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 213: ISLAMIST OPPOSITION BRIGADES HUMILIATED IN ATTACK ON KURDS, BUT SDF CROSS LINE IN DISPLAY OF DEAD BODIES:

TIMELINE – 29th APRIL 2016 14.25 GMT:

In a massive battle that started Wednesday and ran into Thursday, Islamist Opposition brigades and their allies attempted to drive the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) out of Tell Rif’at and Ain Daqna near Kurdish Afrin Canton in north-west Aleppo province.

Reports say that as many as 500 – 600 Islamists were involved in the assault and the main thrust of the attack fell on the YPG/YPJ and Jaish Al-Thuwar components of the SDF.

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Weapons and Ammo Taken from Islamist Opposition by SDF

Apparently the Islamists, led by the Al Nusra Front and the Sultan Murad Brigade, sent in a vehicle bomb (VBIED) which the SDF exploded before it reached its target and lost 15 men when the SDF also destroyed a BMP armoured vehicle.

The worst disaster for the Islamist brigades was when an ammunition truck exploded during the fighting, killing as many as 40 of their men.

Altogether the assault was a disaster for the Opposition grouping, who count Free Syrian Army (FSA) units among their allies. In total, the SDF estimate that they killed 83 Islamists and recovered 66 of their bodies, plus wounding more than 100.

SDF casualties are given as 11 dead with 9 civilians, including 5 children, injured from Islamist shelling on Afrin villages. More shelling occurred on Afrin villages after the Islamists had been forced to retreat. The village of Qestelê was also attacked, one of the last Yezidi villages left in Syria.

The SDF also gained good quantities of weapons and ammunition, including 72 AK-47s, 254 AK ammunition clips, 7 rocket grenade launchers (RPGs), 17 hand grenades, 9 radios and 4 sniper rifles.

Provoked by this unexpected assault, Jaish Al-Thuwar, a mainly secular Arab brigade within the SDF, has said it “will not relent” in freeing Azaz and Mar’a from Opposition control.

The SDF victory was widely celebrated in Afrin Canton, but the SDF made a serious error in parading a long low-loader strewn with the dead bodies of Opposition Islamist fighters through the streets of Afrin city.

This terrible display, reminiscent of Islamic State behaviour, was widely condemned by Kurdish leaders, including senior commanders of the SDF.

Sharvan Darwish, a spokesman for the SDF said, “What happened in Afrin cannot represent our principles and morals and we cannot slip into such a behavior, we have grown up with values.”

Many activists thought this was not the normal behaviour or culture of the Kurds, but as 85 Kurdish civilians have been killed in Sheikh Maqsoud, the Kurdish district in Aleppo, by Opposition shelling since 16th February, some individuals obviously thought it was a “good idea”. Hopefully, it will not be repeated.

This map, published previously a few days ago, shows the area of the most recent fighting around Tell Rifa’t to the south-east of Azaz and almost due west of Mar’a:

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Afrin/Azaz Pocket Border With IS to the East:

The SDF has accused Turkey of supplying 2 tanks to the Ahrar Al-Sham and Sultan Murad Islamist brigades, perhaps encouraging them to use them against the Kurds. Both sides of course should be concentrating their efforts against the Islamic State who are an immediate and dangerous threat to everyone still in northern Syria.

11 Turkish tanks are also reported near the frontier at Tal Abyad and a Turkish attack was made last night on the border gate there at around 22.40. Turkish soldiers have also been seen digging ditches not far from the frontier.

A mutual exchange of fire was also recorded yesterday between the Turkish Army and the Islamic State (IS) around the village of Dekink, 7 kilometres west of Jarablous.

IS have additionally published pictures of the cross-border destruction of 3 Turkish tanks with anti-tank missiles near the Turkish town of Killis.

Interestingly though, the Independent is reporting that injured Kurdish YPG fighters, once out of their combat gear and in civilian clothes are being treated in Turkish hospitals across the border from Rojava. You can read more, HERE:

At the request of Russia, the YPG have recovered the body of a Russian officer, Lieutenant Alexander Prohorenko, who was killed several weeks ago in the battle to retake Palmyra from the Islamic State.

The YPG exchanged him for the bodies of several IS commanders and the Russian has now been returned to Moscow for burial.

