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    Default Rape is shredding Syria's social fabric

    Assad launches new wave of air raids, pounding key Syrian town

    October 19, 2012 – SYRIA - Syrian regime warplanes launched a new wave of strikes Thursday on the northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan, seized by rebels last week, an AFP correspondent reported. Fighter jets began overflying and bombarding Maaret al-Numan, located on the main Damascus-Aleppo highway, in the early hours of the morning, targeting the strategic town and its periphery. The AFP correspondent was unable to immediately confirm any casualties or damage from the air raids. Anti-regime forces, who overran Maaret al-Numan on October 9 as they pushed to create a buffer zone along the border with Turkey, attempted to shoot down the aircraft with heavy machinegun fire, but without any success. The bombing raids were punctuated by artillery and occasional rocket fire across the town, although these were less intense than witnessed over the past week. Overnight, sporadic gunfire was also heard, including around a major military base at Wadi Deif, where the insurgents kept up a siege of about 250 troops holed up inside. On Wednesday, rebels downed a helicopter gunship in Maarhtat, on the outskirts of Maaret al-Numan, according to both the insurgents and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. And the Observatory said that on Thursday fighter jets bombed Maarhtat and Bsida, where the helicopter crashed the day before. Nearby, the fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army and jihadist militants of Al-Nusra Front targeted the Wadi Daif base, said the Britain-based monitoring group. In Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city in the country’s north, the military pounded rebel-held neighbourhoods of Shaar and Sukkari, as well as two nearby villages. In the central province of Homs, the military bombed the town of Qusayr, another opposition stronghold which government troops have besieged for several days, said the Observatory. Bombing killed three children, including one whose head was blown off, in the central town of Houla, near to a village where at least 108 people died a massacre in May, most of them women and children. Nine bodies were found in the Yarmuk neighborhood of the capital Damascus, the Observatory added, without identifying them. France 24


    Hajjis from Syrian backgrounds pray for the downfall of the Syrian dictatorship

    Last edited by islamirama; Jan-17-2013 at 02:33 PM.

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    Default Rape is shredding Syria's social fabric

    Assads Irani and Iraqi Shia Militias are committing Massacres: Syrian Refugees

    It wasn’t the first time Assad’s tanks had roared into the dusty country town of Al-Laja, a backwater 20 miles north of the Syrian city of Deraa. Families cowering inside their homes thought they knew what to expect: one or two arrests, maybe, and militiamen shooting at villagers’ homes to scare them.

    But what happened 10 days ago was different. The Shabiha militia who followed the tanks tied a suspected army deserter to his motorbike and burnt him alive with paraffin; young men and teenagers old enough to fight for the rebels were dragged into the streets and shot; and two children, a boy aged 12 and his 10-year old sister, were murdered in their home.

    “They stormed the house looking for their father, an officer with the rebel Omari Brigade, but he wasn’t there,” said Abu Shweti, 29. “So they killed his wife and children in revenge. I will never forget the sight. Something inside you dies when you see innocents who have been killed so brutally.”

    It was the danger to his own children from Assad’s killers that persuaded Mr Shweti, and dozens of his neighbours, to flee Syria to safety in Jordan. Ordinary Syrians like them have become accustomed to horror in their bitter civil war. But with the violence suddenly worsening, and taking such a brutal twist — an estimated 1,000 people a week are now being killed, mostly civilians - thousands of families are pouring across Syria’s borders with their families.

    Mr Shweti, a tough Bedouin goat herder, had arrived with his wife and five children, aged between 11 and three, in the Jordanian refugee camp of Zataari a day earlier after spending days on back roads dodging army patrols to reach safety.

    “I brought my children here to protect them from the Shabiha,” he said. “Everyone in this camp has done the same. Here my family is safe. At home they could be killed. When I can I will go back to Syria to fight.”

    The camp is a bleak tent city on a hot, barren plain in the desert a few miles south of the Syrian border, built in August for 100 families. Now 36,000 refugees are crammed behind its barbed wire fence, and the United Nations expects the population to increase to 80,000 by the end of the year. By then the total number of Syrian refugees in Jordan is expected to more than double to 250,000, putting great strain on the nation of 6.5 million which is already home to huge populations of Iraqis and Palestinians who fled from earlier wars.

    Some 500 more Syrians turn up every day at Zaatari, exhausted, hungry, penniless, and with tales of bombings, shellings and atrocities. Aid workers and Jordanian officials fear that far more will arrive as the exodus from Syria swells, especially since Turkey restricted Syrians trying to escape across its border.

    Many of the families who spoke to The Sunday Telegraph said they it was the increasingly grave danger to their children that had finally led them to leave, often after enduring months of brutal repression.

    Refugees told of children being used as human shields, children being murdered by Shia militia with swords, and boys being massacred by security forces frustrated because they couldn’t find their fathers. Teenage boys are at particular risk from regime killers who suspect they may soon join rebels.

    “They kill our children to break our hearts,” said one grandmotherly woman in the tent next to Mr Shweti. Her husband, a farmer with a bristly grey moustache, his head covered with a red-checkered headscarf, nodded grimly in agreement. “It is like Bosnia now, with terrible slaughter,” he added.

    Mr Shweti admitted that, even after months of violence, he had been shaken by what he had seen in his own village.

    “The name of the boy who was killed was Ramadan. I remember him playing with my own sons. It was revenge by them because they couldn’t find his father, and an attempt to terrorise us all.”

    Children in the camp are nearly all traumatised. One of Mr Shweti’s sons, a lively boy called Abdullah, 10, wakes up every night after screaming in his sleep. “Last night he was shouting ‘Get them away from me’,” Mr Shweti said.

    Boys at or near military conscription age are a particular worry for their families. Before, they would hide at home instead of answering the summons to report to army barracks.

    “Everybody is getting their boys out if they are near the age for conscription,” said Abu Mohammed, 39 a carpenter. He didn’t want his two teenage sons to be forced to kill fellow Syrians. “Before, they were safe when we hid them at home. Not any more. Now the security forces search more thoroughly for them.”

    He pulled up his shirt to show two bullet holes, from when he was used as a human shield by militia, he said.

    Other refugees claimed the violence has got much worse in recent weeks as foreign mercenaries have appeared on the streets of their home towns and villages.

    “I saw Iranians with the army in Damascus a month ago,” said Ahmad, 18. “They were devils. They killed a family by cutting their throats — a mother and father and three children, because they supported the rebels. I saw them dead in their house after the Iranians had been inside.”

    He said they looked different to Syrians, with long beards, spoke Arabic with a strong accent, and had ‘Ya Ali’ tattooed on their wrists, in tribute to Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed who is revered by Shias. Other refugees insisted they had seen Hezbollah fighters, from Lebanon, and Iraqi Shia militia.

