September 25th, 2013
09:35 AM ET

Syrian rebels reject interim government, embrace Sharia

A collection of some of Syria's most powerful rebel brigades have rejected a Western-backed opposition group that announced the creation of an interim government in exile this month.

The 13 rebel groups, led by the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, also called on supporters of the Syrian opposition to embrace Sharia law "and make it the sole source of legislation."

The move appeared to sideline the flagging National Syrian Coalition, which recently announced the formation of an interim government in exile led by Ahmad Tomeh, a dentist and dissident from the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor.

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March 13th, 2013
07:43 AM ET

Report: Militants release Turkish hostages

Kurdish militants have released eight Turkish civil servants who were kidnapped in eastern Turkey and held hostage in northern Iraq, according to Turkey's semi-official Anadolu news agency.

The Kurdish separatist group PKK had kidnapped the eight in various eastern Turkish provinces on different dates, Anadolu reported.

Adil Kurt, a member of Turkey's Parliament, said Wednesday that the eight released hostages were in a convoy heading from Iraq to the Turkish border and were expected to arrive in Turkey Wednesday afternoon.

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February 27th, 2013
02:34 AM ET

Iran, P5+1 conclude second round of talks

Diplomats emerged Wednesday from an unusually secretive round of talks over Iran's controversial nuclear program with a joint announcement to hold a follow-up meeting within weeks.

In a joint statement after the meeting in Kazakhstan, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and the chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, announced that technical experts would meet in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 18.

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Body of missing NY mother found in Turkey
Sarai Sierra's family raised alarms after the 33-year-old mother of two didn't return to New York on January 22, as expected.
February 2nd, 2013
09:21 PM ET

Body of missing NY mother found in Turkey

The family of an American woman who went missing in Istanbul nearly two weeks ago are in mourning after learning that Turkish police found her body Saturday.

Steven Sierra wept during a phone call with CNN, as he waited in Istanbul to go with police to identify the body of his wife, Sarai Sierra.

Turkish police found the New York woman's body near ancient stone walls in Istanbul's Sarayburnu district, the semi-official Anatolian Agency reported. Police suspected she had been killed at another location.

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November 9th, 2012
05:09 AM ET

8,000 refugees cross the border from Syria into Turkey

More than 8,000 Syrian refugees fled to Turkey from Syria on Thursday because of "fierce fighting in Ras Al Ayn,”  a Turkish foreign ministry official tells CNN. The Syrian town is located near the Turkish border.

Of the thousands of refugees, 71 were injured, the official said. Two died of their wounds.

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Turkey strikes targets in Syria in retaliation for shelling deaths
Smoke rises after shells landed Wednesday in Akcakale, a town in southeastern Turkey's Urfa province.
October 3rd, 2012
04:35 PM ET

Turkey strikes targets in Syria in retaliation for shelling deaths

Turkey fired on targets in Syria in response to the shelling of a Turkish border town in which five civilians were killed Wednesday, a statement from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office said.

The town of Akcakale "was hit by artillery fire belonging to the Syrian regime forces," the statement said, in the first clear assertion of blame for the shelling.

"Our armed forces on the border responded immediately to this atrocious attack within the rules of engagement, and points in Syria determined by radar were hit with artillery fire," it said. "Turkey, within the confines of the rules of engagement and international law, will never leave these types of provocations aimed at our national security unanswered."

Nine people were also injured when the shell landed on the town in Sanliurfa province, near the Syrian border, the statement said.

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July 27th, 2012
10:00 AM ET

Syrian rebels: Guns, mortars ... and mansions?

Editor's note: CNN's Ivan Watson and crew are some of the few international reporters in Syria, whose government has been restricting access on foreign journalists and refusing many of them entry. Check out more from CNN inside Syria.

A distant machine gun rattled away in vain as a military helicopter flew long, slow circles, arcing from the contested Syrian city of Aleppo over to the rebel-controlled town of Anadan, six miles to the north.

A group of fighters stared and pointed from under the shelter of an overhanging building, until one man said in a worried tone, "Let's go away" before hurrying indoors.

