Category: Syria


Months after Russia spectacularly entered the Syrian conflict, Islamic State (IS) is still thumbing its nose at both Moscow and the Assad regime in murderous fashion.

On May 23, the group detonated between seven and nine car and suicide bombs in the coastal cities of Jableh and Tartous, killing about 150 people and wounding more than 225.

The targets included bus stations, electricity stations, and a national hospital.

The co-ordinated attacks, the first of their kind in Assad’s heartland provinces on the Mediterranean, conveyed a deadly message: despite the loss of Palmyra in central Syria in late March, despite the offensive threatening the IS-held city of Fallujah in Iraq, IS can still strike at the core of the Assad regime.

That message has far wider implications. Since Russia began its aerial intervention in September 2015, the Assad regime and Moscow — along with Iran and Hezbollah — have been trying to present strength against their principal opponents, the rebel factions who have challenged Damascus since 2011, long before IS became one of their main enemies.

Yet despite thousands of bombings and ground offensives across the country, the Assad-Russia-Iran-Hezbollah campaign has yet to make a significant breakthrough.

And now the IS bombings have revived the fear that prompted the Russian intervention in the first place: that Assad and the Syrian military can’t even protect what remains of the Syrian population in regime-controlled areas.

A dilemma for Russia

Only two months before these stunning attacks, the Assad regime and Russia appeared to have turned a corner in Syria’s five-year conflict. While the rebels had not been defeated, their advances had been contained, and some territory had been reclaimed from them. The Syrian military, alongside Hezbollah and Iranian-led units, had won a symbolic victory with the recapture of Palmyra and its Roman ruins from IS.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sought an endgame. With the defence line apparently secured from Damascus to Homs to Latakia, Putin announced a withdrawal of some warplanes. Moscow would concentrate on a political settlement that would secure the regime, if not Assad himelf, through talks in Geneva. Meanwhile, its remaining forces could attack IS and the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra, both of which were excluded from a February 27 “cessation of hostilities” brokered by Russia and the US.

But Moscow soon faced an unexpected challenge. Perhaps buoyed by the propaganda around “victory” in Palmyra, Assad said he would not leave power in the foreseeable future. Even before the Geneva talks reconvened, he rejected a transitional governing authority, the centrepiece of international proposals since 2012.

Assad’s rejection, which effectively consigned the Geneva process to oblivion, was soon followed by worse news from the battlefield. Citing continued attacks by the regime, rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra struck back near Aleppo city. Throughout April, they seized much of the territorylost since September, including towns on the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway. Equally important, they inflicted significant casualties on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Iranian-led Iraqi and Afghan militia, who had taken over the fight from Assad around Syria’s largest city.

Russian and Syrian warplanes responded with intense bombing, reducing the “cessation of hostilities” to a diplomatic farce. They killed hundreds of civilians in and near Aleppo and destroyed hospitals and other vital facilities, but failed to regain the initiative on the ground. While the pro-Assad forces, including the Iranians, suffered more losses, the rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra captured villages in Hama and northern Homs Provinces.

Meanwhile, IS was causing further trouble elsewhere. Striking back near Palmyra, it took two major gas fields, tightening its grip on Syria’s energy production. In the east of the country, it attacked Assad forces in Deir ez-Zor city, briefly holding key positions as both sides suffered heavy casualties.

The pro-Assad forces finally got their first good news since Palmyra when the Syrian military and Hezbollah seized part of the East Ghouta area near Damascus. Yet paradoxically, even this victory laid bare the steep obstacles in the way of Moscow and the Assad regime. The East Ghouta advance was only possible because the rebels’ defenses were weakened by in-fighting, and because Hezbollah redeployed all its fighters from fronts in northern and central Syria.

While Assad’s supporters celebrated, the lesson was clear: the best hope for the regime is to secure its core area, pushing back the rebels near Damascus and maintaining the line to Homs and the Mediterranean. Any idea that it can regain control of all of Syria, or even most of it, is an illusion.

Source: ISIS strikes in Assad territory are exposing Syria and Russia’s weaknesses – Business Insider

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said it was not discussing joint air strikes with Russia on Monday and called on Moscow to press Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to cease air strikes against opposition forces in Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs.

“We’re not looking at joint operations,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “We’re discussing with them proposals for sustainable mechanisms to better monitor and enforce the cessation of hostilities – we’re not talking about joint operations.”

