Archive for December 17, 2016


December 7, 2016

Daesh militants have managed to force Iraqi soldiers to withdraw from districts in southeast Mosul today, less than a day after Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) claimed to have made advances towards the Tigris River, sources including an army officer and Amaq news agency have said.

The fighting came after the army’s campaign commander for the Mosul operation said soldiers surged into the city and took over the Al-Salam hospital, less than a mile (1.5 km) from the Tigris River which divides eastern and western Mosul.

Yesterday’s apparent rapid advance was thanks to an apparent change in military tactics after more than a month of grueling fighting in the east and southeast of the city, in which the army has sought to capture and clear neighborhoods block by block.

However, the new tactics have now turned out to have been undone by Daesh ambush tactics that drew ISF units into areas before subjecting them to fierce counterattacks.

Attacking ISF were exposed, and Daesh’s Amaq news agency said today that some units were surrounded. It said a suicide bomber blew himself up near the hospital, killing 20 soldiers. Eight armored personnel carriers (APCs) were also destroyed in the fighting that led to an Iraqi withdrawal, Amaq said.

There was no official Iraqi military comment on the fighting but the army officer, whose forces were involved in the clashes, said they had come under multiple attacks by suicide car bombers in the Al-Wahda district where the hospital is located.

“We managed to make a swift advance on Tuesday in Al-Wahda but it seems that Daesh fighters were dragging us to an ambush and they managed later to surround some of our soldiers inside the hospital,” he told Reuters by telephone, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He said an armoured regiment and counter terrorism units, backed by US-led air strikes, were sent to support the stranded troops early today and had opened up a route out of the neighborhood.

“They have secured the position, evacuated the wounded and pulled out the destroyed military vehicles from around the hospital,” he said, adding that they were coming under fire from snipers and rocket-propelled grenades.

Amaq said it attacked the relief convoy as it advanced in the Sumer district, south of Al-Wahda near the outer edge of the city. This led to the convoy being forced to withdraw, in addition to the losses suffered by the ISF in the Al-Salam hospital.

Iraqi forces and allies numbering 100,000 men have been battling for seven weeks to crush Daesh fighters in Mosul, now estimated to be around 3,000 men strong. The city was seized by the militants in 2014 and is the largest in Iraq or Syria under their control.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161207-iraq-daesh-reverse-army-assault-in-mosul/.

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By W.G. Dunlop with Delil Souleiman in Ain Issa, Syria

Baghdad (AFP)

Nov 10, 2016

The battle for Iraq’s second city Mosul neared the remains of ancient Nimrud on Thursday, as the offensive against the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold Raqa was hampered by a sandstorm.

Backed by a US-led coalition, Iraqi forces and a Kurdish-Arab militia alliance are advancing on Mosul and Raqa in separate assaults aimed at driving IS from its last major bastions.

The coalition, which launched air strikes against IS two years ago, is looking to deal a fatal blow to the self-styled “caliphate” the jihadists declared in mid-2014.

Launched on October 17, the Iraqi offensive has seen federal forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters advance on Mosul from the east, south and north, pushing inside the eastern city limits last week.

On Thursday the military said troops and allied militia were moving forward on two IS-held villages near Nimrud, which is some 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Mosul.

“Units of the 9th Armored Division and the Hashed al-Ashaeri (tribal militia) are beginning to advance to liberate the villages of Abbas Rajab and Al-Nomaniyah, toward Nimrud,” the Joint Operations Command said, later announcing that Abbas Rajab had been retaken.

Nimrud was the one of the great centers of the ancient Middle East. Founded in the 13th century BC, it became the capital of the Assyrian empire, whose rulers built vast palaces and monuments that have drawn archaeologists for more than 150 years.

– Third of the way to Raqa –

In April last year, IS posted video on the internet of its fighters sledgehammering monuments before planting explosives around the site and blowing it up.

It was part of a campaign of destruction against heritage sites under jihadist control that also took in ancient Nineveh on the outskirts of Mosul, Hatra in the desert to the south and Palmyra in neighboring Syria.

IS says the ancient monuments are idols that violate the teachings of its extreme form of Sunni Islam.

In Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said their advance on Raqa was being held back by a sandstorm that had hit the desert province.

“The situation is dangerous today because there is no visibility due to a desert sandstorm,” an SDF commander told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We fear that Daesh will take advantage of this to move in and launch a counter-attack,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Speaking in Ain Issa, the main staging point for the operation some 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Raqa, the commander said the sandstorm was also impeding visibility for coalition warplanes.

The SDF launched the offensive on Saturday and has been pushing south from areas near the Turkish border towards Raqa.

