SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3 “I so appreciate your Pulitzer-class reporting on the Kobane and Syrian conflicts and look forward to your updates. This is so much better than the superficial coverage that the major TV networks are providing.” JM.

SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

ROJAVA UPDATE 244: LATEST CEASEFIRE STRUGGLES TO HOLD WHILE TURKS DO EVERYTHING TO ALIENATE KURDS

TIMELINE – 13th SEPTEMBER 2016 13.50 GMT:

Today, Tuesday, is the second day of a US/Russia sponsored ceasefire deal in Syria and so far at the time of writing outbreaks of fighting have been minor since the start of the truce at sunset on Monday, the beginning of Eid the celebration at the end of Ramadan.

However, that did not stop the Assad regime and their Russian allies pounding Opposition positions across Syria on Saturday. 57 died in Idlib province as Assad’s planes hit a market place, 56 died in Aleppo province in airstrikes on 3 locations, 16 in Hama province and another 15 in Daraa province.

Hundreds were wounded in the explosions, which included cluster bombs, and the dead victims included 32 children and 24 women.

The attacks in Idlib province included one on Saraqeb by Russian aircraft on the headquarters of the White Helmets civilian rescue team.Video footage shortly after the attack, here:

Al Jazeera has further widespread video coverage of the attacks, here:

Under the terms of the US/Russian ceasefire deal, if the truce holds for at least 7 days, the US and Russia will share intelligence on where and when to attack the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly the Al Nusra Front and aligned to Al Qaeda).

In theory this will avoid attacks on the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other “moderate” Opposition groups, though in reality many of them work closely with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and other Islamic groups in their attacks on the Assad regime.

The Opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) and the Kurdish YPG have both cautiously welcomed the ceasefire but deep suspicions remain that the Assad regime will take advantage of the situation.

Also under the terms of the ceasefire, the UN is to be allowed to transport emergency aid supplies into Opposition-held eastern Aleppo city, but this is yet to commence.

Meanwhile, President Assad, existing in his own world of delusion, pointedly attended prayers to celebrate Eid in a mosque in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, recently regained from Opposition fighters after 4 years of bombardment and siege.

Speaking to national television from the mosque, with a backdrop of members of his government and senior Baath Party officials, he said that the Syrian government would “retake every inch of Syria from the terrorists”.

Within Rojava itself, Turkish shelling last Wednesday on the Kurdish Afrin Canton village of Sorke near the Syria/Turkey border killed 5 members of the Kurdish YPG and one member of the Asayish (Kurdish police security). 10 civilians were also wounded in the attack and Turkish tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles continue to mass just across the Afrin border.

Another Turkish/Islamist opposition shell barrage hit the Efrin Canton town of Cindirisê on Sunday and 2 Katushya rockets have landed since.

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Shell Damage at Cindirise, Afrin Canton

Interestingly, a new group claiming to represent Syrians of many political persuasions and calling itself the Syrian National Resistance, launched at a press conference last week in Tel Rifaat. The group’s aims are apparently to resolve disputes between “the different Syrian components” and to “confront the Turkish occupation”. You can read more, HERE:

On Thursday of last week Rojavan security forces seized a fuel truck entering Efrin Canton from the south containing large amounts of hidden ammunition, origin and destination unknown.

Last Sunday IS attempted another attack on the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) HQ in Hasakah province, exploding a vehicle bomb at a security checkpoint near Shaddadi.

3 SDF fighters were killed and 4 injured in the attack and fighting occurred in the village suburbs of Shaddadi of Tal Shaer, Fadghami, Kashkash and Ziyanat throughout Sunday evening.

Eventually defeated, 12 x IS fighters died in the attack and 4 were apprehended. The SDF received significant Coalition air support.

US General Command (Centcom) reports 16 strikes in Syria on Sunday, 9 of them near Al Shaddadi hitting 8 x IS tactical units and destroying 14 fighting positions, 2 bulldozers, a command and control node, another vehicle bomb, plus a second vehicle and a vehicle bomb making facility.

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IS Tankers Destroyed by Coalition Airstrikes

Near Raqqah, 6 strikes destroyed 10 x IS supply routes, 3 oil pump jacks, plus other drilling equipment and near Deir Ez Zour, one further strike destroyed 2 x IS oil tractor trailers.

Coalition strikes also killed it seems a former senior Al Nusra Front commander, Abu Omar Sarakeb, this last week in Kafr Naha, west of Aleppo city, where he was meeting with other top officials, some of whom were also killed or injured.

In Manbij, international special forces have apparently been advising the SDF on the dismantling of explosive devices still lodged in buildings in the town, while reports from Al Bab, now almost surrounded by SDF and Turkish/Opposition Islamic forces, suggest that IS have largely abandoned their key buildings there.

Local reports last Wednesday say that a convoy of IS military vehicles containing weapon and fighters and their families, left Al Bab and drove to Khafsa in the east.

In Aleppo city, Opposition Islamist brigades have continued to shell the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsoud, stupidly managing to kill a fellow Arab from Deir Ez Zour who was the last surgeon in the neighbourhood.

The BBC is carrying video footage of children celebrating Eid on Monday by riding on a barrel bomb!

Meanwhile over in Iran, Kudish Peshmerga there are reported on Sunday to be in heavy clashes with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Kurdish region there, HERE:

Back in Syria, the Turkish Army now claims to be in control of 845 square kilometres of Syrian territory and to have destroyed “516 ISIS positions within 20 days”.

