Thursday 29 August 2013

News on Syria - western media

Comments from Mike Ruppert -

HERE'S WHERE WE ARE -- Like it or not. It looks at though the attacks will take place, but it is not certain. Reading many stories this morning it is clear that there will some kind of meeting of the UN Security Council, today, tomorrow, or Friday at latest. We should hold little or no expectations for the outcome, but allow for the possibility of miracles.

  • We have no concrete, confirmed info on the whereabouts of Bashar al-Assad and family, though there is one credible report that he landed in Tehran yesterday.
  • The Chinese have officially stated that they believe this is a move for regime change, the redundantly-confirmed trigger for Iranian intervention.
  • The West has said repeatedly that they are prepared to attack without UN sanction but must go through the motions. That is why no one should jump to any conclusions UNTIL we see what happens at the UN. Russia, China, Iran and on-aligned nations still have ever-shrinking windows for diplomatic moves.

Hard as it may be for most, now is the time to be quiet and to pray. It is a time to love everything that you love, and the things that you don't love.

....The situation is clear and the UN is where we keep our eyes and ears -- for better or worse -- because the missiles won't fly and the bombs won't drop until there has been a UN session.

There should be 50 million people in America's streets now. But there aren't and there is little we can do to make that happen in three days.

Ten years ago - in 2003 - there WERE millions of people out on the street.  What a difference - THEN and NOW.

Strike against Assad regime stalled by British political rows
Military response to alleged Syria chemical attack may be delayed until Tuesday

28 August, 2013

Allied air strikes against the Syrian government over the alleged use of chemical weapons could be delayed until next week in the face of strong opposition in the UK parliament to British involvement in immediate military action.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, conceded that MPs would be given a second vote to approve military action to defuse a parliamentary revolt, ahead of a Commons debate on Syria on Thursday. UK sources indicated that the US, which had planned to launch the strikes by the weekend, is prepared to revive a back-up plan to delay the strikes until Tuesday when Barack Obama is due to set out for the G20 summit in Russia.

Such a move by the Obama administration would effectively hand Cameron a political lifeline after the opposition Labour party threatened to inflict a defeat on the Conservative-led coalition in parliament.

In an effort to build support for punitive strikes, the US and UK will on Thursday publish a joint summary of the intelligence which they say points towards the Assad regime's responsibility for the poison gas attack of 21 August in Ghouta, eastern Damascus, that killed over 1,000 people.

In a reflection of the different political pressures pulling the transatlantic allies in different directions, Downing Street undertook to return to the security council in a renewed effort to secure a UN mandate for military action after Russia blocked a British resolution at an informal meeting in New York. But the US state department meanwhile insisted it saw "no avenue forward" at the UN for finding an international consensus for armed action, because of Russian support for Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Furthermore, Washington made it clear it saw no need to wait for a report by UN inspectors currently in Damascus investigating the gas attack, estimated to have killed more than 1,000 people.

"We are going to make our own decisions on our own timelines about our response," the state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. She added that because of initial Syrian government obstruction of the UN investigation, it had "passed the point where it can be credible".

However, the UK is now committed to wait for the UN report. The House of Commons will be asked by the government on Thursday to approve a "strong humanitarian response", possibly including force in principle. Direct action would depend on a second vote which in turn would be held after the UN weapons inspectors had reported back.

UN officials said the report could take another week or more to produce. The inspectors will continue to collect samples at the Ghouta site for the next four days, bringing their presence to the two weeks agreed with Damascus. The samples would then have to be subjected to laboratory analysis.

If the wait for the UN report extends much beyond Tuesday, the transatlantic ties could fray further, putting the prime minister under intense pressure. Cameron had faced the prospect of a defeat, or a politically damaging narrow victory, when MPs vote on Thursday evening on a motion calling for a proportionate response.

Syria warned of "grave consequences" if US-led military action goes ahead. Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the UN, told reporters outside the security council in New York on Wednesday that the effect could be felt across the Middle East. "We should keep in mind what happened in Iraq and Libya", the envoy said, adding that the toppling of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi by Nato-backed rebels in 2011 had "spread terrorists all over Africa".

Jaafari urged the US, UK and France to back off and allow UN weapons inspectors to complete their investigation into last week's chemical attack outside Damascus. The sole purpose of the threat of airstrikes was "undermining the inspection team." Jaafari added: "We are not war mongers, we are a peaceful nation seeking stability in the area. The Syrian government is against the use of chemical weapons by all means – this is a moral obscenity."

