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War Chronicle 21-February-2016

CONTENTS: 

Peter Oborne Reports from Aleppo – 21st February 2016

Syrian Army closes on Latakia-Idlib border;

Syrian Army Completes East Aleppo Cauldron; 800 ISIS Fighters Trapped;

Russia Defense Report – 20 Feb 2016: Russian Military Grouping in Syria;

Tiger Forces capture Aleppo Thermal Power Plant in east Aleppo;

Dangerous times, dangerous games in Syria: Washington’s tough choice;

U.S. Ignores Own UNSC Resolution – Tells Russia “Stop Bombing Al-Qaeda!”;

Syrian Dissident Commander Underlines YPG Kurds Alliance with Syrian Gov’t against Militants;

Al-Qaeda captures strategic Yemen town, kills militia leader;

UN ‘conservative estimates’ show 700 children among 6,000 Yemen fatalities;

Civilian casualties in Yemen from Saudi-led coalition US-made cluster bombs;

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Peter Oborne Reports from Aleppo – 21st February 2016

https://thewallwillfall.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/peter-oborne-reports-from-aleppo/

Disclaimer: Peter Oborne’s report is an excellent and long awaited report on the situation in Aleppo that finally exposes the lies that have been propagated by the CIA-&-UK-Foreign-Office-funded White Helmets who have been the US NATO fifth columnists on the ground in Aleppo embedded with Al Nusra and ISIS.

Middle East Eye (MEE) has consistently republished the White Helmet [and many other similar] unverified and misleading propaganda. My opinion is that they have jumped on the Peter Oborne bandwagon because they see their own credibility going down the pan as the truth emerges and reveals their skewed reporting for the last almost 5 years on Syria.

Peter Oborne speaks to residents of government-held areas about their fighting for ‘civilisation’ and latest drive to root out ‘terrorism’ in Syria

ALEPPO, Syria – Before the war you could have a leisurely breakfast in Syria’s capital Damascus and be in Aleppo in time for a late lunch at one of its famous restaurants.

Today the fast, direct route has been cut. For several weeks this winter, the government-held areas of Aleppo were completely isolated as has often been the case since the conflict began. Thanks to recent Syrian army successes the route has been reopened, but the journey involves long and sometimes unpredictable diversions.

We made the first leg of the journey, the 160km drive north from Damascus to Homs, with no difficulty, pausing on the way to pick up a Syrian army lieutenant, Ali. The 22-year-old officer was returning to duty after eight days leave. He told us how he had abandoned his university engineering course three years earlier to volunteer for the army.

It was more than two years till Ali saw his parents again. He was assigned to the defence of Kweiris military airport to the east of Aleppo. Ali spoke of daily battles against the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and more recently Islamic State opponents.

The airbase was inaccessible by land, so the soldiers were supplied with ammunition and supplies by helicopter. When Islamic State joined the siege in the summer of 2014, it brought sophisticated weapons that could shoot down the helicopters. Thereafter supplies were dropped by parachute from planes. Often they drifted off target and were by picked up by the rebels. When Ali was struck in the chest by a bullet there was no evacuation. He spent 15 days convalescing inside the fort before returning to the fight.

He said of IS: “They are non-humans. They are not afraid. They are not affected by injuries. Some say they take special drugs.

They have more men than Nusra and they are more ferocious. They must maim the corpses of those they kill or they do not believe they are dead.

When we catch them we find ammunition, dates, drugs and ladies underwear for the virgins waiting for them in heaven.”

Ali took out his mobile phone and showed me footage of gun battles against Islamic State opponents who he said were just 75 metres away.

The secret behind Kweiris was the loyalty of the soldiers. We had no tanks but stood fast over four years. I lost 82 comrades,” Ali said.

The siege was lifted late last year, in a signal that the tide has turned in favour of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been supported by Russian air strikes since September last year.

Ali is now involved in mopping up Islamic State positions around al-Bab, a town east of Aleppo which many say is more important in military terms to IS than its Syrian headquarters in Raqqa because of its proximity to Aleppo.

The road to Raqqa

I had been wanting to travel to Aleppo for more than a year, but was unable to make the journey because I was told it was too dangerous. This changed at the start of the year as Syrian government victories meant that there was a safe road into the city.

In the old days, the direct route to Aleppo would have headed through Homs to Hama but these days there are many diversions along the way. To reach Aleppo now, one has to turn onto the road headed for IS-held Raqqa and drive directly along it.

Our driver, Abdullah, made the journey several times a week and was very experienced. This was essential: one error of navigation can lead you to an Islamic State or al-Nusra checkpoint.

Abdullah said he had owned a textile business in the old city of Aleppo. When his house and business was destroyed, his car was his only remaining asset. “I had to face reality. I became a driver,” he told Middle East Eye.

It meant a loss of status. “At first I found it hard to being called ‘the driver’. It’s a job at the end of the day and I am not ashamed,” he said.

Abdullah told me what he has faced on the road: the roadside bombs; being caught up in clashes; fake checkpoints manned by insurgents or criminals. “They loot you or they sell you for ransom.”

We were now in bandit country. The driver said that al-Nusra positions started just a kilometre or so to the north while Islamic State was to the south. There are frequent checkpoints and many improvised roadside forts, artificially raised areas that are all well-armed, with a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.

Between the checkpoints Abdullah drove at breakneck speed. Then, to his frustration but my relief, we found ourselves marooned behind a military convoy. A soldier stood at the back of the final truck waving his machine gun menacingly at any car which came to close. Though I had no way of telling, my companions told me that the convoy contained Russian as well as Syrian troops. Moscow has stepped up its military presence inside Syria in recent months, but it has been reported that its troops were concentrated in the western provinces.

Eventually we turned north. I watched shepherds herding their goats as the sun set behind a range of low hills, and fell asleep. When I woke up it was dark and Ali had been dropped off. We had arrived at the entrance to Aleppo. Though there was no street lighting, and the apartment blocks were dark, through the darkness I could see the destruction all around.

Entering Aleppo

Less than four years ago, Aleppo was a prosperous and beautiful city. Christians and Muslims lived side by side, as did Sunni and Shia. A tolerant culture was sustained by a massive industrial centre. Aleppo’s dynamic business community had developed thousands of factories in the industrial suburb of Sheikh Najjar, which employed one million Aleppans.

Inside the city there were some of the greatest treasures of world civilisation: ancient churches, mosques, the famous covered market and the incomparable citadel in the heart of the city.

Almost everything has now been destroyed. In Damascus, the Old City survives but many of the suburbs lie in ruins. In Aleppo, the centre has been gutted, and much of what remains is in the hands of rebels.

A journey from the east of the city to the town centre used to take half an hour. Now it lasts a day, and sometimes much more because of the road blocks and checkpoints.

For the last few years the government has ruled over the western parts of the city, while a collection of rebel forces have dominated the east.

Many government areas are under regular mortar bombardment. Some of these attacks involve small mortars which inflict localised damage. The pockmarked city landscape reveals how the rebels are now using improvised gas canisters, more like missiles than conventional mortars. These can bring down buildings or cause carnage if they land in a crowd. Aleppo’s remaining hospitals are on permanent standby for an influx of mass casualties – 100 or more at a time. These lethal weapons can fall anywhere.

