US advises citizens to leave Lebanon
Moscow sends ships to Syria to evacuate Russian citizens if crisis escalates
A supporter of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad gestures while wearing a glove with fake blood in front of pictures of Assad during a sit-in near the US embassy in Awkar, north of Beirut, against potential US strikes on Syria. Photograph: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
Anticipating US strikes on Syria, the US state department has ordered nonessential embassy personnel and US citizens to leave Lebanon due to security concerns following US president Barack Obama’s call for retaliation for an alleged government chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas in the Damascus countryside.
Three Russian naval ships – a reconnaissance ship and two amphibious landing vessels – are on their way to the Syrian coast to evacuate Russians from Syria if necessary.
In a letter to US House of Representatives speaker John Boehner, his Syrian counterpart Jihad al-Laham urged the US “not to rush into any irresponsible, reckless action”. Congress is due to began debate on proposed strikes on Monday.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said $3.3 billion dollars is needed to meet the challenge of the refugee crisis through the end of the year.
The UN children’s agency reports that nearly two million Syrian children are not receiving an education, about 40 per cent of school age.
“For a country that was on the verge of achieving universal primary education before the conflict started, the numbers are staggering,” said spokeswoman Marixie Mercade. Schools have been destroyed or damaged, or are being used to house displaced families and there are not enough teachers and classrooms. Refugee children are even in a worse situation than those remaining in the country.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle called on UN weapons inspectors to “speed up publication” of their report on the alleged chemical weapons strikes in Syria in order to have an “independent statement by an independent neutral institution”.
In Syria, the government has offered a bounty for the capture or information leading to the arrest of foreign “terrorists”. The sum fixed for detaining a “terrorist” is about $4,000 at the official Syrian exchange rate, while half that amount has been specified for those responsible for the capture of a foreign fighter.
Rebel Free Syrian Army and jihadi Jabhat al-Nusra forces have withdrawn from the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, 60km northeast of Damascus, after a brief incursion, giving rise to fears that the churches and convents located in the town, where Aramaic, the language of Jesus is still spoken, could be destroyed.
Troops reportedly began a major assault on the western Damascus suburb of Muadamiya with the aim of dislodging rebels who, for months, have threatened the adjacent Mezze airport, the main military facility in the area of the capital which is guarded by a division commanded by Maher al-Assad, president Bashar al-Assad’s brother.