Posts Tagged ‘President Bashar al-Assad’

Syrian army to help Kurdish forces repel Turkish offensive in Afrin

February 19, 2018

The Damascus government and Kurdish forces have reportedly agreed to join forces in Afrin to counter an ongoing Turkish offensive. The cooperation underscores the increasingly tangled battlefield in northern Syria.

People look on as smoke rises on the Syrian side of the border in Hassa, near Hatay, southern Turkey, on January 28, 2018, as Turkish jet fighters hit People's Protection Units (YPG) positions. (Getty Images/AFP/O. Kose)

The Syrian army could enter the Kurdish-held enclave in Afrin within the next two days after the Kurds agreed to let the Damascus government repel a Turkish offensive, Reuters news agency reported on Sunday, citing a senior Kurdish official.

The agreement, supposedly brokered by Russia, further complicates the conflict in Northern Syria as rivalries and alliances among Kurdish forces, the Syrian government, rebel factions, Turkey, the United States and Russia become more entangled.

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Read more: Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

What the Kurds said

  • The agreement allows paramilitaries allied with the Syrian government to enter Afrin to support the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fend off Turkish forces, the DPA news agency reported, citing an anonymous source.
  • Badran Jia Kurd, an advisor to the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria, told Reuters Syrian army troops would deploy along some border positions in the Afrin region.
  • Jia Kurd said the agreement with Damascus on Afrin was strictly military with no wider political arrangements, but added: “We can cooperate with any side that lends us a helping hand in light of barbaric crimes and the international silence.”
  • Jia Kurd said there is opposition to the deal that could prevent it from being implemented.

Read more: Are Turkey and Russia at odds in northern Syria?

What does this mean? The Damascus government and Kurdish forces each hold more territory than any other side in the Syrian civil war. Their cooperation could be pivotal as to how the conflict unfolds.

Who are they repelling? Ankara launched an air and ground offensive on the Afrin region in January against the YPG militia. It views the YPG as terrorists with links to an armed insurrection in Turkey. For the Turkish government, attacking Afrin is about assuring geopolitical interests and domestic security.

Are Kurdish goals compatible with Syria’s? President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the YPG have mostly avoided direct conflict. However, they have occasionally clashed and have very different visions for Syria’s future. Both believe in a possibility for a long-term agreement, but Assad has said he wants to take back the whole country.

How powerful are the Kurds? Since the onset of Syria’s conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have established three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin near the Turkish border. Their sphere of influence has expanded as they seized territory from the “Islamic State” group with the help of the US. However, Washington opposes the Kurds’ political ambitions, as does the Syrian government.

What happens next? Jia Kurd has said forces are to arrive in two days, but the deal has not been confirmed.

Read more: Who are the Kurds?

dv/aw (Reuters, dpa)


Iran’s Velayati says east Syria, Idlib to be cleared ‘soon’

November 8, 2017


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Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser on international affairs, in Beirut May 18, 2015. REUTERS-Mohamed Azakir

LONDON (Reuters) – A top Iranian official said on Wednesday that forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad will start operations soon to retake the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib and eastern areas.

“Soon we will see eastern Syria cleared, and then the Idlib area in west,” Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin)

Russia In Media Blitz to Save Bashar al-Assad, Discredit Any Reports of Chemical Weapons Use and Other “War Crimes”

November 2, 2017

Russia dismisses UN report on Syria sarin attack

© AFP/File / by Maria PANINA | This Syrian child was among the victims of a suspected sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun on April 4, which a UN report has blamed on the regime of Bashar al-Assad

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia dismissed Thursday a report by a UN-led panel that blamed the Syrian regime for a sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun and said the use of the substance was part of a “theatrical performance” by rebels.

A panel including diplomats and military officers presented Moscow’s version of events complete with diagrams and satellite imagery, saying the Syrian regime did not carry the blame for the April attack which killed over 80 people.

“We believe that the report turned out to be superficial, unprofessional and amateurish,” said Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the foreign ministry’s security and disarmament department.

“The mission did their research from a distance, that in itself is a scandal.”

