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SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

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

SYRIA – IRAQ – NEWS

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.

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YPG Heading towards Battlefront With Al Qaeda 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.

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IS Supply Route Cut by Coalition Airstrike in Iraq

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.syria-iraq-news-5

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.

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The Remains of Deir Ez Zour

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.

Does this reflect the success of the Russian air campaign, hitting Opposition resources and personnel and cutting their supply lines? Your views welcome.syria-iraq-news-5

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ROJAVA UPDATE 175: ISLAMIC STATE MORTAR SHELLS HIT WESTERN SUBURBS OF KOBANE CITY CAUSING DESTRUCTION AND PANIC:

TIMELINE – 15th JANUARY 2015 15.55 GMT:

The Islamic State (IS) bombarded the western suburbs of Kobane city and nearby villages yesterday, Thursday, with mortar shells, causing panic among the Kurdish population.

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Kurds Fleeing From Kobane During the 1st IS Invasion

Fired from west of the Euphrates near IS-held Jarablous, the shells hit Kurdish residential neighbourhoods, sending many residents fleeing towards the countryside east of Kobane city.

Reports say there have been dozens of civilian casualties, houses destroyed and citizens displaced.

While other local residents sat tight during the bombardment, others were reminded of previous attacks by IS and their occupation of large parts of Rojava.

The YPG are expected to retaliate, while the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), which has a large YPG contingent, is expected to push further north to Manbij and then hopefully to Jarablous in northern Aleppo province.

The SDF has recently been reinforced with a decision of the Euphrates Martyrs Brigade to join with them, representing men from 35 Arabic villages south-east of Kobane.

SDF is believed to have set up a new headquarters in a former Assad regime army base near Hasakah which they captured from IS a few weeks ago.

There are also unconfirmed reports that the US has flown weapons and ammunition into this or another airstrip in northern Hasakah province by helicopter from its base in Turkey, in order to help the SDF in its preparations for a campaign to take Manbij.

The US is also said to be considering setting-up a training base in the far north-east of Syria at a former agricultural airstrip at Al-Malikiyah, where US advisers to the SDF would be housed.

Fresh Coalition airstrikes on IS positions around Manbij on Tuesday are reported to have killed 34 x IS Jihadists. The airstrikes were in support of an SDF attack on an IS HQ east of Manbij. 34 bodies were found by the SDF after the bombs had fallen, while the rest of the IS fighters retreated to Manbij town. 4 x IS vehicles and several machine guns were destroyed in the operation.

US General Command (Centcom) is also reporting one major airstrike near Manbij on Wednesday that destroyed 7 x IS fighting positions. 2 other strikes near Mar’a hit 2 separate IS tactical units and destroyed an IS vehicle and an IS fighting position.

Speaking at Centcom headquarters in Tampa, Florida, US Secretary for Defense, Ash Carter, described the Islamic State as a “cancer”, with its parent tumours based in Raqqah in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. These 2 cities are now clearly the next major targets of Coalition attention.

Although the Coalition has 62 members, some are more active than others and Carter is due at a meeting next week with Australia and a number of leading European nations to ask for scaled up assistance in the fight against IS, including special forces.

The total cost to the US of operations against IS in both Syria and Iraq up until Decemmber 15th 2015, since they began on the 8th August 2014, is $5.53 billion, which works out at a daily cost of $11 million over 495 days!

The reported damage to IS is, here:

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Damage to IS Caused by Coalition Airstrikes to January 10th 2016

The UK Government reports that last Monday, the Royal Air Force (RAF) identified an IS checkpoint somewhere in Syria and destroyed it using a Hellfire missile fired from a Reaper drone.

On Tuesday the RAF drones kept an eye on IS oil fields in eastern Syria and identified an excavator which was attempting repairs and an oil pump that had been brought back online. Both were again destroyed using Hellfire missiles.

At the same 2 RAF Tornado GR4s patrolling near Hasakah took out 2 x IS strongpoints using Paveway IV missiles. All aircraft returned to base safely.

In other news from Hasakah province, 16 more Assyrian Christians were released yesterday, Thursday, by IS at Tal Tamar after 11 months of captivity. The group consisted of 8 children, 3 women and 5 men.

So far 164 hostages out of 230 Assyrian Christians taken hostage by IS have been released, probably for large amounts of money.

In Rojava’s western Canton of Afrin, both YPG positions and residential buildings came under mortar fire on Wednesday once again from the Al Nusra Front (ANF) and other Islamist groups. The shells hit security checkpoints of the YPG and a YPJ, all female soldier position near the village of Bashmere.

The attacks are believed to be in retaliation for SDF successes in the area near Azaz in Aleppo province where the US-backed unit has captured several villages, including Keshtaar, a suburb of Tel Rafaat city which has been previously used by ANF as a base to attack Afrin.

The YPJ in Afrin are also reported to be actively recruiting and training more women for their fighting units.

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US Special Forces in Action

Over in Iraq, US sources have confirmed that an elite US special forces unit is now in place and has been tasked with going after IS fighters and commanders, “killing or capturing them wherever we find them” according to US Defense Secretary, Ash Carter.

US special forces are already said to have advised the SDF in Syria on taking the Tishreen Dam, which they did successfully a few weeks ago.

Britains’ RAF hit other IS oil sites in Iraq this week with Brimstone missiles, HERE:

Following an intelligence gathering operation, Iraqi jets destroyed a building in which an IS meeting was taking place early this week in the Al-Jamheer neighbourhood in the Qaeem district in western Anbar province.

11 x IS Jihadist commanders are reported killed and 7 others wounded.

The US has also sent experts to check the structural viability of the Mosul Dam, which suffers from poor maintenance and may be under threat of collapse in the coming Spring and Summer when rivers and streams are at their highest after the melting of winter snows in the mountains.

Potentially, 500,000 people could be killed and 1 million made homeless if the dam collapsed and a tidal wave tore downstream.

Army General Lloyd J. Austin III, who commands Centcom, said this week that, “A few days ago, we conducted a strike on bulk cash storage facility in Mosul. It was a good strike. And we estimate that it served to deprive IS of millions of dollars.”

In Sinjar, the Kurdish Peshmerga have discovered another tunnel running under the city, this one appearing to have been used for storing ammunition. The 500 metres long tunnel is riddled with booby-traps but was where IS fighters hid and moved about the city during airstrikes.

Estimates on rebuilding the destroyed city now stand at around $10 million, though few people have so far been allowed to return because of the large number of unexploded devices still present.

Recent reports say that IS has banned the sickening sale of Yezidi women to “strangers” after an IS fighter “bought” 2 Yezidi women for $12,000 each and then set them free. “Trading” of women is still allowed among approved Jihadists. At least 3,000 Yazidi women are still thought to be held in IS captivity.

Back in Kobane city some good news at last with the announcement that a new neighbourhood is to be built in on the site of the old Kurdish Red Crescent Hospital which was destroyed in IS attacks.

The new district will have 120 houses, schools, a market place and a park.syria-iraq-news-5

KOBANE CHRISMAS APPEAL: Also you will remember the Kobane Christmas Appeal which was featured on this page to raise Euros 25,000 for a school bus to bring very young school children from outlying areas into Kobane for primary education, raised only a disappointing Euros 12,011.

However, I am now very glad to say that after the end of the campaign, several large donations came in and an outstanding EUROS 37,000 was raised altogether – enough for a bus to bring another 250 children to school and more!

