SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS
BEHEADING OF WESTERNERS AND POTENTIAL FOR ISLAM/WEST CONFLICT APPARENTLY “TURNING-ON” SOME JIHADISTS IN NORTH AFRICA:
TIMELINE – 15th SEPTEMBER 2014 14.38 GMT – UPDATED 21.04 GMT:
As representatives of 30 nations gathered in Paris this morning, Monday, to discuss the Jihadist threat in Iraq, the world was digesting the aftermath of yet another horrific beheading video by the Islamic State.
The video, published late on Saturday, showed the murder of British aid worker David Haines, just 44. David Haines’ only “crime” was to go to Syria to work for a French humanitarian organisation, Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), who were planning to restructure the only refugee camp on Syrian soil at Atmeh in northern Aleppo province, very near to the Turkish border.
David Haines had a 17 year old daughter with his first wife and a 4 year old daughter by his second wife with whom he lived in Croatia.
Prior to doing aid work in Syria, Haines had done similar work in Libya, the former Yugoslavia and South Sudan. Haines had also spent 12 years in the Royal Air Force (RAF).
David Cameron, the UK’s Prime Minister, described the killing as “an act of pure evil” and vowed that Britain would do everything in its power to hunt down the murderers and “bring them to justice, however long it takes”.
President Obama issued a statement saying, “The United States strongly condemns the barbaric murder of UK citizen David Haines by the terrorist group ISIL ….. The United States stands shoulder to shoulder tonight with our close friend and ally in grief and resolve”.
The murderer in the video, once again swathed in black, has the same British accent as in the previous killings.
Fronting a video entitled “A Message to the Allies of America”, the British Jihadist says, addressing Cameron, “You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State ….. This British man has to pay the price for your promise, Cameron, to arm the Peshmerga [Kurds] against the Islamic State. Ironically, he has spent a decade of his life serving under the same Royal Air Force that is responsible for delivering those arms …. Your evil alliance with America which continues to strike the Muslims of Iraq and most recently bombed the Haditha dam will only accelerate your destruction”.
Before he was executed, David Haines was forced to read out a statement telling David Cameron that he was “entirely responsible for my execution” for entering into a coalition with the United States. You can read a fuller profile of David Haines, HERE:
The video ends with the threatened execution of yet another British aid worker, Alan Henning, a taxi driver from northern England who was captured on his 2nd volunteer trip with a UK aid convoy bringing humanitarian supplies to those in need in Syria. You can see a video about Alan Henning, HERE:
While President Obama has apparently authorised strikes against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, Cameron has yet to do so, cautious after a humiliating defeat in Parliament last year when he sort permission to do so. France however, has this morning joined UK aircraft in surveillance work on IS positions in Iraq.
Germany has announced that it is about to send 60 military personnel to Erbil in Iraq to help with the training of Kurdish forces and Australia has said that it is send 600 military personnel and 6 Super-Hornet jet fighters to be based in the UAE in the Arabian Gulf ready for active service in Iraq or Syria.
Sickeningly, according to some sources, the videos of the beheadings are “turning-on” some potential Jihadists, especially in Tunisia and Libya where many individuals are said to be “excited” by the thought of a conflict between Islam and the West, where as before they had little interest in a Shia/Sunni battle between Moslems. You can read more in the Guardian Syria and Iraq news.
The United State has now made it clear that it now sees itself “at war” with the Islamic State, is the same way it is “at war” with Al Qaeda across the globe.
However, the US Government has once again reiterated that it will not work with the Assad regime and Assad’s allies, Iran and China, have been excluded from the conference in Paris today, though the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, did attend.
In this video, Faisal Mekdad, Assad’s Deputy Foreign Minister, bleating about the US coalition excluding the Syrian Government from the fight against the Islamic State, says that the accusation that Assad has blood on his hands is a “as a big lie” and if Syria is ignored “it will be disastrous”, HERE:
In a statement from the Paris conference this afternoon, Monday, a lot of fine words have emerged plus a commitment to support “the new Iraqi government in its fight … by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardizing civilian security”.
(EDITOR: Whatever that actually means in reality? Sounds like one of those UN international aid conferences where countries pledge billions of dollars of aid money – and then forget to send it!)
France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, added that many countries participating spoke of the need to sever the Islamic State’s funding and said that a conference on this subject would be organised soon by Bahrain.
The sheer sad and desperate brutality of conflict in both Iraq and Syria is illustrated by the story of a 24 year old woman in Baghdad who got engaged one Thursday and was buried the next Thursday in her wedding dress after a bomb blast, HERE:
In some better news from Iraq the new Prime Minister, Haidar al-Abadi, said on Saturday that he had ordered a halt to the bombing of populated areas in a bid to minimize civilian casualties. “I have ordered the Iraqi Air Force to halt [the] shelling of civilian areas, even in those towns controlled by the Islamic State,” he said,”But the government will not relent in its efforts to hunt down IS members wherever they are.”
His predecessor Nuri al-Maliki had authorised air raids and barrel-bombing attacks on densely populated areas as part of operations to oust IS from regions it had conquered.
