What the world overlooked in Syria

Major events taking place across Syria have been overshadowed by the chemical attack saga.

Much of the world's media has been distracted by divisions on the prospect of US-led military action in Syria [AFP]

Ever since the US announced it would act against Syria in response to a chemical weapon attack more than three weeks ago, the world has been fixated on when and how Washington and its allies will act.

The debate on whether the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against the opposition in the suburbs of Damascus is ongoing. Statements by top Western leaders on Syria come out almost daily. US politicians continue to wrangle over whether Washington should strike President Bashar al-Assad’s military installations. And pro-intervention Syrian activists have stepped up their campaign to convince congressmen to vote “yes” for military strikes in their country.

Townsfolk accuse Assad’s forces of killing residents and throwing their bodies into wells [Al Jazeera]

But since the August 21 attack – which is reported to have killed between 240 and 1,400 people – the country has witnessed a steady flow of bloodletting. Between August 22 and September 9, At least 1,529 people were killed, according to the Local Coordination Committees activist network. New “massacres” have been reported, new advances by Assad’s troops have been recorded and takeovers of villages by rebel forces have been claimed.

Here are some of the major stories that took place across Syria in the past three weeks but were overshadowed by the chemical attack saga:

AUGUST 24 – Bodies discovered in Aleppo’s wells

Seven bodies were discovered rotting in a well located in the town of Junaid in the suburbs of Aleppo.

The corpses were found a few weeks after residents in the the nearby village of Om Amoud recovered tens of bodies from six wells there.

Residents accused forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of killing both townsfolk and passers-by and throwing their bodies into wells, during ten days of intense battles with rebel forces.

Al Jazeera’s Naser Shadid, who was in Om Amoud as volunteers recovered the bodies, said the process was very difficult due to the strong smell and the lack of proper equipment.

Civilian residents have mostly fled Ariha in the past weeks, due to the heavy air and artillery strikes [Al Jazeera]

SEPTEMBER 3 – Syrian army take over strategic town

Syrian forces seized the strategic northern town of Ariha, a move that opened supply lines between the coastal stronghold of Latakia and pockets of army control in Idlib province, which is largely rebel controlled.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported the Assad military gain, said regime forces stormed and captured Ariha while a fierce artillery assault raged.

Tens of people were reported killed in clashes ahead of the military takeover.

Activists say civilian residents have mostly fled Ariha in recent weeks, after heavy air and artillery strikes. According to the Observatory, Assad forces began raiding and looting the town after storming it.

Ariha has been in and out of rebel control. It was taken by rebel brigades, including the Ahrar al-Sham group and other units linked to al-Qaeda, on August 24.

SEPTEMBER 4 – New report reveals ‘extensive’ use of cluster bombs

At least 165 people in Syria were killed or wounded by cluster munitions last year [Reuters]

Troops allied to the Syrian regime used cluster munitions “extensively” in the second half of 2012 and first half of 2013, causing many civilian casualties, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Cluster Munitions Monitoring Report said at least 165 people were killed or wounded by cluster munitions in Syria last year alone, representing a clear majority of the 190 casualties known to have been caused globally by the weapons in 2012.

The annual report provides an overview of how countries are implementing the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans all use, production, transfer and stockpiling of the weapons.

“Syria’s extensive use of cluster munitions has caused needless civilian casualties,” lamented report editor Mary Warenham, of Human Rights Watch.

SEPTEMBER 4 – Rebels capture strategic army base

 The ancient village of Maaloula was a tourist attraction [AP]

Rebels captured a large part of the Brigade 81 armoured base, one of the lagest in Syria.

They seized two compounds in the mountainous area of Qalamoun in Damascus’ northeast, near the Lebanon border, in addition to armoured vehicles, according to rebel fighters

The takeover was considered a major victory for the opposition. The base is strategically located on the main Damascus-Aleppo road and on the westward route to Lebanon.

SEPTEMBER 7 – Rebels capture ancient Christian village

A Syrian rebel group led by al-Qaeda-linked fighters have said they seized control of Maaloula, a predominantly Christian village northeast of Damascus.

The fighters swept into the mountainside sanctuary in heavy fighting which forced hundreds of residents to flee.

State media, meanwhile, provided a dramatically different account of the battle – suggesting regime forces were winning.

Maaloula, an ancient village that is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria, was a major tourist attraction before the civil war.

Some of its residents still speak a version of Aramaic, the language of biblical times believed to have been used by Jesus.

The Tabqa Dam was captured by rebels last February
[Tabqa activists]

SEPTEMBER 8 – Regime troops shell near Syria’s largest dam

Syrian fighter jets struck near the Tabqa Dam in the rebel-controlled north-eastern Raqqa province. The dam, on the Euphrates River, is the largest in the country and one of the most important sources of electricity.

“One of the shells hit the fence of the dam, only 15 metres away from the floodgates,” an activist in Raqqa said in a video while touring the area. “Had the gates been hit, all of the surrounding villages would have been flooded.”

The opposition Syrian National Coalition says the attack on the dam was “a dangerous precedent” that “poses a significant threat to millions of Syrians across the country, and in particular those residing in the eastern provinces”.

The Tabqa Dam, which was captured by rebels last February, provides electricity both to areas in rebel and loyalist hands.

It was built more than 40 years ago with Russian help.

“Ironically, Russian-made shells hit the Russian-made dam,” the Raqqa activist said.

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Source: Al Jazeera