SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS
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SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS
ROJAVA UPDATE 184: SDF CONFIRM CONTROL OF MENAGH AIRBASE AND NEARBY VILLAGE. ARE THEY ABOUT TO TAKEOVER AZAZ?
TIMELINE – 12th FEBRUARY 2016 14.53 GMT:
It is now clear that the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), including the Free Syrian Army (FSA) linked Arabic Jaish Al-Thuwar brigade, took control of the Menagh airbase in the northern part of Aleppo province by force.
The situation in Aleppo province is now extremely complex with Al-Thuwar opposed to other FSA units and as many as 30 Russian airstrikes on the Opposition-linked Islamist groups inside the airbase prior to the SDF attack.
The Russians, who see all who oppose Assad as “terrorists”, tend to have good relations with the Kurdish YPG component of the SDF, indeed the PYD, the political arm of the YPG opened an office in Moscow on Wednesday.
Casualties among the defending Islamist groups, including the Al Nusra Front were reported as “high” and the SDF captured both weapons and ammunition. The airbase is littered with destroyed Russian helicopters from the Opposition takeover in 2013.
This is video footage of the SDF inside Menagh airbase, here:
The SDF have also taken Menagh village and are said to be concentrated around the Opposition stronghold of Azaz, which may be their next target.
SDF have pushed west of Azaz to the Al-Shat checkpoint and east of Azaz to the outskirts of the village of Ayn Daqnah but have so far not taken it.
There was fighting yesterday, Thursday, between the SDF and Islamist brigades in Azaz near the National Hospital, but it seems to have subsided for the moment. Sources inside Azaz expect the town to fall to the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) “within a week”.
The YPG contingent of the SDF said that they had captured Menagh airbase to protect the Kurdish enclave of Afrin from attacks by the Al Nusra Front. Asked if the YPG intended to take control of the Bab Al-Salam frontier crossing into Turkey, a spokesman said, “No – but if the Al Nusra Front controls it then that is a different matter”.
At least 35,000 refugees who have fled Russian bombing areas around Aleppo city have arrived at the crossing and are being supplied with humanitarian aid from Turkey. In addition, the Kurds have allowed another 100 families from near Aleppo to travel through Afrin Canton to reach Idlib province.
Turkey, who are believed to have supported the Al Nusra Front and other Islamist groups opposed to Assad now finds itself in a serious dilemna.President Erdogan in particular is fearful that the Kurds will take over all the border area in Syria against Turkey running from Afrin to Kobane Canton, thereby creating a continuous Kurdish state (Rojava).
If he attacks the Syrian Kurds to prevent this, then he risks exacerbating conflict on his southern front and if he uses planes, the Russians will take great pleasure in shooting them down. He will also fall foul of the US if he attacks the Syrian Kurds/YPG/SDF as the Americans see them as the most effective fighting force in combating the Islamic State (IS).
Indeed another 20 US military trainers, who will advise the SDF, and their equipment are reported to have arrived in Kobane city this week. Nor can Turkey use NATO in order to deter attacks on its personnel inside Syria, as Syria lies outside the Western alliance’s defense zone and the “collective defense pact” used by NATO countries to support each other will not apply.
Erdogan has clearly tried to persuade his armed forces to take action, but apart from some occasional pot shots across the border at the YPG, they appear to be very reluctant to get involved. Latest, unconfirmed, reports suggest that Turkey has just shipped several truck loads of weapons and ammunition to the Al Nusra Front in Azaz.
You can read more, HERE:
In other Rojava news, the Rojava Free Women Association, in conjunction with the Kobane rebuilding programme, has announced that it will open a school for orphans in Kobane. 889 orphans have been registered so far in the city and the new school will run courses in psychology, health, culture and art, and computers.
ROJAVA UPDATE 183: SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCE REPORTED TO HAVE TAKEN CHARGE OF FORMER ASSAD AIR BASE FROM OPPOSITION:
TIMELINE – 10th FEBRUARY 2016 14.21 GMT:
Reports from Aleppo province say that the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) has taken control of more of the road between Aleppo and Turkey near Kafr Atun, just south of the Menagh military airbase.
And today, Wednesday,there are unconfirmed reports that the SDF has taken over the Menagh base itself, which was until now held by Opposition fighters since they seized it from the Assad regime. Whether this take over is by force or agreement is not yet clear.
If by agreement, the presence of the SDF will presumably stop the Russian Air Force bombing there and at the same time allow the Opposition fighters to concentrate on stalling the Assad regime advance near Aleppo.
Kurdish sources are are also reporting that 221 young Arab men from villages recently liberated from the Islamic State (IS) near the Tishreen Dam have in the last month enlisted in the SDF. 50 Turkmen who have completed training at Tal Abyad have additionally joined the YPG.
Electricity generated at the Tishreen Dam is now reaching Kobane for the first time in 4 years.
Thousands of displaced refugees from Aleppo are currently resident in camps, schools and other public buildings across Kurdish Afrin Canton, while an estimated 35,000 are camped near the Turkish Border at the Bab Al-Salman gate.
While Turkey continues to refuse to open the frontier, despite requests from both the UN and the EU, they have allowed ambulances across to bring back to Turkey the sick and the injured for treatment and supplied truck loads of food, blankets and other humanitarian supplies.
Medicin Sans Frontieres (MSF) says that all the camps for displaced persons along the Syrian/Turkish border are full to capacity and that in and around the Syrian border town of Azaz, families are sleeping on the ground in what is still winter weather.
To make matters worse, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that it has recorded 506 deaths from Russian bombing in and around Aleppo since February 1st, dozens of the victims civilians and 23 of them children.
Meanwhile Turkey’s President Erdogan is furious at both the recent visit of US President Obama’s anti-IS Coalition envoy Bret McGurk to Kobane city and a statement from a US State Department spokesman that the US does not regard the YPG as a terrorist organisation.
Late yesterday, Tuesday, the US Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry to explain the remarks.
Both Erdogan and his Foreign Minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, have said that the US must decide who it is partnering in the fight against IS: Turkey or the YPG (which it sees as a mere offshot of the PKK with whom it is fighting in southern Turkey). You can read more, HERE:
Over in Iraq, reports coming out of Mosul, the IS “capital” say that the Jihadists executed by firing squad on Sunday no less than 300 Iraqis, mostly civilian activists and former members of the Iraqi Army and security services. The men were shot at various locations across the city and buried in mass graves.
Yesterday, Tuesday, IS are also reported to executed Wathiq Abdulwahab, reporter of the local Hadbaa newspaper in Mosul, after he was accused of taking photographs of a detention centre.
The Iraqi Army however, is reporting complete control now over Ramadi after weeding out the remaining IS fighters from pockets across the city.
Also from Iraq comes the heart-warming story of a Kurdish counter-terrorism commander who has not only offered one of his kidney’s for the daughter of a Peshmerga fighter, but said he will pay for the operation itself.
