Fiercest airstrikes yet on Aleppo after Syria declares offensive
Ellen Francis, Tom Perry, Reuters, Sep 23 2016
BEIRUT – Warplanes launched some of the heaviest air strikes yet on rebel-held areas of Aleppo on Friday after the Syrian army declared an offensive to fully capture the city. Residents said the streets were deserted as the 250,000 people still trapped in the besieged opposition-held sector of Aleppo sought shelter from jets. The rebels and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described raids by sophisticated jets they said must belong to Russia. Residents also spoke of attacks by helicopters using bombs made from oil drums, a tactic usually attributed to the Syrian army. Mohammad Abu Rajab, a radiologist, told Reuters:
Can you hear it? The neighbourhood is getting hit right now by missiles! We can hear the planes right now! The planes are not leaving the sky! Helicopters, barrel bombs, warplanes!
The intensive bombardment left no doubt that the Syrian government and its Russian allies had spurned a plea from Jackass Kerry to halt flights to resurrect the ceasefire, which lasted a week before collapsing on Monday. A rebel commander said the blasts were the fiercest the city had faced. He said in a voice recording sent to Reuters:
I woke up to a powerful earthquake though I was in a place far away from where the missile landed.
His group had “martyrs under the rubble” in three locations. In a late-night announcement on Thursday, the Syrian military announced “the start of its operations in the eastern districts of Aleppo” and warned people to stay away from “the headquarters and positions of the armed terrorist gangs.” The statement gave no details of what the operation may entail. Eastern Aleppo had already been the target of intense air strikes on Thursday. A source close to Damascus told Reuters on Friday:
A major ground operation had yet to begin. Military operations include everything, and of course the most important part is the ground operation.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian or Syrian militaries on Friday’s air strikes. The Syrian army’s declaration of the offensive coincided with international meetings on Syria in New York. The Observatory said there were at least 40 air strikes since midnight. Ammar al-Selmo, the head of civil defence rescue service in opposition-held Aleppo, said three of its four centres in Aleppo had been hit. He told Reuters:
What’s happening now is annihilation in every sense of the word. Today the bombardment is more violent, with a larger number of planes.
Assad remains characteristically defiant, saying on Thursday he expected the conflict to “drag on” as long as it is part of a global conflict in which the groups fighting him are backed by Turks, Toads, Thanis & Pindos. On Thursday at the UN, Pindostan and Russia failed to agree on how to revive the ceasefire during what Staffan de Mistura called a “long, painful, difficult and disappointing” meeting. The International Syria Support Group met on the sidelines of the annual UNGA in New York. Expressing concern at the reports of the planned new Syrian offensive, Jackass said:
We have exchanged ideas with the Russians and we plan to consult tomorrow with respect to those ideas. I am no less determined today than I was yesterday, but I am even more frustrated.
Western states have backed Jackass’ call to ground warplanes to create the right conditions for the truce. French FM Ayrault described Sergei Lavrov’s response to that proposal as “not satisfying.”
Jets pound rebel-held Aleppo after army offensive declared: rescue worker, monitor
Reuters, Sep 22 2016
Warplanes targeted rebel-held areas of eastern Aleppo on Friday in a second day of heavy bombardment hours after the army announced the start of a military operation there, rescue workers and activists said. The Syrian military said late on Thursday it was starting a new operation against the rebel-held east, which was also targeted in heavy air strikes on Thursday. Ammar al-Selmo, the head of the civil defence rescue service in eastern Aleppo, told Reuters a squadron of five warplanes was in the skies over the city, identifying them as Russian. A fresh wave of bombing had started at from 6 am, after heavy overnight attacks, he said. “What’s happening now is annihilation,” he said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 30 air strikes had targeted different areas of Aleppo from midnight.
Syria announces new offensive, diplomats fail to renew truce
Tom Perry, Lesley Wroughton, Reuters, Sep 22 2916
BEIRUT/NEW YORK – Syria announced a new offensive against rebel-held areas of Aleppo on Thursday while diplomats failed to find a way in New York to revive the ceasefire that collapsed this week. Warplanes mounted the heaviest air strikes in months against rebel-held districts of Syria’s commercial hub and largest city. Rebel officials and rescue workers said incendiary bombs were among the weapons that rained down on Aleppo. Hamza al-Khatib, the director of a hospital in the rebel-held east, told Reuters 45 people were killed. Ammar al-Selmo, the head of the civil defense rescue service in opposition-held eastern Aleppo, told Reuters:
It’s as if the planes are trying to compensate for all the days they didn’t drop bombs during the ceasefire.