OPPOSITION NOW CONTROL 80% OF THE TOWNS AND VILLAGES IN QUNEITRA PROVINCE AND STILL ADVANCING:
In Syria’s Quneitra province, Opposition fighters have made further advances, taking control of Al Hamidiayah, north-east of Quneitra city on Friday.
The fall of yet another Assad position in Quneitra is significant, leaving the Opposition in control of 80% of the provinces towns and villages in the province.
Currently there are continuing clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Army in the areas known at Tel Nouria and Tel Chrome.
On the Golan Heights, the UN Peacekeeping force, UNDOF, following heavy fighting in the area and the kidnapping of its soldiers, has, temporarily at least, abandoned its positions and withdrawn into Israel.
In northern Aleppo, the more moderate Opposition is fighting off the Islamic State, HERE: ,while in the western neighbourhoods of the city at Salah Al-Dina and Rashedin, the same brigade is battling Assad’s troops, HERE:
There is also a video report (Arabic only) from Opposition positions very, very near the Aleppo Citadel, HERE:
Additionally, a new video about media activists in Aleppo has been brought to my attention, (click on cc for English sub-titles), HERE:
In Deir Ez-Zour over the weekend, heavy fighting was reported between the Syrian Army and the Islamic State on the boundary of Deir Ez-Zour military airport, while early this morning, Monday, a raid by Assad’s special forces destroyed a strategic bridge across the Euphrates River.
The bridge was key to the Islamic State in getting supplies from the east of the province into city areas it controls. The only alternative is to bring in all supplies by boat.
A Government airstrike on an IS training camp in Deir-Ez-Zour province on Saturday is also reported to have killed 17 Jihadists and a child.
In a remote mountainous area of Latakia province at Slenfeh, east-north-east of Latakia city, Opposition fighters have been bombarding Syrian Army positions with Grad rockets, HERE:
In central Hama province over the weekend there have been heavy clashes as Assad’s troops with Hezbollah and militia support try to regain ground lost to the Opposition. 20 Syrian Army personnel are reported killed in an IED explosion at Khattab and a military vehicle was destroyed by another IED near Hama Military Airport.
In the eastern part of Hama province, south-east of Hama city, government forces have been battling the Islamic State who are attempting to storm Barri Ash Sharqi barrier and village.
Unconfirmed reports say that the Syrian Air Force has again attacked Opposition positions at Morek with barrel-bombs primed with chlorine gas.
In Homs province out in the desert there have been several days of heavy fighting between the Islamic State and Assad’s troops around Sukhnah as IS try to move on the important city of Palmyra.
In Homs city itself there are also rumours of a revolt inside the Central Prison, with the district containing it cut off and the sound of gunfire.
In Idlib province there has been a steady drip-feed of barrel-bombs falling on Opposition-held Khan Sheikhoun over the last few days, with jets relentlessly attacking other towns and villages.
Some ladies in the province who support the Opposition also produced the “world’s longest flag”, HERE:
KURDISH MILITIA,YPG, WITH ASSAD AIR SUPPORT TAKES BACK CONTROL OF 14 VILLAGES FROM THE ISLAMIC STATE IN HASAKAH PROVINCE:
In north-eastern Hasakah province, in heavy fighting since Saturday, the Kurdish militia, the YPG, has taken no less than 14 villages away from Islamic State control around the town of Tal Hamis, south-east of the city of Qamishli.
However, there are some concerns that the YPG are working with the Assad regime who backed their advance with airstrikes and even some unconfirmed reports that 45 people in one village were executed, including women and children and another 51 killed in aerial bombardment.
Though IS are far from defeated yet. Al Jazeera has a video report on a militant group in the Philippines pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, HERE:
In Daraa province 17 regime soldiers are reported to have defected to the Opposition at Al-Hara.
In Damascus province, Opposition brigades have denied any truth in the reports that they have signed a “non-aggression pact” with the Islamic State, saying that in fact it was just a temporary truce so both side could recover the bodies of fighters who had fallen in combat.
In fighting in Eastern Ghouta, 30 of Assad’s troops were reported killed and 10 captured as Opposition fighters took control of Htaita, and in a southern suburb of Dariya other fighters detonated a tunnel drilled by regime forces under the Sakineh shrine.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) also targeted a Syrian Army and militia base in Dariya, HERE: , while a number of Assad’s soldiers and Hezbollah militia were killed in the Qalamoun region of Damascus province.
On Saturday another chlorine gas attack was reported on the Damascus suburb of Jobar with as many as 30 people seriously affected.
Lastly, commenting on today’s international conference on Iraq in Paris, Hadi el-Bahra, the head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi that “the international community should support our effort.”
Bahra went on to say that the SNC was “100 percent” capable of fighting the Islamic State “with a proper plan which we have put in place and which we ask the international community to support.” The SNC through its military wing would launch two offensives at the same time, “one against the regime and one against IS,” Bahra said. (EDITOR: Currently, after endless infighting, he has more confidence in the ability of the SNC than I do!)
