"And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness, the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief. "

Khalil Gibran (How I Became a Madman)

Lübnan Marunîleri / Yasin Atlıoğlu


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Syrian government offensive pushes 20,000 Syrians into Lebanon- The Washington Post

ARSAL, Lebanon — Its dusty streets lined with cars bearing Syrian license plates, this Lebanese mountain town has long felt as much Syrian as Lebanese. But as Bashar al-Assad’s army squeezes rebel-held towns just across the border, 20,000 new arrivals have left locals significantly outnumbered and forced Lebanon to open its first official transit camp for Syrian refugees.
Many arrive in the border town with little more than the clothes on their backs, packing into wedding halls and mosques or sleeping in cars while awaiting tents in the newly organized camp.

Europe could feel the backlash from jihadist conflicts- BBC News

This week Britain's House of Commons was told that a terrorist attack in Europe by jihadist fighters returning from Syria is "almost inevitable but may not happen for some time".
The warning came from a leading terrorism expert and author on al-Qaeda, Dr Thomas Hegghammer from the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment.
He told a House of Commons seminar that at least 1,200 volunteers had now departed from various European countries to join extremist groups fighting in Syria.
For some time now counter-terrorism officials here have been on the lookout for what they call "blowback" - returning fighters getting involved in militancy back home, if they survive the battlefield.

Assad: Our Battle With Saudi Is Open-Ended- Al-Akhbar

Ten days ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with a delegation of party leaders and politicians from Arab countries. He said unequivocally: The battle will continue as long as Saudi Arabia continues to “back terrorism,” and the flow of extremist fighters, money, and arms into Syria continues.

Six killed in clashes in Lebanon's Tripoli- Reuters

(Reuters) - Six people were killed in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli on Saturday in exchanges of fire between neighborhoods which support rival sides in Syria's civil war, security and medical sources said.
The dead - including a teenage schoolboy, a Palestinian and a Syrian - were from the Sunni Muslim Bab al-Tabbaneh district, whose residents overwhelmingly support the Sunni Muslim rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Thirty-seven people, including nine soldiers, were wounded in the shooting between gunmen in Bab al-Tabbaneh and the adjacent Alawite neighborhood of Jebel Mohsen, which supports the Alawite Syrian leader.

Saturday's fighting followed repeated attacks on Alawites in Tripoli, residents said. Several people were shot and wounded in separate incidents this week, and Alawite men were beaten in an attack on a bus earlier in November.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Syria fighting kills 19 Hezbollah fighters in 10 days- The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Hezbollah has held the funerals of 19 fighters killed in battles in Syria over the past 10 days, security sources told The Daily Star Thursday.

The sources, who requested to remain anonymous, said the funeral of party fighter Majd Fouad Hajj Hasan, the nephew of Hezbollah caretaker Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan, was held in the Beirut southern suburb of Burj al-Barajneh Thursday.

The sources said Hajj Hasan was killed during ongoing battles between the Syrian army and rebels around the Qalamoun range spanning Syria and Lebanon. They added that the Hezbollah fighter’s body was brought from Syria across the northern border into Lebanon at dawn Thursday.

Besides Qalamoun, Hezbollah fighters are assisting troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in other areas across Syria, including the suburbs of Damascus, where fierce battles have been taking place over the past days.

Child among four killed in shelling on Damascus: State news- Al-Akhbar

At least four people were killed Friday in mortar fire near the famed Ummayad mosque in Damascus, as Syrian forces pressed an operation against rebels in the strategic Qalamoun region.
In Geneva, meanwhile, the UN released a new report highlighting the plight of Syrian child refugees.
"Mortars fired by terrorists in front of the Ummayad mosque have killed four people and injured 26," state television said.
State news agency SANA said that a child and a woman were among the dead, and that
Central Damascus is regularly targeted by rebels from rear bases on the outskirts of the capital. At least nine children were killed earlier this month when rebel shells fell on a school and hit a bus transporting youngsters.
On Thursday, a Syrian was killed and nine others wounded when mortar fire hit the Russian embassy, the foreign ministry in Moscow said.
Outside of Damascus, the army pressed its campaign to encircle rebels near the capital by capturing Qalamoun and severing rebel supply lines across the border with Lebanon.