They are one reason more than one million residents have fled. Meanwhile, in rebel-held areas human rights groups accuse the Syrian government of pummeling the city from the sky and dropping so-called barrel bombs that are often filled with shrapnel that can rip through human flesh with ease. Amnesty International has called the widespread use of the bombs a crime against humanity.

Life in Aleppo

The most urgent problems in Aleppo are power and water. When I arrived in late January there had been no electricity for 112 days (with the exception of a tantalising period when it had flickered on briefly for about half an hour a day).

The power station which used to supply the city’s population of more than two million is in the hands of Islamic State. The army is trying, so far without success, to recapture it. If not destroyed already, it certainly will be by the time IS fighters are driven out.

It is thought that last year the warring parties agreed to an energy-sharing deal that gave all the sides limited access to power but this seems to have collapsed because of the difficulty of reconciling all the divergent groups.

Aleppo’s second source of power used to be the national grid linking it through Hama to Damascus. Theoretically this could still operate, but once again only if the government and the numerous rebel groups were to cooperate. That seems out of the question. I asked for an interview with the director of electricity, but was told that he “had nothing to talk about”. No surprise, because this unfortunate man is one of the most unpopular men in Aleppo.

Meanwhile those Aleppans who can afford to do so employ private generators. In residential areas there is a chaotic mass of wires just above street level linking these generators to private apartments.

However, just two amps of electricity cost about 6,000 Syrian lira ($20) a month, in a country where incomes have collapsed and aid delivery is sporadic.

This is enough to power lighting, but not electrical appliances let alone central heating to mitigate Aleppo’s winter chill. Private homes are dank and for some reason seem even colder than the street outside.

The latest water problem was 12 days old when I reached the city. Once again the problem is Islamic State. Aleppo’s water supply comes from the Euphrates via a reservoir called “Assad’s lake” 90km to the north-east. There is a processing plant there, from which water is pumped via Nusra-controlled areas into the heart of the city.

Water has been cut off by the fighting before. This time all attempts to negotiate a solution with IS have failed. This tactic does not make IS any more popular and can be interpreted as a sign of desperation in the face of recent military setbacks – small consolation to Aleppans.

They have responded by digging wells. As with electricity, this adds hugely to the cost of living. Residents told me they pay 1,500 lira ($5) for 1,000 litres, enough to meet the basic needs of a family for about a week. To put this in perspective, water consumption in the US is about 340 litres per head every day. In Aleppo it is less than 20 litres per head.

Many people don’t have enough water to wash: doctors say there is an epidemic of fleas in the city.

These costs mount up. The salary of a state employee is about 30,000 Syrian lira a month ($100). Out of this he or she will spend 6,000 on water and a further 6,000 on electricity. But rents start at 15,000 a month for even the most squalid accommodation.

At Jamilla market in downtown Aleppo, I bought some pens and notepaper off Mahmood, a street vendor. He said that he and his extended family lived in a single room in a nearby apartment occupied by four different families, or about 25 people. How did he get by? “We’re alive,” he said.

Like the majority of people I met, newly married Mahmood was a refugee from a rebel-held area south of the city where he had had a good job in a jeans factory, now destroyed.

Aleppo University has set aside 17 out of its 20 dormitory blocks for refugees. This is bad luck for the students who are forced to sleep eight to a room intended for two as they try to continue their studies.

One man, a tailor before the war, shared a small room with his wife and seven children. He described how Free Syrian Army fighters burned down their house – leaving one daughter with terrible burns – after he refused to join them. He recalls that when they invaded his area of Aleppo province on 5 July, 2012 they “treated us like infidels. Made men grow long beards and women cover their faces”.

This room here is better than a citadel in one of their places,” he added.

The family managed to escape but his cousins in the FSA continue to harass him even at the university. He said they tried to abduct one of his daughters, but neighbours intervened.

In a nearby room a man from a family of olive oil merchants told me that al-Nusra has murdered three of his brothers-in-law for alleged pro-government sympathies. One was beheaded, one was ripped to pieces after being tied between an electricity pole and a moving car. A fourth brother has been kidnapped and no one knows where he is.

Persecution of women and minorities

All the internally displaced Syrians in government-held Aleppo had the same story to tell about the areas they had fled: women covered and confined to the home; foreign fighters enforcing a reign of terror. They are sometimes unclear about which group they fled from.

The patchwork of alliances among rebels groups is extremely complex and constantly changing. There are US-approved groups as well as hardline Islamists factions. All oppose the Assad government, and will not work with Islamic State, but they are divided over tactics and ideology.

Human rights groups and the UN have levelled the worst accusations of war crimes at IS, Nusra and the government. However, all armed groups in Syria have been accused of gross human rights violations.

I consider myself a Syrian,” said one refugee who did not want to give his name. “We have got all kinds of religion. We don’t believe in sectarian politics because that’s just a pretext they use to attack us.”

No wonder so many have fled. Aleppo (in common with the rest of Syria) has suffered a demographic catastrophe over the last 12 months. How many remain of the city’s once-flourishing population of two million plus? Everyone speaks of the multiple loss of friends who are now in exile.

Alaa al-Sayed, a civil rights campaigner who focuses on the protection of the city’s religious minority, estimates that there are just 5,000 Armenian Christians left, compared to a pre-war population of 60,000. There were 200,000 Christians – made up of ethnically Arab Christians and Christian Armenians – with the Christian community in the city drawing its roots to the early years after the death of Christ. Now Sayed estimates there are just 25,000.

On current trends the multi-confessional tolerance that has been a feature of life in Aleppo for two millennia will soon no longer exist.

The churches are encouraging worshippers to stay.

One of our principles is that we shouldn’t leave the country when it is passing through difficult times,” said Reverend Selimian, pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Church. “When your mother gets sick do you get another mother? We as church leaders are staying here, we say there is no reason for you to go.”

Rev Selimian, a graduate of Chicago University, told me: “We distribute food, and pay for apartments rents. We pay for the electricity of more than 200 families. We provide medication free of charge.”

He added, however, that his churchgoers must ultimately make their own decisions. The poor make perilous journeys on makeshift boats across the sea from Turkey to Greece. The rich pay $7,000 for safe journeys across the same stretch of water on luxurious motor launches.

Many have no choice but to flee, and the last week has seen a fresh surge of refugees from the greater Aleppo area, reportedly caused by indiscriminate Russian bombing.

Refugee tales speak of Assad crimes

Determined to hear the other side of the story, after leaving the government-held areas of Aleppo I travelled to refugee camps in Jordan.

There I heard stories of mass slaughter by pro-government militias. I have met amputees whose life has been destroyed by barrel bombs, learnt of attacks by gangs carrying machetes, of mass rape as a weapon of war.

One sheep farmer from a south of Aleppo recalled the day (3 December, 2012) when the Syrian air force started bombing his village. He said they killed 1,500 people. He insisted there were no armed groups operating in the immediate vicinity. Now he lives in a makeshift camp in north Jordan.

A mother of eight children from a village near Hama in northern Syria told how she, her husband and eight children were driven out of her village by bombing.

They slaughtered us, they dispossessed us, they destroyed everything we had. They entered into our homes,” she said.

She spoke of Iranian gangs with machetes looting and maiming: “I saw it with my own eyes. Either they chop off your right arm or your head.” There is no excusing or ignoring the crimes and barbarity of the Assad government and its allies.