He said “the use of sarin has been confirmed” but insisted it was not delivered by an aerial bomb but rather used “as a theatrical performance, a provocation” by the rebels.

At least 87 people died on April 4 this year when sarin nerve agent projectiles were fired into Khan Sheikhun, a town in the Idlib province of northwestern Syria.

Images of dead and dying victims, including young children, in the aftermath of the attack provoked global outrage and a US cruise missile strike on a regime air base.

A joint panel by the United Nations and the world’s chemical watchdog Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that the Syrian regime was responsible, and that the air force had dropped a bomb on the town, releasing the deadly nerve agent.

Russia and Syria have however presented an alternative theory that an explosive device was set off on the ground. Ulyanov on Thursday suggested the sarin gas was poured inside the crater in the ground left by the bomb.

– ‘Baseless verdict’ –

Ulyanov spoke as part of a panel of foreign ministry, air force and other Russian officials presenting slides that showed elaborate diagrams of regime war planes’ trajectories and satellite images in an effort to cast doubt on the UN report.

The Russian officials also showed video footage of rescue personnel working in the crater wearing “only respirators and cotton gloves.”

Ulyanov claimed the video had been filmed after rebels detonated the bomb on the asphalt and before the sarin gas was poured into the crater.

“If it were an aerial bomb, the bomb’s tail would be in the crater, but there are no traces of an aerial bomb,” he said.

Ulyanov also said witnesses cited in the UN report were not confirmed to have been in the town on April 4 and “could have been sunning themselves on a beach in the United Arab Emirates.”

“The verdict against Damascus that has been issued so confidently turned out to be baseless,” he said. “You cannot issue a verdict against Damascus based on newspaper publications.”

Despite criticising the work of the UN-OPCW on the report, Ulyanov said Russia would on Thursday present a draft resolution extending its mission in Syria, following a veto on a similar US proposal in the Security Council last week.

Russia previously opposed renewing the mandate of the panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, prior to the release of the Khan Sheikhun report.

by Maria PANINA

Syrian opposition: Russia, Iran trying to rehabilitate Assad, break with US and UN intentions, make the world forget about murders, destruction, chemical weapons

November 2, 2017

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The main Syrian opposition body said on Thursday a Russian-sponsored Syrian peace conference later this month represented a deviation from U.N.-led diplomacy and an attempt to rehabilitate President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“We, in the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), insist on rejecting discussion of Syria’s future outside the legal, U.N. framework,” the HNC said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Gareth Jones

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Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Bashar al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (file photo)



Syrian opposition rejects Russia talks as west frets over influence

Western diplomats hope reconstruction costs could prevent Russia or even Iran taking control of Syria’s future

A Syrian woman and her daughter in Al-Nashabiyah in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus.
 A Syrian woman and her daughter in Al-Nashabiyah in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus. Photograph: Amer Almohibany/AFP/Getty Images 

Russia’s efforts to broker a Syrian peace deal outside the UN’s Geneva process stumbled on Wednesday after the official Syrian opposition said it would not attend talks planned for later this month.

Turkey also said it opposed an invitation to Syrian Kurds to attend Moscow’s “congress of Syrian national dialogue”, which aims to bring together 33 delegations in the Russian city of Sochi on 18 November. Moscow has said any groups that do not attend the conference will suffer as a consequence.

The initiative, at which discussion about a future constitution for Syria is on the agenda, appears to be a clear attempt to bypass the UN-brokered peace talks due to recommence in Geneva 10 days later.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, met Iran’s leaders in Tehran on Wednesday to push his Syrian plan.

The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has accepted the process, believing the new constitution, likely to be based on an existing Russian draft, will entrench him in power ahead of any elections.

The Geneva process has been bogged down for over a year, largely over whether Assad’s departure should be a precondition for any talks on a political transition.

The military might of Moscow and Tehran in Syria has helped prop up Assad’s forces and turn the protracted conflict in his favour with a string of key battlefield victories.

Mohammad Alloush, a member of the Syrian opposition’s high negotiations committee (HNC), dismissed the Sochi conference as a “meeting between the regime and the regime”.

