Category: Sacred Land of Syria


2018-02-08

DUSHANBE – Tajikistan has granted amnesty to more than 100 of its nationals following their return home from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined radical Islamist groups, the interior minister said Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda said the returnees had been pardoned in line with a 2015 government pledge.

“Regarding the fate of 111 Tajik citizens who returned from Syria and Iraq voluntarily, all of them are free under Tajik law,” Rahimzoda said.

Most of the returnees in question had spent time in Syria, which became a magnet for jihadists from around the globe following its descent into civil war in 2011.

Rahimzoda also told reporters that 250 citizens of Tajikistan, a majority-Muslim country, had died fighting for radical groups in Iraq and Syria, mostly the Islamic State group.

Authorities have previously said that over 1,000 Tajik citizens, including women, had joined the radical militants.

Most had traveled to Syria and Iraq through Russia, where over a million Tajiks are believed to work as labor migrants.

The Islamic State group’s most high-profile Tajik recruit Gulmurod Khalimov had served as the chief of the interior ministry’s special forces unit prior to his sensational defection in 2015.

Russia’s defense ministry said in September last year that Khalimov, who may have been IS’s “minister of war”, had been killed in an airstrike.

Rahimzoda said Thursday that Tajikistan was still verifying that report.

Mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet republic, shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Afghanistan, long a hotbed of Islamist militancy and the world’s largest producer of opium and heroin.

Governments have warned that fighters returning to their home countries after the collapse of the Islamic State group could raise the terror threat there.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=87176.

Advertisements

2018-01-22

Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies have launched a cross-border offensive against the Afrin region of northern Syria, held by a powerful Kurdish militia.

Since “Operation Olive Branch” began on Saturday, rebels and Turkish forces have advanced about five kilometers (three miles) into Syrian territory.

An alliance of pro-Ankara rebels is amassing on front lines around Afrin for an expected ground attack.

– The fronts –

Afrin is a hilly enclave that juts out from Syria’s northern Aleppo province. Turkey holds the borders to the north and west while Syrian rebels control those south and east.

Rebels have deployed along a highway east of Afrin between their two strongholds of Azaz and Marea.

Other forces, including some fighters from the neighboring province of Idlib, have gathered south of Afrin.

Rebels have also launched a push alongside Turkish soldiers from inside Turkish territory, south into the enclave.

Ankara had bused around 600 rebels from northern Syria into Turkish territory ahead of a ground invasion.

– The forces –

The Turkish-backed rebel forces taking part in the offensive number around 25,000, according to Yasser Abdelrahim, a key member of the campaign’s joint operations room.

They include factions from Euphrates Shield, an operation launched by Ankara in 2016 against the Islamic State group and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia which Turkey considers as “terrorists”.

Euphrates Shield brought together a smattering of non-jihadist factions that have received Turkish and US support, among them the Sultan Murad Brigades, Hamzat Division, and Mutasem Brigades.

Those forces are fighting side-by-side again in the Afrin assault.

Also taking part in “Operation Olive Branch” are fighters from Al-Jabha al-Shamiya and Faylaq al-Sham, two rebel alliances operating in northern Syria since 2014.

Many of these groups have threatened the YPG or already clashed with them.

– The mission –

Rebel forces behind the offensive say they are opposed to the YPG and its political branch, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), calling the groups “terrorists” and “separatists”.

“The operation is to liberate the area from all kinds of terrorism and protect civilians, Arabs and Kurds,” said Abdelrahim, who is also Faylaq al-Sham’s military chief.

“We’re not attacking to reach the town of Afrin. The residential buildings are not our aim — just the military bases and military positions used by the PYD and YPG.”

But rebels also blamed the YPG for not battling regime forces and have even evoked ethnic divides and accuse them of displacing Arabs.

“The goal of the offensive is, in the first phase, to oust the separatist parties from the Arab villages in our areas,” said Abu Meslem, a field commander in Al-Jabha al-Shamiya.

He insisted “Operation Olive Branch” does not aim to push out the entire Syrian Kurdish community.

“This is our duty: to oust the separatist parties and bring back the displaced families who have been living in tents during the winter,” he said.

