FSA investigates residents’ claims of chemical weapons’ use in Qusayr

People run for cover after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Raqqa province, eastern Syria May 3, 2013.

Some residents in Syria’s flashpoint town of Qusayr have said the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, was using artillery shells containing fatal Mustard Gas in the area, spokesperson of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) Louay Almokdad told Al Arabiya on Saturday.

His statement follows reports by activists that Hezbollah, along with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have been using chemical weapons against the armed opposition and residents in Syria.

Almokdad said that the FSA is still “investigating the reports” before it makes an official announcement. However, he added that there have been cases of asphyxiation, a symptom of Mustard Gas inhalation, which may indicate the use of chemical weapons.

Opposition sources have told Al Arabiya that at least nine people were killed in clashes between the Lebanese militant group and Syrian rebels in the border town of Qusayr. Activists have previously said that Hezbollah was leading the fight in the area.

Hezbollah denies taking part in Syria’s two-year conflict – which has killed at least 70,000 people, according to the U.N. However, the group – an ally of the Assad regime – has held regular funerals of Hezbollah fighters, who – it said – were killed serving their “jihadi duties.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said earlier this week that Syria’s friends would not let Assad’s embattled regime fall.

“Syria has true friends in the region who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of the United States, Israel and ‘takfiri’ groups,” Nasrallah said, referring to Sunni Muslims fighting to overthrow Assad.

The Hezbollah chief’s comments were the strongest indication yet that his group was ready to get more substantially involved to rescue Assad’s government.

Nasrallah also said that his fighters had a duty to protect the holy Shiite shrine of Sayida Zeinab in southern Damascus.

“If the shrine is destroyed, things will get out of control,” Nasrallah said, citing the 2006 bombing of the Shiite al-Askari shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra.

In response to the Hezbollah chief’s recent statements, Almokdad said that Shiites and the Sayida Zeinab shrine have existed in Syria for hundreds of years without the Lebanese group’s protection.

“No one tasked Hezbollah, Iran or Assad to protect the Shiite shrine. Hezbollah is using these sectarian excuses to drag Lebanese youth into the Syrian conflict,” Almokdad said.

(Source / 04.05.2013)

Jordanians protest in solidarity with prisoners in Israel

Detainees continue hunger strike to demand better treatment

Activists and relatives of Jordanian prisoners in Israel participate in a protest outside the Professional Associations Complex in Amman’s Shmeisani area on Saturday (Photos by Muath Freij)

AMMAN — Around 50 activists and relatives of Jordanian prisoners in Israel gathered outside the Professional Associations Complex on Saturday in solidarity with the detainees who began a hunger strike on Thursday.

The prisoners went on hunger strike to demand better treatment, according to Fadi Farah, spokesperson of the National Committee for Prisoners in Israel.

Farah told The Jordan Times during Saturday’s protest that Jordanian prisoners face abject conditions in Israeli jails.

“They are being tortured. If a prisoner dies during interrogation, the Israeli investigator is not responsible for his death,” he claimed, adding that prisoners are also deprived of their minimum rights.

But Farah voiced concern over the prisoners’ health conditions during their strike.

“Perhaps not all prisoners can go on with their strike because they might face health difficulties,” he said.

Farah noted that there are 26 Jordanians serving various prison terms in Israel and most of them are taking part in the hunger strike.

Ali Armouti, one of the protesters, said the West supports Israel while the prisoners have no one to support them.

“The Arab regimes do not pay attention to Arab prisoners’ dignity. These regimes should pressure Israel to free these prisoners,” added Armouti, a member of Jordanian Commission to Support the Syrian People.

Farah noted that many prisoners have not seen their relatives for a long time.

“For example, Abdullah Barghouthi’s family has not seen him for 11 years,” he added.

Um Karam, whose son Karam was detained by the Israeli authorities 12 years ago, said she has visited her son twice during the past 12 years.