Terrorists' boat destroyed, infiltration attempt from Jordan aborted- SANA

Provinces, (SANA)- Army operations on Friday resulted in the demolishing of several terrorist groups' dens and destroying large amounts of weapons, in addition to thwarting infiltration attempt from Jordan.

Army units kill non-Syrian terrorists in Deir Attieh farms, Damascus Countryside
A unit of the armed forces killed a number of terrorists in the eastern farms of Deir Attieh in Damascus Countryside.

A military source told SANA that among the dead terrorists were  Abu Obaida from Saudi Arabia, who was a leader of an armed terrorist group, Abu al-Braa al-Saudi and another terrorist from Yemen nicknamed "al-Jazrawi". 

An official source said that the army units killed and injured scores of terrorists in the city of al-Nabek and Reema Farms, adding that terrorists Ahmad al-Hamami and Amjad Majzoub were identified among the dead.

The source added that the army targeted terrorists hideouts in the areas of Deir Salman in the eastern al-Ghouta and Douma city, killing a number of terrorists, among them were Jamal Haydar, a group's leader and Mamdouh Kabkab.

The army units pursued and clashed with members of an armed terrorist group in the city of Harasta and the town of al-Abbada, killing many terrorists. Terrorists Muhannad Alaya and Khaled al-Qalla' were identified among the dead.

The army units also targeted terrorists in the areas of al-Qaysa and al-Bahharyeh, killing a number of terrorists and destroying their weaponry and equipment. Terrorists Alaa Rashed and Ahmad al-Shayeb were identified among the dead.
Meanwhile, An army unit pursued members of an armed terrorist group in the city of al-Zabadazi, killing a terrorist, Tareq al-Hourani and injuring others.

Beirut blast a lesson in terrorism- Al-Monitor

Researchers of criminal theory have often argued that the true objectives of terrorist attacks are not related to those who die, but to those who survive, including far from the target. This explains why their actions are called "TERRORism." The literal and conceptual senses of the word "terrorism" do not necessarily mean to kill. Rather the intent is to terrify — to frighten, intimidate and cause panic, in short, to terrorize. Thus, terrorism uses the bodies of the dead to strike at the minds and psyches of the living in trying to achieve its ultimate goal. In this sense, the bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut on Nov. 19 provides a concise lesson in the principle of terrorism.

Iran admits close intelligence links with Turkey- The Daily Star

ANKARA: The Iranian ambassador to Ankara acknowledged Friday that Tehran enjoys close ties with Turkey's intelligence services, a sign of warming relations between the two regional powers.

The comments by Alireza Bikdeli come just weeks after US newspaper claims -- hotly denied by Ankara -- that Turkey blew an Israeli-Iranian spy ring to the authorities in Tehran.

Bikdeli told reporters in Ankara that there was "improved cooperation" between the Iranian intelligence and security services and Turkey's National Intelligence Organisation (MIT).

And he said there were "no grounds" for allegations that Shiite Iran was spying on Turkey, a predominantly Sunni Muslim country.

The Washington Post said in October that Turkey last year revealed to Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting in Turkey with Mossad handlers.

But Turkey angrily rejected the allegations as baseless.

Şam'daki Emevi camii yakınlarında patlama: 4 ölü- BBC Türkçe

Suriye'de devlet denetimindeki medya Şam'daki Emevi Camii yakınlarına isabet eden havan ateşinde en az üç kişinin öldüğünü 20'yi aşkın kişinin yaralandığını duyurdu.
Şam'ın en önemli İslami binalarından olan Emevi Camii, 7. yüzyılda cami olmadan önce, Roma tapınağı sonra da kilise olarak kullanılmıştı.
Bundan on gün önce de caminin duvarı isabet almış, yine yaralananlar olmuştu.
Son haftalarda Şam'ın tarihi mahallelerine, isyancıların elindeki banliyölerden yönelen saldırılarda kayda değer bir artış var.
Son saldırıyı kimin yaptığı ve tam olarak neyin hedef alındığı bilinmiyor.
Emevi Camii'nin içinde Vaftizci Yahya için yapılmış bir türbe de bulunuyor.

