Posts Tagged ‘SDF’

Syria links talks on south to US withdrawal

June 3, 2018

More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since it started in 2011 — The US is present in the north of Syria, where it has been backing a Kurdish-led alliance

A Syrian fighter sits carrying a machine gun in a fortified area near the frontlines at a opposition-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa on Saturday. (AFP)

Syria’s foreign minister on Saturday linked any talks on the future of a rebel-held southern region with the departure of US forces from another area bordering Iraq and Jordan.

Regime ally Russia has called for a meeting with the United States and Jordan on the future of the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra, bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In recent weeks, Damascus has sent military reinforcements to the two provinces, which comprise some of the closest rebel-held areas to the capital.

President Vladimir Putin has spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu about proposed talks.

“We have not yet entered into negotiations over the southern front,” Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said at a press conference in Damascus.

“The indicator will be the withdrawal of the United States from our land in At-Tanaf” near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, Muallem said.

The United States and its allies have used a base in the area to train a force fighting the Islamic State group.

“Don’t believe anything that is said about an agreement on the south until you see that the United States has withdrawn its forces from the At-Tanaf base,” he said.

“It must withdraw its forces from At-Tanaf.”

“We have strived from the start to resolve the issue in the ways that we are used to, which are reconciliations,” he said. “If it is not feasible, we will see what will happen.”

Moscow-brokered reconciliation deals have seen rebels withdraw from several areas of Syria including opposition strongholds close to the capital, often after blistering regime offensives and sieges.

Last month, Washington warned Damascus it would take “firm” action if the regime violated a ceasefire deal for southern Syria that was negotiated with Russia and Jordan last year.

The warning came after regime aircraft dropped leaflets on Daraa, urging the rebels who control most of the province to lay down their weapons or face an offensive.

The United States is also present in the north of Syria, where it has been backing a Kurdish-led alliance fighting IS.

Muallem also criticised a US-Turkish roadmap for “security and stability” in the Kurdish-held city of Manbij near the Turkish border.

The agreement came after forces led by Turkey, who considers Syria’s Kurdish militia to be “terrorists”, in March seized the enclave of Afrin west of Manbij.

That had raised fears of a confrontation between Turkish troops and American forces based in Manbij.

“Not just in Manbij but also in Afrin and on every inch of Syrian soil, we consider Turkey to be an aggressor,” the foreign minister said.

“Neither the United States nor Turkey has the right to negotiate over a Syrian city,” he said, describing any such deal as “infringing on Syrian sovereignty”.



Assad denies presence of Iranian forces in Syria

May 31, 2018

Dictator says upgrading air defenses ‘with Russian help’ the only way to deter Israel, Moscow averted ‘direct conflict’ with US

Times of Israel
May 31, 2018

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Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with the Greek Kathimerini newspaper, in Damascus, Syria, in this photo released May 10, 2018. (SANA via AP)

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday denied the presence in his country of any Iranian troops.

Much of Iran’s infrastructure in Syria has been set up on Syrian military bases, Israel says, and the IDF has frequently hit Syrian air defenses during strikes on Iranian targets.

Earlier this month, the Israeli Air Force carried out its biggest operation in Syria in 40 years when it attacked more than 50 Iranian targets in response to an Iranian rocket barrage at the Golan Heights, amid warnings from Jerusalem that it would not tolerate Tehran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily on Israel’s northern border.

But according to Assad, Iran’s presence in his country is limited to an advisory capacity.

In a wide-ranging interview with Russia’s RT television, Assad said that “not a single Iranian” but rather “tens of Syrian martyrs” had been killed in recent Israeli airstrikes on his country and that claims to the contrary were “a lie.”

A tank flying the Hezbollah terror group’s flag is seen in the Qara area in Syria’s Qalamoun region on August 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

“We do not have Iranian troops. We never had, and you cannot hide it,” he said, adding, “Like we invited the Russians, we could have invited the Iranians.”

Long-simmering tensions between Israel and Iran in Syria stepped up considerably in recent months, beginning in February when an Iranian drone carrying explosives was flown from the T-4 air base in central Syria into Israeli airspace and was shot down by an IAF helicopter.

On Wednesday night, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman set off for Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, to discuss Iran’s growing military presence in Syria.

“The primary focus of the defense establishment is preventing the entrenchment of Iran and its proxies in Syria,” Liberman wrote in a tweet before his flight.

