News of Syrian refugees being resettled in New Zealand is being welcomed by a support group.
Up to 100 refugees are to be accepted by the Government as part of its annual refugee quota.
Changemakers refugee forum general manager Tim O'Donovan says it's fantastic news, but it's a drop in the ocean compared to the number of people fleeing Syria.
He says more than two and a half million people are refugees as a result of the Syrian conflict, and New Zealand should do everything it can to help with that.
Meanwhile US Secretary of State John Kerry has hit out at the "brutality" of the Syrian regime for its sustained barrel bomb campaign.
More than 150 people have reportedly been killed in Aleppo over the past four days, in a string of barrel bomb raids and other air strikes
Barrel bombs are an improvised blast weapon being used by the Syrian Air Force against anti-government forces.
- RHEMA MEDIA/Newstalk ZB
The first day of peace talks have been held in Switzerland and already discussions have been heated.
Curt words were exchanged within the first hour when an argument broke out between U.N Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and Syria's Foreign Minister over the length of time Walid al-Muallem was taking to speak.
Al-Muallem, on the defensive, ignored requests to stick to assigned speaking time limits.
Ban: “Can you just wrap up, because you have spoken for nearly 20 minutes...
Al-Muallem: “Mr Secretary, you spoke for 25 minutes…at least I need to speak 30 minutes….I came here after 12 hours on an aeroplane. I have few more minutes to end my speech.
Ban: "...I will give you another opportunity to speak."
Al-Muallem: "You live in New York and I live in Syria. I have the right to give Syrian version..."
Ban: “…inflammatory rhetoric…will not be constructive at this time."
Al-Muallem: "It is constructive."
Al Jazeera correspondent, Kamahl Santa Maria, says that is not a good sign.
"In two days’ time they will have to one-on-one talks between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian government, and if that's the way mediation is going, I don't think it bodes terribly well for the big meeting."
And the tension is expected to rise.
US Secretary of State, John Kerry, says Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, will not be part of any new transitional government.
The Syrian government says: "Nobody will touch the Presidency.”
But Kerry had strong words for Al Assad: "No-one should think there can be a place for a man who has turned on his own people, who permitted the death of 130,000..."
Syrian delegations will be taking part in direct talks in the coming days, and Sky's Sam Kiley says the definition of a proposed transitional government will be at the heart of the debate.
Syrian National Coalition officials, says Kiley, have insisted that any discussion of Assad continuing to remain in power would effectively end the talks.
"They're saying that if they get some kind of solid indication that transition means they can share power - without Assad - they will keep talking. If they don't get that indication fairly soon, they won't keep talking."
Yet, at the conclusion of the first day, the U.N Secretary General says there is still hope for peace.
"It is still not too late to end the bloodshed and find a peaceful and democratic future in a united Syria. The moment to act, decisively and courageously, is now."
- RBG News/NewstalkZB
The United Nations has withdrawn an invitation to Iran to attend the much-anticipated Syria peace conference, reversing a decision announced on Sunday.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose decision to invite Iran had threatened to unravel the Syria talks less than 48 hours before the scheduled start, issued a statement yesterday rescinding the invitation.
The United States had said it was surprised by the invitation because Iran had not agreed to conditions for the talks, to be held on Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland.
Mr. Ban contended he had been privately assured by the Iranians that they would respect the conditions. But in their public statements Iranian officials said Iran had been invited with no such conditions attached.
“Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, he has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran’s participation,” Mr. Ban’s spokesman said in the statement.
- RBG News
Syria's ongoing conflict is being described as a very bitter, brutal war in which one has to kill or be killed.
The warring factions continue to block roads, preventing food and aid from getting through to those in need.
The BBC's Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet says she asked a Syrian army commander how could he deprive civilians of food.
His response was to ask why would he let bread go into an area that was controlled by the rebels.
If the rebels were able to get hold of the bread and then pushed toward Damascus, they would be killing his children.
She says the scenes on the ground are devastating, and that Syrians are now saying the country as they knew it no longer exists.
Newstalk ZB/RBG News
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has written to the family of a British doctor who died in a Syrian jail, saying the Assad regime must answer for his death.
Syria claims Abbas Khan, who was arrested in November last year after travelling to Aleppo to treat wounded civilians, committed suicide.
But Britain claims the 32-year-old was "effectively murdered" by the Syrian regime.