ASSAD AND HIS ALLIES LEFT OUT IN THE COLD AS US FORMS COALITION TO ANNIHILATE THE ISLAMIC STATE:
TIMELINE – 12th SEPTEMBER 2014 13.15 GMT – UPDATED 17.40 GMT:
As the United States completed its 156th strike against Islamic State targets in Iraq, the world was digesting President Obama’s address to the US nation on Wednesday night, the eve of the grim anniversary of 9/11.
Yesterday’s US airstrikes destroyed 2 Islamic State (IS) machine gun emplacements and a bunker. President Obama meanwhile committed to continue the strikes on IS in Iraq and to extend them to IS targets in Syria. Obama made it clear however that there would be no cooperation with the Assad regime.
Obama also committed to more training for the Syrian Opposition and to supply them with more weapons, though urged Congress to pass a bill already stalled before them, giving him $500 million to allow that to happen.
To keep faith with the American public he also said there would be no troops on the ground other than specialist training and intelligence teams to assist the Iraqi Army and Kurdish forces and said all US efforts would be backed by a like-minded international task force.
You can read the full text of Obama’s speech and watch the video, HERE:
Al Jazeera has a shorter summary, HERE:
At the same time, his Secretary of State John Kerry has had a meeting in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, signing up 10 Arab nations, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states plus Sunni idealogical rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to a supportive task force supplying military and humanitarian aid as well as trying to stop the flow of fighters and funds to the Jihadists.
In Europe support for the new anti-IS “coalition of the willing” was more patchy, with France saying it would attack IS “if required” in Iraq, but in Syria is was a different proposition.
Germany’s Foreign Minister said they would not take part in airstrikes against IS at all, while the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, got his “wrist slapped” after saying much the same and then Prime Minister David Cameron hastily issuing a statement saying that as yet “nothing had been ruled out”.
Frances Prime Minister, Francois Hollande, arrived in Baghdad this morning, Friday, to meet with the new Iraqi Government, afterwards flying on to Erbil in Kurdistan to deliver 15 tons of humanitarian aid and to consult with Kurdish leaders.
The Opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) broadly welcomed President Obama’s statement to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State but urged him to help eliminate the Assad regime as well.
Predictably, both the Assad regime and Russia objected to Obama’s statements that he will not hestitate to strike in Syria as well as Iraq and his assertion that “we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people — a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost”.
Both the Syrian Government and Russia took that to mean that he will not consult them before sending US planes against IS targets within Syria. An adviser to President Assad, Buthaina Shaaban, lamely said, “Terrorism didn’t start in Syria today, it started four years ago,” when the uprising against Assad began and insisted that Syria should be included in any anti-IS coalition.
Alexander Lukashevich, speaking for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said such a move would need an “appropriate decision of the UN Security Council” and without it “such a step would become an act of aggression, a crude violation of the norms of international law”. Syria’s other allies, Iran and China are also being left out in the cold.
While US strikes on IS in Syria would be more tricky than in Iraq where they have Government permission, the US is of course more than capable of dealing with Syrian Government radar and defence systems, just as the Israelis do on a regular basis.
An assessment of the formidable weaponry and technology, including the new F-22 Raptor jets and various drones, available to US forces can be read, HERE:
Even so the task will not be easy. Latest US assessments puts the Islamic State strength at between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters.
Little other news from Iraq, other than Islamic State gunmen have kidnapped another 20 villagers in the northern part of the country because they were suspected of “organising a group of fighters against them”. Last week 50 people from another village were “arrested” for burning an Islamic State flag and fortified position, but were later released.
ASSAD REGIME CONTINUES ITS LETHAL BOMBING CAMPAIGN AGAINST EVERYBODY, INCLUDING WOMEN AND CHILDREN:
In Syria, the Assad regime continued its own campaign against the Islamic State (IS), carrying out 6 airstrikes yesterday, Thursday, on the IS-held town of Al Bab in Aleppo province. As usual, it was civilians who took the brunt of it, rockets killing 11 and wounding 17 when the weapons struck a market.
In the struggle between the more moderate Opposition and IS at Marea, north of Aleppo city 4 Opposition fighters trying to hold the town were killed and 11 of the IS fighters trying to seize it.
At the IS-held village of Ihtaimlat in the northern part of the province, Opposition fighters have been attacking using mortars and heavy machine guns, HERE:
Opposition fighters also shot down a regime aircraft near Quwaires airbase near Aleppo and captured the pilot. He can be seen under interrogation, (Arabic only), HERE:
South of Aleppo city, the Opposition destroyed an armoured cannon on Mount Azzan, a missile defence base. Watch the Assad soldiers ducking into their armoured vehicle nearby as they see the missile coming, HERE:
And on the western side of Aleppo near Zahra, the Opposition have today very accurately taken out this T-72 tank with a B9 cannon, HERE:
In Idlib province on Tuesday, as many as 45 military and religious leaders from the hardline Opposition group Ahrar al-Sham were killed in an explosion at a meeting held in the basement of a building at Ram Hamdan, northeast of Idlib city. Many died of asphyxiation as a result a fire breaking out before they could escape.
