June 19, 2013 via @Shad_Myster
June 18, 2013 - Arming Syria’s opposition
June 18, 2013 - Rebels and military battle in Aleppo
Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour speaks during a press conference at the ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012. Photo: Hasan Shaaban/The Daily Star
June 18, 2013 by Erika Soloman/Reuters
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces have begun ethnically cleansing Sunni Muslims and deliberately pushing refugees across the border into Lebanon, the Lebanese caretaker minister for social affairs said on Tuesday.
Assad is battling a Sunni-led revolt in Syria, which he and his father before him have ruled for four decades. He belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Wael Abu Faour told Reuters that during the 27-month-old conflict Syrian forces had committed what was “tantamount to ethnic cleansing next to the Syrian-Lebanese border”.
“(Assad) is trying to displace all the Sunnis to Lebanon and this is why I expect to have more displaced people,” he said.
The Syrian revolt turned into a civil war after a crackdown on anti-Assad protesters. It has taken on a sectarian hue, with Shiite Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah backing Assad, while Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia support the rebels. The conflict has sharpened sectarian rifts in Lebanon.
The United Nations says 93,000 people have been killed in Syria and 1.6 million Syrians have fled abroad. Lebanon, the smallest of Syria’s neighbours with 4 million people, has taken in more than half a million Syrian refugees.
“What began was a wave of people fleeing from violence to Lebanon, but what is happening now is a completely different matter. What is happening now is organised displacement of the Syrian people - organised based on sectarian and political motives,” said Abu Faour, a frequent critic of Assad.
He made his comments after meeting U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who said that refugees in Lebanon and their local hosts needed direct support from world powers.
“My very strong appeal is for massive support not only to refugees, not only to local communities, but to Lebanon itself in order to be able to respond to this challenge,” Guterres said, adding that the Lebanese education, health, and social affairs ministries needed financial aid.
The United Nations has asked for some $5 billion in humanitarian aid for Syrians and for Syria’s neighbours before the end of the year, its biggest emergency appeal to date. Of that, $1.7 billion will be required for aid work in Lebanon, including $450 million for the Beirut government, the U.N. says.
Diplomats say that foreign donors are unwilling to give money to Lebanon’s sectarian-based government which they see as deeply divided over Syria’s war and dysfunctional on domestic issues. Some ministers, such as Abu Faour, have been fiercely critical of Assad, while others strongly support him.
“Lebanon needs to formulate a mechanism to create confidence and trust in the government so that donors can increase their funding,” said the Swedish ambassador to Beirut, Niklas Kebbon.
Canadian ambassador Hilary Childs-Adams said her country was seeking reassurances that there was “a mechanism to send aid to Lebanon”. She said it was easier to send aid to Jordan, which hosts 470,000 Syrian refugees. On Sunday Canada pledged 100 million Canadian dollars to help Jordan cope with the burden.
During a visit to a UNHCR registration centre in the southern city of Tyre — where employees say Syrians start queuing at 3:30 a.m. every morning due to the huge influx — municipality workers told Guterres about issues they had dealing with the new refugees and a lack of support from Beirut.
Guterres said he would try to implement some of their suggestions into UNHCR’s work in Lebanon. He drew laughter from attendees when he added, with a chuckle: “As for the Lebanese state, there is not much we can do to fix that.”
Highlighting the difficulty of tackling the refugee crisis in Lebanon, Guterres’s trip was cut short by clashes in the coastal city of Sidon which he had been due to visit later on Tuesday.
June 18, 2013 by Sam Dagher
As the Syrian conflict has entered its third year, staying alive is the priority of most Syrians remaining in the country.
In rebel-controlled areas, residents do everything possible to camouflage any affiliation to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which could be something as simple as collecting a meager pension or monthly government salary.
In regime strongholds, on the other hand, procuring the right kind of hawiya, or identity card, can mean the difference between coasting through the endless checkpoints within and between cities or being subjected to interrogation and possible detention. Nearly two dozen government checkpoints dot the road between the capital Damascus and the city of Homs about 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the north.
For Alia Abbir, a 40-year-old single woman living in Homs with her brothers and their families, survival has required honing the age-old art of flattery.
Ms. Abbir and her siblings are among the very few people who have stayed in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr through its many transformations and tribulations.
The neighborhood fell in rebel hands in late 2011. It quickly became a symbol of resistance in the face of a devastating siege and relentless bombardment by regime forces in Feb 2012. The regime captured it a month later but rebels returned briefly in March of this year before they were routed once more.
The regime is now building a wall around the battle-scarred streets of Baba Amrto keep rebels out. The Abbir home is located on the northern edge of the neighborhood in a section known as Jouret al-Arayees, meaning brides’ pit in Arabic.
Graffiti bears testimony to the struggle over the area.
“God wants Bashar al-Assad,” is scrawled on one wall. “Osama bin Laden: the martyr of Jabhat al-Nusra,” says a competing slogan on another, touting the militant leanings of some of the rebel fighters who were once in control of the neighborhood.
The area was crucial to securing rebel supply lines from Lebanon via the former rebel bastion of Qusayr to the south. Qusayr was captured by the regime and its ally, Lebanese militant group Hezbollah earlier this month.
On a recent morning Ms. Abbir hosted Abu Ibrahim, the regime security official in charge of the neighborhood. He is the de facto ruler here.
Dressed in a bright orange headscarf and a flowing black cloak ornamented with colorful trimmings, Ms. Abbir instructed her brothers to bring out dishes laden with fruit from the kitchen.
She peeled and sliced bananas, apples and oranges offering them to Abu Ibrahim and his assistant.
Teasing Abu Ibrahim, Ms. Abbir recalls how regime security forces fled the neighborhood when rebels came back this March.
“The gunmen were in control of the whole area, not a single security force member dared enter,” she says with a smile. “I kept calling [the security forces] but nobody answered.”
She said when rebels came back she was roused from bed at dawn by knocking at the front door.
“It was my neighbor Ali, the bear, telling me that they have come to liberate us,” says Ms. Abbir mockingly referring to one of the neighborhood’s opposition fighters by his nickname.
She said Ali politely requested that she remove the government flag she had hung from her balcony after regime forces captured Baba Amr in March of last year. She obliged and says she was never again bothered by the rebels, until they were driven out by government bombardment.
Ms. Abbir says rebels treated her well because she became briefly engaged to one of their commanders, a school friend two years her junior. This, she says, was another survival tactic.
“It was a trick to protect myself and my family,” she explains. “I kept coming up with excuses to delay the marriage.”
Ms. Abbir says she was rescued by circumstances from what she says would have been an unavoidable but unhappy and “loveless” marriage: her rebel fiancée was killed in the regime offensive on Baba Amr last year.
“Of course I (cheered) when I saw you and the army,” she says turning to Abu Ibrahim.