Many thanks to all who contributed and supported me in this campaign by @helpkobane.

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AID FOR STARVING HAS ARRIVED IN MADAYA, BUT 400K ESTIMATED TO BE STILL UNDER SIEGE IN SYRIA AND RUSSIAN JETS KILL 96 IN IDLIB RAID:

TIMELINE – 11th JANUARY 2016 14.00 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down for Rojava Update 174 below) 18.10 GMT:

A UN aid convoy due to arrive in besieged Madaya in Damascus province on Sunday to feed the starving there, was delayed because of “last minute complications”.

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Truck With Aid bound For Madaya

However, local reports now say that a convoy of 40 trucks and other vehicles that was heading for the town on Monday morning had arrived by Monday evening. Hundreds of people are packed up and waiting to leave.

(EDITOR: Though from what has been seen so far the Assad regime is about to use this as a media opportunity to attack the Opposition fighters still inside the town.)

The arrival of the food will come too late for another 5 people who starved to death yesterday, Sunday – a 9 year old boy and 4 men over 45.

The deaths were confirmed by Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) who have a medical centre within the town.

Simultaneously, a similar sized convoy has been sent to Kafraya and Al-Fuah, 2 Alawite villages besieged by the Al-Nusra Front in Idlib province.

The BBC has an updated video report.

According to the UN, approximately 400,000 people are currently living under siege in 15 areas across Syria in a form of medieval torture practised by all sides. In the last 12 months only 10% of the UN’s requests to the Assad regime to deliver aid to communities in Syria have been granted.

In Moadamiyah on the outskirts of Damascus, where there are an estimated 45,000 residents, the Assad government sealed off the last approach road 2 weeks ago, though it has effectively been under siege since 2013.

16 local residents have died since 2013 from malnutrition, plus an 8 month old boy who died yesterday, Sunday.

The UN reported in December that the Assad Government had 181,000 people under siege on the outskirts of the capital, including in Daraya, Ghouta and Zabadani not far from Madaya.

In Syria’s eastern province, the Islamic State has 200,000 under siege in Deir Ez Zour.

As well as lacking in food and water, these areas are also deprived of electricity and education for the children, things most of us take for granted.

France, this morning, Monday, has called on the Syrian Government to immediately end the siege of Madaya ahead of the so-called peace talks on January 25th and for both Assad and Russia to stop military operations against civilians. Opposition groups have said they will not take part in the planned talks unless the siege is lifted.

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Syria Civil Defense Searching for Bodies After Devastating Russian Attack in Idlib

While the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura was visiting Damascus on Saturday in preparation for the “peace talks”, Russian planes bombed Opposition-held Ma’arat Al-Numan in Idlib province, initially killing 57, including 3 women and a child, and injuring 120.

The strike hit a court house and a jail. Since Saturday the death toll has risen to 96, many of the wounded dying from their injuries according to Syria Civil Defense who have spent more than 36 hours in a continuous rescue operation to find survivors.

Russian airstrikes also killed another 8 in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Sunday.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), the main political Opposition block, says it has documented 1,730 civilian deaths from Russian airstrikes since they started in September 2015.

135 of those killed in these attacks have been children and 29 hospitals have been destroyed, as well as schools, homes and mosques.

The SNC also claims that 94% of the 12,000 sorties Russia claims to have made in Syria have targeted civilians and the Free Syrian Army, an allegation which the Russians describe as “absurd”, “trite cliches” and “fake information”.

Also in Idlib province, the Al Nusra Front raided the offices of Radio Fresh FM and the news agency Union of Revolutionary Bureaus (URB) on Sunday morning in Kafranbel for a “breach of Sharia Law”.

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Hadi Al-Abdallah and Raed Al-Fares

Well known activists, Raed Fares, largely responsible for the banners and posters released by the citizens of Kafranbel to the media, and Hadi Al-Abdallah who has extensively reported on video from Opposition battlefronts across north-west Syria, were both arrested.

Their offices were trashed and recording and transmission equipment removed.

Abdallah was not detained but Fares was taken to another location and will have to appear at a Sharia Court to answer charges at a future date.

He was thankfully released after a few hours.

Fares “breach” that caused the strongly Islamist ANF to take offence was a post on Facebook that said, “We are more concerned about what women wear than what they should learn. We drive the people to prayer like animals and stuff schools with sharia books.”

Fares had to agree the “breach” would not be repeated before he was released.

There are also reports that the hardline Islamist group Jund Al-Aqsa, aligned with ANF, executed 5 men by firing squad on Friday for being members of an Islamic State cell targeting and assassinating Opposition leaders.

In Aleppo province this morning, Monday, 8 children and their teacher are reported killed in a Russian airstrike on a school at Anjara. Another 20 children and teachers have also been injured.

3 children are also reported killed in the western half of Aleppo city by Opposition rocket fire and ANF continues mortar attacks on the Kurdish suburb of Sheikh Maksoud, injuring a number of civilians.

In southern Daraa province, Russian jets carried out more than 39 jet attacks on Opposition positions at Sheikj Maskin and Nawa on Sunday morning, while Assad’s helicopters continued dropping barrel bombs on nearby towns.

Islamic State members continue to plumb new depths, after a report last week that a 21 year old Jihadist, Ali Saqr, publicly executed his own mother, Lena al-Qasem, 45, outside the Post Office where she worked in Raqqah.

Apparently concerned that they would all be killed in Coalition airstrikes, she implored him to leave the city with her. The reports say he told the IS authorities about her remarks and they ordered the execution.

Another 3 men were also reported executed in Manbij on Thursday accused of “apostasy” and “spying”. 2 were media activists and the other was responsible for coordinating humanitarian aid to people stranded in IS-held Manbij.

Unconfirmed reports say that Israeli jets attacked Hezbollah targets in Syria’s Qalamoun on Sunday night after mysterious explosions in the mountains shortly before midnight. Up to 5 strikes were reported near Flita, though the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) makes no comment on its offensive operations.

Better news from the Syrian/Israeli border on the Golan Heights where the IDF Israeli medics have now assisted more than 2,000 Syrians, including militant fighters, following serious battle injuries. You can read more, HERE:

By contrast, evidence has emerged that the Islamic State ran a sophisticated immigration operation at Tal Abyad on the northern Aleppo border with Turkey until the town was seized by Kurdish YPG fighters and the Turks promptly closed the border altogether.

Turkey continues to claim that it cannot control its 800 kilometre border with Syria and IS recruits continue to leak across. The Guardian in an interesting article has more.

ROJAVA UPDATE 174: COALITION ESCALATES BOMBING CAMPAIGN ON ISLAMIC STATE IN SYRIA ONCE AGAIN, AND REPORT ON KURDISH OIL FIELD:

Last Friday 3 car bombs were discovered in different parts of Kobane Canton by the Asayish (Kurdish security police) and the YPG before they exploded and new clashes erupted on Saturday with the Islamic State (IS) at the southern entrance to Ain Issa.

On Sunday, IS started a new attack in the south-west of Hasakah province near the villages of Al-Abed and Al-Sawda requiring the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to bring in reinforcements. Casualties unknown at this time.

In Raqqah province there were also clashes between the 2 sides over the weekend and local sources report that the bodies of 16 x IS Jihadists were brought to Raqqah hospital in the aftermath.