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Shells Used By Islamist Opposition to Attack Afrin Villages 28.04.16

Following President Obama’s announcement of a further deployment of US special forces to Syria, the first contingent of 150 men is reported to have arrived at the YPG protected airbase of Rmeilan in Hasakah province. It is also said that some are at a forward base near Ain Issa, just north of Raqqah.

The Assad regime described the arrival of the Americans as a “blatant act of aggression that constitutes a dangerous intervention and a gross violation of the Syrian sovereignty” and the Iranian Defence Minister, Hossein Dehqan, described it as “an obvious hostile intervention”.

The US-led air Coalition reports 7 airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday and 15 in Iraq. The Syrian strikes destroyed an IS bunker near Ain Issa, hits on 4 separate tactical units and the destruction of 2 x IS fighting positions and 4 x IS vehicles near Mar’a and hits on 2 separate tactical units and the destruction of an IS command and control node and 5 x IS vehicles near Washiyah.

Photojournalist Felipe Passolas has published this very nice piece of work on the saving of Kobane and the Suruc Kurdish Refugee Camp, here:

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ROJAVA UPDATE 212: ISLAMIC STATE ADVANCE ON OPPOSITION SQUEEZING AZAZ IN ALEPPO PROVINCE BETWEEN THEMSELVES AND SDF:

TIMELINE – 27th APRIL 2016 16.59 GMT – UPDATED 23.07 GMT:

Funerals and a ceremony today for all those civilians, including a 10 year old girl, members of the Asayish (Kurdish police security force) and YPG fighters, 34 in all, who died last week in fighting with Assad regime militia in Qamishli.

Video footage of last week’s takeover of the Allaya Prison in Qamishli by the Asayish shows the freeing of prisoners, here:

Reading between the lines, it looks likely that the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) will be the most likely beneficiary of the US announcement (scroll down – see below) to send 250 more troops to Syria.

Mainly special forces operatives, the new military personnel will also include medical and logistic teams and be in addition to the 50 special forces already on the ground.

The US is particularly keen to increase the number of Sunni Arab fighters under the SDF (mainly Kurdish) umbrella, as this will make it easier for Turkey to accept their presence in the 98 kilometre border strip along the Turkish frontier.

This press conference with Peter Cook, Pentagon Press Secretary, especially from 00.02, explains more in answer to numerous questions, HERE:

Reports coming in this afternoon of clashes between the Islamic State and the SDF south of Ain Issa, but no detail yet.

In retaliation to Islamic State (IS) rocket attacks from Syria that are hitting the Turkish town of Killis, the Turkish military says that they destroyed 2 x IS missile launchers on Tuesday and the US has announced that it is supplying a mobile HIMARS rocket launching system in May to be deployed in Turkey along the Syria/Turkey border.

HIMARS (which stands for “High Mobility Artillery Rocket System”) missiles have a range of 90 kilometres (55 miles) in contrast to the Turkish shells which can only reach 40 kilometres.

Unfortunately, for Turkey, the Islamic State fighters have advanced in this area of north Aleppo province overnight and this morning, Wednesday, taking 6 villages away from Opposition Islamic groups and are now within 5 kilometres of the Opposition stronghold of Azaz.

After launching a car bomb attack on the village of Dudyan and then taking it, IS went on to capture Fairuziya, Talil Al-Husn, Yahmoul, Jarez and Tal Hussein. The situation does not look good for Mar’a or Azaz.

The Opposition in Azaz are now squeezed between IS in the east and the SDF in the south and west. 100,000 people are now trapped in the Azaz/Marea pocket.

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The Battle for Azaz and Marea 27.04.16

The IS advance has also put more pressure of the Kurdish Canton of Afrin, which has taken in a new flood of refugees because of the fighting, HERE:

However, the Opposition still found time to shell the Afrin Canton village of Basufan yesterday, casualties unknown.

Over in captured Mabrouka in Hasakah province, the YPG/YPJ have now made it safe for civilians and 80 families have returned, (English sub-titles) here:

Interesting interview with Sheruan Hassan, the European representative of the YPG at its new office in the Czech Republic capital of Prague, HERE:

In Raqqah, the target of all anti-IS forces, IS have strung the streets with canvas sheets to prevent the targeting of their fighters by US drones, though drones of course use infra-red and heat-seeking technology to detect their targets.

