Friday, 8 April 2016

Escalation in Syria - 04/07/2016

Syria: Turkish MANPADs, Iranian Regulars, US Bombing the Crossings – Everybody Is Upping the Ante
So many new important Syrian developments in such a short time – and it's all pointing to an escalation

7 April, 2016

Syrian army fights ISIS, rebels fight Syrian army

After Syrian army backed by Russians liberated Palmyra from ISIS in late March, most of the forces involved in that operation moved some 70 kilometres westwards where they over the next few days liberated al Qaryatayn. The latter is a Christian-majority town of originally some 15,000 people that was captured by ISIS in August 2015, 3 months after their capture of Palmyra to the east.
While crack Syrian units were busy clearing Homs province from ISIS the rebels struck in Aleppo. They managed to overrun several Syrian army positions and captured the village of al Eis.

The rebel attack was spearheaded by Al Nusra but also involved 'moderate' rebel groupswhich had earlier committed to the ceasefire regime.

At least 25 pro-government and 16 opposition fighters died in the clashes south of Aleppo, where the Nusra Front and rebel militias captured a village overlooking a major highway, a Britain-based monitoring group told The Associated Press. 
A number of groups — including some nominally party to the truce agreement — acknowledged on social media that they were battling government forces.

This naturally did not go down well with Damascus which therefore made it known it considered the ceasefire in southern Aleppo null and void and prepared for a campaign to retake lost positions
So far there are conflicting reports whether pro-government forces have by now retaken al Eis, but there is little doubt that if they have not yet they soon will.
Iran ups the ante
What is particularly interesting about the Syrian army campaign in southern Aleppo is that it for the first time involved advisors from the regular Iranian army. Previously the only Iranians in Syria were members of the Revolutionary Guard and volunteer militiamen.  
US and Damascus claim credit for the same air strike on Al Qaeda
Monday Pentagon revealed that US air force had bombed Al Nusra militants and killed its spokesperson Abu Firas al-Suri who was an old associate of Osama bin Laden.
Funny thing is Syria itself had already taken credit for the same air strike before Pentagon did. 
Regardless of who it was that carried out the raid this really goes to show that Syrian government and the US are really natural allies.
US' real security interests align far more closely with those of Bashar al Assad than those of Erdogan's Turkey, Wahhabi Saudi Arabia or Syrian jihadi rebels.
Were it not for the crooked influence of neocon ideologues a US led by a patriotic, nationalist or a realist foreign policy establishment would have surely never sought to undermine the secular Syrian government.   
A change in US policy?
Aside from openly hitting Al Nusra for the first time the US has widened the scope of its bombing in one other way.
It has for the first time delivered numerous, sustained air strikes against ISIS in Jarabulus reportedly killing up to 60 of its fighers in what is the last remaining major Turkish-Syrian border crossing in ISIS hands. 
Moreover, ISIS control of Jarabulus is directly threatened by the Kurdish YPG which sits just outside the city on the other side of the Euphrates river.
Of course, the Turks have previously warned they would intervene against the YPG if it ever crossed the Euphrates, and the US has so far been sending strong signals to the Kurds that Jarabulus was off limits.
Were the strikes some sort of a signal to Turkey that US can unleash the Kurds?
Or is it the case that US is actually getting ready to support a Kurdish offensive against Jarabulus and the rest of the Manbij pocket which would cut off ISIS from Turkey (allegedly its main supplier of weapons)?
The US has allegedly previously participated in the Tishrin Dam offensive which established a Kurdish bridgehead on the right bank Euphrates, which was technically beyond the Turkish "red line". Certainly the well-informed Al Masdar believes the current US strikes were in support of Kurds.
The remaining Syrian-Turkish border in ISIS hands. Jarabulus area marked with red square
The remaining Syrian-Turkish border in ISIS hands. Jarabulus area marked with red square

Turkey? ups the ante

Wednesday rebels shot down the second Syrian combat jet this month. In both cases the the planes were downed by al Nusra using shoulder fired anti-air missiles.
Such weapons were before not regularly observed in rebel possession. 
This raises the question who supplied these missiles to rebels now. It's possible it was Qatar or Saudi Arabia, but best candidate is Turkey. Whether this would have been coordinated with the US or not is anyone's guess.
Another interesting question is did the introduction of MANPADs to Syria's battlefield played a role in the Russian withdrawal?
When Russian downgraded their fixed wing presence in Syria in March they left behind the great majority of Su-24 and Su-24 interdiction bombers, but flew back their entire fleet of Su-25 close ground support aircraft. Generally a Su-25 would engage the enemy from a lower attitude and be far more vulnerable to a shoulder-fired rockets.
Conclusion: Events are gaining critical mass
Just weeks after the partially successful ceasefire agreement and the partial withdrawal of the Russian air legion the war looks on the brink of a major escalation

Unreported by western media, yet when there were allegations of Bashar Assad doing it they were all over it.