Hizbullah Accuses March 14 Camp of Protecting 'Criminal Gangs' behind Jabal Mohsen Assault- Naharnet

Hizbullah condemned on Friday the assault against a number of residents from the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood in the northern city of Tripoli, saying that criminal gangs bent on creating sectarian strife were behind the attack.
It said in a statement: “The criminal gangs, which are being offered political cover by the March 14 camp, are continuing on driving their knife into Tripoli's bleeding wound.”
“The gangs opened fire at four municipal workers simply because they belong to a sect, which has incurred the wrath of those who claim civility and a love for life,” it added in reference to the Alawite sect, whose members form the majority of the residents of Jabal Mohsen.

Syria war 'damaging a generation of children', UN warns- BBC News

The war in Syria is creating a generation of damaged children, aUN report warns.
School-age refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries are increasingly cut off from education and forced to work to survive, the study found.
As many as 300,000 living in Lebanon and Jordan could be without schooling by the end of 2013, the UNHCR says.
Many of those not at school go out to work for long hours and for low pay from as young as seven years old.
More than half of 2.2 million Syrian refugees are children, the UN says, with many facing grave dangers even outside the war zone.
Those perils include threats to their physical and psychological well-being, according to the report's authors.

Syria's refugee children: Alone, 'in crisis,' UN report says- CNN

(CNN) -- Before his family urged him to flee the fighting in Syria, 17-year old Firas saw a bullet strike his sister in the head while they were in a car together. Maher, 16, has not seen his father for nearly two years, ever since he was detained and tortured alongside him before being released.

Mortar fire kills 4 by Ummayad mosque in Damascus: State TV- The Daily Star

DAMASCUS: At least four people were killed and 26 wounded on Friday by mortar fire near the famed Ummayad mosque in Syria's capital Damascus, state television reported.

"Mortars fired by terrorists in front of the Ummayad mosque have killed four people and injured 26," state television said in a breaking news alert.

Syria army presses advance near Damascus- The Daily Star

DAMASCUS: Syrian government forces bombarded one of two remaining rebel holdouts in the strategic Qalamoun region on Friday, a day after taking a key town in the area north of Damascus.

Troops are trying to encircle rebels near Damascus, pushing to capture the Qalamoun region and sever rebel supply lines across the border with Lebanon.

Government soldiers bombed parts of the town of Nabak, one of two rebel holdouts in the region.

The town of 55,000, including a Christian minority, lies 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Damascus, and an NGO said troops backed by Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah had moved in on Thursday night.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army was shelling rebel positions that had halted its advance.

Disillusionment Grows Among Syrian Opposition as Fighting Drags On- The New York Times

DAMASCUS, Syria — In a terrace cafe within earshot of army artillery, a 28-year-old graduate student wept as she confessed that she had stopped planning antigovernment protests and delivering medical supplies to rebel-held towns.

Khaled, 33, a former protester who fled Damascus after being tortured and fired from his bank post, quit his job in Turkey with the exile opposition, disillusioned and saying that he wished the uprising “had never happened.”
In the Syrian city of Homs, a rebel fighter, Abu Firas, 30, recently put down the gun his wife had sold her jewelry to buy, disgusted with his commanders, who, he said, focus on enriching themselves. Now he finds himself trapped under government shelling, broke and hopeless.
“The ones who fight now are from the side of the regime or the side of the thieves,” he said in a recent interview via Skype. “I was stupid and naïve,” he added. “We were all stupid.”

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Syria conflict: Opposition chief to attend Geneva talks- BBC News

The head of Syria's main opposition group has said he will attend planned peace talks in Geneva in January aimed at ending the civil war.
Ahmad Jarba said the Syrian National Coalition saw talks as a step towards "leadership transition", meaning President Bashar al-Assad's removal.
The Syrian government has also said it would attend but would not negotiate a handover of power.
Rebel groups involved in the fighting have said they will not take part.
Heavy clashes were reported on Thursday in eastern Damascus and Golan in the south-west. Activists reported six dead after a surface-to-surface missile fell on the jihadist-controlled northern city of Raqa overnight.