In a matter of months, Syria's rebels have transformed themselves from ragtag village defense forces into an armed movement capable of attacking the country's two largest cities, Aleppo and Damascus. They have also punctured the image of invincibility projected by Syrian army tanks and armored personnel carriers, as proven by the twisted wreckage of armored vehicles that now litter some roads.

But the fighters still find themselves vastly out-gunned when facing government air power.

And yet, even that advantage may be shrinking.

Read the full story from CNN's Ivan Watson

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July 25th, 2012
09:37 PM ET

Inside Syria: Foreign fighters join Syrian rebels in Aleppo battle

Editor’s note: Rebels over the past few days have battled Syrian government forces in the northwestern city of Aleppo, the country’s commercial capital. It's a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and home to about 4 million people. The battle is part of a 16-month conflict in Syria that began elsewhere in the country when a fierce government crackdown on protesters morphed into a nationwide uprising against the regime.

CNN’s Ivan Watson and crew are some of the few Western reporters in Syria, whose government has been restricting access on foreign journalists and refusing many of them entry. Below is an edited account of what Watson has seen and been told in rebel-controlled towns near Aleppo on Wednesday:

People in every village in Aleppo province that CNN has visited say they’ve sent fighters to try to capture Aleppo. The bulk of the fighters are Syrian, but CNN has seen some foreigners among them.

There seems to be constant movement between these opposition-held enclaves and Aleppo, with some fighters leaving Aleppo to move their fallen comrades, and other, fresher fighters moving in. In the past two days, CNN’s crew has passed  two funerals in area villages for two rebel fighters who were killed in Aleppo.

The fighting in the region is having a visible effect on civilian life. Cars, trucks and vans loaded with civilians are leaving Aleppo. Some of those people earlier had left their villages to stay in Aleppo, because the city had been a safe haven until fighting began on Friday. But now some are going back to the villages they’d left.

Still, villages look increasingly deserted as you get closer to the big city. In the village of Injara, about 10 kilometers (a little over six miles) west of Aleppo, Sunni cleric Sheikh Ali Bukhro took CNN’s crew on a tour of the near-empty streets. He pointed out craters and holes in at least six stone houses, which he and residents said had been hit by rockets and artillery from a Syrian army base about four kilometers (2.5 miles) away.

“They hit us every night,” Bukhro said.

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July 25th, 2012
08:41 AM ET

Inside Syria: Faces of the Free Syrian Army

Editor's note: CNN's Ivan Watson and crew are some of the few international reporters in Syria, whose government has been restricting access on foreign journalists and refusing many of them entry. Check out more from CNN inside Syria.

Rebel-controlled northern Syria (CNN) - Mohamed Rashid walked out of the gate of his house with a giant blood stain on his white T-shirt.

"This is the blood of a martyr! Of a hero! Of a lion!" he bellowed. "This is his blood. It is pure!"

Mad with grief, Rashid kissed his bloody T-shirt before being led away by worried relatives.

Just hours before, Rashid learned his son Abdul was killed in battle in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Housam Abdul Rashid was a 22-year-old defector from the army. He was also the fourth man from his small hilltop village to be killed fighting for the rebels.

The younger Rashid is one of the casualties of the five-day-old rebel offensive on Aleppo, the country's commercial capital. Another rebel, who asked only to be named "Khorshid" because his wife and children were still living in Aleppo, described how his comrade was killed by a helicopter gunship, while climbing onto a rooftop.

"Housam's specialty was a sniper," Khorshid said. "He went to the roof, and a helicopter gunship killed him. Another fighter from Aleppo with him was also killed. I was just 4 meters away when it happened."

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July 24th, 2012
09:41 AM ET

Inside Syria: A Syrian town's 'Street of Death'

Editor's note: CNN's Ivan Watson and crew are some of the few international reporters in Syria, whose government has been restricting access on foreign journalists and refusing many of them entry. Check out more from CNN inside Syria.

Atareb, Syria (CNN) - After months of fighting, the regime's men finally abandoned this strategic crossroads.