15 other Peshmerga turned up at the hospital with similar offers after the story of the girl’s suffering from kidney failure went viral on social media. You can read more, HERE:
OPPOSITION PULLING IN MORE REINFORCEMENTS AND FIGHTING BACK IN ALEPPO PROVINCE:
In addition to the earlier contingent of Opposition fighters allowed to cross through Kurdish Afrin Canton (scroll down – see below), activist sources are reporting sight of a 100 vehicle convoy carrying men, weapons and ammunition leaving the northern countryside of Idlib province on Tuesday and crossing towards Aleppo province.
Assad’s forces, supported by recently liberated gunmen from the Allawite villages of Nubl and Zahraa, have so far failed in their campaign to take nearby Dahrat Al-Qar’aa. 5 confirmed deaths of Assad’s fighters and militiamen were reported, though more casualties on both sides are likely.
From Daraa province in southern Syria, Medicin Sans Frontieres (MSF) is reporting yet another Russian airstrike on one of its medical facilities at the town of Tafas.
3 people were killed and 6 injured, including a doctor on his way into the hospital who was knocked unconscious and wounded by shrapnel.
In what appears to be a deliberate policy by the Russians, MSF say that 13 of its medical centres in Syria have been hit by bombs since January 1st 2016. You can read more in the Guardian.
As well as in Aleppo province, with the help of Russian bombing, the Assad regime appears to making advances in Daraa province in southern Syria. On Monday it was reported that the Syrian Army had agreed a local truce with the villagers of Ibtaa and Dael, 2 villages that lie on the A5 highway running south from Sheikh Miskeen to Daraa city.
Under the agreement, 22 detainees will be released, local men will be allowed to keep their weapons and the Army will stay beyond the periphery of the villages as long as they have free passage to and from Daraa.
The Opposition fighters in Daraa province were doing well until the Military Operations Centre (MOC) in Amman, Jordan, called in the commanders of the Free Syrian Army units operating in southern Syria and told them to stop directing their fire power towards Assad and his allies and to direct it against the Islamic State instead.
The commanders, whose supply of weapons and ammunition had virtually dried up in recent months from the MOC who had effectively been directing the southern campaign against Assad, were promised more and better equipment if they complied with this request. Reluctantly, most FSA groups seem to have done so.
In Damascus on Tuesday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a police officer’s club in the regime Masaken Barzeh district and near a busy vegetable market. 20 people are reported killed including 5 police officers, and many more injured. IS has claimed responsibility.
At Madaya in Damascus province, the town formerly under chronic siege by the Assad regime, vehicles of the International Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent have come under fire as they evacuated people sick from malnutrition on Tuesday night. However, no casualties were reported and the affiliation of the gunmen is unknown.
President Assad’s mother, Anissa Makhlouf Al-Assad, is reported to have died in Damascus on Saturday aged 86. She was also the wife of former Syrian dictator Hafez Al-Assad.
It maybe that the Opposition decided to give her a rousing send-off. Unconfirmed reports say that four missiles hit Qardaha, the Assad family home and site of the Assad family burial mausoleum in the Latakia mountains on Tuesday while the funeral was in progress.
Reliable sources say 3 of those present were killed and 13 injured, including family members.
Other than Assad supporters, few will mourn the mother and wife of several monsters.
On Monday, UN human rights investigators published a report on Syria and in particular on the treatment of civilians in detention by the Assad regime, which it described as operating “a government policy of extermination — a crime against humanity”.
The report was based on the testimony of 500 survivors of detention. At least 200 had seen fellow detainees killed, usually at the hands of the security forces.
“Children as young as 7 years old were among those who died in Government custody. The parents of a 13-year-old boy arrested during a 2011 protest in Sayda next saw his body when it was returned to them dead and mutilated.
A survivor who was detained in Homs recalled watching an elderly man die after prison guards burned his eyes with a cigarette, stabbed him with burning metal, and hung him from his wrists. It took three hours to kill him. Others were starved to death or died from untreated pre-existing conditions”.
The report also mentioned ill-treatment by Opposition and Islamist groups, but overwhelmingly the Assad regime is by far and away the main violator of human rights in Syria. You can read more about this sickening regime, HERE:
ROJAVA UPDATE 182: KURDS AND SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCE STEP FORWARD TO SECURE HUMANITARIAN CORRIDOR THROUGH AFRIN TO IDLIB PROVINCE:
TIMELINE – 8th FEBRUARY 2016 14.48 GMT:
The YPG appears to be fully involved in a number of complex operations, including the refugee crisis, as military and humanitarian situations develop in the northern part of Aleppo province.
US special forces advisers are reported to have arrived in Kobane city and are expected to help in the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) move on Islamic State-held Manbij city.
Near the Tishreen Dam, which gives road access between Kobane Canton and Aleppo province, local reports say their is a huge build-up of YPG forces.
18 young Kurdish men are also reported to have escaped from an Islamic State (IS) detention centre in Manbij on Saturday and made it to Kobane “all in good health” despite being regularly tortured.
The escapees had been arrested by IS, along with hundreds of others on charges of “cooperating with the YPG”. Dozens of Kurds, including women, are still being held.
To the east of Kobane Canton, the Islamic State once again attacked Ain Issa on Sunday, hitting a security checkpoint at the southern entrance to the town with mortars and killing 2 members of the YPG.
The ensuing clashes between the YPG and IS lasted until midnight, leaving 4 x IS Jihadists dead and a number wounded, before the remaining IS fighters retreated towards Raqqah.
In Hasakah province, IS launched an attack on a SDF security center and checkpoint near the village of Qana hitting it with with mortar fire and heavy machine guns. 4 SDF fighters were killed and several more injured.
With the support of Coalition airstrikes, the SDF were able to push the IS Jihadists back towards Shaddadi, killing at least 7 of them.
US Central Command (Centcom) reports 7 airstrikes in Syria on Saturday and one on Sunday. 2 Airstrikes destroyed 2 x IS fighting positions and suppressed an IS anti-air artillery position near Ain Issa.
At Manbij one strike destroyed 3 x IS buildings and 4 strikes at Mar’a hit an IS tactical unit and destroyed 9 x IS fighting positions. Sunday’s strike near Hasakah suppressed an IS rocket launching position.
In other Rojava news a school for the blind has now been opened for the first time in Kobane and the PYD, the political arm of the YPG, has announced that it is to open a representational office in Moscow on February 10th, followed by similar offices in Washington, London, Berlin and some Arabic countries. The PYD already have an office in Erbil, the capital of Iraq Kurdistan.
In Aleppo province, north of Aleppo city, the SDF and especially the YPG component of it, appear to have taken a leading role in both the humanitarian and military crisis.
Over the weekend, the SDF, which includes the Arabic brigade Jaish Al Thuwar as well as the YPG, took control of the villages of Deir Jamal and Maarnaz, Islamic brigades and the Al Nusra Front withdrawing from the area.
According to some local reports, the villagers themselves requested the SDF take over, both to avoid control by the Assad regime , which is just a few kilometres to the south, and bombing by both regime and Russian jets.
