Wednesday 28 August 2013

Live updates - Syria

Syria 'Chemical Weapons' Crisis: Live Updates

28 August, 2013

International pressure has been building for a military strike on Syria in the wake of an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb. The West has laid the blame at the feet of President Assad, as UN inspectors probe the site of the attack.

00:34 GMT: A powerful explosion has reportedly rocked central Damascus. There was no immediate information of any casualties.
Tuesday, August 27 

23:42 GMT: Jordanian authorities have reportedly begun evacuating residents from the border areas with Syria.
22:16 GMT: The Syrian Electronic Army has gained access to a number of international domains including those belonging to Twitter, the New York Times and Huffington Post UK. As a result of an attack on Melbourne IT registry, the SEA managed to alter both contact details and domain name servers. The Times’ website was brought down for several hours.
21:32 GMT: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has warned that military intervention in Syria could lead to a "disastrous war," and questioned the Syrian government’s responsibility for the alleged chemical attack. 

“We’re on the brink of the beginning of an open war against Syria. We’re not going to abandon the Syrian people,” he said.
21:00 GMT: A Russian Emergencies Ministry’s plane has departed from Syria with 89 passengers on board, mostly women and children, who expressed a desire to leave the country.
20:26 GMT: At least ten people have been killed, according to Syria's opposition when government forces used phosphorus bombs and napalm in Aleppo on Monday. "Assad's military aircraft have hit populated areas with internationally prohibited phosphorus bombs and napalm," the opposition coalition said in a statement. Dozens more have been injured, Reuters reports.
19:58 GMT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry have discussed in detail the situation in Syria. The phone conversation was initiated by the American side, the Foreign Ministry said in statement published on its website.
Kerry voiced his stance about the alleged chemical attack, which, he stated, was based on information from reliable sources. He blamed the Assad government for the incidents where chemical weapons were used.
Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position that conclusions should be based only on expert analysis. He underlined that the work of the group of UN investigators in Syria should get “maximum support.” 

19:48 GMT: A top UN official visiting Iran for the past two days has urged it to help bring the warring sides of the Syrian conflict to the negotiating table in Geneva, said the UN.
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman “shared the U.N. position that Iran, given its influence and leadership in the region, has an important role to play and a responsibility in helping to bring the Syrian parties to the negotiating table," said U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq.
Feltman discussed with Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, "the worsening situation on the ground in Syria, including the U.N.'s grave concerns about the potential use of chemical weapons and how the U.N. can work together with Iran and other states to end the bloodshed and suffering of the Syrian people."
18:28 GMT: French President Francois Hollande will meet with the head of Syria's main opposition group Ahmad al-Jarba on Thursday, said the presidency, AFP reported.
17:38 GMT:
Turkish PM Erdogan and British PM Cameron talk on phone to discuss details of the Syria campaign.
Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 27, 2013

17:35 GMT: US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have agreed that the use of chemical weapons in Syria deserved a “firm response” from the international community, a spokesman for Harper said in a statement. 

“Both leaders agreed that significant use of chemical weapons merits a firm response from the international community in an effective and timely manner,” the statement read.
17:17 GMT: The US will release a public version of an intelligence report on chemical weapons use in Syria “in the coming days,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. He added that the options the US government is considering “are not about regime change” in Syria, but will come as a response to the “violation of an international norm.”
A decision about the use of military force has not been made. The president is reviewing his options, plural,” the White House spokesman said.
16:33 GMT: French President Francoise Hollande has announced he will hold a defense council meeting on Wednesday, and that he will brief the French parliament about it.
16:23 GMT: UK Prime Minister David Cameron has called for “specific” military action against Syria, saying the UK is not considering getting involved in a Middle East war. 

Cameron said no decision has yet been taken on possible responses to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. 

However, he added that the world “should not stay idly by,” following what he said was a chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.
16:04 GMT: Britain “is not seeking to topple Assad,” UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was quoted as saying by AFP.
What we're considering is a serious response... What we're not considering is regime change, trying to topple the Assad regime,” Clegg said
15:57 GMT: Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has criticized the actions of Western countries in the Islamic world, amid reports of pressure building for a military strike against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

“The West is behaving toward the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade,” Rogozin wrote on his Twitter page, using a farcical Russian expression that describes something unpredictable and dangerous. 

Rogozin is known for using colorful impromptu language on his Twitter account, which he started tweeting from when he was Russia’s ambassador to NATO in Brussels.
15:31 GMT: French President Francoise Hollande said France is “ready to punish” those behind the “chemical massacre” in Syria, and said that his government believes Damascus carried out the attack.
France is going to increase military support to the Syrian opposition, the president said, addressing foreign ambassadors in Paris. 