President Bashar al Assad's troops left behind a bullet-riddled ghost town patrolled by rebels and a handful of shell-shocked residents.

Fighters had renamed the stretch of the Bab el Hawa highway, which ran through the center of town, the "Street of Death." Until recently, they said anyone who dared set foot on it became a target.

A mini-graveyard of burned-out armored personnel carriers sat next to the main municipal building, which served as a base for government soldiers. Several weeks after rebels captured the town, the building's walls were still decorated with pro-regime graffiti proclaiming frightening ultimatums: "Either Bashar or we'll burn this city" and "Bashar or nothing."

"This used to be a very classy area. ... The Turks would come here to see our village," said a fighter named Abdullah Behri, who was treated in a hospital in nearby Turkey after losing his left eye to shrapnel during a battle here last May.

"Now it has all turned to hell," he said, pointing at the town's deserted streets.

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Court overrules Egypt's president on parliament
July 10th, 2012
03:07 PM ET

Court overrules Egypt's president on parliament

Egypt's Higher Constitutional Court on Tuesday halted the decision by newly elected President Mohamed Morsy to call the nation's parliament back into session, an official said.

The court also "affirmed its rule to dissolve parliament and considers it invalid," said Aly Hassan, a judicial consultant affiliated with Egypt's Justice Ministry.

The ruling is the latest move in a power struggle between Morsy and the country's military rulers, who dissolved the legislature last month.

The parliament, recalled by Morsy (pictured, center), convened for less than an hour Tuesday. The session was the first since the nation's highest court said parliamentary elections were unconstitutional, prompting the military to disband the body.

Morsy, who took office June 30, opted to override the edict of the military, which has run the country since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

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High-ranking general defects from Syrian military
Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, right in an undated photo with Bashar al-Assad, has been a key member of the Syrian president's regime.
July 6th, 2012
05:19 AM ET

High-ranking general defects from Syrian military

[Updated at 9:22 a.m. ET] Manaf Tlas, a Sunni general in Syria's elite Republican Guards, has defected, a Western diplomat said Friday, a stunning blow to the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Tlas, the son of a former Syrian defense minister and cousin of a first lieutenant in al-Assad's army, is possibly the most senior Sunni in a power structure dominated by the Alawite minority.

"He's an inside confidant of Assad. So it counts that even an insider thinks it's time to go," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to speak to the media.

Syria has been engulfed in nearly 16 months of unrest. Thousands have died as Syrian government assaults against protesters led to a nationwide uprising.

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March 26th, 2012
08:54 AM ET

Syrian opposition groups gather in Turkey, try to unify voice

Disjointed factions of the Syrian opposition are meeting Monday in Istanbul in an effort to form a unified voice ahead of the next week's "Friends of Syria" conference.

Turkey and Qatar urged opposition groups to attend the conference, which they said "will bring all major opposition groups and figures committed to a peaceful political transition in Syria," according to an invitation sent to prospective attendees.

The meeting comes as the reported death toll from a government crackdown mounts inside Syria. At least 14 people were killed across Syria on Monday, the opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights said.

The goal of Monday's conference is "for all forces and parties of the opposition not to be a union, but at least to have a united purpose," said Amar Qurabi, leader of the National Change Current opposition group.

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Inside Syria: Activists risk lives to show world the death they see
Members of the Syrian opposition say one of their greatest weapons is using technology to show the world what is happening.
February 23rd, 2012
12:30 PM ET

Inside Syria: Activists risk lives to show world the death they see

Editor's note: Syrian forces are intensifying their bombardment of the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, a stronghold of the opposition. For those trapped in the area, there is the ever-present danger that the next shell will hit wherever they are trying to find shelter, or a sniper's bullet will kill them.

CNN's Arwa Damon, who was in Homs last week, saw the risks that opposition activists were taking minute-by-minute, when she went to their communications center. CNN's Ivan Watson also was able to get an inside look at a makeshift, rebel-run media operation helping to get the news and pictures out of Syria. Below are edited accounts of what they've seen and been told about how Syrians are trying to get their message out:

The weapons are different here. They come in the form of protest banners, videos and anti-government demonstrations. And they are images that are broadcast and streamed live online to the outside world.