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Canvas Coverings Strung Over Streets in Raqqah

The whole of Aleppo province is alight it would seem, with repeated airstrikes by the Russians and the Assad regime taking place on Opposition-held areas as well. Footage of yesterday, Tuesday’s, strikes in Aleppo (10 killed, 20 injured), with the city’s “white helmets” civil defense teams in action HERE:

The “white helmets” were the target themselves of a heinous attack on Monday at midnight at their headquarters in Atarib 20 kilometres west of Aleppo city when it was struck by 2 airstrikes and a missile.

5 civil defense workers resting at the centre and garage were killed in the attack which was believed to be a deliberate offensive by the Assad regime or their Russian allies. 2 other members of the “white helmets” were seriously injured and ambulances and cars belonging to doctors destroyed.

Radi a-Saad, an official of the civil defense organisation, said, “This action will not deter us, but rather we will keep going. We’ll meet their crimes with our humanity.”

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Civil Defense Centre Attacked by Assad Regime

19 civilians were killed and 120 were injured in Aleppo in government-held parts of the city after shelling by Opposition groups on Monday.

At least 60 people had earlier been killed in tit-for-tat shelling and rocket exchanges by both sides in Aleppo between Friday and Sunday.

All the signs are that the Assad regime, aided by Russia, is gearing up for an Aleppo offensive to recapture the eastern part of the city. Russia, which removed some of its fixed wing aircraft in a “partial withdrawal”, seems to have increased the number of attack helicopters in Syria. You can read more, HERE:

The increase in such attacks has led to the latest breakdown in the UN-led “peace talks” in Geneva, with the Assad negotiators saying the latest meeting had been a “useful and constructive round” but the Opposition High Negotiating Committee saying it will not attend again until the situation on the ground improves. There has been speculation that the next round of talks will begin on the 10th or 15th May but no confirmation from the UN.

There has been another leak of Islamic State files, this time detailing the backgrounds and abilities of 300 foreign fighters. More detail, HERE:

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Emergency Responders Killed in Monday Night’s Assad Airstrike – Respect – RIP

According to US military sources though, the recruitment rate of foreign Jihadists to IS in Syria and Iraq has dropped from 1,500 – 2,000 a month to just 200 after the success of Coalition airstrikes.

The Islamic State is also thought to be struggling more and more financially, especially after targeted attacks on its oil facilities and stores of cash. The US estimates that it has destroyed the equivalent of between $500 and $800 dollars in recent air raids, destroying $150 million in one raid on a single room in Mosul in Iraq.

25,000 fighters are still believed to be fighting for IS, down from 31,500 in 2015. You can read more from the BBC.

The US special forces raid in Deir Ez Zour province in May 2015 which resulted in the death of Abu Sayyaf, the head of the Islamic State’s oil operation, has led to the biggest haul of intelligence from any US raid in history according to American sources. You can read more, HERE:

Fighting continues in other parts of Syria, IS making another attack today, Wednesday, on the Deir Ez Zour military airbase and the Opposition shelling Assad positions in Latakia with tank fire, HERE:

Over in Iraq, an interesting article on the Barzani family, who as leaders of the Kurdistan regional government are supposed to be weeding out corruption – so how can they afford a $10 million house in Washington? You can read more (and thanks to MH for bringing it to me attention), HERE:

Lastly, a touching scene from the Germany Chancellor’s recent visit to a refugee camp in Turkey, where a young boy kisses “Mama Merkel’s” hand, HERE:

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Sterling Work By the “White Helmets” to Help Those in Desperate Need

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ROJAVA UPDATE 211: AFTER TRUCE IN QAMISHLI KURDS GAIN GROUND, WHILE USA SENDING 250 MORE SPECIAL FORCES TO FIGHT ISLAMIC STATE:

TIMELINE 25th APRIL 2017 14.15 GMT:

After 3 days of fighting in Qamishli between Assad’s National Defence Force (NDF) and the Kurdish Asayish security police (scroll down – see below), a truce was called last Friday afternoon and so far has held.

Assad regime officials flew in from Damascus and a meeting between the 2 sides was held at the airport, lasting more than 6 hours. Under the terms of the deal hammered out between them each side will retain the territory they currently hold.

