#StopIsrael | Israeli occupation allows expansion of settlements without announcing it

images_News_2013_11_18_settlement_300_0

AL-KHALIL, (PIC)– The Israeli occupation authorities (IOA) allowed the continuation of building more housing units and expansion of settlements south of Al-Khalil without announcing it.

Ratib Jabour, the coordinator of popular committees against the wall in Yatta to the south of Al-Khalil, told the PIC on Monday that construction works in four settlements near Yatta did not stop over the past few days.

He said that trucks loaded with construction materials were seen entering those settlements while new housing units were being built.

The activist said that more Palestinian land lots were confiscated in the area to allow room for the new expansion, adding that bulldozing those lands and building over them was progressing without announcement.

(Source / 18.11.2013)

Zahhar: Resistance changed the military equation with occupation in Gaza

Zahhar: Resistance changed the military equation with occupation in Gaza

Al Qassam website- Gaza- Member of Hamas’s political bureau Mahmoud al-Zahhar stressed that the Palestinian resistance has been able to develop its capabilities and to change the military equation with the occupation in the Gaza Strip.

Zahhar said, during a ceremony in Gaza honoring 200 students at Al-Azhar University on Saturday, that the Palestinian resistance has changed the military equation with the Israeli occupier, pointing out that after the discovery of the tunnel in Khan Younis, the occupation leaders said that Hamas still has the ability to kidnap soldiers.

“This is what made the enemy ask permission to enter twenty meters in the Palestinian territories. We realize the extent of development and military superiority reached by the resistance in the region,” he added.

(Source / 18.11.2013)

Palestinians cast first-ever vote in U.N. General Assembly

Palestinian youths throw stones at Israeli army jeeps during clashes following a confrontation between Palestinians and Jewish settlers, in the West Bank village of Qusra, near Nablus November 18, 2013.

A routine U.N. General Assembly vote held special significance for the Palestinian delegation on Monday as it cast a ballot for the first time, an act the Palestinian envoy said brought his nation a step closer to full U.N. membership.

The chief Palestinian U.N. observer, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, participated in the 193-nation assembly’s election of a judge for the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Koffi Kumelio Afande of Togo was elected to the court.

It was the first time the Palestinians cast a vote since their U.N. status was upgraded a year ago this month to “non-member state” from “entity,” like the Vatican. The vote has been perceived as a de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood.

“This is a very, very special moment in the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people at the United Nations,” Mansour told a small group of reporters.

“It’s a symbolic (step),” he said. “But it is an important one because it reflects that the international community, particularly the General Assembly, is hungry and waiting for the state of Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations.”

The upgrade of the Palestinians’ status last year came after an attempt to secure full U.N. membership failed because of U.S. resistance in the Security Council, where Washington made clear it would use its veto power to block the Palestinian bid.

But no country has veto power in the General Assembly, which is why the Palestinians had no trouble securing status as a non-member state. The status upgrade allows them to participate in some assembly votes and join some international organizations.

The Palestinians have threatened to use their new U.N. status to accede to a number of international organizations and possibly sign the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The Palestinians have not joined the ICC yet. In 2011, however, they joined UNESCO, the U.N. education, science and culture agency, which led Washington and Israel to cut off funding to the Paris-based organization in protest.

Earlier this month, UNESCO suspended the voting rights of the United States and Israel.

Mansour said he hopes the Palestinians will become full members of the United Nations soon, though the United States have not indicated it has any plan to drop its opposition to that idea.

(Source / 18.11.2013)

U.N chief urges Hezbollah to pull out of Syria

 

The head of Lebanon's militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. [Getty Images]
The head of Lebanon’s militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah.

Chief Ban Ki-moon urged Hezbollah and other Lebanese factions to end their involvement in Syria to stem the fallout from the conflict next door in a new report to the Security Council, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Daily Star.

The report detailed the effect of the ongoing crisis in Syria on Lebanon, including the rise of cross-border fighting, security incidents and the influx of refugees, 400,000 of whom have entered Lebanon in the five months since Ban’s last report in June.