The YPG has also taken over the village of Al-Alqamiyah which lies just 1 kilometre from the Opposition controlled airbase at Minnegh, though it is surrounded by Kurdish forces in both the north and the south.
SDF control of the road south of Deir Jamal is preventing the Assad regime from moving towards the strategic Opposition town of Tel Rifaat which is just north of the recently liberated Alawite enclaves of Nubl and Zahraa.
The YPG appears to also have made some agreement with Opposition factions, including Islamist units, allowing them to send 80 fighters, in 2 batches, from Idlib province through the Kurds western Canton of Afrin to reinforce the Opposition fighters battling the regime in Aleppo province.
On the humanitarian front, the YPG have also secured a corridor running from the Opposition stronghold of Azaz to Afrin city, taking in thousands of Arabic displaced refugees and providing food, shelter and emergency medical services.
Thousands of Arab families displaced from formerly-held Opposition towns and villages north of Aleppo city have also been allowed by the YPG to pass securely through the Canton to reach Opposition-held Idlib province.
NEW SYRIAN HUMANITARIAN CRISIS AS 900 RUSSIAN AIRSTRIKES ON OPPOSITION AREAS NEAR ALEPPO DRIVE TENS OF THOUSANDS TOWARDS TURKEY:
TIMELINE – 6th FEBRUARY 2016 11.48 GMT (scroll down for Rojava Update 181):
This week the so-called “Syrian Peace Talks” failed miserably just 2 days after they started with neither side being in the UN building in Geneva at the same time, never mind the same room.
Both sides blamed each other. The Opposition wanted an end to sieges and the bombing of its fighters and civilians and Assad’s side just played for time.
The UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura delivered the dismal news to the press in driving sleet outside the Opposition’s hotel, but said the talks would “restart on February 25th”. Don’t bet any money on it.
As the talks fell apart, Assad and the Russians massively escalated their bombing campaign. The Russian Ministry of Defence said on Thursday that they had made 900 airstrikes in the previous 3 days, the majority of them, it appears, to the north of Aleppo city where the Opposition have lost ground.
Opposition members talked of 7 airstrikes an hour, 120 a day in some areas.
On Friday around 120 fighters on both sides were killed near Ratyan, an Opposition-held stronghold north-west of Aleppo which is now under threat. Video footage of the regime ground attack, HERE:
The Assad regime has this week also cut the Opposition’s supply route between the Turkish border and the eastern part of Aleppo, as well as breaking through to the Alawite enclaves of Zahraa and Nubl and the Opposition remaining in east Aleppo are now in danger of being completely encircled. Zahraa and Nubl had effectively been surrounded by the Opposition since 2012 until now.
Pro-Assad forces led by Hezbollah and Shia militia have also completely taken the Sheikh Najjer industrial area to the north of Aleppo, a sector which is very much the gateway to east Aleppo.
Tens of thousands of Syrians are now fleeing northwards from the Russian and pro-Assad onslaught.
20,000 Syrian refugees are reported waiting to cross into Turkey at the Bab Al-Salam border post having travelled up to 50 miles by foot from the Aleppo area, but so far the Turkish authorities have kept the frontier gates closed.
Video footage from Bab Al-Salam crossing, (Arabic only) HERE:
Another 10,000 people are thought to have taken shelter in the Kurdish enclave in the north-west of Aleppo province, Afrin Canton, and a further 10,000 have fled to the Opposition-held town of Azaz which itself is under bomb and surface-to-surface missile attack.
Some estimates talk of 60 – 70,000 people on the move.
Several markets have been hit in the airstrikes and civilian casualties are high. Combine this with the destruction of 13 medical facilities in Opposition areas in January alone and thousands of people sleeping out in the open in winter weather and you have the ingredients of another humanitarian disaster. The BBC has more.
Ironically, while all this was going on, a donor conference in London pledged $10 billion for humanitarian aid in Syria on Thursday, though many of the previous pledges has still not been paid to the UN.
With the latest developments, Turkey’s plans for a “no fly” or “safe zone” for refugees in the northern part of Aleppo province appear to be in tatters. Turkey dare not send up jets to overfly the Syrian border as they know that an angry Russia will shoot them down. You can read more, HERE:
Across Syria Opposition fighters are under pressure, but still able to strike back.
Iranian news agencies said on Friday that a brigadier general and 6 members of the Iranian forces had been killed in fighting near Aleppo. Lebanese sources indicated that at least 4 members of Hezbollah had died.
In Latakia 15 pro-Assad military officials, including 4 Russian Generals, were reported killed on Tuesday in the Turkman mountains after meeting to discuss recent military developments. One of the Russian Generals was apparently responsible for coordinating attacks on the Opposition in Latakia.
ROJAVA UPDATE 181: AS KURDS TAKE BACK 2 MORE VILLAGES FROM AL NUSRA CONTROL, THOUSANDS FLEE TO AFRIN TO SHELTER FROM RUSSIAN BOMBING ONSLAUGHT:
TIMELINE – 5th FEBRUARY 2016 15.55 GMT:
In January, the Kurdish YPG is reporting that they carried out 14 operations and had 10 clashes, in which they killed 98 “enemy forces”.
The vast majority of the enemy fighters will be members of the Islamic State (IS) but some will undoubtedly be members of the Al-Nusra Front who continue to attack YPG positions in Afrin Canton and in the Sheikh Maqsoud district in Aleppo city.
20 members of the YPG/YPJ died during these operations and clashes, but 24 AK-7s were seized, 4 x heavy machine guns, 2 x RPG rocket launchers, 44 hand grenades and other pieces of useful equipment.
Last Sunday, members of the YPJ associated with the YPG press office came under attack in Cizire Canton when their vehicle was hit by an IED, killing one female officer and wounding another.
On Tuesday a YPG/YPJ patrol in the southern part of Hasakah province came across IS Jihadists dressed in civilian clothes setting an IED. The IED exploded killing a Kurdish fighter and wounding a second.
On Wednesday south-east of Hasakah city, the YPG launched an operation against IS positions at the village of Elgana, though no immediate toll of casualties on either side is so far available.
Also on Wednesday around 11.00 am, IS launched another attack on Ain Issa in Kobane Canton with heavy weapons. The YPG/YPJ launched counter attacks to frustrate the IS plans of advancement.
On Tuesday, IS additionally attempted to infiltrate Tishreen village, not far from the dam of the same name across the Euphrates, in the south-west of Kobane Canton.
The IS attack started with a suicide bomb attack on a YPG checkpoint not far from the dam, followed by 30 x IS Jihadists attacking the YPG HQ in the area.
4 x IS fighters were killed before the rest of the group retreated northwards to IS-held Jarablous near the Turkish border.
West of the Euphrates in Afrin Canton, YPG units advanced yesterday, Thursday, against Al-Nusra Front (ANF) fighters and recaptured the villages of Al-Ziyara and Khrebka. 5 ANF fighters were killed in the clash and 6 wounded.
