This is a 2013 blog on Syria - for the latest updates from Reuters please go to our current live blog at http://live.reuters.com/Event/The_battle_for_Syria
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Violence stops EgyptAir flight to Damascus - airline official
CAIRO, Dec 3 (Reuters) - An EgyptAir flight from Cairo to Damascus turned back on Monday because of the "bad security situation" at the Syrian capital's airport, an EgyptAir official said.
"Egyptian authorities told Flight 721 to go back to Cairo, based on information received from Damascus," the official said.
Syrian foreign ministry spokesman defects: regional diplomatic source
Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi has defected from President Bashar al-Assad's government and has left the country, a regional diplomatic source said on Monday.
"All I can say is that he is out of Syria," the source, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.
Lebanon's al-Manar Television said earlier that Makdissi had been sacked for making statements which did not reflect official positions.
(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Pravin Char)
Syria denies plans to use chemical weapons
Syria said on Monday it would not use chemical weapons against its own people after the United States warned it would take action against any such escalation.
The statements came amid media reports, citing European and U.S. officials, that Syria's chemical weapons had been moved and could be prepared for use in response to dramatic gains by rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
"Syria has stressed repeatedly that it will not use these types of weapons, if they were available, under any circumstances against its people," the foreign ministry said.
Read on... (By Erika Solomon)
UN pulls "non-essential" Syria staff due insecurity
GENEVA, Dec 3 (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Monday it was withdrawing "all non-essential international staff" from Syria due to the worsening security situation, and was restricting remaining staff to the capital.
Up to 25 of about 100 international staff could leave this week, it said, adding that more armoured vehicles were needed following attacks on humanitarian aid convoys sometimes caught in crossfire between Syrian government and rebel forces.
"The U.N. has decided to send all non-essential international staff out of Syria and to halt all field trips outside of the capital for now," the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement.
EU says cuts Damascus activities because of security situation
BRUSSELS, Dec 3 (Reuters) - The European Union's office in Damascus is cutting back its activities in the Syrian capital to a minimum because of the security situation, an EU official said on Monday.
"The EU delegation has decided to reduce activities in Damascus to a minimum level due to the current security conditions," a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in response to a question from Reuters.
The EU diplomatic service has an office in Damascus that has remained open throughout the Syrian crisis so far.
Factbox: Defectors from Assad government in Syria
Some prominent defectors from Bashar al-Assad's Syria in 2012, after foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi left the country this week.
• Brigadier-General Adnan Qassem Farzat announced in March he had joined rebel forces in protest at the shelling of his home town.
• Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil minister, announced his defection in March, the first by a senior civilian official since the start of the uprising.
• Jordan granted political asylum to Colonel Hassan Hamada, a Syrian pilot who flew his MiG-21 fighter to the kingdom in June.
• Syria's charge d'affaires in London, Khaled al-Ayoubi, defected in July. He said he was no longer willing to represent a regime that had committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people.
• Nawaf al-Fares, Syria's ambassador to Iraq, defected in July in protest at Assad's military crackdown.
• Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas, who went to military college with Assad, fled to Turkey in July and then France.
• In August, Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected from the government and joined the opposition to Assad's rule.
Scud-type missiles launched in Syria -NATO official
BRUSSELS, Dec 12 (Reuters) - A number of short-range ballistic missiles have been launched inside Syria this week, a NATO official said on Wednesday.
"Allied intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets have detected the launch of a number of unguided, short-range ballistic missiles inside Syria this week ... Trajectory and distance travelled indicate they were Scud-type missiles," the official said.
Syria denies using Scud missiles - Foreign Ministry statement
BEIRUT, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Syria denied on Thursday that it had used Scud missiles in its fight against "terrorist groups," a Foreign Ministry statement posted on state news agency SANA said.
"The Foreign Ministry confirms that these (Scud) missiles were not used in confronting the terrorists groups," it said.
U.S. and NATO officials said on Wednesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have fired Scud-type ballistic missiles against rebels in recent days. Damascus refers to rebels fighting to oust Assad as terrorists.
Syrian opposition says no longer needs foreign forces by Samia Nakhoul and Khaled Yacoub Oweis
MARRAKECH, Morocco, Dec 13 (Reuters) - The Syrian people no longer need the intervention of international forces as rebels push towards the heart of the capital of Damascus to topple President Bashar al-Assad, the new leader of Syria's opposition told Reuters.
