OPPOSITION FIGHTERS SHOOT DOWN IRANIAN CARGO PLANE OVER DAMASCUS AIRPORT – REPORTS OF EXPLOSION AND MAJOR FIRE

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Reports are coming in this morning of a very big explosion and major fire at Damascus International airport.

According to information from activists the FSA or its allies, last night shot down an Iranian cargo plane believed to be carrying weapons to the Assad regime.

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Reputed Picture of Last Night’s Blaze at Damascus International Airport

Further reports say that the resulting explosion and fire ignited a number of planes parked near the runway and has even spread to the departure and arrival buildings, though some caution on this is advised as it has not been confirmed.

The Assad regime is denying, at this stage, that there is any fire at all.

Syrian state TV Sana announced that Damascus’ international airport was “operating normally.”

“The arrival and departure of planes at the airport is continuing normally. The information being relayed about the airport by some media outlets that is taking part in shedding Syrian blood is untrue.”

Fighting between Opposition forces and the Syrian Army in the East Ghouta area surrounding the airport has been particularly intense over the last few days.

This short video, uploaded this morning, shows the cargo plane approaching Damascus airport and igniting in flames (at 0.15) just before it lands, HERE:

Further to the report on CIA activity on Syria (scroll down, see report on 26th March 2013) activist sources are saying that flights carrying weapons to the Syrian Opposition via Turkey and Jordan have doubled in the last 2 weeks. According to reports there is now a co-ordinated plan in existence to take Damascus.

Certainly fighting around the Damascus suburbs has increased in the last few days. Heavy fighting is now reported in Qaboun in the north-east where Opposition fighters destroyed a bus carrying Shabiha (armed militia), HERE:

Fierce battles around the capital are also reported on the main road linking the southern Damascus area of Yarmouk to Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, in Qadam to the south-west and in Daraya, which continues to hold out against the Syrian Army after nearly 10 months of bombardment.

Latest video from Daraya shows burning residential buildings, HERE:

The battle has also come to central Damascus with fighting around Abbasiyeen Square, one of the main open spaces in the city, and Opposition mortar shells hitting Alawite areas of the capital, striking security buildings and SANA, the state media building, where 4 of its employees were reported killed.

There are also more reports of mortar shells hitting the central Baramkeh district again today, this time striking the architectural department of Damascus University. Government officials say the mortars struck a cafeteria killing 12 and wounding 20.

Heavy fighting is also reported this morning, Thursday, at Dael in Deraa province to the south, where Opposition fighters are said to be attacking key checkpoints.

The town is considered to be one of the major gateways to the capital and separates it from the Jordanian border, which some reports say is now largely under Opposition control.

Running street battles are being reported in the Al-Balad district of Deraa city, HERE: and there are also ongoing attacks currently on the central prison, HERE:

DAMAGE TO ALEPPO, SYRIA’S LARGEST CITY, AND EFFECT ON ITS CHILDREN MUCH WORSE THAN FIRST THOUGHT:

In Aleppo, an Opposition assessment of damage there, funded by the US, UK and the EU has reported that things are far worse than originally thought. Based on visits to almost half of the city by 15 researchers, the study estimated that more 2.4 million people in the city are in urgent need of assistance, and that 510,000 have been forced to leave their homes.

The report went on to say that more than two thirds of public buildings and half of private buildings had been damaged or destroyed in the 52 neighbourhoods assessed and only 4 of Aleppo’s state hospitals, out of 11, were still functioning. Airstrikes and shelling were causing people to avoid hospitals altogether in favour of underground clandestine clinics.

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Damage to Public and Private Buildings in Aleppo

Announcing the result of the study, Suheir Atassi, vice president of the Opposition Syrian National Coalition and head of its assistance coordination unit said:

“More people face urgent needs in Aleppo than the total population of urban Paris or Houston or Amman – this is simply unconscionable, and we must act together to save our brothers and sisters in Aleppo and across Syria. This thorough, technical assessment only confirms the scale of devastation and desperation”.

Atassi is also the first woman to lead a delegation at a summit of the Arab League, taking over yesterday in Doha in the absence of Ahmed Moaz Al-Khatib, the President of the SNC.

The report also highlighted the effect on children of the fighting and sometimes their involvement in it.

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7 Year Old in Salaheddine District, Aleppo With Cigarette and Gun

“Children under 10 were observed during the assessment setting up a pretend checkpoint with wooden sticks as guns and harassing people who wanted to try to pass.

On being asked what type of present his uncle could buy from him, a four year old boy responded that he wanted a gun so that he could help to fight.

Eyewitness accounts describe boys as young as 11 or 12 with armed actors and sometimes observed holding weapons”.

SNC OPENS FIRST EMBASSY IN QATAR AND TURNS ITS EYES TO THE ASSAD REGIME SEAT AT THE UN:

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UK Premier’s Wife Visits Refugees in Lebanon

The wife of the Uk’s Prime Minister, Samantha Cameron, visited a refugee camp in Lebanon yesterday in her role as an “ambassador” of the Save the Children fund, describing what she heard from Syrian children as “horrifying” and “harrowing”.

Some of the children described how they had seen one or more of their parents killed in the conflict.  You can read more, HERE:

The UN has expressed “grave concern” over the fighting that has come very near to the demilitarised zone that separates Israel and Syria and has removed some of its peacekeepers from emplacements near the Syrian border.

Israel in turn has set up a field hospital on its side of the frontier to treat wounded Syrians from both sides of the conflict who frequently arrive at its border posts asking for assistance.  So far this month it has treated 11 injured Syrians, removing some of them to hospitals in Israel for more extensive treatment.

There are also unconfirmed reports today that up to 170 Syrian Army troops have deserted their posts near the border with Israel in Quneitra province but further information is awaited.

The former Norwegian head of the failed 2012 UN monitoring mission to Syria, Major General Robert Mood, has said that it is now time to set up a “no fly zone” in the northern part of the country to “level the playing field”.  You can see his interview with the BBC, HERE:

After US Secretary of State John Kerry called for Hezbollah to be added to the proscribed list of terrorist organisations after links were established between Hezbollah and the suicide bomber who blew up a group of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in July of last year, Time magazine has reported on tensions arising between various groups fighting on the same side in the conflict against the Assad Government.

In particular the Farouq Brigade and the Islamic Al-Nusra Front have clashed a number times over territory and authority issues resulting in several deaths on both sides and the wounding of the Farouq Brigade leader requiring his hospitalisation to Turkey.  You can read more, HERE:

On the other side of the coin, Kurdish popular committees have apparently brokered a truce between the Shiites in the Aleppo countryside villages of Zahraa and Nabul and Sunni fighters who have held them under siege for weeks.

The talks follow a series of tit-for-tat kidnappings of civilians from both communities that led to hostilities.  Hopefully the negotiated ceasefire will led to respect and the protection of other minority groups throughout Syria.

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Moaz Al- Khatib Opens SNC’s First Embassy in Qatar

In Qatar, following on from the SNC taking the Assad Government seat at the Arab League summit on Tuesday, their leader went on yesterday to open the first Opposition embassy in Doha.

The SNC now have their eyes set on taking the Assad regime seat at the UN as Al Jazeera reports from New York, HERE:

Lastly, a Syrian Mother sends a message to Asma Al-Assad who was recently seen in Damascus celebrating Mother’s Day with her children.

In the video message the unknown Mother calls upon the President’s wife to see sense, show compassion and to convince her husband to end the fighting and to leave Syria.  The moving video with English sub-titles is HERE:

(Source / 28.03.2013)

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