Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Syria 'chemical weapons' crisis: LIVE UPDATES

Syria 'chemical weapons' crisis: LIVE UPDATESSyrian activists inspect the bodies of people they say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region, in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus August 21, 2013.(Reuters / Bassam Khabieh)

Syrian activists inspect the bodies of people they say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region, in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus August 21, 2013.(Reuters / Bassam Khabieh

International pressure has been building for a military strike on Syria in the wake of an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb. The West has laid the blame at the feet of President Assad, as UN experts collected chemical samples on-site.

Tuesday, September 3

14:39 GMT: Pentagon has confirmed the US Defense Department took part in Israeli missile test in the Mediterranean.

The missile test was carried out “with technical support of the US Defense Department,” the department spokesman George Little said as quoted by Itar-Tass.

According to Little, the test was “pre-planned.”
14:12 GMT: US President Barack Obama held a White House meeting with select members of Congress to discuss the Syrian crisis in Washington on Tuesday morning. The president again stressed that he was pursuing a limited and proportional military strike that would degrade the Assad regime’s capabilities of using chemical weapons while also underlining a broader strategy that will allow the US to assist opposition fighters in the future if necessary. 
When asked if he was confident that Congress would authorize the use of military force against the Syrian government, Obama replied, "I am." 
13:40 GMT: The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced on Tuesday that more than 2 million Syrians have fled the country since civil war began in March 2011.
“The war is now well into its third year and Syria is hemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs,” the UNHCR statement read.
A further 4.25 million people have been displaced inside Syria, according to data from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). This makes the country’s refugee crisis“unparalleled in recent history,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said.
12:37 GMT: World markets immediately plunged on Tuesday after the Russian Defense Ministry reported the launch of two ballistic missiles in the eastern Mediterranean. The FTSE 100 slumped down nearly one percent (7.01 points), and stock markets in Germany and France experienced similar losses. Traders reacted to fears of escalation of war in the Middle East as far as India, as the BSE Sensex fell nearly 4 percent (651 points) on “geopolitical worries,” Reuters India reported. 
Some of the markets recovered soon after the launch was claimed by IDF to be a joint Israeli-US early warning system test.
11:30 GMT: The US Navy did not fire any missiles from ships in the Mediterranean, according to a spokesman for the US Navy’s European headquarters.

“No missiles were fired from U.S. ships in the Mediterranean,” the spokesman said.
10:58 GMT: Israel claimed a joint missile launch with the US in the Mediterranean Sea. The Israeli Defense Ministry spokesmen told journalists that they tested an Ankor-type (“Sparrow”) target missile to check how well the anti-missile system known as “Arrow-3” functions. The launch took place at 06:15 GMT, the ministry spokesmen added.
10:08 GMT: Syria’s missile warning system has not detected any rockets landing on the country’s territory, a Syrian security source has told Lebanese channel al-Manar TV.
9:59 GMT: Russia’s early warning radars have detected the launch of two ballistic rockets in the eastern Mediterranean, Russia’s Defense Ministry stated. The launch reportedly took place at 06:16 GMT Tuesday. 
The trajectory of the missiles is reported to have been from the central part of the Mediterranean Sea towards the eastern landmass. Both rockets have allegedly fallen into the sea 300 kilometers off the coast, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
00:30 GMT: Samples collected by the UN chemical experts team in the Damascus suburb will be transferred to laboratories for analysis “within hours,” a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General ban Ki-moon has said in a note to correspondents.
Since the return of the Mission last Saturday, the UN team worked around the clock to finalize the preparations of the samples in view of their shipment to the designated laboratories.” 
The samples were shipped this afternoon from The Hague and will reach their destination within hours,”the note continued.
It added that the designated laboratories are prepared to begin the analyses “immediately after receipt of samples.” 

Monday, September 2

20:40 GMT: US Senator John McCain stated Monday that Congress rejecting President Obama's proposal for military force in Syria would be catastrophic.
"If the Congress were to reject a resolution like this after the president of the United States has already committed to action, the consequences would be catastrophic," McCain told reporters after a meeting with Obama.
20:19 GMT: The White House is ready to rework language in a draft resolution that would authorize military force in Syria, Reuters quoted an administration official as saying. The change would address concerns from lawmakers. The administration is open to changes "within the parameters that (the) president has previously explained."
19:00 GMT: The deployment of USS Nimitz and other warships towards the Red Sea shows that the United States is determined to start a military campaign against Syria, said a top Russian lawmaker.
By sending the Nimitz nuclear aircraft carrier to Syria’s shores, Obama demonstrates that the military action has been postponed, but not cancelled, and that he is determined to start a war,” tweeted Aleksey Pushkov, the head of the international affairs committee in the State Duma.
16:56 GMT: A declassified French intelligence report, based on satellite images of the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria, shows that the strikes came from government-controlled areas to the east and west of Damascus, and targeted rebel-held zones, sources told Reuters.

The Syrian government subsequently bombed areas where chemical strikes took place to wipe out evidence, a source in the French government said, adding that the chemical attack was massive and coordinated and the opposition would not have the means to carry it out.

