Clashes in Syria continue as meeting is postponed

Mon, Aug 13, 2012, 01:00

AS CLASHES flared in the southwestern Salahuddin district of Aleppo from which rebels withdrew last week, the Arab League postponed a foreign ministers’ meeting set to take place in Jeddah due to minor surgery performed on Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

The gathering was to discuss the appointment of a new UN- Arab League envoy to succeed Kofi Annan, who steps down on August 20th. Veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi has been tipped for the post.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has urged the Security Council to opt for a “flexible UN presence in Syria [that] would provide the UN impartial means to assess the situation on the ground” and continue “important humanitarian work”.

Syria’s army continued the shelling of, and ground operations in, six other Aleppo neighbourhoods where rebels have taken up positions.

Pro-government newspaper Al-Watan reported that troops were poised to move into the Sukari district, a key “bastion of armed men”. The expatriate opposition said 10 civilians had been executed following a round-up of 350 men in the Shamas district of Homs. Fighting is said to have been renewed in Idlib province and gunfire was reported in the Qadam district of the capital.

Following meetings with senior Turkish officials on Saturday in Istanbul, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced that the two governments were planning for “the horrible event that chemical weapons [could be] used” or fall “into the wrong hands”.

She reiterated that the use of such weapons by the government – which has denied any intention of deploying these weapons – would be a “red line for the world”. She said the US would provide $5 million (€4.1 million) in aid for Syrian refugees, bringing the total to more than $80 million.

The US and Turkey are also considering imposing no-fly zones in Syria as well as other measures to aid rebels. Mrs Clinton said the two countries’ intelligence services and militaries would form a working group to analyse the situation and carry out operational planning.

The working group is also expected to examine the growing presence in Syria of al-Qaeda which, according to US intelligence officials, has established a network of cells throughout the country, has carried out two dozen bombings, and is organising veterans of the Afghan war to secure and train new recruits.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said outside powers should also take steps to resolve the humanitarian crisis, particularly in Aleppo.

In further attacks at the weekend, a bomb exploded and gunmen opened fire as a vehicle carrying soldiers passed through Marjeh square in the centre of Damascus on Saturday. No one was killed and the perpetrators were caught.

Another device went off near the Tishreen stadium.

Rebels reportedly attacked a bus carrying civilians from Hama, killing six.

Ali Abbas, a reporter for state news agency Sana, was assassinated at his home in Jdaidet Artouz, to the west of the capital, and al-Arabiya TV said Bara’a Yousef al-Bushi, an army defector who reported for several foreign news bodies, died during shelling in al-Tal, a town to the north.