Meeting in Syria called off as states refuse to attend


SYRIAN TROOPS and rebels clashed near Aleppo’s civilian and military airports east of the city yesterday, as Russia cancelled a meeting of the international contact group when western members refused to attend.

The government has attempted to keep the city’s civilian airport, 15km from the centre, open during the crisis as road travel between Aleppo and Damascus grows increasingly insecure. A strategic military facility there has been used by warplanes and helicopter gunships involved in military operations against rebel positions.

State news agency Sana reported the military carried out an operation against a rebel group in the Hanano area of Aleppo, killing its commanders and inflicting “heavy losses” on the rank and file. The agency said troops stopped gunmen seeking to cross into Syria from Lebanon and that 75 detainees had been released in Homs.

In Damascus, opposition spokesmen said troops clashed with rebels near the main military airport and shelled areas on the southern edge of the capital.

UN monitors prepared to depart ahead of the Sunday deadline to end their mission. A small UN liaison office is set to replace the mission, and former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi has been asked to take over as mediator from UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who resigned.

The domestic opposition National Co-ordination Board has called for a ceasefire and negotiations between the opposition and the government.

President Bashar al-Assad has appointed ministers of industry, health and justice, all three from Aleppo, and named a new governor for Aleppo province.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius called for the “Syrian regime to be smashed fast” after listening to the stories of Syrians who fled across the border to a Turkish camp.

Former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab, who defected and fled to Jordan, is in Qatar for talks on unifying the opposition and speeding up the downfall of the regime.

Kuwaiti citizens have been evacuated from Lebanon due to the deterioration in security. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have urged their nationals to leave the country. All four countries have been providing arms and funds for rebel factions.

Lebanese hotels reported mass cancellations ahead of the Eid festival, which ends the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when many Gulf nationals flock to Beirut and the mountains.

“The summer season is not only over . . . it has been martyred,” stated Pierre Ashkar, chairman of the hotels association.

Far fewer tourists have visited Lebanon this summer due to the crisis in Syria which, during the past week, has spilled across the border in a rush of kidnappings, mainly of Syrians.

The US embassy in Beirut has warned citizens of an escalation in violence in Lebanon due to the unrest in Syria and suspended Fulbright language programmes.

The embassy issued the warning after 10 Syrians were kidnapped in Beirut and the Bekaa valley by an unknown group demanding freedom for 11 Lebanese Shia pilgrims abducted by rebels in Syria in May.

Beirut newspaper Al-Nahar reported Mr Fabius had met envoys of the kidnappers at the Turkish border.


AIR FRANCE PASSENGERS ASKED TO PAY FOR FUELTHE CREW of an Air France aircraft that was rerouted via Damascus on Wednesday asked passengers how much cash they could stump up after Syrian authorities refused a credit card payment to refuel the aircraft, the French airline said on Thursday.

Ultimately it found an alternative arrangement, it said.

The aircraft that was headed for Beirut on Wednesday night was diverted due to civil unrest in the Lebanese capital and sought to go to Amman, but it was forced to land in Syria due to a lack of fuel.

Air France stopped its flights to Damascus in March as fighting in the country escalated, and relations between France and Syria have collapsed since Paris demanded that President Bashar al-Assad step down.

“Because of the terrible relations between the two countries and the situation in Syria, the passengers were really worried about landing there,” a friend of one of the passengers, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

On landing the local airport authorities said they could not accept a credit-card payment and would only take cash, an Air France spokeswoman said.

“As a precaution and in anticipation, the crew asked how much money the passengers had in cash to pay to fill up with fuel,” the airline spokeswoman said.

She said the airline was eventually able to pay the bill without taking money from passengers, but she declined to say how it had paid or how much the fuel stop cost.

The aircraft, which had departed from Paris, took off two hours after landing in Damascus for an overnight stop in Cyprus.

It arrived in Beirut on Thursday evening. – (Reuters)