It also provided details of an August incident during which Israeli troops crossed the border into Lebanon and engaged in a firefight with Hezbollah.

The document is the latest progress report on the implementation of Resolution 1701, which brought an end to the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel. It spans the period between June 29 and Nov 13.

Ban condemned Syria’s violation of Lebanese sovereignty through its shelling of border areas, saying it was part of the continuing “serious impact” of the crisis in Syria here.

The threat is manifested in cross-border violence and the deep political polarization in the country, in addition to various economic and social pressures that threaten Lebanon’s stability, Ban said.

There are over 800,000 refugees in Lebanon who fled the fighting in Syria, 80 percent of whom are women and children, according to the report.

Ban urged Hezbollah and other Lebanese factions to end their involvement in Syria.

“I reiterate my call for all Lebanese parties to step back from involvement in the Syrian conflict … and urge them, once again, to recommit to the policy of disassociation,” he said.

The secretary-general’s report also discussed the details of an August incident in the border village of Labbouneh, when four Israeli soldiers were wounded in a clash with Hezbollah.

Ban said the Israeli operation was carried out as a result of fears that Hezbollah was rebuilding its military infrastructure and weapons supplies in the area. He said the Israeli army told UNIFIL that four of its soldiers were slightly wounded inside Lebanese territory while fighting a group of what they believed were Hezbollah fighters.

UNIFIL said the battle took place more than 600 meters north of the Blue Line marking the Lebanese-Israeli border. In addition to finding evidence of explosions and small arms fire, UNIFIL said it found what may be the remains of an IED.

Ban said the incident was a “serious breach” of Resolution 1701.

Back in August, the Lebanese Army said an Israeli foot patrol crossed 400 meters into Lebanese territory off Labbouneh and that during the infiltration an explosion occurred, leaving a number of Israeli troops wounded.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the soldiers were wounded during an “operational activity meant to preserve the calm for the northern communities in particular and for the residents of Israel in general.”

But Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said his group was responsible for wounding the Israeli soldiers, and that the party had prior information that two Israeli units were planning to infiltrate Lebanon.

In a sign that neither Israel nor Hezbollah have an appetite for conflict, both sides cooperated closely with UNIFIL in the aftermath of the Israeli incursion and emphasized their commitment to the cease-fire.

Despite allegations by Israel that the Syrian regime is transferring weapons to Hezbollah, and claims that the party is smuggling weapons into populated areas in south Lebanon, the Ban said UNIFIL had no evidence that substantiated Israel’s claims.

“To date, UNIFIL has neither been provided with, nor found, evidence of the unauthorized transfer of arms into its area of operations,” he said.

While the U.N. takes the allegations of weapons transfers to Hezbollah from Syria seriously, it is not in a position to verify whether they are actually taking place, Ban said, but added that Hezbollah’s retaining its weapons was a threat to the authority and sovereignty of the Lebanese state.

He said the deteriorating security was a result of the “serious threat to stability posed by the proliferation of arms outside the control of the [state].”

Ban also sounded the alarm on the security situation in the Palestinian refugee camps, attributing recent tension there to overcrowding and competition for jobs as refugees arrive in droves from Syria.

The number of Palestinian refugees from Syria is expected to rise to 60,000 by the end of the year, up from an estimated 48,000 in September, according to the report.

Ban expressed concern at the lack of progress toward a permanent cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon, and urged Lebanon to do more to make sure there were no unauthorized weapons near the border.

(Source / 18.11.2013)

Syrian Coalition: Regime military escalation and lies about gains on the ground; an effort to block Geneva II

The Syrian Coalition said in a statement released today that the “military escalation carried out by the Assad regime and his allies is aimed at hindering any peace conference meant to find a political solution that will put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.” The Syrian Coalition also called on the international community not to ignore the fact that the regime is reluctant to engage in a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Furthermore, the Syrian Coalition described the so-called victories claimed by the Assad regime as “a series of lies and propaganda which is meant to boost the collapsed morale of his troops and Hezbollah’s and al Maliki’s militias.” The Coalition also stressed that “the FSA made advances in many areas, despite being outgunned and under-equipped…compared with the regime’s arsenal, which has been used against the Syrian people since the first day of the Syrian Revolution. The statement said that the revolutionaries routed “Assad gangs and Hezbollah’s militia and expelled them from most parts of Shwehna Mount, Kafr Hamra, Ubayda, Tel Hasel Tel Arran and “80” Brigade only a few hours after the FSA announced full mobilization in the city of Aleppo.
(Source: Syrian Coalition / 18.11.2013)