2 Kurdish fighters lost their lives in the battle and the YPG are now dismantling IED and landmines left by the Islamists in the area. There is video of the operation to recover the villages, (Kurdish only) HERE:
Over in Kobane city, the first school for disabled pupils opened this week with an intake of 15 students.
US Central Command (Centcom) reports 9 airstrikes in Syria on Thursday and 21 in Iraq.
The Syrian airstrikes struck an IS staging post near Raqqah, hit an IS tactical unit and destroyed 2 x IS fighting positions near Al-Hawl, hit 4 separate tactical units and destroyed an IS building 2 x IS fighting positions near Manbij and struck an IS tactical unit twice, destroyed an IS vehicle and an IS command and control node near Mar’a.
Interestingly, Saudi Arabia has said that it willing to send “ground forces” to Syria in the fight against IS, believing that an airstrike only solution is insufficient. The US is reluctant to comment until it has the detail.
Afrin Canton, despite being under siege by the Al Nusra Front and its allies has opened its borders to tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing northwards from the new onslaught on Opposition towns and villages by the Russian and Assad air forces. (More on this later).
The YPG has set up an operations room to find shelter for the displaced refugees in schools and tents and provide blankets, food and medication.
In the north of Aleppo city, the YPG ventured out from the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsoud on Wednesday and pinned down another Al Nusra Front vehicle on the Jandol road, killing or wounding 3 of the Islamic fighters.
ROJAVA UPDATE 180: TOP US ENVOY VISITS KOBANE AS KURDISH DELEGATION TURNED AWAY FROM PARTICIPATION IN GENEVA PEACE TALKS:
TIMELINE – 1st FEBRUARY 2016 15.05 GMT -UPDATED (scroll down) 18.40 GMT:
On Saturday morning, Islamic State (IS) units attempted to send in a suicide vehicle bomb against YPG fighters protecting the Tishreen Dam in the south-west of Kobane Canton.
Spotting the vehicle, a YPG team was dispatched to intercept it, destroying the vehicle and killing 3 x IS fighters and wounding a fourth.
Also on Saturday, IS once again attacked in the Ain Iss area in the southern part of the Canton near the village of Abdul-Razaq. The YPG led a search operation and found a small weapons cache of rifles, machine guns and mines as well killing 3 x IS Jihadists and capturing 2 more.
The YPG General Command has also issued a statement warning the Turkish Armed Forces to stay out of Rojava after they crossed the border on Thursday and Friday last week near the village of Sermisax, 13 kilometers to the west of the city Derik.
The Turks fired at local Kurds who gathered near the border to protest the incursion, but fortunately there were no casualties.
The Coalition is reported to have bombed the IS-held town of Shaddadi on Sunday, north of Raqqah, hitting several IS checkpoints and a weapons storage centre. 14 x IS Jihadists guarding the checkpoints were reported killed according to local sources.
US Central Command (Centcom) reports 5 airstrikes in Syria on Saturday, 2 near Hasakah hitting IS tactical units, destroying an IS structure and 2 x IS fighting positions and other strikes near Raqqah, Ayn Issa and Mar’a, destroying a crane and hitting 2 tactical units. The same day, 18 strikes were made in Iraq.
In Aleppo city, both the Al Nusra Front (ANF) and the Islamist Opposition group Ahrar Al-Sham (AAS) attacked the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsoud on Saturday with mortars. In an immediate response, the YPG attacked a position on the Jandol Road, from where the attack originated, and destroyed 3 vehicles and a communications centre.
6 fighters from ANF and AAS were killed in the operation and another 8 wounded and taken prisoner.
Also in Aleppo, in retaliation for a barrel-bomb attack by the Assad regime on Sheikh Maqsoud (scroll down – see Rojava Update 179 below), the YPG attacked an Assad security checkpoint with mortars. 4 pro-Assad fighters were killed and 7 injured.
Meanwhile, while the Kurds appear to have, for moment at least, been excluded from the Syria “Peace Talks” in Geneva, a high-level delegation from the US-led International Coalition made a 2 day visit to northern Syria at the weekend.
The delegation, which included British and French representatives plus most interestingly, President Obama’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk, met with Kobane Canton Adminstration officials in Kobane City on Saturday and then with senior officers of the Syrian Democratic Force to discuss the campaign against the Islamic State.
McGurk’s visit, the first by a top US diplomat to Rojava, appears to be a deliberate attempt to assuage Kurdish anger over their exclusion from the talks in Geneva.
Despite not having a formal invitation, a Kurdish team, led by PYD co-chairman Saleh Muslim, travelled to Switzerland last week and based themselves in Lausanne, ready to step forward to Geneva if called.
According to US sources, the Kurds were discreetly asked to leave Switzerland on Saturday after Turkey said it would not participate in the talks if the Kurds remained. US Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken apparently called Saleh Muslim to discuss “Washington’s view on the Kurdish issue and the peace talks” and assurances have been made that the Kurds will be involved “at a later date”.
Returning to Syria, Saleh Muslim said the Kurds would not recognise an agreements made under Geneva 3 unless their had been Kurdish participation in making those agreements. You can read more, HERE:
Over in Iraq, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concern about the preservation of the sites of mass graves on and around Mount Sinjar, where 25 locations have been identified, 19 of them confirmed.
Already, many of the graves have been disturbed before experts can evaluate them and catalogue the remains of victims executed by the Islamic State as they rampaged across northern Iraq. You can read more at HRW.
40 kilometres east of Mosul, IS launched a mortar attack on a Peshmerga security centre in the Khazir district on Sunday evening, killing 8 Kurdish fighters and wounding another 6.
In Mosul city itself, IS are reported to executed on Sunday 4 Kurdish civilians from the Shabak clan for “spying for the Peshmerga” and on Friday another 20 of its own Jihadists for “abandoning their posts in western Mosul without permission”. The Jihadists were beheaded, according to local reports.
DEVASTATING ISLAMIC STATE ATTACK NEAR SHIA SHRINE IN DAMASCUS, WHILE ANOTHER 16 DIE OF STARVATION IN MADAYA:
As well as rejecting the Kurds, the “Peace Talks” got off to a shaky start on Friday, with only the Syrian Government delegation, led by Syria’s UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, having arrived.
Jaafari started off well in typical “conciliatory” style by branding all Opposition representatives as “terrorists”, and the Opposition team, known as the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) did not even make a decision to attend at all until late Friday night.
Arriving in Geneva over the weekend, the HNC insisted that they would not negotiate with Assad’s representatives until women and children were released from government jails, air strikes on civilians ended and aid was allowed into besieged towns.
Meeting with the UN mediator Staffan de Mistura on Sunday, the Opposition were given some hope that the Assad regime will go some way to meeting those demands. Talks are expected to last for 6 months but not “face-to-face”.
Initially, “proximity talks” will take place with delegations in separate rooms and UN mediators moving between the parties to try and negotiate some steps forward. The BBC has a rather grim assessment of the likelihood of a “positive” outcome.
In a statement of some kind the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a huge bomb attack in southern Damascus early on Sunday morning near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine.