Syrian state media announced the new offensive and quoted the army’s military headquarters in Aleppo urging civilians in eastern parts of the city to avoid areas where terrorists were located and said it had prepared exit points for those who want to flee, including rebels. The Syrian army announcement did not say whether the campaign would also include a ground incursion. The aerial assault signaled Moscow and Damascus had rejected a plea by Jackass Kerry to halt flights so aid could be delivered and the ceasefire salvaged. In a tense televised exchange with Sergei Lavrov at the UN on Wednesday, Jackass said stopping the bombardment was the last chance to find a way out of the “carnage.” Assad indicated he saw no quick end to the war, telling AP it would “drag on” as long as it is part of a global conflict in which terrorists are backed by Turks, Toads, Thanis & Pindosis.
The ceasefire deal suffered two blows in the last week. On Saturday, Pindostan carried out a lethal air raid on Syrian government troops. Washington said it hit Syrian forces by mistake. Assad said in his interview he believed the strikes, which he said lasted over an hour, were deliberate. On Monday, the ceasefire foundered further with an attack on an aid convoy that killed around 20 people and that Washington blamed on Russian planes. Russia denied involvement. In another sign of the Syrian government’s determination to gain territory, it evacuated more rebel fighters from the last opposition-held district of Homs, which would complete the government’s recapture of the central city, now largely in ruins. Foreign ministers emerged from a meeting in New York having failed to find a way back to a ceasefire, though Jackass Kerry said he was willing to keep trying if Russia came back with new ideas. Jackass told reporters after the session:
I am no less determined today than I was yesterday, but I am even more frustrated.
Staffan de Mistura told reporters after the meeting of the International Syria Support Group:
It was a long, painful, difficult and disappointing meeting.
A senior Pindo boxtop put the onus on Moscow to come up with ideas on how to ground the Syrian air force. However, emerging from a meeting that he said was “intense,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Lavrov’s response to a proposal for grounding planes as “not satisfying.” Assad has steadily tightened his grip on the opposition-held eastern areas of Aleppo this year, achieving a long-held goal of fully encircling it this summer. Capturing the rebel-held half of Syria’s largest city would be the biggest victory of the war for the government side, which has already achieved its strongest position in years thanks to Russian and Iranian support. The UN announced that it was resuming aid deliveries to rebel-held areas on Thursday following a 48-hour suspension to review security guarantees after Monday’s attack on the aid convoy near Aleppo. Assad has appeared as uncompromising as ever in recent weeks, reiterating his goal of taking back the whole country. The government’s main focus has been to consolidate its grip over the main cities of western Syria and the coastal region.
Syria army announces offensive on rebel-held Aleppo
AFP, Sep 22 2016
DAMASCUS – Syria’s army announced the launch Thursday of an offensive to retake the rebel-held east of Aleppo, warning residents to keep away from positions held by anti-regime fighters. It said in a statement:
The military operations command announces the start of operations in eastern districts of the city and calls on residents to stay away from the positions of terrorist groups.
The announcement came shortly after Pindostan and Russia convened a last-ditch meeting in New York to save their Syria ceasefire plan and followed several hours of intensive bombardment that left Aleppo in flames. The army also said it would take “all measures to facilitate the reception” of civilians and that those who arrive at its checkpoints would not be arrested. Aleppo has been divided since 2012 with western districts controlled by the government and the east in rebel hands. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ head, Rami Abd’ul-Rahman, said:
This was a large-scale land offensive supported by Russian air strikes, aimed at taking bit by bit the eastern sector of Aleppo and emptying it of its residents. The initial targets were the Amiriyah, Sukari and Sheikh Said sectors, to the south, said the monitoring group. Late Thursday, intense air raids battered the area. The rebel areas of the town suffered the most intense strikes for several months.
