Syrian planes bomb Lebanon. At least 25 dead in Syrian ‘chemical’ attack. US backs British, French plan to arm Syrian rebels

March 18, 2013. US: Syrian planes bomb Lebanon. AFP, Ynet.

A top US official confirmed Monday that Syrian warplanes bombed northern Lebanon. The official denounced the move as “a significant escalation” of the conflict.

“We can confirm… that regime jets and helicopters did fire rockets into northern Lebanon, impacting Wadi al-Khayl, near the border town of Arsal,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

“This constitutes a significant escalation in the violations of Lebanese sovereignty that the Syrian regime has been guilty of. These kinds of violations of sovereignty are absolutely unacceptable.”

She reminded Damascus that UN resolutions called for the strict respect of the sovereignty and territory of Lebanon.

Lebanon has publicly committed itself to staying neutral in the violence engulfing Syria, but the conflict has already exacerbated tensions and there are growing fears it could spill over into the country.

US ambassador to Lebanon, Maura Connelly, has been in contact with the Lebanese government, Ms Nuland added.

A high-ranking Lebanese army official said four missiles had been fired by Syrian warplanes in a mountainous, desert area, which observers say is ideal for the smuggling of arms and the flow of fighters across the border.

Roi Kais contributed to the report.


March 19th, 2013. At least 25 dead in Syrian ‘chemical’ attack as govt and rebels trade blame. RT.

“Syrian rebels have used a rocket chemical warhead in Aleppo, killing 25 people and injuring 86, says Syria’s Information Minister. The attack escalates the Syrian conflict and brings the violence to a new level, believe Russian diplomats.

The Syrian government’s SANA news agency reported that terrorists fired a rocket containing chemical substances in the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo and confirmed that at least 25 people, most of them civilians, were killed.

A photographer working for Reuters in Aleppo reported that the witnesses of the attack complain of a strong smell of chlorine near the epicenter of the attack. Reportedly, people had breathing problems and some of them died of suffocation.

“They said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelt strongly of chlorine,” the photographer said, stressing that most of the victims he saw while visiting the University of Aleppo hospital and the al-Rajaa hospital were women and children.

“People were dying in the streets and in their houses,” he said by phone.

A statement published on the Russian Foreign Ministry website says that “According to information coming from Damascus, the armed opposition used chemical weapons early in the morning on March 19 in the province of Aleppo” .

“This is an extremely alarming and dangerous development of events in the Syrian crisis,” believe Russian diplomats.

The Foreign Ministry stressed it is “seriously concerned” about the fact that WMD has fallen into the hands of the armed militia.

“This aggravates the situation in Syria and brings unfolding confrontation in this country to a new level,” the ministry states.

The Obama administration announced it is looking carefully at the chemical warfare allegation coming from Syria, but instantly called into question the possible use of such weapons by opposition groups.

“We are looking carefully at the information as it comes in,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.”


March 18th, 2013. Congressman introduces bill supporting arming Syrian rebels. Kevin Liptak, CNN.

“U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel introduced legislation Monday giving President Barack Obama the authority to provide rebels in Syria “lethal equipment,” which the United States has thus far avoided doing over the course of the two-year conflict.

The New York Democrat previewed the legislation Sunday, saying in an interview it was the time for more substantial American investment in the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“I think the Free Syrian Army needs help,” Engel said on ABC. “We know who they are. And I think it’s time that we make that move.”

In a statement Monday, Engel wrote the United States is “long past due to arm friendly rebels and turn the tide to allow for a more hopeful Syrian future.”


March 18th, 2013. US backs British, French plan to arm Syrian rebels. AP and Michal Shmulovich, Timesofisrael.

“The Obama administration lent its support Monday to British and French plans to arm Syria’s rebels, saying it wouldn’t stand in the way of any country seeking to rebalance the fight against an Assad regime supported by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the longer Syria’s two-year civil war goes on, the greater the danger of its institutions collapsing and extremists getting their hands on the Arab country’s vast chemical weapons arsenal. With some 450,000 Syrians living in neighboring countries as refugees already, he said the conflict is becoming a “global catastrophe.”

Kerry said the world needs to change Syrian President Bashar Assad’s calculations.

“If he believes he can shoot it out, Syrians and the region have a problem, and the world has a problem,” Kerry told reporters after a meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr.

Kerry said the US wants to leave the door open for a political solution. But concerning Syria’s rebels, he added, “the United States does not stand in the way of other countries that made a decision to provide arms, whether it’s France or Britain or others.”

The comments come after French President Francois Hollande said last week that his country and Britain were pushing the European Union to lift its arms embargo on Syria as soon as possible so that they can send weapons to rebel fighters and thereby help level the battlefield against the Assad regime.

The two countries are seeking military help for the rebels by the end of May or earlier if possible. But Germany and other EU nations have been skeptical about sending weapons, pointing to the risk of further escalation in a volatile region.

Leaders at a EU summit last week failed to agree on whether to arm Syrian rebels. France and Britain were pushing for an opportunity to provide munitions to the rebels while countries, notably Germany, opposed the move.

NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen said Monday that the proposition put forward last week by Britain and France to lift an arms embargo on Syria is ultimately an EU decision, not a NATO one.

“This issue is an European question and I speak on behalf of NATO… As secretary general I have no intention whatsoever to interfere with this discussion within the EU,” he said in response to a reporter’s question at a press conference in Brussels.

He explained that NATO’s main goal is to effectively protect and defend its allies. Speaking about the organization’s decision to deploy Patriot missiles along the Turkish-Syrian border, Rasmussen said the move was made with that goal in mind.

“I am sure that the decision to deploy these Patriot missiles has also contributed to de-escalate the situation along the Syrian-Turkish border,” he said.

French President Francois Hollande said Thursday that his country and Britain are pushing the EU to lift the arms embargo on Syria so that they could help rebel fighters even the battlefield against the Assad regime, which he said is propped by Russia and others.

“France must first convince its European partners. But we cannot let a people be massacred like this,” Hollande told reporters in Brussels.

Earlier in the week, British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would consider vetoing an extension of the EU embargo if the situation in Syria didn’t improve.

Hitting back, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that doing so would constitute a breach in international law. “International law does not permit the supply of arms to non-governmental actors,” Lavrov told a joint news conference in London with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The EU has a blanket embargo against shipping arms to Syria. Last month, the EU decided to soften the embargo and allow its member countries to provide non-lethal aid to the rebels. The leaders are meeting again in Dublin next Friday.”


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