Strangely, the “vanishing IS” phenomenon in Jarablous, which seems to have been taken without bloodshed, appears to have been repeated in Al-Rae just north of Aleppo city.

After a couple of hours of sporadic clashes, Turkey announced that the “terrorists” “had been vanquished”.

Local media activist, Sadoun Hamdan said that this does raise questions. “Whereas the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by coalition airstrikes, needed more than two months to liberate Manbij from ISIS. This has raised suspicions over what exactly Turkey means by ‘terrorists’.”

A clue may come from the content of this interesting interview in the Independent with a former IS member and long time supporter and veteran fighter, 30 year old “Faraj”. If correct, then the long-term fight against IS has many deadly years to go.

Turkey continues to alienate its Kurdish population in another banal move, this time removing up to 28 of the democratically elected Kurdish mayors and imposing “Trustee” members of the Turkish ruling party to administer the Kurdish towns and cities. The militant Kurdish organisation, the PKK, has vowed to assassinate them.

In an equally banal move the Turkish Government suspended more than 11,000 Kurdish teachers in south-east Turkey on Thursday over alleged links with the PKK. Will President Erdogan ever learn, or will civil war be his downfall?

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Turks Remove Kurdish Signs From Town Admin Buildings

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ROJAVA UPDATE 243: AS SUSPECTED, TURKEY MORE INTERESTED IN ATTACKING KURDS THAN ISLAMIC STATE – US WRONG-FOOTED AGAIN:

TIMELINE – 30th AUGUST 2016 13.18 GMT:

It has become increasingly clear over the last few days that, as many suspected, the Turkish invasion of northern Syria has little to do with “driving out the Islamic State” (IS) and everything to do with attacking the Kurds and keeping them away from the Turkish border.

Firstly, the Turkish supported “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) attack on the IS-held town of Jarablous was over in hours with the Islamic State fighters dissolving into the countryside and the local population disappearing completely.

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Turkish Tanks Enter Syria

The streets of the town appeared to be empty as as the “FSA”, who seem to be largely Islamist groups supported by Turkey took over and there was no sign of “joyous local welcoming committees for the liberators”.

At dawn on Sunday, Turkish jets bombed targets south of Jarablous held by the Kurdish-supported Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) and pounded them with artillery shells.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights says that 20 civilians died in Turkish airstrikes on the village of Jub Al-Kousa and a further 15 were killed in an air raid targeting a farm near the village of Al-Amarnah which the SDF had recently captured.

Another 59 civilians were reported injured. The Turkish military said it had killed “25 Kurdish terrorists”.

Although led and trained by the Kurds, the SDF is an alliance of Arabic, Assyrian and Turkmen units as well and in turn has been supported in their very effective campaign against the Islamic State by the US-led air Coalition.

The Turkish move against the SDF fighters appears to have caught the US off-guard. Although, the US was aware of the planned attack on Jarablous, it was still considering a Turkish request for involvement of US special forces and had asked for more information about the operation.

Sunday’s moves against the Kurds and the SDF by Turkey appear to have made unilaterally, leading to the US saying yesterday that fighting between its 2 allies, Turkey and the Kurds, is “unacceptable” and a “source of deep concern” and urging both sides to concentrate on fighting the Islamic State.syria-and-iraq-news

The United State’s anti-IS coalition envoy, Brett McGurk, said on Twitter that the US “Was not involved in these activities, they were not coordinated with US forces and we do not support them”.

Ash Carter, the US Defence Secretary, said that the YPG, the Kurdish element of the SDF, “were and will” move to the eastern side of the Euphrates River and urged Turkey to “stay focused” on the fight to destroy IS instead.

The YPG say that they have largely removed their fighters “back to base” apart from de-mining teams who are still required in areas recently liberated from IS.

Since Sunday, the SDF, which had formed a Jarablous Military Council, has largely retreated back across the Sajur River, saying it had done so to “preserve the lives of civilians”.

Both Jaysh Thuwar, an Arabic unit within the SDF and a Turkman unit, also part of the Defence Force have said that they will not allow Turkish occupation of villages which the SDF has captured from the Islamic State, making the whole situation far more complex.

4 members of the SDF, possibly YPG, have been captured by the Turkish military, while the SDF claim they have destroyed at least 1 Turkish tank, killing the soldier inside at the time and possibly 2 more armoured vehicles.

Claimed video footage of destruction of Turkish tank, here:

The “FSA/Islamist” groups supported by Turkey have said they will retake Manbij from the SDF, but it was handed over to the Manbij Military Council, a largely Arabic unit, and a civilian council for administration, on August 15th.

Al Jazzeera has a video report, here:

However, latest reports today, Tuesday, suggest that the Turkish/FSA advance towards Manbij has stopped this morning, perhaps after US intervention. President Obama is due to meet President Erdogan of Turkey at a meeting of the G20 economic group in China next Sunday.

There have also been claims that the Turkish supported Islamist fighters have killed 5 civilians, including 3 children, in the village of Dendeniye not far from Manbij and that some of the victims appeared to have blistered skin which is characteristic of the use of chemical weapons.

The BBC has an overview of the situation, including video footage from an empty Jarablous (scroll to bottom of article).

The Turkish military has also targeted the YPG across the border to the east between Amuda and Qamishli, injuring one YPG fighter.

While Turkey’s aggression would seem to limit the Kurds’s operations against the Islamic State, it has not stopped the Kurdish YPG in Afrin Canton situated in the north-west of Aleppo province from continuing their assaults on IS.