Speaking in London the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said it was time for the UN to act. "This is the first use of chemical warfare in the 21st century. It has to be unacceptable, we have to confront something that is a war crime, something that is a crime against humanity. If we don't do so, then we will have to confront even bigger war crimes in the future."

The state department also gave more details of its intended justification for military action. A spokeswoman said Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons violated "the general law of war" while the use and proliferation of such weapons represented a threat to America's core national interests.

With as many as 70 Tory MPs threatening to rebel, British opposition leader Ed Miliband announced just after 5pm BST that he would instruct his MPs to vote against the government motion if a separate Labour amendment – calling for any action to be delayed – was defeated.

Within two hours the British government announced, as it published its motion for the debate, that a second vote would have to be held before Britain joins any military action. The motion says: "Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place."

Downing Street was furious with Miliband and accused him of having suffered a giant "wobble" after he had appeared to indicate on Tuesday night that he would be prepared to support military action, subject to legal approval. But Labour hit back and said that the prime minister had been resisting a second vote until Miliband tweeted his plan to table his own amendment.

A Labour source said: "We will continue to scrutinise this motion but at 5.15pm David Cameron totally ruled out a second vote, an hour and a half later he changed his mind. Ed was determined to do the right thing. It has taken Labour forcing a vote to force the government to do the right thing."

Downing Street said the prime minister offered a second vote because he wants to act in a consensual way. A spokesperson said: "The prime minister is acutely aware of the deep concerns in the country caused by what happened over Iraq. That's why we are committed to taking action to deal with this war crime – but taking action in the right way, proceeding on a consensual basis."

"So this motion endorses the government's consistent approach that we should take action in response to Assad's chemical weapons attack; reflects the need to proceed on a consensual basis, taking account of the work done by weapons inspectors; and reflects the prime minister's respect for the UN process – something he made clear to President Obama several days ago."

The No 10 move is likely to take the heat out of Thursday's parliamentary debate that will be opened by Cameron at 2.30pm and wound up by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, at 10pm. The debate will be preceded by a meeting of the cabinet that will approve a recommendation from the National Security Council that Britain should join the military strikes. Dominic Grieve, the British attorney general, advised the NSC that such action would be legal under international law.

The National Security Council also agreed a specific plan for a British contribution to military action. This focused on a "limited one-off" operation and the measures that might have to be taken to protect British interests in the region, including the defence of the UK's sovereign base in Cyprus, which is thought to be potentially within range of President Assad's Scud missiles.

Though considered unlikely, sources said it was possible the US would act without British support – which would be a huge embarrassment for the prime minister. It would also be politically difficult for the White House. US officials have stressed that America would not act unilaterally, but in concert with partners.

France has pledged to take part in punitive action against the Assad regime, and its presidential system means that Francois Hollande, like Barack Obama is not obliged to consult the legislature.

However, British abstention would undermine Washington's claims of broad support.

US readies strikes on Syria
US officials have revealed plans for multi-national strikes on Syria that could last for days.


28 August, 2013

United Nations chemical weapons experts completed a second field trip to rebel-held suburbs, looking for evidence of what - and who - caused an apparent poison gas attack that residents say killed hundreds of people a week ago.

This morning (NZT) US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner urged President Barack Obama to make the case personally to Congress and the American people for potential military action in Syria.

In a letter to Obama that was released to the media, Boehner said Obama must explain the legal basis for any use of force in Syria and the "intended effect of the potential military strikes".

But as UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for unity among world powers and sought more time for the inspectors to complete their work, Washington and its European and Middle East allies said their minds were made up and that President Bashar al-Assad must face retribution for using banned weapons against his people.

New Zealand was among countries last night to receive briefings on possible action in New York last night.

Syria's government, supported notably by its main arms supplier Russia, cried foul. It blamed rebel "terrorists" for releasing the toxins with the help of the United States, Britain and France and warned it would be a "graveyard of invaders".

Syrian officials say the West is playing into the hands of its al Qaeda enemies. The presence of Islamist militants among the rebels has deterred Western powers from arming Assad's foes - but they say they must now act to stop the use of poison gas.

Britain pushed the other four veto-holding members of the UN Security Council at a meeting in New York to authorise military action against Assad to protect Syrian civilians - a move certain to be blocked by Russia and, probably, China.

The United States and its allies say a UN veto will not stop them. Western diplomats called the proposed resolution a manoeuvre to isolate Moscow and rally a coalition behind air strikes. Arab states, NATO and Turkey also condemned Assad.