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IS Booby-Trapped Boards Used for Roadside Bombs

In the west of SDF held territory in the north of Aleppo province, the combined force discovered an IS bomb factory near Tishreen.

The facility appears to have been used to make IED roadside explosives and documents revealed an inventory of highly explosive materials, bomb-making components,  a thousand booby-trapped boards to place near the roadside, homemade anti-personnel mines containing ball bearings and hundreds of metres of detonation cord.

Further to the west and beyond Manbij, north-west of Al Bab, the FSA are also putting IS under pressure, capturing over the weekend 2 villages near IS-held Dudiyan.

On Saturday, the Coalition made 11 strikes in Syria, 2 near Raqqah hitting 2 separate IS tactical units, 1 near Ain Issa hitting a tactical unit and destroying 4 x IS buildings and 3 strikes near Manbij hitting 3 tactical units and destroying 3 x IS fighting positions, an IS bunker and wounding an IS fighter.

Another strike at Deir Ez Zour destroyed 16 x IS skid mounted gas and oil separation plants. The other 4 strikes were at Abu Kamal, Mar’a and Washiya with similar results.

The UK is also reported to have made 5 strikes on behalf of the Coalition yesterday, Sunday, targeting an IS vehicle and tunnels near Raqqah and infrastructure at the Omar Oil Field. The UK military reported the use of Brimstone missiles in the mission (EDITOR: At an eye-watering cost of around $150,000 each!), which are designed to eliminate fast moving vehicles.

Interesting video report from RT on a Kurdish oil field in Hasakah province recently recovered from IS and the difficulties of selling the oil. (EDITOR: Take the claimed Russian bombing figures though with a large pinch of salt!), here:

Lastly, Britain’s leading tennis player, Andy Murray, ranked as the World No 2, has raised $121,000 for children in Syria donating money for every “Ace” he scored in his games.  Last month British actor Sacha Baron Cohen and Australian actress Isla Fisher announced a $1 million donation to 2 charities working in Syria. You can read more, HERE:

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IN NEW SICK LOW, ASSAD SUPPORTERS TAUNT STARVING IN MADAYA WITH PICS ON SOCIAL MEDIA OF SUMPTUOUS MEALS:

TIMELINE – 9th JANUARY 2016 14.25 GMT: (Scroll down for Rojava Update 173 below)

On Thursday, faced with mounting international pressure, the Assad Government in Damascus agreed to allow the UN to truck humanitarian aid supplies and food into Madaya in Damascus province “in the next few days”.

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Slowly Being Starved to Death by Assad Regime

What that means exactly remains to be seen.

As of this morning, Saturday, nothing has changed.

An estimated 42,000 people in the Opposition-held town, but surrounded by the Assad regime, are living on wild grasses and roots or getting an occasional small meal of a few grams of rice followed by days just on water containing a little salt.

Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), who are in the town, say that 23 people have already died of starvation, 6 of them less than 1 year old and 5 of them over 60.

Another 13, including a 13 year old girl, have been killed as they stepped on landmines placed around the periphery of the town, while they searched for food, or were shot by Assad’s snipers.

MSF has said “an immediate life-saving delivery of medicine across the siege line should also be a priority.”

The Alawite towns of Kefraya and Al-Fuah, which are under siege from Al Nusra Front and Opposition fighters in Idlib province, are also included in the agreement to allow in food, but in these cases they have been receiving occasional airdrops from the Syrian Government, while Madaya has been allowed nothing.

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Assad’s Supporters Taunt the Starving in Madaya Online (2)

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Assad’s Supporters Taunt the Starving in Madaya Online (1)

Latest reports today suggest that food supplies could be allowed in to Madaya as early as tomorrow, Sunday, or Monday “once documentation has been prepared”, though the Assad regime’s record on humanitarian action is so poor that the US, the UN and the EU are watching closely and urging Russia to use its influence.

No aid has been allowed into the town since October.

It cannot come soon enough.

The few medics medics there are even resorting to feeding severely malnourished children with medical syrups, as they are the only source of sugar and energy and their pharmacy shelves are otherwise empty.

What little food that remains within Madaya has become excessively expensive and beyond the range of the poorest.

Last week a kilo of wheat was selling at the equivalent of $250 and a kilo of baby milk formula at the equivalent of $300.

Madaya was formally a popular mountain holiday resort with the citizens of Damascus, just 30 miles away, seeking a comfortable and cooler retreat from the capital’s summer heat.

Now the Syrian Government and it’s Army plus Hezbollah are practicing surrender on the same people who once welcomed them, by siege and starvation – a war crime under international humanitarian law.

Perhaps the very worst aspect of this whole desperate affair is that some of Assad’s supporters have been using social media to taunt the starving by sending pictures of food to the Arabic hashtag translated as “solidarity with the siege of Madaya” on Twitter and Facebook, which was set up to help end the siege.

In a new low for humanity, Assad’s disgusting supporters posted photographs of their latest meal or sumptuous looking spreads of food which included kebabs, grilled prawns, fish, hummus, olives, bread and whole barbecued chicken, none of which are currently available in Madaya. The Independent has more.

Pray that this nightmare is over for these people soon – and that one day Assad will pay for his insane crimes before the International Criminal Court.

Cartoon courtesy of Carlos Latuff: syria-iraq-news-5

ROJAVA UPDATE 173 – SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES PREPARE ATTACK ON MANBIJ, WHILE ISlAMIC STATE COUNTER-ATTACK ON TISHREEN FAILS:

TIMELINE – 8th JANUARY 2016 14.49 GMT:

In preparation for an Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) attack on Islamic State (IS) held Manbij in the Aleppo province of Syria, the US-led Coalition made 14 airstrikes on IS targets around the town on Wednesday, destroying 24 x IS fighting positions, 4 x IS buildings and suppressing IS vehicle movements and denying them access to terrain.

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Snow Starts Falling in Kobane From January 1st 2016

SDF are said to be less than 18 kilometres south of Manbij and a convoy of reinforcements has been sent from Kobane province across the Euphrates via the Tishreen Dam.

Yesterday, Thursday, IS attempted a counter-attack at the SDF-held town of Tishreen, west of the dam, but after fierce fighting withdrew with losses of at least 50 men killed.

Many other IS Jihadists were wounded or captured by SDF units.

SDF losses were put at 3 killed and 7 wounded.

IS fighters were also ambushed by the SDF west of Tishreen at Abu Qelqel in the same operation.

Turkey will no doubt see the Kurdish involvement with SDF and their presence west of the Euphrates as “crossing a red-line”.

But Jaish Al-Thuwar, a ethnically Arab Opposition group fighting with the SDF issued a statement, presumably to reassure the Turkish Government, saying that they had no connection with the Kurdish PKK battling with the Turkish Army in south-east Turkey and Iraq.

Jaish Al-Thuwar also officially announced the campaign to take Manbij in the same statement and said that they were already launching rocket attacks on IS bases there.

No mention was made of Jaish Al-Thuwar’s close ties with the Kurdish YPG, whom they have fought alongside in northern Syria throughout 2015.

Unfortunately, there is a report that a Coalition strike on the IS-held town of Hazima, which is under attack by the SDF, has killed 11 civilians, including 8 children and 3 women. Investigations are ongoing.

Rumours have been circulating that US special forces helped the SDF with the liberation of Tishreen Dam, but it appears that they were in fact US volunteers fighting as part of the YPG.

