Islamist fighters have moved the nuns abducted from a convent in the predominantly Christian town of Maaloula to a nearby town held by rebels. The leader of the Orthodox Church of Antioch has called on the international community to help save them.
Vatican envoy to Syria, Mario Zenari, said on Tuesday that 12 nuns including the convent’s mother superior had been taken from Maaloula to the rebel held town of Yabroud, some 20 km away. “They forced the sisters to evacuate and to follow them towards Yabroud,” Zenari told Reuters from Damascus by telephone, adding that he did not know for what purposes it had been done.
Zenari also said that the nuns were among the last residents remaining in Maaloula after most had fled south to Damascus.
On Monday, Syrian state television reported that several nuns had been abducted from the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Mar Thecla after Islamists captured the ancient part of the town and attacked the convent.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry sent letters to the head of the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary General urging the international community to condemn the rebel attack on Maaloula and the convent, and to put pressure on the countries supporting the rebels.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, John X urged the international community on Tuesday to speak up in defense of Syria’s Christians.
“We urge the United Nations and all governments to speak out in support of Christians in Syria and to take the steps required to free these nuns from capture,” his statement says.
Febronia Nabhan, the mother superior of another convent in Maaloula, said that apart from the nuns, three “young maids” were taken from the convent on Monday.
Nabhan told the AFP that she talked with Mar Thecla’s mother superior, Pelagia Sayaf, on her phone Monday evening and was told they were in Yabrud, which is located some 80km north of Damascus, “comfortably installed in a house.”
Syrian state television reported that Christians had held a service in Damascus, Monday, to protest against the kidnapping of the nuns as well as for two bishops who were abducted near Aleppo in April.
A report by the pan Arabic satellite TV channel Al Mayadeen said that the Syrian soldiers along with local militias were launching an operation to liberate Maaloula.
The rebels who attacked the town reportedly came over from the nearby town of Nabak in which Syrian forces are carrying out anti-terrorist operations.
The fighting in Maaloula is part of a wider struggle between Al-Qaeda linked fighters of the Nusra Front and the Syrian army for control of the strategic Damascus-Homs highway, which passes close by the town.
Maaloula was the scene of heavy fighting in September. It is considered to be one of the birthplaces of Christianity and is home to a number of shrines and monasteries, which are listed as UNESCO world heritage sites.
According to the Syrian Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic church, Gregory Laham, some 450,000 Syrian Christians have been forced from their homes by the civil war that began in March 2011. He added that “at least 57 Christian sites” have been damaged or destroyed since the beginning of hostilities, and blamed the United States and its Western allies for aggravating the situation by providing assistance to the rebels.
Christians, who comprise about 10 percent of Syria’s population, are viewed as supporters of President Bashar Assad, fearing the Islamist ideology of some rebels. This has made them the target of attacks.
“I believe it is all systematic and planned,” Sami Housni, a Christian priest in Damascus told RT. “Forcing Christians to leave… In Iraq, for instance, less than 200,000 Christians remain. We do have concerns, we do hope to stick to our land – Syria, which is the cradle of Christianity. We also hope that the Pope and heads of Christian denominations shall call for denouncing violence and adopting dialogue.”
source: Russia Today
Pakistan could be given the responsibility for training two militant brigades in Syria, with about 5,000-10,000 militants.
Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest spenders of the foreign-sponsored war in Syria is turning to Pakistan to train militants, repeating a partnership that once failed in Afghanistan, a new report says.
The Foreign Policy Magazine wrote in an article on Thursday that Saudi Arabia is embarking on a major new effort to train Syrian rebel forces.
The article cites three sources with knowledge of the program that say Riyadh has enlisted the help of Pakistani instructors to do it.
According to the sources Pakistan could be given the responsibility for training about 5,000-10,000 militants from two brigades.
The report says the main goal of the Saudi project is to unite the mainstream armed opposition in Syria, many of whom are extremist forces, under the banner of a unified army.
The decision came after signs of rift in relations between Washington and Riyadh became evident.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to move forward with training the Syria militants independent of the United States is the latest sign of a split between the two longtime allies.
In Syria, Saudi officials were aggrieved by Washington’s decision to cancel a strike on the Syrian government in reprisal for a chemical attack on the Damascus suburbs this summer.
A top Saudi official told the Washington Post that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan was unaware of the cancelation of the strike. “We found about it from CNN,” he said.
As a result, Saudi Arabia has decided to follow its own plans which rely on a network of Saudi allies in addition to Pakistan, such as Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and France.
“As the Saudis expand their effort to topple Assad, analysts say the central challenge is not to inflict tactical losses on the Syrian army, but to organize a coherent force that can coordinate its actions across the country. In other words, if Riyadh hopes to succeed where others have failed, it needs to get the politics right — convincing the fragmented rebel groups, and their squabbling foreign patrons, to work together in pursuit of a shared goal,” the article writes.