The commander said SDF forces advancing south from Ain Issa and Suluk were close to converging at a position some 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Raqa.

“We have been able to cover a third of the distance that separated us from Raqa,” SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed said, adding that 15 villages and hamlets had been taken.

– Thousands flee homes –

Ahmed said thousands of civilians had fled their homes since the start of the assault and pleaded for international assistance.

“More than 5,000 displaced people have arrived in regions liberated and secured by our forces. They are coming from combat zones through a corridor we opened for them,” she said.

“We need international help because our capacities are limited and, with winter coming, there is no camp to host them,” she said.

Dozens of families have been seen fleeing towards SDF lines in recent days.

Many have been arriving in trucks and cars around Ain Issa, loaded down with belongings and in some cases with livestock including cows and sheep.

Raqa had a population of some 240,000 before the eruption of Syria’s civil war in 2011 but more than 80,000 people have since fled there from other parts of the country.

Mosul is much bigger, home to more than a million people, and more than 45,000 people have fled since the offensive began.

Aid workers have expressed fears of a major humanitarian crisis once fighting begins in earnest inside the city, where IS is expected to use civilians as human shields.

Rights groups have also raised concerns for fleeing civilians, amid accusations of abuses by some Iraqi forces.

Amnesty International called Thursday on the Iraqi government to investigate the killings of six residents south of Mosul who it said were executed by men in federal police uniforms during the offensive.

Iraq’s federal police issued a statement denying its forces had been involved in extrajudicial killings.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Battle_for_IS-held_Mosul_nears_ancient_site_999.html.

November 4, 2016

Daesh launched yet another surprise attack against Iraq’s rear areas in a town that was supposed to have been “liberated” in September, exposing how Iraqi forces have been ineffective in securing towns and cities before moving on to launch their almost three-week-old offensive against Mosul.

In the early hours of this morning, Daesh assaulted Shirqat in Salahuddin province, over 100 kilometers from Mosul, Iraq’s second city and Daesh’s last major urban stronghold in the country.

Daesh claims that it has taken over several districts in the small town, and has apparently torched a police station, capturing five police officers and killing other Iraq Security Forces (ISF) troops, including an officer. Daesh also control the main hospital.

Local activists have confirmed that several Iraqi armored vehicles and personnel carriers were destroyed by the militants, including supply trucks apparently destined for Shia militias near the Mosul frontlines.

Fighting in Shirqat is ongoing, with ISF in disarray.

When Shirqat was recaptured by ISF in September, their victory was touted as a stepping stone on the road to prising Mosul from Daesh’s grip. At the time, it was hailed as a significant advance but today’s attack highlights the weakness of ISF soldiers in holding territory.

Iraqi authorities failing to prevent Daesh attacks

Since the Iraqi government launched its US-backed offensive to recapture Mosul on 17 October, Daesh have not only managed to hold off any real advance into the city itself, but have also managed to launch devastating attacks across the country.

Daesh first breached Kirkuk’s defenses, more than 170 kilometers from Mosul, and put the city into disarray for almost a week. The attack was eventually repulsed, but not before dozens of Kurdish security forces died, shaking confidence in their ability to detect and prevent attacks.

Following the assault on Kirkuk, Daesh successfully attacked Rutba, almost 600 kilometers south of Mosul, and held it for three days until ISF forces managed to take it back with air support from the international US-led coalition.

Analysts have said that this may herald a future Daesh strategic shift from holding towns and cities to disrupting security and economic activity in these cities once they are retaken, making the rule of Iraqi and Kurdish authorities untenable.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161104-daesh-invades-shirqat-liberated-by-iraqi-forces-2-months-ago/.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Yemeni army source said they removed 36,000 landmines which Houthi militias and forces loyal to deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh had planted in the Marib province.

Brigadier General Sheikh Zayd Thabet, chief of the military engineering unit in the national army, told reporters that thousands of the mines they found date back to the era of World War II, in addition to other Russian and Iranian-made mines and locally-produced mines, adding that they have so far destroyed 6,500 mines.

A recent Yemeni human rights report said 47 civilians were killed in Marib while 98 others were injured by these mines.

Popular resistance sources had said Houthi militias and forces loyal to Saleh have planted more than 40,000 mines in different areas in Taiz since March 2015. Human Rights Watch said in a report that 23 people were killed and 56 others were injured in Taiz by these mines.

Official sources in al-Jawf province had said that the rebels planted more than 30,000 mines in the province.

Source: al-Arabiya English.

Link: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2016/11/30/Yemeni-army-removes-over-30-000-landmines-in-Marib.html.