At dawn on Wednesday, east of the Euphrates and the Tishreen Dam, a unit of IS Jihadists attacked the village of Qereqozak in south-west Kobane Canton and assaulted multiple YPG security positions in the area.

YPG/YPJ protection units launched a counter-offensive and a number of IS Jihadists were killed and several weapons caches seized.

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Kobane – Even Ruins Look Better With Snow Cover

Again, early yesterday at 5.00am, Thursday, 2 large units of IS fighters crossed the Euphrates and launched an attack on the village of Qadiriye near Sarrin.

Attempting an approach from 2 directions, they were quickly intercepted and driven back by YPG/YPJ units. An unknown number, at this stage, of IS Jihadists were killed or wounded.

The YPG are also reporting a barrage of mortar shells being fired across the Euphrates Thursday evening by IS from positions south of Jarablous and hitting Kurdish villages all down the east bank of the river in Kobane Canton.

Further east near Ain Issa, despite severe weather, the YPG recaptured a further 2 villages from the Islamic State, Abu Shehen and Hebsawy.

Snowfalls in Kobane city this week did not deter another 440 Kurds returning across the border from Turkey on Monday, and the snow cover temporarily “improved” the damaged landscape and gave the children some snowball fun.

A large memorial to those who died in defence of Kobane was also opened on Monday and the Kobane Energy Council announced that it has started work on restoring the electricity power supply from the Tishreen Dam, though this might take 2 months to complete.

In another sign of returning normality to Kobane, 16,000 students in 145 schools will this week be taking mid-term exams.

Interesting interview with Kurdish HDP leader Selahattin Dermitas after his return from a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavro in Moscow, the Turkish Government calling the meeting “treason”, HERE:

Turkey is denying the return across the Syrian border of the bodies of Turkish Kurds who fought and died with the YPG/YPJ. One family have been waiting now for the return of the daughter’s body for 60 days.

Interesting article from the Washington Institute that postulates that with the crossing of the Euphrates by the Kurds as members of the SDF force, “the die is caste” for the creation of a new Kurdish state, HERE:

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Kurdish Kids Enjoying Snow in Kobane

Meanwhile, Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for Coalition Operation Iherent Resolve in Syria and Iraq, says that IS are now in a “defensive crouch” rather than moving forward.

In a statement on Wednesday, Warren said that the US estimates that IS has lost 40% if its taken territory in Iraq and 10% in Syria, plus no less that 2,500 fighters in December alone.

Warren also said that 65 airstrikes against IS oil facilities had reduced IS production capacity from 45,000 barrels of oil a day to 34,000, a loss of around 30%.

The US Army Colonel also confirmed that in the last 10 days the SDF had killed around 140 x IS Jihadists in north-east Aleppo province in Syria and reclaimed more than 310 square miles after taking and crossing the Tishreen dam.

Over in Ramadi in Iraq, Colonel Warren reported that over 60 x IS Jihadists had been killed in 24 hours, but clearing operations in the city continue.

Iraqi security forces are currently bombing an IS base in the Sarsar area of Anbar province in Iraq.

In response to a question about the rules of engagement against the terrorist army in Iraq and Syria, Warren said, “If you’re part of ISIL we will kill you. That’s our rule.”

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Memorial Opened to Fighters Who Died Defending Kobane and Rojava

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ROJAVA UPDATE 172: SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES RELIEVE PRESSURE ON KURDISH ENCLAVE OF AFRIN BY DRIVING AL NUSRA FRONT FROM KEY VILLAGE:

TIMELINE – 4th JANUARY 2016 14.28 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down) 18.45 GMT:

Having crossed the Euphrates and pushed back the Islamic State, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), now finds itself in conflict with Islamist opposition groups, the Al Nusra Front (ANF) and Ahrar Al-Sham (AAS).

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SDF Forces At Tishreen on the Left Bank of the Euphrates

On Friday, SDF pushed into northern Aleppo province countryside and took control of the villages of Tat Mrash and Tanab, both not far from Azaz, after battles with ANF and AAS.

On Sunday, the SDF, which has a predominance of Kurdish fighters, captured the village of Keshtaar, driving out Al-Nusra militants after heavy shelling.

In this, ANF were getting a taste of their own medicine, having used the village of Keshtaar as a base to bombard the Kurdish enclave of Afrin Canton.

A spokesman for SDF said that they had taken control of both Keshtaar and the surrounding farmland, as well as recovering a large amount of ammunition and heavy weapons formerly used by ANF and its allies.

The Opposition group, Jaish al-Thuwar, appears to be helping the SDF in their advance.

Al Nusra in a statement claimed that it was driven out of the village after “heavy airstrikes hit their HQ there and they had 20 casualties”.

Since last Wednesday, the Islamic State have been carrying out a concentrated campaign against the town of Ain Issa, currently held by the Kurdish YPG. Ain Issa is seen as a key point, just 50 kilometres north of the IS headquarters at Raqqah and due east of the Tishreen Dam.

IS car bomb attacks on YPG positions in the town have killed 21 Kurds, but in clashes on Saturday, 16 x IS Jihadists were killed and another 19 wounded and territory lost to IS a few days earlier was recovered. Several IS fighters were also captured alive.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports that on Saturday one airstrike near Ain Issa hit an IS tactical unit and destroyed 2 x IS fighting positions and on Sunday another strike in the same area destroyed 5 x IS-held buildings.

In a year end assessment, the YPG says that its records show that they killed a total of 5800 x IS Jihadists in 2015 during 435 operations, and another 38 x IS fighters were taken prisoner.

Altogether during 2015 the YPG seized 204 x IS military vehicles, 24 tanks, 26 armoured vehicles and managed to detonate 58 x IS car bombs before they hit their targets, as well as having recovered large amounts of ammunition and weapons.

680 YPG/YPJ fighters lost their lives fighting IS in 2015, which started with Kobane still mainly in Islamic State hands but ended with IS losing at least 14% of their territory and the Kurds making a 186% territorial gain overall. The stats do not include joint achievements with the SDF.

This interesting animated GIF shows Kurdish territorial gains between December 2014 and December 2015, HERE:

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First Mass Grave Uncovered in Ramadi

In Iraq, according to latest reports, the Iraqi Army is not in complete control of Ramadi as previously announced and heavy fighting persists around some buildings in the centre and northern parts of the city.

Simultaneous suicide bomb attacks on the Iraqi Army’s 10th Brigade, stationed in the northern suburbs of Ramadi, are said to have caused heavy losses to Iraqi military on Sunday.

3 similar car bomb attacks on Friday destroyed several military vehicles and killed 20 Iraqi soldiers.

IS have also launched attacks against Iraqi forces near Tikrit and Haditha.

From the part of Ramadi securely held by the Iraqi Army, they have already uncovered the first mass grave and the location of several more has been identified.

The first mass grave has already yielded 40 bodies of people killed by the Islamic State. Exhumation of the others will not occur until the security situation has stabilised.