“Israel does not allow me to visit my son. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriate Affairs promised to arrange a visit three years ago and nothing happened,” she added.

Karam, father of two, was detained in 2002 when he protested against a provocative visit by Israeli leader Ariel Sharon to Al Aqsa Mosque, according to his mother, who did not give her full name.

“Every day I pray for my son’s release,” the Zarqa resident added.

Officials at the Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment despite several attempts by The Jordan Times to contact them.

Farah said the government should work more to support Jordanian prisoners.

(Source / 04.05.2013)

Syria rebels training for long, drawn-out conflict

Al-Ezz bin Abdul Salam Brigade fighters follow a briefing at their base  in Syria’s Latakia province, April 23.

LATAKIA PROVINCE, Syria (AFP) — Crouching, belly-crawling into sniper nests in their rugged mountain redoubt, Syrian rebels have started training for a prolonged guerrilla war against stubbornly resilient regime forces.

With Western reluctance to intervene militarily in Syria’s civil war, the rebel Free Syrian Army hopes to topple President Bashar Assad by creating a skilled fighting force from mostly civilian recruits, some as young as 16.

The FSA granted AFP access to one of its training camps, where a motley group of fighters — former shopkeepers, farmers, regime defectors — were training to fight Assad’s forces in the mountains and woods of northern Latakia province.

Sprinting up a wooded knoll, crisscrossing between trees, and diving into firing positions, rebels weighed down with guns and bandoliers of ammunition put on a swaggering show of defiance within range of regime troops at a nearby garrison.

But the rebels of the Al-Ezz bin Abdul Salam Brigade acknowledged they face a tough fight against a better-armed foe that enjoys total air superiority — even above rebel-controlled areas — as the civil war drags into its third year.

“We need anti-tank, anti-aircraft missiles, communication equipment, satellite technology to monitor the movement of regime fighters,” said brigade commander Abu Basir, rattling off a list of much-needed hardware as his men practiced marksmanship behind him.

“If we had these, the war would be over by now,” said Abu Basir, the former owner of a meat processing business, who was dressed in olive-green fatigues with a pistol tucked into his trousers.

Latakia — the heartland of Assad’s minority Alawite sect — has fluid frontlines, unlike those in hotly-contested cities like Damascus and Aleppo where fighting is largely being fought from sniper nests in civilian buildings.

Latakia’s guerrilla war is inching from village to village, hilltop to hilltop as the regime fiercely guards the Mediterranean coastline that is expected to be the final refuge of the Assad family should Damascus fall.

“If we attack from the front, we will be fodder for Assad’s long range artillery,” said FSA rebel Abu Tareq. “We just don’t have that kind of military power. Our strategy is to attack covertly on multiple fronts, rattle them, tire them out.”

“This means that freedom won’t come tomorrow but, God willing, it will come the day after.”

The rebels have made gains in recent months, capturing many Alawite-dominated villages, but have struggled to dislodge regime forces from their entrenched positions on strategic high ridges.

FSA forces in the area lost several fighters in a fierce battle late last month to capture the regime-held peak of Nabi Yunis, Latakia’s highest point which offers a key vantage point over the battle zone.

Another growing challenge is regime spies and infiltrators, who have been launching mysterious red flares in the night from rebel-held territories to signal government forces, possibly to mark targets for bombing.

The rebels have repeated calls for a no-fly zone over Syria, as the conflict has ground to a stalemate. They are unable to assemble large platoons in one place for a targeted assault amid air raids by regime helicopters and fighter jets.

As the day wore on at the training camp, gunfire reverberated through the mountains and rebel commanders ordered the men to halt the mock exercises.

“Stop!” barked senior commander Jamil Lala, as he sat on a boulder clutching his prayer beads. “Save your bullets.”

He climbed into his SUV, ordering his guards to roll down their windows so that the glass would not shatter on to their faces if regime forces shell them.