The YPG have just seized 3 villages from the Islamic State, and fighting is taking place around Herbel and Um Hosh, putting the SDF just 20 kilometres from the IS-held town of Al-Bab. The problem is the Turkish supported FSA/Islamists may have the same destination in mind.

Fighting between the SDF and IS has also broken out south of Manbij near the village of Huthan which IS have attacked with a car bomb.

Elsewhere in Syria, the Syrian Opposition have, for the third time, taken the town of Halfaya in Hama province from Assad’s forces, but the local population are now fleeing as Russia wades in in support of Assad with a bombing campaign to dislodge the fighters.

Assad also regained the south-west Damascus suburb of Daraya on Friday after the residents and Opposition fighters still there gave in to 4 years of bombing and siege and agreed a truce.

Women and children were allowed out first to regime controlled territory, while 700 fighters will be allowed to leave with light weapons to Opposition territory in Idlib province.

Just how long is this dreadful war to go on?syria-and-iraq-news

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ROJAVA UPDATE 242: KURDS DRIVE ASSAD MILITARY FROM HASAKAH, WHILE TURKEY “CAPTURES” JARABLOUS THROUGH ISLAMIST PROXIES:

TIMELINE – 25th AUGUST 2016 12.08 GMT:

After months of skirmishes between the Kurdish Asayish (security police) and the Assad regime in Hasakah, a 7 day full-blown battle finally broke out between the 2 sides for the control of the city last week.

Despite 3 days of bombing by Assad’s air force, which stopped abruptly after the US warned Assad that its special forces advisers working with the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) in the city were at risk, the Asayish with the help of the Kurdish YPG/YPJ quickly increased their control of the city from around 75% to almost 95%.

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Residents Return to Hasakah After Declaration of Ceasefire

Faced with almost complete annihilation, the Syrian Government agreed to terms mentored by Russia and these were brought into effect at 2.00pm on Tuesday afternoon.

The YPG and Asayish have taken most of the Nashwa and Ghweiran districts and the University, the Post Office and Giweyran prison. Under the terms of the deal the Kurds will retain all their territorial gains and the Syrian Army and Assad’s militia, the National Defence Force (NDF), who have been the source of much of the trouble, will have to leave the city immediately and not return.

The small municipal area at the centre of Hasakah is now the only area held by Assad. Syrian civilian police will be allowed to patrol it. All other areas will be patrolled by the Asayish and the YPG. Assad’s forces will also be allowed to remain at their base at Kawkab near Hasakah.

Clearly a heavy defeat for the Assad regime, it was played down in Syrian state media. It begs the question of what happens next in Qamishli.

Video footage from the fighting in Hasakah can be seen, here:

And a report from Hasakah prison (Kurdish only), here:

Kurdish sources in the YPG/YPJ claim that they encountered Shia militia in the city fighting on behalf of Assad from Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan and recovered Hezbollah IDs from dead bodies.

As many as 40,000 civilians had, according to the UN, fled the city as fighting and bombing escalated, but some have since started to return after a ceasefire was declared.

In other events this week, Turkey made a show of bombing and shelling the Islamic State (IS) in Jarablous, their stronghold in northern Aleppo province, and evacuated the Turkish town of Karkamis on their side of the border after IS retaliated with mortars.

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Turkish Tanks Cross Syrian Border to “Drive Out Islamic State”

At 4.00am yesterday, Wednesday, the Turks launched a major operation on Jarablous with tanks and Turkish and US air support, crossing the Syrian border, quickly followed by around 1,500 Syrian Opposition fighters from Syria’s Idlib province who have been gathering in Gaziantep, Turkey over the last week. Aircraft from the US-led Coalition pounded IS pick-ups sent with reinforcements from Al-Bab.

Yesterday things moved quickly and by the end of Wednesday, the whole town was under Turkish/Syrian Opposition control, the Islamic State untypically appearing to have lamely yielded power without resistance. Some IS factions are reported to have changed sides joined and joined Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham, the former Al Qaeda affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front.

As well as abandoning Jarablous, IS also seem to have pulled back from north of the Sajur River and Sajur Lake, allowing the SDF to move into those districts. This morning, Thursday, this has brought the frontline between the Syrian Opposition and the Kurds to Amanah, where clashes are occurring between the 2 sides just 7 kilometres south of Jarablous.

This confrontation reflects statements from Turkey about the Jarablous operation which the Turks have called “Operation Euphrates Shield”. Both President Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the operation is directed both against IS and the Kurdish PYD (the YPG’s political arm) and that any Kurdish forces must move back east of the Euphrates.

In an apparent shift in US policy, US Vice-President Joe Biden flew to Ankara yesterday and in an attempt to improve a recent slump in US/Turkish relations, said Syrian Kurdish forces “must move back [east] across the Euphrates River.They cannot — will not — under any circumstance get American support if they do not keep that commitment.”

The PYD has made it clear that they have no intention of giving up ground taken west of the Euphrates river and is holding to its long term intention to link Afrin Canton in north-west Aleppo province with Kobane and Cizere Cantons to the east of the Euphrates river.

Local Arabic fighters who are loyal to the Jarablous Military Council and the SDF also say that they will not give away their city to Turkey and its “mercenaries”. They report that members of the Syrian Opposition Islamist groups shaved their beards prior to the attack on Jarablous pretending to be members of the Free Syria Army (FSA). ARA News has a report, here:

In a very obvious attack on Kurdish aspirations, on Monday a commander of the SDF, Abdulsettar Al-Cadiri, publicly announced the formation of a “Jarablous Military Council” to co-ordinate the re-taking of the town, in the same way as they did with Manbij and giving control to local fighters.