Relatives of the orthopaedic surgeon, a father of two children, have dismissed Syria's claim.
Michael Mansfield QC, representing the family, says it is most unlikely Dr Khan would have taken his own life, given he was about to be released.
"The family plainly know him extremely well and do not believe for one moment, that is what happened."
According to British newspaper, the Mirror, Khan’s body has been flown home for a post-mortem. A Red Cross convoy carried Mr Khan’s body from Damascus to Lebanon’s capital Beirut on Saturday, where it was handed over to British officials.
British MP, George Galloway, who had been negotiating with Syrian authorities to secure the doctor’s release, said he had been told President Bashar al Assad had personally ordered the doctor’s release and that he was expected home before Christmas.
Mr Khan said in letters his captors repeatedly beat him for sport, and he was forced to abuse other prisoners.
David Cameron says his government will continue to press for those responsible to be held to account.
- RBG News/NewstalkZB
Torture, flogging, and summary killings are rife in secret prisons run by ISIS - the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham - an armed group that controls large areas of northern Syria, says Amnesty International.
In an18-page briefing “Rule of fear: ISIS abuses in detention in northern Syria”, Amnesty International has identified seven detention facilities utilised by ISIS in the al-Raqqa governorate and Aleppo.
The human rights organisation says ISIS, an off-shoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq - which claims to apply strict Shari’a (Islamic law) in areas it controls - is ruthlessly flouting the rights of local people.
Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther, says some of those held by ISIS are suspected of theft or other crimes; others are accused of “crimes” against Islam, such as smoking cigarettes. Others were seized for challenging ISIS’s rule, or because they belonged to rival armed groups opposed to the Syrian government.
ISIS is also suspected of abducting and detaining foreign nationals, including journalists covering the fighting in Syria.
Philip Luther said those abducted and detained by ISIS include children as young as eight who are held together with adults in the same cruel and inhuman conditions.
According to testimonies obtained by Amnesty International, children were among those who received severe floggings,
On one occasion, an anguished father had to endure screams of pain as ISIS captors tormented his son in a nearby room. Two detainees related how they witnessed a child of about 14 receive a flogging of more than 90 lashes during interrogation at Sadd al-Ba’ath, an ISIS prison in al-Raqqa governorate. Another child of about 14 who ISIS accused of stealing a motorbike was repeatedly flogged over several days.
“Flogging anyone, let alone children, is cruel and inhuman, and a gross abuse of human rights,” said Philip Luther.
Several former detainees told the organization that they were seized by masked gunmen who took them to undisclosed locations, where they were held for periods of up to 55 days.
Some never learnt where they were but Amnesty International has identified ISIS prisons at seven locations: Mabna al-Mohafaza, Idarat al-Markabat and al-Mer’ab, all in al-Raqqa city; Sadd al Ba’ath and al-‘Akershi oil facility, both elsewhere in al-Raqqa governorate; and Mashfa al-Atfal and Maqar Ahmed Qaddour in Aleppo.
Amnesty International is calling on the international community to take concrete steps to block the flow of arms and other support to ISIS and other armed groups implicated in committing war crimes and other serious human rights abuses.
“The Turkish government, in particular, should prevent its territory being used by ISIS to bring in arms and recruits to Syria,” said Philip Luther.
He said after years in which they were prey to the brutality of the al-Assad regime, the people of al-Raqqa and Aleppo are now suffering under a new form of tyranny in which arbitrary detention, torture and executions have become the order of the day.
The recent slaying two Free Syrian Army commanders has been attributed to ISIS - the latest in a series of targeted abductions and assassinations of leading moderate rebels in Northern Syria, and further evidence of the increasing discord amongst rebel groups.
- RBG News/Press Release
A desperate plea for help for Syria's refugees.
The U.N is appealing for more than seven billion dollars to support Syrians over the next 12 months.
It's the United Nations' biggest ever appeal for a single emergency.
The U.N refugee's agency spokeswoman Dana Sleiman says there just aren't enough resources in the refugee camps in Lebanon.
She says, “The capacity is very stretched in Lebanon, the infrastructure is a fragile one, and there is dire need for support from the international community at this stage, for a country that’s half the size of Wales currently hosting the biggest number of refugees in the region.”
Over 2.3 million have so far fled the country since the conflict began in 2011.
