Al Jazeera Cameraman Injured During Fighting in Daraa City
*Senior U.S.Officer: US Military “Won’t Plan Airstrikes Which Might Help Topple Assad”
*Videos: FSA Forces Clash With Assad’s Troops In Muadamiyyeh Ash-Sham
*Israel Fired “Sparrow” Missile In Test Of Arrow Defense System
*Video: As Regime Siege Drags On, Children Starve To Death In West Ghouta
Russia on Tuesday evening announced that it will send two more landing crafts to the Mediterranean on September 5 and 6.
The Defense Ministry named the landing crafts as the Novocherkask and the Minsk, from the Black Sea and Baltic Fleets, and said the ships would “carry out designated tasks according to the plans of the operational command on the Pacific Ocean Fleet destroyer Admiral Panteleyev.
Moscow continues to emphasize Tuesday’s morning’s missile tests by Israel, with remarks by Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, who warns that the exercise was “playing with fire”.
Antonov cautioned those involved to be “more mindful of regional security”, noting that the U.S. — which collaborated in the missile tests — was “a permanent member of the UN Security Council”.
“The Mediterranean is a tinderbox. A single match, and fire breaks out, and that can spread not only in the adjacent country state, but also encroach on other regions of the world. I remind you that the Mediterranean is close to the borders of the Russian Federation,” Antonov said.
The White House has published remarks made Tuesday by President Obama ahead of consulting with Congress over plans to carry out a military strike on Syria.
Obama reiterates his rationale for asking Congress — although he is not legally obliged to do so —and stresses that the strikes would be limited in nature.
The military plan that has been developed by the joint chiefs and that I believe is appropriate is proportional. It is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan.
This is a limited, proportional step that will send a clear message not only to the Assad regime, but also to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms, that there are consequences.
It gives us the ability to degrade Assad’s capabilities when it comes to chemical weapons. It also fits into a broader strategy that we have to make sure that we can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic and economic and political pressure required so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability not only to Syria but to the region.
A photo has been posted of the Al Jazeera crew moments before the incident.
Turkish media is reporting that at least six people have died in an explosion on the southern border, between the southern Turkish province of Hatay and Syria.
Today’s Zaman reports that a Turkish citizen was among those killed, and that five were Syrian citizens, and cites the privately owned NTV news channel as reporting that three more people were injured in the explosion.
There are conflicting reports about the exact location of the explosion and whether it happened in Turkish or Syrian territory. Some Turkish television reports saying that it occurred at an ammunition depot in the Altınözü district of Hatay. Other reports say the blast occurred in a vehicle carrying scrap metal on the Syrian side of the border.
A promised press conference by the defecting Abdul Tawab Shahrour, the head of “the Government’s medical services” in Aleppo, has been cancelled after claims he was stopped at the Turkish border for security reasons.
Earlier today, it was claimed that Shahrour, missing for two weeks, would re-appear with important information about the regime’s use of chemical weapons in Khan Assal near Aleppo on March 19.
— الائتلاف الوطني (@SyrianCoalition) September 3, 2013
In a sign of possible difficulties buying food, the Assad regime has cancelled an urgent tender to buy sugar, two weeks after scrapping a bid to purchase wheat.
Syria offered to pay for the food with funds held in frozen bank accounts abroad.
In Monday’s failed purchase, Syria’s General Foreign Trade Organization cancelled a bid to buy 276,000 tons of white sugar after receiving only one offer. The tender was a repeat of a similar one in July, which also failed.
The State wheat buyer, the General Establishment for Cereal Processing and Trade Hoboob), canceled a tender for 200,000 tons of soft milling wheat on August 20. It said it had received two offers but they did not meet specifications.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said in July that a fifth of Syria’s population was unable to produce or buy enough food, and farmers were short of the seed and fertilizers needed to plant the next crop.
Syria needs to import around 2 million tons of wheat this year, as the civil war has cut its crop to 1.5 million tons, the lowest in almost 30 years and less than half the average before the conflict began in March 2011.
A Syrian official maintained, “We are in no urgent need to tender because we have a good strategic stock, we have always maintained a 12-month stockpile.”
He said Hoboob had purchased 820,000 tons of wheat from the domestic harvest in the current procurement season and still held its normal pre-war reserve of 3 million tons.
Internal Trade and Consumer Protection Minister Samir Ezzat Qadi said that wheat was “available and in large amounts at warehouses”.
Footage from a press conference under the auspices of the local council in the insurgent-controlled Damascus suburb of Zamalka, by the Chairman of the local authority and the director of the town’s medical office.