Within 3 hours Al-Cadiri had been assassinated with long-range sniper fire in the town of Sheykler. The Kurds say the killing was carried out by Turkish Intelligence and have since arrested 2 of their agents.

A further 10 Turkish tanks and armoured vehicles are reported to have crossed the Syrian border near Jarablous this morning, Thursday, but their intention is unknown.

Quite where all the IS fighters have gone, plus their families and supporters, is currently not clear.

How this will all pan out in the long term remains to be seen. The Syrian Government has issued a lame statement about Turkey “violating” its territory, but behind the scenes negotiations between the 2 countries via Iran have been reported this week.

Meanwhile, in recently captured Manbij, SDF fighters found an IS manufacturing unit making fake weapons which were placed in the countryside in an attempt to deceive Coalition jets.

South of Manbij the SDF have liberated 8 more villages formerly held by IS and killed 27 more IS Jihadists, as well as taken Ayn al-Bayda to the north, though in that location they are now under heavy Turkish shelling according to latest reports.

Lastly, Syria’s “White Helmets”, who have saved 60,000 lives from the results of bombing or explosions, and counting, have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Award. Please go HERE and add your signature – it helps to make the Nobel Committee aware of just how popular they are.

EDITOR: MY REPORTS  WILL BE MORE INTERMITTENT AND SHORTER FOR A WHILE OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, AS I HAVE TO ATTEND TO SOME IMPORTANT MATTERS IN MY LIFE, BUT I WILL ENDEAVOUR TO KEEP YOU UPDATED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

NEXT REPORT IN A FEW DAYS …..

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ROJAVA UPDATE 241: MANBIJ NOW FREE & UNDER SDF CONTROL AS LAST ISLAMIC STATE JIHADISTS ARE ALLOWED TO FLEE NORTHWARDS:

TIMELINE – 14th AUGUST 2016 13.35 GMT:

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YPJ Fighter Comforts Rescued Civilian in Manbij

In an abrupt victory, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took complete control of all of Manbij on Friday evening after the remaining Islamic State (IS) fighters fled north-eastwards towards Jarablous.

After freeing around 2,000 residents held by IS in the last few days in the Al Sarb district, SDF closed in on the neighbourhood on Friday afternoon and in an unpublicised deal the last remaining IS Jihadists, around 100, and their families were allowed to escape through a protected corridor out through the north of the city in a convoy of vehicles.

Although at first publicised as “human shields”, the people who left with the IS fighters are thought now to either be family members or IS sympathisers afraid of reprisals if they stayed, around 600 people in all.

The escaping IS Jihadists and those accompanying them went to the town of Al Ghandarah, which is now under attack from the SDF.syria-and-iraq-news

In Manbij itself, other residents came out on the streets to thank the SDF and joyously celebrate their liberation from the Islamic State, some men cutting their beards with scissors and women burning the black robes they had been forced to wear.

However, SDF fighters are carefully scouring the city for hidden IS fighter cells remaining and examining streets, house by house for booby-traps and IED’s. One SDF fighter was killed when he picked up a shoe on top of a copy of the Koran which was connected to an explosive device.

Adnan Abu Amjad, the SDF commander in the city said that there was no formal deal to allow IS to leave but that they permitted it to happen in order to save civilian lives. He also thanked the Coalition for their part in helping to bring about the liberation of the city, here:

The Coalition said in a statement that it had made 680 air strikes destroying more than 600 ISIL fighting positions and 150 ISIL vehicles and heavy weapons during the Manbij campaign.

Channel 4 carries video shot after the liberation was complete, here:

The 73 day campaign to take Manbij did not come without a heavy cost. An estimated 1,744 died in the fighting, including 438 civilians of which 105 were children and 55 women.

299 members of the SDF are thought to have been killed in the campaign and 1,019 members of the Islamic State, 230 of them in a failed counter-attack in the last few days.

More footage from the city can be seen (English sub-titles) here:

And freshly escaped residents from IS-held territory on Friday, crying with relief, here:

A civilian City Council has already been organised for Manbij and it is hoped that this will take over almost immediately while the SDF continue to provide protection from IS attacks. Shops in Manbij began to reopen almost as soon as IS retreated on Friday evening at around 17.00 hours.

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YPJ Fighter Leads Civilians to Safety in Manbij

There were celebrations over the victory in Afrin city, Kobane, Qamisli and Hasakah over the weekend.

Where next for the SDF is probably the new question? Speculation vies between an attack on Al Bab to the west, Jarablous to the north-east or one on the IS Syrian capital of Raqqah.

Interestingly, the pro-Erdogan press in Turkey and the Assad regime media, both mentioned that IS had released hostages, but put out nothing about the role of the SDF in freeing the city or rescuing civilians.

Last map update on Manbij by @ChuckPfarrer on Friday, just before IS abandoned their last positions in the city, here:syria-and-iraq-news

EDITOR: MY REPORTS  WILL BE MORE INTERMITTENT AND SHORTER FOR A WHILE OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, AS I HAVE TO ATTEND TO SOME IMPORTANT MATTERS IN MY LIFE, BUT I WILL ENDEAVOUR TO KEEP YOU UPDATED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

NEXT REPORT IN A FEW DAYS …..

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ROJAVA UPDATE 240: ISLAMIC STATE, MAINLY SNIPERS, REDUCED TO SMALL CLUSTER OF STREETS IN CENTRE OF MANBIJ – FALL OF CITY NEAR:

TIMELINE – 10th AUGUST 2016 17.25 GMT – Updated 18.15 GMT:

As predicted in the previous report, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) managed to divide Islamic State (IS) positions across the centre of Manbij and split IS into 2 remaining surrounded pockets in the centre and the east of the city.