Destruction in rebel-held Aleppo allegedly caused by government strikes in 2015 (AFP)

Russian bombing in Deraa, the southern Syrian city where the revolt against the Assad government began in the spring of 2011, has caused a fresh wave of refugees to flee across the border into Jordan.

At a centre for amputees, I spoke to a young man who had lost his leg in a bombing raid. I asked him what he would do when he had recovered. There was no question in his mind. He would return to Deraa and fight, on a mission to take revenge for the killing of family members.

Tale of two cities

But the citizens of the government-held areas of Aleppo have another story to tell. They too say they are victims of terror and barbarism. They too have experienced immeasurable loss and intimidation. They believe they are fighting to save civilization.

I should state that I stayed exclusively in government-held areas. I made no attempt to cross the lines into rebel zones (I would have been kidnapped). Government minders accompanied me throughout the trip and were present at almost every conversation. But I am as certain as I can be that people told me the truth as they saw it. What follows is their story.

In the paragraphs that follow I will tell the story as I heard it from dozens of residents – schoolteachers, shopkeepers, imams, priests, businessmen, doctors, university professors, students and jobless refugees who have fled to government areas from the surrounding countryside.

When the Syrian uprising began in the early summer of 2011, Aleppo did not join. There were a handful of demonstrations but they were dealt with relatively gently. Some protestors were jailed but there was no armed response as took place in some other parts of Syria.

At the start of 2012, by which time much of Damascus was at war, the Aleppan business community says it was targeted in a series of assassinations and killings. Political and religious leaders say they were threatened with death or torture unless they went across to the rebels.

We knew we were being targeted,” says Fares Shehabi, head of Aleppo’s chamber of industry. “We knew what was coming. We sent a message for the army to be sent to Aleppo.” The request was ignored.

On 5 July of that year an armed convoy – the Brigade of Tawheed, an Islamist group that has previously praised Nusra – rolled into ancient Aleppo. It dispersed, burnt down police stations, set up road blocks.

Within a few weeks, the rebel brigades had taken over most of the city. “At first we thought they were Syrians,” said Shehabi. “But after a few weeks we got reports about foreigners. Fighters from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Saudi, Iraq, Eqypt.”

This was not regime change, it was invasion. And why was it taking a religious theme? Why does it have a beard? We are not ready to replace a secular society with a religious one.”

The newcomers established religious courts. Women were confined to their home and made to cover up. Alcohol and smoking were banned. “I’m a Sunni, yet they consider me an infidel,” Shehabi said.

The Aleppo businessman argues that the paradigm of the Syrian conflict favoured by Western governments and media is false.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and his ministers have repeatedly portrayed the war as a murderous war waged by a fanatical minority loyal to President Assad against the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people.

Since the president belongs to the minority Alawite interpretation of Islam, this implies that the war is a sectarian conflict between supporters of the Alawite sect and the mass of Sunni Muslims.

Shehabi challenges this. He argues that the real divide is between a culture of religious tolerance – including moderate Sunnis like him – and the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam sponsored by Saudi Arabia.

This is not a war about President Assad and his regime or state. I am not a member of the Baath Party. This is about identity and lifestyle,” he said.

For Shehabi and every other Aleppo resident I met, the war should be understood in a radically different way. They stress that in Aleppo there is a culture of tolerance and understanding embracing Christians, Shia, Alawites and ordinary Sunnis – an intermingling which has existed since time immemorial.

Again and again, residents asked me why the British government and NATO were on the side of militant Islam and terrorism.

Go to Idlib today,” says Shehabi about the northeastern city seized with the help of the Western-sponsored Free Syrian forces last year. “It is like Kandahar [in Afghanistan]. How can you claim that you want to make Syria a democracy if you impose religious courts which do not recognise our religions or our ethnic variety.”

Shehabi further asserts that what he believes that the insurgency in Aleppo was not part of a Syrian uprising but was instead deliberately supplied and orchestrated from Turkey.

The Turks gave them weapons,” he said. “They allowed the fighters across the border. They nursed the wounded in their hospitals.”

He claims that Turkey was motivated by economic gain, deliberately setting out to destroy Aleppo which it sees as an economic rival. Shehabi says that he has cast-iron evidence that Turkish-backed fighters systematically stripped the production lines in Aleppo’s industrial centre and shipped the machinery back across the border.

He complained publicly about the stripping of Aleppo’s factories shortly after the attacks began and, in his capacity as head of the Aleppo chamber of Industry, issued writs against Turkish President Erdogan for damages. He says that two weeks later the grand offices of the chamber were completely destroyed in a massive bomb attack.

The demolition of Aleppo’s industrial infrastructure is only one part of the story. Before the revolution it was a sophisticated city. There was a system of free public health that offered a broad range of treatment from daily diseases to more complex problems like cancers.

I met Dr Mahamad al-Hazouri, head of the department of health, in his office at Aleppo’s Razi Hospital.

In July 2012,” he told me, “terrorism hit at the infrastructure of our health centres. They put six out of our 16 hospitals out of service as well as 100 out of 201 primary health centres and 12 out of 14 comprehensive centres. They also wiped out the ambulance service.”

He gave the example of Aleppo’s eye hospital: “It had been one of the great hospitals in the north of Syria, and was turned by rebels into a jail for detainees.”

Hazouri and his colleagues described their efforts to continue to provide a comprehensive service to the general population. Staff make heroic trips to rebel areas as part of their vaccination programme: “They get humiliated. Insurgents say that they are infidel. They refuse to let us in.”

As a result diseases that have long been forgotten are making a return. Hazouri said that polio was eradicated from Syria more than 10 years ago: there are now cases in Islamic State-occupied areas. Meanwhile there is a chronic shortage of drugs and medical equipment.

The school system has suffered comparable devastation. Ibrahim Maso, head of the education directorate, told me how his department had supervised 4,400 schools before the war, with 1.5 million students in the greater Aleppo area.

Some 3,000 of those schools are now under rebel control. “Only 915 schools are now teaching the government curriculum,” said Maso, who was an Arabic teacher for 17 years and school principal for a decade. He continues to pay the salaries of teachers stranded in the rebel areas, even when they are prevented from teaching.dren in Aleppo are still trying to go to chool amidst the chaos although many no longer have the opportunity (MEE / Peter Oborne)

I met one such teacher, who had travelled from her Islamic State-held village to the east of Aleppo in order to collect her 30,000 lira ($100) monthly salary.

Before the war, the journey would have taken less than an hour. Instead, she had to spend five days traversing Islamic State and al-Nusra checkpoints to get to the education department. She was still wearing the black robes which the Islamic State enforces: IS confine all women to their home unless completely covered in black with not a centimetre of flesh showing. She told how she had heard British and French accents among the IS fighters and well as “very blond Americans and black ones, speaking classical Arabic”.

Often these fighters drive round the streets in Toyota pick-up trucks ordering people out of their houses to “come and see the punishment” – usually a beheading or crucifixion.

Everything behind the curtain is allowed. Sex, smoking and wine. Some women from our town go into their houses alone,” she said.

She described how they knock on doors asking permission to marry the daughters of the town. One man who refused was beheaded.