The HNC was surprised it had been mentioned in a list of groups invited to the Sochi and would “issue a statement with other parties setting out the general position rejecting this conference”, he said.

The Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, which is linked to the HNC, also said the Russian initiative was an attempt to circumvent “the international desire for political transition” in Syria.

“The coalition will not participate in any negotiations with the regime outside Geneva or without UN sponsorship,” an SNC spokesman said.

Vladimir Putin, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in Tehran on Wednesday.
 Vladimir Putin, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev in Tehran on Wednesday. Photograph: Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images

In a further sign of Russian attempts to marginalise the role of the United Nationsin Syria, there were reports that Moscow would block the renewal of a UN resolution permitting cross-border aid to enter Syria, arguing all aid must be administered from Damascus.

Cross-border aid is seen as a lifeline for tens of thousands of people still trapped and starving inside Syria. The resolution needs to be renewed by the end of the year.

Western diplomats argue they have one last card left to play to prevent total Russian, or indeed Iranian control, over Syria’s future, and that is the cost of the country’s reconstruction.

“There are no spoils of victory in Syria, only rubble,” said one diplomat. The IMF has put the cost of rebuilding Syria at $200bn (£150bn) but no one knows who will fund reconstruction on this scale and on what terms.

The EU is due to stage a second Syria reconstruction conference early next year in Brussels, and still hopes to mesh western aid into the UN talks.

Read the rest:


Syrian opposition: We still believe in the revolution


Representatives of some of Syria’s armed opposition groups attending talks in Kazakhstan say they are hopeful of achieving a lasting ceasefire agreement in eight of the country’s 14 war-ravaged provinces.

Ayman al-Asemi, a member of the Free Syrian Army’s military council attending the talks in Astana, said while the meetings would not produce a final settlement to the war, they could see a final agreement to the set-up of four so-called “de-escalation zones”.

The Astana talks are aimed at finalising a plan for the four zones, which will include certain areas of Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Eastern Ghouta, Deraa and al-Quneitra.

The closed-door meetings are also seeing discussions on the release of detainees held by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, as well as about the delivery of food and aid to besieged areas.

“This war is far from over,” al-Asemi told Al Jazeera.

He said while the situation on the ground did not bode well for Syrians, regional and international powers were to blame having exposed themselves as spectators to the violence being perpetrated.

“We will not compromise our freedom and our ultimate goal of removing Assad and his regime from power,” al-Asemi said.

He added that the opposition had submitted several “secret files” to the UN delegation in Astana, with “solid evidence” of crimes committed by the regime.

According to al-Asemi, the crimes include the use of chemical weapons, the torture of detainees inside Homs central prison, forced expulsion of residents based on their ethnic and religious affiliations and war crimes committed by Iranian revolution guards against civilians.

‘Astana eclipses Geneva’

The seventh round of negotiations on the war in Syria was brokered by Russia and Iran, who support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and Turkey, which backs the opposition.

Joshua Landis, a professor at Oklahoma University and editor of the Syria Comment blog, told Al Jazeera that although there have been several international initiatives aimed at bringing the war to an end, “Astana has turned into the real venue for Syria negotiations.

He added the talks in Afghanistan had eclipsed “Geneva in importance”, referring to the separate UN-sponsored negotiations held in the Swiss city.


Syrian war: All you need to know about the Astana talks

Landis said Astana has practically replaced “years of fruitless grandstanding in Geneva” achieving tangible results on the ground in the form of “de-escalation zones”, which brought about some reprieve to the affected population.

Talks in Geneva had failed to put an end to more than six years of war that left much of Syria in ruins, killed nearly half a million people, and displaced half of the population.

Landis said that backers of the Syrian opposition – mostly Gulf Arab states, the US and Turkey – had come to terms with the end of the “revolution”.

On Monday, former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani said that “Qatar, along with Saudi Arabia and the US, had jointly coordinated the arming and funding Syrian opposition groups”.

