Joint Chiefs from 10 Nations Meet for Emergency Meeting On Syria In Amman, Jordan

Dempsey, allied military chiefs meet in Jordan amid escalating Syrian crisis

stars and stripes

By Slobodan Lekic

 

AMMAN, Jordan — Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is co-hosting an emergency meeting here of defense chiefs from 10 nations aimed at ensuring the security of this moderate, pro-Western kingdom and preventing a spillover of the escalating war in neighboring Syria, officials said.

The three-day meeting, which opened Sunday, is being co-hosted by Jordan’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Mishaal Zaben, U.S. and Jordanian officials said. It also brings together top generals from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Canada, the semi-official Petra news agency reported, citing Jordanian military sources. It said the commanders “would discuss regional security and implications of the ongoing crisis in Syria.”

The conference comes amid rising tensions as the U.S., France and Britain mull their response to allegations that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for a chemical attack Wednesday on the eastern outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

In Washington, Defense Department spokesman George Little told The Associated Press that the gathering in Amman was designed in part to increase the collective understanding of the impact of regional conflicts on nations.

Dempsey is accompanied by Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has deployed an extra destroyer to the eastern Mediterranean, bringing to four the number of missile warships in the area capable of firing cruise missiles against land targets.

The Associated Press reported that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel offered nothing Sunday about how the United States might respond to Syria’s purported use of chemical weapons. He said President Barack Obama was still assessing intelligence information on the deadly attack.

“When we have more information, that answer will become clear,” he told a reporter, according to AP.

President Barack Obama has said that a hasty intervention in the 2½-year-old Syrian civil war was problematic because of the international considerations that should precede a military strike.

Obama discussed the situation in Syria by telephone with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the AP reported. It was Obama’s first known conversation with a foreign leader about Syria since reports of the alleged chemical attack. The White House said the two leaders expressed “grave concern” about the reported use of chemical weapons, which both countries oppose.

Damascus has vehemently denied that it carried out toxic gas attacks on the rebel-held areas and accused the insurgents of mounting a chemical attack on its own troops in the area. Syrian television has said its troops found tunnels in which chemicals were stored in rebel areas overrun by government forces. Russia and Iran, Syria’s main allies, have supported calls for a United Nations inquiry into the attack, with both accusing jihadist groups of having carried it out.

The Jordanian military, numbering about 120,000 troops, has been redeploying a large part of its combat units to the northern border with Syria to prevent a spillover of the fighting. Jordanian officials say about 560,000 Syrians have already fled across the frontier.

The United States is believed to have about 1,000 troops based in Jordan, including a headquarters unit, an F-16 fighter detachment at Mafraq air base, as well as Patriot anti-missiles at two sites in the kingdom. In addition, the USS Kearsarge, a Marine amphibious assault ship, is reported to be steaming near Jordan’s only port of Aqaba.

lekic.slobodan@stripes.com

Bandar Praises British Help In Importing Terrorism and Civil War Into Syria

Saudi spy chief hails UK role in persistent Syrian civil war

PressTV

Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan has in a secret meeting briefed Britain’s MI6 chief Sir Robert Sawers on Riyadh’s role in stoking the Syrian civil war and thanked London for its strategic cooperation to that end.

“At the meeting, the Saudi intelligence chief briefed Sawers on Riyadh’s latest moves on Syria, including the supply of over 400 tons of weapons to the militants in Syria via Turkey,” Fars News Agency quoted unnamed sources as saying.

“We have made the Syrian army engage in a civil war and of course this strategic mission could not be accomplished without your (MI6) cooperation,” the source quoted Prince Bandar as saying during the meeting.

According to the report, the Saudi National Security Council Secretary and Intelligence Chief also reiterated that his country is sending the Salafi and other extremist fighters to Syria to get them killed and trigger religious discord among different Muslims groups in the region.

“The Prince also reminded the different advantages of the Saudi plan in Syria, saying that extremist groups, including the Salafis, have been engaged in the war in Syria and killed in there, while the Lebanese Hezbollah movement has also been pushed into direct confrontation with radical Sunni Muslims,” the source said.

Prince Bandar also reportedly ensured Sawers of control over the extremist mercenaries in Syria so that they do not turn up against Saudi Arabia and its western allies.

Lebanon’s Assafir newspare reported back in June that Prince Bandar has been an intermediary between the western governments and the Syrian militants to deliver heavy weapons to the terrorists.

AMR/HE

Did Assad’s ruthless brother mastermind alleged Syria gas attack?

Did Assad’s ruthless brother mastermind alleged Syria gas attack?

guardian

Shadowy figure of Maher al-Assad could have been involved in alleged atrocity that hit rebel-held district of Damascus

 

A Syrian man weeps over the body of a relative killed in what rebels say was a regime gas attack.

A Syrian man weeps over the body of a relative killed in what rebels claim was a regime-led chemical attack on civilians. Photograph: Ammar Al-Arbini/AFP/Getty

 

He hasn’t been seen for over a year, remaining in the shadows while Bashar al-Assad has been the public face of Syria.