UPDATED – BREAKING: Anti-military, anti-Brotherhood protesters enter Tahrir for 1st time since Morsi’s ouster

Small group of protesters take over newly-inaugurated monument to slain revolutionaries, and chant slogans against the military, Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood
graffity op Tahrir memorial
Dozens of members of pro-revolutionary groups have entered Tahrir Square for the first time since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.Protesters mounted a controversial memorial for protesters slain during the revolution and spray-painted slogans on the monument.

The slogans demanded retribution for “all the martyrs” and “down with the military regime,” and “down with all those who betrayed the revolution: the miltary, feloul (Mubarak’s people), and the Brotherhood.”

The foundation for the memorial had been launched on Monday morning by Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi.

Some revolutionaries charged that the government’s move to honour martyrs was cynical since authorities are themselves to blame for the death of protesters.

On Sunday, Egypt’s police had issued a statement “honouring” all the martyrs of the revolution.

Activists hung a banner across the Tahrir Square-Mohamed Mahmoud Street intersection reading: “No entry for military, Feloul, Brotherhood.”

“The protesters had split off from a larger event taking place in nearby Abdeen Square, commemorating the second anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes between security forces and revolutionaries in November 2011, which left 47 protesters dead and hundreds injured.

 

Around 3,000 people attended the commemoration near the house of Gaber “Jika” Salah, who was killed during clashes that took place during the first anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes in 2012.

Protesters have vowed not to allow Brotherhood supporters to join the commemoration or the protest in Tahrir, accusing the Islamist group of siding with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) against protesters during the battle of Mohamed Mahmoud.

The square has been closed to demonstrations since the ousting of president Mohamed Morsi, with two exceptions. The public were allowed to show support for army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in his efforts against terrorism on 26 July and were also allowed into the square to celebrate the 1973 war against Israel on 6 October.

An attempt by pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters to rally in Tahrir on 1 October was thwarted by local street vendors and shop owners, who dispersed the group.

(Source / 18.11.2013)

HOW ISRAEL DENIES WEST BANK PALESTINIANS THE RIGHT TO FREELY ACCESS EDUCATION

This article shines a light on just some of the violations being committed by Israel which restrict the ability of Palestinians to freely access education, a right which is enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights

by the Right 2 Education team, University of Birzeit, West Bank

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates in Article 26 that,
‘Everyone has the right to education … and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit’
UNDR, 1948

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr

‘The occupation has created an enormous challenge in the functioning of the educational process’
Elana Romahi, Assessing the Educational System in Palestine: An NGO Perspective (November, 2010) p14.

ACCESS

Roadblocks, checkpoints, the wall, and violence (see below) all affect the access to education and act as deterrents and obstructions for Palestinian students.
In the first half of 2013 there were 51 separate incidents of access denial, which affected 13,064 students.1 This does not include those whose access is severely impeded because of permanent structures and checkpoints. 27 incidents occurred in the second quarter of the year, on 15 occasions students or teachers were detained by the Israeli security forces whilst either on their way to or from school.2
Palestinians in East Jerusalem come under the control of the Israeli authorities, due Israel’s annexation of the land in 1967.3 The separation barrier divides 100,000 Palestinians who live in the Jerusalem municipality, and who have Jerusalem ID, from the city itself. Students from these areas have to pass daily through checkpoints, causing delays to their journey. Under Israeli law, students who are in compulsory education must be provided with transport if they live more than 2 or 3km away, depending on their age. This is not extended to those with Jerusalem ID who live on the ‘Palestinian side’ of the wall.
These figures do not account for the unquantifiable amount of Palestinians who would wish to travel from or to Gaza, or to Jerusalem or abroad to study. Restrictions on the freedom of movement make this nearly impossible.
Violence
Students and teachers are subjected to violence, notably from settlers within the West Bank. Settlements are considered to be illegal under international law and are seen as an obstacle to peace yet they continue to be constructed. There are an estimated 500,000 settlers living in the West Bank.
6 settler incidents were reported in the second quarter of 2013. These include an attack at an intersection near Nablus on 30 April where the windscreen of a school bus was broken, resulting in injuries to 30 students and 6 teachers. Other schools in the area were evacuated for safety reasons. On two occasions (30 April, 2 May), the Urif Secondary School for boys (Nablus) was surrounded by settlers, resulting in its evacuation.4

