Syria conflict: New rebel leader makes plea for weapons

Welcome to Middle East Live.

Here’s a roundup of the latest developments and commentary:


Syrian rebels could defeat the Assad regime within a month if supplied with anti-aircraft weapons, according to their newly-elected military commander, General Salim Idris. In an interview with AP Idris said that without foreign military help, driving out the regime could take “one, two or three months”.

Thousands of Palestinians in Syria are fleeing Damascus after an attack on the country’s largest refugee camp, survivors who have reached Lebanon told Martin Chulov.

Some of those who have made it to the relative safety of Beirut claim the attack marks a “historical moment” in the Syrian war after a Syrian jet bombed a mosque and a school inside Yarmouk camp, the first time the large, sprawling section of the capital had been targeted from the air. The new arrivals say they fear that authority in the Syrian capital is starting to crumble and are now openly hostile towards a regime that had long portrayed itself as the protector of the 500,000 Palestinians living in Syria.

NBC’s Richard Engel has been describing how he and his team escaped kidnappers in Syria after a gunbattle that killed two of his captors. He said: “The kidnappers saw this checkpoint and started a gunfight with it. Two of the kidnappers were killed. We climbed out of the vehicle and the rebels took us. We spent the night with them. It was a very traumatic experience.”

• Russia sent warships to the Mediterranean to prepare a potential evacuation of its citizens from Syria, a Russian news agency said on Tuesday, a sign President Bashar al-Assad’s key ally is worried about rebel advances now threatening even the capital. Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted unnamed naval sources on Tuesday as saying that two armed landing craft, a tanker and an escort vessel had left a Baltic port for the Mediterranean sea. “They are heading to the Syrian coast to assist in a possible evacuation of Russian citizens … Preparations for the deployment were carried out in a hurry and were heavily classified,” the Russian agency quoted the source as saying.

Aleppo is administered by no one and slipping into disaster, writes CJ Chivers for the New York Times after witnessing children break up school desks for fire wood.

Frontline neighbourhoods are rubble. Most of the city’s districts have had no electricity and little water for weeks. All of Aleppo suffers from shortages of oil, food, medicine, doctors and gas.

One of the Middle East’s beautiful and historic cities is being forced by scarcity and violence into a bitter new shape. Overlaying it all is a mix of fatigue and distrust, the sentiments of a population divided in multiple ways.

The World Health Organisation says up to 100 wounded people are being admitted each day to Damascus’s main hospital. Spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said: “The most frequently observed injuries are burns, gunshots and injuries from explosions. Shortages of ointments for burns and equipment and supplies for anaesthesia and surgical interventions have been reported.”

The only way out of the increasingly grim Syria conflict is a negotiated settlement rather than military intervention, argues Seamus Milne.

The western powers and Gulf regimes have so far underwritten the opposition resistance to negotiation. An attempt to sponsor a regional settlement by Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, in conjunction with Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia was scuppered by the Saudis. But in one form or another, negotiation will eventually have to take place.

Meanwhile, not only will more intervention by the western powers increase the death toll. It may not give them the control they crave either. Already the mainly Islamist rebel fighters are becoming more mistrustful of their foreign backers. Just as likely is that it will lay the ground for the kind of blowback that created al-Qaida in Afghanistan in the first place – and risk engulfing the region in a still more devastating conflict.


Systematic management and leadership failures at the US state department led to “grossly” inadequate security at the embassy in Benghazi, Libya, where the American ambassador was killed along with three others, an independent panel has found. The report confirmed that contrary to initial accounts there was no protest outside the consulate and said responsibility for the incident rested entirely with the terrorists who attacked the mission.


An opposition call for another mass protests against the controversial constitution backfired on Tuesday, when a dismal turnout forced leaders to acknowledge that it was a mistake to urge followers to take to the streets, the Washington Post reports. “We confused our people today,” said Hussein Abdel Ghany, a spokesman for the main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front.

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