The explosion killed the leader of Ahrar Al-Sham, Hassan Aboud, a member of the Islamic Front to which the group belonged.
No-one seems certain which group arranged the bombing, the Islamic State or the Assad regime, but the Abu Ammara Batalion announced yesterday that it had assassinated Assad’s Brigadier-General Haidar Obaida Naqqar in Aleppo yestreday “in retaliation”.
Whether it was the Islamic State or not, the Jihadist group seems to have promoted the impossible, forcing the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front to align with the Kurdish YPG militia in a new “Euphrates Volcano” campaign and joint operations room to fight IS across northern and eastern Syria and especially to drive them out of Manbij and Jarablus.
In the Damascus suburb of Douma, the death toll in a horrific Assad regime airstrike on Thursday has now risen to 42, including 7 children and 2 women. An unspecified number of Opposition fighters were also killed, while firefighters struggled to put out fires in several buildings. Latest unconfirmed reports are saying that after 4 days of bombs and shells, the total of dead today, Friday, in Douma has reached 100.
Violent clashes between Opposition fighters and Assad’s troops in the last 4 days near Dukhaniya on the outskirts of the capital in Eastern Ghouta, have resulted in the reported death of one of the Syrian Army’s operations commanders, Rida Makhlouf, distantly related to the President.
Opposition fighters captured the suburb earlier this week and attacked a number of barriers and checkpoints in the vicinity. Many pro-regime militia were killed in the fighting and up to 40 taken prisoner, including officers. The takeover has been followed by lots of Government shell and rocket fire, including the so-called “elephant rockets”.
Latest reports also suggest that Opposition fighters have captured a number of military points near the Tishreen district not far from the heart of the capital and have additionally blocked the road from Damascus to Quneitra province between Khan As-Shih and Sasa to the south-west of the city, HERE:
There is also a report today, Friday, that the Islamic State and more moderate Opposition brigades have agreed a “non-aggression pact” at Hajar Al-Aswad just south of Damascus. Under the ceasefire deal “the two parties will respect a truce until a final solution is found and they promise not to attack each other because they consider the principal enemy to be the Nussayri [Alawite/Assad] regime.”
ASSAD REGIME COUNTER-ATTACKS IN HAMA, DARAA & QUNEITRA, BUT JOY IN FIJI AFTER UN PEACEKEEPERS RELEASED:
In Hama province, where recently the Opposition were making significant advances, they suffered a reverse when the regime the regime this week, using Hezbollah, Iranian advisers and pro-Assad militias rather than regular troops, re-captured Khattab and Halfaya and parts of Morek and Kafr Zita.
Opposition fighters had moved within 2 to 3 kilometres of Hama Military Airbase and were successfully restricting its operation with mortar fire. Under pressure they have withdrawn and regrouped and are now counter-attacking.
Tel Al-Nasiriyah, a hilltop which the Opposition had taken before but which fell to the regime earlier this week, was retaken once again by Opposition fighters yesterday. This video is from the battlefield near Qmhana, also to the north-west of Hama city, HERE:
A major regime counter-attack seems to be underway in Daraa and Quneitra at the moment, 2 southern provinces where Assad has consistently lost ground in recent months (scroll down – see below).
Heavy fighting is going on in north-west Daraa province on the borders of Quneitra as an Assad convoy tries to regain control of Kafr Nasij and Deir Al-Adass, but so far reports suggest that Opposition fighters are holding their own and have already destroyed 2 tanks.
Sensibly, the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) in Quneitra province, after the intervention of the government of Qatar, decided to release all of their 45 Fijian UN peacekeeper hostages unharmed yesterday, much to the joy of Fiji’s 900,000 population far away in the Pacific who celebrated their freedom.
Al-Nusra dropped earlier demands for a prisoner release, aid to specific Opposition areas and a request that the UN drop ANF from their terrorist list. The release of the UN personnel can be seen from a distance, HERE:
In Latakia province, opposition fighters successfully destroyed another regime tank with a TOW anti-tank missile launcher, HERE: , while the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed that there is “compelling evidence” that chlorine gas was “systemically and repeatedly” used as a weapon against villages in northern Syria this year.
While the report stops short of actually naming the Assad regime, there is effectively no other contender for the attacks on Kafr Zita and surrounding villages in northern Syria earlier this year. You can read more, HERE:
While 96% of Syria’s declared chemical weapons have been destroyed, OPCW has yet to destroy 12 chemical weapons preparation areas and get the Syrian Government to explain a number of inconsistencies in their original declaration.
In Damascus yesterday, Thursday, 7 months after the breakdown of the UN led peace process and the resignation of the UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, President Assad met his replacement Staffan de Mistura. Apparently Assad banged on to the new envoy about “defeating terrorism” and got him to repeat it to journalists afterwards without distinguishing between the Islamic State, for example, and genuine resistance to the Syrian Government’s suppressive killing machine.
