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Syria, August 27: Are US Airstrikes Imminent?

Syria, August 27: Are US Airstrikes Imminent?
August 27
22:41 2013

LATEST: White House Spokesman: “No Decision on Force”

*US Secretary of Defense Hagel To BBC: U.S. Forces “Ready” To Strike Syria If Obama Orders Attack
*West Tells Syrian Opposition To “Expect Strike Against Assad”
*Regime Continues To Strike Ariha in Idlib Province

Jump to Morning Summary

White House Spokesman: “No Decision on Force”

Unsurprisingly, White House spokesman Jay Carney has held the line at the daily conference, saying President Obama has not authorised an attack on the Assad regime.

He repeats later, “A decision about the use of military force has not been made. The president is reviewing his options, plural.”

Carney said the result of an US investigation of last week’s chemical weapons attack would be released “in the coming days” in a declassified report.

French President: “Ready to Punish Those Who Took Vile Decision to Gas Innocent People”

President François Hollande has told a conference of French ambassadors, “France is ready to punish those who took the vile decision to gas innocent people.”

Holalnde said France’s defence chiefs will meet on Wednesday and “Parliament will be informed of the situation as soon as possible”.

Hagel To BBC: U.S. Forces “Ready” To Strike Syria If Obama Orders Attack

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC on Tuesday that the U.S. military is “ready” to attack Syria if President Barack Obama orders strikes.

“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” Hagel said.

Hagel told the BBC that the Department of Defense has presented “all options for all contingencies” to Obama and that it was “pretty clear that chemical weapons were used against people in Syria”.

“I think the intelligence [being gathered by UN inspectors] will conclude that it wasn’t the rebels who used [chemical weapons], and there’ll probably be pretty good intelligence to show is that the Syria government was responsible. But we’ll wait and determine what the facts and the intelligence bear out,” the BBC quoted Hagel as saying.

Video: Regime Continues To Strike Ariha, Idlib

Claimed footage from Tuesday shows a large cloud of smoke rising after a regime strike on Ariha, Idlib. Activists say the explosion was caused after a regime helicopter dropped barrels containing high explosives. The regime has been striking Ariha since insurgents overran the strategically important town earlier this week.

Syrian Military Uses Iran’s Fars News To Issue Warning: Damascus Will Strike Tel Aviv If U.S. Wages “Full-Scale War”

The Syrian military has used Iran’s Fars News — close to the Revolutionary Guards — to issue a warning that if the U.S. wages a “full-scale war” against Syria, Damascus and its allies would respond with “an immediate attack on Tel Aviv”.

“If Damascus comes under attack, Tel Aviv will be targeted too and a full-scale war against Syria will actually issue a license for attacking Israel…We are rest assured that if Syria is attacked, Israel will also be set on fire and such an attack will, in turn, engage Syria’s neighbors,” Fars quoted the “senior Syrian army source” as saying.

If that were not enough, the “senior army source” had another dire prediction — a U.S. strike on Syria could cause “certain irresponsible groups” to be formed, which would “endanger Israel’s security growingly [sic]”.

“Therefore, weakening the central government in Damascus will actually start growing attacks on Israel and will create insecurity for that regime…Thus, a US attack on Syria will herald frequent strikes and attacks on Israel, not just by Damascus and its allies in retaliation, but by extremist groups who will find a ground for staging their aspirations,” Fars quotes the source as saying.

Syrian FM: Regime Attacks On Ghouta Aim To Protect Civilians In Damascus

State news agency SANA has published more detail from Foreign Minister Walid Al Moallem’s press conference this morning (for EA’s coverage of the presser, go here). Here is what Moallem said about the regime’s continued offensive against East Ghouta, the area hit by last Wednesday’s chemical weapons attacks”

If the countries which want to launch a military strike against Syria believe that such a strike will affect the military operations in Ghouta, then these countries are mistaken…

The military operations in Ghouta aim firstly at launching preemptive strike to the schemes of invading Damascus and secondly protecting the civilians in Damascus neighborhoods from the terrorist rockets launched by the terrorists.