“International law must evolve with the times... I recognize the responsibility to protect civilians,” Hollande was quoted as saying by France 24.

14:56 GMT: NATO supports the ongoing investigation of the UN inspectors, but will continue to closely monitor developments and review the evidence that is presented both by the UN and from “other sources,” a NATO official said in an e-mail statement to RT. NATO member countries are “deeply concerned by mounting evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” the official said, adding that NATO “has consistently expressed its grave concern about Syria’s chemical stockpiles and any possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.”
14:44 GMT: US President Barack Obama has not yet made the decision to take military action against the Syrian government in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack, a senior White House administration official told Reuters.
US officials say an attack is unlikely while the U.N. team of inspectors remains in #Syria — and it's not scheduled to leave until Sunday
Lucy Kafanov (@LucyKafanov) August 27, 2013

14:39 GMT: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is not involved in Syrian conflict, but would respond with force to any attacks coming from Syria. 

“We are not a party to this civil war in Syria but if we identify any attempt to attack us we will respond and we will respond forcefully,” Netanyahu said after holding security consultations in Tel Aviv, adding that Israel is “prepared for any scenario.”
14:34 GMT: France's government believes that there is “no doubt” a chemical attack took place in Syria, and that President Assad’s forces were behind it, a diplomatic source told Reuters.
14:19 GMT:
syrian rebels say reports of tons of new advanced weapons false, but that new ammo has arrived. #syria
Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) August 27, 2013

14:06 GMT: The Arab League said the perpetrators of last week’s attack in Syria should face international justice, and urged the UN to act. The League said in a statement it holds Syrian President Bashar Assad responsible for the alleged chemical attack near Damascus. The statement, which was issued after a meeting in Cairo, was pushed through with strong backing from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, diplomatic sources told Reuters.
13:46 GMT: A Russian cargo plane carrying humanitarian aid has landed in Syria, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said. The plane, which delivered some 20 tons of food aid to the Mediterranean port city of Latakia, will also evacuate 180 citizens of former Soviet countries “who have made clear a desire to leave the country,” including 100 Russians, the ministry added.
13:13 GMT:
JUST IN: American missile strikes against Syria could come 'as early as Thursday,' US officials say
NBC News (@NBCNews) August 27, 2013

12:41 GMT: A UN spokesperson has announced that the planned visit to the site of last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack has been postponed over “safety fears.”
UN chemical weapons team in #Syria decides to postpone site visit by one day to improve preparedness and safety:
UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) August 27, 2013

12:29 GMT: The US is ready to act immediately, should President Barack Obama order military action against Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a television interview with the BBC on Tuesday.
We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” Hagel said during a trip to Brunei, adding that the military was ready to respond “just like that.”
12:26 GMT: Russia on Tuesday warned that military intervention in Syria could have “catastrophic consequences” for the whole region and called on the international community to show “prudence.”
Attempts to bypass the Security Council, and once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region, are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.
We call on our American partners and all members of the world community to demonstrate prudence [and] strict observance of international law, especially the fundamental principles of the UN Charter,” he said.
12:20 GMT: Western powers have told the Syrian opposition a strike is to be expected within days, sources who attended a meeting between Western envoys and the Syrian National Coalition told Reuters. The Syrian opposition has already provided Western governments with a list of suggested targets for missile strikes, they said. According to the sources, such strikes would aim to deter further chemical attacks. Despite the impending attack, the Syrian opposition was advised by Western governments to prepare for the proposed Geneva-2 peace conference, the sources said.
The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva,” one of the sources was quoted as saying.
12:07 GMT: Britain’s parliament will be recalled Thursday to vote on the UK’s government’s response to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron said. 

British armed forces are preparing an emergency plan in case of armed response to the attack, Downing Street has announced Tuesday. 

“The international community must respond” to the incident in Syria, Cameron’s spokesman said.
Speaker agrees my request to recall Parliament on Thurs. There'll be a clear Govt motion & vote on UK response to chemical weapons attacks
David Cameron (@David_Cameron) August 27, 2013

11:56 GMT: NATO countries will discuss the situation in Syria at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussells, Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino has announced. 

Any military strike against Syria must first be authorized by the UN Security Council, Bonino stressed. 

“Italy will not take active part in any military action... beyond the context of the Security Council, which for us is and remains the only point of legal reference that cannot be ignored,” the minister said.
11:44 GMT: Jordan will not be used as a “launchpad” for military intervention in Syria, a senior Jordanian government official told AFP after a meeting of Western and Muslim army chiefs in Amman. 

