Live updates on events in Syria
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Increasingly under pressure by rebels intent on unseating him, Bashar al-Assad has considered using chemical weapons against his enemies but Washington and Moscow have formed an unlikely alliance to force him to abandon such plans, writes Reuters correspondent Samia Nakhoul.
Analysts and diplomats across the region and beyond do not doubt that the Assad government, recoiling from a devastating attack on its security establishment last week and struggling to contain rebel offensives across Syria, is capable of using agents such as Sarin gas if its survival is at stake.
Yet some believe that the government's unprecedented admission that it possesses a chemical stockpile -- although in safe storage and only to be deployed against "external aggressors" -- is an attempt to allay international alarm that might prompt outside intervention to secure the weapons. www.reuters.com
More than 10,000 Iraqis have returned home from Syria over the past week to escape the violence that is also causing thousands of Syrians to seek safety in safer districts or in neighbouring countries, the U.N. refugee agency says.
Many of the Iraqi returnees have said they are worried about going back to the country they fled, but felt they had little choice, given the worsening security situation in Syria.
UNHCR has increased the numbers of staff manning hotlines in Syria and they have been kept very busy. "We have heard [from callers] that refugees are running short of food and basic needs, including cooking gas. There is a need for medical care with many clinics closed," UNHCR's chief spokesperson told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday. "Many refugees report continued fear for their safety, particularly the women and children." www.trust.org
Syrian troops backed by helicopter gunships fought rebels trying to seize central Aleppo on Tuesday and pursued a campaign to regain full control of the capital Damascus, residents and opposition activists said.
After a week of battles between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and his opponents in Damascus, fighting intensified in Aleppo, a more populous commercial city that had long seemed immune to the 16-month-old upheaval convulsing Syria.
Rebels seeking to capture downtown Aleppo were combating Syrian troops and intelligence men at the gates of the Old City, a U.N. World Heritage site, residents and activists said.
Witnesses reported the army was bombarding several quarters with artillery and mortars as helicopters flew overhead. www.trust.org
I think it is a total disgrace what is happening in Syria just now ,they have to come to a deal of sorts as this is not the right way to solve this issue ,America especially should keep their big noses out of it and so should the UK ,who do we think we are ,over 10 years in Afghanistan how many life's ,people will pay for the world carnage that is going on in this region of the middle east ,from the perpetrators of 9/11 and 7/7 and we really do not have to mention names on this they are proud of what they are doing and love the power ,it will a come out soon and these people will be held in contempt,for they shall be punished just like the nuringberg trial ,but if i was going to the Olympics would be very wary as they have 2000,000cask liner which are just coffins but it fit a family of 4 ,what the hell in the world is going on in this once great island ,you can blame the Scots for wanting to leave the union and they will, the nation is gearing up right now for independence but it only business with these people ,it's nothing personal ,aye right you are pal ,and isreal i haven't started with you yet ,arrg they are crazy because they are about to be wiped of the map shortly
U.N. Security Council approves 30-day extension for Syria monitors
Russia, which with China vetoed an earlier resolution which would have opened the door to sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, dropped its objections to the British proposal after it was broadened to require both government forces and rebel fighters to take steps to halt the violence.
The new resolution states that the council would only consider further extensions to the mission "in the event that the Secretary-General reports and the Security Council confirms the cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in the level of violence sufficient by all sides" to allow the UNSMIS monitors to implement their mandate.
Both the United States and Britain described the new resolution as a last chance for the observers.
"If over the next 30 days there is a change in that dynamic and those conditions are met then of course the Security Council, on a recommendation by the Secretary-General, will look again at the future of UNSMIS," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters.
"But if the situation does not change then obviously UNSMIS will be withdrawn after 30 days," he said.
AN EXIT PLAN?
The U.N. Syria mission has up to 300 unarmed military observers whose role has been to monitor a failed April 12 ceasefire in Syria. Most of their monitoring activity was suspended on June 16 due to increased risk from rising violence.
There are also some 100 civilian staff working toward a political solution and monitoring issues like human rights.
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, told reporters that Washington had reluctantly acceded to the new resolution, but described it simply as an exit plan for the monitoring teams.
"Today's vote to extend UNSMIS for a final period of 30 days was not the resolution the United States had hoped to adopt in the first instance. Our strong preference was to adopt the resolution that was regrettably vetoed yesterday," Rice said.
Rice said the extension would "allow (UNSMIS) to withdraw safely and in an orderly fashion."
Rice said she was skeptical that the Syrian authorities would stop using heavy weapons and the violence would subside enough for the council to consider a renewal of the mission beyond the 30-day extension.
The Security Council vote ended several hectic days of U.N. diplomacy where the United States and its allies faced off against Russia and China over the way forward on Syria as violence in the country escalated.
