conventional explosives with nuclear materials.

    These estimations, however, raise more questions than are answered, and it is important for such a fear-inducing risk to be wholly represented. How probable really is it for ISIS to develop a “dirty bomb,” and what is the full nature and impact of the impending threat that would follow?

    Higher than perceived probability

    Fat man nuke

    Due to the relative technical simplicity of a “dirty bomb,” the probability of ISIS launching a radioactive attack depends almost entirely on the acquisition of rare radioactive compounds. With the organization’s nuclear intentions now apparently clear, there are two primary sources from which these high-risk prerequisites could be secured.

    In light of the recent developments in Iraq and Belgium, the first and most prominent means through which ISIS might seek lucrative nuclear materials is through force or theft. With nuclear substances found in radiological devices, laboratories, and nuclear power plants around the world, the risk is present both within its base of operations in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in any number of countries where ISIS members are active.

    The terrorist group has already been reported as having seized roughly 40 kg of uranium compounds from an Iraqi university in 2014, though the United Nations later categorized the materials as “low grade” and insignificant. In fact, the notion that ISIS operatives may have sought radioactive materials from Belgium suggests that local sources — namely Syria and Iraq — have been deemed less adequate for constructing an effective radiological explosive. This is likely a result of neither country possessing the larger sums of radioactive materials seen in countries with nuclear power plants, combined with the consistently poor nuclear security in Belgium.


    Recognizing ISIS capabilities and reach, the potential exists for the organization to seek highly radioactive materials from nuclear power plants through the coercion of nuclear officials, as appears to have been the plan in Belgium. These materials yield a significantly greater risk than those obtained from the medical and industrial devices sought after in Iraq and Syria, but are also more challenging to acquire.

    The prospect of combining smaller amounts of radioactive materials seized across ISIS territory ultimately presents the greater probability for a “dirty bomb,” albeit with a lower threat from radiation.

    A second means through which ISIS might acquire nuclear materials is through the black market, from which deals involving the sale of nuclear materials to the organization have already been thwarted. Such deals have in the past been contained by the FBI and other intelligence agencies, though they are likely to be continued in practice.

    Between these two methods for acquiring radioactive substances, the probability of ISIS detonating some form of “dirty bomb” is high.

    A broad range of impacts


    With a high risk of ISIS potentially utilizing a radioactive explosive device the question now turns to how impactful such an attack would be.

    According to senior Iraqi officials, the recently radioactive stolen and later found materials amounted to approximately ten grams of Iridium-192, a standard supply found within medical and industrial devices utilizing radiography. While the scale of harm is determined by a variety of factors such as grade and half-life, and while the materials were ultimately recovered, the figure helps to provide an overview of the impacts expected from an ISIS “dirty bomb”.

    iridiumHarm caused by radiation is measured in units called microsieverts.

    Ten grams of Iridium-192 contains roughly 3,500 curies of radiation, which translates into approximately 1.5 million microsieverts per hour to individuals standing 10 feet away if the material is concentrated in one area unshielded.

    For perspective, 100,000 microsieverts is the lowest yearly dose linked to increased cancer risk, and 2 million microsieverts results in often fatal radiation poisoning. Thus, the ten grams of Iridium-192 available to ISIS through devices scattered across Iraq and Syria is dangerous within minutes of exposure and potentially deadly over hours.

    However, it is important to recognize that an equivalent “dirty bomb” would entail the explosive dispersal of radioactive material over a much broader space, diluting the radiation impact significantly and leaving only minor physical risk outside of the initial blast itself.

    Since ISIS is most probable to obtain radioactive materials from devices in Iraq and Syria, the physical impact of a hypothetical ISIS device will likely be low and is prone to being overstated. Should ISIS acquire larger amounts of radioactive matter from the less likely scenarios of the nuclear black market or infiltrations of foreign nuclear plants, the threat from radiation becomes a significant concern.

    The most probable risk generated by an ISIS “dirty bomb” is the wide-spread panic that would likely follow. Areas surrounding the detonation would be shut-down for weeks or even months depending on the half-life of the substance used, resulting in severe local economic loses.

    Russian airstrike Syria

    Geopolitical tensions may also be escalated, as the complex web of countries involved in Syria, Iraq, and the war against the Islamic State would likely ratchet up military involvement on all sides.