The following graphic, courtesy of ‏@CJTFOIR on Twitter, illustrates Coalition successes in December. As well as killing 10 x IS leaders, the Coalition has bombed secondary roads south of Sinjar city and Tel Afar in Iraq, to deny IS supply routes between Iraq and Syria. The YPG remains in control of the main route, Highway 47, here:

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Coalition Attacks IS Supply Routes South of Sinjar and Tal Afar

ASSAD AND HEZBOLLAH STARVING 40,000 CITIZENS OF MADAYA TO DEATH, WHILE WORLD STANDS IDLY BY:

Elsewhere in Syria, there is a massive humanitarian tragedy building at the town of Madaya in Damascus province not far from Zabadani.

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40,000 in Danger of Death Through Starvation in Madaya

For 6 months now, the 40,000 people trapped in the Opposition town of Madaya have been under siege by Assad’s forces and Hezbollah.

No food or humanitarian supplies have been allowed in since October and mines have been planted around the the perimeter of the town to prevent people escaping.

In the last few days 5 people, including a pregnant woman and her daughter, were killed as they tried to run away from the town and 5 other women were injured, all shot by pro-Assad forces.

Hundreds inside the town are now starving and a number of the young and elderly have died from malnutrition. Others have resorted to eating insects, wild roots, leaves off the trees and cats and dogs. Many had already fled from Zabadani to Madaya looking for safety.

At least 20 men have died of starvation so far and 6 new born babies as their mothers’ had no milk or milk substitutes. Another 850 babies or toddlers are desperate for food.

A further 16 men and 6 children have lost one or both legs or an arm or a hand as a result of land mines.

Originally, Madaya was part of the truce agreement with Zabadani, which was brokered by the UN in September but did not effectively get underway until the end of December.

Last week 126 people, including 70 Opposition fighters were bussed from Zabadani across the border to Beirut airport and flown to Turkey where they will be allowed to cross back into the Opposition Syrian province of Idlib which is fully under Opposition control.

The other side of the deal was that the Opposition group Jaish Al-Fatah allowed 336 people, including women and children, to be bussed out of the surrounded Alawite enclaves of Karayah and Al-Fuah in Idlib province, across the border into Turkey and then via Lebanon back to Damascus.

While the Opposition will give up Zabadani entirely, several thousand of pro-Assad forces will be allowed to stay in the 2 villages in Idlib province.

In the meantime, thousands continue to starve in Madaya and flour and other supplies promised for 28 December have not arrived. The Independent and Vice News have more.

andhas more.

In Daraa province, 150 Russian airstrikes has allowed Assad’s forces to make inroads into the northern part of Opposition-held Sheikh Maskin.

At the weekend the regime had claimed that it had “captured” the town but this is clearly not the case as the Opposition sent reinforcements on Saturday and video footage released today, Monday, shows fierce fighting in the area surrounding the central roundabout, HERE:

The Opposition fighters in Sheikh Maskin have also claimed that they killed 14 of Assad’s soldiers, 2 Iranian officers and dozens of Iraqi Shia militia in battles over the last few days.

Holding Sheikh Maskin is a key part of the strategy to capture Daraa city and taking Daraa city was a key target of the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) “Southern Front” campaign. A overview of the FSA’s situation is, HERE:

In the north-eastern part of Homs province, the Opposition ironically took out a group of Assad’s fighters using a Russian anti-tank missile launcher, HERE:

Business Insider argues that the pattern of Russia’s airstrikes is pointing towards “Plan B” – the formation of a defendable Alawite enclave in Latakia province along the Mediterranean coast, HERE:

While an analysis of civilian deaths in Syria in 2015 once again shows, unsurprisingly, that Assad is by far and away the biggest killer and taker of human life – much more than the bloodthirsty Islamic State (see the graphic below). ‏

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Civilians Killed in Syria in 2015

In Turkey, President Erdogan massively overplayed his hand during a press conference at the weekend.

Asked about overbearing presidential systems, of which he is in favour, he quoted Nazi Germany as a “positive example” – which won’t surprise his Turkish opposition or the Kurdish community.

Yes. There is nothing to say that you can’t have a presidential system in a unitary state,” he said.

There are already some examples in the world today, and also some from the past. You see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany”.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State continues its gory way, releasing a video in the last few days showing the execution of 5 men who it claims are British spies.

The men apparently “confessed” to filming and photographing IS sites in Raqqah in exchange for money from the UK’s intelligence agency, MI5.

Before the shooting of the men takes place the UK and it’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, are mocked by a masked man with a British accent who appears to be a replacement for “Jihadi John” who died in a Coalition drone attack.

Referring to Cameron, the executioner says, “Only an imbecile would dare to wage war against a land where the law of Allah reigns supreme,” and calls him a “slave of the White House” and “mule of the Jews.”

Describing the men as “spies,” the executioner goes on to say “IS will one day invade Britain and impose Sharia law”.

Towards the end of the video a boy aged 5 or 6 and wearing military type clothing appears and says with a British accent, “We will kill the kuffar [non-believers] over there.”

British security services are carefully studying the video to see if they can identify the British executioner and the child.

While David Cameron made a great fuss at the beginning of December to persuade the British Parliament to give him permission to make airstrikes in Syria, as well as Iraq, only 4 British strikes have been made since he won the vote – and one of those was made by a drone.

American sources are saying there is a “lack of targets” in Syria at the moment, but given the aggressive nature of the Islamic State that seems hard to believe.syria-iraq-news-5

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ROJAVA UPDATE 171: 219 ISLAMIC STATE JIHADISTS REPORTED KILLED AS SDF COMPLETE 4 DAY TISHREEN OPERATION AND LOOK TOWARDS MANBIJ:

TIMELINE – 31st DECEMBER 2015 13.28 GMT:

In their sweep through the south of Kobane Canton to the Tishreen Dam, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) have removed the Islamic State (IS) from another 640 square kilometres of territory and liberated a further 100 villages and hamlets.

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SDF on Campaign to Liberate Tishreen Dam

219 x IS Jihadists are reported killed in the operation, with 9 dead from the SDF side, including 2 from the Asayish (Kurdish security police).

The SDF have also freed a number of villages on the west bank of the Euphrates in order to protect their fighters looking after the dam.

According to an SDF statement, the civilian workers at the dam were arrested by IS but later released, though one of them was killed as IS withdrew.

The management of the dam and its hydro-electricity facilities has now been given to the Board of Energy in Kobane Canton.

Some very happy villagers on the west bank of the Euphrates, released from IS control, can be seen in this video footage, (English sub-titles) here:

The YPJ Kurdish women’s force have also been fully involved in the latest SDF operation, (English sub-titles) here:

ARA News has a video report on the Tishreen Dam operation, (English sub-titles) here:

One mystery from the capture of the Tishreen Dam is the identity of a tearful little girl found on her own in the vicinity of the river crossing. She was wearing a bloody dress and with no clue to the whereabouts of her parents, the SDF sent her to Amal Hospital in Kobane.

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Silent Unidentified Child Rescued from Near Tishreen Dam

Discharged after a day she is now in the care of a family in Kobane until her identity can be confirmed.

The little girl has not spoken a word since she was found on December 26th, not even her name.

With the capture of the town of Tishreen as well, the SDF recovered a lot of ammunition and weapons, most of it, according to the box labelling, originating in Saudi Arabia.

Local reports say that the Islamic State is reinforcing Manbij in Aleppo province with heavy weapons, though its civilian members are being evacuated along with those from Al Bab, to Raqqah.

At least 300 civilians were transported from Manbij on Monday, along with some prisoners, some of whom were executed.