The schools have been closed, but IS enforces its own education system: “The teenagers are taken to mosques for religious teaching. They brainwash the young men. They are told to attack their parents.”

Yet this brave and stoical teacher told me that she was not afraid because she was sustained by her Islamic faith: “When you are with God you fear no one.”

She was preparing to make the journey back to rejoin her husband and children, and spoke of her fears for the future.

The Syrian army is approaching her town as it regains ground from Islamic State across eastern Aleppo: “The fighters are preparing ambushes with explosives. They are moving their wives and families out. They are keeping us as human shields for them.”

The heroism of some of the people I met is beyond computation.

One headmaster told me how he has tried to keep his school open in an Islamic State area. He was held in solitary confinement for 30 days in a cell with no toilet. Occasionally, he was beaten with an electric cable. Once a box full of scorpions was put into his cell. He was told that “this was the fate of every Shahiba [government worker]. You will be an example to everyone who works for the government.”

Aleppo traces its history back 7,000 years and is one of the oldest constantly inhabited cities in the world. During that time, it has endured countless catastrophes. It was sacked twice by the Mongols and once by Central Asian emperor Timur at the start of the 15th century. It has been destroyed by earthquake.

The events of the Syrian civil war are comparable in scale and horror to those past catastrophes. Of course, peace will be restored at some point and the city rebuilt. During the time I spent in Aleppo, the Syrian army was cutting off the routes between the Turkish border and the city. This means that supply lines from Turkey to al-Nusra and Islamic State were no longer functioning. Slowly – as in Stalingrad in 1942 – the besiegers are turning into the besieged.

Edward Dark, an Aleppo-based contributor for Middle East Eye, tweeted out on last week: “This is the beginning of the end of jihadi presence in Aleppo. After four years of war and terror, people can finally see the end in sight.”

There was still stalemate in Aleppo city itself as I drove out of the city, but in the countryside around events are moving very fast.

Oborne also is interviewed in this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98_aua4jbeQ

Peter Oborne was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He recently resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class; The Rise of Political Lying;and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.

Written by Peter Oborne for MEE

Disclaimer:  Peter Oborne’s report is an excellent and long awaited report on the situation in Aleppo that finally exposes the lies that have been propagated by the CIA UK FO funded White Helmets who have been the US NATO fifth columnists on the ground in Aleppo embedded with Al Nusra and ISIS.

MEE has consistently republished the White Helmet [and many other similar] unverified and misleading propaganda.  My opinion is that they have jumped on the Peter Oborne bandwagon because they see their own credibility going down the pan as the truth emerges and reveals their skewed reporting for the last almost 5 years on Syria.

Examples:  http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/peace-sake-get-out-syria-990609412

In his customary deceitful way, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sought to portray Iran as a pleasant country, ready for dialogue with stubborn and hard-line Saudi Arabia. He told an audience at the Munich security conference last week: “We believe there is nothing in our region that would exclude Iran and Saudi working together for a better future for all of us,” adding that extremists “are as much a threat to our brothers in Saudi Arabia as they are to the rest of the region. We are bound by a common destiny.”

It is still better than the common Iranian rhetoric which claims that Saudi Arabia and Daesh are two sides of the same coin. As Zarif was presenting himself as peaceful lamb, his comrades in the Revolutionary Guard were raising their flags on what was left of a mosque minaret in northern Syria, watching broken women carrying white flags march by.

Those civilians are not Daesh, but some of them might join it after being radicalised due to what Iran is doing in Syria. So to have a joint fight with the Saudis against Daesh, Tehran must change its policies. 

Giving Zaina Erhaim [another US UK backed propagandist and terror apologist] a platform.

In his acceptance speech, Abdel Aziz al-Hamza, a spokesman for the network established in April 2014 by 17 activists from Raqqa, bluntly summed up the position of Syrian reporters: “We are stuck between two aggressive and brutal forces. The first is the criminal regime, obsessed with power, which claims to be fighting against terrorism by killing Syrian children. The second force spreads evil and injustice and covers our nation in black. Both sides consider us to be criminals because we expose their actions to the world.”

Equally, Rami Jarrah’s arrest was no coincidence!  His reporting has been aligned with the White Helmets and US NATO propaganda.  The jail cell was an attempt to revive his flagging credibility which has been shredded by the SAA and allies advances particularly to the East of Aleppo.

Robert Ford commented that the damage to the East of Aleppo was so much worse than the West, implying it was the fault of the SAA and Assad.  Once again Ford is also proven to be a cynical liar and propagandist protecting his death squads, assets and agents.

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Syrian Army closes on Latakia-Idlib border

By Leith Fadel – 21/02/2016
https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/syrian-army-closes-on-latakia-idlib-border/ | Al-Masdar News

The situation in northeastern Latakia has turned into complete disaster for the Islamist rebels of Jabhat Al-Nusra (Syrian Al-Qaeda group), the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) steadily advances through the remaining mountaintops and villages in this coastal province.

For the Islamist rebels, reality has just sunk in and their greatest fear is coming to form as the government forces close-in on the final villages that border the Idlib Governorate and Turkey.

While the Turkish border offers the Islamist rebels an outlet to strike Latakia, the Syrian Arab Army and their allies cannot necessarily cross the border and combat their fighters.

However, the Idlib Governorate’s border with the Latakia Governorate is another story; it can be readily attacked by the government forces from the high ground in Jabal Al-Akrad (Kurdish Mountains).

To give you a quick synopsis: the Syrian Arab Army and their allies are now overlooking the Idlib Governorate from the highest points in Syria.

Only a small pocket of resistance remains under rebel control and it is not likely to hold very long as the Syrian Arab Army’s 103rd Brigade (commandos) of the Republican Guard and their allies continue to press the enemy positions along the Aleppo-Latakia Highway (M-4 Highway).

Adding to the plight of the rebels in Idlib, they are on the verge of being flanked from both sides of the province, thanks in large part to the Syrian Army/Hezbollah advance inside southern Aleppo in the months of November and December. (See article below: Syrian Army Completes East Aleppo Cauldron)

At this point, the rebels either need a large amount of reinforcements from another battlefront or direct intervention from the Turkish Army in order to halt the Syrian Army’s imminent advance into the Idlib Governorate.

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Syrian Army Completes East Aleppo Cauldron; 800 ISIS Fighters Trapped

SAA seizes last key village along Aleppo-Raqqa highway, trapping almost 1,000 ISIS terrorists

http://russia-insider.com/en/military/report-syrian-army-completes-east-aleppo-cauldron-800-isis-fighters-trapped/ri12964 By RI Staff, 21 Feb 2016

Leith Fadel of Al-Masdar News reported yesterday that the Syrian Arab Army has seized the last remaining village along the Aleppo-Raqqa Highway, thus completing the encirclement of 800 ISIS members in East Aleppo and trapping them like rats. 

It is an especially cruel and ironic twist of fate for these sad souls as a great number of them were no doubt part of the siege of the Kuweires airbase located in the same region. The Syrian Army somehow managed to hold out for 18 grueling months until Russian air power eventually broke it down in November 2015.

If the encirclement is as complete as is being reported, ISIS is in for a very painful experience. There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. No one will be coming to help them and there is no escape. There is just the wait. Waiting under Russian jets and surrounded by an enraged army – an army so many members of which were subjected to some of the most appalling war crimes imaginable. With ISIS’ limited skills in negotiation, this could be a very harsh and brutal end of the road.

