Category: Breeze Uprisings


October 06, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — Al-Qaida-linked fighters on Friday attacked a key central Syrian village at the crossroads between areas under government control and those controlled by insurgent groups, opposition activists said.

In eastern Syria, meanwhile, 15 civilians, including children, were killed when a missile slammed into a government-held neighborhood in the city of Deir el-Zour on Thursday evening. The attack on the village of Abu Dali in central Hama province was led by al-Qaida-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee and also known as HTS. It came two weeks after insurgents attacked a nearby area where three Russian soldiers were wounded.

Earlier this week, Russia’s military claimed the leader of the al-Qaida-linked group was wounded in a Russian airstrike and had fallen into a coma. The military offered no evidence on the purported condition of Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

The al-Qaida-linked group subsequently denied al-Golani was hurt, insisting he is in excellent health and going about his duties as usual. Al-Qaida-linked fighters have been gaining more influence in the northwestern province of Idlib and northern parts of Hama province where they have launched attacks on rival militant groups, as well as areas controlled by the government.

The village of Abu Dali had been spared much of the violence and had functioned as a local business hub between rebel-run areas and those under President Bashar Assad’s forces. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said al-Qaida fighters captured several village tribesmen following the attack in the early hours of Friday. The HTS-linked Ibaa news agency did not mention the attack but said Russian warplanes were bombing areas the group controls in northern Syria.

Violence in eastern Syria has escalated significantly in recent weeks as Syrian troops with the help of Russian air cover are closing in on Mayadeen, a new Islamic State group stronghold after IS came under attacks in the cities of Raqqa and Deir el-Zour.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said troops are marching south from Deir el-Zour toward Mayadeen under the cover of airstrikes. The DeirEzzor 24 monitoring group said the missile in the airstrike on Thursday evening that killed 15 had hit near a school in the Qusour neighborhood. Three children and three women were among those killed, the group said Friday, blaming IS for the attack. The school and a nearby residential building were destroyed.

The Observatory also reported the incident, putting the number of civilians killed at 13. Both the Observatory and DeirEzzor 24 also reported that an airstrike hit the village of Mehkan, just south of Mayadeen, and said it killed several families.

Syrian troops have broken a nearly three-year siege on parts of Deir el-Zour last month and are fighting to liberate from IS remaining parts of the city. In Russia, the military said one of its helicopters had made an emergency landing in Syria, but its crew was unhurt.

According to the Defense Ministry, the Mi-28 helicopter gunship landed in Hama province on Friday due to a technical malfunction. The two crewmen were not injured and were flown back to base. The ministry said the helicopter was not fired upon.

The ministry’s statement followed a claim by IS-linked Aamaq news agency, which said that a Russian helicopter was downed south of Shiekh Hilal village in Hama. Also on Friday, the Russian military accused the United States of turning a blind eye and effectively providing cover to the Islamic State group’s operations in an area in Syria that is under U.S. control.

The Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said IS militants have used the area around the town of Tanf near Syria’s border with Jordan — where U.S. military instructors are also stationed — to launch attacks against the Syrian army.

The area has become a “black hole,” posing a threat to Syrian army’s offensive against the IS in eastern Der el-Zour province, he added. The Russian accusations likely reflect rising tensions as U.S.-backed Syrian forces and the Russian-backed Syrian army — both of which are battling IS — race for control of oil and gas-rich areas of eastern Syria.

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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2017-03-19

DAMASCUS – Heavy clashes rocked eastern districts of the Syrian capital on Sunday as rebels and jihadists tried to fight their way into the city center in a surprise assault on government forces.

The attack on Damascus comes just days before a fresh round of UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva aiming to put an end to Syria’s six-year war.

Rebels and government troops agreed to a nationwide cessation of hostilities in December, but fighting has continued across much of the country, including in the capital.

Steady shelling and sniper fire could be heard across Damascus on Sunday as rebel factions allied with former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front launched an attack on regime positions in the city’s east.