Sayyida Zeinab was the grand-daughter of Prophet Mohammed and the shrine is of major importance to Shia Islam with regular visitors from all over the Moslem world.
Hezbollah has gone out of its way to protect the shrine and even now in the height of the war, many pilgrims travel there from Iran.
Altogether, there were 3 explosions near the shrine, one from a car bomb and 2 from suicide belts. The car bomb was exploded at the bus station in the Koua Soudan area and after people came to help the injured, two suicide bombers blew themselves up nearby.
Many death toll figures have been widely quoted, though the latest from Syria’s Ministry of Interior is 50 dead and 110 injured.
According to sources inside Syria, President Assad has replaced the commander in charge of the Republican Guard, the country’s elite unit charged with protecting the leadership.
Out goes Badiaa Ali and in comes one of Assad’s cousins from his mother’s side, Brigadier General Talal Mahklouf. Human Rights Watch (HRW) identified Mahklouf as one of the officers responsible for the brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in Syria in 2011. The officer commanding the surrounded garrison in Deir Ez Zour has also got the sack.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented the deaths of 4,680 people in Syria in January 2016 – 1,345 of them civilians, including 295 children and 190 women. The other 3,335 deaths were roughly split between the pro and anti-Assad combatants on the two sides, including IS.
Interestingly, Free Syrian Army (FSA) founder, Colonel Riad Al-Asaad, has said in an interview that the FSA is holding prisoner a “large number” of Iranian, Hezbollah and pro-Assad Shia militia fighters, including officers and an Iranian Captain. Asaad assured the interviewer that these prisoners were being looked after well.
Meanwhile, fighting goes across Syria. In Latakia the Opposition, having lost territory, have moved to a more “hit and run” campaign, destroying a Syrian Army ammunition truck with a TOW missile, HERE:
In their usual “compassionate” manner, Assad’s or Russian planes bombed a tented refugee camp in northern Latakia on Saturday in an attempt to drive the pro-Opposition residents out of the province and into Turkey.
In Hama province, Opposition fighters have gained ground, taking over all of Al-Buwaydah and destroying 2 of Assad’s tanks and a BMP armoured vehicle.
In Idlib province an exchange of prisoners between the regime and Islamist Opposition groups at the 2 Alawite villages of Kafraya and Al-Fuah has taken place, the second stage of an agreement reached in January, along with humanitarian access to Madaya near Damascus. The regime released 27 prisoners, the Islamists 18.
However, Medicin Sans Frontieres (MSF) is reporting that another 16 people have died from malnutrition in Madaya since humanitarian aid agencies gained access in January after a worldwide outcry, bring the total that have starved to death there to 46.
According to their estimates there are 320 outstanding cases of malnutrition and 33 so severe that they require urgent medical treatment. The Syrian Red Crescent said that they were allowed access on Saturday but only to make assessments, not to deliver aid.
This moving report from Marianne Gasser of the International Red Cross on her visit to Madaya says it all:
“A cold rain was falling as the men carried the small bundle towards me. They were insisting I should take it. A crowd had gathered. The only light came from the phones we carried; there had not been electricity for months.
The men stopped and slowly, carefully unwrapped the blanket. At first, I could not make out what was inside. Then it suddenly dawned on me that it was an old man”.
You can read more (recommended reading) via the BBC.
In Deir Ez Zour heavy fighting is reported today, Monday, in the northern outskirts of the city, around Assad Base Brigade 137 and to the south-west, despite an estimated 200 airstrikes by Russian jets. Heavy casualties reported on both sides.
Also today, the Assad regime launched a new attempt to gain ground north of Aleppo city around Duwayra Al-Zeytoun and Bashkuy but latest reports suggest it is not going to plan, with Opposition fighters destroying Assad’s tanks, an armoured vehicle and a technical (pick-up with mounted heavy machine gun) and retaking villages they had lost earlier to both the regime and the Islamic State.
ROJAVA UPDATE 179: KURDS RETALIATE AGAINST BOMBARDMENT FROM THE ISLAMIC STATE IN JARABLOUS AND ASSAD REGIME BARREL-BOMBS KURDISH DISTRICT IN ALEPPO:
TIMELINE – 29th JANUARY 2016 14.30 GMT:
As the Kurds across Rojava celebrated the first anniversary this week of their victory over the Islamic State (IS) at Kobane in January 2015, YPG units launched an attack on IS positions in Jarablous west of the Euphrates.
Attacking from the western countryside of Kobane Canton, the YPG bombed the IS-held town with artillery shells and mortars.
According to reports the YPG assault hit an IS security centre, several IS vehicles and a Sharia Court building, as well as killing 21 x IS Jihadists.
Jarablous, which is thought to be a main route for IS recruits and supplies entering Syria from Turkey is a major target of the YPG, despite Turkey’s objections to a Kurdish presence along a 100 kilometre stretch of the Aleppo/Turkey border, currently controlled by IS.
The US has been requesting Turkey to secure this border against IS infiltration for months but the Turkish authorities, who tend to support Islamist groups, have failed to act effectively.
Strong reports persist the the Syrian Democratic Force, consisting of the YPG and Arab, Turkman and Assyrian Christian units, is about to launch a major campaign in Aleppo province to take Manbij and Jarablous away from IS control.
It is also expected to target Azaz which is held by various Opposition brigades, but which from where the Islamist Al Nusra Front threatens the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.
Separately, Assad and his Russian allies are closing in on IS-held Al-Bab, 50 kilometres south-west of Manbij.
Other reports from Jarablous say that Sharia officials brutally beat 30 women there on Wednesday evening in the central market, before arresting them on charges of violating the IS dress-code.
The women are expected to be flogged with 50 lashes in a public display before being released.
By contrast, a number of Kurdish women journalists have launched their own radio station in Hasakah province broadcasting programmes in both Arabic and Kurdish and specialising on topics relevant to the full role of women in society (English sub-titles) here,
In the north-western countryside of Raqqah province this week, IS fired a number of missiles into Ain Issa, though no heavy casualties have so far reported.
Also for the first time, the Assad regime targeted Sheikh Maqsoud, the Kurdish neighbourhood of Aleppo, with barrel-bombs this week. 5 civilians were killed, including 2 children and nine people were injured. 3 of the barrel-bombs hit a crowded market place.
US Central Command (Centcom) reports 10 airstrikes in Syria yesterday, Thursday, one hitting an IS tactical unit and a checkpoint near Hasakah, one hitting an IS oil and gas separation plant near Raqqah and 2 strikes near Manbij hitting 2 separate tactical units and destroying an IS building.
A further 5 strikes near Ma’ra in Aleppo province (probably in support of the SDF) hit 4 separate IS tactical units, destroyed 2 x IS fighting positions and disabled an IS vehicle. The tenth strike on Thursday hit an IED explosive manufacturing area in Palmyra in Homs province.
Over in Iraq on Thursday there were 14 airstrikes across the country, all with similar targets to those in Syria.