But Maher al-Assad has in many ways played a more decisive role in the country’s civil war than his elder brother, commanding its most formidable military division as it claws back losses and leading the defence of Damascus against an opposition that remains entrenched on the capital’s outskirts. The question many Syrians are asking, after last week’s revelations of an apparent chemical attack on civilians in rebel-held areas, is what role the president’s brother may have played in the atrocity.

Maher has remained a senior member of the Ba’ath party’s central committee and a central pillar of a police state that, despite the ravages of war and insurrection, remains one of the most effective in the world.

As the trajectory of Syria’s war has wobbled throughout the past year, opposition gains in parts being offset by regime advances elsewhere, the 4th Armoured Division Maher commands has been a chief protagonist on behalf of the regime.He has acted as division commander since at least 2000, and at the same time leads Syria’s other premier fighting force, the Republican Guards. Both units have been at the vanguard of the war since its earliest days, and were active again last week as loyalist forces launched their biggest operation yet to root out rebel groups from the capital.

It was while this operation was under way that thousands of residents of east Ghouta were exposed to what scientists increasingly believe was a nerve agent, possibly sarin. Attempts to pin down who was responsible for the attack are now the subject of a global intelligence effort that has already started to zero in on loyalist military units as the likely suspects.

In the days since, Syria has persistently denied having used its stocks of sarin to shell the area.

The 4th division has remained relatively unaffected by desertions and defections that plagued other divisions in the first 18 months of the war. Until about then — 18 July last year — Maher was visibly in charge. Frontline troops saw him often, especially in the hotspots of what was then more an insurrection than the full-blown civil and proxy regional war it is now.

In Deraa he personally led a siege by 4th division troops in March 2011, in response to a spark of defiance by a group of schoolboys, who wrote on a mosque wall calling for Bashar to leave. The division left an unambiguous calling card.

“He came to see us one weekend down there,” said a former 4th division conscript who fled to Istanbul soon afterwards. “He told us not to shoot at the men with guns, because they were with us. He told us only to shoot at people without guns, that they were the terrorists.

“It took me a while to protest at that. He made us shoot at their hearts and heads. And anyone that was shooting high and wide [deliberately] would be beaten, or killed.”

In Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, only nine kilometres south of Deraa, which is now home to a sizeable chunk of the city’s residents, Maher’s name is spoken of with visceral anger.

“His brother is a puppet for Maher and the Iranians,” said Khaled Othman, a plumber from the city, standing in the flap of a UN supply tent. “Maher is the devil. He personally tried to annihilate us just because we defied him. He took pleasure in it, along with his closest officers. Did you see the video of him in the prison?”

The refrain is commonly asked in communities that support the Syrian opposition. It refers to a prison revolt in 2008 that Maher was asked to put down; a task he carried out with brutal efficiency, killing many who had taken guards and soldiers hostage, then filming the bodies with his camera phone.

The phone video is often showed by supporters of the Assad regime as purported evidence of the strength of the brothers. But between the statesman and the general, it has been Maher who has inspired more fear — and speculation.

His last appearance in public was several weeks before an explosion in a meeting room in central Damascus killed security chief, and the Assads’ brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, who had married their sister, Bushra. Also killed that day was the defence minister and several other members of the inner sanctum.

Rumours have circulated since that Maher was also in the room at the time and was wounded. Last year Abdullah Omar, a former press officer in the presidential palace who defected in September, said he had seen Maher visit the palace and he had appeared to have lost part of a hand and leg.

The suggestion has not since been confirmed. Turkish officials believe that the younger Assad was wounded that day — one of the few times that the opposition has got so close to the seat of power. “But he is alive and functioning,” said one senior Turkish diplomat. “And the 4th division is still one of their better units.”

In Lebanon, where in more settled times leaders from all sides of politics beat a regular path to Damascus, there has been nothing from Maher for more than a year.

“We know his wife is in Dubai along with Bushra,” said the leader of one political bloc. “And we know that Bashar will have a hard time keeping him in his box. If they think they are winning, they will behave without any restraint. And if they did the chemical attack, he won’t be far away from it.”

Syria snipers shoot at UN chemical team, spokesperson says

[SEE:  Washington: Syria allowing U.N. access to attack site not ‘credible’]

Syria snipers shoot at UN
chemical team, spokesperson says

now lebanon

Snipers shot at United Nations experts Monday forcing them to pull back from an attempt to investigate a chemical weapons attack near Damascus, a spokesperson said.

No injuries were reported when the first vehicle in a UN convoy was hit as it headed for Ghouta, east of the Syrian capital, but the team had to head back toward their base, said UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky.

“The first vehicle of the chemical weapons investigation team was deliberately shot at multiple times by unidentified snipers in the buffer zone area,” Nesirky said.

“As the car was no longer serviceable, the team returned safely back to the government checkpoint,” he added.

“The team will return to the area after replacing the vehicle.”

Hundreds of people were killed in an attack last week at Ghouta in which chemical weapons were allegedly used. Western nations have blamed President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for the attack. The government has blamed opposition rebels.

The UN spokesperson gave no other details on the venue of the sniper attack or from where the shooting came from.

But Nesirky “stressed again that all sides need to extend their cooperation so that the team can safely carry out their important work.”