    Like almost every inhabitant of the refugee camp, Ahmad — who did not want to give his full name for fear of spies — is a Sunni, the majority community in Syria which has led the uprising against the rule of President Assad.

    “When they go to houses the foreign mercenaries don’t talk to anybody. They burn buildings and steal,” he said. “For sure the killing is getting worse, especially since they arrived. It is 100 per cent a religious war now — the Shias have most of the weapons, and they are killing Sunnis and trying to force us out.”

    The conditions in the camp where they flee are grim, the midday heat unbearable in flimsy tents. Sandstorms howl across the barren plain. Aid workers are becoming deeply concerned that the refugees are unprepared for the imminent winter. Soon night time temperatures will be well below freezing, and most of the refugees arrived with just the clothes they fled in — usually just a T-shirt and jeans, or a summer dress.

    Jordanian police had to fire tear gas into the camp last week when furious refugees started a riot because of their living conditions, setting fire to tents and vehicles. Once they are in, Syrians are not allowed to leave. So harsh are conditions in the camp that every night about 100 break out through the barbed wire fence, many returning to take their chances in Syria.

    Refugees have adequate food, with handouts of groceries and communal kitchens now set up, and some cook for themselves. Latrines and showers are crowded and basic, and refugees complain the camp is full of regime informers. Jordanian police keep a rough and ready order, although their main job seems to be to stop refugees getting out.

    Aid workers from the United Nations and other agencies privately admit that the scramble to prepare a camp as refugees flooded in has been difficult, and they fear that there is not enough funding yet to prepare for winter. Foreign donors have not been generous so far, although Morocco has set up medical facilities and Britain has been praised for providing crucial funding for the camp out of £18 million for Syrian refugees.

    “When it becomes cold and starts to snow and rain it is going to be horrible in there,” said one aid worker. “It’s not the worst refugee camp I’ve ever seen but it is going to be a miserable winter for people who have lost everything.”

    Many of the refugees are tough Bedouin who can cope with adversity, but there are also city people who will find the conditions a terrible shock: one woman in a tent was wearing expensive sunglasses and had a fashionable handbag, all that is left of the comfortable life she lived until a few weeks ago.

    At least communal kitchens are being set up where the women can cook rice, beans, and a bit of meat; there were complaints that emergency ration packs of chicken and rice were inedible.

    A million litres of water are being brought in by a fleet of lorries daily, but the operation is expensive and 400 metre deep wells are now being dug - an indication that the authorities believe the camp may become semi-permanent.

    One refugee complained that Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy for Syria, visited Zaatari by helicopter but spent little time with its inmates - some of whom held a demonstration complaining that his attempt to broker a peace deal made him a stooge of the regime. “He went straight to the United Nations people. He didn’t come to speak to us or hear our complaints,” the man said.

    Last month bedraggled refugees crossing the border from war-torn Syria at night were greeted by the startling and far more glamorous sight of Angelina Jolie, the actress, who was on a tour of the Middle East to bring attention to the plight of refugees from Assad’s regime. At least she was trying.

    “Nobody cares about us,” said Abu Iyad, an unshaven man in his thirties wearing a tattered T-shirt. One of his sons was killed last week. “Until the world helps us our suffering will go on.”


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    Default Rape is shredding Syria's social fabric

    'The new jihad': Aussies heading to Syrian war zone

    MORE Australian civilians are heading to the deadly Syrian warzone despite warnings they could face the same fate as a Melbourne man killed there recently.

    A ‘jihadist’ has told news.com.au he knows several people planning to go to Syria, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade say they have been approached by people who want to travel there.

    It was reported this week that Meadow Heights kickboxer Roger Abbas, 23, was killed in crossfire in the war-torn country.

    His brother Mehedin Abbas was forced to hose down speculation he went to fight with the rebel Free Syrian Army, telling The Australian that he was there for humanitarian work.

    “Just to set the story straight, he was in Syria on refugee camps doing aid work where he got caught in crossfire.
    He got shot and taken to hospital where he died,” Mehedin said.

    DFAT – who has not confirmed Roger’s death - warned that anyone who wanted to head over there to fight or to help were just going to get themselves killed.

    Meanwhile, “staunch supporter” of the FSA Zaky Mallah, who issued the statement about Roger on behalf of his brother Mehedin, says he knows people who are planning to go to Syria in the coming weeks and that he wants to go back himself.

    Mr Mallah was the first Australian jailed under anti-terror laws after being charged with preparing a terrorist attack, but he was acquitted and is now a student and an “independent Muslim” who recently travelled to Syria to try to help the rebel forces. He says that is his ‘new jihad’.

    He said Roger Abbas went there to “help out with food, water, medication and whatever” and that as far as he knows he went on his own, not with an established aid organisation.

    Mr Mallah said it was easy to fly to Turkey then make your own way to the warzone.

    Asked whether he would encourage others to follow his lead, he said: “Hell yeah. I know a few people going to Syria in the coming weeks. There’s two leaving in three weeks, more in the months to come”.

    He also said he had told the Abbas family they were “lucky to have a martyr in the family” after Roger died “for freedom”.

    “We don’t look on it as a bad thing,” he said.

    “A bullet by a sniper is a ticket to Paradise (but) I’m not encouraging everyone to take up arms.”

    There are reports 150 people are dying a day in the Syrian conflict, which has been raging since March last year. Rebels – the main ones being the FSA – are trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

    A DFAT spokesman said the department was approached by people wanting to go over and issued a vehement warning about the danger, and said it was illegal for someone to go and join the fight.

    “Please don’t go anywhere near it because you will make no difference to the conflict,” he said.

    “You will make no difference if you’re thinking of taking part except getting yourself killed.

    “If you want to help out in a humanitarian sense you will also make no difference.”

    The spokesman said only highly trained people were useful in Syria, and that anyone who needed protecting would be more trouble than they were worth.

    Mr Mallah, who calls himself a “strong critic of the thuggish, blood sucking, murderous, barbaric Assad regime”, has posted videos on YouTube he says are of his time in Syria, which include dead bodies and heavily armed militia.

    He said he can understand DFAT’s concerns – particularly because his guide was shot dead right next to him – but it wouldn’t stop him going back for humanitarian purposes, and he said he would join the fight if the Australian Government would let him.

    He sees himself as a “freedom fighter” and he was jailed for two years for threatening to harm ASIO and DFAT officials before being acquitted of planning a terrorist act in 2005.

    DFAT are still investigating the Abbas case, as well as the reported death of a Muslim extremist called Marwwan al-Kassab, who was married to an Australian woman and reportedly died while making weapons for the Syrian rebels.


