Category: White Shark Forces


April 07, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria decried a U.S. missile attack early Friday morning on a government-controlled air base where U.S. officials say the Syrian military launched a deadly chemical attack earlier this week, calling it an “aggression” that led to “losses.” Rebels welcomed the U.S. attack.

About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles hit the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, a small installation with two runways, where aircraft often take off to bomb targets in northern and central Syria. The U.S. missiles hit at 3:45 a.m. Friday morning and targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, U.S. officials said.

They were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, in retaliation for Tuesday’s deadly chemical attack that officials said used chlorine mixed with a nerve agent, possibly sarin. A military official quoted on Syrian TV said an air base in central Syria was hit early Friday, causing material damage. Another statement, also attributed to an unnamed official, referred to “losses.” The officials did not elaborate.

Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, where the targeted air base is located, told The Associated Press by phone that most of the strikes appeared to target the province in central Syria. He also said the strikes were meant to “support the terrorists on the ground.” He told Al Arabiya TV that a fire raged for two hours in the base, until it was put out.

A Syrian opposition group, the Syrian Coalition, welcomed the U.S. attack, saying it puts an end to an age of “impunity” and should be just the beginning. Major Jamil al-Saleh, a U.S-backed rebel commander whose Hama district in the country’s center was struck by the suspected chemical weapons attack, said he hoped the U.S. attack on a government air base would be a “turning point” in the six-year war that has left more than 400,000 dead.

Israel’s prime minister welcomed the U.S. attack. Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday in a statement that “In both word and action” President Donald Trump “sent a strong and clear message” that “the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.”

The bombing represents Trump’s most dramatic military order since taking office. The Obama administration threatened attacking Assad’s forces for previous chemical weapons attacks, but never followed through. Trump called on “all civilized nations” to join the U.S. in seeking an end to the carnage in Syria.

President Bashar Assad’s government had been under mounting international pressure after the chemical attack in northern Syria, with even key ally Russia saying its support is not unconditional and the U.S. launching a barrage of cruise missiles at a government-controlled air base in Syria.

Turkey, meanwhile, said samples from victims of Tuesday’s attack, which killed more than 80 people in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, indicate they were exposed to sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent. Syria rejected the accusations, and Moscow had warned against apportioning blame until an investigation has been carried out.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that “unconditional support is not possible in this current world.” But he added that “it is not correct to say that Moscow can convince Mr. Assad to do whatever is wanted in Moscow. This is totally wrong.”

Russia has provided military support for the Syrian government since September 2015, turning the balance of power in Assad’s favor. Moscow has used its veto power at the Security Council on several occasions since the civil war began six years ago to prevent sanctions against Damascus.

Syria maintains it didn’t use chemical weapons, blaming opposition fighters for stockpiling the chemicals. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory on the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun.

Trump had said the attack crossed “many, many lines,” and put the blame squarely on Assad’s forces. Speaking Thursday on Air Force One, Trump said the attack “shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said he hopes Trump will take military action, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency quoted him as saying. Erdogan said Turkey would be prepared to do “whatever falls on us” to support possible military action, the news agency reported.

U.S. officials had said they hoped for a vote late Thursday night on a U.N. Security Council resolution that would condemn the chemical attack, but with council members still negotiating the text into the evening, the British Mission’s political coordinator Stephen Hickey tweeted the vote wouldn’t take place until later.

At the United Nations, the U.S. had hoped for a vote Thursday evening on a Security Council resolution it drafted with Britain and France that would have condemned Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons — but it was canceled because of differences among the 15 members.

Russia strongly objected to provisions in that draft and circulated its own text which diplomats said wasn’t acceptable to the three Western nations. The 10 elected council members then presented what they hoped would be a compromise text on Thursday that addressed a key Russian objection — spelling out Syrian government obligations to investigators.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said the canceled vote “opens a window of opportunity” to keep working to find a compromise. He said he was grateful for the draft submitted by the elected members “because it’s a clear attempt to find a common denominator” but he said it has to carefully studied in Moscow.