Turkey’s response to the presence of Kurdish YPG members of the SDF on the west bank of the Euphrates remains muted, despite it supposedly being a Turkish “red line”.

Speaking in Serbia, after the Tishreen Dam was recaptured, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey “would not look positively on Syrian forces hostile to Ankara moving to the west of the Euphrates,” but added (delusionally) that “available information indicated that it was Arab forces, and not Kurds, who had crossed the Euphrates over the weekend”.

As the Kurds make up 20,000 of the 25,000 joint Arab, Kurdish, Turkman and Syriac Christian force of the SDF, Davutoglu is clearly in lula land, though other commentators suggest that Turkey, under pressure from Russia and the US, may just have to accept the inevitable – a Kurdish presence all along its southern border. You can read more at Business Insider.

This does not stop acts of Turkish spite, for which it has developed an unenviable reputation. Kurds on the east bank of the Euphrates in Kobane Canton have expressed concern at the vast amounts of uncontrolled water Turkey is allowing to flow down the Euphrates at present.

And near Qamishli in Hasakah province, the Turkish Army has even crossed the border into Rojava, digging a trench under the border fence and taking tens of metres of territory. Asked by Kurdish villagers what they were doing, the Turkish military said they were “regulating the border line”, (English sub-titles), HERE:

A Turkish journalist, jailed by President Erdogan, writes on press control in Turkey, in the Guardian:

The entrance into Aleppo province by the SDF has not stopped IS from attacking Kurdish targets. Yesterday, Wednesday, an IS unit attacked Asayish headquarters in Tel Abyad and detonated explosives inside the building. Several members of the Kurdish security police were killed.

In the clashes that followed 3 x IS Jihadists were killed and 2 captured, the rest of the group escaping towards Raqqah. Another member of the Asayish later died from his injuries.

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One of 2 Restaurant Suicide Bomb Attacks in Qamishli

2 x IS suicide bombers also attacked the Christian sector of Qamishli under Assad regime control late on Wednesday night.

The bombers blew themselves up near 2 restaurants, killing 17 and wounding 30.

In the north-west of Aleppo province in the Kurds Afrin Canton, the Al-Nusra Front (ANF), along with their Islamist allies, Ahrar al-Sham, fired dozens of mortar shells indiscriminately into Afrin city on Monday.

The mortars hit the city centre and residential areas causing a lot of damage and casualties, victims being pulled from the rubble of destroyed buildings. The YPG has vowed to retaliate.

Over in Iraq, 3,000 homes are said to have been destroyed in Ramadi and IS rigged almost all public buildings with explosive devices before leaving.

True to the Islamic State’s grisly and inhuman reputation, IS also took 40 members of 25 families as hostages as they left the city, but later executed them, including women and children.

A large mass grave has been discovered in north-west Nineveh province near Aski village. It is believed to contain the remains of 120 Iraqi security personnel and some civilians, killed when IS swept into Mosul and northern Iraq.

In Mosul on Tuesday, IS is reported to have burned to death 20 media activists on charges of leaking information to “hostile parties”. The executions were carried out in a public square infront of dozens of people, including some of the victim’s family members, in the Al-Houd district of the city.

And yesterday, a well known member of the Jabour tribe in Mosul, was beheaded in public on charges of “treason” after he attempted to help several Yazidi girls escape from IS custody. The girls were unfortunately apprehended and returned to IS headquarters in the city.

(EDITOR: The sooner these monsters are stopped, the better!)

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Map of Northern Syria Showing Tishreen Dam

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ROJAVA UPDATE 170: AFTER CAPTURING TISHREEN DAM, SDF GO ON TO TAKE 2 TOWNS FROM ISLAMIC STATE IN ALEPPO PROVINCE:

TIMELINE – 28th DECEMBER 2015 14.04 GMT:

While much of the world celebrated Christmas, the joint Arab, Christian, Kurdish and Turkman unit knows as the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) swept south of Kobane Canton and captured Tishreen Dam on the Euphrates River.

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Tishreen Dam Now Under SDF Control

In a rapid 4 day campaign starting on the 23rd December, the SDF overran 50 villages, farms, canals and river crossings south of Kobane Canton on their way to the Tishreen Dam.

Notably the villages of Bir Shumal, Bir Bagar, Abdilkiye, Tal Banat, Khishkhash, Al-Wesi and Miwelih were all liberated from Islamic State (IS) control in 24 hours and the dam was effectively held by the SDF at 14.45 on Saturday 26th.

IS appears largely to have fled in the face of the SDF attacks, which were supported by Coalition airstrikes, with 5 x IS Jihadists killed in the first phase of the campaign and another 8 captured along with supplies of ammunition and weapons.

With the SDF controlling Tishreen Dam, which IS conceded without damaging it first as some feared might happen, the Islamic State has no direct route between Raqqah and Manbij and Jarablous in Aleppo province.

It is also very good news for Kobane city as their electricity supply from the hydro-electric plant at the dam, 70 kilometres to the south, was cut-off almost 2 years ago when IS took over the facility.

Control of the road across the top of the dam will also mean that the Kobane Reconstruction Board can obtain re-building materials from Aleppo province instead of relying on the whim of the Turkish authorities to open or close the border at Kobane.

Turkish response to the presence of YPG Kurdish fighters, who make up the largest numbers in the SDF force, in the northern part of Aleppo province has so far been muted, perhaps because of US and Coalition support for the operation.

On December 24th, the Coalition made 12 strikes in Syria, 5 of them near Manbij, hitting 4 separate IS tactical units and destroying 6 x IS vehicles and an IS fighting position, as well as wounding 2 x IS fighters.

On December 25th the Coalition made 5 strikes in Syria, 3 of them hitting 3 separate IS tactical units and destroying an IS building, plus wounding another IS fighter. Another 3 Coalition strikes near Manbij on the 26th December hit another 3 x IS tactical units, destroyed an IS vehicle and an IS weapons cache and wounded a number of IS fighters.

Video footage of the SDF (sometimes known as the QSD, from the Arabic name) campaign to take the Tishreen Dam, (caution some dead bodies at the end) from Rohani TV, here:

In another video, SDF forces protect the dam from high up on surrounding hills, (English sub-titles) here:

ARA News has more coverage with English sub-titles (and cute puppy!), here:

Further footage of YPG fighters firing on vehicle on dam approach road, HERE:

Since crossing the dam, the SDF has gone on to capture the towns of Tishreen and Sakaniya on the west bank of the river yesterday, Sunday, neither of which are far from the IS stronghold of Manbij. At least 15 x IS fighters were killed in yesterday’s fighting.

In another IS set-back on Sunday, Coalition aircraft, at the request of Kurdish forces, destroyed a 4 vehicle convoy, including vehicle bombs, which was heading towards the YPG’s HQ on Mount Abdul Aziz in Hasakah province. All the occupants of the 4 vehicles were destroyed.

Iraqi Security Forces Plant Flag Once Again At Ramadi 27.12.15

Iraqi Security Forces Plant Flag Once Again At Ramadi 27.12.15

Coalition jets also targeted a similar convoy of 3 x IS vehicles near Kfraj Village north-east of Mosul in Iraq on Saturday evening.

On Saturday, the IS leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, released an audio message urging Moslems to rise up against their governments, including the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq.

Baghadadi also threatened to turn Palestine into a graveyard for Israelis, “once the Islamic State reached the country”.

