PHOTOS: Girls in besieged Damascus suburb of Douma, March 2014
Almost 650,000 Syrians are living in communities besieged by the Assad regime, according to a new report to be released next week.
The figure given by the Syrian American Medical Society is nearly three times that of previous estimates by the United Nations. Findings were presented on Thursday to UN officials and to a closed-door meeting sponsored by the US, Britain, France, and other states and organised by Qatar.
The UN had estimated that 212,000 Syrians are in besieged areas beyond the reach of humanitarian aid; however, SAMS says the UN is using too narrow a definition.
“We’re not talking about quote-unquote terrorists, we’re talking about families who have nothing to do with armed groups,” the SAMA President of the Syrian American Medical Society, Dr Zaher Sahloul, said.
The report’s website lists 560 people who have died from the siege conditions, posting photographs of 345 of them. The SAMS said it had tried to limit the toll to civilians, excluding any person with links to armed groups.
The SAMS calls on the UN’s humanitarian office OCHA to reconsider its designation of besieged areas and to be cautious in removing any community from the list, especially when access is controlled by the “besieging party”.
The Assad regime has used siege tactics in pursuit of local ceasefires, especially near Damascus, to then claim success through “reconciliation”.
The SAMS said the UN should arrange for international monitors to make sure all parties uphold the terms of the ceasefires.
OCHA officials said that they had no issues with the new report’s methodology or numbers and that they have had to rely on third-party estimates because they do not have people on the ground in besieged areas, according to the SAMS.
Regime Helicopter Downed By Technical Problems in Idlib Province, Pilots and Crew Captured
A regime helicopter has made an emergency landing in Idlib Province in northwest Syria, with reports that the two pilots and five others on board were captured by rebels.
Initially, there were unconfirmed reports that a Syrian officer was killed, but these appear to have been exaggerations from a photo of one of the injured pilots. A Colonel and four Lieutenant Colonels are reportedly among the captured troops.
Video appeared to show the Mi-14 helicopter landing near Deir Sunbul in the Jabal al-Zawiyah region.
Activists said the helicopter was moving with barrel bombs from Hama Military Airport to areas around Idlib city, such as Sarmin and Binnish.
Sarmin was hit last week with helicopter-borne chlorine attacks, killing at least six people and wounding more than 100.
The downed helicopter, with celebrating rebels and civilians:
Video of one of the injured crew being treated:
Leading Rebel Factions Ahrar al-Sham and Suqour al-Sham Merge
The leading rebel factions Ahrar al-Sham and Suqour al-Sham have announced their merger:
The new group will be called the Suqour al-Sham Battalions.
Both factions are part of the rebel bloc Islamic Front.
Assad: We Are Keen for “Moscow II” Political Talks
President Assad has declared that he is keen to advance Russia’s efforts for a second round of talks between the regime and opposition in Moscow.
Assad made the statement in a meeting with Russia’s Special Envoy, Azmatullah Kolmohammadov, in Damascus on Sunday.
The regime was cautious about its involvement in “Moscow I” in late January, declining to send its top officials. The delegation was heading by Syria’s Ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari.
Some domestic opposition figures were involved in the discussions, but most leading groups refused to attend.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition said on Saturday that it was declining a Russian invitation to “Moscow II” (see below).
Video: Aftermath of Rocket Attack on Opposition-Held Aleppo District
Aftermath of a rocket attack by regime forces on the al-Mashhad district of Aleppo on Friday night:
Death Toll Rises to 52 in Double Suicide Bombing in Hasakah
The death toll in Friday’s double suicide bombing in Hasakah in northeastern Syria has risen to 52.
The Local Coordinating Committees published the names of the victims on Saturday night.
Two motorcycle bombers detonated their explosives on Friday near the offices of Kurdish political groups during New Year’s celebrations. The Kurdish YPG militia blamed the Islamic State for the attack, saying mostly women and children were killed.
The Assad regime sent letters of complaint to the United Nations Secretary General and Security Council, alleging that the bombings were carried out by a so-called “moderate opposition”: “The evils of terrorism won’t stop at Syria’s borders but will reach other countries.”
Hasakah, with a pre-war population of about 200,000, is the capital of Hasakeh Province. It is home to many Kurds and Armenians as well as Arabs.
Opposition Coalition: We Will Not Participate in “Moscow II” Meeting With Regime
Gathering in Istanbul, the opposition Syrian National Coalition has rejected an invitation to participate in the “Moscow II” political meeting with the Assad regime.
The Russian Foreign Ministry had written the Coalition, hoping to follow up on a January discussion between some domestic opposition figures and regime officials.
While rebuffing the approach, the opposition said that “the Russian position…showed more recognition of the Syrian Coalition than it showed prior to the Moscow I meeting”.
Coalition President Khaled Khoja told the delegates that UN envoy Staffan de Mistura’s plan for a six-week “freeze” in Aleppo had failed, and that de Mistura was now working on another proposal.
Leading opposition political and military groups had rejected the “freeze” plan, calling for it to areas in Syria beyond its largest city.