Tue Nov 29, 2016

The formation of a new government by Yemen’s armed Houthi movement and its political allies will hinder peace efforts in the country, the U.N. special envoy to Yemen said on Tuesday.

The move, reported by the Houthi-run state news agency on Monday, has been seen as a blow to U.N.-backed efforts to end 20 months of war in Yemen.

“The announcement by (the Houthi) Ansar Allah and the General People’s Congress on the formation of a new government in Sana’a represents a new and concerning obstacle to the peace process and does not serve the interests of the people of Yemen in these difficult times,” Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said in a statement.

The unilateral declaration contradicted recent comments by the Houthis to the U.N. and to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and only complicated the search for a peace deal, which needed to be based on U.N. talks, Ould Cheikh Ahmed said.

“There is still a chance to pull Yemen back from the brink,” he said, adding that all parties to the conflict should recommit to a cessation of hostilities, including a complete halt to ground and air military activities.

The formation of the new government was also condemned by the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose member Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition backing Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the internationally recognized president.

The coalition has carried out thousands of air strikes on the Houthis but failed to dislodge them from the capital Sanaa.

“The step of forming a government indicates the enormous importance of reinforcing our domestic position and serving the people, despite the difficult economic situation,” the Houthi group’s leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, said in a statement carried on the website of a Houthi-controlled news channel.

Diplomats had hoped the Houthis, who control Sanaa, would hold off on putting together a cabinet of their loyalists and instead form a unity government with their Yemeni foes, whom they pushed into Saudi exile.

The Houthis, who control territory with more than half of Yemen’s population, previously said forming a government with their allies did not mean abandoning the U.N.-sponsored peace process.

(Reporting by Tom Miles, Katie Paul and Ali Abdelatti; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-un-idUSKBN13O2K1.

December 11, 2016

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A suicide car bomber killed at least 16 people and injured nine others at a police station in the Somalia capital, a Somali police official said Sunday. The attack early Sunday targeted a police station adjacent to Mogadishu seaport, said Capt. Mohamed Hussein.

At the blast scene, medical workers carried bodies burned beyond recognition to ambulances. Human limbs and bloodied shoes were scattered across the blast scene. Most of the victims are port workers and police officers.

Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack, the second blast in the seaside capital in two days. The insurgents said they had killed “apostates” in the attack, according to the group’s Andalus radio.

On Saturday, a suspected suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at a security checkpoint near Mogadishu when soldiers stopped him for security checks. Despite being ousted from most of its key strongholds in south and central Somalia, al-Shabab continues to launch deadly guerrilla attacks against the Somali government and African Union forces across large parts of the horn of Africa nation.

More than 22,000 peacekeepers are deployed in Somalia in the multi-national African Union force. Al-Shabab opposes the presence of the foreign troops. A surge in attacks by al-Shabab could lead to further delays in the country’s presidential elections, which have been set for Dec. 28.

The elections have already been delayed three times.

23 November 2016 Wednesday

A U.K.-based pressure group has delivered a thousands-strong petition to Myanmar’s London embassy calling on the country’s government to confront the crisis plaguing the Rohingya minority.

Burma Campaign U.K. said Tuesday it delivered 3,164 signatures on a petition calling on Myanmar’s NLD-led government to tackle hate speech, lift humanitarian aid restrictions, repeal a 1982 citizenship law and support United Nations efforts to investigate the situation.

Mark Farmaner, the group’s director, said Myanmar’s military was using the ruling party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as “a human shield against criticism and action from the international community over the human rights violations they are committing.

“A new military crackdown on the Rohingya since attacks on border guard posts on 9th October has left hundreds of Rohingya dead, and at least 30,000 displaced. Restrictions on humanitarian aid, which were already causing deaths and suffering, have been significantly increased,” Farmaner said in a statement.

He added: “The international community continues treating the Rohingya as expendable in their efforts to present the situation in Burma as one of a successful transition requiring just technical assistance.

“The human rights situation for the Rohingya is getting worse, not better, and it is time their approach matched that reality.”

Rohingya Muslims — described by the UN as among the most persecuted minority groups worldwide — have for years been fleeing conflict in western Myanmar, with many using Thailand as a transit point to enter Muslim Malaysia and beyond.

The camps in which many live was recently described by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as “prison-like”, while satellite images of Rohingya villages in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State showed 820 newly-identified structures had been destroyed in the space of eight days.

Rohingya have been fleeing Myanmar in droves since mid-2012 after communal violence broke out in Rakhine between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya — described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minority groups worldwide.