Safronkov stressed that a resolution “should not, cannot and will not pre-judge the outcome from (an) investigation.” The attack happened in Syria’s Idlib province about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Turkish border, and the Turkish government — a close ally of Syria’s rebels — set up a decontamination center at a border crossing in Hatay province, where the victims were treated initially.

Turkish officials said nearly 60 victims of the attack were brought to Turkey for treatment and three of them died. Victims showed signs of nerve gas exposure, including suffocation, foaming at the mouth, convulsions, constricted pupils and involuntary defecation, the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders said. Paramedics used fire hoses to wash the chemicals from the bodies of victims.

Visuals from the scene were reminiscent of a 2013 nerve gas attack on the suburbs of Damascus that left hundreds dead. In Turkey, Anadolu and the private DHA news agencies on Thursday quoted Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag as saying “it was determined after the autopsy that a chemical weapon was used.”

The Turkish Health Ministry said later that “according to the results of the first analysis, there were findings suggesting that the patients were exposed to chemical substance (sarin).”

Ian Phillips contributed from Moscow. Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

2017-03-31

LONDON – Syria’s army and allied fighters have regained most of the territory they lost during an assault launched by rebels and jihadists earlier this month in the country’s center, a monitor said Friday.

“The regime has recaptured 75 percent of the territory it lost in the north of Hama province,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

An array of factions, including an alliance headed by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, launched an assault on government positions in Hama province on March 21, seizing several strategic areas.

But after a string of losses, the regime sent significant reinforcements to the region, the Observatory said, and has been able to reverse most of its losses, backed by heavy air strikes from ally Russia.

The factions involved in the assault still hold a handful of newly gained areas, including the town of Suran, which has changed hands several times since the Syrian war began in 2011.

Hama province is of strategic importance to President Bashar al-Assad, as it separates opposition forces in the northwestern province of Idlib from Damascus to the south and from the regime’s coastal heartlands to the west.

The Observatory said the fighting had killed dozens on both sides, but was unable to give a precise toll.

Syria’s opposition has accused the government of using “toxic substances” in its battle to repel the assault.

On Thursday, air strikes on several areas in the north of Hama province left around 50 people suffering respiratory problems, according to the Observatory, which could not confirm the cause of the symptoms.

The Syrian opposition National Coalition cited doctors in the area reporting “symptoms that included frothing at the mouth, pinpoint pupils, shortness of breath, burning eyes, and general weakness”.

Syria’s government agreed to turn over its chemical weapons in 2013 and joined the Chemical Weapons Convention.

But there have been repeated allegations of ongoing chemical weapons use, and a UN-led investigation has pointed the finger at the government for at least three attacks involving chlorine bombs in 2014 and 2015.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=82346.

March 03, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s military announced on Thursday it has fully recaptured the historic town of Palmyra from the Islamic State group as the militants’ defenses crumbled and IS fighters fled in the face of artillery fire and intense Russia-backed airstrikes.

The development marks the third time that the town — famed for its priceless Roman ruins and archaeological treasures IS had sought to destroy — has changed hands in one year. It was also the second blow for the Islamic State group in Syria in a week, after Turkish backed opposition fighters seized the Syrian town of al-Bab from the militants on Feb. 23, following a grueling three month battle. In neighboring Iraq, the Sunni extremist group is fighting for survival in its last urban bastion in the western part of the city of Mosul.

For the Syrian government, the news was a welcome development against the backdrop of peace talks underway with the opposition in Switzerland. “You are all invited to visit the historic city of Palmyra and witness its beauty, now that it has been liberated,” the Damascus envoy to the U.N.-mediated talks, Bashar al-Ja’afari, told reporters in Geneva.

“Of course, counterterrorism operations will continue until the last inch of our territory is liberated from the hands of these foreign terrorist organizations, which are wreaking havoc in our country,” he added.

The Damascus military statement said troops gained full control of the desert town in central Syria following a series of military operations carried out with the help of Russian air cover and in cooperation with “allied and friendly troops” — government shorthand for members of Lebanese militant Hezbollah group who are fighting along Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

IS defenses around Palmyra had begun to erode on Sunday, with government troops reaching the town’s outskirts on Tuesday. The state SANA news agency reported earlier that government troops had entered the town’s archaeological site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, around mid-day, then the town itself, as IS militants fled the area.