Syrian Islamist group Jaysh al-Islam admits using banned weapons against Kurds in Aleppo

7 April, 2016

The Jaysh al-Islam militant group fighting government forces in Syria has admitted to using “forbidden” weapons against Kurdish militia in Aleppo. The group’s statement comes after reports of chemical gas being used in shelling Aleppo’s Sheikh Maqsood district.

The hardline Islamist group did not not specify what substances were used, but claimed that it will punish those responsible.

The group’s statement reads: “During the clashes one of the Jaysh al-Islam brigade leaders used [weapons] forbidden in this kind of confrontations.”

The group claims that the brigade commander in question was summoned to a military court, where it was decided he is to be held accountable. “This situation is contrary to the charter of Jaysh al-Islam,” says the group.

Aleppo’s Sheikh Maqsood neighborhood was shelled with mortars containing chemical agents earlier on Thursday. Local journalist Nawrouz Uthman told RT the attack took place around noon local time, reportedly killing 23 people and injured over 100.

The Kurdish Red Crescent confirmed reports that chemicals had been used in the attack. “The symptoms of those affected by the attack such as choking made it possible to affirm that they were poisoned as a result of the use of banned toxic gases such as chlorine or other agents. All our patients have similar symptoms,” Doctor Wallat Mamu told RT.

YPG also confirmed that toxic agents had been used by the Islamists, according to RIA Novosti.

We confirm the information concerning usage by Islamists, acting under patronage of Turkey, of the poisonous agent in the Maqsood neighborhood of Aleppo. Its poisonous effect have experienced dozens of civilians,” the head of the YPG central headquarters was cited as saying.

YPG intends to report the incident to the Jordan-based US coordination center and the Russian Center for reconciliation of the opposing sides in Syria, which oversee the cessation of hostilities.

We will report this fact to the ceasefire centers, to the Russian center in Latakia and to the American one in Jordan,” YPG said in a statement.

The hardline Islamist group Jaysh al-Islam is formally a member of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that is representing the Syrian opposition at the Geneva talks.

Both Russia and Syria have repeatedly demanded the exclusion of Mohammed Alloush, previously known as Jaysh al-Islam’s political leader, from the negotiations process.

Alloush was picked as the chief negotiator for the Syrian opposition in Geneva, which has drawn ire from Damascus and criticism from Moscow.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference in January that Russia would not change its view of the “terrorist essence of Jaysh al-Islam,” which is “known to have shelled residential districts in Damascus, including the Russian Embassy.”

In March, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov reiterated Russia’s stance that Jaysh al-Islam is a terrorist organization.

From the very beginning, Russia opposed inclusion of the representatives [of Jaysh al-Islam] in the opposition delegation… They take part in the delegation only in a purely personal capacity… We will only welcome their exclusion from participation in the negotiations,” he told RIA Novosti.

44 civilians killed, 74 injured in Aleppo attacks in 2 weeks – Russian MOD

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry has reported observing a rise in terrorist attacks in the Aleppo area over the past two weeks, which it said had killed and injured dozens of people.

In [the] past two weeks, the number and the scale of terrorist provocations in Aleppo have grown significantly – 44 civilians have been killed and 74, including children, have been wounded as a result of these attacks,” said the ministry’s spokesman, Igor Konashenkov.

Official YPG spokesman Redur Xelil told RT that Turkey has contributed greatly to the disruption of the ceasefire in Aleppo by backing militant groups fighting against the Kurds in Syria.

Here in Sheikh Maqsood, and in Aleppo, there is no cessation of hostilities. The ceasefire has not brought any peace for the YPG and the Kurdish people. In fact it’s the opposite – the attacks on us have intensified. We are absolutely sure that it’s the Turkish government and the rebel groups they support that are responsible for these assaults,” said Xlil.

