|Turkish regime slashes salaries for jihadist comrades in Syria|
|[AlMasdar] In a remarkable turn of events, Ankara has cut salaries to all Syrian rebel groups that are tied to the so-called ’Syrian National Coalition’.|
The falling out is related to the election of Riad Seif, a Kurdish-backed figure who has become the president of the Syrian National Coalition. The regime had backed other candidates with Islamist sympathies.
Following the result earlier this month, the relations between and -backed jihadists in Syria have begun to deteriorate with Ankara reducing pay to its long-standing jihadist allies, citing "bureaucratic reasons".
On August 22, a delegation headed by President Riad Seif met up in Istanbul with representatives of Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Secretary. At the meeting, financial problems of the jihadists, the Riyadh talks and a possible truce under the guarantor ship of Turkey were put on the agenda.
Following the talks, payments to -backed rebel fighters have been cut in half, causing much concern for Islamist commanders in northern Aleppo and Idlib whom have heavily relied upon tax money to fund their s.
|Syrian Alawite village attacked, rebels fight around capital|
|[Reuters] Up to 200 members of 's Alawite minority or killed in an attack on their central Syrian village on Tuesday, activists said, while to the south rebels and state forces battled for the outskirts of |
With a broad grouping of governments opposed to Assad meeting in Morocco on Wednesday, an official in the Syrian criticized the United States for designating an Islamist rebel group as a terrorist organization, meaning it would get no American help in the fight against Assad.
Casualty counts varied for the attack on the village of Aqrab in Hama province, but several activists said they could confirm 10 dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the casualties came during a series of s in the town.
Opposition activists posted videos on YouTube in which survivors said pro-Assad militias had used children as human shields in the village. the accounts could not be independently verified and the events remained unclear.
Syria's upheaval, which began as a protest movement against Assad 20 months ago, has turned into a civil war which has now has killed more than 40,000 people. Majority Sunni s have mostly led the revolt against Assad while minorities such as the Alawites, from an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, have largely stood by the president.
Sectarian bloodshed has previously hit both Hama province, where Aqrab is located, and neighboring Homs province. Both witnessed massacres of hundreds of Sunni residents but Tuesday's incident, if confirmed, would be the first known large-scale attack on Alawites.
The opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 125 had been hurt or killed but said it was still trying to find out what happened. There were no reports on Syria's state media.
An Alawite resident of a nearby village said the violence began in Aqrab when rebels attacked a checkpoint run by pro-Assad militiamen, known as shabbiha.
"We don't believe there was a massacre but we think there are a number of hostages being held. Clashes began when rebels started shelling the shabbiha checkpoint," he said by Skype. "But now the phone lines seem to be down in Aqrab so that's all we know."
The circumstances of the attacks are difficult to verify independently as Syrian authorities tightly restrict the activities of journalists.
A rebel who said he fought in Aqrab told that fighters had surrounded a house with more than 200 people because shabbiha were there. The had used as human shields and the house had been shelled by Assad's forces, he said, without explaining why they would attack their own side.
Wounded children, apparently Alawites from Aqrab, appeared at an opposition field hospital in the nearby town of al-Houla, where they were interviewed by rebels in videos published on YouTube. Three young boys gave a similar account as the rebel, but did not say whether they were hiding in the house fearing government shelling or rebel attack.
"We were inside the house with shabbiha, they said they were protecting us from the rebels. The rebels started telling us come out, no one will hurt you. The shabbiha wouldn't let us leave," said Mohamed Judl, a young boy covered in a blanket, shivering as he was interviewed by an activist at the clinic.
It was not clear whether the boy was speaking freely.
Rebels clashed on Tuesday with government forces near Damascus airport, battling for the capital's outskirts in a conflict which the said has driven half a million people from the country since it began in March 2011.
Fighting near the airport, 20 km (12 miles) southeast of Damascus city centre, is part of a broader confrontation between the army and rebels who hold a near continuous arc of territory from the east to the southwest of Assad's power base.
The growing military power of the rebels is matched by the increasing foreign support for Syria's political opposition coalition, which expects to win broad recognition at the international meeting in Marrakech on Wednesday.