As the car wound its way down the mountain slopes, it passed terraced olive fields and villages littered with the mangled remains of burnt out vehicles and abandoned houses scarred by bullets.

The United States said on Thursday that the administration of President Barack Obama was taking a fresh look at arming Syrian rebels.

But rebels say Western dithering over intervention has boosted foreign Islamist fighters who have flooded into Syria – including Libyan revolutionaries and Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists from Iraq, eager to create an Islamic Caliphate in the country.

And while their battlefield prowess makes them an asset, some of their actions has created tensions with the ostensibly secular-leaning FSA, Lala said, back at the brigade base.

“Al-Nusra says this is haram (forbidden),” he said, drawing on an apple-flavored narghile, or water pipe. He was referring to fighters from the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front who recently sought to impose a ban on public smoking in some rebel-held areas.

“The Koran is a book from God, the Bible is a book from God. No one has the right to impose their interpretation on the word of God,” he said as smoke curled out of his mouth.

“If you want to pray, go pray. If you want to smoke narghile, go smoke narghile. That is the kind of Syria we want to create.”

(Source / 04.05.2013)

Settlers attack man near Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Settlers attacked a man west of Bethlehem on Saturday, causing moderate injuries, locals said.

A group of settlers threw stones at Ahmad al-Zaglool at a road junction near Betar Illit settlement, witnesses told Ma’an.

Al-Zaglool, who is from the nearby village of Husan, was moderately wounded and taken to hospital for treatment.

Settlers regularly attack Palestinians and their property in the occupied West Bank and are rarely punished by Israeli authorities, who locals accuse of failing to intervene despite being present at many incidents.

Annual figures compiled by Israeli rights group Yesh Din have repeatedly shown that nine out of 10 police investigations about settler crimes fail to lead to a prosecution.

(Source / 04.05.2013)

Soldiers Invade Kufur Qaddoum, Clash With Local Youths

Friday, May 3 2013, Israeli soldiers, supported by an armored military bulldozer and armored vehicles, invaded the village of Kufur Qaddoum, near the northern West Bank city of Qilqilia, after violently dispersing the weekly protest, and clashed with dozens of local youth; several injuries have been reported.

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Villagers hold weekly protests against the ongoing closure of the main road of the village, blocking its main entrance since many years, and against the ongoing construction of the Annexation Wall and settlements on lands that belong to the residents.

Local sources reported that the army attacked the village from different directions, and fired dozens of gas bombs, and rubber-coated metal bullets at local youths who hurled stones at the invading army, and sprayed them with waste-water mixed with chemicals.

Medical sources in the village have reported that dozens of residents have been treated for the effects of teargas inhalation, while one reporter, identified as Aref Tuffaha, was injured in the head after being hit by a gas bomb fired by the army.

Morad Eshtewy, coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Kufur Qaddoum reported that the army, supported by armored military bulldozers, invaded several neighborhoods in the village, and fired dozens of gas bombs at local youths who hurled stones at the invading forces.

Eshtwey added that that this protest, and all protests that will be held in May, will be conducted in commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, marking the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and added that the protests resemble the Palestinian determination to achieve liberation, independence, and the internationally-guaranteed Right of Return of all Palestinian refugees.

Also on Friday, soldiers attacked the weekly nonviolent protests against the Annexation Wall and settlements, in the villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin, near the central West Bank city of Ramallah.

The protests marked the World Press Freedom Day; residents and international and Israeli human rights activists managed to reach the Israeli wall built on lands taken from local villagers.

As protestors arrived to the gate of the wall, Israeli soldiers fired dozens of tear-gas canisters at them.

Several youth responded by throwing rocks at the soldiers. A number of residents were also treated for the effects of tear gas inhalation due to the army attack.

In the nearby village of Nabi Saleh Israeli troops also used tear gas and chemical water, to stop the protestors.

Several residents and international supporters were sprayed by chemical water that leaves bad smell on the victim’s body for a long time, in addition to skin irritations.