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Kurdish Asayish Police Security Come Out on Top in Qamishli Clashes

This means presumably that the Kurds will not return Allaya Prison and other territory they gained during the clashes, so a clear advantage to the Kurdish side.

During the fighting the Assad regime was cut-off from a direct route to the airport from the city centre and according to reports now only controls around one square kilometre in Qamishli.

The agreement also stated that the Syrian state, which still pays local officials to administer the city, must not be threaten, deprive of their salaries or recruit local Kurds into joining regime militias such as the NDF.

There will also be a reassessment of who guards the city from the regime side, the pro-Assad NDF militia neither liked nor trusted.

According to Kurdish sources 17 civilians died in the fighting, 7 members of the Asayish and 3 members of the Kurdish YPG. Regime casualties are put at 22 dead and 80 taken prisoner. Both sides have now agreed to exchange prisoners.

Compensation will also be paid to civilians who lost members of their families or who suffered material damage from regime shelling.

There are reports emanating from the Asayish, that say that some members of Hezbollah and Iranian military were also involved in fighting on the regime side, but this has not been confirmed.

There were also rumours that the Assad regime was dispatching members of its elite Republican Guard to both Qamishli and Hasakah city where a similar split administration exists.

Video footage of destroyed property in Qamishli, English sub-titles, here:

And more video footage of life in Qamishli returning to normal after the ceasefire, English sub-titles, here:

Some people in Qamishli remain sceptical that the truce will hold, especially after Government planes and helicopters dropped up to 30 barrel bombs on Sheikh Maqsoud, the Kurdish district of Aleppo city, on Saturday around 5.00pm in what is widely seen as retaliation for the regime losses in Qamishli.

The bombing in Sheikh Maqsoud killed 3 children, 1 woman and 2 men, as well as destroying houses. This little girl in Sheikh Maqsoud eloquently voices the pain, terror and unfairness of war, English sub-titles, HERE:

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Kurds Training New (APF) Defence Force in Rojava

The Kurds back in Rojava appear to be training an Autonomous Protection Forces (APF) to take over and defend territory captured by the YPG/YPJ and the SDF. All male citizens, whatever their ethnicity, between 18 -30 are required to take a 9 month training course in basic military techniques and procedures.

Ahmed, one recruit, said, “We were trained on military life and on how to deal with civilians so we don’t become like the Syrian (government) army”.

EDITOR: That’s the good side. But not so good is that there are more reports on the non-acceptance of political pluralism in Rojava. According to one report, the Asayish have closed down the offices of both the Kurdish Yekiti Party and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria in Tal Nimir.

If they are going to have any hope of an effective democracy in Rojava the PYD, the political arm of the YPG, will have to learn to live with different or opposing political views, otherwise its rule is little better than the dictatorship it replaces.

The administration in Rojava will however be pleased to hear this morning’s news, Monday, from Germany where President Obama has announced that he is sending another 250 troops, thought to be special forces, to Syria.

This will bring the total of US specially trained tactical troops in Syria to 300.

If you keep your eyes peeled, you will see some of the British, American and French special forces in the background of this long but very interesting video documentary by France24 on the SDF operations in Rojava, (after the ad) HERE:

The US-led Coalition carried out 10 strikes in Syria on Friday and 4 on Saturday, with the range of usual targets hit and destroyed near Manbij, Mar’a, Abu Kamal, Al-Hawl, Raqqah, Deir Ez Zour and Washiyah.

Elsewhere in Syria, the Assad regime bombed a market on Saturday in the Opposition-held suburb of Douma in Damascus causing at least a dozen deaths and another 26 were killed in Aleppo city at the weekend, where stepped up regime and Russian bombing has killed more than 100 since Thursday.

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Car Bomb Explodes Outside Shiite Shrine in Damascus

A car bomb exploding this morning at a checkpoint, Monday, in the shrine area of Government-held Sayyeda Zeinab in Damascus has also killed 5 and wounded 20.

All of which leaves the much-heralded “cessation of hostilities” agreement negotiated in Geneva in tatters.