Tiger Forces complete the east Aleppo encirclement: 800+ ISIS fighters trapped
By Leith Fadel, 20-Feb-2016 
Al-Masdar News

The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is falling apart in the east Aleppo countryside after weeks of fending off the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and their allies from taking the strategic Aleppo Thermal Power Plant.

Over the course of 72 hours, the Syrian Arab Army’s “Tiger Forces” – backed by Liwaa Suqour Al-Sahra (Desert Hawks Brigade) and the Cheetah Forces “Team 3” – have been steadily advancing west along the imperative Aleppo-Raqqa Highway in order to complete the east Aleppo encirclement.

However, the ISIS terrorists in the Al-Bab Plateau and the Al-Safira Plains were not going to concede any territory to the government forces without a violent battle..

Determined to complete the encirclement, the Tiger Forces launched a vital assault to capture the last village located between their positions along the Aleppo-Raqqa Highway and the Jibreen District of Aleppo City.

The assault proved successful as the Syrian Armed Forces imposed full control over Umm Turaykiyah in the Al-Safira Plains.

As a result, 800 ISIS terrorists that were fighting the Syrian Armed Forces at the strategic city of Al-Safira and its nearby village of Tal ‘Aran found themselves encircled for the first time in this war.

The 800 ISIS terrorists have no outlet to retreat and they have no available supply lines; this means, they will either surrender to the Syrian Armed Forces or fight till the death.

Given ISIS’ history; it is very likely that they choose the latter…

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Russia Defense Report – 20 Feb 2016: Russian Military Grouping in Syria

Written and produced by SF Team: J.Hawk, Daniel Deiss, Edwin Watson

http://southfront.org/russia-defense-report-russian-military-grouping-in-syria/

There are two major unknown questions concerning the breakdown in relations between Turkey and Russia following the ambush of a Russian Su-24 bomber in the skies above Syria. The first is what turn of events prompted Turkey’s leadership to adopt a course of confrontation against Russia. The second is why this escalation did not come months sooner, when Hmeimim was far more vulnerable to Turkish attack or blockade.

When Russian aircraft first arrived at Hmeimim, the war was going badly for the Syrian government. The terrorists were able to make major advances during the prior months, and were close to threatening Damascus itself. Syrian forces were demoralized by their setbacks and suffering from shortages of equipment and ammunition. The Russian air group at that point numbered slightly more than 30 aircraft, the base had no long-range air defenses, and only a small ground contingent to protect it on the ground. The bulk of the materiel for the base and for the rearmament of the Syrian army was only beginning to arrive by Syria Express ships which were busy traversing the Bosphorus in both directions. The Russian military has not yet demonstrated its combat effectiveness or its long reach – it would do only after the air campaign reached its full tempo and began to be accompanied by cruise missile strikes and heavy bomber sorties. If Erdogan decided to launch a ground operation in Syria in September or October of 2015, when the situation presented far more tempting opportunities, Turkish forces stood a far better chance of influencing the outcome of the war in Syria than they do right now.

Several months later, the situation has changed to such an extent that Turkish intervention has almost no chance of scoring a military success.  Hmeimim now hosts over 50 aircraft, including Su-27SM, Su-30SM, and Su-35S fighters which can provide effective fighter defense against Turkish incursions. It is also protected by a multi-layered air defense system which includes the S-400 high altitude, long-range missile system, Buk-M2 medium range weapons, and Pantsir-S short-range gun/missile vehicles which are capable of shooting down not only aircraft but also cruise missiles and guided bombs. Hostile aircraft would also face a barrage of electronic countermeasures that would significantly degrade their ability to target Hmeimim.  The cruise missile launches by Russian naval ships and heavy bombers have demonstrated the ability to target Turkish air bases and destroy Turkish aircraft on the ground, in the event of escalation of the fighting.

Russian bases in Syria also enjoy the protection from a constant presence of a naval task force, which includes a missile cruiser armed with long-range anti-ship and anti-aircraft weapons, several anti-submarine ships, and at least one missile corvette.

On the ground, the battalion force of Russian troops is hardly the only ground protection of the Hmeimim base.  Russian military assistance, including provision of heavy equipment, munitions, and military planners and advisers, has returned the Syrian Arab Army to an effective fighting condition. In addition, the Syrian army is no longer the only military force defending Syria. Thanks to Russian diplomatic efforts, several Syrian opposition groups have joined the government forces in their struggle against the extremists. Likewise the Kurdish units which in the past waged their own uncoordinated struggle against ISIS have now been fully incorporated into the Russian-led coalition in return for Syrian government’s political concessions. There is also a sizable Hezbollah and Iranian presence in Syria. Considering that none of these forces are likely to defect to Turkey in the event of Turkish invasion, and that in some cases they view Turkey as their mortal enemy, the Turkish military would likely not advance very far before suffering heavy losses at the hands of Syria’s defenders. Russian and Syrian long-range weapons now include heavy multiple rocket launchers and Tochka short-range ballistic missiles that would be deadly to Turkish armored columns advancing through narrow mountain paths under the watchful eyes of Russian drones and long-range surveillance aircraft like the Tu-214 and the Il-20.

Even the prospect of the Bosphorus blockade is not as threatening as it once seemed.  Syria Express is now mainly concerned with providing consumables like munitions and spare parts to the forces fighting in Syria. In the event Bosphorus were to be blocked, these supplies could be shipped from the Baltic Sea and, in really urgent cases, by air using the traditional Caspian-Iran-Iraq-Syria air route.

In the longer term, it is essential that Russian and Syrian forces punch a corridor through ISIS territory and link up with Iraqi forces, and there are indications that once extremists around Aleppo are neutralized, the next majoroffensive will be launched in the direction of Raqqa. Doing so would not only break the back of ISIS, but also enable the opening of another overland supply route through the Caspian Sea and Iran.  The strength of the Russia-led coalition which seems to have taken all outside observers by surprise is such that it is probably sufficient to deter Turkish military air or ground assault against Syria. While we do not yet know how this happened, it would appear that Moscow was able to outmaneuver Ankara by placing a highly effective military force right under its nose in Syria and reverse the course of the war before Ankara was able to react.

Video at http://southfront.org/russia-defense-report-russian-military-grouping-in-syria/

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Tiger Forces capture Aleppo Thermal Power Plant in east Aleppo

By Ibra Joudeh – 20-Feb-2016 
https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/breaking-tiger-forces-capture-aleppo-thermal-power-plant-in-east-aleppo/ Al-Masdar News

The Syrian Arab Army’s elite ‘Tiger Forces’ – backed by the National Defense Forces (NDF) – imposed full control over Aleppo Thermal Power Plant after a fierce battle with the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) in the Aleppo Governorate’s eastern countryside.

Early this morning, the fearful, highly-trained commandos captured Umm Turaykiyah and Balat villages to the west of the Plant; thus beleaguering over 800 ISIS jihadis who have been fighting the government troops at the strategic city of Al-Safira and its nearby village of Tal ‘Aran.

The besieged 800 ISIS fighters are left with neither a loophole to escape from nor a supply route to fed with; hence – militarily speaking – options are scarce: surrender or die.