Landis said Saudi Arabia and the UAE were now preoccupied with the conflicts in Yemen and Libya and their diplomatic dispute with Qatar.

Colonel Fateh Hassoun, who heads the opposition military delegation to the Astana talks, said that he still had faith in the “Syrian revolution.”

“The aim of the Syrian opposition is still to reach a political solution to the war and lead to a transition period without the regime of Assad.”

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter @ali_reports


No role for Assad in Syria’s future: Tillerson

October 26, 2017


GENEVA (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad and his family have no role in the future Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday.


Syria: Russia vetoes extension of chemical weapons inquiry

  • 24 October 2017

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Abo Rabeea says he is still suffering from the suspected chemical weapons strike in Khan Sheikhoun

Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution extending the mandate of the only official mission investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was set up in 2015 to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks.

It is due to report later this week on a deadly nerve agent attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April.

Russia has rejected a separate report from UN human rights investigators blaming the Syrian government.

The JIM’s mandate expires next month and Russia had been pushing to postpone a vote on its extension until after the report on Khan Sheikhoun was considered.

But Russia could not get enough support and instead used its veto to block adoption. Russia, along with the UK, China, France and the US, have veto powers at the Security Council.

It is the ninth time Russia has blocked action against its ally Syria, something rights group Amnesty called “a green light for war crimes”.

The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, was also scathing, accusing Russia of siding with “dictators and terrorists”.

But Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzia accused the US and others of trying to embarrass Russia.

Men receive treatment after a gas attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun
More than 80 people died in a nerve gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun this year. Reuters photo

“What is taking place today is not very pleasant, it stinks in fact,” he said, adding that Russia was prepared to discuss the JIM after the report’s publication.

The JIM, which involves the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, is the only formal means of investigating chemical weapons attacks in Syria. At its founding it was hoped it could help lead to prosecutions.

The attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April left more than 80 people dead and prompted the US to launch missile strikes on a Syrian airbase.

Last month a UN Human Rights Council inquiry concluded a Syrian air force jet was responsible, dismissing statements from Russia that the jet had dropped conventional munitions that struck a rebel chemical weapons depot.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the incident in Khan Sheikhoun was a “fabrication”.

He has insisted Syria destroyed its chemical stockpiles under a deal brokered after another deadly attack near Damascus in 2013 although this year the US defence secretary said there was “no doubt” it had retained some.

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More than 80 people, including at least 30 children and 20 women, were killed in the chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun

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Iranian protesters burn representations of US and Israeli flags in their annual pro-Palestinian rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 23, 2017. AP photo


© AFP | Syrian children play as they sit on the tip of an abandoned missile at the Ash’ari camp for the displaced in the rebel-held eastern Ghouta area outside the capital Damascus on October 25, 2017

Putin heads to Turkey for talks on weapons deal, Syria

September 28, 2017


© AFP/File / by Raziye Akkoc with Stuart Williams in Istanbul | Turkey’s NATO allies have grown increasingly alarmed at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s deepening ties with Russia’s Vladimir Putin

ANKARA (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday meets his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks on Syria and a key weapons deal, hoping to strengthen an increasingly active relationship that has troubled the West.Despite a regional rivalry that goes back to the Ottoman Empire and the Romanov dynasty, Russia and Turkey have been working closely since a 2016 reconciliation ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian war plane over Syria.

“Russia and Turkey are cooperating very tightly,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said ahead of the one-day working visit by Putin to Ankara.

The two will hold a working dinner before a one-on-one meeting and a press conference at 9:30 pm (1830 GMT) at Erdogan’s palace, the Turkish presidency said on its website.

Turkey and Russia have been on opposing sides during the more than six years of war in Syria, with Russia the key backer of President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey supporting rebels seeking his ouster.

But while Turkey’s policy is officially unchanged, Ankara has notably cooled its attacks on the Damascus regime since its cooperation with Russia began to heat up.

Both Moscow and Ankara are pushing for the creation of four “de-escalation zones” in Syria, in line with peace talks in Astana, to end the civil war that has raged since 2011.