One of the Coalition’s airstrikes on Thursday evening in Iraq is reported to have killed the Islamic State’s supposed “minister of war”, Jalal Hamdan Al-Naama. The Coalition monitored a convoy which was taking senior IS members to a meeting in a building near Mosul and once everyone was inside, they destroyed it.
Around 20 x IS Jihadists are believed to have been killed in the operation on the building in the Al- Hadra suburb of Mosul city.
3 senior IS members in charge of security and finance were also reported killed on Wednesday near Tikrit in another Coalition raid.
The US military has also expressed concern over the state of Mosul Dam which has suffered from poor maintenance for a long time.
U.S. Army Lieutenant, General Sean MacFarland, said on Thursday that he had been working with the Iraqi government on a plan to protect civilians should the dam collapse when snow melt water fills the lake behind the dam in early Spring.
A collapse of the dam would send a surge of water down the heavily populated Tigris river valley. The dam was held for some time by IS but was later recaptured by the Kurdish Peshmerga.
An Italian company is negotiating with the Iraqi Government to sign a contract to reinforce the dam. Hopefully this will not be too late as a complete collapse would be catastrophic.
Latest reports from Europe say that the Dutch Parliament has agreed for its military to send jets to join the Coalition strike force in Syria. Further details awaited.
ROJAVA UPDATE 178: RUSSIA DENIES AIRBASE PLANS AS ISLAMIC STATE LAUNCHES NEW ATTACKS ACROSS HASAKAH:
TIMELINE- 25th JANUARY 2016 14.00 GMT – UPDATED 22.32 GMT:
In a motorcycle bomb attack in Qamishli or Friday evening, 4 are reported killed and 9 wounded.
The Islamic State (IS) have already claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place in the predominately Christian Assyrian area of Wista in the central part of the city.
This follows 3 similar bomb attacks on December 30th.
Yesterday, Sunday, IS also launched several other attacks across Hasakah province.
In the first IS used car-bombs and mortar shells against a headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Al-Hawl. 2 SDF fighters were killed and 5 others wounded.
The attack came from the IS-held town of Shaddadi which is a current target of the SDF advance.
The other IS attacks on Sunday were on villages and security posts around Mount Abdel Aziz in Hasakah province, using suicide bombs and heavy machine guns.
4 x IS Jihadists were killed in these clashes, with one Kurdish fighter killed and 2 more injured.
Further to the previous report of preparations for a US airbase in north-east Hassakah province on an old agricultural crop-spraying airfield, the BBC has more information.
The size of the runway has been increased from 700 metres to 1.3 kilometres, long enough now to take Hercules transport aircraft.
In a rather tentative statement a spokesman for the US Department of Defence has justified the airfield by saying its small team in Syria needed “occasional logistical support”. You can read more, HERE:
Further to other reports (scroll down – see below) that the Russians were considering an airbase in Hasakah province as well, just 30 miles away from the American one, these were denied this morning, Monday, by Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia’s Ministry of Defence.
However, this is probably as reliable as recent Russian statements that they “are driving IS out of Latakia” (there are no Islamic State units in Latakia) and the Russian officer at the Russian airbase in Lattakia in the video below saying “Russian planes have not killed any civilians” (at the last count civilian deaths caused by Russian bombs were estimated from several sources as in excess of 1,000).
The BBC has returned to Russia’s main airbase in Syria, 2 months after its previous visit. Russia now claims to have made 6,000 sorties across Syria, HERE:
Off the coast, Russia, in an attempt to prove that it is a serious world power, has also now established an extensive well-armed battle force, HERE:
In Iraq, a new campaign is expected to be launched soon by the Kurdish Peshmerga south of Kirkuk in order to protect the oil rich town further. Joining them for the first time will be units of the Turkmen Popular Mobilization Forces who have been trained and equipped by the Coalition.
An Iraqi Government spokesman has also announced that launching a battle to retake Mosul is their next aim, “within the first half of 2016”. US Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, has also recently expressed the strong view that removing the Islamic State from both Raqqah and Mosul are now priorities.
RUSSIAN BOMBING KILLS ANOTHER 200 CIVILIANS OVER THE WEEKEND AS PEACE TALKS STUMBLE:
Russia’s “civilian friendly airstrikes” are credited with killing as many as 160 people, the majority civilians, in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Ez Zour over the weekend, where IS militants are closing in on the remaining regime held areas of Deir Ez Zour city.
Activists say that the dead included 35 children and 9 women. As many as 90 civilians were reported dead in the town of Khasham and 55 in Al-Tabyiya.
A Russian missile on the Idlib town of Salquin on Sunday is additionally reported to have killed and injured dozens more, bringing the total of Russia-caused civilian deaths to over 200 in 2 days.
In Latakia province, Russian fire power has enabled the Assad regime with its allies to retake the Opposition stronghold of Rabi’ah, first surrounding the town on 3 sides and capturing the villages of Daroshan and Al-Rawda.
Slowly, the Opposition are being forced out of Latakia province, having recently lost Salma as well after holding it for 3 years, and may have to retreat to Idlib and Hama provinces. The BBC’s Syria and Iraq News has more.
International peace talks on Syria due to start in Geneva this morning, Monday, appear to have stumbled with all sides still disagreeing over which groups should be allowed to take part.
UN special representative on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is expected to give a press conference this afternoon, while US Secretary of State, John Kerry, is still confidently predicting that everything “will be sorted out in the next 24 to 48 hours”. (The latest information is that the start of the talks has been put off until this Friday.)
Meanwhile, the Islamic State continues to produce “delightful” videos, the latest one glorifying the IS killers who attacked 130 innocent people in Paris in November.
The video then goes to on to threaten the UK, showing its well-known landmarks and pictures of rifle crosshairs across the faces of UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. The Guardian has more.
However, IS may be beginning to feel the financial pinch. A leaked memo from the Islamic State’s
bureaucratic powers has warned fighters that they’re going to get a 50 percent pay cut across all positions “on account of the exceptional circumstances the Islamic State is facing.”
What exactly they mean by “exceptional circumstances” is unclear, but certainly their oil distribution business has been severely disrupted recently and the US now claims that they have bombed and destroyed 9 x IS cash distribution and storage facilities across Syria and Iraq, exploding and burning the equivalent of millions of dollars in notes.
ROJAVA UPDATE 177: USA OPENING AIRBASE IN HASAKAH PROVINCE CONFIRMED. RUSSIA PLANNING TO DO THE SAME?
TIMELINE – 23rd JANUARY 2016 10.05 GMT:
As previously reported on this page, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have now confirmed that the US has secured and taken control of the Rmeilan airbase in the far north-east corner of Syria after reaching agreement with the Kurdish YPG who have controlled the former Syrian Government agricultural airfield for the last 2 years.
The US plans to use the base to provide air and logistical support to the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting against the Islamic State (IS) and presumably it will be a conduit for weapons, ammunition and other supplies.
The base near Rmeilan town is not far from both the Turkish and Iraqi borders.
The SDF is currently west of the Euphrates River battling with IS units south of Manbij where the Coalition aircraft destroyed an IS fighting position on Thursday.