– The operation –

On Sunday, a day into the operation, rebel forces and their Turkish backers entered the Afrin region and claimed to have captured several villages and hilltop positions.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said Turkish troops, whose number was not specified, were advancing alongside pro-Ankara rebels and were already five kilometers (three miles) inside Syria.

Turkey has mainly provided air cover to the operation, pounding dozens of YPG targets with artillery and air strikes.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86877.

January 08, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian monitoring group and paramedics in the northwestern city of Idlib say the death toll from a massive car bombing there the previous evening has risen to at least 25. Also, nearly 100 people were wounded.

The first-responders Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets says four children and 11 women were among the 25 killed. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Monday gave a higher death toll, saying 34 people were killed, including 18 civilians.

The Sunday night bombing targeted the office of Ajnad al-Koukaz, a militant group consisting of foreign fighters mostly from the Caucuses and Russia, according to activists. Idlib is the capital of a province by the same name that is controlled by several rebel factions, including an al-Qaida-linked group.

2018-01-24

BERLIN – Berlin and Ankara planned to discuss on Wednesday Turkey’s cross-border offensive against a Kurdish militia in Syria, officials said, amid controversy over German-built tanks being deployed in the conflict.

German ambassador Martin Erdmann and Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli were to talk about “how the Turkish operation is equipped,” said German foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr.

The German government has come under domestic pressure after battlefield images appeared to show Turkey deploying German-made Leopard 2 tanks in its offensive to oust Kurdish militants in northern Syria.

The Kurdish Community Group of Germany accused Berlin of “complicity through weapons delivery to the terror state Turkey”.

German conservative lawmaker Norbert Roettgen, who heads the parliamentary committee of foreign affairs, urged Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to halt further arms deals with Turkey.

“It is completely out of the question for Germany to increase the combat strength of the Leopard tanks in Turkey if the Turkish army is going after the Kurds in northern Syria,” Roettgen told Tagesspiegel daily.

Roettgen, a leading figure in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, said weapons deliveries to Turkey should instead “be banned due to the human rights situation and the dismantling of the rule of law in the country.”

Germany’s criticism of the human rights situation in Turkey, particularly after the government’s crackdown following a failed coup in 2016, badly strained ties between the NATO allies.

Relations have started to gradually thaw in recent weeks with the foreign ministers of both countries vowing to mend ties.

But Turkey’s offensive against the Kurdish militia threatens to reverse the rapprochement with Germany, which is home to large ethnic Turkish and Kurdish minorities.

Berlin delivered 354 Leopard 2 tanks to Turkey between 2006 and 2011.

Under the weapons deal sealed in 2005, Ankara is prohibited only from giving or selling the tanks to third parties without prior approval from Berlin, with no other restrictions on how the tanks are used.

– Skirmishes –

Leading Turkish and Kurdish groups in Germany on Wednesday accused each other of “importing” a foreign conflict in the wake of Ankara’s cross-border offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia.

Skirmishes have erupted between the two groups in Germany since Turkey on Saturday launched its operation “Olive Branch” to oust the US-backed YPG, whom Ankara views as a terror group, from their Afrin enclave in northern Syria.

Three million ethnic Turks live in Germany, the largest diaspora and a legacy of the country’s “guest worker” program of the 1960 and 70s, as well as hundreds of thousands of Kurds.

Germany’s Turkish-dominated Coordination Council of Mosques said the conflict had been used as an excuse to launch a spate of “attacks on Turkish mosque groups” in Europe’s biggest economy.

“The fighting in northern Syria has been taken as an opportunity to incite against Turkish infrastructure and in particular mosques, and to import terror into Germany,” it said in a statement.

At least two mosques of the Turkish-controlled Ditib group were hit in western Germany’s Minden and the eastern city of Leipzig, said the council.

Windows of the buildings were smashed and walls vandalized, said the council, without naming possible suspects.

It also pointed to a brawl that broke out between Kurds and Turkish passengers at Hanover Airport on Monday, which forced police to intervene to separate the two sides.

“We condemn these attacks and call for calm on all sides,” said the council.

The Kurdish Community of Germany, for its part, accused Ditib imams of calling for jihad against the Kurds in Syria.

