LATEST: Wheat Harvest Lowest in 30 Years
A twist on Wednesday in the story of Homs, amid the regime’s oft-proclaimed but apparently never-ending offensive against insurgent-held positions….
For six weeks, both Syrian State media and some observers have been declaring a push by the Syrian military to re-take all of the country’s third city; however, despite daily shelling, President Assad’s ground forces have only reclaimed the fringes of neighborhoods like Khalidiya.
That pattern continued yesterday, with Syrian news agency SANA declaring, “Army units continued making progress in Bab Houd neighborhood in Homs city, eliminating a number of terrorists and establishing control over buildings which terrorists had been using to store weapons and attack locals” — almost the same exact language it used two weeks ago.
Instead, the new development on Wednesday was a statement by the Red Cross criticizing the regime for not allowing it to get to civilians in Homs. Magne Barth, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, said:
We have been trying, for close to 20 days now, to bring medical supplies and other aid to the old city of Homs. Despite lengthy negotiations with both sides, and three trips back and forth between Damascus and Homs, we have still not received the go-ahead from the Syrian authorities.
The Red Cross had said last Friday that it was negotiating a humanitarian pause in hostilities, but this was never declared.
Shelling of the Khalidiya area last weekend:
Syria’s wheat harvest is projected to drop to its worst level in nearly 30 years.
Estimates from more than a dozen grain officials and local traders suggest the harvest could be as low as 1.5 million tons, less than half the average before the conflict started in March 2011.
Until recently the Government projected output of 3.6 million tons. They now blame Western sanctions for the fall in output, but Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi insists that the crop will be around 2.5 million tons.
Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate and unconditional release of Polish photojournalist Marcin Suder, kidnapped by a dozen masked gunmen on Wednesday morning in Saraqeb, in the northwestern province of Idlib.
A freelancer who works for the Corbis agency, the Polish photo-agency Studio Melon and other outlets, Suder was abducted during a raid on a media centre in Saraqeb. The identity of his kidnappers is still unknown, and no group has claimed responsibility.
Ten people have been killed and 66 injured in a car bomb in Jaramana, southeast of Damascus, according to State media.
Opposition activists say the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham has claimed the bombing.
The bombing caused large-scale material damage to nearby shops, buildings, and infrastructure, State media and activists reported.
Activists posted photos from the scene of the attack, including these:
The two UN envoys who traveled to Syria to try to persuade President Bashar al-Assad’s government to allow inspectors to inspect alleged chemical weapons attacks ended a 24-hour visit Thursday, AFP report.
AFP quote a UN media and communications analyst Khaled Al Masri as saying that Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom and Angela Kane, the UN high representative for disarmament, “have left Damascus after an official two-day visit, during which the experts met with Syrian officials” including Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York that he would get a report from the envoys “soon”.
AFP also quote a source close to the Syrian government as saying that regime authorities insist that the UN focus on investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal.
As power outages plunge swathes of Syria into darkness — another result of the ongoing fighting — a series of photographs posted by a citizen photojournalist on Thursday show one way that ordinary Syrians in insurgent-controlled areas are solving the problem for themselves.
The photos, posted on the Facebook page of a group of citizen photojournalists called the Lens of Young Jisri (a reference to the town of Jisr Al-Shughur in Idlib Province), purport to show how Syrians are generating electricity by using a car alternator to create a wind generator:
Footage posted on Thursday shows a group of young children in Aleppo’s insurgent-held Ansari neighborhood protesting against Bashar al-Assad.
A 16-year old Turkish citizen has died over a week after being hit in the head by a stray bullet fired from the Syrian side of the border.
Ahmet Gündüz was wounded whilst sitting indoors watching TV last Tuesday. He was taken to Şanlıurfa’s Balıklıgöl State Hospital and then rushed by helicopter to Hacettepe Medical Faculty Hospital where he was treated in intensive care.