In the last few days the eastern pocket has been entirely eliminated with the SDF capturing the Manbij market area, including the headquarters of the Hisba, IS morality police, the reserve bakery and the industrial centre. Tatberat Prison in the south-west has also completely fallen to SDF control.

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Manbij Military Council (SDF) Raise Their Flag on Ring Road in Eastern Manbij

IS snipers are still reported in the area of the Agricultural School and the city centre. On Monday the SDF liberated the Teba neighbourhood and the central ring road. SDF fighters can seen in liberated areas near the inner ring road, here:

Latest estimates suggest that the SDF now control 90% of the city and that there are only around 100 x IS fighters, mainly snipers, and their families left in the central district but they are holding 1 – 2,000 civilians as hostages.

For the third time, the SDF on Monday offered to let the IS Jihadists leave the city unharmed if they allowed civilians to go free but so far no response, as with previous offers. Most of the civilian hostages come from the Al- Sarb district, just south of the centre and reports say they have been moved further north.

If the IS Jihadists make a break for it, it is likely to be northwards towards Jarablous. The SDF meanwhile have continued to rescue thousands of civilians, though many have been injured by IS mines and IEDs as they escaped. Where possible the SDF destroy the mines with controlled explosions.

On Monday IS attempted a three-pronged counter-attack from the north, south and west but ended up with 27 dead, although losses were also reported on the SDF side.

Yesterday, Tuesday, IS launched another counter-attack on SDF positions to the north and north-east of Manbij using at least 2 car bombs but the SDF held their ground and more than 40 x IS bodies were retrieved at the end of the fighting.

Video report from Wladimir van Wilgenburg of ARA News on Monday from inside Manbij; here:

Civilians, (one family complete with parrot!), can be seen escaping IS-held areas, here:

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Coalition air strikes against IS continue, 14 in Syria yesterday, Tuesday, and 11 in Iraq. Near Manbij 11 strikes struck 11 separate IS tactical units and destroyed 5 x IS fighting positions and 3 x IS vehicles.

The other strikes in Syria were near Deir Ez Zour and Abu Kamal hitting a total of 4 crude oil collection points and one strike near Ain Issa destroying an IS fighting position.

Increasingly it looks as though the siege of Manbij could be over within the next few days.

The Coalition has just released video footage of the destruction of an IS fighting position in the centre of Manbij on the 19th July, here:

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Recent Manbij situation update map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, here:syria-and-iraq-news

Problems for displaced people and others continue in other parts of Rojava. In some districts of Hasakah city such as Nashwa there is a water shortage and with temperatures sometimes as high as 40C, people have to walk long distances to get water to wash and drink.

Recent reports from Hasakah say that tension is high again between the YPG and the Assad regime’s militia after a number of Kurds were said to have been kidnapped.

Meetings have also been held in Al-Hawl in southern Hasakah province to discuss with Arabic tribal leaders the merits of a social contract to bind the people of northern Syria into a democratic multi-ethnic and secular federal system.

Meanwhile, in Aleppo heavy fighting continues in and around the city. The Assad regime has blocked the Syrian Opposition’s supply route into eastern Aleppo from the north-west along Castello Road and the Opposition Islamist groups continue to blame the Kurds in their adjacent district of Sheikh Maqsoud, still shelling them when they can.

However, the Syrian Opposition, led by the rebranded Al Nusra Front under the name Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, broke the week old siege of eastern Aleppo by breaking through regime lines in the south-west of Aleppo last weekend after sending reinforcements of around 3,000 men from Idlib. So far they have created and held a 2 kilometre strip into the eastern Opposition-held districts, despite massive regime and Russian bombing.

You can watch a video report from Al Jazeera.

The Opposition fighters took control of a bakery, the Ramouseh garages and industrial area and a regime military school, capturing significant pieces of hardware. The final push came from fighters already in eastern Aleppo.

Some of the fighting in the south-west can be seen, here:

The Assad regime and their allies Hezbollah are said to have taken heavy losses, 72 members of the Syrian Army killed including 5 generals, a colonel, 4 majors, 4 captains, and 5 lieutenants. Hezbollah are said to have lost another 11 men.

The Opposition has now vowed to “take the rest of Aleppo”, but the Assad regime is reported to be sending thousands of reinforcements also and Hezbollah its crack Radwan special operations forces. Watch this space for further developments.

EDITOR: MY REPORTS  WILL BE MORE INTERMITTENT AND SHORTER FOR A WHILE OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, AS I HAVE TO ATTEND TO SOME IMPORTANT MATTERS IN MY LIFE, BUT I WILL ENDEAVOUR TO KEEP YOU UPDATED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

NEXT REPORT IN A FEW DAYS …..

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ROJAVA UPDATE 239: SDF ADVANCING INTO MANBIJ ON 3 FRONTS AND REMAINING ISLAMIC STATE FIGHTERS CONCENTRATED IN THE CITY CENTRE:

TIMELINE – 2nd AUGUST 2016 13.20 GMT:

Over the last week, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) have made significant advances into Manbij, pushing the Islamic State (IS) fighters into last stand positions in the old part of the city and in the north-east.

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SDF Fighters Advance in Manbij

SDF now control all of the west of Manbij except Tetbekat Prison which is still held by IS.