“The believers are told to pray for a victory of the Turkish army in the war against the Kurds,” the Kurdish group said, deploring the “instrumentalisation of religion and mosques for a war”.

“Mosques, that are partly financed by taxes and donations from citizens in Germany, are praying for glorious victory and death through jihad, the holy war,” added the group’s deputy leader Mehmet Tanriverdi.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86911.

2018-01-08

BEIRUT – Syria’s army has broken the siege of an army base encircled by opposition forces on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, state television and a war monitor reported on Sunday.

Last Sunday, rebels, mainly belonging to the Islamist Ahrar al Sham faction, widened their control of parts of the Military Vehicles Administration base in the Eastern Ghouta town of Harasta.

Army elite forces, backed by Russian jets, launched an offensive to break the siege and liberate at least 200 troops who were believed to be trapped within its sprawling, heavily defended grounds.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the Syrian forces had “opened a loophole” that led them into the base.

Extensive bombing and violent clashes were taking place inside and around the base late at night, while the army fought its way to recapture the compound’s buildings, the state tv reporter said during a live broadcast from a nearby location.

“Fighting is underway to expand the route that was opened into the base … and the army will press on with its offensive beyond liberating the base,” he added, expecting the battle for the base to end in the coming few hours.

The tv station aired footage of the battles earlier in the day that showed heavy smoke billowing from the battered buildings targeted by the army fire.

Rebel fighters had stormed the base last November in a drive to relieve pressure on Eastern Ghouta’s towns and villages.

The base has long been used to strike at the densely populated Eastern Ghouta in an attempt to force the rebel enclave into submission. More than 300,000 people there have lived under siege by army troops since 2013.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86688.

January 1, 2018

Thousands of Syrian families have fled violent clashes between Daesh and the Syrian forces in the country’s north-western province of Idlib, Anadolu Agency reported yesterday. Many have taken refuge in camps scattered along the border with Turkey.

Early last week, the Syrian army, backed by Russian air power and pro-Iranian fighters, launched intense airstrikes targeting areas in the southern countryside of Idlib province. Idlib and the eastern countryside of Hama province are the only areas that still remain outside government control.

The ten-day offensive and clashes between the regime army and Daesh fighters have also forced the refugees to head to Idlib’s southern countryside of Sinjar, which was later targeted by the army, displacing at least 6,500 civilians.

At least nine civilians were reported dead by the regime airstrikes over the weekend.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180101-syrians-continue-to-flee-violent-clashes-in-idlib/.

Sunday, 31 December, 2017

Hundreds of opposition fighters arrived on Saturday in the Syrian provinces of Idlib and Daraa after they were displaced from the towns of Beit Jin and Mogher al-Meer in Damascus’ western Ghouta suburb.

The evacuation was made possible after an agreement with the Syrian regime forces that began sweeping the two towns.

State television showed footage of the convoy of buses containing the rebels moving out of Beit Jin.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that six bus convoys left Beit Jin as part of the agreement between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other factions and between the regime.

The buses that arrived in the southern region of Daraa were transporting some 100 fighters from the factions, as well as some 30 of their family members. The buses that arrived in the northern Idlib province also held similar numbers.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent said on Friday they had finished a medical evacuation of 29 very sick people from eastern Ghouta as part of a swap deal for prisoners held by the rebels.

Beit Jin’s location near Israeli-controlled territory made it a strategic flashpoint given the role of Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” in fighting the rebels there.

Israel has bombed “Hezbollah” convoys and weapons caches several times in Syria this year and fired on military positions in Syria after projectiles landed in the Golan Heights.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1128841/displaced-syria%E2%80%99s-beit-jin-arrive-idlib-daraa.

December 31, 2017

Around 30 sub-groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have unified under the banner of the country’s “National Army”, the Syrian interim government announced on Saturday.

The announcement came after the head of the interim government, Jawad Abu Hatab, met the subgroup leaders in the northern city of Azaz.

Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Abu Hatab noted their primary aim as keeping hold of the area liberated from Daesh through Operation Euphrates Shield and defending people by standing against the Assad regime and terror groups like Daesh and the PKK/PYD.