The attack began early Sunday “with two car bombs and several suicide attackers” on the Jobar district, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Rebels then advanced into the nearby Abbasid Square area, seizing several buildings and firing a barrage of rockets into multiple Damascus neighborhoods, Abdel Rahman said.

Government forces responded with nearly a dozen air strikes on Jobar, he added.

Syrian state television reported that the army was “thwarting an attack by terrorists” with artillery fire and had ordered residents to stay inside.

It aired footage from Abbasid Square, typically buzzing with activity but now empty except for the sound of shelling.

Correspondents in Damascus said army units had sealed off the routes into the square, where a thick column of smoke was rising into the cloudy sky.

Several schools announced they would close through Monday, and many civilians cowered inside in fear of stray bullets and shelling.

– ‘From defensive to offensive’ –

Control of Jobar — which has been a battleground for more than two years — is divided between rebels and allied jihadists and government forces.

According to the Observatory, the Islamist Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group and the Fateh al-Sham Front — known as Al-Nusra Front before it broke ties with Al-Qaeda — are present in Jobar.

Government forces have long sought to push the rebels out of the district because of its proximity to the city center in Damascus.

But with Sunday’s attack, Abdel Rahman said, “rebels have shifted from a defensive position in Jobar into an offensive one”.

“These are not intermittent clashes — these are ongoing attempts to advance,” he said.

The Observatory said rebels had launched the attack as a way to relieve allied fighters in the nearby districts of Barzeh, Tishreen and Qabun from government attacks.

“Nine regime forces and at least 12 Islamist rebels were killed” in those districts over the last 24 hours, the Observatory said.

More than 320,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted six years ago with protests against Assad’s rule.

After a government crackdown, the uprising turned into an all-out war that has drawn in world powers on nearly all sides.

On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syria’s air defense systems after they fired ground-to-air missiles at Israeli warplanes on Friday.

Syria’s army said it shot down an Israeli jet and hit another as they were carrying out early morning strikes near the famed desert city of Palmyra.

Israel denied any planes were hit and said it was targeting weapons bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which is backing Assad in Syria.

The United Nations has sponsored peace talks to end the conflict since 2012, to no avail.

Government representatives and opposition figures are set to meet for a fourth round of negotiations on March 23 in Switzerland.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=82139.

October 30, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces launched a counteroffensive Saturday under the cover of airstrikes in an attempt to regain control of areas they had lost to insurgents the day before in the northern city of Aleppo, activists and state media said.

Meanwhile, insurgents launched a fresh offensive on the city, a day after embarking on a broad ground attack aimed at breaking a weeks-long government siege on the eastern rebel-held neighborhoods of Syria’s largest city.

The insurgents were able to capture much of the western neighborhood of Assad where much of Saturday’s fighting was concentrated, according to the Syrian army and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said the new offensive by Syrian troops and their allies went under the cover of Russian and Syrian airstrikes but government forces did not succeed in regaining control of areas they lost. The group said the fighting and airstrikes are mostly on Aleppo’s western and southern edges.

The Syrian army command said troops and their allies are pounding insurgent positions with artillery shells and rockets adding that “all kinds of weapons” are being used in the fighting in the Assad neighborhood.

The Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, reported airstrikes and artillery shelling of areas near Aleppo. The AMC and another activist collective, the Local Coordination Committees, said rebels entered the village of Minian west of Aleppo Saturday afternoon after intense fighting with government forces.

Later Saturday, the rebels said they launched an attack on the Zahraa neighborhood in western Aleppo to try and capture it from government forces. The attack began with a massive explosion that struck government positions on the front line, said Yasser al-Yousef of the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group, a main faction in Aleppo.

A reporter inside the city for the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel confirmed that the rebels have attacked the Zahraa neighborhood. As he spoke from the roof of a building, sounds of heavy exchange of gunfire could be heard in the background.

The Syrian army said troops were repelling the attack on Zahraa. It said the offensive began when the insurgents detonated a vehicle and shelled the area. The Observatory said the fighting was continuing intensely after sunset, saying that government forces detonated explosives and bombs they planted earlier in the area in an attempt to repel the offensive on Zahraa.