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    Default Christian missionaries exploitation of the Muslims in Syria

    Christian missionaries exploitation of the Muslims in Syria

    Christian missionaries inside Jordan are taking advantage of the Syrian refugees by handing them free bibles which its front and back cover imitating the Qur'an to deceive the Muslims over there as this is their practices in most of the Muslim countries in the time of war and difficulties to take advantage ,deceive and exploit the Syrian refugees Muslims by telling them to memorize the Bible in return for paying rent and giving allowances.

    There's a difference between preaching and exploitation.

    Telling refugees you will help them if they memories the Bible, this is called exploitation and unethical way for forcing people to accepting Christianity or any religion at that .

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    Default Rape is shredding Syria's social fabric

    Rape is shredding Syria's social fabric

    A woman approached me as I was rushing toward the D.C. Metro after giving a talk on rape in Syria last month. She asked in a low voice if she could share some information. She had DVDs, she said. On them were testimonies of Syrian women who'd been raped; in particular, a mother, a daughter and a sister all in one family.

    In a taxi recently en route to Heathrow Airport, I was told another startling story. The driver turned to me and said, "I am Syrian. And I have a story to tell you that I keep wishing is not true."

    His eyes welled up as he relayed what his neighbor said happened to a friend. The neighbor described being stopped in his car at a Syrian checkpoint on the road from Zabadani to Damascus. He said army officers told him to leave his daughter with them. My driver said he knew no other details than this, that the man had been given a horrific choice to make: leave his daughter behind, or his wife and other children would be killed in front of his eyes.

    The man made a decision, the driver said. He left his daughter at the checkpoint and drove on.

    I keep wishing it is not true, too, but what I told the driver that day is that his story sounds all too familiar: Of the hundreds of cases of sexualized violence against Syrian women and men I have heard and documented as the director of the Women Under Siege project at the Women's Media Center, many fit this pattern of women and girls being raped at checkpoints.

    And the story from the woman in Washington falls all too neatly into the pattern of ripping apart families -- rape and other forms of sexualized violence have long been used as a tool of war to destroy not only individual bodies but entire communities. What is happening in Syria is no exception.

    In an attempt to not lose a single story that could be used as possible evidence for future war crimes trials, we are documenting reports of sexualized violence on a live, crowd-sourced map on Syria. We know, however, that evidence of crimes is being destroyed every day: More than 20% of the women in our reports are found dead or are killed after rape.

    Broken down by type of crime and perpetrator, each case is marked as a red dot on the map and contains up to dozens or even hundreds of victims. Each dot is a life or lives potentially ripped apart by a horrific act of violence, an act that is particularly powerful as a weapon in Syria, where honor is so highly prized.

    Rape is tearing Syrians apart. The concept of purity is destroying their lives on top of it.

    The International Rescue Committee, referring to Syria, reported in August that "girl-child survivors of rape are frequently married to their older cousins or other male members of the community, to 'save their honor.' " Participants in adolescent girl groups told the IRC that if a girl is raped, "Sometimes she might be killed by her family. She might kill herself. ... She knows that she will be dishonored for the rest of her life."

    Honor killings, forced marriages and divorce are just a few of the ways shame is destroying lives in Syria. There is also suicide when the shame becomes too much to bear, such as the story on our map telling of a girl in Latakia who reportedly killed herself by jumping off a balcony after rape.

    But the concept of honor is failing Syrian women in another way.

    "What I always think about is how women have tried to persuade the perpetrators not to attack them by asking to think of them as their sisters," said one of the Syrian researchers on our mapping project.

    "In Arab culture, a real man will protect his sister at any price. He is expected to take revenge if someone dishonors her. His sister is his responsibility even if she is married because blood relation is stronger than marriage. The women were appealing to whatever remnant of manhood and Arab honor these attackers might still have. Unfortunately, they had none."

    The unending "dishonor" and manipulation of Syrians through sexualized violence is committed by all sides, although the majority of our reports indicate government perpetrators. It is creating an entire nation of traumatized people: not just the survivors of the acts, but their children as well.

    It is time to stop it all. There are measures the world can take to bring these horrors to an end. Shame should never fall on victims, but should be used to compel Russia to join a U.N. Security Council call for the Syrian government's alleged crimes to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

    Governments can help humanitarian groups that offer medical and psychosocial services for survivors. Syrian women's rights organizations are already taking action to combat and respond to gender-based violence, including organizing family-based care for displaced children of survivors. The international community can and should support Syrian civil society in this work.

    Shame is a powerful feeling that causes retreat. It causes us to lower our heads and look away. But we have a chance to lift up the survivors of sexualized violence in Syria and honor them by paying attention, by caring enough to bring their suffering to an end, by telling them that we do not accept the violence against them.


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    Default Bored truckie swaps his rig for Syria's frontline

    Bored truckie swaps his rig for Syria's frontline

    Japanese truck driver Toshifumi Fujimoto is bored with his humdrum job, a daily run from Osaka to Tokyo or Nagasaki hauling tanker loads of gasoline, water or even chocolate.

    Yet while the stocky, bearded 45-year-old could spend his free time getting a jolt of adrenaline by bungee-jumping or shark hunting, he puts his life on the line in a most unusual way.

    He has become a war tourist.

    Mr Fujimoto's passion has taken him from the dull routine of the highway to Syria, where as part of his latest adventure in the Middle East's hotspots he shoots photos and video while dodging bullets with zest.

    He was in Yemen last year during demonstrations at the US embassy and in Cairo a year earlier, during the heady days that followed the ouster of long-time president Hosni Mubarak.

    Later this year, he plans to hook up with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    But for the moment, he is wrapping up a week's tour of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, which for going on six months has been one of the hottest spots in a conflict that has cost more than 60,000 lives, according to UN figures.

    He already spent two weeks in the war-torn country at the end of 2011, taking advantage of a tourist visa, but this time he has entered the country clandestinely from Turkey.

    Dressed in a Japanese army fatigues and armed with two cameras and a video camera, Mr Fujimoto heads for whatever frontline he can every morning to document the ongoing destruction of Syria's second city and one-time commercial capital.

    Mr Fujimoto, who does not speak English and much less Arabic, has picked up a few words, such as "dangerous" and "front line".

    The only way for AFP to interview him was to make use of Google Translate.

    "I always go by myself, because no tour guide wants to go to the front," he said.

    "It's very exciting, and the adrenaline rush is like no other.

    "It's more dangerous in Syria to be a journalist than a tourist."

    He said that each morning, he walks 200 metres to reach the front to join the firing line with soldiers of the (rebel) Free Syria Army.

    "It fascinates me, and I enjoy it," he said, as some FSA fighters stopped him in one of the Old City's streets to have their picture taken with him.

    "Most people think I'm Chinese, and they greet me in Chinese," he smiled.

    'Completely crazy'

    Mr Fujimoto takes his time getting his shots right, as the rebels he hangs out with shout from both sides of the street.

    "Run. Run. There are snipers. Run," the rebels yelled.