References:
1 EAPPI, Access to Education: Creating a safe environment despite occupation (EAPPI Factsheet 2013, No. 3).
http://www.unicef.org/oPt/UNICEF_-_State_of_Palestine_-_CAAC_bulletin_July_2013(1).pdf
3 The annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognised as legal by the international community.
http://www.unicef.org/oPt/UNICEF_-_State_of_Palestine_-_CAAC_bulletin_July_2013(1).pdf p4.

VIOLENCE
Settler incidents in the South Hebron Hills have resulted in the Israeli Defence Force having to escort Palestinian children to school to protect them from Israeli settlers. Operation Dove, a European Union funded project, monitors their safety and reported that in September 2013 only 65% of escorts were carried out, none of which completed the full route. In total, children had to wait in unsafe areas for over 13 hours and missed more than 3 hours of schooling. Incidents reported by Operation Dove include a settler who, ‘drove at high speeds towards the children, without slowing or stopping his car’ on September 3.5
The Unequal Distribution of Resources
Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not afforded the same resources as Israeli students living in other parts of the city. For the academic year 2012-13, 78,676 students were in the Arab school system in Jerusalem. This accounts for 33.8% of the total number of students. A further 20,000 are in schools run by Waqf or UNWRA. According to The Marker approximately NIS 12,000 is spent on each Arab student compared to around NIS 25,000 for Israeli students.6
This disparity is coupled with a shortage of classrooms. Palestinians in East Jerusalem require an estimated 2,200 extra classrooms. This issue is expected to worsen, as the population increases by approximately 3-4% each year.
These issues create social problems. The dropout rate in September 2012 was estimated at 13% in East Jerusalem, with 36% of students not completing the full 12 years of education. This is a startling figure and does not aid the prosperity of an area where 85% of children live below the poverty line.
Former Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, Ayala Procaccia, said in 2011 that, ‘The violation of the right to equality in education in East Jerusalem’ affects, ‘a significant portion of an entire sector of the population’ despite this right being, ‘afforded by Israeli law.’ The Municipality has responded to demands for classroom building by arguing that there is a land shortage but this has been countered by the Association For Civil Rights in Israel (ACIR). ACIR highlights the dichotomy in claiming a lack of land whilst, ‘simultaneously [the Municipality] supports plans for Israeli construction on land suited for construction of the missing classrooms.’7

References
5 Operation Dove, So Far So Close III: Report on Human Rights Violation in the Southern Hebron Hills (September, 2013) p5.
6 Association for Civil Rights in Israel, The Failing East Jerusalem Education System, (August, 2013), http://www.themarker.com/career/1.2075019.
7 Association for Civil Rights in Israel, The Failing East Jerusalem Education System, (August, 2013) p15.