Syrian government forces fought to recapture border posts and parts of Damascus from rebels on Friday, seeking to take back the initiative following a bomb attack this week which killed four of Assad's top security aides.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has recommended shifting the emphasis of the work of UNSMIS from monitoring the nonexistent ceasefire to pursuing a political solution to the crisis.
Diplomats said only half of the 300 unarmed observers would be needed for Ban's suggested shift in focus. The others would return to their home countries, but be ready to redeploy again at short notice.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Writing by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Jackie Frank)
IRAQ CLOSES MAIN BORDER CROSSING WITH SYRIA - MAYOR
BAGHDAD, July 19 (Reuters) - Iraq has closed its main border post with Syria and sent troops to the frontier after Syrian rebels took control of the Abu Kamal crossing, a local mayor said on Thursday.
"Qaim post, opposite Abu Kamal, is closed and now under the control of the Iraqi army," the mayor of Qaim, Fahan Fitaihan, said. Iraqi troops had also taken over another nearby post from Iraqi customs officials, he said.
He said the Syrian Free Army had raised its flag on the other side of the border.
(Reporting by Raheem Salman; Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Alison Williams)
250 PEOPLE KILLED IN SYRIA IN HIGHEST DEATH TOLL - OPPOSITION
BEIRUT, July 19 (Reuters)- More than 250 people were killed in Syria on Thursday, an opposition monitoring group said, the highest death toll in a single day since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted 16 months ago.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said 155 civilians, including 44 people in Damascus where pitched battles have raged for five days, and 93 security forces personnel were killed.
It said it was still gathering information on the number of rebel fighters who had been killed from sources on the ground and expected the overage death toll to rise significantly.
SYRIAN REBELS SEIZE IRAQ BORDER GATE - OPPOSITION
BEIRUT, July 19 (Reuters) - Syrian rebels took control of the main Abu Kamal border gate with Iraq on Thursday, opposition activists said, on the same day opponents to President Bashar al-Assad overran a border crossing with Turkey.
Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said rebel fighters told him they had clashed with government troops on Thursday morning before seizing the border gate on the eastern frontier, along the Euphrates river.
Syrian army shells mosque, killing 7 - activists
AMMAN, July 19 (Reuters) - At least seven civilians were killed on Thursday when the Syrian army shelled a mosque packed with worshippers in the city of Deir al-Zor, scene of heavy fighting between troops and rebels, activists said.
"Shells hit the Fardos mosque in al-Jubeileh neighbourhood at evening prayers, the last before Ramadan. The mosque was packed. Around 20 people were pulled from the rubble with missing limbs and bad wounds.
The number of dead will likely rise," Abu al-Tayeb al-Deiri, one of the activists, told Reuters from the desert city 430 km (270 miles) northeast of Damascus.
Syrian authorities have banned most independent media from the country, making independent verification of events on the ground difficult.
(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; editing by Andrew Roche)
Update: Syrian rebels have control of the entire border between Iraq and Syria, AFP reports sourcing the deputy interior minister in Baghdad.
Reuters timeline: Violence in Syria
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets General Fahad Jassim al-Freij, after he was sworn as Defense Minister (R) in Damascus, in this handout photo distributed by Syrian News Agency (SANA) July 19, 2012. Syria's state TV said on Thursday new Defence Minister General al-Freij took his oath of office in front of President Bashar al-Assad,who has not appeared in public since a bomb attack killed three of his top security officials. REUTERS/SANA/Handout
ANNAN DEPLORES LACK OF UNITY ON SYRIA, HOPED FOR STRONG ACTION
GENEVA, July 19 (Reuters) - International mediator Kofi Annan voiced disappointment on Thursday at the failure of world powers to reach a common position on Syria after China and Russia vetoed a Western resolution threatening Syrian authorities with sanctions.
"The Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, is disappointed that at this critical stage the UN Security Council could not unite and take the strong and concerted action he had urged and hoped for. He believes that the voice of the Council is much more powerful when its Members act as one," his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement issued in Geneva.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles)
Britain proposes 30 days extension to UN Syria mission-diplomats
UNITED NATIONS, July 19 (Reuters) - Britain has drafted a new resolution to extend a U.N. mission in Syria "for a final period of 30 days" and it could be voted on later on Thursday, diplomats said.
The four-paragraph resolution would simply roll over the mission of 300 unarmed military observers and some 100 civilian staff, the diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jackie Frank)
Syrian rebels try to seize key Turkey border crossing
By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
CILVEGOZU, Turkey, July 19 (Reuters) - Rebel fighters raided a Syrian army outpost at a key border crossing with Turkey on Thursday in an attempt to seize control of the gate, but were forced to withdraw after coming under attack by military helicopters, a rebel spokesman said.
The dawn attack was the third time in 10 days rebels have tried to seize the Bab al-Hawa gate, a vital commercial crossing in northwestern Syria, opposite the Turkish Cilvegozu gate in Hatay province.