Admitting that there had been some “difficulties” recently, Baghadadi said, “As part of our destiny, we lost many jihadists in recent fights… but the rest must continue fighting to the bitter end.” (EDITOR: Hopefully it will be a “bitter end” very shortly!)

As well as the Tishreen Dam, the Islamic State’s recent losses include the whole of Ramadi city in Iraq.

With the help of massive Coalition air support (59 air strikes in Iraq over 3 days, 11 near Ramadi, 16 near Mosul) the Iraqi Army has this morning, Monday, declared complete control of Ramadi city, erecting an Iraqi flag over the main administration building. However the city is largely destroyed and will take considerable rebuilding before it is fully operational again.

According to reports emerging from Mosul, likely to be the next target for the Iraqi Army and the Coalition, IS gathered up all the students at Mosul University and sent them to defend Ramadi, despite their families congregating near the gates of the faculty to protest about their sons being forced to leave.

IS fighters fired guns in the air to disperse the families and the students were told that they would be executed if they refused to fight. Another report from Mosul says that 118 people were arrested for “celebrating” Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, all signs that IS is becoming increasingly desperate.

KOBANE CHRISTMAS APPEAL:

The Kobane Christmas Appeal did not reach Euros 25,000 to buy a school bus to get the youngest children to school (scroll down – see below), but did collect Euros 12,011, all of which will  be used to eventually get this transport.  Many thanks to all who responded and contributed, and a Happy New Year to you all.

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  • Mike Saunders says:

    Peter,
    I wish you and your family a rich and wonderful Christmas and New Year.May it bring all of you tidings of joy,health and good fortune in the coming year.
    Michael Saunders

  • infowarrior1 says:

    When America fought Al-Qaeda in Iraq. They defeated the Islamists in open battle and the remainders went underground while bleeding them dry with IED’s.

    Do you think the situation will be different with IS this time or will they also likewise go underground and reemerge later on?

  • infowarrior1 says:

    The recent weakness of ISIS is certainly the result of Russian bombing of ISIS positions especially targeting the oil tankers that allow ISIS to make money.

  • Syrian Baby Born With Shrapnel In Her Head

    One of the most fascinating photos of this year is of a baby born with shrapnel in her face after her mother was caught in a missile strike in Syria. The baby’s mother sustained shrapnel injuries to her face and body, some of which managed to pierce the womb and injure her unborn baby.

    “She was surrounded by her three wounded kids, (and) she was bleeding from several parts of her body, including her belly,” Abu Louie, spokesman for Mashfa al Midani Hospital, where the woman was treated, told CNN.

    The mother was required to immediately undergo an emergency c-section in order to save the child’s life. Luckily the baby was born fine and doctors were able to remove the shrapnel, which had become lodged just above her right eye. She was later named Amel, which is Arabic for “hope.”

  • tanto says:

    another great report of you!
    The overwhelming reports in other media are concentrated on sensationalist and manipulative informations to confuse,frighten and brainwash public(people by nature love to watch and read horrors)
    anyway this infighting between so called allies is truly horror…
    practically even Western alliance is not well coordinated…
    There is nothing really strong about Isis(maybe except of propaganda[but let think that greedy western media makes even it better for them] and fanatical desire to die(with help of brain killing drugs)
    otherwise all is real or pretended weaknesses of anti -Isis coalition
    many people are so exhausted and confused because some actions seems out of logic
    so come some theories that Obama is Muslim traitor supporting global jihad
    Russia saviour of democracy West politician self destructing lemmings
    and lsis exxistence as land occupying force against coalition of allies(even bigger than against Nazist)Is really very suspicious if not ridiculous
    recently (RT) published intriguing(well…If
    true)news that Erdogan said if it is true that Turkey buying oil from Isis he will resign….
    Web of truths and lies makes average man
    completely bewildered

    • Many thanks for your comments Tanto and kind remarks. Hopefully today’s post will clarify the FSA infighting issue. The “Syria Fight Club” cartoon at the bottom just about sums it all up!

      Erdogan resign? I doubt, they will have to drag him kicking and screaming away from his vast and expensive presidential palace! PC.

  • Jim Martin says:

    Dear Peter: comment for you alone as I don;t have contacts for you. As a reader it would be good to have a link on your side at the top so that you could read your latest update, and then click to go to most recent posts. It would save a lot of scrolling that might loose some people and also at least make some aware at the top that there is a comment section. Just an idea to make it more reader friendly with options

  • Jim Martin says:

    Turkey Hands Over Wounded YPG Fighters to Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat Al Nusra

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLG_4ihbY94

    Does anyone know what happened to these six YPG fighters?

    If this is true, it is akin to, but actually worse, the famous picture of the South Vietnamese officer shooting the suspect in the head with the revolver without a wiff of due process. This case is worse as they are six anti ISIS fighters being handed over to Al Nusra which is an Al Qaeda terrorist affiliate. I would say such action by ay Turkish Official must be investigated and prosecuted as a war crime at the International Criminal Court: 6 Counts. Why even hand them over to Al Nusra, when some in Turkey could simply shoot them in the head in the street? Both acts are IIC war crimes

    By the way, the Canadian responce to a fallen Candian YPG fighter, John Gallagher brought home

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-CvF66rUAw

    The Turkish military response to restarting a mindless blood letting with the PKK as they also fight ISIS in both Syria and Iraq as allies.I could say more the words of my “brother”, Lt. Col Mehmet Alkan speaks volumes below. As you know for those of us who have served in the Armed Forces the word “brother” is a serious statement and not taken lightly by any of us. It is even more important with Turkey as a NATO ally and both 78,000,000 Turkish Citizens and people in the countries of NATO and Internationally deserve better than this. Lt. Col Mehmet Alkan words are below

    “There’s nothing like sitting in a palace surrounded by bodyguards or riding in an armored car and declaring ‘I want to be a shahid.’ If you want to be a shahid, be a shahid,” Lt. Col. Mehmet Alkan challenged Taner Yildiz after the Turkish energy minister expressed a wish to be a martyr for Islam”.

    http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-1.673833

    In the same story printed in “The Australian” Lt. Col. Alkan was to be “investigated” and 150,000 Turkish people stood up for him and signed a petition in his support. The Turkish people are sick to death of this mindless waste just as Lt Col Alkan and legions of other are in Turkey. His words are truly palatable, and the pain in Lt. Col. Alkan’s words were very painful to read and very hard for many of us to take. In the Australian he repeated again “…. if you want to be a Martyr. Go, Just Go!”. I was virtually in tears reading this combined with the picture of him at his brother’s casket (Capt Alkan) in this mindless, violently racist KKK type blood letting within Turkey for no benefit, except to ISIS

    I believe I write this for the Turkish people as allies, not against them just as Lt Col Alkan speaks out. When we do not speak out with them as allies we smother the necessary descent of people like the 150,000 Turks and legions of others who want a better future without the Turkish version of the KKK, which is in fact no future in 2015 but more of the same, heading towards Apartheid like South African sanctions, decades ago. Hey, isn’t this 2015? Maybe some fantasize it is 1915. like some perverse 100 anniversary. NATO cannot tolerate this unless we want a worthwhile organization to be reduced to the status of a “comedy club”

    By the way this is what the Turkish people are really like in Fethullah Üzümcüoğlu and Esra Polat who represent many/most of the 78,000,000 people and as our NATO allies, and not opportunists like Erdogan. These are the people we have to support helping its people and as our NATO ally push back against the stupidity

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/11783353/Meet-the-Turkish-couple-who-spent-their-wedding-day-feeding-4000-Syrian-refugees.html

    I feel like Mel Gibson in one of those 1990s Mad Max B movies when he says ” If you want to get out of here alive*, follow me” Could we have a low budget sequel ?

