By Peter Clifford © (http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-2/)
While world powers manoeuvre warships in the Middle East in preparation for a possible strike on Syria, the UN announced that the number of Syrians displaced either inside or outside Syria is approaching 7 million, almost a third of that country’s entire population.
Syrian Refugee Growing up in Za’atari
Of the 2 million refugees now outside Syria’s borders, 1 million left the country over 2 years, the second million left in just the last six months.
Half of these refugees are children, three quarters of these are under 11 years old.
Lebanon has taken the largest number of refugees, 716,000 at this point. This means that 1 in every 6 of the Lebanese population is now a Syrian.
Of the more than 4.5 million displaced people still living in Syria, there are 2 million more living in Damascus than when the conflict began. This has led to enormous overcrowding and a strain on basic food supplies and services as the Jeremy Bowen reports on video for the BBC,HERE:
The main UN refugee agency, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says that it is struggling to cope with the crisis, saying it has only 47% of the funds required to supply “basic refugee needs”.
The second largest group of refugees, at 520,000, are in Jordan, 130,000 of them alone at the 3 square mile Za’atari refugee camp in the desert 12 kilometres from the Syrian border.
This dusty tent city is the 2nd largest refugee camp in the world (after Dadaab in Kenya) and the 4th largest city in the whole of Jordan. It costs $500,000 (£320,000) a day to run, consumes 500,000 pieces of bread a day and 4.25 million litres of water – and at current rates, welcomes 14,000 additional refugees each and every week.
The perimeter road around the camp is 8 miles long and 55% of the refugees in the camp are under 18, 21% under 5. Every day around 13 new children are born in Za’atari. The BBC has more facts, video and photographs of the camp, HERE:
Za’atari Refugee Camp
Meanwhile, President Obama’s administration in Washington has launched a political offensive to convince members of Congress to get behind a debate and vote in both houses on a motion to strike against the Assad regime, with Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel both scheduled to appear before Senate committees today.
In preparation for that potential strike, the US, in addition to a large task force including warships and a nuclear submarine already in the Mediterranean, has ordered the USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with its task force of a guided missile cruiser and 4 destroyers, to move from the Arabian Gulf to the Red Sea, where it would be in missile striking distance of Syria.
The Russians in turn have dispatched the SSV-201 intelligence ship Priazovye to the Mediterranean from its Baltic Fleet base in the Ukraine, in order to gain “maximum intelligence” on any hostile moves towards Syria.
JOINT US/ISRAELI MISSILE LAUNCH IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN RAISES TENSION IN THE REGION:
The Russians have also reported this morning, Tuesday, the launch of 2 missiles from the central Mediterranean “towards the eastern coastline” though nothing has fallen on Syria and later reports suggested they were US weather information rocket launches that fell in the water.
Israel Shoots Down a Missile over the Mediterranean
However,the Israeli Ministry of Defence has since said it was “carrying out tests” in conjunction with the USA on a new version of the Ankor-type radar missile.
The US launched one missile and the Israeli missile defence system then shot it down.
A scheduled G20 summit of the world’s leading “developed” and developing nations is due to take place in St. Petersburg, Russia starting this Thursday and it will now inevitably be overshadowed by the subject of Syria. Currently, the 2 key players, Obama and Putin, are not even scheduled to meet privately at all.
Yesterday, Monday, the French declassified and released a 9 page document detailing their intelligence assessment of the chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The French Intelligence Service said it had counted 281 dead but reports of up to 1,500 killed were consistent with attacks of this kind.
France Releases its Own Intelligence Assessment on Syria
The report concluded, “The attack on August 21 could only have been ordered and carried out by the regime” and it was carried out as part of “a coherent tactical manoevre”.
German Intelligence, the BND, after a “thorough analysis” also concluded that Assad’s troops had launched the attack, possibly to deter Opposition fighters, but had used too much chemical agent and “inadvertently” killed many civilians.
Both the French and the German reports mention the use of the toxic nerve agent Sarin, though only the UN inspectors report will conclude if that is actually the case.
Germany, unlike France, has already said it will not take part in any attack on Syria, but the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is facing an election shortly, is endeavouring to bring opposed sides together for discussions at this week’s G20 meeting.
Predictably, despite being shown evidence over the gas attack by the US, France and the UK, Russia remains “absolutely” unconvinced by what it has seen, Sergei Lavrov, their Foreign Minister saying that there were “serious doubts” over the validity of the video footage of the attack posted on the Internet.
President Putin over the weekend described reports that President Assad was responsible for the attack as “utter nonsense”.
ONE OF ASSAD’S FORENSIC TEAM IN ALEPPO IS REPORTED TO HAVE DEFECTED AND EXPECTED TO PRESENT DAMNING EVIDENCE:
An interesting development on the chemical weapons scenario this afternoon, Tuesday, is that the Opposition are reporting the defection of Abdeltawwab Shahrour, who is described as the “head of Assad’s chemical warfare medical services in Aleppo”.
He was expected to appear at a press conference later today in Turkey to give evidence of the Syrian Government’s involvement in a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo last March, but as of 15.00 GMT had not “made a show”.
A report from Syrian Government sources today says it would need $73 billion to put Syria “back on track”. So far approximately 1.5 million dwellings have been destroyed as well as infrastructure.
Destruction in Ariha
On the ground there are very mixed reports today.
Opposition sources say that the Syrian Army, after pounding the town into rubble for most of the last week, has almost retaken Ariha in Idlib province.
Ariha controls the main supply route between Latakia and Aleppo province and is crucial to the survival of the few remaining pockets that the Assad regime holds around Aleppo city.
Around Damascus there are also reports that as many as 90 Opposition fighters have been killed in fighting in the last 2 days. 29 of them were reported killed in a Syrian Army ambush north-east of the capital on Monday near Adra, an agricultural city that is the key entry point to the Opposition held East Ghouta region. Government losses are unknown.
On the positive side 50 more Republican Guard are said to have defected in a Damascus suburb and in the Damascus countryside 2 tanks were destroyed following a daring FSA commando style raid in Al-Qalamoun.
In this video, the FSA commandos can be seen leaping out of a truck and attacking the army posts nearby, HERE:
Another tank was also reported destroyed in the Damascus area at a checkpoint near Dumair city.
When the American attack was thought imminent last weekend the Assad regime removed its military units from near the International Airport south of the capital and its artillery units on Mount Qasioun overlooking the city.
However, with the delay on a decision in the US, it is now reported that those units have returned to their positions in case Opposition fighters fill the vacuum and shelling has resumed from the mountains this morning on the Opposition held suburb of Jobar.
EDITOR: Perhaps like me you have trouble keeping up with all the different factions and sides involved in this conflict, especially when they split up and starting fighting each other.
@BeaBonobo has brought to my attention this classic clip from Monty Python’s irreverent “The Life of Brian”. I hope, in all the gloom, sadness and despair it lightens your day (Caution: Some profane language):