    In short, the Islamic State’s intentions to construct a radioactive weapon are a concerning probability. The scope of such a weapon’s physical impact is limited. Given the difficulties of covertly transporting radioactive materials, such an attack is most likely to occur within the proximity of ISIS core territory. But the resources and organization of the terrorist group ensure that the threat is a truly global in nature.

    SEE ALSO: Russia and Syria may be deliberately targeting hospitals in Syria

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    NOW WATCH: EX-PENTAGON CHIEF: These are the 2 main reasons ISIS was born

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    Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a meeting with representatives of foreign media in Istanbul, Turkey, December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

    ANKARA (Reuters) - The first visit by a Turkish prime minister to Iran in two years is unlikely to narrow deep divisions over Syria's war, but it could boost trade ties as the lifting of sanctions on Tehran and political gains by reformists clear the way for a business boom.

    Turkey, the region's economic powerhouse, could be one of the major beneficiaries as President Hassan Rouhani, bolstered by reformist gains in elections last month, pursues plans to strengthen the private sector and welcome foreign investors.

    Trade and energy ties will be high on the agenda during Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's visit on Friday and Saturday, accompanied by his energy and development ministers, other members of the cabinet and business leaders.

    But differences on Syria, where Shi'ite Iran backs President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey backs the mainly Sunni Muslim opposition, will also be on the table, officials on both sides said. Iran is also concerned by Turkey's deepening ties with Saudi Arabia, with which Tehran has cut diplomatic relations.

    "We are in an environment of very big and deep problems with developments in the Middle East ... It wouldn't be right to expect the two countries to agree on every subject," said a senior Turkish government official, one of several to speak about the visit in advance on condition of anonymity.

    "We don't expect to solve everything in one meeting but it's now necessary to move our relationship forward ... Regional issues, notably Syria, increasing trade and cooperation will form the basis of the discussions."

    Turkish trade with Iran reached around $22 billion in 2012 before dropping off sharply to less than half that by last year as international sanctions on Tehran were tightened. Turkish Economy Minister Mustafa Elitas told Reuters last month that Ankara aims to reach $30 billion in bilateral trade by 2023.

    "Iran presents serious opportunities, they're extremely open to future cooperation," said a source in the Turkish automotive industry who has made several recent visits to Iran.

    "There's huge appetite for Turkish business. It's a neighboring country where Turkish is widely spoken, with a similar culture. It's very easy to engage with Iranian business," he said, adding there were already signs of movement on industry reforms since the Feb. 26 election.

    Hassan Rouhani Iran

    The vote ended more than a decade of conservative domination of the legislature and the Assembly of Experts, a body that oversees the Islamic republic's supreme leader. The outgoing parliament, filled with hardliners suspicious of detente with the West, had acted as a brake on Rouhani's plans to boost foreign investment and trade.

    "Iran is a very attractive market for Turkish businessmen and ways of developing trade will definitely be taken up during the visit," a senior Iranian official said.

    Mutual stability

    The lifting of sanctions against Iran in January could prove a mixed blessing for Turkey, opening up access to a fast-growing, lucrative market, but one that could someday rival Ankara as an investment destination and exporter.

    Turkey's output of nearly $800 billion in 2014 was almost double that of Iran, which has a similar-sized population. But government incentives, a well educated workforce, and vast oil reserves that obviate the need for energy imports could help Tehran close the gap in the coming years.

    A second senior Turkish official said that Davutoglu's visit, during which he will meet Rouhani, comes at a critical time and that both sides understood their economic futures were dependent on containing instability in the wider region.

    "Turkey and Iran need to adopt a common stance on protecting their two countries, acting together and fighting Islamic State," the official said.

    "Syria is the most serious problem but differences of opinion must be put aside faced with a common enemy. In this sense, this meeting may be the first kernel," he said.

    Sinan Ulgen, head of the EDAM think-tank in Istanbul, said Turkey and Iran needed to find at least a few common denominators for a fragile cessation of hostilities in Syria to become more lasting and facilitate a political solution.

    A damaged tank is pictured in the rebel-controlled area of Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

    "If Turkey and Iran cannot agree on these subjects, there is a pretty low prospect of the conflict in Syria being brought to an end," he said, adding that the talks in Tehran would likely touch on Assad's future and political transition in Syria.

    Turkey, along with Western and Arab countries, say Assad must leave power. Iran and Russia have stood by him.

    Turkish officials will also push for the implementation of an International Chamber of Commerce arbitration court ruling last month that Iran should discount the price of natural gas it exports to Turkey by 10-15 percent, backdated to 2011.