The presser discusses the difficult conditions under which Zamalka’s residents are living, as the regime continues its bombardment.
Many citizens are refusing to leave the town despite the intensified regime offensive.
Footage posted on Tuesday shows a regime MiG airstrike on the town of Ar-Rastan, north of Homs, as wounded civilians are being evacuated after a previous strike.
State news agency SANA is reporting that rebels have forced the closure of a gas plant by sabotaging a gas pipeline in the northeast of the country, affecting around 10 percent of its daily output.
SANA said that the attack occurred in Safira, 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Deir Ezzor city, which meant the nearby plant needed to be closed, stopping production of 1.5 million cubic meters (53 million cubic feet) of gas a day.
It also reported another attack further north near Hassaka on an oil well by “another group of armed terrorists who wanted to steal crude oil” but that technicians were repairing the well.
Report: Leading Regime Figure in Chemical Weapons Effort, Who Disappeared Two Weeks Ago, Has Defected
Claims are circulating that Abdul Tawab Shahrour named as the head of “the Government’s forensics unit” or “medical services” in Aleppo, has “defected”. The reports assert that Shahrour has evidence about use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Khan al-Assal, near Aleppo, on March 19.
Shahrour disappeared on August 19 — two days before the chemical weapons attacks near Damascus — with claims that he had been “abducted” from his home in the al-Akramiya neighborhood in Aleppo.
An English-subtitled video report from Muadamiyyat Ash-Sham in West Ghouta — the site of one of the August 21 chemical weapons attacks — shows two children, Ibraheem Khaleel and Ammar, who died of starvation, a result of the ongoing regime siege against insurgent-controlled Damascus suburbs.
WARNING — GRAPHIC IMAGES
The siege, which comes amid months of regime bombardment of the town, has meant that deliveries of food, water and medicine have been unable to reach the population.
Following reports earlier on Tuesday that Russian Early Warning Systems detected two ballistic missiles fired in the Mediterranean, Ynet report that the missiles were an Israeli Air Force test fire of the Blue Sparrow missile (Ankor in Hebrew).
According to Ynet, the missiles were test fired from an IAF experimental base in central Israel and was conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The second missile was tracking the first.
The Sparrow missile — which simulates an aggressor Scud missile — is part of Israel’s Arrow (Hetz) anti-ballistic missile program, designed to be more effective than the MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile.
As the regime offensive in the Damascus suburbs intensifies, footage from Tuesday shows insurgents from the Free Syrian Army’s Fajr Brigade, based in Muadamiyyat Ash Sham, the West Ghouta town targeted by chemical weapons on August 21, battling regime tanks.
Footage showing the Al Fajr Brigade in clashes with regime troops in an olive grove outside the town:
Assad’s forces on Tuesday continued and even intensified the ongoing offensive against the Damascus suburbs, with heavy artillery fire and shelling in several areas, particularly those hit by the August 21 chemical weapons attacks.
Airstrikes on Daraya today:
Meanwhile, activists on Tuesday report that the regime is targeting the area between Zamalka and Irbeen with large-explosive mortar shelling and that the regime is still battling Free Syrian Army fighters for control of the southern bypass road near Zamalka.
Shelling in Irbeen on Tuesday:
On Monday, the regime also targeted Irbeen with heavy rocket and mortar shelling:
On Monday, France published a declassified intelligence report into the August 21 attacks, which accused Assad of attempting to destroy evidence of the chemical weapons attacks through extensive bombing of the affected areas.
Countering a declassified French intelligence report published on Monday, which said that the Assad regime was responsible for the August 21 chemical weapons attacks, Moscow and Damascus maintained their line on Tuesday that it was the insurgents who launched the attacks.
The Syrian Ambassador to Moscow said Tuesday that the Russians have information about the attacks.
“All the evidence, clues and data suggest that it was armed groups who used chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta near Damascus,” – the Ambassador told an audience at the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.
He claimed: “Russia has presented evidence, along with photography, which indicate the place and time that the missiles were launched on eastern Ghouta.”
The move by Damascus and Moscow is the latest step in a strategy of countering Western claims and intelligence reports that accuse the Assad regime of the attacks, in an attempt to create an alternative narrative — in the hope that this will gain media traction and muddy the waters for the U.S. and its allies as they make the claim for a strike against the Assad regime.
Interfax and RIA Novosti are citing the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that a Russian Early Warning System detected “two ballistic targets” in the Mediterranean Sea at 10:16 Moscow Time (07:16 GMT).
