Latest on Syria, one day after President Obama’s address to nation
(CNN) — A day after President Barack Obama made his case for both military intervention and diplomacy in Syria, world powers worked Wednesday to defuse the crisis.
Syria has agreed to a Russian plan to give up its chemical weapons, a move that could forestall international military strikes and possibly give diplomacy some positive traction.
But the bloody conflict in Syria continues to rage, and roadblocks and questions remain as to what’s next for the war-ravaged Middle Eastern nation.
Latest developments Wednesday:
— As diplomatic efforts continued to address chemical weapons in Syria, the death toll from the nation’s 2-year-old civil war continued to climb. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists, reported 72 deaths nationwide Wednesday — including 14 children and nine women.
— The same organization documented 499 places in Syria that were shelled during the day, including 34 strikes from Syrian military planes and cluster bombs outside Damascus.
— U.N. chemical weapons inspectors are expected next week to deliver their report about an August 21 attack outside Damascus to the U.N. Security Council, sources say. One diplomatic source told CNN that the findings would be presented on Monday. Another source told CNN that the report would “likely” be presented Monday or Tuesday. The United Nations has not detailed a timeline, and the fluid diplomatic movement on the Syria crisis could contribute to delays.
— U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke by phone Wednesday, on the eve of their scheduled meeting in Switzerland. The two discussed a “shared objective of having a substantive discussion about the mechanics of identifying, verifying and ultimately destroying Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile,” a senior State Department official said.
— State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the talks in Geneva between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will last two days — Thursday and Friday, and possibly could extend to Saturday. She said Kerry hopes to meet with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League special envoy to Syria.
— This meeting comes as Russia announced an initiative to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control. Kerry is bringing an interagency team of experts to deal with “identifying the mechanics” of how the plan will work, Psaki said. “So how would you go in? How would you destroy? What are the steps you would take?”
— Russian officials have submitted a plan to the United States for putting Syria’s chemical weaponry under international control, Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency reported Wednesday, citing a Russian diplomatic source.
— U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be heading to Geneva, Switzerland, for talks Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The two diplomats have talked nine times since the August 21 attack.
— U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Wednesday that “while there have been significant efforts by the international community to end the violence and push for a political solution, these efforts have not yet borne fruit.”
— “Our collective failure to prevent atrocity crimes in Syria over the past two and a half years will remain a heavy burden on the standing of the United Nations and its member states,” Ban said.
— A news report quoted Luxembourg’s foreign minister as saying the U.N. inspectors’ report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria could be released Monday. A U.N. diplomat with knowledge of Jean Asselborn’s comments said it “seemed likely the report could be delivered in that time frame.”
— French President Francois Hollande, in a statement, said Paris is determined to explore all avenues at the U.N. Security Council “to allow an effective and verifiable monitoring” of chemical weapons in Syria. “France will remain – in constant contact with its partners – ready to” take action against “the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and to dissuade it from doing it again,” Hollande said.
— China says it will stay in communication with all relevant parties on possible actions that could be taken by the U.N. Security Council. “We maintain that actions taken by the Security Council should be based on the consensus reached between all parties through full consultation. And these actions should help ease tensions in Syria, maintain stability in the region and solve the Syrian issue politically,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
— European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said “the proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons beyond use is potentially a positive development” and that “the Syrian regime must now demonstrate that they are willing to implement this without any delay.” Barroso stressed that “only a political solution stands a chance of delivering the lasting peace that the Syrian people deserve.”
— The United States, France, and the United Kingdom are discussing a U.N. Security Council draft resolution, according to a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron. “The Russian government has put an idea forward, and the situation has moved forward a bit quicker that initially envisaged,” the spokesman said.
— The Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, urged the U.S. Congress and parliaments of other nations to drop plans for an American attack on Syria, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.
— White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that any diplomatic solution on Syria’s chemical weapons, which will be the focus of U.S.-Russia talks this week, “needs to be credible, it needs to be verifiable, and we will work with our allies and partners to test whether it can be achieved.”
