Over 1.5 million Syrians have fled their homes as the 17-month conflict between the government troops of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces continues. Over 21,000 people have died according to the UK-based activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Fighting in recent weeks has centered on Syria’s largest city, the commercial hub and UNESCO heritage site Aleppo. Refugees have been “streaming” out of the city, says the United Nations refugee agency. Almost 150,000 refugees have been registered in four countries neighboring Syria: 50,227 refugees are registered in Turkey, 45,869 in Jordan, 36,841 in Lebanon and 13,730 in Iraq. About 6,000 residents of Aleppo have entered Turkey just in the past week.
The number of those killed and wounded keep rising, with the activist Local Coordination Committee reporting that 83 people were killed on Friday, including 51 in Aleppo. The opposition Syrian National Council also says that shelling by Assad’s forces had ruined part of a 13th century citadel.
The Obama administration is preparing new sanctions against Assad’s inner circle as well as Iranian individuals and organization. The US Treasury has added Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militant group, to the list of countries and persons to be targeted with sanctions. The US is also expected to announce an additional $5.5 million in humanitarian aid to Syria, which will bring the amount of aid to $82 million. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has also said that the UK will give an extra $7.8 million in non-lethal equipment to the Free Syrian Army (FSA); among the equipment will be radio and satellite equipment and portable power generators.
Former Algerian foreign affairs minister Lakhdar Brahimi is the likely choice to be the special United Nations and Arab League envoy after Kofi Annan resigned from the position last week. The 78-year-old Brahimi has previously served as a UN special envoy to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein as well as in Afghanistan, before and after Taliban rule. Annan had resigned after months of deadlocked negotiations in the UN Security Council, with Russia and China consistently vetoing harsher measures against Syria including calls for Assad to step down.
A Turkish journalist reports that the number of defections from the Syrian military continue to rise with a number of officers and soldiers among those fleeing to Turkey.
As Peter Beaumont, foreign affiairs editor of the Observer, writes in the Guardian, while “the Free Syrian Army or its allies, some of them jihadi groups, have committed war crimes and serious human rights abuses,” condemnation of these has been far less vocal. The Assad regime is certainly responsible for atrocious war crimes including the murder of unarmed protesters and the torture of minors but “as organisations including both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have made clear…. there is no excusing war crimes, whomever commits them.”
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