Number of foreign fighters from Europe in Syria is historically unprecedented. Who should be worried?- The Washington Post

Since 2011, large numbers of European Muslims have gone to Syria to fight with the rebels. But exactly how many are they, and which countries are providing most of the fighters? The question matters because some of these foreign fighters may return to perpetrate attacks in the West, and Western governments are now grappling with the question of how to design and calibrate countermeasures.
Assessing the terrorist threat to Europe from the foreign fighters in Syria is tricky. On the one hand, as I showed in an earlier study summarized here on the Monkey Cage, foreign fighters are much more likely to engage in international terrorism than the general Muslim population, and they produce more lethal attacks than do plotters without foreign fighting experience. On the other hand, only a small proportion of Western foreign fighters tend to come home to attack. Moreover, the return rate varies considerably between destinations; for example, Western foreign fighters in Pakistan have tended to return for plots more frequently than their counterparts in Somalia.

U.S. offers to destroy Syria chemicals at sea- Al-Arabiya

The Obama administration is offering to destroy some of Syria’s deadliest chemical weapons in international waters aboard a nearly 700-foot (213-meter), U.S. government-owned ship, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The plan, still subject to final approval, would involve destroying the weapons, likely aboard the MV Cape Ray in the Mediterranean Sea, with U.S. Navy warships patrolling nearby.
This approach would avoid the vexing diplomatic, environmental and security problems posed by disposing of the materials on any nation’s soil.
The Obama administration has used international oceans in other sensitive cases where land-based options were precluded.

Syrian Army Seizes Full Control over Deir Atiyyeh, Nabek, Rima Farms- Al-Manar

The Syrian Arab Army seized on Thursday full control over Deir Atiyyeh city located in the Strategic region of Qalamoun, north of the Syrian capital, Al-Manar correspondent reported.

"Army units seized full control over the city of Deir Atiyyeh in Damascus countryside after eliminating all terrorists' assembly points," a military source told SANA news agency.

Security source told Agence France Presse that "the army has been able to chase terrorists where they were fortifying inside the city, cleaned the whole area this morning and killed a large number of them," noting that "the operation lasted four days."

"Hunting terrorists will continue in near places," the source added, pointing out that "the bulk of the groups that were inside the city have been eliminated."

Classified sources confirmed to Al-Manar website that "the Syrian army has regained control of the towns of Deir Attiya, Nabek and Rima farms in Qalamoun in Rural Damascus."

Report: Army Intelligence Launches Crackdown on 'Terrorist' Cells in the Bekaa- Naharnet

The Army Intelligence launched recently a crackdown on “terrorist” cells in the middle and west Bekaa that support armed Syrian opposition groups, al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Thursday.
According to a report published in the daily, the army intelligence is raiding several towns in the middle and west Bekaa, where wanted suspects took shelter.
The suspects are allegedly involved in planting road side bombs in the Bekaa and attacking army and Hizbullah convoys.
A security source told the newspaper that the raids are based on a series of investigations and according to testimonies from detainees, who in turn confessed to their involvement.
The source pointed that “tens of Lebanese and Syrian nationals were detained.”

Unprecedented Islamist recruitment in Ain al-Hilweh, report says- NOW

Extremist Al-Qaeda-linked groups are recruiting scores of young men from Sidon’s Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp and training them, a newspaper report claimed.

“An unprecedented recruitment campaign, directly through chiefs of [Islamist] groups or via the internet,” is taking place in several neighborhoods of the refugee camp, “specifically in the Al-Taware’ quarter,” the report published Thursday in Al-Joumhouria daily explained.

It added that the young men are being recruited either for the Al-Nusra Front or for the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, both of which are connected to Al-Qaeda.

“The number of members of these groups has exceeded 120, and they are now present in the Al-Taware’ neighborhood, headed by Haitham and Mohammad al-Shaabi, in the Al-Safsaf quarter under Oussama al-Shahabi, in the Al-Manshiyyeh area, headed by Toufic Taha, and in the Al-Tayra neighborhood under the command of Bilal Badr,” the newspaper detailed.

It went on to note that “70 members of the Takfiri movements entered the camp just last week.”

Syria Will Attend Geneva Peace Talks- The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian government announced on Wednesday that it will participate in talks scheduled for January to try to end the country’s civil war but added that its official delegation will attend with the blessing of President Bashar al-Assad and that it does not intend “to hand over power to anyone.”

The statement adds to the difficulties faced by international powers in trying to convene the talks, which are planned to open on Jan. 22 in Geneva. The negotiations are meant to lead to the creation of a transitional government with full executive powers to lead the country out of the crisis. But key issues, including who will attend and the role of Mr. Assad, have yet to be decided, and there is little sign that any of the warring parties are ready to compromise.