“Jordan’s position has not changed. Jordanian territory will not be used as a launchpad for any military action against Damascus,” the official said on condition of anonymity, referring to Amman’s repeated calls for political solution in Syria. 

There won’t be any public announcement of the results of the talks in Jordan “because of the nature of the meeting,” the official added.
11:00 GMT: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged all sides in Syrian conflict to “give safe passage and access” to the UN chemical weapons investigation team.
10:17 GMT: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that “no country in the world uses weapons of mass destruction against its own people,” in a press conference in Damascus. He denied claims that the Syrian government had delayed the UN inspectors’ probe of the Ghouta site.
UN team did not ask to go to site until Saturday,” said Muallem, stressing that government permission was granted on Sunday.
He described the use of chemical weapons as an excuse for foreign powers to intervene and warned Syria would retaliate if attacked. 

“We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal. The second choice is the best: we will defend ourselves,” the minister said.
10:00 GMT: British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that any decision on Syria will be taken under a “strict international framework.” Cameron’s words appeared to contradict a statement made Monday by his foreign secretary, William Hague, who told the BBC that the international community could intervene in Syria without the unanimous backing of the UN Security Council.

09:50 GMT: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has decried last week’s supposed chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta as “a crime against humanity.”

"This is a crime against humanity and a crime against humanity should not go unanswered, what needs to be done must be done. Today, it is clear the international community is faced with a test," Davutoglu told reporters.
09:45 GMT: Foreign Affairs Committee chairman of the Russian Duma, Aleksey Pushkov posted on his Twitter, alleging the US had already made the decision to strike Syria and they had gone too far.
The decision for a massive military strike on Syria has basically already been made. The US has gone too far with its rhetoric to go back now,” wrote Pushkov.
09:30 GMT: Moscow has voiced “regret” over a US decision to put off bilateral talks over Syria. Russia has sought to placate calls for military action over the alleged use of chemical weapons, saying there is no evidence of the Assad regime’s complicity.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov tweeted a response to the move Tuesday morning, expressing concern over Washington’s decision.
It is a pity that our western partners have decided to cancel the bilateral US-Russian meeting to discuss calls for an international conference on Syria,” Gatilov wrote on Twitter.
Russian and American officials had been scheduled to meet in The Hague on Wednesday for bilateral talks on the Syrian conflict.
09:19 GMT: The US' Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, voiced her condemnation of Wednesday's supposed attack.
Haunting images of entire families dead in their beds. Verdict is clear: Assad has used CWs against civilians in violation of int'l norm.
Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) August 27, 2013

Monday, August 26

US Secretary of State John Kerry (AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)
18:56 GMT: Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that the Obama administration is "all but certain" that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to attack innocent civilians. 

“While investigators are gathering additional information on the ground, our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts, informed by conscious and guided by common sense,” Sec. Kerry said. “The reported number of victims, the reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, the first-hand accounts from the humanitarian organizations on the ground... these all strongly indicate that everything these images are already screaming at us are real: that chemical weapons were used in Syria.” 

“Moreover, we know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these weapons,” Kerry added. 

Kerry further said the reports “should shock the conscience of the world,” adding that the indiscriminate slaughter of women and children carried out by the Assad regime constitutes a “moral obscenity.” 

President Barack Obama has yet to make a determination about how the US will respond, Kerry said, but a decision would be forthcoming. The US has already mobilized warships in the Mediterranean Sea which may begin striking Syrian target upon permission from Washington.
18:30 GMT: Russian President Vladimir Putin told British Prime Minister David Cameron that Russia has no evidence of whether a chemical weapons attack took place in Syria or who would be responsible if one did. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin (RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskyi)
The two leaders had an urgent phone call on Monday afternoon regarding the Syrian crisis in the wake of a sniper attack on UN chemical inspectors outside Damascus, according to Cameron’s official website.
17:00 GMT: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would  participate with any international coalition moving against Assad if the United Nations failed to draft sanctions against Syria in response to the alleged chemical weapon attack.
Davutoglu said that while acting within the framework of the UN was a top priority, the country would join a coalition if no United Nations mandate was forthcoming, he said in comments published in the Milliyet daily.
He added that around three dozen countries were currently discussing options.
16:00 GMT: On Monday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said any action taken against Syria would only be done in concert with the international community and within a legal framework, Reuters reports.
Hagel, speaking to reporters during a trip to Indonesia, refused to comment on military options being mulled by the White House or if a military response was forthcoming.
A senior US official said Hagel would reach out to his British and French counterparts to discuss the situation in Syria.
Germany also implied for the first time that it would support an international military response against Syria if it were confirmed that Syrian government forces deployed chemical weapons last week.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said Monday that if the UN team confirmed the Syrian government’s deployment of chemical weapons, “it must be punished.”
Seibert says the government has “very clear evidence that this was a chemical weapons attack.” He would not elaborate on what kind of response would be warranted, although he did not rule out the use of force.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also said that if an attack is confirmed, “Germany would be among those who consider consequences to be appropriate.”
15:57 GMT: The Syrian National Coalition, the official opposition to President Bashar Assad, has called off the long-delayed peace summit in Geneva, following an alleged chemical attack last week. 