In a parallel context, the inhabitants of once the economical capital of Syria will now breath life as the Thermal Plant will be re-operated again, thus supplying them with the electrical power needed to lead a decent life after more than 2 years of a severe shortage of electrical power and water supplies.
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Dangerous times, dangerous games in Syria: Washington’s tough choice

By Aram Mirzaei – 20-February-2016
https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/dangerous-times-dangerous-games-in-syria-washingtons-tough-choice/ Al-Masdar News

The Syrian war is about to enter a new phase. As the world powers are preparing for a limited ceasefire in Syria, the “civil war” chapter can finally be closed, and the Syrian conflict can perhaps for once be recognized for what it really is and always was: A terrorist insurgency.

The war is heating up by the hour, as it enters this new phase, a dangerous phase. With Saudi Arabia and Turkey threatening to invade Syria, the risk of the Syrian war turning into a major global conflict has hardly escaped many peoples minds.

Last week Saudi Arabia and several of its allies conducted some major military exercises in Jordan, with speculations arising that they were prepared to invade from the soth. This came as Ankara has been renewing its push for creating a “bufferzone” inside Syrian territory. As the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) have been capturing ground near the border town of Azaz and reducing Islamist presence in northern Aleppo into a small pocket, Turkey has been beating the drums of war again.
The Ceasefire deal

The ceasefire deal struck last week is supposed to involve a nationwide cessation of hostilities. I have serious doubts about this ceasefire deal, for the obvious reason that it has not been struck between the main belligerent parties, thus it can hardly be seen as a deal that is going to be respected. Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin did not sound too optimistic, just a week before the ceasefire deal was struck. (Seehttps://www.rt.com/news/331529-churkin-syria-ceasefire-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=RSS)

One also has to take into consideration the fact that neither the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, nor Jabhat Al Nusra (Al-Qaeda) were included in this deal. These two terrorist groups control virtually all “opposition” controlled territory in one way or another, that is, if you consider Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, Jaysh Al-Islam and all other groups affiliated with Jaysh Al Fateh among others, to be terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda to different degrees.

The ceasefire deal does not seem to be any real attempt at ending hostilities in the country, but rather an invitation by Russia to Washington. Moscow is calling out Washington’s “moderates” to show themselves, wherever they are, and agree to a cooperation against a common enemy. Should this deal be implemented, Washington now has to make the tough choice to at least officially cut its endorsements of Al-Qaeda linked Islamist militants, a seemingly doomed side in this war.

Turkey invades as Washington backs out

Washington seems to have lost interest in toppling Assad lately as their propagandist media chants the “Assad must go” hymn louder than Washington itself these day. Yet its allies are seemingly still desperate for regime change. Turkey and Saudi Arabia were quick to rush in to save their Islamist proxies, apparently providing them with some GRAD missiles. [http://presstv.us/DetailFr/2016/02/13/450040/Syria-Takfiri-militants-missiles-Russia-airstrikes-Syria-conflict]

As if that wasn’t enough, Turkey seems poised to stop the US backed Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Arab Army from completely destroying terrorist presence in northern Syria. Any invasion, whether Saudi or Turkish will only add more fire to the conflict, something Ankara and Riyadh are fully aware of.

The Turkish threat is in direct conflict with Washington’s supposed allies on the ground, the Kurds. Turkey and Erdogan have declared that they will never allow the kurds to link up the Afrin and Kobane cantons, despite the areas between them being mostly controlled by ISIL. This has been manifested in the recent days shelling of the SDF/YPG controlled areas by the Turkish army, Washington’s response to this Turkish aggression has been rather timid. Ankara and Riyadh are staunch supporters of the Islamist “opposition”, and will continue to be so, regardless of the cost of human life.

The Saudis are, however mighty and powerful they try to portray themselves to be, rather hesitant to send their troops into Syria and are looking for a US green light, meaning that they are looking for NATO involvement, this could be because of the casualites suffered in the war on Yemen being fresh in mind. The Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir himself admitted to be waiting for the US order, when speaking at a news conference. [http://presstv.us/Detail/2016/02/14/450322/US-Saudi-Arabia-Adel-alJubeir–Syria-Turkey-Russia]

Yet two weeks after making this threatening statement, Washington still seems to be undecided on the matter as the Saudis are looking for other options. [http://presstv.us/Detail/2016/02/19/451232/Saudi-foreign-minster-Daesh-surfacetoair-missiles]

Washington has a tough choice to make, either it adds to the peace process that it has been calling for, or it destroys any hopes for peace by siding with Ankara and Riyadh in a potential World War.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Al-Masdar News. Aram Mirzaei is an Iranian MA Candidate writing his dissertation titled “The Syrian Conflict – A Struggle of Interests”.

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U.S. Ignores Own UNSC Resolution – Tells Russia “Stop Bombing Al-Qaeda!”

http://www.moonofalabama.org/ 20 Feb 2016

UN Security Council Resolution 2254 calls for a “ceasefire” in Syria. A “ceasefire”, unconditioned according to the resolution, would be for the whole country but would exclude certain groups:

[r]eiterates its call in resolution 2249 (2015) for Member States to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al-Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups,undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, […] and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria, and notes that the aforementioned ceasefire will not apply to offensive or defensive actions against these individuals, groups, undertakings and entities, as set forth in the 14 November 2015 ISSG Statement;

The resolution also underlines Syria’s sovereignty. The UNSC is:

Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, …

The whole UNSC, including the U.S., France and Britain, agreed to this resolution.

But the U.S., France and the UK now want to erase these significant parts of the resolution.

  • They no longer want a ceasefire but only a “cessation of hostilities”.
  • They demand that under such a “cessation” all bombing of al-Nusra/al-Qaeda and its associated entities should stop.
  • They now want to ignore Syria’s just reaffirmed sovereignty.

The Saudis and its puppies in the Syrian opposition disagreed with the UNSC resolution. U.S. Secretary of State Kerry promptly blamed them for preventing a ceasefire but was then pulled back. In last weeks negotiations in Geneva Kerry took the Saudi position and thereby sabotaged any real ceasefire talk which would include much more than just a stop of firing. Kerry agreed only to a lower level “cessation of hostilities”. As the former Indian ambassador to Turkey M K Bhadrakumar remarks:

Whereas a ceasefire brings in legal obligations, which would commit the US to sit across the table and meet the Russian – and, more importantly, Syrian – military counterparts and draw up detailed modalities of implementation, UN Security Council supervision and so on, the ‘cessation of hostilities’ can be punctuated at will without breaking international law.

Meanwhile, US and its allies are keen to gain access to all nooks and corners of Syrian territory, which will eventually help to mobilize any military operations under Plan B, especially ground operations. The humanitarian missions provide the cover for reconnaissance and ground work.

The West has let loose a massive propaganda barrage against the Russian operations. Equally, the refugee crisis moulds the western opinion. The NATO is inching towards the conflict zone.

At any rate, a humanitarian intervention in Syria may be just what President Barrack Obama needs to salvage his reputation.

Bhadrakumar quotes Lavrov who was livid over this foul play which ignored the agreed upon UNSC Resolution.

U.S. rhetoric and propaganda over alleged Russian human rights violations in the war has since increased.

Despite Russia’s concern over the low level of a “cessation of hostilities”, it insisted on common meetings at the working level to lay out the rules for the “cessation”. The first meeting only took place yesterday, the day the “cessation” was originally supposed to begin.