    But he ignores them, finishes shooting and casually walks away with photos that he will later post on his Facebook page to share with his friends.

    "I'm not a target for snipers because I'm a tourist, not like you journalists," he told a reporter.

    "Besides, I'm not afraid if they shoot at me or that they might kill me. I'm a combination of samurai and kamikaze."

    Mr Fujimoto will not even wear a helmet or a flack jacket.

    "They are very heavy when it comes to running and it's more fun to go to the front without anything. Besides, when they shoot it's fun and exciting," he said.

    Mr Fujimoto said his employers do not know he is in Syria.

    "I just told them I was going to Turkey on holiday; if I'd told them the truth, they'd tell me I'm completely crazy," he said.

    But though some might doubt his sanity, no one can question his financial foresight, which is rooted in the sadness of his personal life.

    Mr Fujimoto is divorced, and says: "I have no family, no friends, no girl friend. I am alone in life."

    But he does have three daughters, whom he has not seen for five years.

    "Not even on Facebook or the internet, nothing. And that saddens me deeply," he said.

    So he has bought a life insurance policy.

    "I pray every day that, if something happens to me, my girls might collect the insurance money and be able to live comfortably," he said.

    Mr Fujimoto does not make any money off his photography, and spent $US2,500 out of his own pocket for the flight to Turkey.

    Then there is another $25-a-day that he pays a local resident, who puts him up in his house and gives him internet access.

    In his week in Aleppo, he has covered all the battle fronts - in the districts of Amariya, Salaheddin, Saif al-Dawla, Izaa - and though he has shared many of the images he has captured, one of them has stuck in his mind.

    He opened a file on his laptop to show the partly decomposed body of a seven-year-old girl in Saif al-Dawla, gunned down by a sniper, which has lain unclaimed for months.

    "I love children, but Syria is no place for them. A bomb can snuff out their lives at any moment," he said, as some FSA fighters asked him to join them in Saleheddin and he ambled off down the street toward the sound of fighting.


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    Default Syria refugees say rape is a key reason they fled

    Syria refugees say rape is a key reason they fled, report says

    Rape is one of the primary reasons that Syrian refugees say they fled their country, “a significant and disturbing feature” of the war raging between rebels and Syrian government forces, the International Rescue Committee said Monday.

    In a new report based on hundreds of interviews in Jordan and Lebanon, the assistance group said refugees recounted Syrian women and girls being gang-raped in front of their families or assaulted by armed men in public. Others were kidnapped, violated, tortured and killed, the refugee aid group was told.

    The aid group did not assign blame to either side in the conflict for the reported rapes. “We deliberately do not ask about perpetrators,” said Alina Potts, Women’s Protection and Empowerment Emergency Coordinator for the group. “We’re looking at what the needs are.”

    Syrian rape survivors face shame and stigma that compounds the trauma, and often inhibits them from reporting sexual violence. Many families have married off their daughters early, believing a husband could protect girls from rape. The rush to early marriages has also been reported by other groups.

    "They rape girls who are as young as her in Syria now," the father of a pregnant 14-year-old child bride told IRIN news service last year. “I will not feel OK if I do not see her married to a decent man who can protect her.”

    Other girls are wed after an assault, in the belief that a marriage could “safeguard their honor,” the IRC reported. Some fear being killed by their own families if they reveal they were attacked. In one extreme case, a father shot his daughter as armed men drew near, trying to prevent the “disgrace” of her rape, the aid group was told.

    Despite the continued reports of rape, help for sexual assault survivors is scant in the countries that Syrian refugees have fled to, the group reported.

    “Syrian women say they feel unsafe in crowded shelters where they have minimal privacy, yet they are scared to report violence, because of shame or fear of reprisal from family members,” the report said. “Others just don’t know where to turn for help.”

    The IRC said it was expanding targeted care and counseling for refugees in Jordan and Lebanon and launching similar programs in Iraq, but warned that funding from abroad hasn’t kept pace with the needs of women and girls across the region.The outpouring of refugees has also given rise to new threats of exploitation outside Syria.

    "There must be safeguards to protect women from further violence.... There have been reports of people being targeted by unscrupulous landlords, saying, ‘I know you can’t afford the rent, but if you give me your daughter, your family will have a place to stay,’” Potts said.

    Sexual violence is one of a long list of reported atrocities in Syria, including killings, torture and abductions. More than 600,000 refugees have poured out of Syria and millions more are believed to be in need inside the country, according to the U.N.

    Aid agencies partnering with the U.N. have appealed for more than $1.5 billion to aid Syrians for six months, the biggest appeal ever made for such a crisis.

    The IRC urged donors to meet the pleas for help, focusing added attention on the needs of women and girls. It also pressed for more aid for refugees living outside of the camps, who make up the bulk of the displaced yet garner less attention from media and donors. Borders should be kept open to allow more Syrians to flee, it said.

    For the record, 2:40 p.m. Jan. 14: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that rape was the most common reason for leaving Syria cited by the refugees. The report called it "a primary reason," but did not say it was the most common one.


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    Families burnt and hacked to death by Shias in fresh Syria massacre in Sunni Muslim Village near Homs

    Entire families have been burnt or hacked to death in a small farming village in central Syria, activists have reported, in a grim manifestation of the sectarian hatred fomenting within the country.

    Syrian opposition sources from Homs said loyalist militiamen backed by government troops swept through the hamlet of Haswiyeh just north of the city, torching houses and slashing victims to death with knives.

    The Britain-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "whole families were executed", with one family losing up to 32 members, including women and children.

    The death count of the attack, which was said to have started on Tuesday, varied from 32 to more than 106. Youssef al-Homsi, an activist based in Homs, said at least 100 people were killed, including dozens of women and children, and sent The Associated Press a list of 100 names said to have been killed, including 15 women and 10 children.

    This newspaper is not able to independently verify these reports. On Wednesday a government official in Damascus rejected any government role in the alleged killings, and said, "the army protects civilians and their properties."

    The area around Haswiyeh was the scene of heavy fighting earlier this week between troops and rebels, who have retained control of several neighborhoods in Homs. Waleed al-Fares, an activist in the area said that most of the victims were Sunnis and that many of the attackers came from the nearby village of Mazraa, which he said is predominantly Shia.

    Homs province is home to the Alawite offshoot of Shia Islam and Christian minority groups. The former have tended to side with the Syrian government, pitching them against the Sunni majority led rebel opposition. In almost two years of fighting, the political disagreements between them have degenerated into to sectarian based hatred, with many opposition rebels referring to government supporters simply as "Alawites".

    Haswiyeh is not far from the region of Houla, where 108 people were killed over two days last May. The UN described the Houla killings as a war crime perpetrated by the government forces and shabiha militia backing Assad's regime.