The centre of Damascus, shielded for months from the violence, echoed to the sound of shelling from Monday evening, residents said. "There were very heavy since yesterday in the town of Haran, on the eastern side of the airport," said rebel Mussab Abu Qitada by Skype from Damascus.
The rebels have seized several military bases across the country in the last month and are trying to encircle the capital, where power cuts and food shortages are hurting residents bracing for winter.
SEEKING WORLD SUPPORT
Assad's political and armed opponents, dogged by splits and rivalries throughout their battle to end his family's 42-year rule, have established a more unified political opposition and military command, hoping to win international recognition and stronger support on the battlefield.
"All indications on the ground signal the end of the regime of Bashir al-Assad," leading opposition figure Riad Seif said on the eve of the Marrakech talks. "We expect this meeting to fully recognize the coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people," he told .
, , Turkey and the Gulf states have already granted the formal recognition. The , in a meeting on Monday, moved a step closer towards recognition and the United States has suggested it could also endorse the coalition.
"We are telling the international community that we don't want their military intervention but we want them to supply us with a developed anti-aircraft defense systems," Seif added. "The Syrian people can finish off the battle within weeks if we get this support."
But little in the way of direct military or financial support is expected to be channeled to the coalition at the Morocco meeting, partly because it lacks the ability to act as a provisional government and because Western powers are still wary of backing Islamist fighters in the rebel ranks.
Washington announced it had designated the radical Islamist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has for dozens of s and also fights alongside other rebel Syrian brigades, as a terrorist organization.
Designating it a terrorist group means Americans are prohibited from giving Jabhat al-Nusra any support.
A high-level official in the Syrian criticized Washington. "The designation is very wrong and too hasty. I think it is too early to categorize people inside Syria this way, considering the chaos and the grey atmosphere in the country," Farouk Tayfour, deputy leader of the group, told .
A diplomat attending the meeting said there had been much "jockeying for position within the coalition without addressing the main political issues" including making arrangements to work with the Alawite, Kurdish and Christian minorities and creating a framework for transitional justice.
The fighting has driven hundreds of thousands of Syrians into neighboring countries and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday more than half a million were either registered or awaiting registration in the region.
|Syria Dissidents Strike Unity Deal|
Khatib, a moderate originally from who quit Syria three months ago, will lead the National Coalition of Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition, formed after the Syrian National Council agreed to the new group.
Prominent dissident Riad Seif, who had tabled an initiative to unite the opposition, and female opponent Suhair al-Atassi, were elected as two vice presidents of the coalition.
The SNC had come under intense Arab and Western pressure to accept the unity plan amid growing frustration among other dissident groups.
The inked agreement stipulates that the bloc will be open to all factions, and will form a provisional government after gaining international recognition.
It will also support the unification of the revolutionary military councils, and will work for the fall of the regime and to dismantle the security organs
Former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab who defected in August hailed the agreement as "an advanced step towards toppling the regime."
Participants in marathon talks in Qatar said the latest were centered on details of a planned new government-in-waiting, but that the Syrian National Council had now heeded Arab and Western calls to join a new, wider coalition.
Reservations in SNC ranks about what many members saw as a move to sideline it had prompted repeated delays in the Doha talks and mounting frustration among other dissident groups and the opposition's Arab and Western supporters.
But after negotiations that ran into the early hours of Sunday and resumed in the afternoon, opposition officials said a deal on forming a National Coalition of opposition forces had finally been done.
"We signed a 12-point agreement to establish a coalition," said leading dissident Riad Seif, who drew up the U.S.-backed reform proposals on which Sunday's agreement was based.
Another prominent opposition figure, Haitham al-Maleh, said a formal signing ceremony would held at 1700 GMT.
In a copy of the document obtained by Agence Presse, the parties "agree to work for the fall of the regime and of all its symbols and pillars," and rule out any dialogue with the regime.
They agree to unify the fighting forces under a supreme military council and to set up a national judicial commission for rebel-held areas.
A provisional government would be formed after the coalition gains international recognition, and a transitional government formed after the regime has fallen.