In Lebanon, which until now has had no official camps for its over 1 million Syrian refugees (25% of their population), the Government has decided to build 2 near the Syrian border. The decision follows rioting and attacks on refugees and unofficial camps which many Lebanese belief house “Islamic State fighters”, who have been accused of beheading Lebanese Army soldiers.
Al Jazeera’s Syria news service has more, here:
The last word, as often before goes to the good citizens of Kanfranbel in Idlib province, who donning their “Grim Reaper” outfits and with great humour put out the commemorative banner below to remember 9/11. For their trouble they were bombed 3 times today, Friday, by Assad’s Air Force.
IRAQ NEWS: ISLAMIC STATE MAKE GUNBOAT ATTACK ON TIGRIS RIVER TOWN BUT ARE DRIVEN BACK FROM HADITHA DAM:
TIMELINE – 8th SEPTEMBER 2014 12.58 GMT – UPDATED 19.10 GMT:
In an audacious move this morning, Monday, the Islamic State attacked the town of Dhuluiya, 75 kilometres (45 miles) north of Baghdad with gunboats and 2 car bombs which exploded near a market.
In the assault of the town on the Tigris river which started at dawn, 17 are reported killed and 54 injured, before after 2 hours of fighting the Jihadists were pushed back. Civilians were among the dead as well as Iraqi Army soldiers. The town has changed hands several times.
However, for the first time US jets attacked the Islamic State (IS) in western Iraq on Sunday around the Haditha Dam in support of the Iraqi Army.
Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the leader of a Sunni tribe which supports the Iraqi Government, said that the air strikes had wiped out an IS patrol trying to attack the dam on the road between Haditha and Al-Qaim, close to the Syrian border.
“They [the US] were very accurate. There was no collateral damage. If Islamic State had gained control of the dam, many areas of Iraq would have been seriously threatened, even Baghdad.”
Centcom, US command, said they had destroyed 2 IS vehicles carrying anti-aircraft artillery, plus both a command post and a defensive position with 5 airstrikes, the nearest it has got so far to Syria.
Iraqi troops and militia went on to take nearby Barwana, east of Haditha, from IS fighters who abandoned their weapons and vehicles while retreating.
The Governor of Anbar province, Ahmed al-Dulaimi, was wounded by a combined IED and mortar shell explosion shortly after Barwana was retaken.
On Friday and Saturday US jets also destroyed 4 IS Humvees, one IS armored personnel carrier, and 2 IS trucks, one of which carried a mounted machine gun and damaged another Humvee and one more truck.
The BBC has a video report, HERE:
Separately, Kurdsih Peshmerga forces supported by the Iraqi Army have retaken Gazzer Mountain near Kalak on the road to Mosul and are moving in on the Islamic State stronghold from both the east and the west.
There are also unconfirmed reports of 7 US airstrikes today, Monday, near Rawa, west of Ramadi, one of the attacks destroying an IS HQ and multiple attacks from the air on Mosul itself.
The Iraqi Parliament is convening Monday evening, hopefully to announce the forming of a new inclusive Government, one of the conditions that the US imposed before it would expand its airstrikes to other parts of Iraq. IS however, continues its bloody campaign, reportedly executing Zeina Al-Anzi, a female parliamentary candidate in the Iraqi elections held earlier in 2014.
At the end of the NATO summit held in the UK on Thursday and Friday, it was clear that the US had formed a “coalition of the willing”, at least 10 nations who would be prepared to tackle the Islamic State head on.
Secretary of State for Defence John Kerry has been sent this week to visit key Middle Eastern states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to get their support for such a task force, and the Arab League, meeting Sunday, has already indicated its willingness to participate in some way and take “all necessary measures”.
Talking to NBC over the weekend, President Obama said that the US was “Going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of ISIL. We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We’re going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we’re going to defeat them.”
Obama also said he would address the US Congress and the American public with his plans on Wednesday. You can hear Obama talking on video via BBC Syria and Iraq news.
Reports from Saudi Arabia say that the Saudi Government is planning to construct a 900 kilometre fence (presumably to try and keep out the Islamic State) all the way along its border with Iraq (EDITOR: Though what good that would do I am not sure).
SYRIA NEWS: OPPOSITION MAKE FRESH ADVANCES IN QUNEITRA PROVINCE DESTROYING ASSAD CONVOY AND ARTILLERY POSITIONS:
Opposition fighters, having captured the border crossing to Israel, have now made fresh advances, taking the hills surrounding it and pushing Assad’s forces onto the defensive.
26 Government troops and 17 Opposition fighters were reported killed in the fighting.
Ayn Basha is close to one of the Opposition’s next objectives, the hilltop at Tel Al-Harra which is occupied by Assad’s Brigade 15.
On the way they have already taken the base of Signal Brigade 90, HERE: and the town of Naba al Sakher, where as many as 55 regime soldiers are reported killed.
In Hama province, heavy fighting is reported on the western entrances to Hama city, (Arabic only) HERE: though the regime may have re-captured Arzeh just north of the regional capital.
In Homs province, Opposition forces say Brigadier General Iyad Sarem, one of Assad’s Military Intelligence Chiefs, was killed in an ambush on Saturday night, while regime mortar shelling killed 2 civilians in the Al-Waer neighbourhood of Hom’s city.