In the wide-ranging Euphrates Shield Operation launched last summer, the Free Syrian Army — with the support of the Turkish army — had cleared 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of land along the Turkish-Syrian border of terrorist elements.

Abu Hatab said they have unified three army corps through the project totaling 22,000 soldiers.

“First army corps is the one trained in Turkey. The second and the third consists of nearly 30 groups,” he said, adding that the most important matter is to form an army from the whole region.

“This is possible with Turkey’s support,” Hatab said, who also recalled Turkey’s efforts through Operation Euphrates Shield, which let thousands of Syrian refugees to return to their country.

Chief of General Staff of the interim government Col. Haitham Ofeisi said the formation of the “National Army” was the result of the unification of three corps.

“First we took this decision in the Euphrates Shield Operation Zone. Of course, we have made this decision with the support of Turkey,” he said adding that they would continue the process in remaining places.

Ofeisi vowed that they would clear Daesh and PKK/PYD terrorists group as well as Assad forces from the region while more army corps would be formed under the General Staff in the freed areas.

“We believe that the future of Syria will be good and we will go to all lengths of this revolution that we have started in 2011.

He said one of the targets “is to give all type of struggles against the division of our lands by Daesh and PKK/PYD terrorist organizations”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171231-free-syrian-army-subgroups-unite-to-form-national-army/.

December 28, 2017

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has categorically rejected the Sochi conference sponsored by Russia scheduled for the end of January.

In a statement released yesterday, the group said that the conference is an attempt to consolidate the Russian occupation and ignore the political solution stipulated in the Geneva resolutions, which starts with the formation of a fully-fledged transitional authority which does not include Bashar Al-Assad and his regime.

The group reiterated its adherence to the principles of the Syrian revolution of overthrowing Al-Assad and his regime and rebuilding the country as a state of justice, freedom, equality and human dignity.

It also called on all revolutionary forces and Syrian national figures to boycott the Sochi conference. The Syrian opposition negotiating body said there was widespread rejection of the conference among opposition groups.

Russia, Turkey and Iran, the guarantors of the ceasefire in Syria agreed at the conclusion of the Astana 8 meeting last week to hold the Syrian national dialogue conference in the Russian resort of Sochi on 29-30 January.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171228-syria-muslim-brotherhood-rejects-russia-sponsored-peace-talks/.

2017-12-26

BEIRUT – More than three dozen Syrian rebel groups, including influential Islamists, have rejected a Russian-led initiative for talks next month in Sochi on ending Syria’s war.

Russia and Iran, both key allies of Syria’s regime, agreed with opposition backer Turkey on Friday to hold a “Congress of National Dialogue” in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on January 29 and 30.

Syria’s government swiftly said it would attend but rebels have pushed back, calling it a Russian bid to eclipse a United Nations-led process in Geneva.

“We completely reject Russia’s attempt to circumvent the Geneva track,” the rebels said in a joint statement published Monday.

“We call on all forces to stand in one rank against these alarming dangers.”

It was signed by 40 factions, including Islamist powerhouse Ahrar al-Sham and groups that have been backed by the United States such as the Mutasem Brigades.

Some of the factions played a significant role in the rebellion since the war broke out in 2011 but most have either been sidelined by other groups or control only small pockets of land.

Mustefa Sejari, a top Mutasem Brigades figure, said on Tuesday that rebels could not see Russia as an honest broker.

“From the beginning, we said whoever wants to play an intermediary and guarantor role in Syria needs to be neutral, fair, and honest in its support of political transition,” Sejari said.

“Russia has not done these things — it is a partner in the killing of the Syrian people,” he added.

Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011 with anti-government demonstrations, but it has since morphed into a complex war drawing in world powers, including Russia.

Repeated attempts to reach a political solution to the war have failed, with the UN-backed process in Switzerland bearing little fruit.

Russia, Turkey, and Iran began hosting talks between Syria’s government and armed rebels in Kazakhstan earlier this year, and announced the Sochi conference at the most recent round last week.

The United Nations has yet to firmly endorse the summit, and opposition representatives have largely been wary of it.

The main stumbling block over any political solution remains the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with much of the opposition sticking firm to calls for his ouster.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86561.