Strikes “As Early As Thursday”, U.S. Officials Tell NBC

NBC are citing “senior U.S. officials” as saying that the U.S. could launch missile strikes against Syria “as early as Thursday”.

The officials told NBC that there could be “three days” of strikes that were limited in scope, and aimed at sending a message Assad.

Arab League Holds Assad Responsible For Chemical Attacks Near Damascus

The Arab League on Tuesday said that it holds Assad responsible for last Wednesday’s chemical attacks near Damascus.

Diplomatic sources said the statement, issued after a meeting of Arab League delegates in Cairo, was pushed through with strong backing from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

West Tells Syrian Opposition To “Expect Strike Against Assad”

Reuters are citing “sources who attended a meeting between envoys and the Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul” as saying that the West has told the Syrian opposition to expect a strike against Assad.

“The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva,” one of the sources told Reuters.

According to Reuters, the sources said the meeting took place in a hotel in central Istanbul and was attended by senior SNC members — among them the group’s president, Ahmad Jarba — and representatives from 11 “Friends of Syria” members, including U.S. envoy Robert Ford.

UK Parliament To Be Recalled On Thursday To Discuss Syria

UN Says Inspectors Postponing Visit To East Ghouta For One Day

The UN spokesperson has tweeted that the UN inspectors in Syria will delay their visit to chemical weapons sites in East Ghouta for one day. The update comes amid continued regime shelling in East Ghouta, the site of most of Wednesday’s chemical attacks, and after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Moallem said earlier today that the regime will continue its operations in the area, despite earlier promises that the regime would allow the inspectors access to the area.

Video: Regime Continues To Strike East Ghouta

Footage from Tuesday shows regime strikes on towns in East Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs. This video shows an attack in Irbeen city:

Syrian FM Walid Al Moallem: We Won’t Stop Our Attacks On East Ghouta

Foreign Minister Walid Al Moallem held a press conference in Damascus this morning.

Key points and claims are summarized below:

On UN inspectors and why they did not visit East Ghouta:

* The inspectors “never asked” to go to Ghouta until Saturday.

* The regime is not prepared to stop attacks on Ghouta, because these protect the capital. Military operations would “not cease”.

*” We couldn’t guarantee the security of the UN investigation team in Ghouta, because it’s a huge area”

* Damascus was “surprised” the inspectors had not visited East Ghouta. “But we were surprised today that they weren’t able to go there because the armed men there did not agree among themselves on ways to provide the investigators with security.”

On regime’s continued attacks in East Ghouta

* Moallem said “our brave army is achieving gains in East Ghouta to protect Damascus”

* Insurgent missiles “have already fallen on Damascus”, that’s why the Assad government had to defend the population.

On chemical weapons use:

* Moallem denied that the Assad regime used chemical weapons, saying that “no country” ever used weapons of mass destruction against its own people”.

On a military strike against Syria:

* A strike would “serve Israel’s interest and without any doubt the military effort exerted by al-Nusra Front that is linked to Al Qaeda.”

* The military attack that the U.S. is planning “will not affect the achievements made by the Syrian army in Ghouta”.

* “We would either surrender or defend ourselves with the available means if we came under attack. So we wil defend ourselves”.

On regional countries:

* Moallem said that Jordan’s security is linked to Syria and has interests with it. “Don’t let foreigners ruin the ties between the two neighbors,” he urged Jordanians.

* Moallem reiterated that Damascus has strong allies in Tehran and Moscow. Syria had a “long-standing relationship” with Russia, including military agreements and the Russians are “part of our resilience”.

* Israel does not want a political solution to the crisis in Syria.

Video: Liwa Al Islam Brigade Blow Up Tank In Damascus

As Strikes Loom, State Media Highlight Critics Of Military Action

State news agency SANA on Tuesday highlights Western critics of military action against Damascus.

SANA noted comments by U.K. Conservative M.P. Sarah Wollaston and the Italian Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino:


SANA cited Bonino as saying that Western leaders must reconsider intervention in Syria “a thousand times” to avoid “catastrophic repercussions”.