Mouaz al-Khatib, the scion of a Damascene Muslim religious dynasty, said the opposition would consider proposals from Assad to surrender power and leave the country, but would not give any assurances until it saw a firm proposal.
Flanked by bodyguards, al-Khatib was speaking to Reuters on Wednesday night after a meeting of Western and Arab nations with the Syrian opposition in the Moroccan city of Marrakech.
"The horrific conditions which the Syrian people endured prompted them to call on the international community for military intervention at various times", al-Khatib said.
Russia says Syrian rebels might win by Steve Gutterman and Oliver Holmes
Syrian rebels are gaining ground and might win, Russia's Middle East envoy said on Thursday, in the starkest such admission from a major ally of President Bashar al-Assad in 20 months of conflict.
"One must look the facts in the face," Russia's state-run RIA quoted Mikhail Bogdanov as saying. "Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out."
UN committed to maintaining aid operations in Syria-Amos
GENEVA, Dec 14 (Reuters) - The United Nations is committed to maintaining its aid operations in Syria and is ensuring relief supplies are stocked in neighbouring countries, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said on Friday.
"We are looking at making sure that we have adequate stockpiles in neighbouring countries... We all have staff who are still on the ground, of course we will continue to look at the safety and security of our staff, but our commitment is to keep our operations going," Amos told reporters in Geneva, speaking by videolink from Rome.
Russia says will not change position on Syria
MOSCOW, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Moscow has not changed policy on Syria and will not do so, despite a Russian diplomat's remark that President Bashar al-Assad's opponents might win, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday.
"We have never changed our position and we will not change it," the spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, told a news conference. He also said Russia was not involved in any talks on Assad's fate or on getting him out of Syria.
U.S. defense chief orders Patriot missiles to Turkey
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey, Dec 14 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order on Friday to send two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey along with 400 American personnel to operate them, his spokesman said.
"The purpose of this deployment is to signal very strongly that the United States, working closely with our NATO allies, is going to support the defense of Turkey, especially with potential threats emanating from Syria," spokesman George Little told reporters before Panetta landed on an unannounced visit to Turkey.
NATO's Syria committee head believes Assad will go
MOSCOW, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to be able to stay in power, the chirman of NATO's Military Committee said on Friday.
"You may say I am maybe assuming that Assad will disappear. I tend to believe that this is indeed the case," Knud Bartels, a Danish general, said after a meeting in Moscow in response to a question about the conflict in Syria.
He declined to give a time frame for Assad's departure.
Britain warns of more Syria violence, must step up response
LONDON, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's intransigence and brutality mean there is a serious risk violence in Syria will worsen, and if so the international community must "step up" its response, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday.
"President Assad's speech last week urged the Syrian people to unite in a war against his opponents. Given the regime's intransigence and brutality, there is a serious risk that the violence will indeed worsen in the coming months," Hague told parliament.
"If that happens the international community's response will have to be stepped up. So we will not rule out options to save lives and protect civilians," he added.
NATO detects more missile launches in Syria-alliance official
BRUSSELS, Jan 10 (Reuters) - A short-range ballistic missile was fired inside Syria on Wednesday, following similar launches last week, a NATO official said on Thursday."We detected the launch of an unguided, short-range ballistic missile inside Syria yesterday.
This follows similar launches on January 2 and 3," the official said. "All missiles were fired from inside Syria and they impacted in northern Syria."
The description of the missiles would cover Scuds that are in the Syrian military's armoury, but the official said NATO could not confirm the type of missile used.
US, Russia talks on Syria end without breakthrough
GENEVA, Jan 11 (Reuters) - International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and senior envoys from Russia and the United States called for a political solution to end Syria's crisis on Friday but reached no breakthrough.
"We stressed again that in our view there was no military solution to this conflict. We underscored the necessity to reach a political solution based on the Geneva communique of 30 June 2012," Brahimi said in a joint statement read out after his closed-door talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.
Brahimi, in answer to a question, told reporters in Geneva: "If you are asking whether there is a solution around the corner, I'm not sure that is the case."
Syria UN envoy says 82 students killed in Aleppo blasts
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 (Reuters) - At least 82 students in Syria were killed on Tuesday in two explosions that rocked the university in Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, Syria's U.N. envoy told the U.N. Security Council.