In the southern Druze province of Suweida, the protests and demonstrations reported earlier have continued with calls for Assad’s local security chief and Governor to resign, HERE:

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ROJAVA UPDATE 210: FIGHTING ESCALATES IN QAMISHLI BETWEEN KURDS AND PRO-ASSAD FIGHTERS FOLLOWING BREAK DOWN OF POWER-SHARING:

TIMELINE – 22nd APRIL 2016 10.48 GMT:

Clashes between Assad’s National Defence Force (NDF) and Kurdish security in Qamishli, where uneasy power-sharing has been in place for years, escalated on Wednesday evening and throughout yesterday, Thursday.

The incidents started on Tuesday when the NDF attacked a Kurdish patrol of traffic police, in turn forcing the Asayish (Kurdish security police) to intervene.

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Building in Kurdish Qamishli Destroyed by Assad Regime Shell Fire on Thursday

In the ensuing fighting since then 8 NDF personnel were killed and another 12 arrested after they took up positions in a bakery. 2 members of the Asayish are reported killed and 3 injured. Some Kurdish sources say 25-30 members of the regime have been killed in the last 2 days, but this is unconfirmed.

The Asayish have cordoned off the security zone in the centre of the city occupied by the Assad regime and set-up checkpoints to protect the southern approaches to the city.

Pro-Assad fighters, which now includes the regular Army, have fired mortars into the northern Kurdish suburbs of Qamishli, killing 4 civilians in the Zaytouniya district, including a 10 year old boy, and wounding 24 others.

The Asayish and YPG went on to surround Allaya prison, where a number of pro-Assad fighters surrendered and useful amounts of weapons and ammunition were also taken. The prisoners were bussed to another secure Kurdish location. Some reports say as many as 67 pro-Assad fighters have been arrested.

The old National Hospital in Qamishli has been evacuated this morning, Friday, because of incoming shells from the Assad regime and there are reports of as many as 4,000 Kurdish residents fleeing the city.

Latest reports from Hasakah province this morning say that the fighting between the 2 sides has spread to the south of the province into the western districts of Hasakah city, where a similar power-sharing arrangement has been in place.

Clashes have continued throughout Thursday night in Qamishli and the Asayish have brought in the H.A.T. special operations police force . Fighting has also spread to villages around the airport and Khirbat Amo to the south of Qamishli.

There is additionally a significant Christian population in the city and at the moment they appear to be siding with the Assad regime. A cargo plane is reported to have brought in reinforcements for the regime, but there are also Arab soldiers fighting with the Kurds.

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Clearing Out Assad From Qamishli

Regime helicopters have also been seen above the city, while the YPG is bringing in reinforcements by road and also garnering support from the Syrian Democratic Force.

Recent reports from Qamishli this afternoon, Friday, say that fighting continues at the Wehdê Intersection, Kesb Street and Security Junction. Assad’s paramilitary is said to have transferred 2 YPG members arrested on Tuesday to Damascus, while H.A.T. are reported to closing in on the Assad security zone in the centre of the city.

This map, courtesy of @vvanwilgenburg and @deSyracuse, gives an idea of the situation, here:

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Map of Qamishli Showing Latest Conflict Between Kurds and Assad Regime

EDITOR: Taking a break for a couple of days – More updates on this evolving situation on Monday ……

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HORRIFIC REGIME ATTACK ON MARKETS IN IDLIB PROVINCE LEADS TO OPPOSITION WALK-OUT FROM “PEACE TALKS”:

TIMELINE 20th APRIL 2016 16.55 GMT ( SCROLL DOWN FOR ROJAVA UPDATE 209):

Assad regime or Russian air attacks left horrific results in Idlib province yesterday, Tuesday.

48 people, including 4 women and 3 children were killed when the warplanes struck the central vegetable market at Ma’arat Al Numan and then almost immediately afterwards the market at Kafranbel 10 kilometres away.

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Horrific Attack on Civilian Vegetable Market by Assad Regime

38 died in Ma’arat Al Numan and another 10 in Kafranbel, although the death toll is expected to rise as many more were injured, some critically.

Ironically, the majority of people in these 2 towns are strongly against rule by the Al Nusra Front or any other extreme Islamist group, the supposed targets of the Assad Government.

Regime and Russian aircraft also made other attacks in Aleppo, the eastern suburbs of Damascus and other locations across the country.