The deal came after the SNC, which had formerly been seen as the main representative of the opposition, heeded Arab and Western pressure to agree to a new structure embracing groups that had been unwilling to join its ranks.
Former prime minister Riad Hijab, who fled to neighboring Jordan in August in the highest-ranking defection from Assad's government, hailed the agreement as "an advanced step towards toppling the regime."
|Syria new opposition leader blames West|
|[Al Ahram] The newly elected leader of Syria's main opposition bloc in exile struck a combative tone Saturday, saying international inaction rather than divisions among anti-regime groups are to blame for the inability to end the bloodshed in Syria.|
George Sabra, the new head of the Syrian National Council, told The in an interview that the international community should support those trying to topple without strings attached, rather than linking aid to an overhaul of the opposition leadership.
Sabra, a Christian and a veteran left-wing dissident who was repeatedly imprisoned by the regime, said he and others in the opposition feel let down by their Western and Arab allies.
The Syrian opposition may have many foreign friends, he said, "but unfortunately we get nothing from them, except some statements, some encouragement." The regime "has few friends, but these friends give the regime everything," he added, referring to Assad allies Russia, China and Iran.
The U.S. has become increasingly frustrated with the SNC's failure to forge a cohesive and more representative leadership, which would provide a single conduit for future foreign support. U.S. Secretary of State harshly criticized the group late last month.
Sabra, 65, headed an SNC delegation Saturday in talks with rival opposition groups on forging a new, broader opposition leadership.
The SNC has been reluctant to join such a group, fearing it would lose influence within a larger platform. Under the reform plan presented by another veteran dissident, Riad Seif, the SNC would receive only about one-third of 60 seats to make room for more activists from inside Syria.
Sabra said the SNC agrees that unity within opposition ranks is important, but suggested it would not accept a deal that could lead to its demise.
Senior SNC members portrayed the meeting as the beginning of what could be days of negotiations over the size and mission of such a group.
|Syria's SNC Insists on Leading Role|
|[An Nahar] The opposition Syrian National Council, meeting in Qatar to broaden its membership, said Tuesday that the "cornerstone" umbrella group should preserve its leading role in any revamp.|
SNC chief Abdel Basset Sayda also denounced the failure of the international community to act to end "massacres" being committed by forces loyal to the regime of His remarks were made during a meeting of the SNC general assembly in the Qatari capital Doha, as the United States heaped pressure on the opposition to form a wider structure.
Sayda said the SNC would take part in a broad opposition meeting on Thursday called by host Qatar and the , but insisted on a leading role for the council.
"We will attend the meeting with an open heart and mind. But we would like to stress from the start the need to keep the SNC as the cornerstone of the Syrian opposition," said the SNC chairman.
"We think that any attempt to target the SNC, whether intentionally or not, will prolong the crisis," he added.
Opposition figures meeting in Doha are expected to discuss an initiative by leading dissident Riad Seif to unite all Syrian groups opposed to Assad.
The proposal, which seems to enjoy U.S. support but has encountered reservations from some SNC members, will top the agenda of the broader meeting on Thursday.
But the former head of the SNC, Burhan Ghalioun, feared that Thursday's meeting was aimed to abolish the council which seems to have fallen from grace in Washington.
"The council rejects taking part in a framework that aims to kill it off," Ghalioun told AFP.
"We are working to turn the (forthcoming) meeting from a conference aimed at killing the SNC to a conference that would continue the work started by the council," he said.
|Car Bomb Kills 50 Regime Troops in Syria as Air Strikes Pound Rebels|
|[An Nahar] Syrian rebels launched a devastating car Monday that killed 50 pro-regime fighters, a watchdog said, as air strikes pounded rebel positions and the opposition met for talks on an overhaul.|
The suicide car on a military post in the central province of Hama struck early Monday, killing at least 50 government troops and loyalist militiamen, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"The post, located at the Center for Rural Development, is the largest gathering place for troops and pro-regime in the region," said the Observatory, a -based monitoring group.