With Moscow’s ally Assad now having the upper hand in the conflict, Russia will be hoping Turkey will bring the rebels it has supported into the political process.

Turkey, a NATO member, has signed a deal reportedly worth $2 billion (1.7 billion euros) to buy S-400 air defence systems from Russia, a move that has shocked its allies in the alliance.

Economic cooperation is also beginning to flourish, with Russian tourists returning to Turkey and the two countries working on a Black Sea gas pipeline.

– ‘Loaded with contradictions’ –

Yet analysts say that while both countries share an interest in seeking to discomfort the West by showing off close cooperation, their relationship falls well short of a sincere strategic alliance.

“Relations between Turkey and Russia may appear to be friendly, but they are loaded with contradictions and set to remain unstable in the near term,” Pavel Baev and Kemal Kirisci of the Brookings Institution wrote in a study this month.

Russia’s stance on the non-binding Kurdish independence vote is also troubling for Turkey, for whom opposing Kurdish statehood is a cornerstone of foreign policy due to its own Kurdish minority.

The Russian foreign ministry said Wednesday that while Moscow supports the territorial integrity of Iraq, it “views the Kurds’ national aspirations with respect”.

“Russia has been trying to abstain from taking a clear stance on the issue and Turkey may be wanting to get some assurances and explanations,” Timur Akhmetov, Ankara-based Turkey expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, told AFP.

In public, Erdogan has shied away from attacking Russia’s stance on the Kurdish referendum, declaring that Israel was the only state that backed the poll.

Deliveries of the S-400s, meanwhile, could be years away due to orders from China, while Ankara’s insistence on a technology transfer as part of the deal may also create problems.

But both Moscow and Ankara are, for now, happy to send a message to the West that they are serious about defence cooperation.

“They are trying to utilise the issue of the S-400 for their respective political interests,” Akhmetov told AFP.

by Raziye Akkoc with Stuart Williams in Istanbul

Russia urges dialogue to solve Gulf crisis

September 10, 2017


JEDDAH (Reuters) – Arab countries and Qatar should enter into direct talks to solve a diplomatic dispute, Russia’s foreign minister said on a trip to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, urging all parties to restore regional unity.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt severed ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups – a charge it denies.

“We have confirmed our position (that we are) in favor of settling the disagreements by means of negotiations, by directly expressing concerns and achieving solutions which would take into account the concerns and the interests of all parties,” the minister, Sergei Lavrov, told a news conference in Jeddah.

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 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

“We are interested in all those mediatory efforts that are currently being made producing results and the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) being restored,” he added.

Kuwait and the United States have been mediating to reach a breakthrough in the three-month long crisis that has put the whole region on edge, and prompted Turkey to send troops to the wealthy Gulf state in a sign of support.

Last week, Saudi Arabia suspended any dialogue with Qatar, accusing it of “distorting facts”, just after a report of a phone call between the leaders of both countries suggested a breakthrough in the Gulf dispute.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told the news conference that Qatar needed to show seriousness in finding a solution to the crisis.

“We want clarity in the Qatari position, we want seriousness in finding a solution to this crisis that leads to the implementation of principles which all countries support: no supporting terrorism, no welcoming unwanted guests, no spreading hate, no intervention in others’ affairs,” Jubeir said.

The two ministers also discussed the planned de-escalation zones in Syria and unification of the Syrian opposition.

“The kingdom supports the creation of de-escalation zones and looks forward to starting a political process that will end the Syrian crisis,” Jubeir said.

President Bashar al-Assad’s negotiators have not met directly with the opposition because there is no unified delegation from the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) and two other groups, known as the Cairo and Moscow platforms, all claim to represent the opposition.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Writing by Sylvia Westall and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

Hezbollah says bulk of IS convoy has left Syrian government area

September 2, 2017

SEPTEMBER 2, 2017 — 1100 E.D.T.

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Most of an Islamic State evacuation convoy stuck in east Syria has crossed out of government territory and is no longer the responsibility of the Syrian government or its ally Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi‘ite group said on Saturday.