    Turkey imports 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas from Iran annually, or about a fifth of its annual needs. Tehran would like to sell it double that amount, but Turkish officials say price problems remain a sticking point.

    "Turkey's purchase of more gas from Iran would be a positive development but it is not realistic in the current climate," a third Turkish official said.

    (Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Can Sezer; writing by Daren Butler and Nick Tattersall; editing by Peter Graff)

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    NOW WATCH: ISIS is afraid of girls — here's why

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    shia militia abrams

    Two Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militias are shown above transporting US-made vehicles and equipment on the road to the central Iraqi city of Samarra, where battles against the Islamic State are currently ongoing. The two militias are influential in the Popular Mobilization Front, the militia umbrella organization that is backed by the Iraqi government and led by a US-designated terrorist who is an agent of Iran.

    The videos were re-released by other outlets, including one that has English-language captions detailing the equipment.

    One militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah (or the Hezbollah Brigades), was seen moving an M1 Abrams tank, three M198 howitzers, and at least one M88 Recovery Vehicle, Humvee, and a Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) cargo truck each. The other militia, Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteousness), which is led by several US-designated terrorists, was seen transporting at least two M113 armored personnel carriers.

    This is not the first time Iraqi Shia militias have been seen with US-made equipment and vehicles. Earlier last year, Hezbollah Brigades, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization, showed an Abrams flying the Hezbollah Brigades flag. Additionally, the group has also published two videos from Iraq’s Anbar province in which several US-made vehicles are used by its forces. [See LWJ report, Video shows Hezbollah Brigades convoy transporting American M1 tank, and Threat Matrix report, Hezbollah Brigades flaunts US equipment in Anbar operation.]

    The Badr Organization, another Iranian-backed Shiite militia, has also publicized photos showing its forces in possession of an Abrams. These photos showed the militia with the tank, and at least one US AT-4 anti-tank rocket, near Saqlawiyah in Anbar last year. [See Threat Matrix report, Badr Organization fighters pose with US M1 Abrams tank.]

    Last month, Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada (KSS), which is closely linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) — Qods Force and led by US-designated terrorist Mustafa al Sheibani, was seen using an M1 Abrams likely in Iraq’s Salahadin Province. [See Threat Matrix report, Iranian-backed militia seen with US tank in Iraq.]

    Photos showing the Hezbollah Brigades transporting the US-made equipment:

    shia militia howitzer

    shia militia humvee

    shia militia howitzer

    shia militia m88

    shia militia howitzer

    shia militia howitzer

    Asaib al Haq transporting M113 APC’s:

    shia militia M113 APC

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    NOW WATCH: These US war conspiracies turned out to be true

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    Syria drought

    Syria's civil war has left 250,000 people dead, according to the latest UN count, and millions more are either displaced within the country's borders or have sought refuge abroad.

    And, while the proximate causes were largely political — primarily grievances with President Bashar al Assad, new scientific research adds support to the argument that climate change helped to trigger Syria's descent into violence.

    Researchers from NASA and the University of Arizona studied tree rings — a reliable proxy for measuring precipitation — going back several centuries and found that the recent Syrian drought was likely the worst in at least the past 900 years and almost definitely the worst in 500 years.

    "We wanted to know how the current drought compared to past droughts," said Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the lead author of the study.

    The current drought, which has lasted about 15 years "really is the worst, far outside of natural climate cycles."

    Cook and his colleagues found that mega-droughts — those that last thirty years or longer — were absent from the tree ring record. The last major drought began in 1807 and lasted fourteen years.

    "We are starting to push the [climate] system outside of what it would normally do," said Cook. "That really points to climate change playing a role. The big uncertainty is how we will deal with the amplified stresses.

    The drought caused 75 percent of Syria's farms to fail and 85 percent of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011, according to the United Nations. The collapse in crop yields forced as many as 1.5 million Syrians to migrate to urban centers, like Homs and Damascus.

    The drought had displaced Syrians long before the conflict began," said Francesco Femia, president of the Center for Climate Security. "And what is frightening is that analysts who study the region completely missed it."

    More hungry and homeless families in Syria's big cities created stress, said Femia."There are only so many resources to go around."

    Abeer Etefa, a communications officer with the United Nation's World Food Program, said the agency was concerned about the country prior to the outbreak of war.

    "The situation was already bad," he said. "We had an operation in 2010 for farmers that were suffering from the drought." 