The ceasefire in Syria came into effect on February 27. The cessation of hostilities agreement, drawn up with the active involvement of US and Russian diplomats, includes some 97 militant opposition groups operating in Syria. Terrorist organizations, such as Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL) and Al Nusra Front, were excluded from the deal.

Numerous violations of the ceasefire have been reported since its implementation. Last month, Sergey Kuralenko, head of the Russian Center for reconciliation of the opposing sides in Syria, confirmed 250 cases of the ceasefire being breached.

From the BBC. They say 'rebel group' but do not name them

Syria war: Rebels 'capture key northern town of al-Rai'

Syrian rebels say they have seized control of the strategically important northern town of al-Rai from the group known as Islamic State (IS).

The fall of the town is a boost for the rebels as they battle to capture the divided city of Aleppo.

Al-Rai's capture after several days of heavy fighting secures an important supply line from Turkey for the rebels.

Separately, at least 200 people are missing after an IS attack on a factory near Damascus, the government says.

Workers were reportedly taken from a dormitory where they were staying on the outskirts of the town of Dumeir, about 40km (25 miles) east of the capital.

Aleppo remains divided between opposition and loyalist-controlled sectors, with some parts of the city changing hands on a daily basis

Activists from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say about 140 workers managed to escape.

Initially there was confusion over who attacked the factory, with some sources suggesting the abductions were carried out by a rebel group called Jaysh Tahrir al-Sham.

A factory administrator said no-one had been able to contact the workers since the assault on Monday.

The area around Dumeir has seen fierce fighting between government forces and IS militants in recent days.

'Launching pad'

The BBC's Lina Sinjab in Lebanon says that al-Rai is a crucial stronghold for IS as it sits on a crossing linking Turkey to Syria.

The Observatory said that an alliance of "rebel factions and Islamists" had captured the town.

Control of al-Rai allows opposition fighters to lay siege to positions held by IS to the north of Aleppo and cut the group's supply lines, a commander of the opposition al-Mutasim Brigade was quoted as telling local media.

Al-Rai can now be be used by opposition groups as a launching pad for future operations against IS in the east and south, the commander, Mohamed Hassan Khalil, dded.

He said that the main dangers faced by the opposition groups fighting IS were improvised mines, booby-trapped vehicles and suicide bombers.

Earlier this week IS jihadists said they had launched several attacks around north-east Damascus, including Tishrin power station and Dumeir military airport.

A Syrian military source told Reuters there had been attacks but all of the militants who took part in them had been killed.

It comes almost two weeks after Syrian government and allied forces recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from IS fighters.

This was also seen as a significant loss to the militant group, which had held the city since last May.

From al-Masdar

ISIS has no where to run as rebels recapture Adwan & Sahm al-Jawlan – Map update

7 April, 2016

During the afternoon, Islamist groups of Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamic Front, Ahrar ash-Sham and the Free Syrian Army recaptured the towns of Adwan and Sahm al-Jawlan in western Daraa.

This entire area – along with many neighbouring villages – was captured last month by two ISIS affiliate groups, namely the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade and Islamic Muthanna Movement.

Today’s rebel advance comes on top of capturing 5 other villages from ISIS east of the captured towns captured today. However, the entire ISIS-held area in western Daraa was rebel-held just two years ago; reason being that the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade and the Islamic Muthanna Movement defected from rebel ranks to ISIS when the latter was gaining momentum elsewhere in Syria in 2014.

Now, Islamist rebel forces will likely push to capture Tasil (Taseel) which is situated geographically west of Adwan and north of Sahm al-Jawlan.

If the rebels can seize the strategic town of Tasil, they will have ISIS cornered inside the province and utterly cut from the Islamic State mainland in northern and eastern Syria. Subsequently, these events also have ISIS pushed against a wall at the border with Israel and Jordan.

As these countries are unlikely to have ISIS fighters pour across their borders, militants loyal to the Islamic State must now either sue for a regional peace deal with the Syrian Opposition groups or fight them to the death.


Turkish-backed militants have reportedly seized the town of Al-Ra’i in Syria’s Aleppo province. The town is located at the important supply line to Turkey.
Recently, different militant groups increased their activity in North Aleppo. The maing goal of these actions is to show that they fight ISIS which may strengthen Turkey’s diplomatic position amid the upcoming talks on Syria. The talks will likely start on April 11 or 13.

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