This is the Syrian government’s second campaign to retake Palmyra. It seized the town from Islamic State militants last March only to lose it again 10 months later. Before the civil war gripped Syria in 2011, Palmyra was a top tourist attraction, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, had said earlier that Russian President Vladimir Putin was informed by his defense minister that Syrian troops had gained control of Palmyra, with support from Russian warplanes.

The Syrian government’s push has relied on ground support from Hezbollah and Russian air cover, according to Hezbollah’s media outlets. Archeologists have decried what they say is extensive damage to its ruins.

Drone footage released by Russia’s Defense Ministry earlier this month showed new damage to the facade of Palmyra’s Roman-era theater and the adjoining Tetrapylon — a set of four monuments with four columns each at the center of the colonnaded road leading to the theater.

A 2014 report by a U.N. research agency disclosed satellite evidence of looting while the ruins were under Syrian military control. Opposition factions have also admitted to looting the antiquities for funds.

IS militants have twice used the town’s Roman theater as a stage for mass killings, most recently in January, when they shot and beheaded a number of captives they said had tried to escape their December advance. Other IS killings were said to have taken place in the courtyard of the Palmyra museum and in a former Russian base in the town.

The developments in Palmyra came against the backdrop of the talks in Geneva, which have been without any tangible breakthroughs so far. Diplomats and negotiators have set their sights on modest achievements in the latest round, after a week of discussions centering on setting an agenda for future talks.

On Thursday, U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura held another round of meetings with both the government delegation and opposition groups. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told reporters Wednesday that “the parties have agreed to … discuss all issues in a parallel way, on several tracks.”

After a Damascus request, the issue of terrorism is also on the table, he had said. Russia is a key sponsor of Assad’s government. A top Syrian opposition negotiator, Nasr al-Hariri, said the talks would likely culminate in a closing ceremony on Friday and the parties may be back in Geneva for further discussions in a few weeks.

Setting the agenda and strategy to guide discussions has proven difficult as the main conflicting parties dig in their heels over form and semantics. In Turkey, the country’s foreign minister said that with the completion of an operation to retake the IS-held town of al-Bab in northern Syria, Turkish troops will head to the Syrian town of Manbij next, to oust U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces that Ankara views as terrorists and a threat to Turkey.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that Turkey would not shy away from attacking the Kurdish group that dominates the Syria Democratic Forces, which captured Manbij last year after weeks of deadly fighting with IS.

He renewed calls for the new U.S. administration not to support the Kurdish forces. Cavusoglu stressed that an operation to take Manbij had not started yet, but acknowledged that skirmishes between Turkish-backed forces and the Kurdish fighters may have occurred.

That front line in northern Syria was further complicated by a concurrent announcement by the Syrian Kurdish side on Thursday that they had agreed with Russia to withdraw from some of the territory between al-Bab and Manbij, to make room for a buffer.

The Manbij Military Council, part of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said that under the deal, they will withdraw from a front line with rival Turkish-backed forces near the Euphrates River. This will allow Syrian government forces to create a buffer between them.

However, Cavusoglu denied any such agreement was reached. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government. The Turkish and Syrian authorities have long regarded each other with thinly-veiled hostility.

Soguel reported from Geneva. Associated Press writers Philip Issa in Beirut, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

2017-03-01

PALMYRA – Syrian government forces backed by Russian soldiers advanced Wednesday to the outskirts of ancient Palmyra after battles with the Islamic State group, a monitor and a military source said.

“Regime forces and Russian troops are about one kilometer from the city,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

After seizing a string of hilltops overlooking Palmyra, the troops had “the western half of the city” within firing range, Abdel Rahman added.

“They are close to capturing the citadel. IS withdrew from it, but they may have left suicide bombers inside,” he warned.

Supported by Russian air strikes and ground troops, Syrian government forces have been battling for weeks through the desert in the central province of Homs to reach Palmyra.

IS jihadists first seized Palmyra in May 2015 and began to systematically destroy the city’s monuments and temples, while also looting its many archaeological treasures.

They were driven out in March 2016 but recaptured the town last December.

Syrian state media confirmed Wednesday that government forces were now in control of key territory near the city.