Israeli soldiers also fired tear gas inside residents’ homes causing several women and children to choke and suffer the effects of tear gas inhalation.

Furthermore, the army fired dozens of rubber-coated metal bullets and gas bombs at nonviolent protestors in the Al-Ma’sara village, near Bethlehem.

Several residents were treated for the effects of gas inhalation by field medics.

Troops forced people back into the village using rifle-buts and batons; some protestors suffered bruises in the arms and the back.

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(Source / 04.05.2013)

Israeli gunboats fire at Palestinian fishing boats

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GAZA, (PIC)– Israeli navy gunboats opened heavy machinegun fire at Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Gaza Strip at dawn Saturday forcing fishermen to retreat to the shore.

Sources in the marine police told the PIC reporter that the gunboats fired one shell then opened heavy machinegun fire at the fishing boats off the Sudaniya area to the northwest of Gaza city.

They said that the fishermen were forced to retreat to areas nearer to the shore without any casualties or damage to boats being sustained.

Israeli gunboats daily target Palestinian fishermen and force them to fish within a three nautical miles radius that was later reduced to only one nautical mile, while the calm agreement of last November stipulated among other articles that fishermen could fish at a distance of six nautical miles off the shores of Gaza.

(Source / 04.05.2013)

Syria accused of massacre of at least 50 people in Sunni village

BEIRUT — Syria’s main opposition group on Friday accused President Bashar Assad’s regime of committing a “large-scale massacre” in a Sunni village near the Mediterranean coast in which activists say at least 50 were killed with guns, knives and blunt objects.

The killings in Bayda reflect the sectarian overtones of Syria’s civil war. Tucked in the mountains outside the Mediterranean coastal city of Banias, the village is primarily inhabited by Sunni Muslims, who dominate the country’s rebel movement. But it is located in the heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that is the backbone of the regime.

In amateur video purportedly taken after the killings, the bodies of at least seven men and boys are seen strewn in pools of blood on the pavement in front of a house as women weep around them.

“Don’t sleep, don’t move,” one woman sobs, leaning over to touch one of the men, who appeared already dead. The video appears genuine and consistent with reporting by The Associated Press from the area.

The war has largely split the country along sectarian lines, with the divide deepening over months of bloodshed. There has been heavy fighting in recent weeks between Sunnis and Shiites over villages near the Lebanese border, while Islamic extremists in the rebel ranks have injected a radical fervor, often referring to their adversaries with derogatory names insulting their sects.

The regime has so far kept a relatively solid grip on the Alawite heartland, centered on the mountainous region along the coast. The area is dotted with Sunni villages, but they are surrounded by larger Alawite communities, so the anti-Assad revolt has had a harder time taking hold.

Early Thursday, there was an eruption of fighting in Bayda and then in the afternoon, Syrian troops backed by gunmen from nearby Alawite villages swept into the village, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

They torched homes and used knives, guns and blunt objects to kill people in the streets, the group said. It said it has documented the names of at least 50 dead in Bayda, but that dozens of villagers were still missing and the death toll could rise to as high as 100.

Syria’s state news agency said late Thursday that the army conducted a raid in Bayda, killing several “terrorists” and seizing machine guns, automatic rifles and other weapons. The government refers to those trying to oust Assad as “terrorists.”

Syrian troops were still in Bayda on Friday, conducting house to house searches, according to the Observatory’s director, Rami Abdul Rahman. He added that phone and Internet service to the village was cut, making it impossible to verify the final death toll or pin down more details on what happened.

If confirmed, the bloodshed in Bayda would be the latest in a string of alleged mass killings in Syria’s civil war. Last month, activists said government troops killed more than 100 people as they seized two rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, condemned what it called “a large-scale massacre in Bayda,” and urged the international community to act to protect Syrian civilians.

“It is time for the world to intervene and put an end to the grievous crimes of the Assad regime,” the Cairo-based group said in a statement.