In Damascus regime planes continue to pound Opposition-held suburbs to the east of the capital and Government troops recaptured Hteitet Jarash, which is not far from Mlieha, a strategic town they re-took in mid-August. Heavy fighting is also reported once again in the Yarmouk refugee camp.
SYRIA NEWS: ASSAD ON THE OFFENSIVE AGAINST THE ISLAMIC STATE KILLS MORE CIVILIANS, AS USUAL, THAN FIGHTERS:
On the offensive against the Islamic State, Assad’s planes have carried out numerous raids against targets in the IS Syrian HQ in Raqqah and also on IS positions in Deir Ez-Zour.
Unfortunately, as usual it is civilians who get hurt the most. Among 53 people killed in 8 bombing raids on Raqqah on Saturday, 31 of them were civilians, including 5 women and 3 children. At least 15 more were confirmed as Islamic State fighters. 24 people were killed when a IS bakery was hit while people were waiting for bread. There is video, (caution, gory) HERE:
In Idlib province at Abu Ad-Duhuh Military Airbase in the desert due south of Aleppo city, the Opposition have scored a spectacular coup, destroying a helicopter as it comes into land (there was a video here, but YouTube have since removed it).
According to the UK Independent in its Syria news, a group of British women in Raqqah are running a Sharia Police Unit.
Opposition sources also report that the Assad regime carried out aerial attacks on towns and villages near Deir Ez-Zour Military Airport, which is being hard pressed by the Islamic State, killing 19 civilians and in an attack on the city of Al-Mayadin in the same province killing 11 civilian refugees, including 3 women and a child.
Opposition estimates suggest that Assad has killed 498 civilians during the past week, including 100 children and 53 women mainly with barrel-bombs and 34 who are believed to have been tortured to death.
From Idlib province there are reports that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has brought down an Assad helicopter over Abo Al-Thouhor airport, while in Aleppo province clashes are reported between the moderate Opposition and the Islamic State at the town which IS hold called Dabiq.
From Lebanon, following its usually dreadful procedure, there are reports that the Islamic State has beheaded 2 Lebanese soldiers it captured when their fighters crossed from Syria to the Lebanese town of Arsal. IS are trying to force Lebanon to release some of their captured colleagues.
Meanwhile in Europe, Nicolas Henin, a French journalist that was held captive in Syria for several months alongside James Foley and Steven Sotloff, both beheaded by IS, has identified Mehdi Nemmouche, currently held in Belgium, as one of their Islamic State captors and torturers.
Nemmouche, of Franco-Algerian origin, was arrested in Marseille and has since been extradited to Belgium after being accused of shooting 4 people dead at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May this year.
Al Jazeera’s Syria news has a report and interview with Nicholas Henin, here:
BEHEADING OF 2nd US JOURNALIST AND THREATS TO A THIRD BRIT, HARDEN US AND UK RESOLVE TO STRIKE ISLAMIC STATE:
TIMELINE – 5th SEPTEMBER 2014 13.05 GMT – UPDATED 22.45 GMT:
After the release of second “beheading video” on Tuesday by the Islamic State, it is clear that Western nations are hardening in their resolve to attack the Jihadists in Iraq and in Syria.
While no publicly stated policy has emerged, President Obama after Tuesday’s gruesome video release, immediately ordered another 350 troops to be sent to Baghdad to “defend the American Embassy”. This brings the number of US troops and military advisers in Iraq to more than 1300.
According to reports, yesterday, Thursday, President Obama and the UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, meeting before the start of a full NATO Alliance gathering in Wales (UK), agreed the principles of a campaign against the Islamic State that will extend through Kurdish northern Iraq, Sunni Iraq and possibly into Syria itself.
Cameron talking before the NATO meeting, described the Islamic State (IS) as a direct threat to the UK, and announced that Britain will for the first time be sending lethal weapons to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.
No such offer will be made to the Iraqi Army until such time as Iraqi politicians bury their differences and form an inclusive and effective administration made up of Shia, Sunni, Kurds and minority groups, something the former PM Al-Maliki failed to do.
Cameron also made it clear that the UK and the US will strike in Syria against the Islamic State (IS) if they need to without President Assad’s permission.
“The Iraqi government was legitimate,” but in Syria he said: “President Assad has committed war crimes on his own people and is therefore illegitimate”.
Clearly Assad’s strategy to reposition himself on the side of the West in a joint attack against the “terrorist aggression” of the Islamic State has failed. He is still seen as an international pariah. Cameron went on to say that NATO leaders will act to put a “fatal squeeze” on IS in the coming days.
Commenting on apparently the same British-accented executioner appearing in Tuesday’s video as in the previous one with James Foley, Cameron said, “The people who do this should know that one way or another they will face justice. I’m absolutely certain that will be the case with this individual as well.”
The victim of Tuesday’s videoed killing was American journalist, Steven Sotloff, 31, who it turns out was Jewish and also held Israeli nationality, something his friends tried to keep off social media.