“Seizing control of the Mount Hilal and other hilltops overlooking Palmyra is an important step towards the collapse of the terrorist groups in the city,” state news agency SANA reported.

A senior military source in Damascus told said on Wednesday that the army had also reached a strategic crossroads leading into Palmyra.

“This crossroads is the key to entering the city,” the source told said.

“Our forces have not yet taken the citadel, but the city is within firing range,” he added.

IS has ravaged the city’s celebrated heritage, blowing up funerary towers and carrying out mass executions in the city’s Roman theater.

Last month, IS destroyed Palmyra’s tetrapylon monument, while satellite images showed damage to the theater’s facade.

The new destruction was condemned by the United Nations as a “war crime.”

On Wednesday, two funeral busts damaged by IS after it first captured Palmyra were brought back to Syria after being restored in Italy.

February 18, 2017

Syrian regime forces have executed the Syrian pediatrician Mahmoud Satu after he was indicted for treating and feeding the children of Aleppo when its eastern districts were controlled by the opposition, the Jordanian Assabeel newspaper reported yesterday.

Citing the London-based news website Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, Assabeel said that local sources in Aleppo said that Satu and another Syrian resident called Ahmed Assad were executed two months after they were arrested.

According to the sources, the two men were executed in the main square of the Al-Sukarri neighborhood in Aleppo, the area where he and his family had lived.

Sources close to Satu told a Syrian news site El-Dorar that he was arrested on 11 December 2016, when the regime raided the Al-Salihin neighborhood in Aleppo. The Syrian news site also said that the pediatrician and his family were captured when they were trying to leave Aleppo with the other residents.

Satu worked in the city of Aleppo in field hospitals. He was reported as having refused to leave Aleppo along with his family, but they were arrested and the doctor was executed over “treating and feeding the children of terrorists.”

According to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, Satu wrote on his Facebook page before he was arrested: “What is going on in Aleppo is heart-breaking and a savage and barbaric act which is not being done except by a dog dealing with pigs. He [Al-Assad] forgets that God is watching.”

The Syrian regime and its Iran-backed Shia jihadist allies, backed by Russian airpower, gained control of Aleppo after three months of fierce ground attacks and airstrikes. Hundreds of civilians were killed and wounded as homes, schools and hospitals were targeted.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170218-syria-regime-executes-paediatrician-for-treating-aleppo-children/.

07 February 2017 Tuesday

As many as 13,000 people were hanged in five years at a notorious Syrian government prison near Damascus, Amnesty International said Tuesday, accusing the regime of a “policy of extermination.”

Titled “Human Slaughterhouse: Mass hanging and extermination at Saydnaya prison,” Amnesty’s damning report is based on interviews with 84 witnesses, including guards, detainees, and judges.

It found that at least once a week between 2011 and 2015, groups of up to 50 people were taken out of their prison cells for arbitrary trials, beaten, then hanged “in the middle of the night and in total secrecy.”

“Throughout this process, they remain blindfolded. They do not know when or how they will die until the noose was placed around their necks,” the rights group wrote.

Most of the victims were civilians believed to be opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“They kept them (hanging) there for 10 to 15 minutes,” a former judge who witnessed the executions said.

“For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks,” he said.

Amnesty said the practices amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity, but were likely still taking place.

Thousands of prisoners are held in the military-run Saydnaya prison, one of the country’s largest detention centers located 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of Damascus.

Amnesty accused the Syrian government of carrying out a “policy of extermination” there by repeatedly torturing detainees and withholding food, water, and medical care.

Prisoners were raped or forced to rape each other, and guards would feed detainees by tossing meals onto the cell floor, which was often covered in dirt and blood.

‘Hidden, monstrous campaign’

A twisted set of “special rules” governed the facility: detainees were not allowed to speak and must assume certain positions when guards enter their cells.

“Every day there would be two or three dead people in our wing… I remember the guard would ask how many we had. He would say, ‘Room number one – how many? Room number two – how many?’ and on and on,” said Nader, a former detainee whose name has been changed.

After one fierce day of beating, Nader said, 13 people died in a single wing of the prison.

One former military officer said he could hear “gurgling” as people were hanged in an execution room below.