The Ministry said that the launch was detected separately by a military crew in Armavir.
RIA says that the Syrian Embassy in Moscow and the Russian Embassy in Damascus have no data on the matter. The Russian Embassy in Syria told RIA that it learned of the incident from them.
So far, there have been no other reports that any missiles were fired in the Mediterranean, and the most likely explanation so far is that the Russian claim is part of a “disinformatziya” tactic to create uncertainty and tension and in part to draw attention away from the Assad regime’s intensified offensive against the Damascus suburbs.
Today’s Media Fail Award goes to MSNBC, which published an article by Aliyah Frumin that makes an astonishing number of false claims about the Syrian conflict.
Among the many errors perhaps the most bizarre is the author’s assertion that:
In Syria, the religious dynamic is particularly acute as Assad –a secular Sunni — is under attack mostly from religious Shia groups with varied interests and outside support. It is unknown which groups, if any, may be affiliated politically with elements in Shia-ruled Iran, Saudi Arabia or even Hezbollah in Lebanon.*
Frumin notes that some rebel groups have “links to Al Qaeda,” but doesn’t explain why the Sunni group would oppose Assad if he is a fellow Sunni Muslim…
The article is an unintentional reminder of the conflict’s complexities and the difficulties that many media outlets have in understanding and presenting information about Syria — unfortunately its glaring inaccuracies are likely to simply add to people’s confusion.
*Assad is not a “secular Sunni” but Alawite, a branch of Shia Islam; Shia Iran and Hezbollah support Assad; Sunni Saudi Arabia opposes the regime. Not that EA’s readers need reminding…
The scene after a regime missile struck al-Qarabis in the north of Homs city:
A “senior military officer” has told The Wall Street Journal that Pentagon planners were instructed not to offer options for any airstrikes which might help topple President Assad: “The big concern is the wrong groups in the opposition would be able to take advantage of it.”
The Journal continues:
The White House wants to strengthen the opposition but doesn’t want it to prevail, according to people who attended closed-door briefings by top administration officials over the past week. The administration doesn’t want U.S. airstrikes, for example, tipping the balance of the conflict because it fears Islamists will fill the void if the Assad regime falls, according to briefing participants, which included lawmakers and their aides.
The Wall Street Journal repeats news from last month that the Obama Administration — which said in June that it would begin public supplies of military equipment to insurgents — has still not delivered any weapons.
US officials said the delay in providing small arms and munitions — Administration officials have ruled out any provision of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry — was because the difficulty of establishing secure delivery “pipelines” to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of jihadists.
United Nations officials have said that more than two million Syrians have fled the country in “the great tragedy of this century, a disgraceful humanitarian calamity”.
António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said the total had doubled in the last six months.
In addition to the refugees, at least 4.5 million of Syria’s pre-conflict population of 22 million are internally displaced.
By the end of August, Lebanon hosted more than 716,000 registered refugees and many more who were unregistered — up to one in four people in the country is a Syrian.
About 515,000 Syrians are on the UN register in Jordan, 460,000 in Turkey, 168,000 in Iraq, and 110,000 in Egypt.
The UN refugee agency said it has received $548 million, or less than half the $1.1 billion it has sought, to pay for relief for Syrian refugees in 2013.
An insurgent commander gives a statement in front of a captured bus, with alleged “shabiha” (pro-regime militia) bound and kneeling in front of it:
The Local Coordination the Committees claim 107 people were killed on Monday, including 63 in Damascus and its suburbs and 16 in Aleppo Province.
The Violations Documentation Center put the number of dead at 71,042 since the conflict began in March 2011, an increase of 137 from Monday. Of the dead, 54,368 are civilians, a rise of 84 from Sunday.
With the immediate threat of US-led airstrikes lifted, the focus in Syria has returned to the battlefronts between President Assad’s forces and insurgents.
Notable amongst the clashes is the regime’s effort to ease the siege of its areas in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, by opening up supply routes and taking key positions in Idlib Province in the northwest of the country.
Yesterday the regime escalated its efforts to re-take Ariha, captured by the opposition last month. The town is a launching pad for attacks on two vital regime strongholds — the “Brick Factory” and the “Youth Camp” — at the foot of the Jebel al-Zawiya mountain range and near the highway to Aleppo.
Regime bombardment of Ariha:
Insurgents have claimed most of Idlib and Aleppo Provinces, cutting off food and supplies to the regime-held areas of a divided Aleppo for months.