    Syrian farmers

    The World Food Program is currently providing food aid to over 300,000 Syrians in the country's northeast, which is the epicenter of agricultural production. Grain yields last year were half of what they were in 2011. 

    The Pentagon has long identified climate change as a "threat magnifier," a factor that can aggravate already existing political fault lines. And the G7 issued a report in June warning that climate change "will aggravate already fragile situations and may contribute to social upheaval and even violent conflict."

    In this way the Syrian civil war and the hundreds of thousands of displaced, who are seeking refuge in Turkey and Europe, could be seen as a foreshadowing of a much more alarming humanitarian situation should nation's fail to keep global temperature rise under control.

    Christian Parenti, author of Tropic of Chaos, a book that examines the links between climate change and violence around the world, said that nations need to address climate change, but improved energy and environmental policies, however important for avoiding future conflicts, won't help Syria's growing ranks of displaced and undernourished. 

    "By emphasizing regime change, US foreign policy has helped to produce this disaster," he said. " From the Iraq invasions, to the Libyan war, to aiding Salafist rebels in Syria, US-sponsored violence has made it harder for people to adapt to a warmer, drier Middle East. But, without a peace settlement in Syria, there will only be more refugees headed to Europe." 

    Robert S. Eshelman and Samuel Oakford contributed reporting. 

    SEE ALSO: These Native Americans might be the country's first climate change refugees

    MORE: Rising seas are threatening to swallow up some of these beautiful places

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    NOW WATCH: A devastating look at the California drought

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    A selection of photos from some of this week's biggest news that you might have missed.

    SEE ALSO: Photos take us inside ISIS' underground lair

    Migrants stand near a burning makeshift shelter set ablaze in protest against the partial dismantlement of the camp for migrants called the "Jungle", in Calais, France, March 3, 2016.

    Stranded refugees and migrants try to bring down part of the border fence during a protest at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni, February 29, 2016.

    A man walks on the rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel-controlled area of Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria March 2, 2016.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    World War II history buffs are going to lose their minds. A Syrian rebel faction called the al-Tawhid Brigade stumbled on an arms cache of 5,000 German WWII-era Sturmgwehr 44 (STG-44) rifles.

    The STG-44 was designed to increase the volume of fire for German infantry units fighting on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Red Army. It accomplished this mission but was developed too late in the war to make an impact.

    Sturmgewehr 44

    A German soldier demonstrates a Sturmgwehr equipped with a scope during testing in 1943.

    The rebels thought they’d found a cache of Ak-47s. The two don’t look that much alike, but it’s understandable how the ill-armed and ill-equipped group would get excited at their find anyway.

    ak stg 44

    Besides, there’s little reason to see how 5,000 Nazi-built rifles worth an estimated $30,000 apiece ended up in the Syrian desert.

    The al-Tawhid Brigade was an Islamist faction originally allied with the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Coalition against the government of Bashar al-Asad. In 2013, the al-Tawhid Brigade along with 11 other factions, would leave the Coalition and join al-Qaeda. That same year, its head commander died of wounds sustained in a Syrian government air strike and the group’s membership would defect to the various other groups fighting pro-Asad forces. The group is now defunct.

    There is no word on what happened to the rare, expensive Nazi relics. For those keeping tabs at home, that’s a $150 million dollar loss.

    Keep an eye out for those STG-44s. They’ve shown up in state-sponsored gun buybacks in California and Connecticut.

    SEE ALSO: Photos of American troops smoking and drinking at Hitler's private residence after World War II

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    NOW WATCH: This military tradition calls for swimming where no human has ever swum before

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    Free Syrian Army Flags Syria Protesters

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - A total of 135 people were killed in the first week of a fragile truce in Syria in areas covered by the cessation of hostilities agreement, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.

    In areas not covered by the ceasefire, which came into force on Feb. 27, 552 people were killed, the Britain-based Observatory that monitors the country's five-year-old civil war said.

    (Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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    NOW WATCH: IAN BREMMER: Greece is headed for a humanitarian disaster

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    isis airstrike

    Islamic State is losing a battle against forces arraigned against if from many sides in Iraq and Syria and the focus would turn to stabilizing cities seized back from them, the US envoy to a coalition fighting the group said on Saturday.

    Addressing a press conference in Baghdad, US official Brett McGurk declined to put a timeline on when the group would be defeated or when Mosul and Raqqa, the main cities under its control in Iraq and Syria respectively, would be retaken.

    McGurk met in Baghdad Iraqi officials including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who said in December that 2016 would be a year of "final victory" over the group in Iraq.