Russian Foreign Ministry: U.S. Postponement Of Meeting With Moscow Over Syria “Encourages Syrian Opposition”

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday slammed the U.S. decision to cancel a bilateral meeting in The Hague between the U.S. and Russia to discuss Syria, saying that the move “encourages the Syrian opposition”.

State news agency ITAR-TASS quotes Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich as saying that the meeting would have been “extremely useful, particularly now with the threat of military action hanging over that country.”

Regime Accuses U.S. Of “Fabricating Evidence Like In Iraq”

With the threat of U.S. strikes looming, Syrian State media focus on comments by Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi, who accused Washington of fabricating evidence against Syria, “as it had in Iraq”.

“Any aggression on Syria is illegitimate as the pretext for launching this aggression will be unfruitful, particularly that the UN team charged to investigate in the use of chemical weapons in Syria hasn’t yet completed its mission and hasn’t set its report,” al-Zoubi told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV Channel on Monday.

Video: Dawn Shelling In Al Qaboun, Damascus

Footage from Tuesday morning shows the aftermath of early morning shelling in the Damascus suburb of Al Qaboun.

Activists report that there are clashes on the outskirts of the neighborhood this morning as regime forces attempt to push into Al Qaboun.

Videos: Insurgents Seize Weapons In Khanasir, Aleppo Province

Insurgents in Khanasir claim the capture of large quantities of regime weapons:

Footage posted on Tuesday claims to show insurgents in Khanasir loading seized weapons — it is unclear what type — into a truck. Insurgents captured Khanasir in Aleppo Province on Monday.

A captured tank in Khanasir:

Casualties

The Local Cordination Committees claim 148 were killed on Monday, including 18 women and 17 children.

Of the deaths, 54 were in Idlib Province — most of them from a regime airstrike on Ariha — 43 in Aleppo Province, 24 in Damascus and its suburbs.

The Violations Documentation Center put the number of dead at 71,310 since the conflict began in March 2011, an increase of 87 from Monday. Of the dead, 53,871 are civilians, a rise of 67 from yesterday.

US Secretary of State Kerry Denounces “Moral Obscenity” as US & British Warplanes Move Near Syria

Monday was marked by US and British diplomatic and military preparations for airstrikes on Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry pulled the gun from the holster in a statement in Washington:

Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable. And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable….

This is about the large-scale indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilised world long ago decided must never be used at all, a conviction shared even by countries that agree on little else.

Kerry’s statement was accompanied by the move of American and British warplanes to bases in Cyprus, only 100 miles from the Syrian coast, complementing air forces in Turkey and Jordan and two US aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea.

Far from deflecting the preparations, the Assad regime appeared to give Washington the cause to strike, hindering the attempt of United Nations inspectors to visit sites of last Wednesday’s chemical weapons attacks.

First, the UN convoy was fired on by snipers, hitting one vehicle. Then, the stay of the inspectors at one site in West Ghouta was cut from six to 1 1/2 hours when Syrian personnel insisted that they leave for reasons of “security”.

The inspectors never made it to East Ghouta, where most of the 1,360 civilians died last Wednesday, and six other sites.

The developments overtook President Assad’s effort to grab the PR high ground through an interview in the Russian newspaper Izvestia. And they appeared to leave Moscow worried and on the sidelines.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that “hysteria is growing”, with any airstrikes a “blatant violation of international law”, but he appeared to take a step back from opposition when he said that, in the event of military action, “Russia was not going to fight anyone”.

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<a href="http://eaworldview.com/byline/joanna-paraszczuk/" rel="tag">Joanna Paraszczuk</a>, <a href="http://eaworldview.com/byline/scott-lucas/" rel="tag">Scott Lucas</a>

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Joanna Paraszczuk is EA WorldView's Managing Editor. An Israeli journalist, she covered Iran and the Arab World for The Jerusalem Post. Previously, she lived and worked in Russia and Ukraine. Joanna speaks fluent Hebrew and Russian and reads Persian and Arabic.