Syrian opposition to attend Geneva peace conference- Reuters

(Reuters) - The Syrian National Coalition opposition group will attend the "Geneva 2" talks in January aimed at ending the civil war, the group's president, Ahmad Jarba, said on Wednesday.
In an interview with Reuters and the Associated Press, he also said regional power Iran should only be allowed to attend if it stopped taking part in the bloodshed in Syria and withdrew its forces and proxies.

The Coalition had previously said it was ready to attend if humanitarian aid corridors were set up and political prisoners released. It insists that President Bashar al-Assad can play no future role in Syria.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Suicide bombing kills 15 near Damascus: State news- Al-Akhbar

A suicide bomber blew up a vehicle at a bus stop west of Damascus on Tuesday, killing at least 15 people, state television said.
"The terrorist explosion in front of the bus stop in Somariyeh was caused by a suicide attacker," the broadcaster said in a news flash.
"It killed at least 15 citizens and wounded more than 30."
The bombing came as rebels, including al-Qaeda loyalists, pressed a four-day-old offensive to lift a year-long siege by the army of their positions in eastern suburbs of the capital.
Fighting also raged in the Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus, a border area where the army has been battling to cut rebel supply lines to neighboring Lebanon.
Health Minister Saad al-Nayef accused the rebels of killing "five doctors, five nurses and two ambulance drivers" in the Qalamoun town of Deir Attiyeh after they seized it from the army last week.

Why some Christians pray for Assad to keep power in Syria (Venetia Rainey- The Week)

BEIRUT - “When is the war coming?” is one of Madame’s favourite questions to ask of her occasional foreign visitors, especially journalists, who she assumes get some sort of secret bulletin about security developments.
“Who is winning in Syria?” comes a close second, followed by, “What will become of Lebanon?”
Ensconced in a large, old-fashioned flat in east Beirut’s well-to-do Gemmayzeh neighbourhood, Madame’s concerns are shared by many other elderly Christians who live in Lebanon: they have been through one war, and have no desire to see another one.
It’s a fear held by nearly all Lebanese regardless of sect or age, especially as the so-called 'Syria spillover' effect continues. But a growing number of Lebanon’s Christians feel, rightly or wrongly, that if a full-scale conflict erupted, they would be particularly at risk.
Attacks on Christian churches and priests across the region, despite occurring alongside many more attacks on various Muslim symbols and institutions, further fuel suspicions.
“Look at what is happening in Iraq, in Egypt, in Syria,” Madame says with a grimace, one manicured hand clutching a Vogue cigarette.
“And now al-Qaeda is here,” she adds, a red nail jabbing the L’Orient du Jour’s front-page coverage of the recent bombings of Beirut’s Iranian Embassy. “They want us to leave, but we will not go.”

Lebanon: Future Party Wants to Extend President’s Term- Al-Akhbar

It seems that the Future Party is seriously considering extending Lebanese President Michel Suleiman’s term in office, particularly if efforts to turn the tables on the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria fail.
But this is not a view shared by their Christian March 14 allies, who prefer to float candidates from among them as a possible alternative, although their chances of success remain slim.
Future leader Fouad Siniora, for example, would like to see March 14 nominate a weak Christian personality that cannot stand up to the Sunni prime minister, while at the same time provoking March 8’s number one contender Michel Aoun.
In this regard, Siniora believes that former minister John Obeid is eligible for the spot, particularly given that some elements of March 8 and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt have no objections to putting his name forward.
However, given the complicated and delicate situation in Syria, it may not be wise to go with an independent such as Obeid, and therefore March 14 is trying to float the idea of extension for Suleiman, hoping to convince him to take more hard-line positions toward Hezbollah.

Syria polio outbreak spreads to Damascus, Aleppo- CBS News

An outbreak of polio in Syria is spreading throughout the country, according to the World Health Organization is reporting.
The outbreak had been confined to the Deir Al Zour province in Syria, but the international health agency said Tuesday one case has been found in rural Damascus and another has been confirmed in Aleppo.
This is the first confirmation of widespread circulation of the virus, according to WHO. Officials plan to continue to monitor the outbreak through next year.
“It is anticipated that outbreak response will need to continue for at least six to eight months,” the agency said in a statement.
As of Nov. 26, a total of 17 cases of polio have been reported, including 15 in Deir Al Zour.
In early October, health officials reported a potential outbreak of the contagious virus after more than 20 children showed symptoms of the paralysis caused by the disease.

