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Executive Summary for May 13th

We review developments in Syria, including a report by Amnesty International accusing rebels of targeting civilians in Aleppo, the death of a Hezbollah leader in Damascus and the government’s blocking of an aid delivery into the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya.

Published on May 13, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Rebel Groups May Have Used Chemical Weapons in Aleppo: Amnesty

Rebel groups in the Fatah Halab (Conquest of Aleppo) coalition have been accused of using chemical weapons and committing war crimes in the predominantly Kurdish Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood of Aleppo, according to an Amnesty International report.

According to the report, armed groups have “repeatedly carried out indiscriminate attacks” on the district, which is mainly controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). It also raised the possibility of the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Two of the armed groups conducting attacks on Sheikh Maqsoud – Ahrar al-Sham and Army of Islam – have sent representatives to the U.N.-brokered negotiations on Syria in Geneva, while others have approved delegates to represent them at the talks.

The report presents evidence to support the possibility of the use of chemical weapons in the district, giving the names of at least 83 civilians including 30 children who were killed by attacks in Sheikh Maqsoud between February and April, in addition to satellite imagery showing destroyed and damaged homes in a residential street in the western part of Sheikh Maqsoud, about half a mile (800m) away from the frontline.

“The relentless pummeling of Sheikh Maqsoud has devastated the lives of civilians in the area. A wide array of armed groups from the Fatah Halab coalition has launched what appear to be repeated indiscriminate attacks that may amount to war crimes,” Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Magdalena Mughrabi, said.

Amnesty calls on states believed to be providing rebel groups with arms in Syria to immediately halt their supply and support for groups suspected of having been engaged in war crimes of any kind.

There are some 30,000 civilians living in Sheikh Maqsoud,

Top Hezbollah Leader Killed in Damascus

The Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah confirmed the death on Friday of its top military commander, Mustafa Badreddine, in a “major explosion” at Damascus airport, the Guardian reports.

The cause of the explosion has not been confirmed at this time, but both Lebanese and Israeli media outlets speculate the blast could have been caused by a “missile or artillery strike” fired from Israel.

A statement by Hezbollah following Badreddine’s death said: “He said months ago that he would not return from Syria except as a martyr or carrying the flag of victory. He is the great jihadi leader Mustafa Badreddine, and he has returned today a martyr.”

“The information gleaned from the initial investigation is that a major explosion targeted one of our centers near Damascus International Airport, which led to the martyrdom of Sayyid Zul Fikar [his nom de guerre] and the injuries of others,” the statement further said.

Since the beginning of the five-year conflict in Syria, almost 700 Iranian or Iranian-backed militiamen, including Hezbollah, have been killed fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad’s forces, according to a recent report.

Aid Convoy Denied Entry to Daraya

The first aid convoy destined to enter the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya in four years was denied entry on Thursday, according to the Red Cross and the United Nations.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced yesterday that they were to deliver the first humanitarian aid to Daraya since it was besieged in 2012. However, the delivery was stopped at the last government checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus, Reuters reports, leaving more than 4,000 civilians without promised vaccines and medical supplies.

“Despite having obtained prior clearance by all parties that it could proceed,” the convoy was not allowed through, a statement from the ICRC and the U.N. said.

The U.N. said they have been negotiating the terms of an aid delivery into the besieged suburb.

“Daraya has been the site of relentless fighting, and we know the situation there is desperate,” said Yacoub El Hillo, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Syria.

“Civilians trapped here are in need of humanitarian aid. We were hoping that today’s delivery of lifesaving assistance would have been a first step and lead to more aid being allowed in.”

The ICRC’s Syria head, Marianne Gasser, said it was “tragic that even the basics we were bringing today are being delayed.”

The supplies said to be being delivered yesterday included medical aid, baby formula and hygiene kits, but excluded food supplies.

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