On 25th July, the UN Security Council will meet to discuss “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. However, much of the conversation is likely to focus on recent and on-going developments in Syria.
The conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011 as a largely peaceful protest movement, has now cost more than 19,000 lives, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Fighting in Aleppo
Until recently, Syria's economic capital and largest city, Aleppo, remained calm throughout the 16 month uprising across Syria. Now, it has joined Homs and Hama and other cities in the fighting. On Sunday, a new alliance of rebel groups called the Unification Brigade announced an operation to take Aleppo. The attack appeared to illustrate increasing co-ordination between different units on the ground. The spread of the fighting into Aleppo supports the increasingly widely held view that Syria is in a state of civil war with better organised but still lightly armed rebels pitted against now overstretched but still superior army and militia forces.
The rebel forces now claim to control four districts of the city. However, rebels throughout the country are facing growing internal tension, as civilians who have been fighting for months find themselves fighting alongside recent defectors from the regime, sometimes resulting in poorly shared resources and information.
Government helicopters and fighter jets have been seen firing on targets in the east of the city, as part of an attack aimed at recapturing districts seized by rebels since the weekend. It was thought to be the first time that fighter planes had been deployed in such a way during the uprising.
Up to 15 people were killed in a mutiny at a prison in Aleppo, activists have claimed. The opposition Syrian National Council said the security forces "opened fire with bullets and teargas" after a protest. Firing was also reported from inside the prison in the central city of Homs. An activist network also reported renewed government shelling in parts of Damascus, including in the Barzeh area, in part of a counter-offensive after last week's sweeping but short-lived rebel advances.
Fighting on the border
While the conflict has moved into Damascus and Aleppo, the regime’s forces have continued to fight for control in areas like the Deir el-Zour province, where the rebels estimate that the conflict has caused the death of hundreds of civilians and fighters on both sides killed. A leader in one of the two military councils leading the fight states that the group controlled 90% of the province, and while they have more men, they lack ammunition, and the regime’s forces have the bases.
Following last week's assassinations, President Assad has named five officials for top security posts in a reshuffle of the regime's inner circle. These included a new security chief and senior intelligence officials to replace three of the four members of his inner circle who were killed.
According to new video evidence, the Syrian regime is using Iranian-made surveillance drones, spotted in satellite imagery at Shayrat airfield in Homs province.
In Israel, a senior defence official said Syria was in full control of its entire non-conventional weapons system, which is the source of recent regional and international concern and warnings. However, there is concern that the regime and therefore its control over these weapons could be destabilized. Syria has also stated that it would not use these weapons against its own people but only to respond to external aggression.
A general and former aide to President Assad, Brig-Gen Manaf Tlas, has appeared publicly for the first time since he fled this month in a video statement broadcast on al-Arabiya TV. He confirmed that he had abandoned the Syrian government and appealed to Syrians to "unite to build a free democratic Syria". His decision to abandon Bashar al-Assad had been seen as significant as he had commanded the 10th Brigade of the elite Republican Guard and was an important Sunni figure in the president's inner circle. His whereabouts is still unclear.
David Cameron will raise concerns over Russia’s decision to veto a series of UN Security Council resolution on Syria with Vladimir Putin, if the Russian president visits the Olympics Games. During a visit to Kabul last week, Cameron said: "The message to President Putin and to all those on the UN security council is: it is time for the UN security council to pass clear and tough messages about sanctions – I believe under chapter seven of the UN – and to be unambiguous in this."
On 20th July, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to renew the mandate of the United Nations observers tasked with monitoring the cessation of violence in Syria and the full implementation of the international peace plan put forward to end the on-going crisis.
On 23rd July, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expressed his concern about the possible use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict and stressed the need for the international community to keep a close eye on the situation. Syria is not a party to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Report: “Syria crisis: heavy fighting reported in key city of Aleppo” [The Guardian, 24 July 2012]
Report: “Syria conflict: Assad troops hit back in Aleppo” [BBC News, 24 July 2012]
Report: “Inside Syria: rebels and regime trapped in cycle of destruction” [The Guardian, 24 July 2012]
Report: “Syria crisis: clashes and prison mutiny in Aleppo – Tuesday 24 July 2012” [The Guardian, 24 July 2012]
Report: “Security Council extends mandate of UN observers in Syria for 30 days” [UN News Centre, 20 July 2012]
Report: “Use of chemical weapons in Syria would be ‘reprehensible’ – UN Chief” [UN News Centre, 23 July 2012]
Programme: “Programme of Meetings and Agenda, Security Council” [UN 25 July 2012]