Syrian state media said rebels shelled government-held western neighborhoods of Aleppo on Saturday morning wounding at least 10 people, including a young girl. Rebel shelling of Aleppo on Friday killed 15 and wounded more than 100.

On Friday, insurgents including members of Fatah al-Sham and the ultraconservative Ajnad al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham militias took advantage of cloudy and rainy weather to attack government positions. On Saturday the weather was better, according to residents.

“There are ongoing clashes,” said opposition activist Baraa al-Halaby by telephone from besieged east Aleppo, adding that the fighting is far from them but explosions could be clearly heard in the city.

The Observatory said that since Friday some 30 troops and members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group were killed in the Aleppo fighting. East Aleppo has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.

The new offensive by insurgents is the second attempt to break the government’s siege of Aleppo’s opposition-held eastern districts, where the U.N. estimates 275,000 people are trapped. U.N. Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura has estimated 8,000 of them are rebel fighters, and no more than 900 of them affiliated with Fatah al-Sham. Syrian and Russian officials have said that no cease fire is possible as long as Fatah al-Sham remains allied and intertwined with other rebel forces.

Aleppo is the current focal point of the war. President Bashar Assad has said he is determined to retake the country’s largest city and former commercial capital.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.

Friday 28 October 2016

Syrian rebels launched a car bomb and detonated explosives inside a tank on Friday morning as part of a fresh offensive to break a siege on the divided city of Aleppo.

Rebels including Fateh al-Sham Front, the rebranded al-Nusra Front, also launched Grad rockets at the government-controlled Nairab air base, aiming to break the government siege of rebel-held areas of the city.

Rockets fired by rebels killed at least 15 civilians in government-held areas of the city on Friday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

Sources on the ground told MEE that there were also “furious” clashes on the ground, with districts that were once far from the fighting now finding themselves on the front lines.

Residents said on Thursday that the street fighting was now so close to their homes that they could hear rebels trading insults with their foes.

Residents of eastern Aleppo – home to over 250,000 people and under siege for over three months – burned tires in the streets, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air and providing cover for rebel operations, an AFP correspondent said.

The start of the rebel assault was hailed by the loudspeakers of eastern Aleppo mosques on Friday morning.

“There is a general call-up for anyone who can bear arms,” a senior official in the Levant Front rebel group, which fights under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner, told Reuters. “The preparatory shelling started this morning,” he added.

Zakaria Malahifji, an official with the Fastaqim rebel group in Aleppo, said a number of factions would participate in the new offensive and that the bombardment of the air base was part of this.

“Today is supposed to be the launch of the battle,” Malahifji said. “All the rebel groups will participate.”

A spokesperson for Fateh al-Sham said the group had detonated a suicide car bomb at an eastern entrance to the city, with rebels also detonating explosives inside a tank in the Aleppo suburb of al-Assad.

The twin suicide blasts came after rebels from Ahrar al-Sham earlier detonated two car bombs in the city.

SOHR, a British-based monitoring group, said that Grad surface-to-surface rockets had also struck Nairab air base and locations around the Hmeimim air base, near Latakia.

Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year, pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and militias from Lebanon, against mostly Sunni rebels including groups supported by Turkey, Gulf monarchies and the United States.

Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city before the war, has for years been split between a government-held western sector and the rebel-held east, which the army and its allies managed to put under siege this summer.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/rebels-launch-aleppo-counter-offensive-car-bombs-and-exploding-tanks-1359125266.

September 4, 2016

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said late Saturday that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had taken control of 10 regions in northern Syria.

An army statement said the regions include Arap Izzah, El Fursan, Al Athariyah, Sheikh Yakoub, Vukuf, Ayyasa, and Al Mutminah, as well as Idalat, Talyah Darbiyah, and the Kubba Turkuman Airport in the El Rai region.

The statement said that the Free Syrian Army, which performs operations in support of coalition forces, made the territorial gains on day 11 of Operation Euphrates Shield, which began on 24 August.