A Reuters reporter on the Turkish side of the border crossing said he could still hear intermittent gunfire on Thursday evening coming from the Syrian side and black smoke rising into the air 2-3 km (miles) from the border.
Ahmad Zaidan, spokesman for an opposition group called the Higher Council of the Revolution's Leadership, said rebels were in charge of large areas around the border crossing and that they wanted to gain control of the gate itself.
He said the raid was also meant to provide an opportunity for opposition sympathisers among the government soldiers to defect. Most defections, he said, were pre-planned whereby sympathisers would know of an impending rebel attack.
"We withdrew because we didn't have enough anti-aircraft missiles, and to preserve the lives of those sympathetic soldiers who weren't able to defect," Zaidan told Reuters by telephone from Hatay.
The rebels attacked the army garrison made up of some 200 troops but had to pull back when government helicopters were called in. The rebels had planned for 80 soldiers to defect but only 14 managed to escape, Zaidan said.
The border crossing, which is still under the control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, has been closed since the attack and around 40 Syrian and Saudi trucks lined up on the Turkish side were unable to cross.
While cross-border trade and traffic has been greatly reduced as violence inside Syria has increased, border gates along the 910 km (560 mile) Turkey-Syria border have largely remained open and vehicles are free to cross.
The border raid came as rebels clashed with troops loyal to Assad in Damascus and a day after a bomb attack on a security meeting in the Syrian capital killed three of the president's closest allies. (Full Story)
Turkey, which has called on Assad to step down, is giving sanctuary to opposition members and fighters on its soil and is providing shelter to more than 40,000 Syrian refugees fleeing violence at home.
(Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Alison Williams)
HAGUE: RUSSIAN, CHINESE VETO ON SYRIA "INEXCUSABLE"
British Foreign Secretary William Hague attacked the vetos of Russia and China of a United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria as "inexcusable" on Thursday.
"The decision by Russia and China, in the view of the United Kingdom, to veto this resolution is inexcusable and indefensible," he told reporters in London. "When it came for the time to turn agreement that they have supported into action to end the violence they stood aside from that ... They have turned their back on the people of Syria in their darkest hour."
Hague added: "I believe Russia and China will pay a serious price in the Middle East diplomatically and politcally for taking this position. Many observers will conclude that they have put national interest ahead of the lives and the rights of millions of Syrians."
(Reporting by Stephen Addison Editing by Maria Golovnina)
20,000 SYRIANS CROSS INTO LEBANON AFTER VIOLENCE
About 20,000 Syrians have travelled across the main border crossing into Lebanon over the past 24 hours, a Lebanese security source working at the border said, after heavy fighting tore through several districts of Damascus.
The number of Syrians who travel through the official Masnaa border crossing usually hovers around 5,000 per day, the source said.
South Africa also supports technical rollover of short-term UN observer mission #UNSC #Syriaby bechamilton via twitter 7/19/2012 3:28:52 PM
South Africa says draft resolution was "unbalanced" #UNSC #Syriaby bechamilton via twitter 7/19/2012 3:27:52 PM
South Africa "There is more than one party to the conflict" #Syria #UNSCby bechamilton via twitter 7/19/2012 3:24:55 PM
RT @marcellehopkins: US amb to UN Susan Rice says US “will intensify our work with a diverse range of partners outside the Security Coun ...by bechamilton via twitter 7/19/2012 3:23:51 PM
South Africa now about to explain its abstention #UNSC #Syriaby bechamilton via twitter 7/19/2012 3:23:33 PM
Not credible to argue that the mere continuation of an unarmed observer mission . . can change anything @AmbassadorRice #UNSC #Syriaby bechamilton via twitter 7/19/2012 3:22:09 PM
RT @MarkKornblau: @AmbassadorRice says blame does not lie with Annan, Ban, or UN Monitors. The fault lies squarely with the Assad regime ...by bechamilton via twitter 7/19/2012 3:20:54 PM
Full text of UN resolution
REBELS ATTACK DAMASCUS POLICE HQ - WITNESS
Rebels attacked the main police headquarters in Damascus on Thursday, a witness said, a day after the assassination of three of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's top lieutenants.
"Gunfire has been intense for the past hour. It is now dying down but the streets around the police command remain empty," a resident of Qanawat, an old central district where the Damascus Province Police Headquarters is located, told Reuters by phone.
(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Alison Williams)
Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution on Thursday that threatened Syrian authorities with sanctions if they did not stop using heavy weapons against an uprising and withdraw troops from towns and cities.
It was the third time that Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, and China have used their veto power to block U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and halt the violence in the 16-month conflict that has killed thousands of people.
(Reporting By Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Brunnstrom)
STOCKHOLM - Community patrols and a beefed-up police presence helped to calm violence around Stockholm overnight on Saturday but 20 to 30 cars were still torched in poor immigrant suburbs and serious incidents were reported outside the capital for the first time. | Video
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