The violence left around 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, some 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses razed — most of which belonged to Rohingya.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/180555/uk-group-delivers-rohingya-petition-to-myanmar-embassy.

October 31, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Just five months after her party took power, Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is facing international pressure over recent reports that soldiers have been killing, raping and burning homes of the country’s long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims.

The U.S. State Department joined activist and aid groups in raising concerns about new reports of rape and murder, while satellite imagery released Monday by Human Rights Watch shows that at least three villages in the western state of Rakhine have been burned.

Myanmar government officials deny the reports of attacks, and presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said Monday that United Nations representatives should visit “and see the actual situation in that region.” The government has long made access to the region a challenge, generally banning foreign aid workers and journalists.

But the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said serious violations, including torture, summary executions, arbitrary arrests and destruction of mosques and homes, threaten the country’s fledgling democracy.

“The big picture is that the government does not seem to have any influence over the military,” said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an advocacy group that focuses on the Rohingya. Myanmar’s widely criticized constitution was designed to give the armed forces power and independence.

A three-week surge in violence by the military was prompted by the killings of nine police officers at border posts on Oct. 9 in Rakhine, home to Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya. There have been no arrests, and a formerly unknown Islamist militant group has taken responsibility.

Although they’ve lived in Myanmar for generations, Rohingya are barred from citizenship in the nation of 50 million, and instead live as some of the most oppressed people in the world. Since communal violence broke out in 2012, more than 100,000 people have been driven from their homes to live in squalid camps guarded by police. Some have tried to flee by boat, but many ended up becoming victims of human trafficking or were held for ransom.

When Suu Kyi’s party was elected earlier this year after more than five decades of military rule, the political shift offered a short, tense window of peace. But that quickly ended as the former political prisoner and champion of human rights failed to clamp down on military atrocities.

The current crackdown has prompted an estimated 15,000 people in the Rakhine area to flee their homes in the past few weeks. The satellite images from Human Rights Watch show villages burning, and residents report food supplies are growing scarce as they are living under siege.

U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel has urged Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry to investigate the allegations of attacks and restore access for humanitarian groups trying to help. “We take reports of abuses very seriously,” said U.S. Embassy spokesman Jamie Ravetz in Yangon, Myanmar. “We have raised concerns with senior government officials and continue to urge the government to ?be transparent, follow the rule of law, and respect the human rights of all people in responding to the original attacks and subsequent reports of abuses.”

Families in Rakhine depend largely on humanitarian aid for food and health care, but that support has been cut off for weeks by officials who will not allow outsiders into the region. A government-sponsored delegation of aid agencies and foreign diplomats was supposed to visit the region on Monday, but local officials said they hadn’t seen anyone yet, and have not been informed they were coming.

“The government should end its blanket denial of wrongdoing and blocking of aid agencies, and stop making excuses for keeping international monitors from the area,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Mendoza reported from Bangkok.

December 9, 2016

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — Three Iraqi Caucasus tribes are uniting to seek recognition under the Iraqi Constitution. The Circassians, Chechens and Dagestanis want to unify their communities under one national name, “Caucasus,” much like the Christians of Iraq did when they formed the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council political party in 2007.

The tribes seek formal recognition in the constitution to guarantee equal rights and legal protection from violence against minorities. On Nov. 24, the nongovernmental organization Masarat for Cultural and Media Development (MCMD) hosted a meeting of representatives of the three groups in the Sulaimaniyah governorate in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. There, they asked to be included among Iraqi minorities and officially declared their demands. MCMD is preparing a draft law regarding rights for minorities that it will submit to parliament.

Ahmed Kataw, the leader of Circassians in Iraq, spoke to Al-Monitor about these demands, saying, “The Iraqi Constitution should recognize the Iraqi Caucasus tribes — Circassians, Chechens and Dagestanis — like the rest of the officially recognized minorities. Their names should be included within the Iraqi minorities protected under the draft law. … We want to make sure the Caucasian minorities are represented in the parliament according to the quota system, by virtue of which other minorities are represented.”

The Caucasus tribes were late presenting their demands to MCMD because, they said, they were unable to form a political party to represent them at the official level, and there were disagreements about selecting leaders to convey these demands.

Kataw said tense security situations, such as scattered armed confrontations and the battle against the Islamic State, have made it risky to start a political movement. “We did not form a political party. We did, however, start establishing a cultural-social organization called Solidarity Association back in 2004, headquartered in Kirkuk,” he said. “As a representative of the Circassians in Iraq, I have served as vice president of the association, and a Chechen was nominated president, while the secretary-general was a Dagestani. The 450 members of the general assembly took a vote, but the security conditions impeded us from turning the association into a political body. In addition, we were afraid we would be dominated by major political movements once we had announced we were forming an independent political party.”