“The biggest problem facing the Saudis now is the same one facing the US, France, and anyone else interested in helping the rebels: the fragmentation of the rebels into groups fighting each other for local and regional dominance rather than cooperating to overthrow Assad,” said David Ottaway, a scholar at the Wilson Center who wrote a biography of Prince Bandar.
Syria militants are facing with deep divisions and rivalries with every now and then several of them pledging alliance together to form independent armies.
On Thursday, al-Qaeda leader Aymen Zawahiri who has the strongest militant groups on the ground in Syria fighting alongside the US-backed opposition urged all armed groups to be united and overthrow the Syrian government and set up their own ruling system.
Members of the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) take positions inside a trench in the countryside of Tirbsybya in the northeastern Syrian province of Hasakeh on August 30, 2013.
Kurdish fighters in northern Syria have expelled al-Qaeda-linked militants from the majority Kurdish area of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border, an opposition monitoring group says.
“The Committees for the Protection of the Kurds (YPG) have taken over the Manajeer area, scene of battles with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups,” the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.
The capture of Manajeer left the whole of the area around the strategic border town of Ras al-Ain in Kurdish control, the group said.
The advance came a day after reports that Kurdish fighters had driven terrorist groups out of 19 towns and villages across northeastern Syria, and a week after they captured the key Iraqi border crossing at Yaarubiyeh.
The al-Qaeda-linked militants “have now lost their last remaining positions in the countryside of Ras al-Ain,” the Observatory said.
The Al-Qaeda loyalists withdrew to the city of Raqa in the Euphrates valley to the southwest, the only provincial capital outside government control, and now dominated by ISIL.
Near the capital, the army pressed its offensive against rebel enclaves, hitting the town of Mleiha east of Damascus with a ground-to-ground missile, the observatory said.
Amateur video posted online by activists showed a huge cloud of grey smoke rising above the town.
Southeast of Damascus, the militants shelled the majority Christian-Druze suburb of Jaramana, a government-held area that has come under repeated rebel attack, the group said.
In the central province of Hama, ISIL militants captured a rebel commander and more than 20 fighters in the latest infighting between the insurgents and mainstream rebels, the group added.
CNN reports that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in other words al-Qaeda, has taken over northern Syria despite the efforts of the Syrian government to keep the terrorist gang at bay.
Omar Gharba, a Wahhabi cleric, destroys a statue of the Virgin Mary in Yakubiyah in Syria’s Idlib province after it was taken over by militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Photo: Syrian Christians in a Time of Conflict
“Al Qaeda has swept to power with the aim of imposing a strict Islamist ideology on Syrians across large swathes of Syria’s rebel-held north, according to a CNN survey of towns, activists and analysts that reveals an alarming increase in al Qaeda-linked control in just the past month.”
“ISIS is the strongest group in Northern Syria — 100% — and anyone who tells you anything else is lying,” states the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a one-man propaganda operation run by Rami Abdul Rahman.
Mr. Rahman, a disaffected Syrian, operates the official propaganda operation out of a semidetached red-brick house in Coventry, England, according to the New York Times. The disinfo op is allegedly funded by the European Union.
CNN comments on al-Qaeda’s version of Lebensraum and its effort to spread across Syria an austere brand of Islamic law identical to that of its financial sponsors, Wahhabi-dominated Saudi Arabia and the fossilized and corrupt Gulf monarchies:
“The swift al Qaeda expansion poses a severe policy dilemma for the United States and its European allies who have long delayed their promised armed assistance to rebel groups as they struggled with fears that the weapons could end up in the hands of al Qaeda-backed extremists.
Observers say the delay has provided a vacuum in the often chaotic rebel ranks that the organized and fearless Islamists have moved to fill.
Many observers explain that the extent of ISIS’s discipline and resources — they are said to have considerable cash at their disposal — means that the other rebel groups operating in the north do not seek to confront them.”
It is an established fact this “considerable cash” comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but we shouldn’t expect CNN, a Pentagon propaganda and psychological warfare operation, to note the fact.
The United States government and its war propaganda outlets have feigned concern about the presence and growing dominance of al-Qaeda and spin-offs such as the brutal al-Nusra Front in Syria for some time now.
In fact, domination by al-Qaeda is the preferred outcome, as it was in Libya. The point of the CIA’s bogus “Arab Spring” is not to free emasculated Muslims, Arabs and (importantly) Persians from tyranny. It is the opposite.
One of the U.S. government’s main arguments for why we are supposed to have concluded that Syrian government forces were responsible for the August chemical weapons attack in Damascus is that the rebels being armed by the U.S. whose ranks include al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic extremists didn’t have access to such weapons. But now inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) — which are in Syria disarming its stockpiles after the government under President Bashar al-Assad declared its possession of CW and agreed to allow the teams in for that purpose — are asking to also visit CW sites under that were captured by the rebels and are under their control.
Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Ja’afari says the United Nations was not acted impartially against the Syria crisis.