While the U.S. and its European and Gulf allies have backed the opposition forces, they have been reluctant to provide the rebels fighting Assad’s troops with weapons that could stand up to the regime’s superior firepower. They fear the arms could end up in the hands of radical Islamic groups that in the past year have become the most effective fighting force on the opposition’s side.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama said his administration was looking at every option to end the bloodshed in Syria. Speaking at a news conference in Mexico City, Obama said the administration was proceeding cautiously as it looked at options to ensure that what it does is helpful to the situation rather than making it more deadly or complex.

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, became the first top American official to publicly acknowledge that the administration was rethinking its opposition to arming the Syrian rebels. Hagel said Thursday that “arming the rebels — that’s an option,” but added that the administration was looking at all options.

The Syrian conflict, now in its third year, started with largely peaceful protests against Assad’s rule in March 2011, but shifted into an armed insurgency as opposition supporters took up weapons to fight a harsh regime crackdown on dissent.

The conflict has devastated the country, killing more than 70,000 people, forcing more than 1 million Syrians to seek refuge in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and displacing millions more inside Syria.

(Source / 04.05.2013)

Vandaag 4 mei…

Vandaag 4 mei, een dag die in Nederland in het teken staat van de doden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. De gruwelheden die begaan zijn door de nazi’s waar miljoenen het slachtoffer van waren. Nederland heeft met ruim 190 duizend doden een groot deel in de leed te maken gehad. We herdenken de doden die toentertijd gevallen zijn, en betuigen daarmee onze respect.

Vandaag 4 mei, een dag die in Syrie die, net als elke dag in de ruim 2 jaar durende revolutie om vrijheid, in het teken staat van de doden die vallen om het uur. Vandaag heeft Syrië weer een bloedbad moeten lijden. Baniyas staat in het middelpunt van de gruwelheden van de Syrische President Assad. Op moment van schrijven stonden de dodenschattingen daar al op 1150 doden in slechts twee dagen volgens de Baniyas Press Network en Baniyas Media Bureau ten minste 300 doden volgens de Syrische Observatorium voor Mensenrechten. Een massamoord van de hoogste klasse, hele gezinnen zijn vermoord, inclusief papa’s, mama’s, opa’s, oma’s, dochters en zonen. Vrouwen, kinderen en ouderen worden bruut vermoord, velen zijn zelfs de keel doorgesneden, anderen zijn opgesloten in hun huizen waarna deze in brand gestoken zijn. Mannen worden in het centrale plein verzameld en geëxecuteerd.

Vandaag 4 mei, een dag in de wereld waarin de internationale gemeenschap nog steeds stilstaat om de gruweldaden van Bashar Al Assad en zijn honden. Het enige wat we tot noch toe gemerkt hebben zijn de milde bedreigingen en de slappe roep om het neerleggen van wapens. Ondertussen gaat Bashar Al Assad door met het uitmoorden van de Syrische bevolking. Elke dag worden er dorpen en steden gebombardeerd, haar bevolking uitgemoord en moet iedereen zijn huis uitvluchten. Hele wijken en dorpen zijn leeg doordat de bevolking uitgemoord of gevlucht is. Kinderen, vrouwen, ouderen, gehandicapten en zelfs (vee)dieren worden niet uitgesloten door de moordlust en bloeddorstigheid van Assad. Er is geen Syrier over die geen familielid heeft die gestorven, gewond of opgepakt is. En de internationale gemeenschap kijkt toe. Het dodental loopt met de uur op en staat nu al op rond 90.000 doden.

Vandaag 4 mei, een dag waarop we allemaal besluiten dat dit niet meer zo door kan gaan. Vandaag 4 mei, een dag waarop we allemaal onze stem laten horen op alle mogelijke manieren dat we acties eisen. Nederland en de Internationale Gemeenschap MOET (!!!) haar dichtgesloten mond die al veel te lang duurt openen. Acties zijn vereist om de Syrische bevolking te helpen en te beschermen.