Adnan Abdul Bari, who represents the Dagestanis in the Solidarity Association, spoke to Al-Monitor about the importance of joint work between the representatives of the Caucasus tribes. “These tribes are considered from the same origins. Their common history, geography, culture and traditions differentiate them from other tribes,” he said. “They have the identity of the peoples of the North Caucasus, so it is time for them to come forward as one people with a single cultural identity.”

The small number of Caucasus tribes and the fact that they are not concentrated geographically has weakened their participation in public life.

Researcher Mohammed Hussein Dagestani, the editor of the magazine Tadamon (Solidarity), which is concerned with Circassians, Chechens and Dagestanis, is head of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate in Kirkuk. He told Al-Monitor, “Russia forced the Caucasus tribes into displacement in 1864. They had to move from North Caucasus to Turkish territory, and the Ottomans then forced them out to Jordan, Syria and Iraq.”

Hussein Dagestani added, “This tragedy is similar to some experienced by other minorities, such as the Armenians, who fled to Iraq and other countries after the massacres committed by the Turks in 1915. We also share some experiences with the Yazidis, who had been subjected to a series of genocides, most recently by the Islamic State in 2016.”

Mazen Abdul Rahman, the Chechen representative of the Solidarity Association, told Al-Monitor there are scattered Chechen settlements, but “there are no settlements for either Dagestanis or Circassians because they are rather integrated into the urban centers.”

According to Katwa, there are more than 15,000 Caucasians, and the tribes’ representatives agree that the Chechens are ranked first in terms of number, followed by the Dagestanis, then the Circassians.

Only a limited number of seniors in Caucasus families still speak Caucasian languages, but their numbers are gradually decreasing, which means their languages will inevitably be forgotten.

Another factor contributing to the demise of Caucasian culture is their way of blending in and their refusal to stand out in society. They act as Arabs in Arab areas, as Kurds in Kurdish areas and Turkmen in Turkmen areas. The Caucasian families who lived in Shiite-dominated areas embraced the Shiite sect, while those who lived in Sunni areas followed the Sunni sect.

However, the long years of blending in did not stop these tribes from practicing their traditions, such as applying the norms and principles of the so-called Adiga law, by virtue of which parents and grandparents have to follow Caucasus traditions when it comes to marriage, childbirth and other social occasions.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/12/caucasus-circassians-chechens-dagestanis-iraq.html/.

16 December 2016 Friday

A Turkish aid campaign to support civilians in Aleppo gathered pace on Friday, with hundreds more vehicles ferrying humanitarian supplies to the Syrian border.

The Open Road to Aleppo campaign saw around 100 vehicles organized by Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) join a convoy in the central Anatolian province of Kayseri.

Departing Friday, the convoy will go to the Turkish border province of Hatay, close to the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo.

A first group of vehicles started its journey on Dec. 14, carrying humanitarian aid to Turkey’s Cilvegozu Border Gate in Hatay.

Musa Yilmaz, IHH Kayseri board member, said he wanted to show his support for people in Aleppo and react to the “torture and persecution” of civilians there.

“Muslims are oppressed, persecuted and tortured in the four corners of the world, including countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We will organize a rally [in Hatay] to support Syria [and] Aleppo and explain that we stand with them,” he added.

From Turkey’s central province of Konya, around 150 vehicles plus 60 trucks were headed to Hatay, said local IHH figure Hasan Huseyin Uysal.

“Our aid campaign is still ongoing. We will try to organize aid until the persecution is over,” Uysal said.

Meanwhile, another 12-truck convoy from Turkey’s western province of Afyonkarahisar is also headed to Hatay. Another five-truck convoy carrying 150 tons of foodstuffs is on the road to the Cilvegozu Border Gate from Istanbul’s Kucukcekmece district.

Kucukcekmece’s local religious department organized the aid drive.

In Turkey’s southern province of Kilis, various aid organizations — including the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency and Turkey’s Red Crescent — sent humanitarian supplies to Syria via the Oncupinar Border Gate.

The aid included food, clothing, coal, blankets, shoes and baby food.

At least 7,500 civilians have so far left eastern Aleppo for safe areas in Idlib, according to Syrian opposition group officials.

Since mid-November, more than 775 civilians have been killed and 2,500 injured in regime attacks on opposition-held parts of Aleppo, according to local civil defense officials.

Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests — which erupted as part of the “Arab Spring” uprisings — with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have been killed and millions more displaced by the conflict.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/181823/turkish-roads-full-of-aid-convoys-for-syria.