    Syrians closely monitoring the crises in mixed sect parts of the country have noticed a sharp increase in the number of sectarian killings during the past month, and in the brutality of the methods used.

    Several videos have been posted online over the past month of men being slowly, torturously murdered with knives.

    In one piece of footage seen by The Daily Telegraph, two man stand, whimpering, with their hand against a wall. Behind them, bearded men in military fatigues begin slashing at the men's T-shirts with knives, swearing and proclaiming their support for the Syrian president. Then they begin cutting the flesh on the men's backs. Whipping themselves into frenzy, they eventually stab their screaming victims several times in theirs sides until they cannot stand any longer and fall bloody and dying to the floor.


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    Syrian army accused of civilian massacre in Homs

    A Syrian army assault has reportedly killed more than 100 civilians, including women and children, in farmland on the outskirts of the central city of Homs.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is opposed to the regime of president Bashar al-Assad, says the attack took place on Tuesday in the impoverished district of Basatin al-Hasawiya.

    "The Syrian regime carried out a new massacre on Tuesday claiming 106 victims, including women and children," it said.

    The group says some of the victims were burned in their homes and others were either shot or stabbed during the assault.

    The observatory says the area where the massacre happened has become a refuge for around 1,000 people who fled fighting in Homs...


    Children suffering in Syrian conflict

    Pro-Assad forces kill 106 in city of Homs

    Death Toll Rises in Syria University Bombing

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    Syria bombs petrol station, killing dozens

    Syrian opposition activists say an attack by government planes on a petrol station on the eastern edge of Damascus has killed more than 75 people.

    Witnesses say they saw burning bodies after the raid in the Mleiha suburb of Damascus.

    A number of women and children were said to be among the dead.

    One activist, Abu Fouad, said warplanes had bombarded the area as a consignment of fuel arrived and crowds packed the station.

    Video footage taken by activists, which could not be independently verified, showed a body of a man a helmet on a motorcycle amid flames that had engulfed the site, apparently hit while in a line of vehicles waiting for petrol.

    A man was also shown carrying a dismembered body.

    Mleiha is one of a series of Sunni Muslim suburbs ringing the capital that have been at the forefront of the 21-month revolt against the rule of president Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Shi'ite-derived Alawite minority sect.

    Government forces control the centre of Damascus and have been pounding the suburbs from the air.

    Activists also say more than 40 others have been killed in attacks today.

    In Moadamiyet, opposition groups another suburb of Damascus, the government attacked bakery where civilians were queuing for bread.

    Meanwhile, opposition activists say an air aid on a town south-west of Damascus has killed at least 12 members of the same family.

    Regime warplanes bombed the town of Moadamiyet al-Sham, south-west of the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    Warplanes also attacked the towns of Shebaa to the southeast and Deir Assafir south of Damascus, where 11 children were killed in November when cluster bombs were dropped on a playground, according to Human Rights Watch.

    The deadly strikes came as loyalist forces battled rebels with artillery fire in Harasta and Douma, insurgent strongholds to the north-east of the capital, and in Daraya to the south-west.

    Army reinforcements have been massing for weeks in Daraya in a bid to drive rebel Free Syrian Army fighters from the town, the site of the bloodiest massacre of the conflict in which hundreds died in August.


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    Syria's top military policeman switches sides

    The head of Syria's military police has fled the country and declared allegiance to the uprising against president Bashar al-Assad, accusing the Syrian army of turning into "gangs of killers".

    General Abdelaziz Jassim al-Shalal announced his defection in an online video, saying: "I have defected because of the deviation of the army from its primary duty of protecting the country and its transformation into gangs of killing and destruction."

    Wearing a camouflage uniform with red officer insignia on the shoulder, General Shalal spoke from a desk in a room in an undisclosed location. Some rebel sources said he had fled to Turkey. It was not clear when he had changed sides.

    "The army has destroyed cities and towns. It has committed massacres against our defenceless people who took to the streets to demand freedom," he said.

    "Long live Syria, free and pure."

    General Shalal is one of the highest-ranking officials to join the uprising against the Syrian regime since the beginning of the conflict nearly two years ago, but was not seen as a member of Mr Assad's inner sanctum.

    A Syrian security source confirmed the defection but played down its significance.

    "Shalal did defect but he was due to retire in a month and he only defected to play hero," Reuters quoted an unnamed source as saying.

    The defection came as opposition monitors reported that eight children were among people killed in a farming village in the north of the country.

    "At least 20 people, among them eight children and three women, were killed in shelling by regime forces of farmlands in Kahtaniyeh village, west of the city of Raqa," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    Amateur video posted online by activists showed several bloodied bodies, including at least one of a child, laid out on blankets in a house.

    The observatory also reported new clashes in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in southern Damascus, the scene of fierce fighting last week.

    Violence first broke out in Yarmuk - home to about 150,000 people - as regime warplanes were reported to have carried out an air strike on the camp on December 16, killing at least eight people.

    Elsewhere, the army took control of three Alawite villages in the central province of Hama, among them Maan, large swathes of which were overrun by jihadists two days earlier, the watchdog said.

    The death toll in Syria's civil war has topped 45,000, according to opposition activists.

    The United Nations has warned the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating and predicts the number of Syrian refugees could double to 1.1 million by June if the conflict continues.

    UN peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, is in Syria to push a new initiative aimed at ending the bloodshed and getting the regime and opposition to the negotiating table.

    Mr Brahimi will also meet with Russia's deputy foreign minister as part of efforts to include the Syrian ally in any settlement deal.

    Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was pushing Mr Brahimi to ensure the warring sides commit to a June peace plan that calls for a transition of power without making an explicit demand on Mr Assad to step down.


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    Syrian troops ‘using killer gas bombs'

    SYRIAN troops have deployed bombs containing a killer gas while fighting rebels in the central city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activists say.

    "Activists in Homs say that six rebels died on Sunday night on the Khaldiyeh-Bayada frontline because they inhaled odourless gas and white smoke," said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and doctors to document Syria's raging conflict.

    "Gas spread in the area after regime troops threw bombs that gave off white smoke as soon as they hit the walls," said the Observatory, which added the bombs were deployed during street clashes with the rebels.

    "Those who inhaled the gas felt nauseous and suffered severe headaches. Some suffered fits," it added...

    ..."Activists say it is the first time they have recorded these effects," he added. "They are not conventional weapons."

    The Observatory called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to urgently send a specialised medical team to Homs, several of whose districts have been besieged by army forces for more than six months.

    The Local Co-ordination Committees also reported the use of "bombs containing gases" in Homs.

    "These gases lead to muscle relaxation, severe difficulty in breathing and the narrowing of the iris," said the LCC, a grassroots network of peaceful activists.

    Amateur video filmed by activists and distributed online by the LCC showed a man laid out on a stretcher struggling to breathe as an unidentified doctor held an oxygen mask over his face.