At the so called “peace talks” in Geneva, the Opposition representatives making up the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), told the UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, that they were supending formal negotiations after at least 2,000 breaches of the “cessation of hostilities” by the Government side.

Riad Hijab, one of the leaders of the HNC, said, “We cannot continue to be in discussions in Geneva when our people are dying of hunger and bombardments. We will fight no matter the circumstances. We will fight even with stones, and will not surrender.”

Mohammed Alloush, the HNC’s chief negotiator, said its delegation would only return if Assad’s government implemented international agreements and halted airstrikes. Alloush said he was leaving Geneva because he didn’t want to be part of an “absurd” process that may not reach a viable political solution, although other members of the team will remain on hand.

At the same time, Opposition fighters on the ground announced renewed alliances and launched attacks in Hama, Latakia and Daraa provinces.

In the south-west of Daraa province, the Opposition pushed back an encroaching Islamic State front, capturing Ann Thakar and the Salem Al-Golan Dam.

While in Deir Ez Zour IS took control of the entire industrial district, bringing them even nearer to Deir Ez Zour military airbase.

In the Dumair district of north-east Damascus 3 x IS offshoot groups surrendered to the Free Syria Army (FSA) and Islamic groups, while in the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp IS now have control of more than three-quarters of it. Palestinians hunkered down to avoid bullets and bombs are now in danger of dehydration and starvation all over again.

In Syria’s south-east province, Suweida, which is predominately Druze, arrests by the Assad regime of a number prominent figures has led to a raft of protests by Druze organisations against the Government. You can read more, HERE:

In Latakia province, a resurgence in the mountains by Opposition groups has since been pushed back by a Syrian Army counter attack, but on the Ghab Plain in nearby Hama province, Opposition fighters made progress this week, capturing Khirbet an-Naqus and “Tank Hill” near the Jorin military base, as well as 2 x T-72 tanks.

ROJAVA UPDATE 209:

FIGHTING BREAKS OUT AGAIN BETWEEN KURDS AND ASSAD REGIME IN QAMISHLI, WHILE AMMUNITION ARRIVES TO SUPPORT DELAYED MANBIJ CAMPAIGN:

TIMELINE – 20th APRIL 2016 13.51 GMT:

According to the latest estimates, 100,000 Kurds have now returned to Rojava since the Islamic State (IS)were largely eliminated from the province by the work of the YPG and YPJ.

The prominent role of women fighters within the Kurdish forces seems to have inspired Arab women in some of the liberated towns and villages in Rojava to take a more prominent role in their communities.

Recently, women in Tal Abyad and the village of Zarate, many of them Arab, have both formed their own Women’s Organisation.

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H.A.T. – Kurdish Security Police Special Forces in Rojava

However, the threat from IS remains. On Sunday, Kurdish security, the Asayish, stopped a truck laden with mortars, missiles and ammunition as it was attempting to enter the western suburbs of Qamishli and arrested the driver.

Fighting has also broken out again, according to reports this morning, Wednesday, between the Kurdish Asayish and Assad’s forces in Qamishli, with 2 people killed so far and 10 members of Assad’s National Defence Force Arrested. One Kurdish civilian was reported shot by a regime sniper and is now in hospital.

In addition, members of H.A.T., a Kurdish police (Asayish) special operations force, have also been deployed in the city.

South of Shaddadi, further battles with IS has led to the capture of an injured IS fighter who was taken to Hasakah National Hospital to have several operations on his stomach.

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Ammunition for Manbij Campaign Arrives from US?

In preparation for an upturn in the Kurdish operation against the Islamic State in Aleppo province around Manbij, there are reports of large amount of US-sourced ammunition being delivered to the YPG via Rmeilan airfield in the north-east of Hasakah province.

More units of H.A.T. have also been seen moving through Kobane Canton, over the dam at Tishreen and west of the Euphrates into Aleppo province.

The delay in the start of the Manbij operation appears to have been caused by US discussions with Turkey who are obsessively determined to stop the Kurds controlling the northern part of Aleppo province along the Turkish border.

Turkey would prefer Syrian Opposition Islamist groups to drive out IS and to occupy the space, but so far the Opposition groups have not shown much resilience, capturing towns and villages from IS and then just as quickly losing them back again.