Regime aircraft meanwhile continued to pound rebel-held positions around the country, with one air strike killing at least 20 rebel fighters in the town of Harem in the northwestern province of Idlib, the Observatory said.
The rebels have scored significant wins in recent weeks and hold swathes of territory in the country's north, but have come under intense bombardment from the air as 's regime seeks to reverse rebel gains.
Clashes also broke out Monday around and in Syria's second city , and state television
... and if you can't believe state television who can you believe?
reported a car in the capital had left four dead and dozens .
Fighting erupted in southern districts of the capital on the edge of the Yarmouk Paleostinian camp, the Observatory said, with Paleostinian sources saying 31 people had died from shelling at the camp on Sunday and Monday.
In Aleppo, fighting broke out at a roundabout at the northwestern entrance to the city in Zahraa district and on the airport road to the southeast, the Observatory and residents said.
One resident of a district near Zahraa said Monday's fighting in the area was the heaviest in recent days.
"It's been almost one week that we are living in terror at night. We hear everything -- s, tank shelling, s... The before dawn today were the worst all week," Samir, a 37-year-old pharmacist, told Agence Presse.
The Observatory said at least 105 people, including 55 soldiers and pro-regime fighters, had been killed in the violence on Monday.
The escalating conflict has added urgency to a meeting of the Syrian National Council in Qatar, where the United States is reportedly pressing for a new umbrella organization to unite the country's fractured opposition.
According to the reports, which emerged after U.S. Secretary of State said the SNC was not representative, long-time dissident Riad Seif is touted as the potential head of a new government-in-exile dubbed the Syrian National Initiative.
Seif on Sunday denied planning to head such a government, while SNC chief Abdel Basset Sayda denounced what he called "efforts to bypass the SNC".
At the talks on Monday, SNC members approved a restructuring project that will see the organization add 200 new members representing 13 different political groups, SNC Ahmad Kamel told AFP.
On Tuesday SNC members will hold a debate on a proposal put forward by Seif to create a new political body to represent the opposition, folding in the SNC and other anti-regime groups.
The SNC lashed out on Friday at alleged U.S. interference with the opposition, accusing Washington of undermining the revolt and "sowing the seeds of division" by seeking its overhaul.
On the diplomatic front, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused countries that support Syria's rebels of encouraging them to fight rather than pressuring them to negotiate an end to the conflict.
Russia, one of the Syrian regime's most influential foreign allies, held no sway over the rebels, Lavrov said at a news conference in Cairo with his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Kamel Amr.
Countries that do have influence over the rebels, among them some Gulf Arab states and Western powers such as the United States, should encourage them to "sit at the negotiating table," Lavrov said.
Instead, some of these countries prefer to "unify the rebels not on the basis of negotiations but on the basis of continuing the fighting," he said.
Lavrov met Sunday with chief Nabil al-Arabi for talks, after which Arabi said "there wasn't any agreement on anything" during the discussions.
Russia and China have stymied Western- and Arab-backed efforts to put more pressure on Assad's regime by blocking U.N. Security Council resolutions.
|Syria Rebels Seize Oilfield, Down Warplane|
|[An Nahar] Rebels seized a major oilfield and shot down a warplane in eastern Syria Sunday, a watchdog said, notching up new battlefield successes even as the opposition met in Qatar under U.S. pressure for a makeover.|
The rebel advances in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor came as their positions were pounded by warplanes around the capital and in the northern provinces of and Idlib.
State media also reported that a blast near the Dama Rose Hotel in the heart of Damascus 11 civilians. It blamed the on "terrorists" -- the regime's term for armed rebels.
The hotel hosted U.N.- envoy Lakhdar Brahimi during his visits to Damascus. The office of the Ombudsman, headed by diplomat Mokhtar Lamani, is also there.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seizure of the eastern oilfield marked a first by the opposition since the revolt against 's regime erupted in March 2011.
"Rebels in the Jaafar Tayyar Brigade took control of al-Ward oilfield, east of the town of Mayadin, after a siege that lasted several days," it said.
"This is the first time the rebels have taken control of an oilfield," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence Presse.