    "It's definitely a poisonous gas, but we don't know what type it is," said a field doctor.

    "This man has been injured by the gas. We do not know what type of gas it is. It is definitely not sarin," he added.

    US President Barack Obama led international warnings to President Bashar al-Assad over Syria's chemical weapons arsenal but Damascus has repeatedly insisted it would not use the arms against its own people.


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    More than 100 Syrians killed in bakery attack

    (CNN) -- Scores of people who had been without bread for days were killed when Syrian warplanes bombed a bakery in the western village of Halfaya, opposition activists said Sunday.

    More than 100 people were killed, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. The death toll could rise, the activist group said.

    An activist who oversaw the burial of many bodies said at least 109 people died.

    Hassan Al-Rajb told CNN that 69 people were identified and buried, while 15 others were laid to rest without being ID'd. At least 25 more bodies were still at the site, but hospital workers said the roads were cut off and they were unable to reach the bakery, he said.

    The hospitals cannot handle all the wounded, he said.

    An LCC activist told CNN he went to the scene.

    "There were dozens of dead thrown in the street. The residents were shocked and in a state of fear. It was chaotic," Mahmoud Alawy

    Videos posted on social media purported to show the aftermath of the attack. Many bodies had limbs apparently blown off, and others lay bloody in the streets and in rubble strewn over a sidewalk. Uniformed Free Syrian Army soldiers and civilians scramble to pull survivors out of the carnage.
    Photos: Showdown in Syria Photos: Showdown in Syria

    CNN cannot independently confirm government or opposition reports out of Syria, as the government has restricted access by journalists.
    Escaping Syria to marry

    The town has lacked the ingredients for bread for about a week until an aid group delivered provisions Saturday, Alawy said. Hundreds of people lined up at the bakery on Sunday.
    Syria's football triumph

    Al-Rajb said the town has three bakeries, and one opened at 1 p.m. Workers began to distribute the bread two hours later. He was on his roof about 200 meters (about 219 yards) from the bakery about 4 p.m. and saw a plane overhead. He scrambled toward the scene when he heard cries of "Emergency! Emergency!" he said.

    "The first floor collapsed on the second floor, and four rockets were fired into it," he said of the attack.

    Alawy claimed the government has been targeting large gatherings of people with artillery shells in the recent days since the Free Syrian Army liberated the town from Syrian forces.

    About an hour after the bakery attack, 15 shells were fired into Halfaya from a nearby town, Al-Rajb said.

    The Hama Revolution Command Council, a network of activists affiliated with the FSA in Hama province, said a MiG warplane bombed the bakery.

    Many Syrians face food shortages and other needs as winter weather sets in. The United Nations estimates that more than 2.5 million need humanitarian assistance.

    Earlier in the week, opposition groups also said rebels and regime forces battled near a hospital in Halfaya. Twenty-five people died there, the LCC said.


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    Life and death with Aleppo's Martyrs of Truth

    A group of young men gather in an apartment in Syria's largest city, Aleppo.

    Each carries a Russian AK-47 assault rifle. A television in the corner plays Koranic recitations from an Arabic satellite channel. The five fighters drink tea...and share jokes as they make one final check over their weapons.

    These men are Syrian rebels fighting with a unit of the Free Syrian Army. Today, they're getting ready to go into Aleppo's no-man's land.

    Their plan is to try to break new ground by entering an abandoned apartment building in the inner-city suburb of Saif al Dawla. The position will give the unit a new vantage point that may also provide new information on the Syrian army's movements.

    Leader: Anas performs evening prayers in an occupied apartment near the Salahudeen district of Aleppo

    Anas is the unit's senior operative. At just twenty-four, Anas is one of the most experienced fighters in this FSA unit, called a 'katiba.' Named Shohada al Haq, or the Martyrs of Truth, this katiba numbers around 50 men spread across the suburb. In the field, the rebels operate in small groups suited to moving through the tight spaces of an urban war.

    The rebels leave the apartment and move through the building, down stairwells and through abandoned homes. They must avoid being seen by government snipers, who are nestled in nooks and crannies across the front line.

    It's no coincidence that Anas is an expert in urban warfare. "I used to serve in the military, in the special forces' snipers. I joined the revolution after leaving the military." It's a bitter irony for the regime that the combat skills it taught men like Anas, are now being used to try and bring it down.

    The team leaves the cover of the apartment block. Anas kneels at the front of the unit, crouched behind a small wall. He peers out into the street and silently taps the first fighter behind him on the shoulder. The fighter sprints across the open street, followed by a loud crack as a regime sniper lets fly from his rifle. He misses, and the fighter makes his run unscathed.

    Martyrs of Truth fighters prepare to dash across a sniper's firing lane

    "Yesterday we had information that the military is based in two buildings nearby," Anas says, when asked about today's operation. "So, we were trying to figure out if the building behind the soldiers is empty, or occupied by the Syrian military."

    Anas has been working with the Martyrs of Truth for two months.

    In that time, the men have become known among local katibas for their ability to conduct this type of swift operation in no-man's land.

    For the Martyrs of Truth, information like this is key to breaking the deadlock in Aleppo, a densely populated city where the battle has become a slow-moving stalemate.

    The group is made up of men from across Syria. Some have come to the fight after seeing government crackdowns on protestors. Others are army defectors, who, like Anas, now teach rebels to fight the regime more effectively.

    And then there are those who join for personal reasons, like 22-year-old Mustafa. "I joined the revolution since the beginning. After my father was shot on his way to the mosque, I joined with the FSA."

    As Mustafa tells the story of his entry into the rebellion, he nurses a wound to his right shoulder. During a recent battle with regime troops, he received four bullet wounds to his upper body. Despite this, he says he will return to the front line as soon as his wounds heal.

    Hassan Auni, a slight 25-year-old from a village near Aleppo, is the second in charge of the Martyrs of Truth. Hassan's role lies in logistics; he organises the men and works to keep morale high.

    "I tell them our future plan. Where do we want to go; where do we want to dig? I give them ammunition. I check on them at night to see if anyone needs anything," he says.

    Fast-talking Hassan is also in charge of another important task: he's an expert in convincing soldiers to defect and join the armed revolution.

    "Soldiers inside the military are scared", he says.

    Hassan says they often only need a small push to leave their post.

    Falling into the role by accident, Hassan says he has helped more than 70 soldiers defect in the last three months.

    "The first one was by a coincidence. A friend called me and said he had a defeated soldier, so I went to see the soldier and took him. I asked him if he wanted to defect and the soldier said yes. I asked him if his friends inside the military would want to defect as well. He said yes."

    Often, this is the way defections work. One soldier's decision to switch sides can sway the resolve of any number of his friends still serving in a Syrian army unit. Convincing that first soldier to defect is crucial.