Toner said the United States was concerned about an uptick in violence in Syria – by both Islamic State and Assad’s forces – and said Russia had a special responsibility to press the Syrian leader to end attacks and strikes that kill civilians.

The Syrian government needs to recognise that “if this keeps up, we may be looking at a complete breakdown” of the cessation of hostilities, Toner said. A truce brokered by the United States and Russia in February has been unravelling for weeks.

Washington urged the Assad regime to end its escalating attacks on Aleppo and Daraya, as well as besieging towns and obstructing humanitarian access, the department said.

“Secretary Kerry raised these concerns in a call with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier today and urged him to press the regime to cease at once airstrikes against opposition forces and innocent civilians in Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs,” the State Department said in a statement.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for bombs that killed nearly 150 people and wounded at least 200 in Jableh and Tartous on Syria’s Mediterranean coast on Monday in the government-controlled territory that hosts a Russian military base.

(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chris Reese and Alan Crosby)

Source: Russia has special responsibility to push Syria to stop attacks – U.S.

syria-blasts

Isis has claimed a series of bomb attacks across regime strongholds in Syria, with at least 120 people killed according to local monitoring groups.

A busy bus station and a hospital were among the targets in a rare series of mass-casualty blasts targeting civilians in coastal areas.

The attacks included at least five suicide bombings and two car bombs, and hit the Mediterranean cities of Tartous and Jableh firmly within territory loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

State media confirmed the attacks had taken place, and the Isis-linked Amaq news agency said the militant group was responsible for carrying out the bombings.

Attacks of this size are rare in parts of the country which are under regime control.

State media has confirmed the attacks but gave a lower death toll of 78.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said they were the first assaults of their kind on the coastal cities.

Source: Syria: Isis attacks kill more than 120 people in Assad’s coastal heartlands | Middle East | News | The Independent

On Tuesday, May 17, the US expanded its involvement in the war in Syria, and for the first time since the war began in 2011, US F-16 fighter-bombers bombed radical Syrian rebels fighting Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces near Aleppo, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources say in an exclusive report.
According to the sources, the targets were mainly troops, positions, and transportation routes of rebel groups such as ISIS and the Nusra Front that also threaten moderate Syrian rebel groups in the area. But there is no doubt that the American airstrikes will help Syrian President Bashar Assad, just like the Russian bombings have done.
The US warplanes took off from Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey and entered Syrian airspace over Idlib province in northern Syria.
Our sources said that the airstrikes were coordinated with the Russian air force command at Hmeymim airbase next to Latakia, and via American and Russian officers operating from the Jordanian capital Amman.
There is no doubt that the intervention was a turnaround by the administration of President Barack Obama that until now had opposed any US air force operation inside Syria due to concern over tipping the balance in favor of one of the warring sides.
There are now no less than ten air forces engaged in the Syrian war: those of the US, Russia, Israel, Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Syria, Turkey and Jordan.
Last week, ahead of the US air force’s entry, the Pentagon reinforced the American special forces troops at Remalan airbase, located in northern Syria next to the Kurdish city of Hassakeh.
Obama previously announced that 250 troops had been deployed to reinforce the 50 already on the ground. But debkafiles military sources report that the actual number of US soldiers at the base is much higher, and that the troops have attack and transport helicopters that can deliver them within a short period of time to any of the fronts in Syria.
The US air force attacks on the Aleppo and Idlib fronts are expected to continue in the coming days.

Source: Exclusive: US warplanes intervene in Syrian war

Documents also suggest that ISIS and the Syrian government made secret oil and fertiliser trade deals.

The damning information was revealed in letters sent from ISIS headquarters, which were among 22,000 files obtained by Sky News.

In one letter, ISIS jihadis command their government counterparts to “withdraw all heavy artillery and anti-aircraft machine guns from in and around Palmyra to Raqqa province” – written ahead of the recapture of the wrecked ancient city by Assad forces.

The 2,000-year-old city was a tourist hotspot before the outbreak of Syria’s bloody civil war in 2011.

But the UNESCO world heritage site was ransacked when the blood-thirsty group seized the city last year.

A masked ISIS defector claimed that jihadis were co-ordinating their movements in cooperation with Syrian government forces and Russian airstrikes.

Source: ISIS BOMSHELL: Islamic State and Syrian regime ‘working TOGETHER’ | World | News | Daily Express

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