Vandaag 4 mei, eisen wij van Nederland en de Internationale Gemeenschap
– Het waarborgen van de veiligheid van de Syrische bevolking
– Het opstellen van een No-Fly zone boven de Syrische luchtruim
– Het bewapenen van het Vrij Syrisch Leger zodat deze de Syriers kan beschermen
– Het aanklagen en starten van voorbereidingsprocedures tegen Assad en al zijn handlanger op het Internationaal Gerechtshof in Den Haag.
– Het onmiddelijk opsturen van humanitaire hulp naar Syrië en de Syrische vluchtelingen in de kampen daarbuiten.

Vandaag 4 mei, heeft Nederland niets geleerd van haar slachtoffers in de Tweede Wereld oorlog en staat zij toe dat een volk wordt uitgemoord om het feit dat zij om haar rechten vraagt. Hierom herdenken wij tussen 20:00 en 20:02 naast de Nederlandse doden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog ook de dagelijkse slachtoffers van de Syrische Revolutie. Dit laten wij zien door de hashtag #FreeSyria massaal te tweeten, te posten op FaceBook, te krabbelen op Hyves en te vullen op Forums of waar dan ook tussen 20:00 en 20:02 vanavond. Laten we #FreeSyria trending maken en laat zien dat je je ogen niet meer kunt sluiten voor de misdaden van Assad. Support de Syrische bevolking en zet druk op de Nederlandse overheid.

(Source / 04.05.2013)

Israeli Strikes Syria, World Shrugs Shoulders

With unconfirmed reports of an Israeli airstrike inside Syria allegedly targeting a weapons transfer from the Assad regime to the Lebanon based terrorist group Hezbollah, world attention must shift from the Israeli’s targeted strike to Western indifference on the ongoing Civil War in Syria.

For two years we have sat idly by and watched as Bashar al-Assad murdered seventy thousand of his own people in the worst Middle Eastern uprising as a result of the unsavory Arab Spring, with not one action to speak of besides drafting several U.N. Security Council resolutions that hold the same weight as cow chips.

The Israeli Defense Force has now struck Syrian weapons shipments twice within the past four months – as they don’t fool around with the possibility of Hezbollah acquiring chemical weapons of any kind – while U.S. and other western politicians debate arming the Syrian rebels with useful weaponry that gives them an honest chance of striking in Damascus and ridding the wold of Assad.

When are we finally going to act? Well… Not anytime soon if polling within France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany is correct, as all four western powers citizens oppose arming the rebels by two-to-one margin, and after a decade of war, many are just tired of continuous conflict.

But, unfortunately, such is life when there is evil in the world and bad characters willing to kill thousands upon thousands for ideology, greed, power or all of the above, and as such is common day life, so should our fight to prevent the darkness of evil from prevailing and to better secure the chaotic world we live in.

What say you?

(Source / 04.05.2013)

PA security forces arrest 4 Hizb al-Tahrir members at Jenin rally

JENIN (Ma’an) — Palestinian Authority security forces arrested four members of the Hizb al-Tahrir party on Saturday during a rally in Jenin.

The Islamist group held a rally in the northern West Bank city to protest the Arab League’s recent public backing for land swaps with Israel as part of a peace agreement.

Protesters held signs that read “Palestine is holy land, not a commodity,” and “The issue of Palestine can only be resolved through liberation.”

PA security forces dispersed the rally and arrested four Hizb al-Tahrir affiliates.

Speaking last week, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim agreed that any peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians should be based on a two-state solution with the borders defined by the lines which existed before June 4, 1967.

But he also expressed support for a proposal by US President Barack Obama for a “comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land” between Israelis and Palestinians to reflect the realities of the burgeoning communities on the ground.

PLO official Saeb Erekat responded by saying that the initiative “was not something new,” and reflected the “official Palestinian position.”

(Source / 04.05.2013)