In the south-eastern part of Manbij SDF have captured the whole of the Al-Kajli neighbourhood and footage of the liberated area can be seen, here:

Latest reports also suggest the SDF liberated the Al-Naimi district yesterday, Monday, immediately to the north of Al-Kajli.

Coming from the northern side, SDF have been fighting hard to capture the Jazeera Road and roundabout to the north of Al-Naimi. Linking the 2 sides of the city would completely isolate those Jihadists remaining in the eastern side of the city where SDF have also advanced, capturing a school, a clinic and another roundabout in recent days.

SDF advances have been supported by Coalition airstrikes hitting a mechanised bakery held by IS in the south-west, IS fighter concentrations in the south-east and an attempted IS counter-attack near a gas station on the M4 Highway to the south of Manbij.

The Military Council of Manbij, fighting as part of the SDF, yesterday also liberated the village of Jib Nashama to the south of Manbij city near Im Rous, footage of SDF vehicle and troop movements, here:

Since last week around 6,000 civilians have escaped from the city. Reports today, Tuesday, that “40-50,000 civilians have now been freed and the SDF now controls 80% of the city” do not as yet square with published maps and may well be over-optimistic at this stage, though the capture of the entire city should not take too much longer.

Faruk al-Mashi, the co-chair of the newly appointed Manbij City Council, currently based in Abu Qalqal in the Manbij countryside, called on international assistance to support the swelling numbers of displaced civilians escaping Manbij city. Although, they were very grateful for limited food and medical supplies sent from Kobane, it was not enough for sustained relief. Injured civilians from Manbij are also being treated in Kobane city.

Macer Gifford, the British YPG volunteer who is now back in Syria organising medical support and training for the YPG, has made a similar call for international help and says that IS are deliberately clustering civilians in the centre of the city to prevent SDF and Coalition attacks.  You can hear more, here:

SDF troops also arrested a young teenage boy fighting for IS and have said that he will be rehabilitated and given a better future.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports that on July 31st the Coalition made 10 strikes in Syria and 10 in Iraq.

In Syria 8 separate strikes hit 8 x IS tactical units and destroyed 5 x IS fighting positions, an IS vehicle and IS engineering equipment. 2 further strikes near Mar’a hit 2 tactical units and destroyed 4 x IS fighting positions.

Yesterday, Monday, on August 1st, the Coalition made 7 airstrikes in both Syria and Iraq, hitting 6 separate IS tactical units in Manbij and destroying a further 6 x IS fighting positions there.

Centcom has also released aerial video footage form July 11th when they attacked 2 x IS fighting positions and destroyed a weapons store at the same time, here:

Commenting on requests from the Syrian Opposition to stop Coalition air attacks on Manbij after reports of civilian casualties, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said while continuing to investigate any reports of such incidents, they would do their best as always to avoid them and reiterated that air support for the SDF would continue.

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Manbij Situation Map 02.08.16 – Courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer

Over in Aleppo, the Opposition Islamist brigades continue to bombard the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsoud, 40 shells recently demolishing 20 Kurdish houses.

There have also been clashes between the YPG in Aleppo, defending Sheikh Maqsoud, and the Assad regime which is now in control of Castello Road.  The Assad Government has asked the YPG to give up territory in the Bani Zaid and Ashrafiye districts which it has captured from the Opposition Islamist brigades, but they have flatly refused leading to heightened tension between the 2 sides.

Having lost control of the Castello Road entrance into eastern Aleppo to Assad’s Army, the Syrian Opposition has made some significant progress on the south-western side of Aleppo in the last few days, coming within 1 kilometre of breaking the regime’s supply route into western Aleppo and linking again with Opposition eastern Aleppo, despite heavy Russian and regime bombing.

Following continued attacks by the Opposition Islamist Groups on villages in Afrin Canton, the YPG launched an attack at the end of last week on an HQ of the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement in the countryside of Idlib province. 8 Islamists were killed and 13 were wounded.  This follows the death and injury of 30 Kurds in Afrin Canton villages following Islamist mortar attacks last Tuesday.

Last Wednesday an IS truck bomb in Quamishli killed 50, mainly civilians, in a busy residential area of the city.  The bomb exploded near the HQ of the Asayish ( Kurdish Police Security), though most of the Asayish were away from the area at the time attending a meeting.

The aftermath of the massive blast can be seen, here:

An IS motorcycle bomb also hit SDF-held Shaddadi yesterday, Monday, killing 4 civilians and injuring 9 more.  The bomber detonated the bomb outside an Internet café.

The Syrian Opposition is reported to have shot down a Russian helicopter in the northern part of Idlib province yesterday, Monday, near Saraqib killing all 5 of the Russian crew onboard. This is the most serious loss to the Russian’s so far in the Syrian civil war.

Lastly, In what is seen as an attempt to avoid US and Russian airstrikes, Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Al Nusra Front, has announced that it is breaking away from Al Qaeda and has renamed itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. This is very unlikely to fool anybody and no significant change in their extreme Islamist philosophy is expected.

syria-and-iraq-news

Teenage IS Fighter Captured in Manbij by SDF

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BRIEF ROJAVA UPDATE 238: SDF NOW IN CONTROL OF MOST OF WESTERN MANBIJ AND BREAKING INTO CITY CENTRE.

TIMELINE – 22nd JULY 2016 9.05 GMT:

The Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) has now taken control of 90% of western Manbij including the National Hospital, captured earlier this week, which was being used by the Islamic State (IS) as a command post and logistics centre.

Heavy fighting is still going on around pockets of resistance, in particular at Tetbekat Prison where IS are still holding out.

