FSA battles Assad troops at air base

Updated 11 January 2013
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FSA battles Assad troops at air base

DAMASCUS: Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime battled army troops inside an air base in the north on Thursday as government forces fought opposition strongholds near the seat of his government in Damascus.
In Brussels, a NATO official said the alliance on Wednesday detected the launch of an unguided, short-range ballistic missile in the country.
The official also said Assad’s forces fired ballistic missiles at opposition-held areas twice earlier this month. The official said all the missiles were fired from inside Syria at unconfirmed targets in the north.
The alliance has condemned the use of such missiles, saying it disregards the lives of the Syrian people.
The Britain-based opposition activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighters entered the Taftanaz air base in northern Idlib province late on Wednesday and the two sides were still fighting yesterday. Opposition fighters have battled army troops for weeks for control of the Taftanaz base. The Observatory said the assault was led by fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra.
The US has designated the group as a terrorist organization and says it is affiliated to Al-Qaeda.
Yesterday, government jets struck Opposition positions within Taftanaz base, the Observatory said. Airstrikes also hit eastern Ghouta district, an opposition stronghold near Damascus where fighters have been staging an offensive on the capital.
Also yesterday, nearly 50 Iranians were heading home after being freed by Syrian fighters in a prisoner swap.
Iranian officials told reporters at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport that the flight carrying 48 former Iranian prisoners had left Damascus en route to the Iranian capital.
They did not say when the plane is expected to land in Tehran.
A Syrian official said the Iranians left the Damascus Sheraton hotel early in the morning. They were then stranded for hours at the Damascus airport by bad weather that has swept the Middle East.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said world powers will have to step up their response to the Syrian conflict if the violence worsens and that all options were on the table.
He reiterated that Britain would seek to amend the EU weapons embargo on Syria when it comes up for review on March 1 to allow them to arm the fighters.
In an update to the House of Commons, Hague said Britain was supporting UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s efforts to end the 21-month-old conflict, and revealed he would visit London for talks later this month.
But the foreign secretary warned: “Given the regime’s intransigence and brutality, there is a serious risk that the violence will indeed worsen in the coming months.
“If that happens the international community’s response will have to be stepped up.
“So we will not rule out any options to save lives and protect civilians in the absence of a political transition in Syria.
“We will ensure that our efforts are legal, that they’re aimed at saving life and they support at all times the objective of a political transition and encouraging moderate political forces in Syria.”
Hague repeated that Britain would seek to amend the European Union embargo blocking the delivery of weapons to either side in the Syrian conflict. “No decisions have yet been made to change the support we provide to the Syrian National Coalition or the Syrian people,” he said.
“But European countries now have the flexibility to consider taking additional steps to try to save lives if there is no progress in the near future.
“Clearly the best outcome for the Syrian people would be a diplomatic breakthrough, bringing an end to the bloodshed and establishing a new Syrian government able to restore stability. “However we must keep open options to help save lives in Syria and to assist opposition groups opposed to extremism if the violence continues. “We should send strong signals to Assad that all options are on the table. We will therefore seek to amend the EU sanctions so that the possibility of additional assistance is not closed off.”


Campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

Updated 30 min 28 sec ago
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Campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

  • Lebanon's independent Sabaa party talks about exploitation of positions and money.
  • Several young men from the Sabaa party demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior.
BEIRUT: Sectarian and partisan polarization resulting from fierce competition for parliamentary seats in Lebanon has led to the first armed clash between two rival Druze parties.
Machine guns were used in the clash between the Progressive Socialist Party, led by MP Walid Jumblatt, and the Lebanese Democratic Party, led by Talal Arslan, which took place on Sunday evening in the city of Choueifat, about 5 km south of Beirut.
The two parties’ leaders acted quickly to calm their supporters.
“When politicians plant seeds of hatred and grudges among people, they commit a crime against citizens who have been breaking bread together for centuries,” Jumblatt said in a tweet.
In a joint statement, the two parties stressed “the need to avoid any steps that could provoke anger among supporters or disturb citizens who look forward to freely exercising their right to vote in an atmosphere of democratic competition.”
The two parties, alongside other parties with supporters in Choueifat, such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Amal Movement, have agreed on “disowning anyone who breaches security, requesting that the security forces intensify their presence in Choueifat, identifying fixed locations until the elections are over, and restraining from carrying out provocative processions.”
Campaigning lasts 24 hours before polling and has seen various kinds of violations of the electoral law.
Several young men from the Sabaa party — a group of independent activists — demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior, carrying banners questioning the ministry’s role in election-related issues.
“Serious violations are taking place because the country is out of control; many are exploiting their positions and pouring (in) their money, and conflicts are happening at grassroots level — people are tearing down photos of candidates and individuals are fighting with one another,” said Gilbert Hobeish on behalf of the demonstrators.
He added: “This is unacceptable, and the minister of interior must take responsibility.”
Hobeish criticized the Electoral Supervisory Commission, saying “it only oversees the civil society or change candidates.”
“We reject this in toto,” he said.
Ali Al-Amin, a candidate on the Shbaana Haki electoral list (who was assaulted last Sunday by Hezbollah supporters in the town of Shaqra because he hung his photo outside his house), held a press conference in the town of Nabatiyah Al-Fawqa and renewed his protest against “the tyranny that silences voices, oppresses liberties and acts on its own will and temperaments, making us feel as if we were in the law of the jungle era.”
He said that “resistance isn’t anyone’s property nor is it one party’s ownership.”
He also called on “the free people of the south to decide which life they wanted and to which homeland and identity they belonged.”
Campaign fever is rising in Lebanon 48 hours before the elections are held for the first time for Lebanese communities in several Arab countries. These elections are to be held 11 days before parliamentary elections take place inside Lebanon.