    "Daesh is feeling pressure now from all simultaneous directions and that's going to continue .. that’s going to accelerate," McGurk said at the press conference, using an acronym for Islamic State. "Daesh is losing; as they lose we focus increasingly on stabilization," he added, referring to plans being made to rehabilitate and police cities recaptured from militants.

    Islamic State has come under pressure from air raids and ground forces actions by various parties in both countries, but they still hold large tracts of land.

    SEE ALSO: Watch US-led coalition airstrikes destroy ISIS' IED and oil facilities

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    NOW WATCH: EX-PENTAGON CHIEF: These are the 2 main reasons ISIS was born

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    a syrian refugee gives thanks as he arrives in an overcrowded dinghy on the greek island of lesbos after crossing part of the aegean sea from turkey september 23 2015

    Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has asked Europe to assist Greece in addressing the ongoing refugee crisis. "Greece will demand that all countries respect the European treaty and that there will be sanctions for those that do not," Tsipras toldEU Council President Donald Tusk on Friday. 

    "We are at a crucial moment for the future of Europe ... We will not push back people in the sea, risking the lives of children," Tsipras said.

    The following interview was conducted by Kai Darkman, the publisher of the German news publication BILD and a Business Insider contributing editor. Business Insider and BILD are co-publishing the interview.


    Business Insider: Mr. Prime Minister, first the debt crisis and now the main role in the refugee drama, is Greece under a curse?

    Alexis Tsipras: Greece’s position has been both a blessing and a curse for geographical reasons alone.

    People are happy to visit our country on a vacation. But it is also a sensitive and delicate region where three continents intersect.

    Since ancient times Greece has been the scene of wars and conflicts.

    Now, in the refugee crisis, we are the first country of arrival and are therefore facing the biggest challenge.

    As with the financial crisis, it is now important for us and the whole of Europe to show solidarity and to solve the problems together.

    BI: What is worse for you: the debt crisis or the refugee crisis?

    Tsipras: We should not conflate these two crises. However, I think that the refugee crisis is even more dangerous for Europe, because it existentially threatens the entire EU. If our shared values are now being questioned by some [leaders] and if rules suddenly only apply for some [countries], this is no longer much of a community. We have to strongly resist this development. 

    BI: You mention rules. But as in the debt crisis, the question arises: why does Greece not follow the rules? According to the Dublin Agreement, the EU state through which an immigrant first enters the EU is responsible for the corresponding asylum procedure.

    Tsipras: Once again, you cannot compare the debt crisis to the refugee crisis. As far as the debt crisis is concerned, we have bled and keep bleeding today in order to comply with the rules. But the refugee crisis cannot be solved by Greece alone. We have not deliberately violated the rules.

    We are simply overwhelmed by the task.

    We have no problem with protecting our land borders.

    a greek policeman pushes refugees behind a barrier at greeces border with macedonia near the greek village of idomeni september 9 2015

    Our coastline, however, is more than 10,000 kilometers long. Also, if we locate a boat in our territorial water that is in danger, we are obliged — under international law — to transport it to a safe place on land. Imagine that there are islands with 150 inhabitants, where suddenly 1,500 refugees arrive on a single day.

    What are we supposed to do with these people? This is an unbearable burden for Greece. It is solely due to our geographical location and nothing else.

    BI: However, the impression arises that Greece is primarily concerned with waving refugees through to northern Europe as fast as possible.

    Tsipras: You have to understand the mentality of the refugees. They have seen their homes being bombarded and have risked their lives to escape and come to Greece, which is the gateway to Europe.

    But for the refugees, Mecca is located further north! They know that there is a crisis in Greece and that they will not find a job here. How can we stop people if they want to move on? We have no right to do so.

    We cannot lock these people up, since this would violate international agreements. All we can do is help rescue these people at sea, take care of them and register them. Then they want to continue. A resettlement process is therefore the only solution. 

    a syrian refugee holding a baby in a life tube swims towards the shore after their dinghy deflated some 100m away before reaching the greek island of lesbos september 12 2015

    BI: If the maritime border can, in fact, not be protected, is it then really possible for Greece’s borders to be the EU’s external borders?

    Tsipras: The EU does not only consist of Central Europe.

    There are also countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece which have maritime borders. It is true that we need to be even more effective in protecting the borders.

    But look, we have already made enormous progress in the registration process and the establishment of hotspots. We are now achieving one hundred percent in these areas.