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A SDF Fighter in Southern Manbij.

Currently SDF are moving into the centre of the city and attacking the main Post Office and a cultural Centre and the whole of Al-Hazawani district is now under SDF control.

Yesterday, Thursday, the SDF gave IS 48 hours to leave Manbij entirely to avoid further civilian bloodshed and the complete destruction of the city. Approximately 25,000 civilians are still thought to be trapped in Manbij. The IS fighters would be allowed to leave the city unmolested with light weapons if they agree to the SDF demands.

6 SDF were reported killed by IS suicide attacks on the Manbij frontlines on Wednesday, but IS losses are far higher.

The SDF also captured 3 x IS men dressed as women who were trying to escape, here:

It has been claimed that Coalition airstrikes near Manbij killed and injured as many as 160 people on Monday and early on Tuesday, when jets struck a school housing displaced Syrians from neighbouring villages. US Central Command is investigating.

There are so many dead bodies in the centre of Manbij, mainly dead IS Jihadists, that no-one has got time to bury them in parks and many remain on the streets decaying in the heat.

On the northern and southern fronts, progress is slow, but the SDF are holding their ground.

IS launched counter-attacks from the Sajur River area to the north of the city last weekend, but it resulted in the death of 111 x IS Jihadists and the capture of good stocks of weapons and ammunition by the SDF.

Another 12 x IS fighters have been killed this morning, Friday, on the south side of the city as the SDF break into the Al-Banawi district just to the east of Al-Hazwani.

The BBC has an exclusive report from inside Manbij, and an earlier report from a captured IS building formally used as a prison, HERE:

syria-and-iraq-newsManbij Situation Map 21.07.16 Courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer

EDITOR: MY REPORTS  WILL BE MORE INTERMITTENT AND SHORTER FOR A WHILE OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, AS I HAVE TO ATTEND TO SOME IMPORTANT MATTERS IN MY LIFE, BUT I WILL ENDEAVOUR TO KEEP YOU UPDATED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

NEXT REPORT IN A FEW DAYS …..

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ROJAVA UPDATE 237: SDF KILL ANOTHER 40 ISLAMIC STATE JIHADISTS AS THEY TAKE ROUNDABOUTS AND KEY BUILDINGS IN MANBIJ:

TIMELINE – 16th JULY 2016 13.33 GMT:

In fighting in Manbij, the Syria Democratic Force (SDF) continue to make progress, capturing the Bahrat roundabout earlier in the week, the Al-Sabe roundabout more recently and almost all of the Shariat district in the west of the city.

The SDF also took control of 2 Sharia schools in the Shariat district on Monday, where young boys were believed to have been trained in extreme beliefs and as potential Jihadist fighters.

Video footage shows the captured area, here:

Also in the Shariat area, the SDF destroyed a  building used to make explosives and found and destroyed an incomplete tunnel system that the Islamic State (IS) were using to come and go into the area, here:

Heavy fighting is now reported around the Della roundabout to the north-west of Manbij and the SDF are attacking the National Hospital from both the west and the east and may by now have taken it. In addition, Coalition aircraft have destroyed a number of east-west bridges in the city, impeding IS reinforcements.

15 x IS Jihadists were killed in clashes near the National Hospital on Wednesday and another 25 in the remaining part of Hazawani neighbourhood still held by IS.

syria-and-iraq-news

More IS Weapons and Ammunition Recovered by SDF

2 journalists, Kendal Judi  an ANHA reporter, and Mustafa Muhammad a Ronahi TV reporter were wounded Wednesday in a mine explosion as they tried to report on the liberation by the SDF of Saba’ Bahrat Square.

2 x IS truck bombs sent against SDF units fighting near the National Hospital were destroyed before impact.

By Tuesday this week in the south of Manbij, IS had been forced out of the southern end of the Al-Adiyat neighbourhood.

To the north of city clashes broke out again on Tuesday near Zangol, 3 kilometres north-west of Dadat, one IS fighter killed.

As well as the areas detailed above, the SDF are reported to have reached the Industrial Institute and Plantation Park, while heavy clashes are still reported around a cement facility to the south-east of Manbij.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 11 airstrikes in Syria on Thursday and 7 in Iraq. The Syrian strikes hit 6 separate IS tactical units, destroyed 18 x IS fighting positions and damaged another IS-used bridge.

Another 1,300 civilians are reported to have safely left Manbij, but those reaching Afrin city are continuing to express concern for an estimated 1,200 people, mainly Kurds, who were arrested by IS and are still missing.

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Manbij Situation Map 15.07.16

In Rojava, reports from Ain Issa say that an IS unit made an attack at 5.00am this morning, Saturday, on the villages of Al-Qaderya and Kardoshan to the south of the town. So far the attack has been repelled, but clashes are ongoing.

In Hasakah a fire broke out on Thursday night after 12.00am in a cotton factory in Sports City, an area controlled by Assad regime forces. The fire was still burning throughout Friday and the cause is currently unknown.

The UN entered Sheikh Maqsoud, the Kurdish district of Aleppo, for the third time on Friday with a 7 truck delivery of food items, including sugar, rice, vegetable oil and baby food.

Things got interesting in Turkey last night, Friday, when a section of the Army attempted a military coup to overthrow President Erdogan who was holidaying on the coast near Marmaris.

Tanks appeared on the streets and bridges of Ankara and Istanbul and the Presidential Palace, the HQ of the Intelligence Service and Parliament were bombed. 161 civilians were reported killed and 1,440 injured.

