Syrian government makes key Aleppo gains
CBS News, Oct 242016
BEIRUT – Syrian government forces and their allies on Monday captured strategic high ground in embattled Aleppo as Russia said it was not planning more “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting in the city’s eastern, rebel-held districts. The fighting in Aleppo came as airstrikes hit towns in the north-western province of Idlib, killing at least 13 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees. They said the people killed were in the towns of Kfar Takharim and Khan Sheikhoun, where a market was hit. Fighting resumed in Aleppo over the weekend, following a days-long lull announced by Moscow that was meant to allow rebels and civilians to leave the eastern districts. The rebels rejected the Russian offer and none of the civilians left the conflicted areas, in what is turning into the key symbolic battle of the five-year-old Syrian civil war. Government troops launched a fresh offensive and on Monday took the hilltop of Bazo on the southern edge of Aleppo, near military bases, and shelled the rebel neighborhoods, according to opposition activists. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Bazo was taken amid heavy bombardment. The Observatory and the Aleppo Media Center reported government shelling in eastern parts of the city.
A video released by the Syrian army showed tanks and cannons pounding rebel positions in the area. The state SANA news agency, meanwhile, said the rebels shelled government-held neighborhoods in western Aleppo, killing one person and wounding seven. A pro-opposition media outlet circulated footage of a powerful and hard-line Islamist rebel coalition known as Jaish al-Fatah announcing that the campaign to break the government’s siege of the city’s east would begin “within hours.” Syrian troops have besieged rebel-held parts of Aleppo for weeks, subjecting the districts to some of the worst air raids since a cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia collapsed on Sept. 19. Opposition activists say more than 600 people have been killed in Aleppo and neighboring villages since then. Jaish al-Fatah commander Ali Abu Odai al-Aloush told the Qasioun News Agency that “zero hour has drawn near,” and that his militants had begun moving toward Aleppo. It was unclear when the interview was recorded. A spokesman for the Nour el-Din al-Zinki rebel faction in Aleppo said an operation to break the government’s siege of the rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo was “coming.” The spokesman, Yasser al-Yousef, said the rebels would not intentionally target civilians in Aleppo’s government-held districts, but warned of collateral damage from the anticipated operations. In Moscow, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia wasn’t planning another humanitarian pause in Aleppo anytime soon. He blamed the rebels for the fact that medical evacuations from eastern Aleppo, planned during the pause, were scrapped at the last moment. He said in comments carried by Russian news agencies:
In order to resume it, our opponents need to make sure the anti-government groups behave properly. What needed to happen didn’t happen. That’s why resuming a humanitarian pause is not on the agenda.
Moscow doesn’t expect any new round of Syria peace talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne until after the Pindo elections. Moscow has taken an increasingly hard line as its support has lead to numerous gains by Assad’s military. On Sunday, Kremlin spox D Peskov said the entire territory of Syria must be “liberated.” Russia’s said Assad needs to stay in power to prevent the country from falling into the hands of Jihadis. Peskov said:
There are just two options: Assad sitting in Damascus or the Nusra sitting in Damascus. And Assad must sit in Damascus to ensure a political settlement.
French FM Ayrault called for an end of the “massive bombing raids” by Russia and Syria to allow for the delivery of aid to beleaguered populations and the resumption of peace efforts. Speaking during a joint news conference with the Turkish FM in Ankara Monday, Ayrault said:
It’s the only way that humanitarian aid can reach populations that really need it. It’s the only that that the negotiations can resume.
Ayrault also said that there cannot be a “lasting peace” in Syria “outside of a political solution.”
Mosul offensive: Daesh fleeing to Syria, says tribal leader
Euan McKirdy, Mohammed Tawfiq, Michael Holmes, CNN, Oct 24 2016
Near MOSUL – Hundreds of Daesh are fleeing Mosul in Iraq and crossing into neighboring Syria as coalition forces close in on the city, a powerful tribal leader in the region says. Sheikh Abdullah al-Yawer, a tribal leader in the town of Rabia, on Iraq’s border with Syria, told CNN Monday that dozens of Daesh and their families were fleeing the city each day, and crossing into Syria at Ba’aaj, a Daesh-controlled crossing point south of Sinjar. The route was entirely along corridors under Daesh control, he said. Fleeing civilians with no affiliation to Daesh usually ended up in the Syrian town of al-Hul, which is under Kurdish control, he said. Coalition forces celebrated better-than-expected territorial gains over the weekend and artillery fire pummeled ISIS positions in the encircled town of Bashiqa early Monday morning in the relentless push for Mosul. According to the Iraqi Joint Operations Command center, 78 towns and villages have been liberated so far as the operation to retake the city enters its second week. The center said 772 Daesh had been killed and 23 detained, 127 car & truck bombs were destroyed, two bomb-making factories were discovered and nearly 400 IEDs were remotely detonated so far. Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk said:
The offensive is remarkable for both its speed and the level of cooperation that this disparate group is showing in the face of its common enemy, an extraordinary union of factions that have long stood on opposing sides in Iraq’s history, with Kurdish forces, Christians and Shia Muslims fighting alongside the majority Sunni Arabs. The thousands of ground troops were supported from above with a concentrated program of airstrikes aimed at weakening Daesh’s defenses, the highest weekly number since the campaign against the terror group began.
The coalition force, which vastly exceeds Daesh’s numbers, is closing in on the beleaguered city, still home to an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 civilians.
But the coalition is well aware that resistance, already tough in the open fields and small villages surrounding the main prize, is likely to ramp up significantly when the city’s perimeter is breached. Daesh has been in control of Mosul for two years and the militants have time and time again proved themselves adept at bloody urban warfare. The city was important to the terror group as the cultural capital of its envisaged Caliphate. With this weekend’s gains have come pockets of horrific losses. Daesh executed about 40 people who were celebrating the apparent liberation of their villages by Iraqi forces, a Mosul City Council boxtop said Sunday, citing local sources. The boxtop said that although Iraqi troops passed through the village where the executions took place, near Nimrud, south of Mosul, they did not leave units behind to ensure that Daesh stayed out. These follow executions on Thursday and Friday, when Daesh rounded up and shot dead 284 men and boys, an Iraqi intelligence source told CNN. Emergency crews have been working around the clock to extinguish a fire at a sulfur factory in Qayyara, about 30 km south of Mosul, that was torched by Daesh. The fire, started when Daesh left explosives and slow-burning oil in sulfur deposits and around the facility, has sent plumes of toxic smoke in the air, causing hundreds to seek medical help.