Turkey remains obsessed at the possibility that its 98 kilometre border running west from the Euphrates could come entirely under Kurdish control.
The US is encouraging Turkey to seal this border in order to prevent the movement of “terrorists” across it, but Turkey’s ambivalence towards the Islamic State remains.
Assistance offered includes aerostat surveillance equipment, anti-tunneling technology, and methods for detecting materials used in improvised bombs.
Unconfirmed reports originating from Turkey say that Turkish troops “crossed the Turkish/Syrian border on Tuesday and entered the IS-held town of Jarablous without any resistance from IS” in order to counter any SDF advance in the area. (EDITOR: Treat this with some skepticism as there is no independent confirmation) SDF has a large contingent of Kurdish YPG in its make-up.
Jarablous is directly opposite Kobane Canton on the other side of the Euphrates and IS regularly bombs Kurdish villages and even the outskirts of Kobane city from there with mortars and other shells.
The Turkish Army on Tuesday also bombed the YPG headquarters east of Kobane Canton in the border town of Tal Abyad. 2 YPG fighters were injured and 3 armoured vehicles destroyed in the attack.
Turkey has repeatedly shelled Tal Abyad and its suburbs since the town was captured by the YPG in June 2015. Kurdish sources say that altogether the Turkish Army has attacked them 23 times recently in northern Syria.
Turkish soldiers also stopped an aid convoy destined for Kobane city this week. The convoy was halted just before the border in the Turkish town of Suruc, because it was trying to cross the border “illegally” in order to help “a terrorist organisation”.
Much of the aid was urgently needed medical supplies. Turkey sees the YPG as an ally of the PKK with whom it is fighting in Turkey’s south-east.
The Kurdish Red Crescent does its best to distribute the limited supplies it has around the countryside, HERE:
Following a meeting between Assad’s Interior Minister and representatives of the the YPG and PKK in Qamishli recently (scroll down – see below), it has been reported, though remains unconfirmed, that Russia has an interest in opening another airbase near the city at Assad’s Base 154.
While Assad’s forces still have a small presence in Qamishli in central and southern areas and control Base 154, most of the city is in Kurdish YPG hands.
According to the reports “100 Russian soldiers, including ten officers of different ranks, arrived in Qamishlo airport on Monday, and afterwards inspected Base 154”.
The Russians have taken the side of the Kurds in the forthcoming International Peace Talks on Syria which due to begin in Geneva, Switzerland on January 25th.
This is an anathema to the Turks and Saudia Arabia who say the Kurds should not be allowed to attend, despite the fact that they have been the most effective fighting force against IS.
Germany has also backed a Kurdish seat at the talks. Salih Muslim, the co-chairman of the YPG’s political arm, the PYD, has suggested a compromise of a second opposition grouping which includes the Kurds and other minorities and sits separately from the main Opposition delegation. You can hear more in this English report from Rohani News, HERE:
On Wednesday, the Saudi backed Opposition group appointed Mohammed Alloush, as their chief negotiator. Alloush recently took over as commander of the Saudi-backed Jaish Al-Islam Brigade, after his well-known relative, Zahran Alloush, was killed in a Russian air strike.
Alloush is demanding a halt to sieges on Opposition areas and no third party attending the talks. Russia objects to the attendance of Alloush.
With so many contradictions it will be a miracle if the talks start at all on the 25th January. Invitations to the talks are due to be sent out this coming Sunday, but it will not be surprising if the start date is delayed.
There is an interesting article about a group of Canadian filmmakers who are making a video about Kobane and especially the role of women in the city, HERE:
In southern Hasakah province at IS-held Shaddadi, a current target of the Kurdish YPG and combined SDF force as they move towards Raqqah, activists have reported that they have been banned from private Internet access or using any Internet linked device at home.
Private Internet cafes have also been closed and only IS controlled Internet centres are now allowed, in a bid to restrict information leaking out and into the town. The local Sharia court ruling says that anyone violating these rules “will be mercilessly punished”.
There are also reports that the Islamic State is hiding prisoners and senior officials inside the Tabqa Dam 40 kilometres upstream from its Syrian HQ at Raqqah and at the head of Lake Assad, secure in the knowledge that the Coalition will not risk bombing it. IS has already used the dam to restrict the availability of water in nearby Iraq’s Anbar province.
In Iraq itself, 2 more Yezidi men are said to have been abducted in Sinjar province, IS infiltrating the village of Sakiniya in a search for people it could take hostage.
Activists have also reported that as many as 20 top commanders of IS from Niveneh province in Iraq’s north-west have transferred to Libya and Yemen in the last 2 weeks.
The move is an attempt to avoid Coalition airstrikes which killed 9 leading IS members on Monday this week near Baiji and another 30 x IS fighters in Mosul on Thursday.
On Wednesday a group of unidentified gunmen attacked an IS base at Badoush west of Mosul and escaped after killing 4 x IS Jihadists.
Earlier on Sunday a bomb attack on an IS convoy near Badoush killed or injured 17 Jihadists. (EDITOR: These attacks have the ring of Western special forces operations about them, but that has not been confirmed)
Satellite pictures this week have revealed that IS has completely destroyed the 1,400 year old St. Elijah’s Monastery in Mosul, the oldest monastery in the whole of Iraq and a significant part of the country’s Christian heritage.
The monastery was believed to have been destroyed in 2014 soon after IS took control of the city.
The Reverend Manuel Yousif Boji, a Chaldean Catholic priest resident in the US, who remembered attending mass at St. Elijah’s 60 years ago, said, “A big part of tangible history has been destroyed”.
ROJAVA UPDATE 176: SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCE ADVANCE TOWARDS MANBIJ SUPPORTED BY RUSSIAN AIR ATTACK:
TIMELINE – 18th JANUARY 2016 14.05 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down) 18.00 GMT:
Clashes are reported this morning, Monday, between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Islamic State (IS) at the village of Abu Qalqal, which is south of IS-held Manbij in Aleppo province.
At the same time, Russian jets are reported to have bombed IS positions in Manbij and also in the IS-held HQ of Raqqah, where as many as 40 civilians were reported killed including 8 children.
The Russian planes appear to have targeted small shops and restaurants, the industrial area and the National Hospital.
In the countryside near Raqqah, IS have also clashed with the Kurdish YPG at Ain Issa. Coalition aircraft supported the YPG with 4 airstrikes on IS positions around the town.
On Saturday, 3 x IS fighters were killed and 4 more injured and arrested after they managed to penetrate as far as Saddiq Square in the western part of Hasakah city.
Their target appeared to be the YPF HQ in the square, but they were intercepted before reaching it.
A leading Opposition commander, Ammar Kakkout, who was shot by Turkish military snipers as he tried cross the border from Syria to Turkey near Tal Abayad 2 weeks ago, has died from his wounds in hospital in Mersin, Turkey.
Kakkout was the general coordinator of the Free Syrian Army-affiliated Brigade 56-Banner of the Euphrates Brigade and had formerly been a well-known member of the Syrian National Council political Opposition. Kakkout had fought against IS in Hasakah province, as well in Deir Ez Zour and across northern Syria.