    While defectors often bring their weapons with them, they also bring valuable intelligence.

    The new men can inform the katiba on the positions and future plans of the Syrian army, making them extremely valuable for the rebels in Aleppo.

    Free Syrian Army fighters from various brigades meet to discuss tactics in the Salahudeen district of Aleppo

    Anas and Hassan ride in the back of a utility truck as it speeds through the destroyed streets of Aleppo, dodging piles of debris and steering around smouldering stacks of rubbish.

    The men are on their way to the suburb of Salahudeen, where the battle for Aleppo began in July, to meet leaders from other katibas based nearby.

    "The coordination at the beginning was very weak among the brigades, but then we all decided to sit down together", Anas says.

    Local units only recently began to work together, after a meeting where leaders were chosen from each katiba to liaise with each other.

    They now meet regularly to plan operations and share intelligence.

    Today, the men stand at the intersection of two broken streets, where twisted signs from former corner stores reach down to meet piles of rubble on the ground. They are planning what may be their biggest operation yet.

    A Martyrs of Truth sniper takes aim at Syrian army positions

    While the katiba leaders meet, the slow battle on the front line continues. Not far away, three fighters sit in a sniper nest, facing toward Syrian army positions across a park that now forms the front line.

    The sniper receives instructions from his spotter, and fires a round at figures moving in a street across the park. Government soldiers are the target, but the difference between them and civilians is not always clear.

    Hassan says the snipers from the Martyrs of Truth have orders not to shoot at civilians, but in Aleppo, rumours circulate of regime soldiers disguising themselves as civilians.

    Two days later, the Martyrs of Truth, aligned with several other katibas, undertook their planned operation to raid an army position nearby.

    The plan was to surround the occupied building and bring it down upon the soldiers within, using several improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, made by the FSA. Improvised explosives, large and small, are used regularly by rebels fighting in Syria.

    The Martyrs of Truth, guided in the field by their senior fighter, Anas, took the lead in the operation. The mission ended in failure. Hassan reported to the ABC that a home-made grenade, a simple explosive lit by a short fuse, exploded prematurely, killing Anas.

    When prompted on his reasons for fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the young fighter Mustafa says that there is no choice for the rebels.

    "It's obligatory. It's either we die or we win. I wish I could live to see evil falling down, it's my wish. But yes, I prefer to be a martyr."

    It seems that for the each of the fighters of the Martyrs of Truth, the potential of fighting to the end in the battle of Aleppo is all too real.

    Fight to the end: Anas fires a rifle through a newly-created 'mousehole' just days before his death


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    Pentagon Says 75,000 Troops Might Be Needed to Seize Syria Chemical Arms

    WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has told the Obama administration that any military effort to seize Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons would require upward of 75,000 troops, amid increasing concern that the militant group Hezbollah has set up small training camps close to some of the chemical weapons depots, according to senior American officials.

    The estimated size of the potential effort, provided to the White House by the military’s Central Command and Joint Staff, called into question whether the United States would have the resources to act quickly if it detected the movement of chemical weapons and forced President Obama, as he said in August, to “change my calculus” about inserting American forces into Syria. So far Mr. Obama has avoided direct intervention into the most brutal civil conflict to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings, and the Pentagon assessment was seen as likely to reinforce that reluctance.

    The White House on Thursday declined to comment on the Defense Department’s assessment.

    The Pentagon has not yet been directed to draft detailed plans of how it could carry out such a mission, according to military officials. There are also contingency plans, officials say, for securing a more limited number of the Syrian chemical weapons depots, requiring fewer troops.

    The discovery that Hezbollah has set up camps close to some of the depots, however, has renewed concern that as the chaos in Syria deepens, the country’s huge chemical weapons stockpiles could fall into the wrong hands. Hezbollah fighters have been training at “a limited number of these sites,” said one senior American official who has been briefed on the intelligence reports and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But the fear these weapons could fall into the wrong hands is our greatest concern.”...

    ...Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon but has become increasingly active in protecting the government of President Bashar al-Assad...


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    Cameron offers Assad 'safe exit' as violence rages

    Bombings, clashes and air strikes shook Syria overnight as British prime minister David Cameron offered a safe passage to president Bashar al-Assad if it meant ending the bloodshed.

    In the latest wave of attacks, opposition activists said a car bomb exploded near a Mosque in the Sunni area of southern Damascus, killing and wounding dozens of people.

    They said the attack occurred hours after a bombing in a neighbourhood populated by members of Mr Assad's minority Alawite sect.

    That bombing killed at least 10 people and wounded dozens more, according to state media.

    The latest bomb, placed in a parked taxi, went off near a mosque in the southern, working-class neighbourhood of al-Qadam.

    Buildings were damaged and bodies were buried under debris that filled streets in the area, the activists said.

    As fighting elsewhere claimed more lives, Mr Cameron told Al-Arabiya television he wanted Mr Assad to be held to account for his crimes but that his departure could be arranged.

    Asked what he would say if Assad asked for a safe exit, Mr Cameron told the UAE-based channel: "Done. Anything, anything to get that man out of the country and to have a safe transition in Syria.

    "Of course, I would favour him facing the full force of international law and justice for what he's done," added Mr Cameron, who is on a tour of the Middle East.

    "I am certainly not offering him an exit plan to Britain but if wants to leave, he could leave.

    "That could be arranged."

    Mr Cameron highlighted the need to help the opposition, without elaborating how.

    "We must ask ourselves what more can we do: how can we help the opposition?" he said.

    "How can we put the pressure on Assad? How can we work with partners in the region to turn this around?"

    But when asked about arming the rebels, he said: "We are not currently planning to do that.

    "We are a government under international law and we obey the law.

    "My fear is, firstly, that the slaughter will continue, that the loss of life will continue.

    "That should be our number one concern."
    Warplane raids

    Activists said more than 100 people had been killed nationwide on Tuesday, as air strikes hit targets around the country and fighting raged around Damascus, Aleppo and in north-western Idlib province, where rebel forces reportedly killed at least 12 troops in an ambush.

    Warplanes carried out four bombing raids on the Idlib town of Saraqeb, killing 19 civilians and wounding 62, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    Video footage posted by activists, which could not be independently verified, showed survivors huddled amid the rubble of buildings as a warplane dropped bombs strapped to parachutes.

    The Observatory said more than 200 people were killed on Monday, in the deadliest day in Syria since an attempt to impose a ceasefire for the October 26-29 Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday collapsed.

    An Israeli patrol was hit by gunfire in the buffer zone between the two countries on the Golan Heights on Monday, and Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor said his government viewed heightened tensions with Syria with the "utmost concern".

    The United Nations condemned the fighting by Syrian forces close to the ceasefire line.