Young men are among the activists that have kept the Syrian uprising alive by using technology in the face of a government crackdown that's left thousands dead.

The Syrian regime says they are facing a barrage of attacks from armed terrorists. They are fighting back, but these revolutionaries insist they don't need guns.

"I don't need Kalashnikov. I need just this [holds up camera] and laptop and media," Shaheb Sumac tells Watson.

They arm themselves with these pieces of technology and a whole lot of bravery. They show CNN footage they've shot secretly.

And then they distribute them across Syria and throughout the world. This amateur footage has served as a lifeline into life in Syria as it has become an important source of information for news organizations, including CNN, which are barred from freely working inside the country.

At first glance, the media operation appears like a grungy Middle Eastern university dorm room. But in their eyes, these men are media warriors.

"We are fighting a war against the regime's media channels," Alaa Edien Hamdoun, the group's leader, tells Watson. Even though we're working for free with few resources ... we are winning against them ... because we are servants of our revolution who are demanding freedom."

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February 16th, 2012
10:47 AM ET

Inside Syria: Farmers, teachers, carpenters armed with rifles fear massacre

Editor's note: CNN's Ivan Watson is reporting from northern Syria, where he is seeing rural communities opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. He describes these areas as free of a strong government presence but says residents are concerned the Syrian army could launch a military offensive in the countryside if it's victorious in the city of Homs.

Watson is one of a few reporters in Syria, where the government has been placing restrictions on international journalists and refusing many of them entry at all. Below is an edited account of what Watson and his team are seeing and hearing on the ground:

The countryside here in northern Syria is in open revolt, and this is rebellion of farmers, of carpenters and of high school teachers.

Entire communities, villages and stretches of towns across northern Syria tell us that they have not seen the presence of central Syrian government authority in months.

They have been effectively governing themselves, and they have clearly established militias as well as pockets of what's been called the Free Syrian Army defectors from the Syrian army who have joined these villages and rural communities in opposition to the Syrian government.

As we've traveled across this region, we've gone from village to village, from small council to small council, where young men and old, sit on the ground, chain-smoking, next to Kalashnikov assault rifles, weapons they say they've gotten within the last couple of months.

It does appear that villages and towns in northern Syria have been, basically, out of government control for months now, except when government forces have tried to conduct deadly incursions into these towns that are temporary at best.

Nearly everybody we talked to was able to show photos in their cell phones of neighbors, of relatives who have been killed in some of these incursions.

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November 23rd, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Egypt says human shield will implement a 'truce'

[Updated at 9:47 a.m. ET] A "human shield" was marching toward a major Cairo road to implement a truce Wednesday, Egyptian state television announced.

After police pulled back from Mohamed Mahmoud street - which runs from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests since Saturday, and the Interior Ministry - state television said religious scholars were on their way "to form a human shield between the protesters and the security forces."

Near the Interior Ministry, CNN saw military police separate protesters from police but did not immediately see the clerics State TV said were also on their way to form a human shield.

Speaking after hours of clashes on the street on the fifth day of the current uprising, Adel Saeed, spokesman for the Egyptian general prosecutor's office, said "a truce has been reached between the protesters and the security forces at the Ministry of Interior through several leading religious scholars."

It was not immediately clear who may have been represented in the discussions to which Saeed referred. Protesters told CNN the fighting will start again because they don't trust the authorities.

Protesters and police have clashed since Saturday, with demonstrators demanding that military leaders push through a promised transition to a civilian authority. Occasionally, the two parties negotiate short lived cease-fires, only to have a stray rock spark the violence once more.

Some 30 people have died, and about 1,950 have been injured in the clashes, the Health Ministry said Tuesday.

After the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, military leaders took control with the promise that eventually a civilian government would be elected and take over. Parliamentary elections are set to take place Monday.