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17 Comments

  1. kevin
    kevin August 27, 07:46

    It’s difficult to imagine a way that Obama could refrain from using force and keep his credibility. He kind of boxed himself in with prior comments he made. The Assad regime is practically daring Obama to strike.

    Reply to this comment
    • RedTornadoes
      RedTornadoes August 27, 08:30

      Four reasons:Obama has little choice now:

      1. Islamists will continue to make further gains unless we act. Obama’s inaction opened the door for them.

      2. After the chemical attack, ISIS and other radicals say they would no longer refrain from attempts to seize Assad’s chemical weapons facilities. Can you blame them? And if we don’t act, they will.

      3. If we don’t act it is certain the regime will launch chemical attacks that will make the recent one look trivial by comparison. Why would they hesitate?

      4. Obama was publicly humiliated by the last attack and everyone knows it–friends, foes and neutrals. It was a pure pie in the face act courtesy of Assad. That makes it personal as well.

      Reply to this comment
      • Alex
        Alex August 27, 09:29

        even if it will be limited strike, his air force will be surelly neutralized to prevent any attack towards Israel that will surely help the rebels massivly

        Reply to this comment
    • Amir in Tel Aviv
      Amir in Tel Aviv August 27, 13:12

      Weren’t you opposing US intervention just 3 days ago?

      Reply to this comment
      • kevin
        kevin August 27, 14:00

        Nope. I was opposed to knee jerk reactions before the situation offered more clarity. I was talking about how dumb it was for people to expect the US to act immediately after the accusations started.

        Reply to this comment
        • Joanna Paraszczuk
          Joanna Paraszczuk Author August 27, 14:16

          Hi guys,

          I’m stepping in to end this thread now. We really value all your contributions but this is not the place to argue or debate opinions about whether the West/ U.S. should strike Syria. It’s a place to bring information.

          J.

          Reply to this comment
  2. kevin
    kevin August 27, 08:08

    If Russia thinks we’re going to wait for UN approval then they can keep dreaming. We aren’t giving China and Russia something that would amount to veto power over US policy. When they are uncooperative at the UN it makes unilateral action more likely. I thought Russia would’ve figured that out. If they want to use the UN for obstructionist purposes then we will find another way without them and then they will have next to no influence over what happens. Russia isn’t playing ball at the UN so we don’t need to worry about them because there is nothing there to lose.

    Reply to this comment
    • RedTornadoes
      RedTornadoes August 27, 08:22

      UN approval = Russian approval (and Chinese approval). That’s an impossibility. NATO now looks highly possible since Germany apparently dropped objections yesterday. Throw in Turkey and most Sunni regimes in the Gulf.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Alex
    Alex August 27, 08:18

    wonder what all low ranking regime terrorists think since reports are coming that senior regime officials fled to Lebanon

    Reply to this comment
  4. RedTornadoes
    RedTornadoes August 27, 08:19

    Markito writes: MANY USA TANKS AND OTHER VEHICLES ARE MOVING TOWARD SYRIA’S BORDERS

    That’s the lead for my new Syria Roundup today. Though based one source he has often been reliable in the past.

    http://iranian.com/posts/view/post/19780

    There have also been reports (accurate I think) of families of top regime officials being evacuated in large numbers from Latakia via a Russian ship. This is a sure sign of a sinking ship so the regime is likely to hush it up.

    A report that the Russians have begun evacuating their Tartous base seems less probable to me not because it won’t happen but because it strikes me as a bit premature.

    Finally this is the second consecutive day in which I’ve watch videos of rebels blowing up three tanks though in two different locations. The first instance was on a bridge and the video link appears in the last roundup. In this one, tanks speed along a stretch of road at good speed, as if aware of the danger, yet get bagged one by one. A link to that video appears in today’s roundup. I doubt those six tanks were alone. It appears no crew members survived.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Pak
    Pak August 27, 09:35

    Re: US Secretary of State Kerry Denounces “Moral Obscenity” as US & British Warplanes Move Near Syria

    Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/25/secret_cia_files_prove_america_helped_saddam_as_he_gassed_iran

    “The U.S. knew Hussein was launching some of the worst chemical attacks in history — and still gave him a hand.”

