Syria, August 27: Are US Airstrikes Imminent?
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 is to be recalled on Thursday to discuss response to alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria http://t.co/dTNnJJGaYr
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) August 27, 2013
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.
— UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) August 27, 2013
Footage from Tuesday shows regime strikes on towns in East Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs. This video shows an attack in Irbeen city:
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”.
— Laura Wells (@wellsla) August 27, 2013
* Israel does not want a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
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 English (@SANA_English) August 26, 2013
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
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”.