The statement added that Turkish Air Forces attacked and destroyed two Daesh targets in the Vukuf region, south of El Rai, around 13.00 local time (1000GMT).

Turkey has said Operation Euphrates Shield is aimed at bolstering border security, supporting coalition forces, and eliminating the threat posed by terror organizations, especially Daesh.

The operation is in line with the country’s right to self-defense borne out of international treaties and a mandate given to Turkey’s armed forces by parliament in 2014, which was extended for another year in September 2015.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160904-free-syrian-army-liberates-new-regions/.

3rd of September 2016, Saturday

By Dylan Collins

Buses carrying more than 300 Syrians left the besieged Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh on Friday, in the first stage of a deal that will enable the government to retake control of the rebel-held area.

In the first stage of the deal, 303 people, including 62 gunmen who agreed to lay down their arms and accept a presidential amnesty deal, were bused out of the area and taken to the nearby government-controlled town of Horjelah, according Syrian state news agency SANA.

The Moadamiyeh agreement comes just a week after a deal was struck in neighboring Daraya that brought about the full evacuation of the suburb, a move heavily criticized by the international community as forced displacement.

Those who left Moadamiyeh on Friday were originally from Daraya, having fled heavy bombardments earlier in the year.

“The heroic acts of the Syrian army in Daraya led to the achievement in Moadamiyeh,” Alaa Ibrahim, the governor of rural Damascus, told Syrian state TV.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border, said the concept of “forcing deals on local populations” has been criticized by the United Nations and the international community as something “that would give the government precedent to continue starving its own population into surrender”.

The UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura voiced concern that the Daraya agreement was part of a larger strategy by the government to empty rebel enclaves and that it may soon be extended to other areas.

There are “indications that after Daraya we may have other Darayas,” he told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.

“There is clearly a strategy at the moment to move from Daraya” to other besieged areas “in a similar pattern”.

Jan Egeland, the UN humanitarian chief, said the UN humanitarian task force for Syria had “failed the people of Daraya”.

The UN has underlined that it was not consulted on the Daraya deal, and described the evacuation of the suburb as a forced displacement.

Fears of ‘demographic change’

In the second stage of the Moadamiyeh deal, rebels who refuse to hand over their weapons will be forced to leave the suburb, probably to rebel-controlled Idlib province.

It was not clear when the second stage would be implemented or when government security forces would take over control of the suburb.

The deal was reportedly reached on Tuesday in a meeting between Moadamiyeh’s local council, government officials and Russian military officers at the army’s 4th Armored Division headquarters in the mountains on the southern outskirts of Damascus.

“It wasn’t a negotiation or a conversation, it was a threat,” Moadamiyeh-based media activist Dani Qappani told Al Jazeera. “They basically told us: ‘Either surrender or we burn Moadamiyeh.'”

“They know the situation here. There’s little to no food or medical supplies,” said Qappani, adding that residents of the besieged suburb could not hold out much longer.

“Once they finish evacuating people of Daraya who are living here, they’ll try to begin the process of surrendering arms and dismantling the revolutionary establishments inside the city.”

Moadamiyeh was hit with toxic sarin gas in 2013, according to the UN, and has suffered a three-year government siege, leaving its 28,000 residents with little food or medical supplies.

Rebel fighters in Moadamiyeh have negotiated several local truces with the government since 2012, and the suburb has been spared much of the destruction and bombing that occurred in Daraya, just a mile away.

“At the core of the matter is the clearing of the area,” said Qappani.

“A large portion of people don’t want to leave their homes because they don’t want the regime to forcefully change the demography of the area.”

Abo Kanan al-Dimashqi, a member of the Moadamiyeh local council, told Al Jazeera he believes the government “clearly wants to do what it did in Daraya”.

“They want to clear the area and put a different sect here. That’s their plan – a demographic change.”

After last week’s deal in neighboring Daraya, government troops took control of a completely empty suburb – once home to a quarter of a million people.