"A cowardly terrorist act targeted the students of Aleppo University as they sat for their midterm examinations. This act killed 82 students and wounded 162 other students," Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, told the council during a debate on counter-terrorism.
The cause of the explosions was not clear but the government and opposition activists blamed each other.
Syrian TV says Israeli planes attacked Damascus research centre
LONDON, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes attacked a research centre in Damascus province at dawn on Wednesday, Syrian television said.
Sources told Reuters earlier that Israeli jets bombed a convoy on Syria's border with Lebanon on Wednesday, apparently targeting weapons destined for Hezbollah. Damascus province includes much of the border with Lebanon.
(Reporting By Dominic Evans; Writing by Jason Webb)
The World Food Programme (WFP) says it needs around US $260 million to fund its operations in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. On January 30, it released video footage of its operations in Syria and Jordan. WFP says it reaches 1.5 million people with food assistance inside Syria. Some 250,000 people receive WFP food in Homs and surrounding areas – it mainly to displaced people.
UN says unable to verify Syria complaint about Israeli planes
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 31 (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers in a demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel were unable to verify a Syrian complaint that Israeli planes had flown over the Golan Heights area, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.
"UNDOF (the peacekeeping mission) did not observe any planes flying over the area of separation and therefore was not able to confirm the incident. UNDOF also reported bad weather conditions," U.N. spokesman Eduardo del Buey told reporters.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Sandra Maler)
A truck damaged after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is seen in Binsh near Idlib January 30, 2013, in this picture provided by Shaam News Network. REUTERS/Muhammad Najdet Qadour/Shaam News Network/Handout
Ahmadinejad says war not solution in Syria
BEIRUT, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday that Syria's crisis could not be solved by military means and he called for a national accord leading to elections.
"War is not the solution...A government that rules through war - its work will be very difficult. A sectarian war should not be launched in Syria," he told Al Mayadeen television.
"We believe that (deciding) whoever stays or goes is the right of the Syrian people. How can we interfere in that? We must strive to achieve national understanding, and free elections."
(Reporting by Mariam Karouny and Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
EU agrees to allow some non-lethal aid for Syrian opposition
BRUSSELS, Feb 28 (Reuters) - The European Union said it amended sanctions on Syria on Thursday to permit the supply of armoured vehicles, non-lethal military equipment and technical aid to the Syrian opposition, provided they were intended to protect civilians.
The measure, adopted by EU governments, extends EU sanctions on Syria until June 1 and responds to pressure from Britain and others to ease the EU arms embargo to help opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Barbara Lewis)
Video uploaded by a media activist group associated with the city of Raqqa shows a statue of former Syrian president Hafez Assad toppled in the city. The video was posted as insurgents claimed the capture of the provincial capital, on the Euphrates River, in northern Syria. The video was posted to an associated Facebook page with images of the statue coming down.
Another video showing Hafez Assad statue toppled.
Source: YouTube/raqqa U.M.C
Rebels holding UN team investigated for past executions
BEIRUT, March 6 (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch said it was investigating the same rebel brigade that seized 20 United Nations peacekeepers on Wednesday for executing captured Syrian soldiers earlier this week.
Peter Bouckaert of the human rights monitoring group told Reuters it was investigating the involvement of the "Martyrs of Yarmouk" brigade in a videotaped execution of detained Syrian soldiers posted on the Internet on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Michael Roddy)
Syrian forces fire chemical weapons at rebels, opposition says
AMMAN, March 25 (Reuters) - Syrian opposition campaigners said on Monday Syrian forces fired what they said were chemical weapons from multiple rocket launchers at rebels surrounding an army base in the town of Adra on the outskirts of Damascus, killing two fighters and wounding 23.
"Doctors are describing the chemical weapon used as phosphorus that hits the nervous system and causes imbalance and loss of consciousness. The two fighters were very close to where the rockets exploded and they died swiftly. The rest are being treated with Atropine," said Mohammad al-Doumani, an activist in the nearby town of Douma, where the wounded were transported.
There was no independent confirmation of the attack, which follows the death of 26 people in a rocket attack near the city of Aleppo last week. The authorities and rebels accused each other of firing a missile carrying chemicals there.
(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom)
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