“We refused to speak about Geneva after what's happened. We must punish this dictator, Bashar the Chemist we call him, and then we can discuss Geneva," coalition Secretary General Badr Jamous told Reuters in Istanbul.
The Syrian National Coalition was meeting with international opposition backers Friends of Syria in Istanbul, nominally to discuss the upcoming peace talks.
Opposition leaders have blamed Bashar Assad for unleashing Wednesday’s chemical assault on a rebel-controlled Damascus suburb, which Doctors without Borders (MSF) says took at least 355 lives.
14:08 GMT: There is no evidence that the Syrian government ordered the recent massacre with chemical weapons, but the West will blame it anyway because they want war, investigative journalist Neil Clark told RT.
Clark views the current situation in Syria as a replay of events leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
They went in there [Iraq], they found no weapons, and yet we still had the war. In fact, they launched the war before the weapons inspection team could finish their job.  It is a very similar scenario now in Syria,“ he argues.
Clark further characterized the latest developments in the Syrian conflict as a “charade.”
We are going to see these inspection teams going to this site and whatever they do the Syrian government will be blamed for [it]. The US has made it quite clear and William Hague has made that quite clear.  They will blame the Syrian government whatever the evidence or lack of evidence. There is no evidence that the Syrian government ordered this massacre with chemical weapons, they still are going to blame them because they want war.”
11:47 GMT: UN experts set off from central Damascus on Monday to investigate the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb, a day after the Assad government gave the “green light” to allow investigators access to the site.
A six-car convoy of chemical weapons experts wearing blue UN body armor was accompanied by a car of security forces as well as an ambulance, Reuters reports.
They said they were on their way to the rebel-held outskirts of the Syrian capital known as Eastern Ghouta, the alleged site of the world’s worst chemical attack in decades. 

12:24 GMT: Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the West of engineering a campaign to facilitate military intervention in Syria.
[Officially] Washington, London and Paris say they have incontrovertible evidence that the Syrian government is behind the chemical attack in Damascus, but they have not yet presented this evidence. Yet, they keep saying that the ‘red line’ has been crossed,” Lavrov said during an emergency press conference in Moscow.
Now, we are hearing calls for a military campaign against Bashar Assad.”
Lavrov said that the US, Britain and other countries have assembled a “powerful force” and are “readying their ships and planes” for a possible invasion. 

The minister said that the development set the world on a "perilous path" and warned that “repeating the Iraqi and Libyan scenario” and bringing in outside forces, would be a “terrible mistake that will lead to more blood being spilled”.
11:15 GMT: A UN inspection team was forced to return to a government checkpoint to replace their car after it came under sniper fire. The team had been dispatched to take soil samples near the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in an eastern suburb of Damascus.
09:00 GMT: UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said a response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria could be forthcoming even without the unanimous consent of the UN Security Council, has said.
I would argue yes it is, otherwise it might be impossible to respond to such outrages, such crimes, and I don't think that's an acceptable situation," Hague said on BBC radio, when asked whether it would be possible to respond to the use of chemical weapons without the backing of the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Royal Navy is reportedly moving ships into place for a possible strike with the US on Syria in the next few days.
07:51 GMT: Syrian President Bashar Assad said claims that his government has used chemical weapons made by Western countries are “an insult to common sense” and “nonsense.” 

"The statements made by the politicians in the USA and in other Western countries represent an insult to common sense and neglect of the public opinion of citizens in those countries. It’s nonsense: first, they bring charges, and then they collect evidence. And it’s one of the most powerful countries that does it – the US. They accused us on Wednesday, and in only two days the American leadership announces they started to collect the evidence.… They accuse our army of using chemical weapons in the area that’s reportedly controlled by the terrorists. In fact, there is no precise front line between the army and the insurgents in that area. And how can a government use chemical weapons – or any other weapons of mass destruction – in the area where government troops are concentrated? This is against elementary logic," the Syrian leader said in an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia.

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