News / Middle East

    Syrian Fighting Reaches Capital

    This image made from amateur video released by the Ugarit News, July 15, 2012, purports to show Free Syrian Army soldiers clashing with government forces in Damascus. (AP cannot independently verify the content, date, location or authenticity of this mate
    This image made from amateur video released by the Ugarit News, July 15, 2012, purports to show Free Syrian Army soldiers clashing with government forces in Damascus. (AP cannot independently verify the content, date, location or authenticity of this mate
    VOA News
    Syria moved armored vehicles into the capital Damascus as opposition fighters battled Syrian government forces in what residents described as the fiercest fighting yet inside the capital.

    One Syrian rebel fighter told the French News Agency the fighting is the "turning point" in the 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

    Activists said Monday the fighting had spread to several neighborhoods and into the center of the city.

    Residents are fleeing neighborhoods under attack and government armored vehicles line the roads leading into and out of southern Damascus.

    The spread of fighting came as U.N. peace mediator Kofi Annan was going to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has resisted Western calls to increase pressure on Assad.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday accused the West of using 'blackmail" to pressure Moscow into backing a stronger U.N. resolution against Syria.  Lavrov said that tying the threat of sanctions to a measure that would extend the U.N. observer mission in Syria is a "dangerous approach."

    He also rejected suggestions that Russia is protecting the Syrian president.

    "Of course you've heard the mantra many times that Moscow holds the key to the Syrian solution," Lavrov said. "When we ask them what they mean by that, they tell us, 'you should convince Assad to resign on his own will.'  But this is unrealistic, I've already said that."

    "It is not a question of our allegiances, sympathies or dislikes," he said. "He will simply not go. Not because we defend him, but simply because he has a very, very substantial part of the population behind him.''

    The U.N. Security Council is considering tough new sanctions on Syria, as a deadline looms for renewing its observer mission in the country. But Russia has threatened to once again veto any sanctions, saying it wants only to extend the observer mandate for three months.

    "It is unacceptable to use monitors as a bargaining chip," Lavrov said.

    UN fears crisis

    Meanwhile, a top United Nations official warned Monday that many more Syrians will die if donors do not contribute added funds for humanitarian aid to Syria.
     
    “We need more money," said John Ging, operations director for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "If we do not get more money, people will die and there will be more humanitarian suffering."  
     
    Ging said the Syrian government is generally honoring an agreement it signed with the United Nations six weeks ago to expand humanitarian aid.
     
    He said aid agencies delivered food to 500,000 people last month. Ging said he expects aid to reach 850,000 people this month. But he said the gap between the needs and the means is widening.
     
    The United Nations has appealed for $180 million for its humanitarian operations inside Syria. In addition, it is asking for $193 million to assist a growing number of refugees in neighboring countries. Each of these appeals is only 20 percent funded.  
     
    Humanitarian efforts are further hampered, Ging said, by the Syrian government's refusal to grant visas to international staff from nations its sees as hostile. He said the Syrian government will not issue visas to U.N. staff who are citizens of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and France.

    Civil war

    The International Committee of the Red Cross says there is now a "non-international armed conflict" - or civil war - across more parts of Syria, widening its earlier designation.

    • This image made from amateur video released by the Ugarit News shows a Free Syrian Army solider firing his weapon during clashes with Syrian government troops in Aleppo, Syria, July 24, 2012.
    • Free Syrian Army soldiers at the border town of Azaz, 32 kilometers north of Aleppo, Syria, July 24, 2012.
    • This image from amateur video released by the Ugarit News shows a Free Syrian Army solider driving a Syrian military tank in Aleppo, Syria, July 24, 2012.
    • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network purports to show a helicopter gunship flying a bombing run in al-Qalmoun, Syria, July 24, 2012.
    • This image provided by Shaam News Network shows smoke rising from Juret al-Shayah in Homs, Syria, July 23, 2012.
    • This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network purports to show damage from heavy shelling of the al-Qadam district of Damascus, Syria, July 23, 2012.
    • A member of the Free Syrian Army points his weapon through a hole in a wall as he takes up a defense position in a house in Qusseer neighborhood in Homs, Syria, July 16, 2012.
    • A woman holds a child in front of their destroyed home in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers northwest of Hama, July 14, 2012.
    • Free Syrian Army soldiers aim their weapons in Idlib, northern Syria, July 13, 2012.
    • This image made from amateur video from Hama Revolution 2011 purports to show a funeral for victims killed in Tremseh, Syria, July 13, 2012. (AP/ Hama Revolution 2011)
    • This image made from amateur video from Hama Revolution 2011purports to show families gathered around bodies of victims killed in Tremseh, Syria, July 13, 2012.
    • Members of the Free Syrian Army walk through Qusseer neighborhood in Homs, Syria, July 15, 2012.
    The group had previously said such conflict existed between government forces and opposition groups in the flashpoint areas of Homs, Hama and Idlib. But ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said Sunday that hostilities have spread to other parts of Syria.