“If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling,” said Hamid, who was arrested in 2011.

“We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death. This was normal for me then,” he told Amnesty.

The group has previously said that more than 17,700 people were estimated to have died in government custody across Syria since the country’s conflict erupted in March 2011.

The figure of 13,000 deaths in a single prison, therefore, is a marked increase.

“The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty’s Beirut office.

“The cold-blooded killing of thousands of defenseless prisoners, along with the carefully crafted and systematic programs of psychological and physical torture that are in place inside Saydnaya Prison cannot be allowed to continue,” she said.

A probe by the United Nations last year accused Assad’s government of a policy of “extermination” in its jails.

More than 310,000 people have been killed and millions have fled their homes since the conflict began with anti-Assad protests.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/184341/syria-regime-hanged-13000-in-notorious-prison.

January 17, 2017

Daesh laid siege to a military airport which is under the control of Syrian regime forces in the city of Deir ez-Zor yesterday, as forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad struggle to maintain any effective presence in the eastern Syrian city.

After days of fierce fighting, Daesh fighters managed to cut off all supply routes and divide the territories held by the Assad regime while taking control of important sites in the vicinity of the airbase.

Deir ez-Zor, which is the largest city in the eastern part of Syria,has long been under siege by Daesh.

However, the Syrian army forces were in control of certain neighborhoods, including the city’s airport. For long periods residents of Deir ez-Zor and the servicemen needed air drops for food and essential supplies.

The military airbase has been described as a “small island” surrounded by the territories under Daesh control. Since opposition forces took control of the region in 2014, militants made countless attempts to take control and besiege the airbase but had failed to take full control.

Safa news agency reported a military official who commented on the latest siege of the military airport saying that “this attack was the fiercest onslaught initiated by [Daesh] on the airport and the region.”

Daesh has now successfully cut through the only land supply route between the base and Deir ez-Zor.

If Daesh manages to control the airbase and Deir ez-Zor,it will be seen as a bigger blow to the regime than its defeat in Palmyra which, unlike Deir ez-Zor did not have an airbase with Syrian forces to defend it.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170117-daesh-lays-siege-to-syria-regime-airbase-in-deir-ez-zor/.

January 6, 2017

A group of Syrian regime soldiers deflected yesterday from their ranks and joined rebels fighting in Wadi Barada, near Damascus, media spokesman of the Free Syrian Army in the area, Abu Mohammed Al-Baradawi said.

Al-Baradawi told Gulf Online that “the Free Syrian Army forces secured the defection from the pro-regime army soldiers until they reached the opposition-held areas.”

Violent clashes erupted during the early hours of yesterday morning as the Syrian regime forces tried to advance to the village of Busujima in Wadi Barada using tanks.

The rebels managed to destroy one of the regime’s tanks and killing a group of soldiers.

Clashes and shelling against the opposition-held area of Wadi Barada continued despite a UN Security Council decision on 31 December to supports the Russian-Turkish plan for a nationwide ceasefire.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170106-pro-regime-soldiers-join-opposition-in-wadi-barada/.

December 23, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian government took full control of Aleppo on Thursday for the first time in four years after the last opposition fighters and civilians were bused out of war-ravaged eastern districts, sealing the end of the rebellion’s most important stronghold.

The evacuations ended a brutal chapter in Syria’s nearly six-year civil war, allowing President Bashar Assad to regain full authority over the country’s largest city and former commercial powerhouse. It marked his most significant victory since an uprising against his family’s four-decade rule began in 2011.

The announcement was made via an army statement broadcast on Syrian state TV shortly after the last four buses carrying fighters left through the Ramousseh crossing. “Thanks to the blood of our heroic martyrs, the heroic deeds and sacrifices of our armed forces and the allied forces, and the steadfastness of our people, the General Command of the Army and the Armed Forces announces the return of security and stability to Aleppo,” an army general said in the statement.

Western Aleppo erupted in heavy celebratory gunfire, with Syrian TV showing uniformed soldiers and civilians shouting “Aleppo, Aleppo!” and “God, Syria and Bashar only!” “No more east and west, Aleppo is back for all Aleppans,” said the Syrian TV correspondent, surrounded by people waving Syrian flags.