— Trying to reach a diplomatic solution on Syria’s chemical weapons “will take some time,” Carney said, adding that “we also aren’t interested in delaying tactics and we believe in holding (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) accountable.
— Carney said that conversations were taking place and papers exchanged with Russia on a diplomatic solution for Syria’s chemical weapons but that he was unaware of a full formal proposal, adding that “I think we’re not at the stage of putting down public pieces of paper.”
— U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel talked Wednesday afternoon with the commander of the USS Barry, a destroyer that was ordered to remain in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in anticipation of a possible strike on Syria, the Pentagon said. Hagel praised those on the Barry and other naval ships “for maintaining their posture and ensuring that the United States military can carry out the orders of the commander-in-chief, if called upon,” according to the Pentagon statement.
— Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democratic senator, is part of a bipartisan group of senators working on an alternative resolution on Syria that would set key benchmarks that must be met to avoid a military strike in Syria. “What we’re working on now, a number of us in the Senate, is a measure that will still incorporate, maintain the use of force authorization,” he told CNN’s “New Day.” “But added to that would be a set of conditions that the Syrian regime would have to meet. They’d have to meet them on a strict timetable.”
— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said “all eyes are on” Russian President Vladimir Putin as Moscow pursues an initiative to put Syrian chemical arms under international control. “We all know that he was former head of the KGB. We all know about the KGB. He is president of that very big country and we are all so grateful that even though relations aren’t perfect with Russia they are OK. So much better than they have been prior to the breakup of that massive country, the Soviet Union. So we hope that Russia is a productive partner in these negotiations.”
— U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, said he wished President Obama was “just as concerned about Americans murdered by terrorists” in Benghazi, Libya last year as he is with “Syrians being killed by Syrians.”
— Republican House member Mo Brooks of Alabama said he rejects President Obama’s “argument that the best way to keep Syrians from killing Syrians is for Americans to kill Syrians. America has peaceful options. We should pursue them more vigorously.”
— The House Democratic caucus had a closed-door meeting on Syria. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, praised President Obama’s speech to the nation and reiterated a call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to be removed from power. “We have a responsibility to deter and degrade his ability to do that again,” the lawmaker said, referring to al-Assad and last month’s deadly chemical weapons attack. “And we’ve got to be in a position to be able to be ready to do that if a diplomatic solution, which is our first priority, isn’t successful.”
On the ground:
— Opposition activists accused the government of conducting airstrikes on a hospital in the rebel-held town of Al-Bab in northern Syria. The attack killed 11 people and wounded dozens more, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. CNN could not independently confirm the report. The U.N. Commission of Inquiry, which issued a report about Syria on Wednesday, cites “attacks on hospitals and health-care facilities” by government and pro-government forces in Hama, Homs, Idlib, Daraa, Raqqa and Damascus in recent months. It also lists one attack by an anti-government armed group against a hospital in Daraa.
— Oxfam, the aid and development charity, says it welcomes steps by the United States and other governments to seek “peaceful means of bringing Syria’s life threatening chemical weapons under control.” “We have serious concerns that the use of military intervention will damage the prospects for peace and threatens to further destabilize the region,” President Ray Offenheiser said.
— A video statement from the top rebel commander in Syria, Brig. General Salim Idris, emerged online Wednesday in which he rejects the Russian initiative to put chemical weapons under international control as a standalone solution. In the statement, Idris calls for “the perpetrators of the crime” to be brought before the International Criminal Court and for “supporting nations” to provide additional arms and ammunition. He also urges Free Syrian Army soldiers to continue working toward the final objective of toppling the al-Assad regime.
— Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it should be ensured that chemical weapons harbored by the Syrian regime be dismantled and that the world needs to make sure that those who use weapons of mass destruction “pay a price.” “The message that will be received in Syria will also be received in Iran,” he said.
— “Not far north of here, dozens and sometimes hundreds of innocent civilians are slaughtered every day, some of them executed by gas – chemical weapons. This is a serious crime, a crime against humanity,” Netanyahu said.