The fighting began at dawn and lasted several hours, said Abdel Rahman, adding that 40 soldiers on guard were either killed, or taken prisoner.
The Observatory later announced rebels in Deir Ezzor had shot down a warplane, citing witnesses.
The group, which gathers its information from a network of activists, lawyers and medics in civilian and military hospitals, said initial reports indicated the pilot had been captured.
Fighting also erupted near a political intelligence office in Damascus province, the Observatory said, adding that warplanes later carried out three raids on the Ghuta region northeast of the capital.
An AFP correspondent in Aleppo province reported three air strikes in close succession on the town of Al-Bab, with witnesses saying there were at least four fatalities.
The Observatory gave an initial toll of 96 dead -- 35 civilians, 41 soldiers and 20 rebels -- nationwide on Sunday.
The escalating conflict added urgency to a meeting of the opposition Syrian National Council in the Qatari capital Doha, with the United States reportedly pressing for a new umbrella organization to unite the country's fractured regime opponents.
According to the reports, which emerged after U.S. Secretary of State charged the SNC was not representative, long-time dissident Riad Seif is touted as the potential head of a new government-in-exile dubbed the Syrian National Initiative.
But as the Doha meeting got under way, Seif denied he planned to head a government in exile.
"I shall not be a candidate to lead a government in exile... I am 66 and have health problems," he told s.
SNC chief Abdel Basset Sayda denounced what he called "efforts to bypass the SNC and numerous attempts to find substitutes" for the group, though he recognized that some criticisms of it are "founded."
The SNC lashed out on Friday at alleged U.S. interference in the opposition, accusing Washington of undermining the revolt and "sowing the seeds of division" by seeking its overhaul.
Clinton has voiced frustration with the SNC, calling it unrepresentative of on-the-ground opposition forces and saying it "can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition."
In his remarks, Sayda also argued military action against the regime must be "organized and unified," so that the various military groups battling the regime can form the "core of the next Syrian army."
On the diplomatic front, French President visited before traveling to , and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was on his way to Cairo, with Syria topping the agenda for both.
Israel's armed forces chief Benny Gantz said, meanwhile, that his country could become involved in the conflict, as fighting raged on the strategic Golan Heights.
"This is a Syrian affair that could turn into our affair," the army's website quoted him as saying during a visit to troops on the frontier. It added that he told the soldiers to be alert, but did not elaborate further.
|Syria opposition groups hold crucial Doha talks|
|[Dawn] The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) begins a four-day meeting Sunday in Doha, where the United States will reportedly press for an overhaul of the coalition aiming to topple Details have emerged of plans to reshape the opposition into a representative government-in-exile, after US Secretary of State charged that the SNC was not representative.|
Rebel forces in Syria have criticised the SNC as out of touch, and the opposition is also split ideologically.
The Doha talks come a day after rebels in northern Syria launched an offensive to take control of a key airbase.
Washington is pressing for a makeover of the opposition, with long-time dissident Riad Seif reportedly touted as the potential head of a new government-in-exile dubbed the Syrian National Initiative.Seif and about two dozen other leading opposition fiures gathered in Amman on Thursday and came up with proposals for a new body to represent the disparate groups opposing Assad.
|US-planned opposition overhaul taking shape|
|AMMAN: Details emerged yesterday of plans to reshape Syrias opposition into a representative government-in-exile, on the eve of key talks between regime opponents. The talks starting today in Doha come amid US criticism of the main exiled opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week was not representative.|
Reports have emerged that Washington is pressing for an overhaul of the opposition, with long-time dissident Riad Seif touted as the potential head of a new government-in-exile dubbed the Syrian National Initiative.
Seif and about two dozen other leading opposition figures gathered in Jordans capital Amman this week and came up with proposals for a new body to represent the disparate groups opposing President Bashar Assad.
|Assad Must Step down before Dialogue, Say Opposition Figures|
|[An Nahar] A group of key Syrian political opposition figures including former Premier Riad Hijab and long-time dissident Riad Seif have ruled out any dialogue with before steps down.|
The consensus was reached at a meeting in Amman attended by 25 opposition figures ahead of a key meeting of the Syrian National Council in the Qatari capital to decide the future of the exiled opposition bloc, Hijab's office said in a statement received on Saturday.