    Hassan told VOA last month that a civil war designation is based on the intensity of the conflict and the organization of the armed groups and that it aims to give potential victims "the best protection possible."

    He said international humanitarian law applies to any area where there is fighting between government forces and the opposition. That law spells out protections for civilians, saying they "shall not be the object of attack." Violations could lead to war crimes prosecutions.  

    Assad said last month his country was in a "state of war."

    But the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdul-Basset Sayda, told VOA's Kurdish service that anti-government groups are working to avoid a civil war and would like to see an internationally-backed peace plan work.  

    But those efforts so far, Dayda said, have been ineffective.

    Lisa Schlein in Geneva and Jessica Golloher in Moscow contributed to this report.  Some information was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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    Comments page of 2
     Previous    
    by: Carlos from: US
    July 16, 2012 5:18 AM
    I have been to Syria and never bet a better people .. The cowardice of President Obama is disgusting and disgraceful .. March 28, 2011, President Obama said .. "when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians." www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2011/03/28/president-obama-s-speech-libya

    “To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are,” (Except in an election year?) “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different,” (Except in an election year?) 2011: “And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” 2012: Coward
    In Response

    by: Plain Mirror from: Abidjan
    July 16, 2012 10:41 AM
    Before you go further Carlos in promoting America and giving them infauliblity be careful for this status belongs to God only. A petition has just gone to the International Criminal Court demanding that U.S and its inclusive world power conspirators face war crime charges ranging from the one committed here in Ivory coast, then Libya etc. The crime committed in Ivory coast by France and UN helicopters last year in the pretest of protecting civilians is devilish. Can Obama and his men tell the world the truth of how many innocent civilians that were killed in Ivory coast by France and UN. I am an eye witness. With all these and more, I wonder where you are coming from.
    In Response

    by: Debra Lynn Carter from: USA
    July 16, 2012 9:34 AM
    hey "Carlos" you have been to Syria and have never "bet" a better people...???? yeah, we believe you without a doubt... no Islamic Arab would ever think of being a false witness... you malevolent Muslim
    In Response

    by: awbrynes from: US
    July 16, 2012 8:57 AM
    It is not Americas job to get militarily involved in every conflict that goes on. Such an attitude is reminiscent of our foreign policy during the cold war. We have to accept that we are not the only nation that matters and getting involved unilaterally is just stepping on the toes of the international community. If we do get involved we need to get involved like we did in Libya, as one part of a multinational effort.
    In Response

    by: Charles from: US
    July 16, 2012 8:50 AM
    Perhaps you've missed the many, many times we've tried to get the international community to come together on the issue. We would have already executed a plan to protect the civilians if Russia and China weren't blocking the action. Also, I find it appropriate that you swing to the "we aren't doing enough" side of the issue, and right after you Joseph is blaming the US for supporting the opposition. Unilateral military intervention doesn't sit well in the world and even though that may be the thing that should be done, we still have a diplomatic issue with the other nations of the world. NATO and the US are not unchecked throughout the world to the point they can just do as they please and walk over the rest of the nations, although it may seem like they do at times. China and Russia fear the world intervening in their own issues where they have breakaway factions that want to overthrow their governments or break from their countries. They will not give in on that without some serious changes in the situation. They care little for the civilians or even Assad himself, but they will not do anything that will set a precedence to act against their own behavior. I can understand the frustration of inaction, but we don't work in a vaccuum.
         

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