— Israeli President Shimon Peres weighed in Wednesday on the crisis.”The world cannot remain silent regarding the bloodshed and murder of children that is taking place in Syria. Diplomacy is always preferable to war but the main issue at present is integrity and in particular the integrity of the Syrian regime. If Syria is honest and will take real steps to remove and destroy the chemical weapons in its territory, the U.S. will not attack. If there will be a crack in Syria’s integrity I have no doubt that the U.S. will act militarily. Syria will not go back to being what it was, the war and terror have divided that country into parts, into a number of countries.”
— Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on Twitter “there is no military solution to this crisis and that the cycle of violence and the continuing bloodshed of the Syrian people MUST stop as soon as possible.”
— “The Russian initiative to put the Syrian chemical weapons under international control represents a significant development in the course of addressing the current crisis,” Elaraby tweeted.
— Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, warned that fighting is raging and intensifying in Syria amid the international diplomacy. “People are suffering because of lack of medical care, lack of food, lack of water.” He urged the international community to be sure people in need get the proper assistance.
— Maurer told CNN his agency welcomes recent diplomatic efforts over the Syrian crisis and is hoping influential nations, such as the United States and Russia, use their powers and skills to help address pressing humanitarian needs.
U.N. Commission of Inquiry report:
— The U.N. Commission of Inquiry report about Syria issued Wednesday details nine mass killings from March to June, eight believed to be carried out by government and pro-government forces and one thought to be perpetrated by anti-government armed groups.
— One of the eight massacres the report attributed to government forces was a notorious event that occurred in the village of al-Bayda last May.
— Some victims in al-Bayda “appeared to have been hit in the head with blunt, heavy objects. Bodies of 30 women, also apparently executed, were found in a house not far from the centre while tens of bodies were strewn in the streets. Between 150-250 civilians were allegedly killed,” the report said. “There are reasonable grounds to believe that government forces and affiliated militia including the National Defence Forces are the perpetrators of the Al-Bayda massacre.”
— “Government forces have committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and violations of international human rights law” and “some anti-government armed groups have committed war crimes,” according to the U.N. panel, which is investigating the violation of international law in the Syria crisis.
— Fighting is “raging between Government forces, pro-Government forces, anti-Government armed groups and Kurdish armed groups,” the commission said Wednesday. Civilians “continue to pay the price for the failure to negotiate an end to this conflict,” the commission said.
— “Government and pro-government forces have continued to conduct widespread attacks on the civilian population, committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearance as crimes against humanity,” the commission said. “They have laid siege to neighborhoods and subjected them to indiscriminate shelling. Government forces have committed gross violations of human rights and the war crimes of torture, hostage-taking, murder, execution without due process, rape, attacking protected objects and pillage.”
— “Anti-government armed groups have committed war crimes, including murder, execution without due process, torture, hostage-taking and attacking protected objects. They have besieged and indiscriminately shelled civilian neighborhoods.”
— “Anti-government and Kurdish armed groups have recruited and used child soldiers in hostilities,” the report said.
— “Allegations were received regarding the use of chemical weapons, predominantly by government forces,” the commission said. “On the evidence currently available, it was not possible to reach a finding about the chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrators. Investigations are ongoing.”
— “The majority of casualties result from unlawful attacks using conventional weapons. Nevertheless, the debate over what international action to take, if any, has assumed new urgency following the alleged use of chemical weapons in August,” the commission said.
— Recent missions to Syria, including a U.N. mission to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons, “give rise to hopes that the commission will be able to visit the country in the near future,” the commission said.
— The commission said “regional armed actors” have gotten involved with the conflict “increasingly on sectarian lines.”
— Hezbollah militants fight with the government and Iraqi Shiites are traveling to Syria to fight for the regime, the U.N. report said.
— Iran has extended a $3.6 billion credit line to the government. A loan from Russia “is reportedly under discussion, while pre-conflict arms deals between Moscow and Damascus continue to be honored.”
— Influential Sunni clerics from several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are urging Sunnis “to join the jihad against” the Syrian government and its supporters. There are appeals for money and weapons to anti-government armed groups.