DEMOLITIONS
61% of the West Bank, known as Area C, is under the complete control of the Israeli authorities. The area was supposed to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority by 1998. Palestinians in Area C are not able to build lasting structures, including schools. 4,305 students are affected by the demolition orders issued to 39 schools in the OPTs.8 In Gaza the situation is exacerbated by military assaults and the blockade of the territory. Operation Cast Lead, carried out by the Israeli military in 2008, caused damage to 28 schools with a further 18 completely destroyed. The blockade however prohibits materials from entering and thus issues affecting education infrastructure cannot be solved.9
Prisoners
Over the past decade Israeli forces have “arrested, interrogated and prosecuted around 8000 Palestinian children aged between 12 and 17”.11 As of September 2013 there are 180 child prisoners in Israeli Military detention facilities – 31 of whom are under 16 years of age.13
Defence for Children International’s most recent report indicated that 95% of minors arrested between 2008 and 2012 were blindfolded, 75% were subjected to physical abuse and 54% received verbal abuse and humiliation14. Yasser Abu Samra, a psychologist at the YMCA, argues that Israel’s policy is “aimed at breaking these children’s morale and spirit of struggle”15.
Education provisions within the Israeli Prison Service are severely limited. As the Palestinian Ministry of Education curriculum is not made available, child detainee’s academic attainment is negatively impacted upon their release. For older students, the delays to their study can make a university degree take many years more than anticipated. This has a knock-on effect for their finances, career progression, and personal life.

References

8 EAPPI, Access to Education: Creating a safe environment despite occupation (EAPPI Factsheet 2013, No. 3).
9 Elana Romahi, Assessing the Educational System in Palestine: An NGO Perspective (November, 2010) p15. 11 Save the Children, The Impact of Child Detention: Occupied Palestinian Territory, (2012) p.17. 13 Addameer Monthly Detention Report, (1st September 2013)
14 DCI Palestine, Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: Children held in military detention, (April 2012), p8 15 Addameer, The right Of Child Prisons to Educations, (October 2010), p89

Right 2 Education: http://www.right2edu.org/ Image

 

(Source / 18.11.2013)

Russian Muslims fight and die against Assad’s forces

NOVOSASITLI, Russia // A scrawny 15-year-old this summer became the first from his deeply religious Muslim village in Russia’s southern Dagestan province to die fighting alongside rebels in Syria.

Some regard him as a martyr for joining the rebels in the fight against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, who is supported by Russia.

Moscow now fears that hundreds of Russian-born militants it says are fighting in Syria will return experienced in warfare to join an insurgency in Dagestan and its other North Caucasus provinces by militants fighting for an Islamic state.

Violence in the region claims lives almost daily. Fifteen men from Novosasitli alone have died in shootouts with Russian forces in the past four years, residents say.

Analysts say fighters could also try to strike during the 2014 Winter Olympics in February in nearby Sochi. President Vladimir Putin, who has staked his reputation on the Games, has said militants returning from Syria pose “a very real” threat and signed off on a law this month to jail any who come home.

“The militant groups did not come out of nowhere, and they will not vanish into thin air,” Mr Putin said in September.

In Novosasitli, where walls are tagged with graffiti supporting rebels fighting for an Islamic state, villagers say at least eight out of 2,000 inhabitants have gone to Syria.

“There are whole brigades of our boys there,” village council member Akhmed Khaibulayev said.

Three of them were arrested by Russian forces on their way home via a land route crossing the border from Azerbaijan back into Dagestan, he said, but five have returned, underscoring the ease with which Russians travel to and from Syria.

“They are at home now, waiting for when the security forces come for them,” Mr Khaibulayev said.

Meanwhile, anxious parents try to hold back their sons.

“A father knows his son. I told him to leave his passport with me. When he refused, I took it away,” a man dressed in a beige tunic and skullcap said, asking not to be named for fear of reprisal by Russian security forces.

Despite his warnings, his 23-year-old son, whom he boasts knew the Quran by heart, left two months ago for the battlefield. “I don’t know if he will come back,” he said.

A photograph, sent by fighters, of the scarred, skinny corpse of the local 15-year-old killed there is still being passed around the village. Stones are placed over his eyelids.

In the comment thread under a photo of the smooth-chinned youth on a Facebook page he is called a hero and a martyr.

“He went to Syria because he couldn’t stand that Assad and his army were killing children,” said a villager who, according to other residents, also fought in Syria.

The boy had studied in Egypt before joining other Russian-born militants in Syria, and his family only learned he had gone to fight there after his death, villagers said.

The sons of Novosasitli grew up playing “cops and insurgents” in the streets. Russian rule is tenuous, with residents describing police as the enemy and the state as corrupt, and saying they manage their own affairs under Sharia.