But demonstrators say they are concerned the military, which would continue to be Egypt's top authority until a president is in place, wants to keep a grip on the country. Many also have voiced anger about a proposed constitutional principle that would shield the military's budget from scrutiny by civilian powers. They say they worry the military would become a state within a state.

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August 25th, 2011
08:24 AM ET

Nations hold Libya talks in Turkey

Diplomats from 29 countries are attending a meeting of the Libyan Contact Group, a coalition of Arab and European governments as well as the United States and Turkey, in Istanbul.

Representatives from NATO, the African Union, United Nations, European Union, Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council and Libya's National Transitional Council - the rebel Libyan government - are also present.

The meeting began Thursday with opening remarks from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Turkey is one of the co-chairs of the Libya Contact Group.

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July 29th, 2011
11:27 AM ET

Mystery surrounds rebel leader's killing in Libya

Uncertainty swirled across war-torn Libya Friday after the mysterious death of that country's top rebel commander, with some asking whether his death is a troubling harbinger for the opposition movement.

Gen. Abdul Fattah Younis was killed after the main rebel organization in Libya, the Transitional National Council, sought to question him about military matters and allegations that he or those close to him had ongoing ties to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Younis' supporters said.

Younis was killed along with a colonel and a lieutenant colonel, the Transitional National Council said in a prepared statement.

There are more questions than answers about the deaths, which have stirred speculation about whether they would cause a rift among opposition leaders.

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Trial of U.S. hikers in Iran delayed again
Shane Bauer (left) and Josh Fattal have been detained in Iran since their arrest during a 2009 hiking trip near the Iranian border.
May 11th, 2011
09:54 AM ET

Trial of U.S. hikers in Iran delayed again

The scheduled trial of two Americans accused of espionage in Iran was delayed again Wednesday after the suspects were not brought from prison to the courthouse, a Swiss diplomat and their defense attorney told CNN.

"I have been able to verify that the session has actually been postponed due to the absence of the two prisoners. They were not brought in from prison," said an official with the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, who, according to protocol, asked not to be identified. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were set to stand trial on Wednesday. The two were charged with espionage after being arrested nearly 22 months ago while hiking along an unmarked border between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. The two Americans were expected to appear in Branch 15 of Tehran's Revolutionary court Wednesday morning.

"There were no reasons given why they were not brought in," the diplomat said. Iranian authorities once again barred Swiss diplomats from monitoring the proceedings.

"Shane and Josh were not brought up from the jail to the courtroom today," said defense attorney Masoud Shafii. He said he also does not know the reason for the postponement, but does not believe it was because a third hiker released on bail, Sarah Shourd, did not return to Iran for proceedings.

The families of Bauer and Fattal said in a statement they also do not know why the two were not brought to court, "but we are even more deeply concerned for their health and welfare as a result of their non-appearance.

"Their unexplained absence from the hearing, and the fact that their lawyer, Mr. Masoud Shafii, continues to be denied access to Shane and Josh, is extremely troubling," the statement said.

The last time Fattal and Bauer appeared in court, Swiss diplomats and the prisoners' defense attorney also were not allowed into the courtroom. The hikers' trial began in February, but was delayed until Wednesday.

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Reporter overlooking Cairo melee: Sounds 'like a castle siege'
February 2nd, 2011
07:05 PM ET

Reporter overlooking Cairo melee: Sounds 'like a castle siege'

Editor's note: CNN reporter Ivan Watson filed the following observations Wednesday evening from a balcony overlooking Cairo's Tahrir Square, where people protesting against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak clashed with his supporters.

Outside our window, it sounds like a castle siege during medieval times: thousands of voices and the repetitive clank of militants digging up stones and pillaging construction material for protective barricades.

This afternoon, a man in a gray shirt stood in the middle of the street in Tahrir, speaking aloud and holding his hand over his heart - apparently overwhelmed by the violence.

Some of the many bleeding men we've seen carried back from the front lines are placed on the pavement around what was a traffic cop's station under our window. Women give them water and use cotton to swab the blood.

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