For Syria’s opposition, it was a crushing defeat that signaled the start of a new struggle to forge a way forward. Ahmad al-Khatib, an opposition media activist who left the city before the siege, said the fall of Aleppo was a date “we’ll never forget and we will never forgive.”

“Let the world bear witness that Bashar Assad has killed and displaced and destroyed Aleppo, and he celebrates in his victory over the blood and offspring of Aleppo … with the agreement of the Arab and Western nations,” he posted on Twitter.

The ancient city had been divided into rebel and government parts since 2012, when rebels from the countryside swept in and took hold of eastern districts. That set the stage for more than four years of brutal fighting and government bombardment that laid waste to those neighborhoods.

The army statement said the victory in Aleppo is a “strategic transformation and a turning point in the war on terrorism and a deadly blow to the terrorist project and its supporters.” It was a further incentive to keep fighting to “eradicate terrorism and restore security and stability to every span of the homeland,” it added.

Earlier in the day, Assad said his forces’ achievements in Aleppo are a “major step on the road to wiping out terrorism” and ending the civil war. The rebel evacuations were set in motion after a months-long siege and Russian-backed military campaign. Years of resistance were stamped out in a relentless campaign over the past month that saw hospitals bombed, bodies left unburied and civilians killed by shells as they fled for safety.

The campaign targeted all remaining hospitals, knocking them out of service. Medical and food supplies ran out and fighters were left demoralized and abandoned by their regional allies. Under a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey, tens of thousands of residents and fighters began evacuating to opposition-controlled areas in the surrounding countryside, a process that took a week.

More than 35,000 fighters and civilians were bused out, according to the United Nations. The ICRC said in a statement that more than 4,000 additional fighters were evacuated in private cars, vans and trucks since Wednesday.

The departure of the last convoy Thursday was a humiliating defeat for the opposition. The rebels’ hold in Aleppo was a major point of pride, and at times the city seemed to be an invulnerable part of what was once a growing opposition-held patch of territory in the north.

The divided northern city has paid dearly as a central theater of the war. In the past month alone, hundreds of civilians were killed by intense bombardment of rebel-held zones. A photo of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh — confused and covered in dust and blood as he sat in an ambulance after being rescued in August from the rubble of a building — became a haunting image in the unforgiving struggle.

Associated Press writers Philip Issa and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed reporting.

2016-12-16

ALEPPO – The Syrian government on Friday suspended an operation to evacuate civilians and fighters from the last rebel-held parts of Aleppo, accusing the opposition of violating the deal, a security source said.

An AFP correspondent heard gunfire and explosions in Ramussa, the government-held neighborhood that evacuees had been passing through, and said buses and ambulances waiting to collect residents had left empty.

“The evacuation operation has been suspended because the militants failed to respect the conditions of the agreement,” the security source told AFP.

“The terrorist groups violated the agreement and tried to smuggle heavy weapons and hostages from east Aleppo,” state television said.

Robert Mardini, regional head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, confirmed Friday that “regretfully, the operation was put on hold”.

“We urge the parties to ensure it can be relaunched and proceed in the right conditions,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said the suspension was a bid to pressure rebels to allow evacuations from two government-held villages under opposition siege.

“Ahrar al-Sham and other rebel groups have prevented buses and ambulances from entering Fuaa and Kafraya, despite pledging to the Turks that they would let the evacuation go ahead,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Abdel Rahman said pro-government fighters were also blocking the route out of the city in a bid to pressure rebels to allow the evacuation of Fuaa and Kafraya.

The two Shiite-majority villages are in Idlib province, which is mostly controlled by rebel groups, and have been under siege since 2015.

Syria’s government and its ally Iran reportedly blocked initial implementation of the Aleppo evacuation on Wednesday until a deal to allow the injured and sick to leave the villages was agreed.

The delicate operation to evacuate remaining civilians and fighters from east Aleppo began on Thursday afternoon and continued through the night.

The Observatory said around 8,500 people had left the city, going to rebel-held territory in the west of the province.

The army began an operation to recapture all of Aleppo in mid-November, and had overrun more than 90 percent of the former rebel bastion in the east of the city before the evacuations began.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80375.