Some have had relatives, classmates or neighbours join Islamist insurgency in Russia, rooted in separatist wars in neighbouring Chechnya.

The militants adhere to Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam. They do not have the support of all Salafis – some disapprove of their racketeering ways or do not view their attacks on police and officials as a lawful jihad.

The battle raging in Syria is different. It is widely seen in the majority Sunni Muslim region as a “true” holy war against Mr Al Assad’s Alawite-dominated government.

But voicing that support for Syrian rebels in Russia is dangerous. A popular young imam who had raised funds to help Syrian refugees has fled to Turkey after coming under pressure from law enforcement. Media with links to police claimed he was inciting youths to join the conflict.

The doors of a newly built, emerald-domed madrasa he ran in Novosasitli now stand shut, empty of students.

“There’s no obligation for Muslims to go from here to Syria,” says Abdurakhim Magomedov, 71, a Salafi scholar in Novosasitli. “But if someone wants to go, no one can stop him.”

Russia’s protection of Mr Al Assad, with weapons supplies and diplomatic backing, has left many angry at Mr Putin.

“Muslims the world over revile Putin for his support of Assad,” said Dzhabrail Magomedov, one of about two dozen residents of Novosasitli who studied at a religious school in Damascus.

This summer the Chechen-born Caucasus insurgent leader Doku Umarov urged fighters to use “maximum force” to sabotage the Olympics. His cry was echoed by fighters in Syria, who called on Muslims in the North Caucasus to wage jihad at home rather than joining them.

Russia has a history of recent militant attacks. Suicide bombings in the past two years killed dozens at a Moscow airport and subway. More than 380 people, mainly schoolchildren, were killed in the siege of a primary school in Beslan in 2004.

Empathy for fellow Sunni Muslims caught in the bloodshed in Syria is especially sharp among Chechens, who see in it echoes of their own suffering in two wars for secession from Russia.

“They also killed our mothers, brothers and grandparents,” said Akhmed, a 21-year-old Chechen, in the village of Berdykel, near the provincial capital, Grozny. “We want to help. They are our Muslim brothers.”

In response, Chechen authorities have banned wakes for anyone killed in Syria, and Muslim clerics speak out in mosques and schools, casting the war as a political struggle not a religious one.

(Source / 18.11.2013)

Palestinian leader rejects Palestinian-Israeli talks

The head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) says he will never sit at the negotiating table with the Tel Aviv regime in the so-called peace process that has been initiated by the United States.

Ramadan Abdullah Mohammad Shallah said the Israeli regime does not intend to give anything to the Palestinians in the talks between the two sides, stressing that resistance is the only way ahead for the Palestinians.

Israelis have continued to build illegal settler units in the occupied Palestinian territories and undermined Islamic sanctities for decades under the pretext of negotiations, Shallah added.

The PIJ head further stated that under the current circumstances, Palestinians are left with no other option but to resist Israel’s expansionist policies in order to ensure their own statehood.

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators began a fresh round of talks in July. Previous talks between Palestinians and Israel broke down in September 2010 after Tel Aviv refused to freeze its settlement activities in the occupied West Bank.

Since the resumption of the talks, Israel has announced plans for building several thousands of new settler units in the occupied West Bank and East al-Quds (Jerusalem).

The Israeli regime has come under fire from the international community, including its own allies, over Tel Aviv’s expansionist policies.

More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds in 1967.

The United Nations and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel in a war in 1967 and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.

(Source / 18.11.2013)

Syrian Rebel Leader Dies After Government Attack

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A Syrian rebel leader who brought together one of the most effective and organized factions fighting President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war has died of wounds suffered Thursday in a government attack on a meeting of rebel leaders outside Aleppo, his followers said on Monday. His death was seen as a serious blow to the rebels amid a gathering government offensive as diplomats pursue efforts to convene international peace talks.

The leader, Abdulkader al-Saleh, who commanded the Tawhid Brigade and was also known as Hajji Marea, was taken to Gaziantep over the Turkish border after he was wounded in the attack at the rebel-held infantry school on the outskirts of Aleppo. Another rebel commander was also wounded and a third was killed in the attack, which was described in varying reports as an airstrike or a government raid on the building.