Referring to some Arabs countries as well as Turkey’s pressure on UN to impose more sanctions against the Syrian government, Ja’afari said it seems that these sanctions are not exerted by UN itself, but they are imposed by UN Security Council.
The Syrian diplomat also stated that his country has become the victim of the interference of certain countries, including Turkey and Qatar, in its internal affairs.
The Syrian envoy said now that the fact has become crystal clear, the same countries supporting the insurgents are denying their links to these groups.
He said Saudi Arabia has provided the militants in Syria with chemical weapons to carry out the deadly attack of August 21 in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.
“The Saudi intelligence provided this chemical substance to the rebels in the neighborhood of Damascus and asked them to use it against the government and then to accuse the [Syrian] government of doing so,” Ja’afari said on Friday.
It was “something that we warned against it six months before, in an official letter circulated to the Security Council members and to the [UN] Secretary-General, dated December 17,” he added.
“Mrs. Amos is not very well briefed by her aides about how far the UN system is deeply involved in refusing this kind of irresponsible and provocative behavior by some member states,” the Syrian diplomat pointed out, adding, “We are acknowledging and saying that yes we have a humanitarian situation prevailing in the country, but we should know and say what are the root causes of this humanitarian situation.”
Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011, with the Western powers and their regional allies, especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, supporting the militants operating inside Syria.
The US federal government and the various agencies, media organizations, individuals, foreign governments, non-governmental organizations, lobbies, forces, and other entities that are tied to it have done everything in their power to obscure the details involving the chemical attacks that took place in Syria on August 21, 2013. The aim has been to justify the US-led foreign campaign that was launched against Syria in 2011 by making the Syrian government appear culpable of grievous crimes. The chemical attack on Ghouta has now come to represent the crux of the matter.
From the very start there was double-speaking coming from Washington and its cohorts about what happened in Ghouta. The Obama Administration and America’s allies deliberately ignored that chemical weapons were used in Syria prior to August 21, 2013. They have pretended that the United Nations investigation team that had arrived in Syria when chemical weapons were used in Ghouta had just stumbled there coincidentaly or with the purpose of «inspecting» the Syrian government’s chemical weapon depots.
Ignoring the Original Mandate of the UN Investigators
In reality, the UN team that arrived in Syria in August was not a team of weapons inspectors. It was a team of «investigators.» Even more importantly, the Syrian government had invited the UN investigation team to Syria in March 2013. This was because the insurgents had launched chemical attacks on March 19, 2013.
The US and its allies tried to blame Syria, but they were embarrassingly contradicted by Carla Del Ponte, one of the UN investigators responsible for Syria, that said all the evidence pointed to the insurgents and not the Syrian government.
Although she backed her conclusion with facts, Del Ponte was dismissed by the US, and NATO even abnormally took the time to make a statement against here. Moreover, the insurgents were even caught trying to sneak sarin gas into Syria from Turkey by Turkish security forces in May 2013.
There are reports that some third countries are training Syrian rebels to use chemical weapons in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The intention is to put the skill to use in new false flag actions in Syria, he explained.
The suspected training happened in Afghan territories not under control of the government in Kabul, Lavrov said.
“Some reports indicate that [Al-Qaeda-linked radical] Al-Nusra Front is planning to smuggle toxic compounds and relevant specialists into Iraqi territory to stage terrorist attacks there this time,” Lavrov said.
Syrian president says his country’s military industry was developed enough and chemical arms are no longer needed against Israeli military attacks.
Speaking to the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, Bashar al-Assad said his government is totally ready to participate in Russia-brokered Geneva II talks, but he expressed doubt over the participation of such peace conference.
Referring to the uselessness of chemical arms’ usage in this era, Assad said he no longer saw chemical weapons as necessary, explaining that even without his arsenal of chemical gases, he could still resist against Zionist regime attack
Assad said Syria’s advanced missile capabilities were sufficient to deter Israel militarily and therefore he did not need the chemical stockpile.
In fact, he said, Syria stopped manufacturing chemical weapons back in 1997, replacing them with conventional missiles “which are the determining factor on the ground.”
“It is enough to control Israel’s airports with firepower in order to paralyze it,” Assad said. Easily treatable medically, chemical weapons had more of a psychological effect on Israelis than a physical one, he added.
The UN has tasked the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to rid Syria of its stockpile by mid-2014. Twenty-seven OPCW inspectors are currently in Syria on mission to inspect over 20 suspected chemical weapons sites across the country.
Assad also blasted the leaders of the Arab world for siding with the West in his opposition.
“No Arab official ever contacted us trying to mediate or offering an Arab solution proposal,” Assad said. The West, he added, “was more dignified in dealing with us than some of the Arabs.”
“Even the conventional military industry, which used to be geared against Israel, is now directed at the domestic enemies. This too is a loss,” Assad remarked of his domestic military complex, adding jokingly that he is more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, this year’s winner.