It was the U.S., especially the Pentagon, that had dragged out the start of the talks. At the meeting the U.S. inserted a new condition, copied from the Saudis string puppet opposition, into the talks.

The U.S. now demands, contrary to the UNSC resolution, that the terrorist group al-Qaeda in Syria should no longer be fought.

The Washington Post reports of yesterday’s meeting:

The deadline for a cease-fire in Syria’s civil war came and went Friday, as joint diplomatic and military teams from the United States and Russia tried to agree on rules covering where the shooting would stop and where it would be allowed to continue.

“Everyone recognizes the complexity of this endeavor, and 
there is certainly a lot more work to do,” Kerry said in a statement. “These discussions have been serious and so far constructive, with a few tough issues still to resolve.”

Translation of Kerry’s diplomatese: “Let’s drag this out as looooong as possible.”

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter was said to have opposed the high-level contact with the Russians, at least initially. But Kerry and others in the administration argued that the subject matter demanded military expertise.

Under the terms of the Munich deal, the United States and Russia are co-chairs of a task force to work out the terms of a cease-fire, including where airstrikes against “terrorist” groups are permitted to continue and how to resolve violations.

One of the many problems to be overcome is a differing definition of what constitutes a terrorist group. In addition to the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Russia and Syria have labeled the entire opposition as terrorists.

Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups in the northwest near the Turkish border, is particularly problematic. Russia was said to have rejected a U.S. proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of a cease-fire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.

Read that again. The U.S. supports opposition that “intermingles” with al-Qaeda? Are these not “entities associated with Al Qaeda” which the UNSC 2254 explicitly excludes from any ceasefire? And the U.S., which over the years killed thousands of civilians while droning alleged al-Qaeda personal, now demands that all bombing of al-Qaeda in Syria stops?

The breathtaking new U.S. condition to let al-Qaeda continue its slaughtering without interference is directly based on demands by the Saudis submitted through the Saudi controlled opposition.

That opposition today presented “new conditions” under which it would agree to the ceasefire. Hala Jaber, Sunday Times journalist in the Middle East, noted:

Hala Jaber Verified account @HalaJaber

#HNC leader #RiadHijab reached consent with rebel groups 4 “temporary ceasefires”,but only if certain conditions met

2/ New statement being made to sound as a break through when, in effect, it’s the same stance as pre #Geneva talks.

3/ Conditions entail:
1-Ceasefire 2 kickstart simultaneously by all sides
2-End of all siege
3-Provision of aid
4-Release of all prisoners.

Reuters later added:

A source close to peace talks earlier on Saturday told Reuters Syria’s opposition had agreed to a two- to three-week truce.

The truce would be renewable and supported by all parties except Islamic State, the source said. It would also be conditional on the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front no longer being targeted, at least to start with, the source said.

The Nusra Front is considered a terrorist organization by the U.N. Security Council and banned.

Asked if the opposition’s insistence on the Nusra Front no longer being targeted was the main stumbling block, he described it as “the elephant in the room”.

These are of course unacceptable pre-conditions which are not in line with UNSC 2254 which calls for a political process “in parallel” to a full ceasefire, not as precondition for a “temporary” “cessation”.

The foreign sponsored terrorists in Syria are on the run and need a pause to resupply and reorganize. At the time they and their sponsors introduce demands that make any truce or “cessation of hostilities” impossible.

That the U.S. demand to stop bombing al-Qaeda is also hypocrisy squared. It yesterday bombed, without any base in international law, some houses in Libya and killed some 50 people including two Serbian diplomats. It alleges that some of these people belong to the Islamic State, formerly named al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Russia yesterday introduced a new resolution at the UNSC as a counteract to Turkish artillery fire which is hitting the Syrian Kurdish groups YPG which is also supported by the U.S.:

The Russian draft, seen by Reuters, would have the council express “its grave alarm at the reports of military buildup and preparatory activities aimed at launching foreign ground intervention into the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

It also demands that states “refrain from provocative rhetoric and inflammatory statements inciting further violence and interference into internal affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

The Russian one page paper only restated basic sovereignty principle of the United Nations Charter which were also reconfirmed in UNSC 2254. But now the U.S., France and UK rejected those statements and no new resolution was adopted.

The U.S. is now ignoring or even contradicting the UNSC 2254 resolution it had endorsed just a weeks ago.

  • It no longer wants a ceasefire in Syria.
  • It wants al-Qaeda off the terrorist list on which it was put on demand of the U.S.
  • It wants to ignore Syria’s sovereignty.

This is a quite amazing turn away from the earlier positions. But do not expect any U.S. mainstream media to point that out. That would require some real reporting about the impetus for these moves and the intent behind them.

Posted by b on February 20, 2016 at 10:24 AM

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Syrian Dissident Commander Underlines YPG Kurds Alliance with Syrian Gov’t against Militants – 20 Feb 2016 http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941201000959

TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior Syrian dissident commander disclosed that the Kurdish “People’s Protection Units” (YPG) has formed an alliance with the Syrian army to fight against the militants.

“The YPG is coordinating with the Syrian government in its tough battle against the Syrian opposition forces,” Arab media outlets close to Syria’s opposition groups quoted former commander of Sweida province’s military council Colonel Marwan al-Hamd as saying on Saturday.

Al-Hamd’s remarks came after Bouthaina Shaaban, a political advisor to the Syrian President, declared that the YPG forces are part of the Syrian army, and said, “The YPG forces will purge terrorists from Eastern and Northeastern Syria with the help of the Syrian army.”

The Syrian army sent several arms cargoes to the YPG troops in the Northeastern province of Hasaka and trained the first group of Kurdish volunteer forces in the provincial capital city of Hasaka last week.

On Wednesday, Syria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Bashar Al-Jaafari voiced the Damascus government’s full support for the Kurdish popular forces who are fighting against the terrorists in the Northern parts of the country.

“The military gains in the Northern parts of Syria are the joint victories of the Syrian army and the Kurdish fighters,” al-Jaafari said, addressing the UN General Assembly meeting.

He blasted the Turkish government for supporting the terrorist groups in Northern Aleppo province, and said, “The hostile acts of Ankara made, even, the countries which were supporting Turkey to express concern over its policy.”

Al-Jaafari pointed to the chemical weapons used by the terrorist groups in Syria, and said, “Turkey has allowed terrorists to transfer the deadly Sarin gas to the Syrian territories.”

Al-Jaafari’s remarks came as the Turkish army has increased its military buildup behind the borders with Syria.

Last Monday the YPG prevailed over the terrorists in the highly strategic city of Tal Rifat in Northern Aleppo and captured the city.

The YPG, who enjoyed the Russian air backup, prevailed over the terrorists’ positions from the Western direction and shook hand with other Kurdish troops who entered the town from the North.

The Syrian army sent several arms cargoes to the YPG troops in the Northeastern province of Hasaka and trained the first group of Kurdish volunteer forces in the provincial capital city of Hasaka last week.

FNA battlefield dispatches said Monday night that heavy clashes are underway on the Eastern outskirts of the city as Ahrar al-Sham terrorists and groups of Al-Nusra Front – that have just arrived in Northern Aleppo via the Turkish territories – are retreating from their positions.

