Senior Correspondent, Syria
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Sep 10, 2013

Syria backs chemical weapons plan, planes bomb Damascus

PARIS/AMMAN (Reuters) – Syria accepted a Russian proposal on Tuesday to give up chemical weapons and win a reprieve from U.S. strikes, while its warplanes bombed rebel positions in Damascus for the first time since the West threatened military action.

The Russian diplomatic initiative, which apparently emerged from off-the-cuff remarks by the U.S. secretary of state, marks a sudden reversal after weeks in which the West appeared finally headed towards intervention in a two-and-a-half year old war.

Sep 6, 2013

Christians in delicate position after rebels briefly capture Syrian town

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian rebel fighters withdrew on Thursday after briefly capturing a historic Christian town in the center of the country as part of a campaign to take control of strategic mountains near Damascus, opposition sources said.

Several rebel brigades, including a contingent of the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, swept into the town of Maaloula in the Qalamoun mountains on Wednesday after overrunning a roadblock manned by troops and militia loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the sources said.

Sep 5, 2013

Exclusive: Defecting Assad ally reaches Istanbul – sources

DOHA/AMMAN (Reuters) – Bashar al-Assad’s former defense minister has reached Istanbul after a defection that betrays cracks in the president’s support among his own Alawite sect, opposition and diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

Dismissing a cursory Syrian state television denial of the first Reuters report that General Ali Habib had been spirited across the Turkish frontier this week, opposition figures said Habib was likely to keep a low profile after evading house arrest and reaching Turkey with the aid of Western agents.

Sep 5, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Defecting Assad ally reaches Istanbul – sources

DOHA/AMMAN (Reuters) – Bashar al-Assad’s former defence minister has reached Istanbul after a defection that betrays cracks in the president’s support among his own Alawite sect, opposition and diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

Dismissing a cursory Syrian state television denial of the first Reuters report that General Ali Habib had been spirited across the Turkish frontier this week, opposition figures said Habib was likely to keep a low profile after evading house arrest and reaching Turkey with the aid of Western agents.

Sep 5, 2013

U.S. resolution on Syria strike passes first hurdle in Senate

WASHINGTON/AMMAN (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s effort to win legislative backing for military strikes against Syria passed its first hurdle on Wednesday when a Senate committee voted in favor, but the narrow margin of victory showed the depth of U.S. caution.

In a possible sign of internal unrest in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ruling Alawite sect in the shadow of a likely U.S. intervention, Syrian opposition figures said General Ali Habib, a former defense minister, had defected. Syria denied the report.

Sep 4, 2013

Assad ally said to defect, Putin chides U.S. on Syria

AMMAN/DOHA (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad’s former defense minister has fled Syria, opposition figures said on Wednesday, noting that General Ali Habib was the most senior of Assad’s Alawite sect to defect.

Habib had been under house arrest since resigning in protest at Assad’s crackdown on demonstrators in 2011 but had managed to reach the Turkish border late on Tuesday with Western help, Kamal al-Labwani of the Syrian National Coalition told Reuters.

Sep 4, 2013

Exclusive: Former Syria defense minister defects in break with Assad

AMMAN/DOHA (Reuters) – Former Syrian Defence Minister General Ali Habib, a prominent member of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, has defected and is now in Turkey, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters on Wednesday.

If his defection is confirmed, Habib would be the highest ranking figure from the Alawite minority to break with Assad since the uprising against his rule began in 2011.

Sep 4, 2013

Former Syria defence minister defects in break with Assad

AMMAN/DOHA (Reuters) – Former Syrian Defence Minister General Ali Habib, a prominent member of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, has defected and is now in Turkey, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters on Wednesday.

If his defection is confirmed, Habib would be the highest ranking figure from the Alawite minority to break with Assad since the uprising against his rule began in 2011.

Aug 30, 2013

Exclusive: Syria army defectors say U.S. strikes could kill Assad opponents

BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) – Military sites in Syria are packed with soldiers who have been effectively imprisoned by their superiors due to doubts about their loyalty, ex-soldiers say, making them possible casualties in any U.S.-led air strikes.

Thousands of loyal security forces and militia, meanwhile, have moved into schools and residential buildings in Damascus, mixing with the civilian population in the hope of escaping a Western strike, according to residents and opposition activists.

Aug 29, 2013

Syrian army moves Scud missiles to avoid strike

AMMAN (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have removed several Scud missiles and dozens of launchers from a base north of Damascus, possibly to protect the weapons from a Western attack, opposition sources said on Thursday.

The move from the position in the foothills of the Qalamoun mountains, one of Syria’s most heavily militarised districts, appears part of a precautionary but limited redeployment of armaments in areas of central Syria still held by Assad’s forces, diplomats based in the Middle East told Reuters.