Takfiris in Syria threat to peace: Ex-Lebanon PM- PRESS TV

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Michel Aoun says foreign-backed Takfiri extremists pose a great threat to all the religious communities living in Syria and the Middle East.

Aoun, who is also the leader of Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement, made the remarks in an interview with Press TV on Tuesday. 

“Takfiris have no friends. So their animosity towards other religious groups is anticipated. However, by dubbing Christians as crusaders they are trying to distort historical facts. They are portraying Christians as colonial power rather than the indigenous people in the Levant,” Aoun said. 

“The Syrian government treats its nationals based on their citizenship, not on religious beliefs. Christians are protected in Syria. However, if Takfiris take over, all Christians would be threatened. They also consider moderate Muslims as infidels too,” he added. 

Insight: After Assad, Syria democrats learn to fear Qaeda- Reuters

(Reuters) - When he was agitating for revolution, urging fellow Syrians to rise up against President Bashar al-Assad, Abdullah dreaded the midnight knock at the door from the secret police.
Now that the uprising has succeeded in his home town near Aleppo, pro-democracy activists are living in fear again - and this time those who brand them "traitor" don't bother to knock.
Two years ago, after Abdullah broke off his studies to run social media campaigns against Assad, he was held and tortured by security men. This summer, it happened again - only now it was Islamist gunmen loyal to al Qaeda who smashed into his family's house, broke everything in their way and took him off to a cell where, once more, he was blindfolded and beaten.
"The sad thing is that those who were doing this were not Assad's police," Abdullah told Reuters from Turkey, where he managed to flee after his latest ordeal. "They were fighters who were supposed to be fighting for freedom, our freedom.
"Back then they called me 'traitor' for demanding freedom. These armed men also tortured me for calling for freedom."

His story is increasingly familiar across northern Syria, where Assad's government has ceded territory to a bewildering array of rival militias. The rising power is militant Islam and men who see democracy as the work of the devil, or the West, a system contrary to their hopes for a state ruled by religion.

Syria peace talks 'will not stop FSA rebels'- BBC News

The leader of the Western-backed rebel Free Syrian Army has said that forces aligned to him will not join the peace conference in Geneva in January.
Gen Salim Idris, head of the FSA's Supreme Military Council, told al-Jazeera that they would continue to try to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
He warned Mr Assad would use the talks to buy time and continue to wage war.
Iran, which is closely allied to the Syrian government, said it would attend if it was invited.

Al-Qaeda's brutal tactics in Syria forces out moderates- BBC News

"I was handcuffed, blindfolded when I was taken to their base. Like the six other detainees with me, we were whipped 70 times every day."
"We were mostly accused of setting up 'Sahwa' - Awakening Councils - against the state."
Mohammed's horrific tale of torture from Syria might not sound that unusual if the "state" his captors' were referring to was the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
But they were from the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an al-Qaeda affiliate that has become an equally feared force in rebel-held areas.
'New dictatorship'
Mohammed, an engineer in his early 50s who is the father of four children, joined the peaceful protest movement against Mr Assad when the uprising in Syria began in 2011.
When Raqqa province fell under rebel control, he helped set up a local council to provide basic services in the absence of the state.
But little did they know that it would not take long for a new dictatorship to replace the one from which they had freed themselves.
On 9 July 2013 - the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan - Mohammed and six other members of the council in the border town of Tal Abyad were detained by members of ISIS, who handcuffed and blindfolded them and took them to the city of Raqqa.
Over the next 33 days, Mohammed was tortured on a daily basis by the jihadists.

Syrian President Assad to Skip Geneva Conference- RIA Novosti

GENEVA, November 26 (RIA Novosti) – Syrian President Bashar Assad will not attend a peace conference in Geneva in January dedicated to ending the nearly three-year-long Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 100,000, a senior Russian diplomat said Tuesday.
“The conference will open at a foreign minister level. Logically, the [Syrian] government’s delegation should be headed by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told reporters after a meeting about Syria between Russian, US and UN officials in Geneva.
“The presidents are not going to come,” he said.
On a request from United Nations special envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brakhimi, the final lists of delegates from the Syrian government and the opposition forces are due to be approved by the end of this year.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lebanon cannabis trade thrives in shadow of Syrian war- FRANCE 24

AFP - Lebanese marijuana grower Abu Sami is practically rubbing his hands together with glee: the Syrian conflict has paralysed authorities at home and left the nearby border virtually uncontrolled.