"Assad and his entourage leaving power is a non-negotiable precondition for any dialogue aimed at finding a non-military solution, if that is still possible," they agreed.
Among others who attended the Amman meeting on Thursday were Ali Sadreddin Bayanuni of the , Wael Mirza of the SNC, veteran Walid Bunni and Michel Kilo as well as Kurdish and tribal representatives.
Reports have emerged that Washington wants an overhaul of the opposition, amid concerns that the SNC is not representative enough, with Seif touted as the potential head of a new government-in-exile.
The United States is expected to press in Doha on Sunday for a new umbrella organization to unite the country's fractured regime opponents.
|Syria rebels target key airbase before opposition talks|
|[Dawn] Syrian rebels said on Saturday that they had launched a major assault against a northern airbase used to deploy regime air power, on the eve of a crucial meeting to decide the future of the opposition.|
The attack on the Taftanaz base, from where helicopter gunships raid opposition positions and rebel-held areas, comes after regime forces this week launched an unprecedented wave of air strikes in a bid to reverse rebel gains.
A video posted on the Internet said eight battalions were taking part in the attack, including the radical Islamist Al-Nusra Front, and showed a missile launcher mounted on the back of a pick-up truck firing on regime positions.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), a network of activists on the ground, said an operation had begun to liberate the Taftanaz airbase.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a -based watchdog, said had broken out near the base, in Idlib province where rebels have made significant gains this week.
The rebels seized an air defence position at Duwila in Idlib earlier on Saturday, killing an army officer and eight rebel fighters in the ensuing fighting, the Observatory said.
The rebels fled under attack from the air after seizing arms and ammunition from the post.
The rebels made other gains near by seizing a , a municipal building and a hospital in the town of Douma, northeast of the capital, after fighting that killed 21 soldiers, the Observatory said.
The fresh came as Syrias political opposition prepared for key talks starting Sunday in Qatar, where the United States (US) is expected to push for a new umbrella organization to unite the countrys fractured regime opponents.
Reports have emerged that Washington will press for an overhaul of the opposition and its main representative body, the Syrian National Council (SNC), with long-time dissident Riad Seif touted as the potential head of a new government-in-exile dubbed the Syrian National Initiative.
The SNC lashed out at US interference on Friday, accusing Washington of undermining the countrys revolt and sowing the seeds of division by seeking the overhaul.
Washington denied it was trying to interfere, insisting it was simply seeking to ensure that more voices were heard.
The rebels consolidated their hold on the area Friday by forcing regime troops out of their last position, taking control of a key crossroads where the roads to commercial hub from Damascus and from the Mediterranean coast meet.
Nationwide, 181 people were killed in violence on Friday, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics in civilian and military hospitals for its figures.
|Turkey Condemns 'Loathsome Murder' of Kurdish Activist in Syria|
|[An Nahar] Turkey has condemned the "loathsome " of top Kurdish activist Meshaal Tamo as well as attacks against leading opposition figures in Syria, the foreign ministry said.|
"We... strongly condemn the attempts aiming to suppress the Syrian opposition and the increase in attacks targeting main representatives of the opposition," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement posted on its web site late on Saturday.
Turkey is deeply sorry for the "loathsome " of Tamo, as well as the wounding of prominent dissident Riad Seif who was injured after being beaten on Friday in , the statement said.
"Turkey expects the Syrian government to realize as soon as possible that practices of violence aiming to suppress the Syrian opposition will not reverse the course of history," it said.
Tamo was on Friday in city of Qamishli in north Syria and his funeral became a mass rally with more than 50,000 demonstrators calling for the fall of 's regime, activists have said.
Syrian security forces killed at least two mourners and several others when they fired on the funeral, according to rights groups.
Syria closed one of its border gates with Turkey and barred Turkish nationals from entering Syria following the bloody in Qamishli, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Seif, a former , had to be given hospital treatment after being beaten outside a mosque in the capital's commercial neighborhood of Medan.