“The government is now gaining some momentum on the outskirts of the capital with this new tactic, forcing the population into leaving their areas through years of siege,” said Al Jazeera’s Ahelbarra.

“Now after Daraya, today is Moadamiyeh. There are concerns that the government is going to further replicate the resettling of the Sunni community in different parts of the capital. There are fears that Douma, a major opposition stronghold near the capital, could be the next.”

Source: al-Jazeera.

Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/syria-fear-rises-moadamiyeh-evacuation-begins-160902132143798.html.

Tue Aug 30, 2016

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

Syrian rebels have captured a strategic town in northern Hama province in a major offensive that threatens government loyalist towns populated by minority Christians and Alawites north of the provincial capital, rebels and a monitor said on Tuesday.

The town of Halfaya was stormed on Monday after the hardline jihadist Jund al-Aqsa alongside Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades launched a battle overnight that overran several army and pro-government checkpoints in northern Hama countryside.

The town, which is near a main road that links the coastal areas with the Aleppo-Damascus highway is only a few kilometers from the historic Christian town of Mahrada to the west.

“We are now cleansing the town after liberating it from the regime and will have more surprises in store,” said Abu Kinan, a commander in Jaish al Ezza, a rebel group that fought in the town.

A rapid collapse in government defenses allowed the rebels to also take a string of villages including Buwaydah, Zalin and Masassnah. They were threatening Taybat al Imam to the east of Halfaya.

The offensive brought them closer to the army stronghold of Soran, the army’s northern gateway to the city of Hama, the provincial capital.

A Syrian military source said airstrikes conducted by the army killed dozens of rebels and would neither deny nor confirm Halfaya had fallen to rebels. Pro-government websites said the army was sending reinforcements to retake these towns.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which confirmed the fall of the town, said jets believed to be Syrian struck rebel outposts in the area, killing at least 20 rebels.

The militant Jund al-Aqsa group deployed suicide bombers to storm army checkpoints.

Jaish al Ezza threatened in a statement to hit the Mahrada power plant near the town, one of Syria’s largest, if civilians areas in rebel-held areas were bombed in retaliation.

The rebel offensive comes after weeks of heavy Russian and Syrian army bombing of rebel controlled Hama and southern Idlib countryside that rebels say has claimed dozens of civilian lives.

Syrian army offensives backed by heavy Russian air strikes to retake territory from rebels in the Hama countryside have had limited success.

The latest gains will consolidate rebels who captured at the end of last year the strategic town of Morek, north of Hama city on a major north-south highway crucial to control of western Syria.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-rebels-idUSKCN115025.

30 August 2016 Tuesday

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels say they are now advancing towards Manbij in northern Syria, a city captured earlier this month by Kurdish forces, as the US condemned the weekend clashes between the sides as “unacceptable”.

Turkey’s military said on Monday that the Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) had cleared fighters from 10 more villages in northern Syria, as part of a cross-border offensive that had already captured a string of settlements south of the Syrian frontier town of Jarablus.

The statement did not say whether these fighters belonged to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group or Kurdish forces.

“After seizing control of the border town of Jarablus, the FSA fighters moved under Turkish air cover to control villages such as Amarna, Yousef Beq and Ain al-Baida within hours,” Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said.

“But their main target is to take over Manbij,” he said. “YPG fighters maintain a significant presence along that area with their local allies.”

Just weeks ago, Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by US coalition air strikes, drove ISIL fighters out of Manbij after months of fighting.

Turkish forces have been pressing on with a two-pronged operation inside Syria against ISIL (also known as ISIS) fighters and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) since Wednesday, shelling more than a dozen targets.

“Taking on the YPG is a risk for the Turkish government,” said our correspondent. “The Kurdish group is a crucial ally for the US in its fight against ISIL in Syria.”

Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense condemned the clashes between Turkish forces and the YPG on Monday, calling them “unacceptable”.

Ankara said it had killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists” in strikes on YPG positions on Sunday, a day after a Turkish soldier died in a rocket attack it blamed on Kurdish forces

On Monday, the Pentagon called the clashes “unacceptable” and urged an immediate de-escalation.

