PHOTO: State Department staff “A military option put forward to put some pressure on the regime”


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UPDATE 1600 GMT: US Secretary of State John Kerry has given a cautious endorsement of the dissenting memorandum by 51 of his Department personnel over the Obama Administration’s Syria policy.

During a visit in Denmark, Kerry said that he had not seen the dissent but “it’s an important statement and I respect the process, very, very much. I will…have a chance to meet with people when I get back.”

UPDATE 1130 GMT: The Russian Foreign Ministry has responded to the internal dissent by 51 State Department staff which calls for military action against the Assad regime.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called on the Obama Administration to keep the officials in line, invoking recent cases:

We know that tough debates are underway in US on military or peaceful scenarios on any issue. We saw this in case with the Iranian nuclear program, we remember how high-ranking officials called for resolving the issue of Iranian nuclear program by military means. Here’s a concrete example of how wisdom gained the upper hand. We now see an issue that has truly been resolved, and not exacerbated….

Those mistakes that were made by US and all illegal coalitions in Iraq and in other places on regime change, on military solution, on absence of professional approach toward resolving the conflict – they will not be forgotten after all.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he knew nothing about the State Department memorandum, but he warned:

Calls for overthrowing authorities in other countries can hardly be welcomed in Moscow. Moreover, liquidating a regime will hardly facilitate successful progress in the fight against terrorism. It can make the region plunge in total chaos.

UPDATE 0745 GMT: US officials say Russian warplanes have attacked US-supported forces in southern Syria:

An unnamed US official said there were “serious concerns” about the Russian strikes on the New Syrian Army: “We will seek an explanation from Russia on why it took this action and assurances this will not happen again.”

The New Syrian Army was formed last autumn with American backing to concentrate on the fight against the Islamic State. It is assisted by both US and British special forces, as well as supplies of arms and ammunition.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: More than 50 State Department personnel have signed an internal memo criticizing US policy in Syria and calling for airstrikes against the Assad regime.

The “dissent channel cable”, signed by 51 mid- to high-level staff, calls for “targeted military strikes” following the collapse of the February 27 “cessation of hostilities”.

A US official summarized, “In a nutshell, the group would like to see a military option put forward to put some pressure…on the regime.”

He said the cable reflected the views of staff who have worked on Syria, some of them for years.

The cable warns that the US is losing prospective allies among Syria’s majority Sunni population — as the regime “continues to bomb and starve” them — in the fight against the Islamic State: “Failure to stem Assad’s flagrant abuses will only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such as Daesh, even as they endure tactical setbacks on the battlefield.”

The document calls for a renewed partnership with “moderate” rebel forces to fight against both the Islamic State and the Syrian military and its allies: “[This would shift] the tide of the conflict against the regime [to] increase the chances for peace by sending a clear signal to the regime and its backers that there will be no military solution to the conflict.”

It concludes:

The moral rationale for taking steps to end the deaths and suffering in Syria, after five years of brutal war, is evident and unquestionable. The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous, humanitarian, diplomatic and terrorism-related challenges.

Obama to Resist Any Action

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the escalation of Russian and regime attacks, particularly across northwest Syria, in the past two months:

Unless we get a better definition of how this cessation is going to work…we are not going to sit there while Assad continues to offensively assault Aleppo and while Russia continues to support in that effort.

The United States is not going to sit there and be used as an instrument that permits a so-called ceasefire to be in place while one principal party is trying to take advantage of it to the detriment of the entire process.

However, another US official, who did not sign the cable but has read it, said the White House remains opposed to an increased American military involvement. He said the cable was unlikely to alter the position, or shift President Obama’s focus from the Islamic State.

The cable calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process”. It makes no mention of adding US ground troops.

Officially, the US has about 300 special operations forces working with a Kurdish-led offensive against the Islamic State.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said by e-mail:

We are aware of a dissent channel cable written by a group of State Department employees regarding the situation in Syria. We are reviewing the cable now, which came up very recently, and I am not going to comment on the contents.

Regime Speaker of Parliament: “No Chance” of Role for Opposition in Government

The Secretary of the Syrian Parliament, Khalid al-Aboud, has ruled out any possibility that opposition groups can participate in a government.

In an interview with Iran’s Tasnim News Agency, Aboud said Syria’s situation had deteriorated when the opposition had a role in the government.

Russian Soldier Dies of Wounds

The Russian Defense Ministry has announced the death of a soldier from wounds suffered last month.

“The contract serviceman, Junior Sergeant Mikhail Shirokopoyas, died in the Burdenko Main Military Clinical Hospital in Moscow from wounds received during the shelling of a Russian convoy in Aleppo last May,” the Ministry announced.

Russia has officially acknowledged the deaths of 10 personnel since its military intervention last September.

Aid Reaches Al-Wa’er in Homs But Suspended For Darayya Because of Bombing

An aid convoy has finally reached the al-Wa’er district in Homs city, but assistance has been blocked for Darayya near Damascus because of continued regime bombing.

A UN World Food Program convoy delivered 7500 food baskets and other supplies to al-Wa’er on Thursday afternoon. However, a local journalist said that some items were not provided, including medical and surgical equipment and seeds needed to provide food during the ongoing siege of the district.

The last opposition-held area of Homs, al-Wa’er has about 90,000 residents. Many of them have been displaced from other areas of the city and the country.

The district has been blockaded since last 2012.

The local council in Darayya, 12 km (7.5 miles) southwest of Damascus, has appealed for international intervention over the Syrian military’s blockade and bombing.

A food convoy reached the town last week for the first time since November 2012. The delivery had 480 food parcels, enough for about 2,400 people.

However, the Syrian military quickly resumed bombing in support of a ground offensive trying to overrun Darayya. The local council said more than 200 barrel bombs have been dropped in the past week.

The town has a population of about 4,000 to 8,000 people. UN officials have warned that children face starvation if urgent assistance is not provided.

A report by pro-opposition Orient News on the Assad regime’s burning of crops in besieged Damascus suburbs:

Journalists al-Abadallah and al-Issa Seriously Injured in “Assassination Attempt”

Pro-opposition journalists Hadi al-Abdallah and Khaled al-Issa have been seriously injured, days after they survived a barrel-bombing in Aleppo Province.

Issa is in critical condition with brain and abdominal wounds from shrapnel. Abdallah is “moderately” injured with damage to his eye and jaw and a left leg with multiple fractures.

The journalists, embedded with rebel forces, have been prominent in reporting from the frontlines in northwest Syria for years.

Rescuers trying to save the two men (Warning — Graphic Images):

Earlier this week, Issa filmed the aftermath of the barrel bombing in which both men suffered minor head wounds.