The apparently British executioner, after making Sotloff speak a prepared anti-American statement, says, “You, Obama, have yet again, through your actions, killed yet another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
Moments later there’s a warning that another captive, recently identified as a British national, David Haines, could meet the same fate. You can hear the chilling audio from this and the previous Foley video, (where the British press calls the executioner “Jihadi John”), HERE:
David Cameron, calling the murder of Steven Sotloff “sickening and brutal”, confirmed that with regard to the British hostage, although some form of negotiation was ongoing, the UK Government, in line with its ongoing policy, would not pay a ransom fee. The UK is also strengthing powers to exclude, arrest and re-locate any British citizen involved in fighting in Syria or Iraq.
“Youssef”, a Syrian “fixer”, who escorted Sotloff from Turkey to Syria said they were kidnapped by 15 – 20 men in 2013 and taken to a building in Aleppo. After being kept together for 15 days, they were separated and he never saw Sotloff again.
Later, “Youssef”, who was released because he had connections to an affiliated group, posted Sotloff’s details on social media sites and tipped of other fixers to look out for him, all to no avail. You can read more, HERE:
At least 70 journalists have been killed and 80 abducted since the conflict in Syria began in 2011. Only 13% of these were foreign journalists, which always receives far more attention, the other 87% being local. The Islamic State executed Syrian journalist Bassam Raies 2 weeks ago, but this went largely unreported.
CANADIAN JIHADISTS STRIP BANK ACCOUNTS OF US HOSTAGES AND IS CALIPH’S RIGHT-HAND-MAN REPORTED KILLED IN US AIRSTRIKE:
It has also emerged that 2 American journalists kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and 2013, Theo Curtis and Matt Schrier, were held by 3 Canadian Jihadists. Curtis was released by the Al-Nusra Front last month and Schrier escaped.
Sources say that the 2 men were forced into revealing their computer passwords, their bank accounts were drained and bills racked up on their credit cards. The Canadians are also reported to have written to the families of the 2 men, pretending to be them.
Security experts estimate that the Islamic State now controls an area greater in size than Britain, and makes $978,000 a day from selling oil and ransoming hostages, as well as having a fighting force of between 10 – 20,000 using local Sunni tribes to bolster their control.
The Islamic State (IS) are also said to be recruiting heavily in Pakistan and Malaysia at the moment.
However, IS are not having it all their own way.
In a US airstrike on IS-controlled Mosul yesterday, Thursday, Abu Hajar al-Souria, a senior lieutenant, if not the “right hand man”, to the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reported killed along with other fighters.
US Central Command is reporting that it damaged or destroyed 16 Islamic State (IS) vehicles near the Mosul Dam on Tuesday and made another 3 strikes against IS on Wednesday and Thursday destroying 2 more IS vehicles and an IS observation post, bringing the total US attacks to 127.
There are also reports emerging that as many as 30 British Jihadists who went to Syria to depose Assad, but now find themselves fighting other Opposition groups with the same aim, have become very disillusioned and want to come home.
Some of them have been talking on the Internet to the International Centre for Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) at King’s College in London, saying that they are being forced to fight but fear returning because they could end up with 30 years in prison.
In general, Opposition sources say, foreign Jihadists apart from fighting when required, end up with minor security jobs, especially guarding foreign hostages, because they often don’t speak Arabic and are not trusted to be “good Muslims”. You can read more, HERE:
IRAQ NEWS: AS EVIDENCE PILES UP, MIRACULOUS ESCAPEE DESCRIBES MURDER AND HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE BY ISLAMIC STATE ON AN INDUSTRIAL SCALE:
On the ground in Iraq, Islamic State forces are said to be massing near Haditha, a city of 100,000 240 kilometres north-west of Baghdad, where there is another important dam, the largest hydroelectric plant in the country.
In Kirkuk province, Islamic State fighters swept into Tel Ali, a suburb of Hawijah city on Thursday, and kidnapped 40 men after they had received reports that one of their abandoned positions had been burnt down, along with the IS flag. The men have not been seen since.
At Tikrit, Iraqi forces are attempting to make headway to recapture the city but say they cannot do so without US airstrike support. A joint Kurdish and Iraqi Army force is also attempting to enter the eastern districts of Mosul.
At Suleiman Bek, recently retaken from the Islamic State, a mass grave has been uncovered today, Friday. So far workers using a bulldozer have found 34 bodies but there may be more. Initial impressions suggest many of them were truck drivers.
On June 11th, the Islamic State took over the city of Tikrit and claimed to have executed 1,700 Shiite soldiers, conscripts in the Iraq Army from nearby Camp Speicher – some believe this figure to be accurate.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that video and satellite imagery has identified 5 mass grave sites in the Tikrit area containing, by their estimates between 560 and 770 men. You can read more, HERE:
One man miraculously survived this onslaught, Ali Hussein Kadhim, a Shiite Iraqi soldier captured with hundreds of others on June 11th. The Sunni soldiers were allowed to “repent for their sins of serving the Iraqi Government” but the Shia were all lined up to be shot.