An AFP correspondent in the rebel-held east of Aleppo witnessed a dozen families fleeing the Soukkari district for other rebel areas further north. The Britain-based Observatory said earlier that bombardment and air strikes since Wednesday night targeting the rebel-held neighbourhoods of Bustan al-Qasr and Al-Kalasseh had triggered “massive fires.” The estimated 250,000 residents of east Aleppo, which rebels have held since 2012, have been living under government siege since early September. The renewed heavy fighting follows the breakdown on Monday of a short-lived truce that had been brokered by Washington and Moscow. Major boxtops from Pindostan and Russia were meeting Thursday with other key boxtops in New York, after Ban Ki-moon said Syria’s peace process was facing a “make or break moment.”
Syrian rebels evacuated from opposition-held district in Homs, witnesses say
Reuters, Sep 22 2016
The planned evacuation of several hundred Syrian rebels from their last foothold in the city of Homs began on Thursday, with around 120 fighters and their families scheduled to leave by bus, witnesses and state media said. The fighters, carrying their personal weapons, and their families will head from the al-Waer neighborhood to the rebel-held northern Homs countryside, then travel on to rebel-held Idlib province, Homs Governor Talal Barazi said on Thursday. The evacuation is part of the Syrian government’s attempts to conclude local agreements with rebels in besieged areas that have resulted in rebels being given safe passage to insurgent-controlled areas. Rebels say the agreements are part of a government strategy to forcibly displace populations from opposition-held areas after years of siege and bombardment. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates several thousand rebel fighters remain in Waer. Barazai has said Waer contains around 40,000 civilians and 800 fighters. He expects the neighborhood to be free of weapons and fighters in around 20 to 25 days, if all goes according to plan. The latest evacuation of fighters from Waer was postponed from Monday, and the rebels were originally expected to head to the insurgent stronghold of Idlib province in north-western Syria.
Turks won’t take part in Raqqa operation if Kurds do: Erdogan spox
Reuters, Sep 22 2016
ANKARA – Erdogan’s spokesman on Thursday ruled out the possibility of Turkey joining an operation by coalition forces against Daesh in Raqqa if Kurdish fighters also take part. Ibrahim Kalin told an interview on state-run news channel TRT Haber:
Negotiations are still ongoing, there is nothing certain yet. Our principled stance is the same as it was with Manbij and Jarablus. It is out of the question for us to take part in an operation in which the PYD/YPG are present. In principle, we support Raqqa and the other Syrian cities being cleansed from Daesh, but as we said before, we have principles and conditions on the issue.
Assad Says Pindostan Lacks ‘Will’ to Join Russia Fighting Daesh
AP, Sep 22 2016
Assad rejected Pindo accusations that Syrian or Russian planes struck an aid convoy in Aleppo or that his troops were preventing food from entering the city’s rebel-held eastern neighborhoods, blaming Pindostan for the collapse of the ceasefire. In an interview with AP in Damascus, Assad also said deadly Pindo airstrikes on Syrian troops last week were intentional, dismissing Pindo boxtops’ statements that they were an accident. Assad said that Pindostan lacked “the will” to join forces with Russia in fighting extremists. Assad said his enemies alone were to blame for nearly six years of devastation across Syria, and while acknowledging some mistakes, he repeatedly denied any excesses by his troops. He said the war was only likely to “drag on” because of continued external support for his opponents. He said:
When you have many external factors that you don’t control, it’s going to drag on and no one in this world can tell you when the war will end. Syrians who fled the country could return within a few months if the Turks, Toads, Thanis & Pindosis stopped backing insurgents.
The attack on the aid convoy outside Aleppo took place Monday night, hitting a warehouse as aid workers unloaded cargo and triggering huge explosions. Footage filmed by rescuers showed torn flesh being picked from the wreckage. Witnesses described a sustained, two-hour barrage that included barrel bombs: crude, unguided explosives that the Syrian government drops from helicopters. A senior Pindo boxtop said that Pindostan believes with a very high degree of confidence that a Russian-piloted aircraft carried out the strike. Assad dismissed the claims, saying whatever Pindo boxtops say “has no credibility” and is “just lies.” Like Syria, Russia has denied carrying out the convoy bombing.