The US now wants the Turkish border closed permanently to IS Jihadi movements and supplies and increasingly sees the Kurds as the only group on the ground that can deliver the territory and protect it from further incursion. You can read more, HERE:

The Islamic State have hit Syrian Opposition groups near the Aleppo province Turkish border near Azaz with as many as 30 vehicle bombs in the last 3 weeks, though further south they appear to have repelled a significant IS attack at Mar’a last night, Tuesday.

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Makeshift Refugee Camp Near Turkish Border at Azaz

As a result of the fighting, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) estimates that around 100,000 displaced Syrian refugees, having fled IS threatened refugee camps, are now trapped near the closed Turkish border with little help, shelter or supplies. MSF has more, HERE:

Denmark has now officially joined the US-led Coalition against IS in Syria and is sending 7 F-16 jet fighters and a C-130 transport plane, as well as a 60 man special forces unit.

Meanwhile, in eastern Rojava, the Kurds are taking advantage of oil fields recaptured from IS and keeping them under administration control, rather than let them be run by individuals, bringing supplies of diesel and petrol to local people at low prices. (EDITOR: Wish I could get vehicle fuel for $15 cents a litre!) You can read more, HERE:

Lastly, on Rojava, Swedish volunteer, Revan, who has been working in Kobane, has recorded an audio file, “Fragments of everyday life in the Rojava Revolution”. You can listen, HERE:

Over in Iraq, the Islamic State claim they have destroyed a Turkish tank on Mount Bashiqa near Mosul, where a Turkish Army unit still holds a presence.

And on the Syria/Iraq border, 2 British men and an Irishman, Jac Holmes, Joe Akerman and Joshua Molloy, have been arrested for “illegally entering Iraq”.

The 3 men have been fighting on behalf of the Kurdish YPG in Syria and intended to pass through Kurdish Iraq to Erbil to fly back to Europe. However after waiting 3 weeks at a closed border crossing for the Peshmerga to show up, to no avail, they proceeded to cross the border anyway. Diplomatic moves are underway to get the men released. You can read more, HERE:

Kurdish authorities in Iraq will be grateful to the US this week after Ash Carter, the US Defence Secretary, announced $415 million in aid to Kurdish military forces.

The Kurdish military were under severe pressure after the Iraqi Government in Baghdad had failed to provide funds, and some Peshmerga fighters had not been paid for 4 or 5 months, imposing hardship on their families and leading to some desertions.

Today, the 20th April is “Charshama Sor” or “Red Wednesday”, the start of the Yezidi New Year. Although, Yezidi celebrations will probably be more subdued than in the past after all the community has suffered, those still held captive by IS will be remembered.

According to the Yezidi calendar, 2016 is the year 6766. You can read more, HERE:

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Yezidi People Celebrate “Red Wednesday” – New Year

Reports from Iraq say that the Peshmerga in a helicopter operation, in conjunction with US special forces, wiped out another IS commander on Monday, Salman Abd Shaib al-Jabouri, also known as Abu Saif, as he traveled near Hamam Ali, south of Mosul in a vehicle with 2 of his bodyguards.

Abu Saif was thought to be a key member of the IS Military Council and responsible for operations against Peshmerga forces south of Mosul and around Makhmour.

A Coalition airstrike is also said to have destroyed another IS vehicle carrying IS fighters as it travelled north out of Mosul.

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ROJAVA UPDATE 208: CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN BOTH SYRIA AND IRAQ INJURE MORE KURDS, WHILE SWEDISH SCHOOLCHILDREN RAISE $65,000 FOR KOBANE:

TIMELINE – 18th APRIL 2016 12.34 GMT:

On Saturday, the Turkish Army once again, without provocation, fired rockets at Dikmatash village in Afrin Canton, targeting a YPJ headquarters.

Though 6 mortar shells landed in the village, no casualties were immediately reported. The shelling is particularly dangerous as the population of Afrin Canton has swollen recently with an influx of refugees fleeing the bombardment of Sheikh Maqsoud, the Kurdish district in Aleppo City.

Last Thursday, the Turkish Army bombed YPG positions in Tal Abyad in Raqqah province to the east.

Fighting was reported on Sunday in the north-west of Raqqah province near Ain Issa between the YPG and the Islamic State (IS) and also in Hasakah province near Shaddadi. Although casualties and deaths are said to have occurred on both sides, the details at the moment remain sketchy.

