ISIL withdraws from Aleppo
Members of an armed rebel group previously affiliated with Al-Qaeda retreated Friday from parts of the northern province of Aleppo in Syria, ahead of a Saturday deadline issued by another rebel group that could spark more infighting, opposition activists said.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) withdrew from several towns north of Aleppo, including Azaz near the Turkish border, Aleppo-based activists who go by the names of Ibrahim Saeed and Abu Raed said. Rival fighters moved in shortly after, activists and the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group confirmed.
The pullout came three days after the leader of a rival Al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria, the Nusra Front, gave ISIL a five-day ultimatum to accept mediation by leading clerics to end infighting or be “expelled” from the region.
Report: Syrian army kills 175 rebels in ambush
Syrian army troops killed 175 rebel fighters in an ambush Wednesday south of Damascus, state media reported. The attack purportedly targeted Al-Qaeda-linked fighters as part of a government effort to secure the capital from rebel groups attempting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The dawn attack by Assad’s forces in the opposition-held area of eastern Ghouta will likely push rebel groups further away from the capital. Damascus’ suburbs have been strongholds of the opposition since March 2011, when the revolt against Assad’s regime began.
If confirmed, the attack would be one of the deadliest known assaults by government forces against rebels in the area.
Thousands of Syrian civilians flee ‘barrels of death’
KILLIS BORDER CROSSING, Turkey — The white Hyundai Accent with Syrian license plates from Aleppo drove quickly across the final stretch of no man’s land from Syria, with four young children packed into the backseat with luggage and blankets. In the front seat, a woman held another child in her lap.
After a final passport check by Turkish border guards, the vehicle crossed over to the safety of Turkish territory. The driver, a man who gave his name only as Mahmoud, out of a fear of reprisals by Syrian authorities, said he had put his family through enough in Aleppo.
"We are leaving because of the barrel bombs," he said. "We can’t take it anymore."
Photo: Saad Abobrahim/Reuters
"Jihad is the best tourism," a young Dutchman who calls himself Chechclear posted on his Tumblr. He was riding a camel, grinning, his face filtered into an Instagram haze. Chechclear is one of an estimated 1,700 Europeans fighting in Syria. He’s part of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which Al-Qaeda has just officially disowned, and seems to be having the time of his life. He documents his adventure for adoring fans across several social media platforms.
This is the reality of modern jihad, where the faithful chronicle their response to the cause in real time. But if Europeans like Chechclear are living out their Call of Duty fantasies, they do it at the expense of Syrian lives. In the territory it holds in Syria’s North, ISIS is imposing its harsh interpretation of sharia law with torture and beheadings. Its Western fighters are tweeting selfies in the ruins.
In Syria, the battle for territory waged on the ground is matched by a battle for meaning waged on the Internet. Whether they’re Kurds carving out an independent state, revolutionaries or TEDx organizers sympathetic to Assad, Syrians use Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to tell their stories. It’s contested ground, filled with both propaganda and truth. Posting can be deadly. Both the Assad regime and ISIS target citizen journalists for arrest. In the embattled Lebanese city of Tripoli, I interviewed an aid worker who, at the start of the revolution, smuggled memory cards over the border that contained footage of demonstrations. Once he was in Lebanon, he’d upload the footage to Facebook. Assad had blocked access to the Internet once. Activists were terrified he’d do it again.
The Syrian government’s representatives and the opposition observed a moment of silence on Thursday to honor the victims of the three-year long conflict.
The peace talks in Geneva ended on Friday with little progress, but on the ground in Syria, the brutal war continues.
A report released by Human Rights Watch this week says entire neighborhoods are being leveled not just by missiles or bombs, but by bulldozers.
“As I was walking I looked back and I saw the bulldozer demolishing my shop,” a local restaurant owner told HRW in Qaboun, Damascus.
"Before my eyes, all of my family’s hard work was destroyed in one second."
The HRW report concluded that the demolitions seemed to be aimed at “intentionally punish[ing] the civilian population.”
Tracey Shelton, who reported from Syria last year, remembers: “In May 2012, Maarat al Numan was a bustling city. When I returned in January 2013, it was rubble.”
“Not one building remained unscathed. Few were standing at all. The only sign of civilian life was a truck loaded with women and children fleeing the area.”
The Syrian government is razing entire neighborhoods — and that’s not the half of it
Photos via AFP/Getty Images & Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost
Evidence of ‘industrial-scale killing’ by Syria spurs call for war crimes charges
Syrian government officials could face war crimes charges in the light of a huge cache of evidence smuggled out of the country showing the “systematic killing” of about 11,000 detainees, according to three eminent international lawyers. Read the full story
Meanwhile, the Syria peace conference set to begin in Switzerland later this week is now in disarray, after the United Nations issued an invitation to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ally Iran.
Here’s the latest.
Rival Islamist rebel groups fought in the Syrian city of Raqqa on Monday, residents said, as local fighters tried to drive out a foreign-led Al Qaeda affiliate which has also seized towns across the border in Iraq.
Activists opposed to President Bashar al-Assad said dozens of Syrian members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had changed sides to join other Sunni Islamist factions which have taken advantage of a local backlash against the ISIL and the foreign Al Qaeda jihadists prominent among its commanders.
The battles in Raqqa, a provincial capital on the Euphrates river in Syria’s largely desert east, left bodies clad in the black favored by Al Qaeda fighters lying in the streets. They followed similar violence elsewhere in recent days that have seen the ISIL lose manpower and abandon some of its positions.
Syrian Islamist rebels fight against Al Qaeda-linked militants
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
If it were being done entirely in secret, it would be history’s greatest international spy thriller. The world’s biggest global players, not all of them exactly friendly, have to cooperate to pull off the impossible: collect and destroy Syria’s vast stores of chemical weapons. And as fast as possible.
The world this week learned some of the details of the otherwise classified plan to rid Syria of its wildly dangerous stockpile — including the target deadline of Dec. 31, 2013, by which these world powers aim to have removed all chemical weapons from Syrian soil.
While the Syrian government has agreed to the plan (PDF), devised by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, seeing it through remains no easy task.
The operation to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons is an impressive act of international cooperation
Photos by AFP/Getty Images
While the use of chemical weapons in Syria made the world sit up and take notice, conventional weapons continue to wreak havoc on the country’s civilian population.
A crude but effective weapon has seen a resurgence in the conflict in recent days — the barrel bomb. The imprecise, incendiary weapons — oil barrels or cylinders filled with petrol, nails and TNT — are rolled out of low-flying helicopters.
The regime bombarded Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, for four straight days this week, according to rebels. Its use of barrel bombs in the aerial assault claimed massive casualties, with nearly 200 people reported killed.
In one instance, a witness said a barrel bomb was dropped near a food distribution line, killing about 30 people, including a one-year-old child.
"A helicopter came, and suddenly out of nowhere a barrel hit this area," the witness told NBC.
"About 30 people died, including women and children who were waiting their turn so they can get the bread."
Syria’s barrel bombs, explained
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
CALAIS, France — Refugees have traveled thousands of miles to start a new life outside war-torn Syria, but the hardest part of their journey may be crossing the English Channel. For decades, the French port of Calais has been the last stop for undocumented immigrants on their clandestine journey to Britain. Hundreds come here to wait their chance. In recent months, Syrians started arriving. Many of them have not yet been able to leave.
VIDEO: The long road out of Syria