Ali Kadhim was 4th in line in his group. As the man infront of him was shot, blood flew all over his head and he fell to the ground. In fact, extraordinarily, he was unharmed, the bullet intended for him had missed.
After waiting for 4 hours and darkness he managed to crawl out from under the bodies and get away across the Tigris river and with the help of friendly Sunni households get back to southern Iraq via Erbil in Kurdistan. You can read and see a video of his amazing story, (But please be warned the video is graphically violent) HERE:
Family members of the Shia soldiers still missing stormed Parliament in Iraq’s Green Zone on Tuesday, wrecking furniture and demanding to speak to lawmakers, most of whom quickly left the building.
In another extraordinary escape story, Adeba Shaker, a 14 year old Yezidi from a village near Sinjar, has recounted how she and another young Yezidi girl were trafficked across the Syrian border and presented to a group of Islamic State fighters as a “gift”. They were to be forcibly converted to Islam and “married” off.
In a stroke of luck, the phone rang and all the fighters disappeared with their weapons in a hurry, leaving the door unlocked. Adeba found a bag of mobiles and managed to call her brother who told her what to do.
He told her to go to a nearby house and ask for directions to the border. Luckily the locals were friendly and after 2 hours walking they bumped into a unit of the PKK Kurdish militia who took them to safety. Other members of Adeba’s family are still missing. You can read the whole story, HERE:
The UN Human Rights Commission has sent a team to Iraq to investigate what appears to be ethnic cleansing by the Islamic State on an industrial scale. You can read more, HERE:
SYRIA NEWS: OPPOSITION FIGHTERS IN RAPID ADVANCE IN QUNEITRA PROVINCE, WHILE REVIVED FSA REACHES GATES OF ALEPPO CITADEL:
Islamic State cruelty also persists in Syria where reports from Deir Ez-Zour province say their fighters publicly executed and crucified a young man called Ali Khalaf in the town of Ashara, accusing him of “heresy and apostasy.”
The execution was to put fear into local residents who had protested the previous evening after an Assad Government bombing raid to attack the Islamic State (IS) had instead killed 2 children, 5 women and a man. A funeral attended by 300 quickly turned into a demonstration outside the IS HQ calling on them to leave.
IS fighters instead opened fire and seized several men. One resident said, “It’s like living in a prison. Not a single day passes without an execution somewhere in Deir Ezzor province”.
However, in the village of Ghariba Assad’s planes found their target on Wednesday when their attack hit a building used by IS fighters as an HQ.
Unconfirmed reports from Opposition sources said the strike killed 18 IS fighters, most of them foreigners and including an American.
Assad’s planes also hit the former State Security Branch HQ in Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border and Al Zera’a School, which was being used as a prison. A number of IS fighters were killed and some prisoners held there escaped.
In Idlib province, the other Al Qaeda affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, has publicly posted “new rules” including a prohibition on smoking, in Kafranbel – so expect some protests very soon from the vocal citizens of that well-known town.
In Quneitra province, Opposition fighters continue to advance, first taking control of the “hospital barrier” near Majduliyah and then taking the village of Masharah and the hill above it as well.
In the Damascus suburb of Jobar, despite its almost complete destruction, Opposition fighters are in unconfirmed reports said to have killed 40 regime soldiers and destroyed another 3 tanks.
While in Hama province Opposition attacks on Hama Military Airport have reduced its operations by 80% after a 3 storey building and a runway were were blown up with Grad rockets.
At Sheihah, just to the north-west of Hama city, Assad’s troops were reported to have thrown grenades containing toxic gas of some kind but Opposition fighters also blew up a Syrian Army vehicle between the barrier at Aboud and Tel Bizam, not far from Morek.
In Aleppo, Opposition fighters have managed to break into the district of Suleiman al-Halabi in the north-east and seize some buildings and also the remains of the Police HQ at the very gates of the Citadel in Old Aleppo, (Arabic only) HERE:
The Assad regime had claimed that the Police HQ, a historic building dating from the colonial period, had been destroyed by the Opposition in an attempt to “erase the archaeological remains of Aleppo”.
However, reliable Opposition sources say the building built in the 1930’s was destroyed by the regime at dawn in 3 massive explosions to prevent Opposition fighters advancing on the Citadel.
The regime also tried to storm the Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheikh Maqsoud and the remaining parts of Ashrafieyeh, but the YPG Kurdish militia, supported by the Free Syrian Army, held them off. North-east of Aleppo city Opposition forces shelled Assad’s troops in Haylan with tank fire, HERE:
Assad does not relent on his barrel-bomb campaign, dropping two on the Haidariyeh district of Aleppo today, Friday, killing 12 civilians, including a child, and seriously wounding 5 others.
Lastly, good news that appears to be 11 days old – Riad Al-Asaad (not to be confused with Bashar Al-Assad) is back as commander in chief of a revived Free Syrian Army (FSA), (Arabic only), HERE:
Having lost a leg in an assassination attempt and his son in another IED explosion, the founder of the Free Syrian Army who led the fight against President Assad is clearly not a man to give up.