- RBG News/Newstalk ZB
A UN report says chemical weapons have been used at least five times during the Syrian conflict.
The final report of a United Nations team probing the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which in September, found “clear and convincing evidence” of Sarin gas attacks against civilians, including children, in the Damascus area, has today reported “credible information” that such weapons were used against soldiers and civilians in other parts of the country.
The team cites "credible evidence" of the probable use of chemical weapons" in the Syrian districts of Ghouta, Khan Al Asal, Jobar, Saraqueb and Ashrafieh Sahnaya.
The UN says it based its Ghouta findings on Sarin found in exploded surface-to-surface rockets at the site, “environmental contamination by Sarin in the area where patients were affected, epidemiology of over 50 interviews given by survivors and health care workers, survivor intoxication by an organophosphorous compound, and blood and urine samples that were positive for Sarin.”
According to the report, the group could not verify allegations that chemical weapons were used in Bahhariyeh on August 22nd - due to lack of blood samples - and in Sheik Maqsood on April 13th “in the absence of further information.”
The report does not attribute blame for the attacks, as this was beyond the mandate given to the team by the UN Security Council.
However, it concluded: “The United Nations Mission remains deeply concerned that chemical weapons were used in the on-going conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arabic Republic, which has added yet another dimension to the continued suffering of the Syrian people.”
The Secretary-General will brief the General Assembly on the report in a closed session tomorrow afternoon, and the UN Security Council on Monday.
- RBG News/NewstalkZB
According to a British study thousands of Syria's most vulnerable are being killed in the nation's on-going civil war.
"Stolen Futures: The hidden toll of child casualties in Syria" by Hana Salama and Hamit Dardagan, shows 11, 420 children have died in the almost two-year conflict.
Dardagan says the most disturbing finding of the report is not just the sheer numbers of children killed, but the way in which they are being killed. He says many died after being bombed in their homes and communities during day-to-day activities.
The study’s authors says most of the casualty figures in circulation originate from a small number of Syrian civil society groups which began recording deaths and human rights violations in response to the conflict, and are to varying degrees aligned with the opposition movement in Syria.
Instead of simply issuing statistics, say Salama and Dardagan, the groups publish detailed lists of each individual killed - in most cases including their name and the circumstances of their death, with the category of weapon that caused it.
Of the children killed, boys outnumbered girls by more than 2 to 1 overall - the highest number was recorded in Aleppo.
By far the primary cause was explosive weapons, killing 7,557 (71%) of the 10,586 children, whose specific cause of death was recorded.
Small-arms fire was the cause of death for 2,806 (26.5%) - including 764 cases of summary execution and 389 cases of sniper fire, with clear evidence of children being specifically targeted.
Their study also reveals at least 112 reported cases of children tortured and killed, including some of infant age.
Combined databases record the deaths of 128 children from the chemical attacks in Ghouta on August 21st.
Salama and Dardagan say the very specific details recorded, and their open publication, lend the casualty recording projects a degree of credibility. Nonetheless, they recommend the figures be treated with caution and considered provisional.
They recommend that all armed forces and groups operating in the Syrian conflict refrain from targeting civilians - but the highest priority, they say, should be given to removing children from all the inherent dangers of war.
- RBG News/NewstalkZB
Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons could be destroyed at sea if other countries refuse to dispose of them on home soil.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) revealed last week that the UN joint mission's first inspection of the production facilities declared by Syria confirms those sites have been rendered inoperable. However, Damascus still needs to eliminate over 1000 tonnes of sarin, mustard and other nerve agents, which are too dangerous to dispose of amid the ongoing conflict in the country.
1,300 tonnes of weapons are still in limbo, after Albania's Prime Minister declared his country will not host their dismantling as per the plan suggested by OPCW last week at the United States' behest. Mr Edi Rama's announcement came on November 15th, the same day that the OPCW accepted Damascus' proposals for destroying its weapons cache.
Using Albania had been one of several solutions suggested by the 41 member states of the Organisation’s Executive Council, as it revealed the next stage of plans for Syria's chemical arsenal. A final roadmap to disposal will be approved by December 17 in the hope that all the illegal weapons will be destroyed by the middle of next year.
The OPCW intends for the chemical weapons to be transported outside Syrian territory for destruction in the 'safest and soonest manner', and the operation to be completed no later than 30 June 2014.
- Newstalk ZB/ RBG News