Mr. Saleh had been seen as an exemplar of the kind ofantigovernment leadership emerging from Syria’s civil war and as one of the government’s most wanted men, with a sizable bounty on his head. His death provoked outpourings of passionate mourning on his followers’ social media sites and on YouTube.

A battalion commander from Tawhid, Hassan Abdulsamie Najjar, said in an interview that Mr. Saleh died in Turkey on Thursday after being wounded in the chest, but his death was kept secret until he could be buried late Sunday in his hometown, Marea. Others said the death was concealed to maintain morale.

“I carried his coffin in the funeral,” Mr. Najjar said.

Mr. Saleh, a merchant and former army conscript, had organized many local fighting groups to form the Tawhid Islamic brigades, supported by Qatar. Antigovernment activists said he would be succeeded by Mohammed Hamadeen, 38, a former Syrian Army officer from Aleppo, but that was not confirmed by the Tawhid Brigade.

Tawhid had cooperated with both Free Syrian Army groups and the Islamic Al-Nusra Front, but had increasingly clashed with the foreign-led extremist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. That infighting is part of what has allowed government forces to regain in recent days territory long held by the rebels east of Aleppo. Rebels, including Mr. Saleh in a video made shortly before his death, have said the government is being aided by Iranian fighters and militiamen from the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah, an allegation the government denies.

“We will not let Iran and Hezbollah advance except on our dead bodies,” Mr. Saleh told the antigovernment Orient Television last week.

Syria’s nearly three-year conflict began with peaceful protests demanding political rights. After a fierce government crackdown, Mr. Assad’s opponents took up arms. The conflict has now evolved into a sectarian-tinged civil war and a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which support rebel groups, and Iran, which supports the government.

Rebel groups in Aleppo have declared an emergency and ordered all fighters to join the battle to resist the government offensive that threatens the rebels’ hold on the eastern part of the divided city of Aleppo. The government has also advanced into several long-held rebel suburbs south of Damascus and opened an offensive in Qalamoun, an area north of Damascus bordering Lebanon.

In face of the advances, the rebels are keen to display their ability to strike back. News of Mr. Saleh’s death emerged one day after a bombing collapsed a building on a government military base just north of Damascus, killing at least 31 loyalist troops, including four senior officers.

The battlefield tilt in favor of Mr. Assad’s forces coincides with efforts to rekindle talks in Geneva toward a political settlement. While progress toward peace negotiations has been uncertain, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that he hoped a conference could be convened in the Swiss city in around a month’s time, Reuters reported.

“I am not able to announce at this time any date. Our target is mid-December,” he said at a news conference during a visit to Lithuania.

Mr. Saleh rose to military prominence among the rebels in the Aleppo area from modest beginnings as the son of a shopkeeper in his hometown.

The insurgent Free Syrian Army said Mr. Saleh, 33, was married with five children. Before Syria’s uprising began in March, 2011 with peaceful protests, he had served as a conscript in a chemical weapons unit of the Syrian Army. Like others in the movement opposed to Mr. Assad, the Free Syrian Army said, Mr. Saleh first organized “peaceful activity and demonstration” in his hometown before taking up arms.

The Free Syrian Army said Mr. Saleh enjoyed broad popularity “but there were some reservations” among the citizens of Aleppo when his forces entered the city “for fear of the strong response of the Syrian regime.”

While he advocated Islamic rule, the secular Free Syrian Army said in a statement, he believed that an Islamic state “will never be imposed by force of arms.” His death followed several assassination attempts by the Syrian government, which had offered a reward of $200,000 for his death or capture, the statement said. Some news reports said that after Mr. Saleh’s death, Tawhid arrested dozens of people suspected of being informers for the government.

Mr. Saleh’s Islamic credentials emerged in his 20s, family members have said, when he joined the Dawa religious movement as a missionary, traveling to Jordan, Turkey and Bangladesh as a teacher and student of Islam, urging people to deepen their faith.

(Source / 18.11.2013)