Gündüz’s death is the latest incident involving stray bullets and mortar shells targeting or accidentally hitting Turkey’s southern towns on the border with Syria. Mahsun Ertuğrul, 17, was killed on 16 July after being hit in the chest by a bullet in the Ceylanpınar district of the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa.
In October 2012, a mortar shell struck the southeastern town of Akçakale, killing one woman and 4 children and injuring at least 13 others.
The latest figures released by the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees states that 1,846,486 refugees have been caused to flee Syria because of the ongoing conflict.
The largest concentration of refugees is in Lebanon (639,982). The majority of the remaining registered refugees have been taken in by Jordan (505,347), Turkey (428,198), Iraq (159,792), and Egypt (99,167). 14,000 refugees are elsewhere in North Africa.
At least 15 Palestinians, including 5 women and 5 children, were killed yesterday by a rocket attack on a refugee camp on the southern edge of Damascus.
The opposition Yarmouk Camp Coordination Committee said that the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) fired two Grad missiles, hitting the Hamdan Bakery area of the rebel-held camp.
Rami al-Sayyed, from the Syrian Media Centre opposition monitoring group, said “The rockets hit a residential and shopping area way behind the front line. The victims were civilians.” A further 45 people were injured in the attack.
Kurdish media has released the names and pictures of six fighters killed in clashes with insurgents in northern Syria.
Two of the men were members of the Kurdish police force, Asayish, and four are members of the YPG militia.
The authorities in Egypt are detaining Syrians — including asylum seekers — and threatening to deport them, according to Human Rights Watch on Thursday.
According to HRW, last week Egyptian police arrested around 72 Syrian men and nine boys at checkpoints on main roads in Cairo. Those who remain in custody have apparently not been charged. Deportation proceedings have begun against several detainees, including children.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR has registered about 90,000 Syrian asylum seekers in Egypt.
HRW say that there is “growing hostility” in Egypt toward Syrian refugees, particularly against the background of recent events in Egypt. According to HRW, local Egyptian TV channels — including Faraeen and OnTV — accused Egypt’s Syrian community on July 10 of siding with supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, and one presenter, Tawfiq Okasha, gave Syrians living in Egypt a 48-hour ultimatum, saying that Egyptians knew where they lived and that if Syrians did not stop “supporting the Muslim Brotherhood”, their homes would be destroyed.
Ahmad Asi al-Jarba, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, continues his push for international support today with an appearance at the United Nations and a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
On Wednesday Jarba met French President Francois Hollande in Paris as part of efforts to secure significant military aid from Western countries.
Last month, the US — after pressure from Britain and France — agreed publicly to provide arms to the insurgency; however, in-fighting within the Obama Administration has meant that assistance has been limited. Co-ordination with European and Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia, has also not advanced.
Jarba was accompanied in Paris by General Selim Idriss, the head of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, who repeated his complaint that the insurgents do “not have enough” weapons.
After the talks, Hollande said reiterated French “political and humanitarian” support but said nothing about military aid.
Two UN envoys are continuing talks today in Damascus, trying to get access to sites of alleged attacks with chemical weapons.
Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom and Angela Kane, the UN High Representative for Disarmament, arrived from Beirut on Wednesday.
The UN has pressed since April for an enquiry, but the Assad regime has blocked any access except for an investigation of an attack on Khan al Assal, near Aleppo, on 19 March — an incident in which the regime and opposition have traded allegations of use of sarin.
Earlier this month, Damascus said it would discuss the matter with Sellstrom and Kane.
The situation has been complicated this week, however, by the takeover of Khan al-Assal by insurgents.
The Local Coordination Committees claim 125 people were killed on Wednesday, including 31 in Damascus and its suburbs, 29 in Aleppo Province, 20 in Homs Province, and 19 in Daraa Province.
The Violations Documentation Center reports that 67,301 people have been slain since the start of the conflict in March 2011, an increase of 122 since Wednesday. Of these, 51,181 were civilians, a rise of 83 from yesterday.