A U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State has been using warplanes to prevent the convoy from entering territory held by the jihadists in east Syria. Hezbollah and the Syrian army had escorted it from west Syria as part of a truce deal.

“The Syrian state and Hezbollah have fulfilled their obligations to transfer buses out of the area of Syrian government control without exposing them,” the statement said.

Hezbollah said in a statement that the U.S.-led jets were still blocking the convoy of fighters and their families, which was stuck in the desert, and were also stopping any aid from reaching it.

Six buses remain in government-held territory under the protection and care of the Syrian state and Hezbollah, the statement said. There were originally 17 buses in the convoy.

Hezbollah said there were old people, casualties and pregnant women in the buses stranded outside Syrian government control in the desert and called on the international community to step in to prevent them coming to harm.

About 300 lightly armed fighters were traveling on the buses, having surrendered their enclave straddling Syria’s border with Lebanon on Monday under a deal which allowed them to join their jihadist comrades on the other side of the country.

It angered both the U.S.-led coalition, which does not want more battle-hardened militants in an area where it is operating, and Iraq, which sees them as a threat because the convoy’s proposed destination of Al-Bukamal is close to its own border.

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, helped by Russia and Iran-backed militias including Hezbollah, is fighting Islamic State as it pushes eastwards across the desert.


Hezbollah slams US over IS convoy stranded in Syria

September 2, 2017

© AFP | Members of the Islamic State group and their families are bussed towards Deir Ezzor province on August 28, 2017 under a deal to end three years of jihadist presence in the Syrian-Lebanese border area

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement on Saturday accused US-led forces of stranding a convoy of Islamic State fighters and civilians headed for Syria’s Deir Ezzor province under an evacuation deal.The convoy carrying hundreds of IS fighters as well as civilians was meant to travel from the Lebanon-Syria border to jihadist-held territory in eastern Syria under a deal Hezbollah helped broker.

But the US-led coalition has pounded the road to Deir Ezzor with air strikes to prevent the convoy reaching the IS-held town of Albukamal on the Iraqi border.

Hezbollah, which has defended the deal to remove IS fighters from the Lebanese frontier, said US-led forces had effectively stranded most of the convoy’s 17 buses in the Syrian desert, beyond government reach.

“They are also preventing anyone from reaching them even to provide humanitarian assistance to families, the sick and wounded and the elderly,” the Hezbollah statement said.

The convoy left the Lebanon-Syria border region on Monday, but Hezbollah said six of the buses remained in Syrian government-held territory.

The deal, brokered by Hezbollah with the support of its Syrian regime ally after a week-long offensive against IS, has been fiercely criticised by US-led forces and the Iraqi government.

The international coalition fighting IS has said it is unacceptable for jihadists to be transported to the border with Iraq, where pro-government forces this week ousted the extremist group from the northern city of Tal Afar.

In a statement overnight, the coalition said it had sent a message to Damascus through Syria’s ally Russia to say that “the Coalition will not condone IS fighters moving further east to the Iraqi border.”

“The Coalition values human life and has offered suggestions on a course of action to save the women and children from any further suffering as a result of the Syrian regime’s agreement,” it added, without providing further details.

The coalition said it would not strike the convoy, but acknowledged hitting IS fighters and vehicles “seeking to facilitate the movement of IS fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners.”

Hezbollah accused US forces of hypocrisy, saying they had previously allowed IS fighters to flee territories in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has described the deal as “unacceptable” and an “insult to the Iraqi people”.

In Lebanon some criticised it for allowing fighters suspected of killing Lebanese citizens to escape on “air-conditioned buses.”

Deir Ezzor in Syria’s east is one of the jihadists’ last remaining strongholds, where they hold most of the province and parts of its capital of the same name.


Hezbollah, Syrian Army Seek New Route for Stranded Islamic State Convoy — Start Driving Again Despite Possible U.S. Action

September 2, 2017

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Syrian army are seeking a new route for a convoy of Islamic State fighters and their families bound for the jihadists’ stronghold in eastern Syria, a commander in the military alliance backing Syria’s government said.