“We want to make clear that we find these clashes – in areas where ISIL is not located – unacceptable and a source of deep concern,” said Brett McGurk, US special envoy for the fight against ISIL, also known as ISIS.

“We call on all armed actors to stand down,” he wrote on Twitter, citing a US Department of Defense statement.

Later on Monday, Ash Carter, the US defense secretary, urged Turkey to not target Kurdish elements of Syrian rebels.

“We have called upon Turkey … to stay focused on the fight against ISIL and not to engage Syrian Defense Forces, and we’ve had a number of contacts over the last several days,” Carter told reporters.

Turkey’s operation aims to push the YPG back across the Euphrates River to prevent it from joining up the region east of the river already under its control with a Kurdish-held area to the west.

US Vice President Joe Biden, visiting Ankara last week, said Washington had told the YPG to go back across the Euphrates or risk losing American support.

After Biden’s warning, Kurdish officials seemed to have acceded to Turkish demands and said they withdrew the YPG forces from Manbij.

“The YPG said they have withdrawn to the East,” said Al Jazeera’s Ahelbarra. “But activists on the ground doubt that.”

Ankara also said it had seen no evidence of this.

‘Ethnic cleansing’

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said on Monday the YPG “needs to cross east of the Euphrates as soon as possible. So long as they don’t, they will be a target.

“In the places where it has moved, the YPG forces everyone out – including Kurds – who do not think like it does and carries out ethnic cleansing,” he added.

Cavusoglu said the ethnic composition of the area around the city of Manbij was largely Arab.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus on Monday also confirmed one of the key aims of Turkey’s operation in northern Syria was to prevent the creation of a corridor stretching from Iraq to the verge of the Mediterranean controlled by the YPG.

“If that happens, it means Syria has been divided,” he was quoted as saying by Turkish broadcaster NTV.

He added that all relevant parties had been informed of Turkey’s operation in Syria, including the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

But Kurtulmus denied Turkey was at war. “We are not pursuing an aim of becoming a permanent power in Syria. Turkey is not an invader. Turkey is not entering a war.”

“It’s unclear whether Turkish commanders will send ground forces all the way to Manbij to help the FSA take control of the city or only provide air cover, said Al Jazeera’s Ahelbarra.

“Either way, the conflict has become deepened with multiple frontlines and agendas at play.”

Source: al-Jazeera.

Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/turkish-backed-syrian-rebels-advance-manbij-160829154225197.html.

August 27, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Backed by Turkish tanks and reports of airstrikes, Turkey-allied Syrian rebels clashed with Kurdish-led forces in northeastern Syria in a new escalation that further complicates the already protracted Syrian conflict.

Turkey’s military didn’t specify what the airstrikes hit, saying only that “terror groups” were targeted south of the village of Jarablus, where the clashes later ensued. A Kurdish-affiliated group said their forces were the target and called the attack an “unprecedented and dangerous escalation.” If confirmed, it would be the first Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish allied forces on Syrian soil.

Late Saturday night, Turkey’s official news agency reported that one Turkish solider had been killed and three wounded by what it said was a Kurdish rocket attack in Jarablus, near where the fighting has raged. It is the first reported Turkish fatality in Syria.

The new escalation highlights concerns that Turkey’s incursion into Syria this week could lead to an all-out confrontation between Ankara and Syrian Kurds, both American allies, and hinder the war against the Islamic State group by diverting resources.

Sherwan Darwish, a spokesman for Kurdish-led forces in the village of Manbij, said on Twitter Saturday night: “While our forces fighting #IS Some #Turkey backed militias r attacking our positions & hampering our & Intl Coalition’s fight against terror.”

The clashes underscore Ankara’s determination to push back Kurdish forces from along its borders, and curb their ambitions to form a contiguous entity in northern Syria. Kurdish groups have already declared a semi-autonomous administration in Syria and control most of the border area.