    • Thanks Jim for your contribution.

      1. I do not know what happened to those 6 YPG fighters – but unconscionable behaviour by the Turks if true, whether they survived or not. If anyone does know what the conclusion of that story was, let us know.

      2. An impressive turn out for John Gallagher both in Kobane and Ontario – an an endorsement of the Kurds and their struggle.

      3. I have nothing against Turkey or the Turkish people but under Erdogan’s lightly veiled dictatorship I neither want to see it in NATO or the EU. Like Assad he is an arch manipulator who will destroy anyone who gets in his way.

      4. The wedding story of some very fine Turkish people I carried at the time with video. PC.

  • Richard Balcom says:

    Peter Clifford:

    I have been reading your newsletter since the summer of 2015 during the YPG/YPJ campaign to capture Sarrin. I have found your blog to be the most comprehensive and unbiased reporting of the Syrian conflict in Rojava (Western Kurdistan). I also appreciate that that your website is free of malware and advertising. Keep up the good work!

    • Many thanks, Richard, for your kind comments. Much appreciated and valued and glad you have found my work so useful. There are a few ads – not that they even cover the costs of running the site – but hey, I don’t do it for the money! PC.

  • syrian says:

    after cold blood shooting parachuting Russian pilot by Allah akbar shouting( so praised by you )anti Assad opposition fighters I start really believe that Russian are only ones who truly fighting terrorists..
    could you be so kind as so called human rights activist to enlighten me what new
    kind of pro terrorists action is going to happen and on which side NATO is
    ?
    regards

    • Omar, I personally do not approve of anyone killing anyone, especially in cold blood, whatever their religion or politics. However, what do you expect when Assad, responsible for at least 250,000 deaths and probably more, and his Russian allies bomb Turkman civilians in their mountain villages? The Russians can’t even distinguish between IS and non-IS. It’s all a ruse to keep Assad in power – a bloodthirsty dictator who should be brought before the ICC. PC.

      • syrian says:

        hi Peter!
        with all my respect to you I have to say your answer is double standard, so typically of western minds
        it imonstersthat neither Assad nor Russia are biggest terrorists in Syria(as you suggest)
        but Mother of all democracies(lol)
        America regime with ugly lapdog regimes of Turkey S.Arabia and others
        because USA administration learn a lot about Islamic taqqiya it implements it through action of idiot Erdogan
        American imperialists are paranoid about domination and are going to any pact with any devil to achieve (who created human monsters of Daesh?)it
        your so praised FSA is a sick joke
        99% of so called liberation army are rather oppressive gangs of jihadists
        Arab Spring was brutal destructions of MEast by West including the worst criminal batalions of ultra extreme jihadists created and still supported by Western powers…
        have you ever thought that maybe people of Middle East don’t really
        starving for Western style of democracy..
        hypocrisy of America on war on terror became macabre grotesque
        because of it there is blood on ME
        desert african jungles on the streets ofor Paris London and NYC
        and looks that they REALLY want to be like that both outside and inside
        Macchiavelli couldn’t do it better
        we are so long on mercy of those
        demon-creatic masters
        pure horror
        still your reports are head and shoulders above the comments of sensation..by greedy and manipulative(especially from leftist
        liberals)media
        sorry for bothering you
        regards

        • Thanks, Omar, especially for your last comments. However, I will stick by original premise that people have a right to protest against a dictatorship and call for change. If they vote in an Islamist government and that is the majority choice, then that is fine by me. However, I agree many Opposition groups in Syria have many oppressive and mixed agendas and if they seek to impose those on the majority against their will, then we are back to square one. PC.

        • “Assad nor Russia are biggest terrorists in Syria(as you suggest) but Mother of all democracies”

          I’ll let Peter handle the issue of who is guilty of the greatest brutality in Syria.
          As to the origins of Al Quaeda and Daesh that rests squarely on the shoulders of Assad and Iran.Twice Assad allowed Baathist officers to escape the US military and hide out in Syria.The first time in 2003 when they formed AQ in Iraq.And again after the Anbar Awakening which lead to both the rise of the Nusra Front and Daesh.There’s no question Iran wanted those Baathists to have safe haven in Syria.They would late come in handy undermining the US project in Iraq.And the great military hardware grab that occurred in Anbar can be credited to the failed shiite leadership of the Iraqi military.That too is a bi-product of Iran’s influence on Baghdad.
          Throwing fuel on the fire was Recep Erdogan.He also decided to play the “Deash game” by using them to try and thwart Kurd aspirations in Rojava.He has failed thanks to US and coalition support for the YPG defense of Kobani and counter offensive that has yet to stop.That offensive has now been augmented by the formation of the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces].Fingers crossed,they will steamroll that Kurd-Arab alliance into a major player in a post Assad Sunni Syria.

          • To answer Mike’s question, the reality is that 80% of the deaths in Syria are at the door of Assad’s barrel bombs and Russian bombing is hardly less indiscriminate. By bombing (Sunni) civilians, Assad is attempting both to get rid of the “sectarian enemy” and try and make the victim’s families so fearful that they will run away and not support the Opposition. Rule by terror? Not a good proposition in the 21st century. PC.

  • Wisdom says:

    hi Peter, I’m reading news which says that Daesh has been kicked out of Sinjar… hoping that the news is true; if so, it will make us all really very happy!

    • Hi, Wisdom, I think that “kicked out” may be a little premature at this stage. However, a delayed formal push my the Peshmerga started last night to take control of the city, but still has some way to go. 24 Coalition airstrikes reported in last 24 hours. Fingers crossed for a good and quick result. (Updated 12.41 GMT) PC.

  • Jim Martin says:

    During Remembrance and Veterans day today, and with the people in the field fighting for a better future and a better world as I write and past Veterans I thought I would share a Tribute Page I found which articulates for the first time in one spot what this remarkable “great generation” is fighting for also in Syria and Iraq

    http://cainalongbranch.com/Tribute

    In the words of Wordsworth also noted, and which speaks volumes: ” A true soldier fights not because he (or she) hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him”

    I was reminded of this again as I watched the following documentary “Her War: Women vs. ISIS” While I am not an RT fan with their usual Soviet propaganda, however they did a truly excellent job, In about Minute 26, Binefsh a 20 year old young women and teacher serving with the YPJ in Syria is truly part of this great generation when she said: “While I am alive, I want to be useful”. This, as by deed she stands up for others around her who cannot stand up for themselves. I hope that she survives the war as loosing her, and others, would be like loosing one’s little sister. People so utterly deserving of our support to the bitter end, so that the bitter end will not be their fate and the fate of those around them in this four year ongoing pitiless human obscenity called the Syrian Civil War.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqI0a4VgEs8

    I believe we have to enshrine our support for them in the way of International treaty so that our support is growing and consistent and survives are own domestic election cycles and our dysfunctional partisan politics of the entire International community. These people must be helped to overcome and stop suffering from “the ashes of Indecision” and willful neglect as Angelina Jolie put so well at the UN

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