The convoy of 17 buses carrying about 300 lightly armed fighters and 300 civilians has been stuck in Syria’s eastern desert since Tuesday, with a U.S.-led coalition using air strikes to stop it from entering Islamic State territory.

“Work is under way to change the course of the convoy for a second time,” the commander said.

The fighters traveling on the buses surrendered their enclave straddling Syria’s border with Lebanon on Monday in a truce deal that allowed them to join their jihadist comrades on the other side of the country.

It angered both the U.S.-led coalition, which does not want more battle-hardened militants in an area where it is operating, and Iraq, which sees them as a threat because the convoy’s proposed destination of Al-Bukamal is close to its own border.

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, helped by Russia and Iran-backed militias including Hezbollah, is fighting Islamic State as it pushes eastwards across the desert.

A Britain-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said dozens of the Islamic State fighters had left the stranded convoy in an attempt to reach IS-held Deir al-Zor province by themselves.

The commander in the pro-Assad military alliance denied news reports that said a hundred of the jihadists had already reached Islamic State territory there.

The coalition has sworn to continue monitoring the convoy and disrupting any effort it makes to cross into jihadist territory, but will not bomb it directly because it contains civilians.

It has asked Russia to tell the Syrian government that it will not allow the convoy to move further east towards the Iraqi border, according to a statement issued late on Friday.

On Wednesday, the coalition said its jets had cratered a road and destroyed a bridge to stop the convoy progressing, and had bombed some of the jihadists’ comrades coming the other way to meet it.

Hezbollah and the Syrian army on Thursday changed the route of the convoy from Humeima, a hamlet deep in the southeast desert, to a location further north, but coalition jets again struck near that route, the commander said.

“It was considered a threat, meaning there was no passage that way,” the commander said. On Friday, coalition jets ran mock air raids over the convoy, the commander added.

“It caused panic among the Daeshis. The militants are scared the convoy will be bombarded as soon as it enters Deir al-Zor,” the commander said, using a plural form of the Arabic acronym for Islamic state to refer to its fighters.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Helen Popper)


 Buses lined up near the Syria-Lebanon border on Monday to take 308 Islamic State fighters and their families to Islamic State-controlled territory. The group was promised safe passage as part of a deal that has since fallen apart, and the buses have been stranded in the desert.  Credit Louai Beshara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

IS Convoy Treks Ahead Despite US Strikes Threat


BEIRUT — Dozens of Islamic State group members and their families have crossed into areas controlled by the extremists despite U.S. threats to bomb the convoy days after they left the Lebanon-Syria border, Syrian opposition activists said Saturday.

The opposition activists’ announcement came after the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS said the 17-bus convoy of IS militants and their families that left the Lebanon-Syria border six days ago is still stranded in the Syrian desert.

More than 300 militants and their families are in the convoy after vacating the border area as part of a Hezbollah-negotiated deal to transport them to an IS-held town in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

Hezbollah said in a statement Saturday that warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition are still preventing the convoy from moving east and barring anyone on the government side from reaching them warning that the wounded and elderly people could die.

Hezbollah said that six buses are still in areas controlled by the Syrian government and warned that if they are hit civilians will be killed. It added that if aid does not reach the convoy because of the aerial imposed siege, “only the Americans will bear the responsibility” for what happens.

“The so-called international community and international institutions should intervene to prevent the occurrence of an ugly massacre,” the Lebanese group said.

The U.S.-led coalition issued a statement Friday saying it has sought an unspecified solution that would save the women and children in the convoy from further suffering.

Earlier this week, an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition created a crater in a road that the buses had intended to take and destroyed a small bridge to prevent the convoy from moving further east.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said dozens of fighters and civilians left the buses and drove into IS-held parts of the eastern province of Deir el-Zour in 12 civilian vehicles.

Opposition activist Omar Abu Laila, who is from Deir el-Zour and currently lives in Europe, gave an account similar to that of Abdurrahman adding that most of them have crossed over. Abu Laila is with DeirEzzor 24, an activist group that has reporters throughout the eastern province.