    "It has the potential to escalate tensions between Israel and Syria and jeopardises the ceasefire between the two countries and the stability of the region," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

    Top UN official Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council there was credible evidence that the army is using banned cluster bombs and that violence had worsened since UN-Arab League peace envoy Lahkdar Brahimi's abortive ceasefire attempt last month.

    The warning comes as Turkey's state-run news agency said seven Syrian generals had taken refuge in a camp for military defectors in south-east Turkey.


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    He's on a boat! Bashar al Assad allegedly living on a Russian warship

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his family have been living on a warship, with security provided by Russia, intelligence sources told a Saudi newspaper.

    An Al-Watan report Monday says the family and Assad aides are residing on the ship in the Mediterranean Sea and that he travels to Syria by helicopter to attend official meetings and receptions.
    Otherwise, he stays on the warship, the sources told the Arabic language newspaper.

    When he flies to his embattled country, the president lands at undisclosed locations and is transported to the presidential palace under heavy guard, the sources said.

    The Russian-guarded warship provides a safe environment for Assad, who has lost confidence in his own security detail, the report said.

    Assad's presence on the warship suggests he has been granted political asylum by Russia but there has been no official comment from Moscow, the newspaper said.

    The circumstances reinforce Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's comment Sunday that Assad's removal from power is "impossible to implement," the newspaper said.

    Assad's presence on the ship could be a sign of looming negotiations on the conflict in Syria, the report said.

    "It is necessary to make everybody, including the opposition, which is still categorically denying any dialogue, to sit down at the negotiating table, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty quoted Lavrov as saying during a visit to the Ukraine.


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    West complicit in Syria 'massacres': rebel leader

    ATMEH, Syria: A Syrian rebel commander has accused the West of being complicit in the "unprecedented massacres" committed by President Bashar Assad's forces by refusing to arm the rebels with anti-aircraft weapons.

    Rebel officer Ahmad al-Fajj, a brigadier-general in the regular Syrian army before his defection "in the first days of the revolution," spoke in the rebel Free Syrian Army-held village of Atmeh on the Turkish border.

    "The free peoples of the world -- Europeans, Americans -- must understand that their governments are indirectly responsible for the killings in our country," Fajj, 64, said in an interview with AFP on Tuesday.

    "We asked all the arms dealers and traffickers in the region to sell us anti-aircraft missiles. They told us they needed the green light from the CIA and Mossad, and the light was red," he said.

    "They won't sell us anti-tank weapons for the same reason. All we have to defeat Bashar's tanks are the RPGs we manage to retrieve from the enemy."

    He claimed that with surface-to-air missiles the rebels would be able to defeat the regime forces "in a week, a month at most."

    General Fajj, who bore an odd resemblance to the late Hafez al-Assad, former president and father of Bashar, said he could not fathom the West's reluctance to supply the rebels with the necessary anti-aircraft equipment.

    Western nations fear that such weapons may fall into the hands of militant Islamists operating in the country.

    "There aren't many Islamists, less than a thousand in the whole of Syria. They have no power," he asserted. "We control the liberated areas and I can guarantee you there is no chance they'd get hold of missiles.

    "If Western countries had helped us from the beginning, they wouldn't even be here as we wouldn't need them. I assure you that after our victory they will not pose a problem. If they do we'll deal with them. The Syrian people don't support them, they're on our side.

    "I can promise the free peoples of the world that if surface-to-air missiles are given to us, they will not fall into the hands of Islamist groups," he said.

    As the U.N. General Assembly opened in New York Tuesday, Fajj complained: "Democratic countries only support us with words. This is shameful for the world. They can see what's happening, buildings being destroyed by air strikes, and they do nothing."

    Fajj, commander of the rebels on the front line in western Aleppo, had been leading a four-day-old FSA assault on a crucial army post, "base 46," which lies on the main road between the northern city and Turkey.

    "We are surrounding them. Yesterday a helicopter flew past to drop them bread. They can't get reinforcements because we hold all the roads.

    "This base is the only obstacle on the road to Aleppo. If we take it, we can join up with our fighters in the city, which would be a key victory," he said.

    "We have time anyway," he concluded. "We will defeat them by ourselves. It'll take longer and many people, civilians in particular, will die as a result. The French revolution didn't get any outside help. This is our revolution."


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    Syria: Children tortured, killed during conflict, aid group reports

    Khalid was kept locked in a classroom in his old school in Syria, forced to stand on his feet for two days without food or water, when the men came for him.

    He was hung from the ceiling by his wrists and beaten until he passed out.

    “I passed out from the severe pain of hanging like that, and from the beating,” he said. “They took turns stubbing out their cigarettes on me.”

    Khalid is 15 years old and his story is one of the horrific, first-hand accounts documented in a Save the Children report released Tuesday that calls for the “appalling violations against children” to stop.

    The report is the latest by a list of human rights groups to document the abuse, torture and murder of children in the 18-month conflict that has killed more than 20,000 and displaced more than 1.5 million people. Groups like Amnesty International and UN investigators have reported abuses by the Assad regime, its allied militias, and to a lesser extent the rebels.

    The 50-page report details the use of electric shocks to torture adults and children, concrete blocks dropped onto the heads of prisoners, and children as young as 11 being stabbed to death.

    However, dates and who committed the violent acts aren’t included in the report, and many accounts don’t contain locations.

    Human rights groups have repeatedly said the war has left many Syrians traumatized by the violence, and each of the accounts from children in the report includes pleas for the war to stop.

    “Almost every child we’ve spoken to has seen family members killed,” the Save the Children report states. “They have seen and experienced things that no child should ever see, and many are deeply traumatized as a result.

    “Every crime against children must be recorded to send a clear message to all sides in the conflict that these atrocities will not be tolerated.”

    The report gives 18 detailed accounts from children 9 to 17 years old. Hassan, a 14-year-old now living at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, recounted children being used as human shields.

    “They know that the people in the town will not shoot their own children,” he told officials with Save the Children.

    Hassan lost his cousin and uncle in a rocket attack when it exploded during a funeral they were attending. He said dead bodies were scattered all over the road, dozens by his account.

    “Dogs were eating the dead bodies for two days after the massacre,” he said. “There were tons of people in the mosques, too. They were dead, all of them.”

    Wael, a 16-year-old in the same refugee camp, said he was arrested along with a group of other children, including a 6-year-old boy who was beaten until he died — punishment against his father, a “wanted” man, for failing to turn himself in. They refused to give the boy food and water for days on end.

    “He only survived for three days and then he simply died. They treated his body like a dog.”

    A woman named Razan came across two soldiers making a bet “to use something for target practice.” Before she could realize what the bet was for, one of the soldiers shot an 8-year-old boy in the head.

    He didn’t die instantly, but was left to suffer in the road while his mother screamed for him from inside their home.

    “She wanted to reach her child, but the men kept firing into the street and taunting this mother,” Razan said.



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