"This year, the harvest was abundant, and the authorities have left us alone because they are otherwise occupied," he tells AFP in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa region.

In the past, the Lebanese army would descend annually to destroy some of the illicit crop, but this year the harvest has gone untouched.

The area shares a long, porous border with Syria and is a stronghold of the Shiite Lebanese movement Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the Syrian regime against a 32-month-old uprising.

Army summons Assir’s Sidon supporters- The Daily News

SIDON, Lebanon: The Army summoned dozens of supporters of radical Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir for questioning hours after investigators identified two men with links to the preacher as the perpetrators of last week’s twin suicide bombings at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, security sources told The Daily Star.

As the Army-led investigation continues, some of the men wanted for questioning have gone into hiding, with one group taking refuge in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp on the outskirts of Sidon, the sources said.

Over the weekend, authorities identified a Lebanese resident of Sidon and a Palestinian from Ain al-Hilweh, both with alleged links to Assir, as the two bombers behind the deadly Nov. 19 attack. Authorities are now focusing their search on the parties potentially behind the attack.

Iran ready to join Syria peace talks if invited: Zarif- Reuters

(Reuters) - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Tuesday that Tehran was prepared to take part in the Syria peace talks in Geneva, slated for January 22, if invited.

"Participation of Iran in Geneva 2 is in our view an important contribution to the resolution of the problem. We have said all along that if Iran is invited, we will participate without any preconditions," Zarif told Iran's Press TV.

Obama Signals a Shift From Military Might to Diplomacy- The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The weekend ended with the first tangible sign of a nuclear deal with Iran, after more than three decades of hostility. Then on Monday came the announcement that a conference will convene in January to try to broker an end to the civil war in Syria.

The success of either negotiation, both long sought by President Obama, is hardly assured — in fact the odds may be against them. But the two nearly simultaneous developments were vivid statements that diplomacy, the venerable but often-unsatisfying art of compromise, has once again become the centerpiece of American foreign policy.
At one level, the flurry of diplomatic activity reflects the definitive end of the post-Sept. 11 world, dominated by two major wars and a battle against Islamic terrorism that drew the United States into Afghanistan and still keeps its Predator drones flying over Pakistan and Yemen.
But it also reflects a broader scaling-back of the use of American muscle, not least in the Middle East, as well as a willingness to deal with foreign governments as they are rather than to push for new leaders that better embody American values. “Regime change,” in Iran or even Syria, is out; cutting deals with former adversaries is in.

Attempts to fragment Mideast must be countered: Berri- The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri continued Tuesday his meetings with officials in Iran, holding morning talks with the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, reported the National News Agency.

The two discussed challenges facing the Middle East, the Lebanese state-run agency said.

Berri stressed on the need to “counter the plot of strife and fragmentation in the region, including for Lebanon.”

Voicing agreement with Berri, Shamkhani said: “This is an old plan.”

Shamkhani also called for cooperation and unity.

Bkirki denies Rai resigning from Maronite church- The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai does not plan to quit his post, Bkirki said Tuesday.

Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Church, dismissed allegations that Rai will resign in order to head the Vatican Synod in the Middle East following rumors that Pope Francis denied renewal of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri’s term.

Al-Nusra Front executes five soldiers, "collaborators" in Syria- Al-Akhbar

An al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria has announced the execution of two government soldiers and three "collaborators," according to a statement published on jihadist sites.
Al-Nusra Front also published a photograph showing the bodies of five men, their hands tied and their mouths bound with handkerchiefs. Bloodstains can be seen on the ground next to the bodies.
"Al-Nusra Front has arrested several people collaborating with the regime in Damascus province. They are known to have assassinated fighters and other Muslims, and to have provided information to enable the regime to bombard them," the Front said in a statement.
"God's will has been carried out against several collaborators of the Nusayri regime," it added, using a derogatory term to refer to the Alawi sect.