"Unlike previous attacks that used small amounts of chemicals and were aimed at terrorizing people, this attack was tactical and aimed at regaining territory," the source said.
16:55 GMT: Syria's President Bashar Assad told French newspaper Le Figaro that the allegations on chemical attacks were “illogical.”
15:50 GMT: US Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will appear as witnesses at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday on the authorization of the use of military force in Syria, the committee said in a statement.
15:24 GMT: Foreign ministers from the 11 countries of the Friends of Syria group will meet September 8 in Rome, a diplomatic source told Reuters. The core group of nations includes France, the United States, Britain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
15:22 GMT: The British government has no intention to hold a second parliamentary vote on taking military action against Syria, AFP reported. "Parliament has spoken and that is why the government has absolutely no plans to go back to parliament," a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said. "The position we are in is that parliament has expressed its will and that is the basis on which we will proceed.”
14:59 GMT: A senior member of France’s ruling Socialist Party rebuffed opposition calls for a parliamentary vote on whether to take military action against Syria. Elisabeth Guigou urged lawmakers to respect the president's constitutional right as the army's commander-in-chief to decide what action French armed forces would take.
"In a complicated situation like this, we need to stick to principles, in other words the constitution, which does not oblige the president to hold a vote, nor even a debate," Guigou, the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman, told France Info radio.
13:29 GMT: President Vladimir Putin has supported a proposal from Russian MPs to send a parliamentary delegation to the US Congress in an effort to resolve the Syrian crisis. 
“We should more actively involve the parliaments of our countries,” Federation Council chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko said. “We would like to address senators and members of the House of Representatives in Congress, to have a dialogue with our partners.” 
Russia will also welcome members of the US Congress in Moscow, Matviyenko said. 
"I think if we manage to establish a dialogue with our partners in the U.S. Congress ... we could possibly better understand each other, and we hope that the U.S. Congress will occupy a balanced position in the end and, without strong arguments in place ... will not support the proposal on use of force in Syria,"Valentina Matviyenko said.
12:39 GMT: NATO has “its own role in settling the Syrian crisis,” said Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, adding that it conducts “closed consultations between allies.”
“I don't foresee any further NATO role” in the crisis solution, he noted. “It’s for individual allies to decide how they will respond.” 
He called the international community for a firm response to the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria. 
"We believe that these unspeakable actions which claimed the lives of hundreds of men, women and children cannot be ignored," Rasmussen told a news conference. "I think there is an agreement that we need a firm international response in order to avoid chemical attacks taking place in the future," he said. 
Rasmussen also said he is convinced that the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical attack.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (AFP Photo / Georges Gobet)
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (AFP Photo / Georges Gobet)

12:31 GMT: The crisis in Syria is not on the agenda of the G20 Leaders’ Summit on September 5-6 in St. Petersburg, but “it is for the Russian presidency of the G20 to make this decision," a spokesman for the EU said.  Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that, since the G20 was founded as financial summit, Syria would not be on the agenda. Lavrov added, however, that any leader could raise the subject of Syria and “they will be ready for this talk.” 
12:01 GMT: A BBC poll has found that almost three quarters of the UK population believe that MPs were right to reject military intervention in Syria. Seventy-one percent of people thought Parliament voted the right way, while 72 percent said they did not think the move would negatively impact UK-US relations. A further two thirds said they would not care if it did.
10:21 GMT: Hezbollah has promised to retaliate by firing surface-to-surface missiles at Israel if it decides to partake in the strike against Damascus. 
“Hizbullah is controlling 8,000 kilometers in Reef Homs and will not hesitate to participate in an attack by firing surface-to-surface missiles from Syria,” said a source from a joint operation run by Hezbollah and the forces of President Assad, as reported by the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper. 
10:00 GMT: The war in Syria has displaced 7 million Syrians, or almost one-third of the population, the head of the UN refugee agency, Tarik Kurdi, says. Two million children are among those directly affected by the war. Kurdi stressed that UN assistance has been a "drop in the sea of humanitarian need"and that the funding gap is "very, very wide." 
09:49 GMT: Syria's army is on high alert and will “remain so until terrorism is completely eradicated," a security official in Damascus said Monday. 
09:25 GMT: Foreign Minister Lavrov met with his South-African counterpart to discuss a range of issues including Syria, on which he said that "The framework for [the Geneva peace talks on Syria] was in place", but that partners who side with the US strike are less interested in bringing the rebels to the negotiating table than they are in creating a "controlled chaos". He added that this puts the peace talks in danger, and finally, that a strike would only allow extremism to flourish, instead of creating a stable transition that everyone seems to desire. 
08:15 GMT: The US has briefed China about evidence on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said during a daily news briefing on Monday. Hong did not say what China thought of the evidence, but reiterated that China opposes the use of chemical weapons by any side, adding that Beijing supported the independent, objective investigation by the UN experts. 
07:39 GMT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that a 'regime of secrecy' by the West is unacceptable with regard to Syria and evidence of the use of chemical weapons there.

"If there truly is top secret information available, the veil should be lifted. This is a question of war and peace. To continue this game of secrecy is simply inappropriate,"
 Lavrov said during an address to the students of the Moscow State University of International Relations.