Jarablus, and Manbij to the south liberated from IS fighters by Kurdish-led forces earlier this month, are essential to connecting the western and eastern semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria. Turkish officials said they will continue their offensive in Syria until there is no longer any “terror” threat to Turkey from its war-torn neighbor. Ankara backed Syrian rebels to gain control of Jarablus last week. They are now pushing their way south.

On Saturday, the Syrian rebels said they have seized a number of villages south of Jarablus from IS militants and Kurdish forces. Clashes were fiercest with the Kurdish-allied forces over the village of Amarneh, eight kilometers (five miles) south of Jarablus.

The media office of the Turkish-backed Nour el-din el-Zinki rebel group said the Syrian rebels were backed by Turkish tanks. A news report on ANHA, the news agency for the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas, said local fighters destroyed a Turkish tank and killed a number of fighters in an attack by the Turkish military and allied groups on Amnarneh.

There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials. The clashes were preceded by Turkish airstrikes against bases of Kurdish-affiliated forces and residential areas at Amarneh. The Jarablus Military Council, affiliated with the U.S-backed Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces, said the Turkish airstrikes marked an “unprecedented and dangerous escalation” that “endangers the future of the region.”

It vowed to stand its ground. Other groups which are part of the SDF vowed to support them, calling on the U.S-led coalition to explain the Turkish attacks on allied forces. Turkey’s state news agency, citing military sources, said the Turkish Military Joint Special Task Forces and coalition airplanes targeted an ammunition depot and a barrack and outpost used as command centers by “terror groups” south of Jarablus Saturday morning. The Anadolu Agency did not say which group or village was targeted.

Turkey has long suspected the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, of being linked to Kurdish insurgents in its own southeast, which it labels as a terror group. It has demanded the YPG, which makes up the bulk of the SDF and has been one of the most effective U.S. ally in the fight against IS, withdraw to the east bank of the Euphrates River.

The U.S. supported Turkey’s call for the Kurdish forces to move back, and Kurdish officials said they withdrew the YPG forces from Manbij. But following the Turkish offensive, local forces with Kurdish fighters and backed by YPG advisers pushed their way north of Manbij, in a rush for control of Jarablus.

Meanwhile, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, appealed to the opposition to approve plans to deliver aid to rebel-held eastern Aleppo and government-held Aleppo through a government-controlled route north of Aleppo during a 48-hour humanitarian pause.

Aleppo has been caught in a bloody circle of violence, with rebels and government forces each promising to unite the divided city. The U.N. said it has pre-positioned aid ready for delivery into Aleppo, to reach 80,000 people on the rebel side and some on the government side. But the opposition, whose fighters have opened another route in the south, were wary of the use of the government-controlled route.

“People are suffering and need assistance. Time is of the essence. All must put the civilian population of Aleppo first and exert their influence now,” de Mistura said in a statement, urging an approval by Sunday.

But violence raged. Suspected government helicopters dropped two barrel bombs on a wake held for children killed a few days earlier, killing at least 15, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Aleppo Media Center, an activist group in the city, and volunteers on the scene put the death toll higher at 24. Mohammed Khandakani, a hospital volunteer, said one of the injured told him a barrel bomb was dropped in the Bab al-Nairab neighborhood as people paid their condolences for children killed Thursday in an airstrike that left 11 children dead in the same neighborhood. Minutes later, Khandakani said another barrel bomb was dropped, injuring an ambulance driver, and hampering rescue efforts.

The Syrian government and its Russian ally are the only ones operating helicopters over Aleppo. The government denies it uses barrel bombs. Elsewhere, the Syrian government said it now has full control of the Damascus suburb of Daraya, following the completion of a forced evacuation deal struck with the government that emptied the area of its remaining rebels and residents and ended a four-year siege and grueling bombing campaign.

The declaration comes a day after the evacuation of nearly 5,000 residents and fighters from the suburb began. The deal followed an extensive government campaign of aerial bombing and shelling of Daraya, the last bastion against President Bashar Assad in the western Ghouta region, southwest of Damascus.