    Reply to this comment
    • kevin
      kevin August 27, 13:49

      Is that somehow different from Russia and Iran sticking their head in the sand as their ally gasses his own people? So you’re saying the US should ignore atrocities because we supposedly helped out Saddam in the 80’s? I’ve seen this argument all over the place and it could hardly be more irrelevant to events in Syria 25 years later. If knowing about the use of chemical weapons and not saying anything about it equals complicity then Iran and Russia are also complicit. That is especially hypocritical for Iran who has spent about 30 years crying about alleged western support for Saddam’s chemical weapons program. It’s ironic that many of the same people who decry support for Saddam are now trying to provide Assad with cover.

      http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114469/iraq-lessons-syria-chemical-weapons

      Reply to this comment
    • Overleaf
      Overleaf August 27, 18:16

      Complete nonsense – Iran is poised to overrun Iraq and export Shia terrorism. US informs Iraq where this breach will happen.

      So US is now responsible for Iraq gassing invading Iranian soldiers?

      This is so bizarre on so many levels. It implies that Iraq should be overrun by terrorists because Iraq may use chemical weapons. So Absurd.

      Foreign Policy is a left-leaning discredited internet rag masquerading as a serious journal. You might as well quote from counterpunch.

      Reply to this comment
  6. Ali Khamenei (@AlieKhamenei)
    Ali Khamenei (@AlieKhamenei) August 27, 13:47

    UN inspectors delayed their visit to East Ghouta because they don’t want to have to report all the information they will find there. It is an outrage that East Ghouta cheese exports were halted when UN inspectors from afar claimed that it was contaminated with toxic chemicals although the cheese is not actually made in East Ghouta. This is one of many outrageous and non-credible statements made by the facilitators of the Great Satan, MI6, and the Culinary Institute of America. Also it is claimed that samples held in Western labs have an inflammatory index of -148 for a serving size of 198g (7 oz). The demonizing of Syrian exports is part of a multi-pronged conspiracy to bring down the heroic Bashar al-Assad. Also, unconfirmed reports from a usually reliable source state that, during a circus festival, a terrorist attempted to throw a cheese cake at the President’s stunt double Bashir al-Assad, just as the bellicose Secretary of War, John Kerry was making inflammatory remarks.

    Reply to this comment
  7. David
    David August 27, 13:58

    Any estimates of how many operable tanks Assad has left?

    Reply to this comment
    • Bill Anderson
      Bill Anderson August 28, 05:18

      2000 + or – 500. Approx 800 destroyed, and 1500 in storage.
      Questions I have are how many tank transporters do they have left and most important how many qualified crews are left…..also their maintenance is terrible and spare parts may be hard to get. Since the first of the year the Syrian Army has lost an average of 50 tanks per month. Tank and aircraft losses are hard to find but this is my best info from about 10 web sites.

      Reply to this comment
  8. Pak
    Pak August 27, 21:28

    Russian President, Saudi Spy Chief Discussed Syria, Egypt
    http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2013/08/saudi-russia-putin-bandar-meeting-syria-egypt.html#ixzz2d5UVLSNv

    “Bandar told Putin, “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the Syrian territory’s direction without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.”

    Regarding the Syrian issue, the Russian president responded to Bandar, saying, “Our stance on Assad will never change. We believe that the Syrian regime is the best speaker on behalf of the Syrian people, and not those liver eaters. During the Geneva I Conference, we agreed with the Americans on a package of understandings, and they agreed that the Syrian regime will be part of any settlement. Later on, they decided to renege on Geneva I.

    The head of the Saudi intelligence services said that the dispute over the approach to the Syrian issue leads to the conclusion that “there is no escape from the military option, because it is the only currently available choice given that the political settlement ended in stalemate. We believe that the Geneva II Conference will be very difficult in light of this raging situation.”

    At the end of the meeting, the Russian and Saudi sides agreed to continue talks, provided that the current meeting remained under wraps. This was before one of the two sides leaked it via the Russian press.”

    Reply to this comment

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