There is also an unconfirmed report that members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) “assaulted an elderly man and took 10 of his sheep” after he was accused of supporting IS in the village of Jahfah Al-Dhib near Ras Al-Ain.

Schools for Arabic children have also reopened in Shaddadi for the first time in a year, using a curriculum supplied by the Assad regime’s Ministry of Education. IS had previously used the schools, before it was driven out by the SDF, as HQs for its operations in the area.

However, in Aleppo province, the Islamic State has recaptured 8 small villages west of Al-Rai and over the weekend the village of Tel Battel, which is only 1 kilometre from the Turkish border. Opposition groups had briefly held Al Rai after capturing it from IS but could not sustain the advance, losing it again after a few hours of occupation.

Meanwhile, the SDF is still preparing its assault on Manbij, which according to latest information now only contains 400 x IS fighters, mainly foreigners, in the urban area.

This map, courtesy of @Chuck Pfarrer, shows current positions with SDF holding its advance into IS territory, here:

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SDF Positions South East of Manbij

Attacks by the Al Nusra Front and their Islamist and Opposition allies on the Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo are increasingly causing problems as injuries and deaths rise and supplies of food and medicines shrink.

Evidence of the effects of chemical weapons attack has also increased as skin eruptions and diseases break out, here:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has protested all attacks on civilians in Aleppo, including Sheikh Maqsoud, but still they continue from all sides in breach of the agreed “cessation of hostilities”. You can read more, HERE:

The other remaining problem for the Kurds and members of other ethnic groups is unexploded ordinance, IEDs and booby-traps left by a retreating Islamic State.

On Friday, 2 children aged 6 and 7 were seriously injured in an explosion in the village of Al-Kantry near Ras Al-Ain (Sere Kaniye) after playing with a “metal object”. They were quickly transported by local Kurdish police to the hospital in Qamishli.

Frédéric Maio, Program Development Manager for Handicap International’s Mine Action group, said, “What we saw in Kobane was beyond our worst nightmares: a significant part of the city is vastly destroyed and unexploded weapons contamination of all kinds have reached a density and diversity that has hardly ever been witnessed before”.

An estimated 50% of civilian deaths in Kobane have been caused by explosives hidden in the ground and they are a formidable barrier to the clearance of destroyed buildings in Kobane city and redevelopment.

Lack of job opportunities and the spiraling price of scarce food supplies means that living conditions, particularly for those with large families, is continuing to be difficult as this video illustrates, here:

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However, the story of Kobane and the bravery of the Kurds and their female fighters, continues to spread. On Sunday the Kurds opened a Rojava office in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, another excuse to dance in the streets and celebrate.

Swedish schoolchildren, inspired by the Kurds story, have incredibly collected $65,000 for a new school to be built in Kobane and handed over a cheque to a visiting YPJ commander.

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Swedish Schoolchildren Raise $65,000 for Kobane

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 9 airstrikes in Syria on Saturday and 17 in Iraq.

The Syrian strikes hit 3 separate tactical units and destroyed 2 x IS fighting positions and an IS vehicle near Al-Hawl, destroyed an IS pump-jack and an oil separator near Raqqah, destroyed an IS fighting position near Deir Ez Zour, hit an IS tactical unit and destroyed an IS vehicle near Manbij and with 3 strikes struck 2 X IS tactical units and destroyed 3 x IS fighting positions and a tactical vehicle near Mar’a.

Over in Iraq, the Islamic Front (IS) are reported to have started renewed shelling on the Kurdish Peshmerga on the Makhmour front using chemical weapons.

One Peshmerga fighter was reported killed and 4 others were wounded and suffered breathing problems from what was thought to be chlorine gas released from the shells.

More recent reports suggest that a Coalition airstrike on Saturday has killed Barzan al-Husam, who was appointed by IS as governor of the Al-Hamadaniya district in Niveneh province and was thought to have close ties with the IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

Other recent reports suggest that an IS attack across the river at Al Qayyarah in Iraq was thwarted after Coalition aircraft destroyed 30 x IS boats. Map courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer:

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Coalition Thwart IS Cross-River Attack in Iraq

And finally, Kurdish folk music, courtesy of @curdistani on Twitter:

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