In order to deal with the ongoing struggle against IS and now Al Qaeda in Afrin and Aleppo City, the YPG has increased conscription time to its forces from 6 months to 9 months. This will not be popular with non-supporters of the YPG’s political arm, the PYD.
On Saturday, the YPG are reported to have attacked an Al-Qaeda checkpoint near the Jandul roundabout in the Shuqaif neighborhood with mortar shells, just outside the Sheikh Maqsoud Kurdish neighbourhood in Aleppo city. 6 Al-Nusra fighters are said to have been killed and 2 others wounded. 3 Kurdish fighters were injured in the fighting that followed.
A secret meeting is reported from Qamishli in the north of Hasakah province over the weekend between representatives of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is battling the Turks in southern Turkey and based in northern Iraq, and the YPG who control most of Qamishli city and Assad’s Interior Minister, Mohammed Al-Shaar.
Shaar was accompanied by a number of Syrian Army military advisers and reportedly said that the Assad regime was trying to get the Kurds represented at the forthcoming Geneva lll conference on Syria, something which Saudi Arabia had so far prevented.
The Syrian regime still has a small military presence in Qamishli city.
Interesting article, which gives some clues to the political philosophy that underlies the structure of the PYD and YPG in Rojava, HERE:
Over in Iraq, Coalition planes have heavily attacked IS positions in the Gayarah district, destroying a bridge near Makhmour on a main IS supply route from Mosul towards Baghdad.
And in Sinjar, Kurdish Peshmerga forces have found the 20th mass grave dug by IS, revealing clothing, skulls and bone fragments believed to be those of yet more Yezidi men, executed when IS took over the area, HERE:
DESPITE UN PRESENCE IN MADAYA, 5 MORE PEOPLE DIE FROM STARVATION. AID WORKERS DESCRIBE SCENES THAT “HAUNT THE SOUL”:
Despite the presence of UN and Syrian Red Crescent staff in Madaya, the Damascus province town of 42,000 that was under siege by the Assad regime, another 5 people have died from starvation and malnutrition over the weekend.
The first UN aid convoy arrived last Monday and a second one on Thursday, plus a Syrian Red Crescent mobile clinic. However, UN staff estimate that 400 people in the town are in need of urgent medical attention.
2 people died while UN vehicles stood outside the town last week waiting for permission from the Assad regime to enter and another 5 have died since, bringing the total number of verified deaths to 35 in the past 4 weeks.
Around 50 people left the town after the siege was lifted on January 11th and another 10 have been evacuated for medical reasons. Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has called for many others to be released from the town for urgent medical care and has identified 18 people in desperate need of critical support and treatment.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday that UN staff had reported scenes from Madaya that “haunt the soul” and said that using starvation as a weapon of war was “utterly unconscionable” and a war crime.
“We are working to get medical teams and mobile clinics on the ground right away. I want to make a special plea for those in besieged areas of Syria. I would say they are being held hostage – but it is even worse. Hostages get fed.”
There are another estimated 13 “Madayas” in Syria in need of urgent attention. In 2014 the Assad regime gave the UN permission to supply aid to only 5% of the locations where they requested permission to enter.
In 2015 that fell to 3%. Over the years of the war 80 requests to the Syrian Government to supply life-saving aid out a total of 113 have gone unanswered.
UN and Red Crescent staff who have entered Madaya reported seeing “the elderly and children, men and women, who were little more than skin and bones: gaunt, severely malnourished, so weak they could barely walk, and utterly desperate for the slightest morsel.”
Addressing the UN Security Council, Ms. Kyung-Wha Kang, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the delegates on Friday, that they cannot let more people “die on their watch.”
“Food, water and medicine are not bargaining chips or favours that the parties to a conflict can grant or deny at will; they are basic necessities that lie at the very essence of survival and the right to life, which this Council and its members have a responsibility to protect,” she said.
Ms. Kang also pointed out that Madaya is not unique. As the war in Syria approaches the start of its sixth year in March, an estimated 400,000 people are at risk of a similar fate.
Apart from those at risk of starvation, Amnesty International estimates that 250,000 have now been killed in the war in Syria, including 10,000 children.
In other news at Deir Ez Zour in eastern Syria, very heavy fighting was reported over the weekend with the Islamic State who broke into the Ayash and Begayliya neighbourhoods of the city on Saturday, preceding the attack with several car bombs.
Accounts of events vary widely but at least 50 pro-regime fighters and 85 civilians were killed in the IS attack, plus 42 x IS Jihadists.
The Assad regime is reporting that it retook the districts on Sunday but that IS has “taken 400 people hostage”, though this has not been verified.
Latest reports from the area on Monday say that IS have captured a major Syrian Army weapons depot to the north-west of the city, plus ground to air missiles, a battle tank, a BMP armoured personnel carrier and a Shilka tank.
IS have also sent reinforcements to Deir Ex Zour in an effort to gain ground while a sandstorm rages and prevents Russian and Assad air support.
Reports later today, Monday afternoon, suggest IS has shelled the Euphrates Hotel in the city and taken control of the Basatin al-Nahr neighbourhood and the Deir Ez Zour Heart Hospital, but all detail yet to be confirmed.
Meanwhile IS continues its reign of terror throughout the territories it still holds, executing 4 of its own Jihadists in Manbij for “robbery and corruption”. The men were publicly executed by firing squad after being accused and “convicted” of “stealing gold and five million Syrian Liras ($22,700) from the Islamic Bank of Manbij”.
And in Iraq, 3 women were reported to have been burned to death in Mosul after being accused of “spying for the Crusader Coalition”.
Also in Mosul, the growing shortage of manpower and the financial strain are being to show after a Coalition campaign of airstrikes against IS fighting positions and its oil and gas supply infrastructure.
On Sunday more than 60 young boys in the city were forced to join the IS jihadi training camp in the city in order to become “Cubs of the Caliphate”. After 3 months of Sharia and military training the children will be distributed to all the towns and cities that IS still controls in Syria and Iraq.
IS is additionally reported to selling off property left by Christians who fled Mosul, including so far 400 houses, 19 commercial premises and 167 shops in order to bolster its flagging financial revenues.
In Latakia province, where the Assad regime, backed by Russian air support, has had some success recently in pushing Opposition fighters out of their base at Salma and other surrounding villages, the Opposition under cover of rain, fog and generally bad weather, has launched a counter-attack.
So far the Opposition are reported to have regained control of the villages of Tal Zaitoun, Tal Ablaq and Madrasat Atira in the Jabal Turkman Mountains.
In Daraa province, fighting between the Assad regime and the Opposition continues in Sheikh Maskin, with the Fallujah of Horan Brigade shelling the Government side, HERE:
While in Hama province, Opposition fighters destroyed an Assad tank just south of Hama city, HERE:
EDITOR: However, as you may have noticed, both the quality and number of Opposition videos, particularly those featuring the use of anti-tank missiles has decreased dramatically in the last few weeks.