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Al-Qaida-linked fighters launch new attack in central Syria

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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Clashes in Damascus after surprise rebel assault

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.

Syrian airstrikes on Aleppo amid intense clashes

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.

Rebels launch Aleppo counter-offensive with exploding tanks and missiles

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.

Free Syrian Army liberates new regions

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/.

Syria: Fear rises as Moadamiyeh evacuation begins

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.

Syrian rebels make gains in northern Hama province, capture strategic town

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.

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