    BI: Along the Balkans route, there are new developments now and borders are closed. European newspapers are titled: "Greece has lost control over the refugees." Is that correct?

    Tsipras: What some countries have agreed upon and decided is against all rules and against the whole of Europe.

    We consider it a non-friendly action. It is unacceptable that, after a decision is made at an EU summit, a few countries meet in in its aftermath and simply decide to closer their borders.

    These countries severely damage Europe. 

    refugee greece

    BI: So, is the situation out of control?

    Tsipras: The situation is difficult, but not out of control. Greece is the only country that fulfills the commitments. We already have 30,000 refugees here, on the mainland and the islands, and we can accommodate 20,000 additional people.

    We have fulfilled more than 100% of our commitments, while others have not even met 10% and prefer to criticise us.

    But I will say this quite frankly, if that many refugees continue to arrive from Turkey and the Balkan borders remain practically closed, then the situation will become very critical for us.

    BI: Will Greece become the ‘Lebanon of Europe’?

    Tsipras: It is certainly a humanitarian crisis. The refugees want to continue from here up north, but they are not able to. Let me be very clear: we need to provide these people with proper accommodation here.

    Greece must defend the human face of Europe, no matter how many refugees are coming. But we demand a fair distribution.

    Greece cannot turn into a permanent warehouse of human souls who do not want to be here.  

    four year old rashida from kobani syria part of a new group of more than a thousand immigrants sleeps as they wait at border line of macedonia and greece to enter into macedonia near gevgelija railway station august 20 2015 thousands of migrants kept

    BI: Are you afraid that Europe could finally drop Greece and exclude the country from the Schengen area?

    Tsipras: No, I am not afraid, because we defend the fundamental values of Europe.

    In the end, it will be those who have raised barbed wire fences, who have driven refugees away with violence and have turned their countries into fortresses who will be isolated in Europe.

    syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter hungary at the border with serbia near roszke august 27 2015We, by contrast, are in alliance with the countries that show solidarity.

    And these are countries with which we had very big problems during the financial crisis.

    BI: What would happen to Greece, if the rest of Europe, including Germany, also were to close their borders?

    Tsipras: Germany has handled this crisis efficiently and acted humanely. I am therefore convinced that Germany in particular will defend these European values.

    We are facing the largest migration of peoples since the Second World War. To resolve this crisis, we must ensure that peace is established in Syria.

    At the same time, we should try to limit the waves of refugees from Turkey to Europe. It is also important that the resettlement of refugees within Europe finally works.

    BI: But again: What if Germany were to close the borders?

    Tsipras: Countries such as Austria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have already closed their borders. This has happened without Germany having decided any such measure. Therefore, the emergency situation already exists.

    BI: Chancellor Angela Merkel was your clearest opponent in the financial crisis. But now she is suddenly praised by Greece. What has happened there?

    Tsipras: It is true that the Chancellor maintained a tough political position during the debt crisis. But now, in the refugee crisis, she has taken a human approach and demonstrated her leadership.

    If the Chancellor had acted like Orban, Europe would already be divided and would therefore have failed.

    merkel tsipras

    We do not always agree with each other, but we have a very sincere relationship and there is mutual respect.

    I agree with Chancellor Merkel that, in the end, Europe may become even stronger because of the refugee crisis.

     BI: The EU summit with Turkey will take place on Monday. Is Turkey not able to reduce the number of refugees, or does it not want to reduce them?

    Tsipras: Turkey has to take on a heavy burden. There are more than 1.5 million refugees in the country. If we cooperate with Turkey, we will be able to control the problem.

    The refugees do not swim to us. They come in boats wearing life jackets, which are manufactured in Turkey. This is a multibillion dollar industry. We must fight the traffickers and address the problem at its roots.

     BI: Turkey demands a visa liberalisation agreement in return for its efforts. Will Greece ask for a debt relief in the refugee crisis?

    Tsipras: The negotiations about the debt crisis are not related to the refugee crisis. But what I want to say about the debt crisis is this: we signed a program in July and we are sticking to it.

    The problem remains the IMF. More demands keep coming from the IMF that have nothing to do with the original agreement. The EU has to ask the IMF to respect the agreement.

    All of this has nothing to do with the refugee crisis. We do not have the time to postpone anything in relation to the refugee problem. We need solidarity. And we need it now.

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    NOW WATCH: A Syrian refugee describes his hellish journey to Europe with a 25-day-old child

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