However, by early this morning, Saturday, the coup appeared to have failed, with 16 of the army coup plotters killed and 2,839, including high-ranking officers, in custody. Erdogan appeared on TV via his mobile phone to denounce the coup and to call his supporters to the streets.

All the opposition parties, including the Kurdish HDP, said they opposed the coup and called for adherence to democracy. Nevertheless, the events will deliver the shock to Erdogan that his autocratic ways have provoked.

syria-and-iraq-news

Erdogan Supporters Come Out to Oppose Attempted Army Coup in Turkey

IS, true to form, have executed and crucified the body of an Assad regime pilot whose plane crashed after taking off from an airfield in Hama province last Thursday. The plane crashed near Mount Tharda in Deir Ez-Zour province, reportedly from a technical fault.

Over in Iraq, the Iraqi Army said that it had killed more than 90 x IS Jihadists in an operation in Anbar province. In particular, with the help of Coalition and Iraqi air support, they managed to kill a leading IS commander and 11 of his followers in a strike on their headquarters in the Qayyarah district of the town of Marir.

EDITOR: Lastly, just after I returned from the south of France myself on Thursday, news broke of the horrific events in Nice when a man of Tunisian origin drove a truck into the crowds out on the seafront for the Bastille Day celebrations, killing 84, including 10 children, and injuring another 202, 52 of them critically, 25 of them left on life support. 10 of the dead were Moslems.

IS have claimed that “one of their supporters” carried out the attack, but this indiscriminate carnage has nothing to do with the Islamic State or religion or politics – it is merely sick individuals who are so full of anger and hatred over the mess of their personal lives that such attacks and the “approval” of IS, gives them a kind of “legitimacy” to express how they feel. Such sick, angry individuals is what makes up the Islamic State – and it is doomed to failure because of that.

syria-and-iraq-news

Hundreds of Tributes Left for Those Killed in Nice – RIP

EDITOR: MY REPORTS MAY BE MORE INTERMITTENT FOR A WHILE OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, AS I HAVE TO ATTEND TO SOME IMPORTANT MATTERS IN MY LIFE, BUT I WILL ENDEAVOUR TO KEEP YOU UPDATED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

NEXT REPORT SHORTLY…..

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ROJAVA UPDATE 236: ISLAMIC STATE COMMANDERS WIPED OUT AS SDF REACH NATIONAL HOSPITAL AND KEY ROUNDABOUT:

TIMELINE – 11th JULY 2016 14.45 GMT:

Continued heavy fighting is reported in Manbij as the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) push into Manbij in the west, north and south-west.

In the western districts of the city, the SDF reached the National Hospital on Saturday and battles are ongoing around the hospital and the Bahrat roundabout to free the Sab’ Bahrat district.

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SDF Fighters Near the National Hospital in Western Manbij

Now in its 41st day the clashes with the Islamic State (IS) are heavy going, but gradually their forces and command structure are being destroyed.

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Close-up of Western Manbij

In the southern Hazawani neighbourhood, now mainly under SDF control, the fighters reached an automated bakery and killed an IS commander, Safe Yahya Rajab, who was described as a “leading IS security official”.

In fighting near the National Hospital, the IS commander of the western Manbij sector, Abu Suheyl Marawi, was also said to have been killed yesterday, Sunday.

Another prominent IS Jihadi, described as an “emir”, Abu Khalid Al-Tunisi, was killed by an SDF shell while travelling in his car through Manbij. 4 x IS fighters accompanying him were also wiped out.

In the Hazawani district, 26 x IS fighters were said to have been killed in clashes between the 2 sides, 12 of them as they tried to escape in a transport vehicle.

This video footage from last Friday shows ongoing exchanges of fire in the Hazawani neighbourhood, here:

On the southern side of the city, the SDF liberated the Adiyat School and while suffering from continued Coalition airstrikes IS tried to cover their activities by setting fires and producing vast clouds of smoke, here:

SDF attacks from the south are also shown, (Arabic only) here:

North of Manbij, IS tried another attack on SDF liberated villages west of Dadat along the frontline formed by the Sajur River but were repelled. In the clash an IS vehicle fitted with a 23mm heavy machine gun was destroyed, plus another cannon, the occupants of the vehicle fleeing.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 12 strikes in Syria on Sunday and 14 in Iraq. Near and on Manbij, 10 strikes hit 8 separate IS tactical units and destroyed 9 x IS fighting positions, an IS used bridge, an IS HQ and an IS artillery piece.

Near Abu Kamal one strike destroyed 5 IS oil well heads and another near Mar’a produced inconclusive results.

syria-and-iraq-news

Manbij Situation Update 10.07.16 – Courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer on Twitter

Elsewhere in Rojava, the YPG has sent reinforcements of 100 fighters, 2 tanks, 6 military and vehicles and artillery to deal with persistent IS attacks near Ain Issa in Raqqah province.

In Afrin Canton they have taken in a further 1,000 people of all ethnic and religious groups fleeing from the latest fighting in Aleppo province.

Also in north-west Aleppo province today, Monday, Opposition fighters have shelled YPG-held Tel Rifat, just as the YPG were going to allow local people to return to their homes.

EDITOR: MY REPORTS MAY BE MORE INTERMITTENT FOR A WHILE OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, AS I HAVE TO ATTEND TO SOME IMPORTANT MATTERS IN MY LIFE, BUT I WILL ENDEAVOUR TO KEEP YOU UPDATED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

NEXT REPORT ON FRIDAY 16th JULY.

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