Some 700 gunmen and 4,000 civilians were evacuated. The gunmen and their families headed to the northern rebel-controlled Idlib province. Other civilians were escorted to shelters in government-controlled suburbs of Damascus.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria and Dusan Stojanovic in Istanbul contributed to this report.

27 August 2016 Saturday

The first buses carrying residents and rebel fighters left the Damascus suburb of Daraya on Friday under a deal that will see the area evacuated after a four-year siege by government forces.

Aid convoys arranged by the medical charity Red Crescent entered the suburb early on Friday, as part of the deal that grants control of the area to government forces.

Rebel fighters and government forces agreed to a deal on Thursday to evacuate the town, which pro-government forces have surrounded since 2012. Since then, only one aid shipment has reached the area, according to the United Nations.

Residents were suffering from severe shortages and malnutrition prior to the aid deliveries, according to local activists.

A Reuters news agency witness saw six buses leaving the town, and footage on state television showed buses carefully driving past a large group of soldiers through streets lined with rubble.

The Syrian opposition criticized the evacuation, saying that the international community had failed the people of Daraya.

“Daraya did not fail today,” George Sabra of the opposition peace talks team told DPA news agency. “It was the international community who failed, and failed the people of Daraya.”

Sources told Al Jazeera that about 8,000 civilians and 800 rebels would be evacuated from the Damascus suburb, which, before the war, was home to a quarter of a million people.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said the rebels were “forced to sign the deal”.

“For nearly four years, residents of Daraya have lived under siege, with civilians being starved to death by government forces. This is a deal that the rebels had to sign, and we will now see civilians moved to Sahnaya – a town in the Damascus governorate – under regime control,” he said.

UN ‘not consulted’ on deal

The UN, which has repeatedly called for the lifting of the siege, said it was “not involved and not consulted in this deal”, in a statement put out by the UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura’s office.

De Mistura, who met with the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, said the situation in Daraya was “extremely grave and tragic” and that “the repeated appeals to lift the siege of Daraya have not been headed”.

Reporting from Geneva, Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays said the Syrian government’s “starvation of surrender policy has actually worked because they have now managed to close down Daraya and remove everyone from Daraya”.

Rebel forces from Daraya will be taken to the northern province of Idlib, held by the Army of Conquest, a coalition of armed anti-government groups.

The rebels who controlled Daraya belonged to two rebel groups: Ajnad al-Sham and the Martyrs of Islam, groups allied with the Army of Conquest.

However, activists told Al Jazeera that they were extremely concerned over the safety of civilians, many of whom are relatives of the rebels, as the government offered little to no guarantee.

‘A major setback’

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Jordan, advocacy adviser Chairman Mohamed of the Norwegian Refugee Council said although the end of hostiles in the town was a positive step, her team was “concerned about the protection of civilians” and that any evacuations “should be voluntary in nature”.

“There should be absolutely unfettered humanitarian access, and civilians should be protected, according to international humanitarian law”.

Some opposition groups also criticized the deal, calling it a major setback as Sunnis would be forced from their homes, further fracturing the country along sectarian lines.

“This is a pattern by the government to push Sunnis out of communities they control and have been living in for decades. In 2015, there was a similar deal in Zabadani on the outskirts of the capital,” our correspondent added.

In 2012, several hundred people were killed in Daraya, including civilians, many execution-style, when security forces stormed the suburb after locals took up arms.

According to the UN, nearly 600,000 live under siege across Syria, most surrounded by government forces.

In several places, lengthy government sieges have prompted rebels to agree to evacuation deals with the regime, leading activists to accuse Damascus of using “starve or surrender” tactics.

Earlier this year, de Mistura estimated that 400,000 people had died throughout the last five years.

The UN no longer keeps track of the death toll due to the inaccessibility of many areas and the complications of navigating conflicting statistics put forward by the Syrian government and armed opposition groups.

Source: al-Jazeera.

Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/syria-aid-convoys-enter-daraya-deal-siege-160826084006363.html.