Washington has repeatedly said that President Barack Obama has not yet made up his mind on what action he will order.

A senior US official said strikes could last several days and would involve other armed forces: "We're talking to a number of different allies regarding participation in a possible kinetic strike," the administration official said overnight (NZT).

Western armies are expected to wait until the UN experts withdraw. Their initial 14-day mandate expires in four days, and Secretary-General Ban said they need four days work.

A second US official said objectives were still being defined but that the targets could be chosen to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in future. Washington was confident it could handle Syrian defences and any possible reprisals by its allies, including Iran and Lebanese militia Hezbollah.


With only the timing of an attack apparently in doubt, oil prices soared to a six-month high. World stock markets were hit by jitters over where the international escalation of Syria's civil war might lead - however much Obama and his allies may hope to limit it to a short punitive mission.

Neighbouring Turkey, a NATO member, put its forces on alert. Israel mobilised some army reservists and bolstered its defences against missile strikes from either Syria or Lebanon.

Syria's envoy to the United Nations said he had asked Ban to have the team investigate three new attacks by rebel groups.

People in Damascus, wearied by a civil war that has left the capital ringed by rebel-held suburbs, braced for air strikes.

In a city where dozens of military sites are mixed in among civilian neighbourhoods, some were leaving home in the hope of finding somewhere safer, though many doubted it was worth it: "Every street, every neighbourhood has some government target," said a nurse in the city centre. "Where do we hide?"

At grocery stores, shoppers loaded up on bread, dry goods and cans. Bottled water and batteries were also in demand.


Numerous factors, including weather and assessments of Syrian air defences, may affect the timing of strikes. Analysts expect cruise missiles to be launched from US ships in the Mediterranean. Aircraft could also play a role, as may forces from other NATO powers, notably Britain and France.

Obama is waiting for a US intelligence report, though its findings are in little doubt. US officials have already blamed Assad for the attacks on August 21.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled parliament to debate the Syria crisis on Thursday (Friday NZT). He should be able to secure cautious support, despite widespread misgivings among Western voters about new entanglements in the Muslim world. But British action is unlikely before lawmakers have had their say.

The prospect of a Group of Twenty summit in St. Petersburg next Thursday may also weigh in calculations over timing any strikes. Russian host President Vladimir Putin has made clear his view that Western leaders are using human rights as a pretext to impose their will on other sovereign states.

"The West behaves like a monkey with a grenade in the Islamic world," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted on Wednesday. Western leaders in the G20 may prefer to have any strikes on Syria completed before the summit starts.

As diplomats from Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States met at the United Nations, Moscow said Britain was "premature" in seeking a Security Council resolution for "necessary measures" to protect Syrian civilians.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Russia and China might veto the move but added: "It's time the UN Security Council shouldered its responsibilities on Syria which for the last two and a half years it has failed to do."

A senior Western diplomat said: "Of course there will be a Russian veto, but that's part of the objective - to show that we tried everything and the Russians left us no choice.

"The Americans want to go quickly."


China's official newspaper also criticised what it saw as a push for illegal, Iraq-style "regime change" - despite US denials that Obama aims to overthrow Assad.

The US-led NATO alliance said evidence pointed to Assad's forces having used gas, calling it a threat to global security.

Ban's special envoy for Syria, Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, said "international law is clear" in requiring Council authorisation for any military action. But Western leaders say precedents, including NATO's bombing of Russian ally Serbia in 1999 during the Kosovo war, allow them to protect civilians.

There was tension between the United Nations and Western governments. One UN official said: "The UN is annoyed and feels the Western powers haven't shared data or evidence with them, which is a problem. It kind of undercuts UN authority."

Rebel fighters and opposition activists showed the inspectors homes in the eastern Damascus suburb of Zamalka that had been hit by last week's gas release. The experts also tested and interviewed survivors in hospital, as they did on a first trip on Monday that came under sniper attack.

Amateur video showed the convoy of white UN jeeps driving along a road, accompanied by rebels. One pick-up truck was mounted with an anti-aircraft gun. Gunmen leaned from the windows of another. Bystanders waved as the vehicles passed.

Syria's civil war has killed more than 100,000 people since 2011 and driven millions from their homes, many crossing borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

It has heightened tensions between Assad's sponsor Iran and Israel, which bombed Syria this year, and has fuelled sectarian bloodshed in Lebanon and in Iraq, where bombs killed more than 70 people on Wednesday alone.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that US action would be "a disaster for the region".

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