The Kurdish fighters, backed up by the Russian fighter jets, Syrian army artillery units and popular forces launched the assault on the terrorists in Tal Rifat in two fronts.

The first units of the YPG engaged in clashes with the terrorists from the Western direction of the strategic town North of Aleppo province, while other units started an attack from the Northern flank.

The first group arrived at the Western gates of the town on Sunday, while the second group had to purge several small towns and villages to open up the path to Tal Rifat and, hence, arrived in the Northern parts of the city on Monday.

The second groups of Kurdish fighters approaching the strategic town from the North comprised of YPG and SDF units.

The SDF that is comprised of mainly Kurdish fighters as well as a few hundred Syrian Arab dissident forces have received training from the US and have been provided with scanty US-coalition air support in their battles in Raqqa province in Northeastern Syria; but in Northern and Northwestern battlefronts, they have been operating alongside the YPG and received the Russian air backup in their Aleppo wars that started with the conquest of Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates early in February.

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Al-Qaeda captures strategic Yemen town, kills militia leader

By RT Staff, 20 Feb 2016 https://www.rt.com/news/333134-al-qaeda-yemen-town/

Al-Qaeda extremists have seized the strategic coastal town of Ahwar in southern Yemen consolidating the group’s control over the region. They also reportedly assassinated a leading pro-government militia commander in a separate attack.

The militants set up checkpoints throughout the town and took control over government buildings after clashes with the Popular Resistance Units – a militia group loyal to ousted Yemeni President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi, Reuters reports citing local residents.

“At dawn this morning Al-Qaeda gunmen clashed with the Popular Resistance forces, killing three of them,” one resident told Reuters.

“They attacked the sheikh in charge of the area and after he escaped set up street checkpoints and planted their black flag on government buildings,” the resident added.

Ahwar and the surrounding area has more than 30,000 residents, and is a strategic point linking the major Yemeni port city of Mukalla and Zinjibar, which were both seized by Al-Qaeda in 2015.

In another attack on Saturday in Yemen’s second largest city of Aden, two gunmen on a motorbike murdered Sheikh Mazen al-Aqrabi, a senior commander in the Popular Resistance Units. They also killed his bodyguard.

 

Aden, where the Yemeni government is currently based, is also witnessing Al-Qaeda attacks, even in areas close to the presidential palace. On Friday night, local residents reported heavy explosions in Aden’s Mansoura neighborhood as militants deployed hand-held grenade launchers in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the city’s container port.

At the same time, the terrorist group has also suffered a number of setbacks losing its leader and several senior commanders in US drone strikes.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, linked to the global terrorist network, has significantly expanded its influence in southern Yemen taking advantage of chaos and insecurity as the civil war in the country rages on.

On February 1, militants seized the southern Yemeni town of Azzan, which used to be the area’s major commercial hub and has a population of around 70,000 people, according to Reuters.

Yemen has been mired into violence since March 2015, when Shia Houthi rebels backed by some of the country’s military forces ousted Saudi-backed Yemeni President Hadi and forced him to flee the country.

In March 2015, a coalition of the Arab Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia started an aerial military campaign in Yemen aimed against the Houthis in a bid to bring Hadi back to power.

The Saudi-led campaign has been receiving much criticism of late over civilian deaths. According to the UN’s recent ‘conservative estimates’, over 6,000 people, including 700 children, have been killed since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015.

© Khaled Abdullah

UN ‘conservative estimates’ show 700 children among 6,000 Yemen fatalities

https://www.rt.com/news/332710-yemen-humanitarian-catastrophe-fatalities/

17 Feb 2016

The UN will launch a humanitarian drive to raise some $1.8 billion required to save millions of people from humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, where over 6,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition intervention in March 2015.

In a briefing to the 15-nation United Nations Security Council, Stephen O’Brien, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, announced that on Thursday the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan will be launched in Geneva.

The plan aims to raise $1.8 billion to cover the “most critical and prioritized needs” that includes food for nearly nine million people. The money will also be used for water and sanitation for some 7.4 million people and medical treatment for 10.6 million people.

Highlighting the urgent need for the Security Council to take greater measures to protect civilians, O’Brien said that the UN should insure that people have a chance to survive.

Some 2.7 million people have had to flee their homes. At least 7.6 million people are severely food insecure. Some two million acutely malnourished children and pregnant or lactating women need urgent treatment,” he told the UNSC.

He noted that since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015 which has involved Saudi-led bombings, over 6, 000 people have been killed.

More than 35,000 casualties, including over 6,000 deaths, have been reported by health facilities across the country,” since last March, O’Brien said, adding that UN has confirmed that out of that number, 2,997 were civilians deaths, in addition to 5,659 that were injured as the result of the hostilities.

Of great concern to the UN is the fate of the children in the conflict. O’Brien said that“conservative estimates” suggest that over 700 children have been killed and over 1,000 more injured. He also noted that as many as 720 children have been documented as having been forcibly recruited as child soldiers by the warring parties. The diplomat also noted that some 1,170 schools have been closed leaving some 3.4 million minors out of education.

The destruction or closure of health facilities, which totals some 600 since March, has also left some 14 million Yeminis in desperate need of medical attention.

Noting that on Sunday Saudi-led coalition airstrike struck a building 200 meters away from UN and diplomatic personnel facility, he urged all parties in Yemen to protect civilians.

The parties to the conflict have a duty of care in the conduct of military operations to protect all civilian persons and objects, including humanitarian and health care workers and facilities, against attack,” Mr. O’Brien said, reminding all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to “facilitate humanitarian access to all areas of Yemen,” he said.

At the same time, O’Brien noted that for the past two weeks Saudi Arabia has continued to impede the work of UN staff in the country, “causing delays to important missions.” The diplomat said that Riyadh is also blocking sea access to Yemen’s ports, and is preventing aid from traveling around the country,

Access to northern Governorates where needs are among the most severe in the country also continue to be challenging due to relentless conflict, including airstrikes – in particular to communities along the border with Saudi Arabia where conflict is intense,” O’Brien noted.

Tensions in Yemen escalated after Shia President Saleh was deposed in 2012 and his Houthi supporters, reportedly aided by Iran, eventually seized the capital city Sana’a last year. Houthi forces then advanced from Sana’a towards the south, seizing large parts of Yemen, and sending the current Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.

In late March, a Saudi Arabian-led coalition responded with airstrikes in order to stop Houthi advances and reinstate Hadi back in power. By late summer, the Saudi-led forces had started a ground operation, which so far is stuck in a stalemate.

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Civilian casualties in Yemen from Saudi-led coalition US-made cluster bombs

Civilian casualties in Yemen as Saudi-led coalition uses US-made cluster bombs – HRW official to RTBy RT Staff, 16 Feb 2016

https://www.rt.com/news/332627-hrw-cluster-munitions-yemen/

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has investigated the use of cluster munitions in five attacks by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, a representative told RT. The munitions, made by a US company and banned in populated areas, injured at least five civilians.

Just two days after the organization released a report on the topic, Mary Wareham, advocacy director of the Arms Division of HRW, spoke to RT about the findings.

See Video 16 Feb 2016 Hundreds of cluster-bomb attacks recorded in Syria, Libya, Yemen – HRW’s Mary Wareham at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsN70X3Lank

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