Lavrov has called the information provided to Russia by the US 'inconclusive’.

"We were shown some sketches, but there was nothing concrete, no geographical coordinates or details... and no proof the test was done by professionals... there were no comments anywhere regarding the experts' doubt about the footage circulating all over the internet," Lavrov said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (RIA Novosti / Maxim Blinov)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (RIA Novosti / Maxim Blinov)

He added that "what our American, British and French partners have shown us before - as well as now - does not convince us at all. There are no supporting facts, there is only repetitive talk in the vein of 'we know for sure.' And when we ask for further clarification, we receive the following response: 'You are aware that this is classified information, therefore we cannot show it to you.' So there are still no facts." 

Sunday, September 1

04:45 GMT: World's number one tennis superstar Novak Djokovic speaks out against a military strike on Syria, recounting his experience as a child growing up in Belgrade, during the 78-day NATO bombing of 1999.
After winning his third match of the US Open, he told Reuters that "I'm totally against any kind of weapon, any kind of air strike, missile attack."
"I'm totally against anything that is destructive... because I had this personal experience, I know it cannot bring any good to anybody."
23:43 GMT: The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz along with four destroyers and a cruiserhave been ordered to move west in the Arabian Sea toward the Red Sea, so that it can help support a US strike on Syria if requested, a US official told Reuters. 
22:16 GMT: The two identical letters delivered to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President of the UN Security Council, Maria Cristina Perceval call on the international body to maintain its role of protector of international legitimacy and prevent US-led aggression against Damascus, Syria's permanent representative to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari told Sana. 
20:30 GMT: The Arab League has issued a resolution calling on the international community to act against the Syrian government and punish it as a war criminal for killing hundreds of civilians in a chemical attack.
Arab League foreign ministers have urged the United Nations and international community to "take the deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime that the Syrian regime bears responsibility for," according to the final resolution of the Cairo meeting.
19:56 GMT: Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would only take part in a military intervention in Syria with a NATO or United Nations mandate. She was planning to talk with Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the next G20 meeting to find common ground on the Syrian conflict, she said during a TV debate with her political rival Peer Steinbrueck.
19:39 GMT: France plans to “make public the declassified documents on the Syrian chemical arms program” soon, a source within the country’s government said.

The source added that media reports, claiming that French intelligence possess information that Bashar Assad’s government has a chemical weapons arsenal of 1,000 tons, are “correct.”

18:40 GMT:
 A US amphibious transport ship has been deployed to the Mediterranean, reports AFP quoting an anonymous defense official. The USS San Antonio is "on station in the Eastern Mediterranean" but "has received no specific tasking," he said. 
The San Antonio carries no Tomahawk cruise missiles but has up to four choppers and hundreds of Marines on board. The US already has five destroyers in place for possible missile strikes on Syria.
USS San Antonio (AFP Photo / HO / US Navy / MC3 Derek Paumen)
USS San Antonio (AFP Photo / HO / US Navy / MC3 Derek Paumen)

17:51 GMT: The US essentially declared war on Syria, according to c Syrian Minister for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar, who spoke to Bloomberg in a phone interview. “I am among those who call for a preemptive [response by all Syrians],” Haidar said.

“He’s kept the sword in his hand, he just hasn’t chosen to limit himself to a date,” Haidar added, in reference to Obama's announcement that he would seek Congressional approval for a strike on Saturday. 
17:42 GMT: The Syrian opposition chief has urged the Arab League to back Western strikes. Ahmad Jarba stated that Syria could be the gate to fight Iran.
"I am here before you today to appeal to your brotherly and humanitarian sentiments and ask you to back the international operation against the destructive war machine," Jarba stated at the meeting of minsiters in Cairo. 
17:41 GMT: Saudi Arabia has called on the world community to take all necessary steps to deter“Syrian government violence.” The call comes as Arab League Foreign Ministers convene for an urgent meeting in Cairo.
"The time has come to call on the world community to bear its responsibility and take the deterrent measure that puts a halt to the tragedy," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Faisa said adding that the Syrian regime has lost its Arab and Islamic legitimacy.
16:53 GMT: Turkish police blocked the entrance to the Gezi Park in Istanbul preventing hundreds of demonstrators from rallying there against a possible US intervention in Syria. 
At least 1,000 people took part in the demonstration, forming human chains on the city's celebrated Istiklal Avenue, the AFP reported. Smaller protests have also spread across Istanbul, aimed at combatting its commercial development. Earlier this summer Turkey was convulsed by a series of violent protests across the country. Their target was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), accused of repressing critics and of forcing Islamic values on the mainly Muslim but staunchly secular nation.
14:50 GMT:
Demonstrators form a human chain during a peace day rally at Taksim square in central Istanbul September 1, 2013 (Reuters / Osman Orsal)
Demonstrators form a human chain during a peace day rally at Taksim square in central Istanbul September 1, 2013 (Reuters / Osman Orsal)

14:40 GMT: US Secretary of State John Kerry commented that the US sent people to Russia with evidence on Syria and the country "chose" to ignore it.