Jul 2, 2012

Syrian peace plan DOA: battles escalate in Syria, Turkey scrambles jet fighters to Syrian border

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July 1, 2012 SYRIATurkey has scrambled six F-16 fighter jets near its border with Syria after Syrian helicopters came close to the border, the country’s army says. Six jets were sent to the area in response to three such incidents on Saturday, the statement said, adding that there was no violation of Turkish airspace. Last month, Syrian forces shot down a Turkish jet in the border area. The incident further strained already tense relations between former allies. Turkey’s government has been outspoken in its condemnation of Syria’s response to the 16-month anti-government uprising, which has seen more than 30,000 Syrian refugees enter Turkey. On Friday, Turkey said it had begun deploying rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns along the border in response to the downing of its F-4 Phantom jet on 22 June. The move came after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Turkey had changed its rules of military engagement and would now treat any Syrian military approaching the border as a threat. Turkey’s military has more than 500 miles of border with Syria to defend. It has now decided to treat everything that happens on the Syrian side of the border with extreme suspicion. The scrambling of the jets is a sign of continuing tensions. A little over a week ago, Syria shot down a Turkish warplane. Syria says that the aircraft was flying inside Syrian airspace – a charge denied by Turkey. Following this incident, the Turkish government announced that it had revised its military rules of engagement towards Syria. From now on, every military element that approached the Turkish border from Syria would be considered as a threat. The military has now acted on its new rules. –BBC
Battles escalate in Syria: A plan by world powers for a Syrian political transition appeared doomed Sunday, with Bashar al-Assad’s regime interpreting the outcome as a fresh lifeline from Russia—its principal international backer—while the lack of any reference in the plan to Mr. Assad’s departure from office angered the Syrian opposition. With no sign of any commitment by Syria’s warring sides to embrace the transition plan outlined in Geneva on Saturday, many warned that violence could worsen even beyond the levels seen in June, which is now believed to have been the bloodiest month in the Syrian conflict. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based opposition group, nearly 4,000 people, including members of the security forces, have been killed since May 26. At the core of the latest initiative by the international community to resolve the nearly 16-month conflict, which many now describe as a civil war, is the creation by “mutual consent” of a new transitional government that would have much of the executive powers exercised by President Assad and bring together members of the current government, the opposition and other groups, according to the communiqué issued at the end of the Geneva meeting. The meeting brought together foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China—as well as Turkey, Iraq, Qatar and Kuwait. European Union and Arab League officials also attended. It excluded Iran—after U.S. objection to the participation of a Syrian ally seen as aiding the regime in its domestic crackdown—and Saudi Arabia, a main supporter of Syrian political and armed opposition groups. Kofi Annan, a former U.N. chief now serving as special envoy for the Syrian crisis, described the latest proposal as “a serious agreement on how we can help Syria at this grim and brutal time,” but said everything hinged on the implementation of a cease fire, the first item of an existing U.N. and Arab League-backed six-point peace plan already in tatters. “The bloodshed must end, and the parties must be prepared to put forward effective interlocutors to work with me toward a Syrian-led settlement,” Mr. Annan said at the end of the meeting. As of Sunday, there was no official reaction from the Syrian government to the idea of creating a new transitional government with significantly more powers, but state media outlets framed the result of the Geneva meeting as a victory for the regime and its ally Russia. -WSJ
More deaths: At least 83 people were killed, mostly civilians, in violence across Syria on Saturday, and hundreds more were trapped in Douma as regime forces stormed the town in Damascus province, monitors said. In the single most serious incident, mortar fire killed 30 civilians who were attending a funeral in the town of Zamalka, 10 kilometers (six miles) east of the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights said. The Observatory did not give any further details on the Zamalka incident but published two videos from people on the ground. The first showed several dozen people, mostly men waving Syrian revolutionary flags and shouting slogans as they accompanied the funeral cortege, when the picture was interrupted by an explosion. The second, which could not be confirmed as being shot at the same scene, showed people running away from a cloud of dust that gradually dissipated to show numerous bodies lying on the ground. –GMA