In an apparent reference to Iranian forces, on Wednesday Russian state media outlet TASS quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying foreign militias should leave southwestern Syria as soon as possible.

Lavrov echoed comments he made earlier in the week, when he said that only Syrian troops should be stationed in the rebel-held Daraa province, a region adjacent to the Israeli border that has emerged as a flashpoint in a wider standoff between the Jewish state and Iran.

Plea for Russian air defenses

During the interview with RT, Assad also said that the only way to stop Israeli airstrikes on his country was to beef up its air defenses with Russia’s help.

Assad seemed to contradict himself by saying, “Our air defense is much stronger than before, thanks to the Russian support,” but also conceding that “[anti-government militias and Israel, according to his claim] destroyed a big part of our air defenses.”

“The recent attacks by the Israelis and by the Americans and British and French proved that we are in a better situation,” he said. “The only option is to improve our air defense, this is the only thing we can do, and we are doing that.”

Illustrative image of Russian S-400 long-range air defense missile systems deployed at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, December 16, 2015. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Earlier this month, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said that a decision had not yet been made on supplying Syria with advanced air defense systems, a development that Israel fears could hamper its efforts to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syrian territory and transfers of arms supplies to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

Assad also said that Russia had averted “direct conflict” with the US in Syria and a far greater attack than the one launched in April by the US, UK and France on alleged Syrian chemical sites, following a chemical weapons attack on civilians attributed to the Syrian government — a charge that Assad denied.

“We were close to have direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces, and fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership,” he said.

Threat to attack US-backed Kurds

Assad also warned US-backed Kurdish forces he would not hesitate to use force to retake the third of the country they control.

“The only problem left in Syria is the SDF,” Assad said, referring to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces which has spearheaded battles against Islamic State group jihadists.

“We’re going to deal with it by two options,” he said. “The first one: we started now opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly they like their country, they don’t like to be puppets to any foreigners.

“We have one option, to live with each other as Syrians. If not, we’re going to resort… to liberating those areas by force,” Assad added. “It’s our land, it’s our right and it’s our duty to liberate it, and the Americans should leave. Somehow they’re going to leave.”

Assad said that his generation had been forced to live under the threat of Israeli attack since they were children, but that it was “nonsense” to say that they were afraid.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.


Assad says US must leave Syria, vows to use force if negotiations with SDF fail

May 31, 2018

Bashar al-Assad said the United States should learn the lesson of Iraq and withdraw from Syria, and promised to recover areas of the country held by U.S.-backed militias through negotiations or force.

“The only problem left in Syria is the SDF,” Assad told Russia Today in an interview aired Thursday, referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia alliance dominated by PKK terrorist group’s Syrian offshoot the People Protection Forces (YPG) which is backed by the U.S.

“We’re going to deal with it by two options,” he said.

“The first one: we started now opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly they like their country, they don’t like to be puppets to any foreigners,” Assad said.

“We have one option, to live with each other as Syrians. If not, we’re going to resort… to liberating those areas by force,” he said.

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In this file photo released by the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on March 18, 2018, shows Bashar al-Assad (c) talking with regime troops in eastern Ghouta. (AFP Photo)

“We don’t have any other options, with the Americans or without the Americans. It’s our land, it’s our right and it’s our duty to liberate it, and the Americans should leave. Somehow they’re going to leave,” he said.

“They came to Iraq with no legal basis, and look what happened to them. They have to learn the lesson. Iraq is no exception, and Syria is no exception. People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore,” he said.

The SDF controls some one-third of Syrian territory mostly east and north of the Euphrates River.

Both the SDF and Russian-backed regime troops are engaged in separate operations against Daesh terrorists in eastern Syria, creating a highly volatile situation where de-confliction mechanisms have already been tested several times.

Assad also said that a confrontation between Russia and U.S. forces over Syria was narrowly avoided.

“We were close to have direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces,” he said.

“Fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership.”

Responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s description of him as “Animal Assad”, the Syrian leader said: “What you say is what you are”. Trump called Assad an animal after a suspected poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus in April.

Assad reiterated the regime’s denial that it carried out the attack in the eastern Ghouta town of Douma, saying that the regime did not have chemical weapons and it would not have been in its interest to carry out such a strike.

The Douma attack triggered missile strikes on Syria by the United States, Britain and France which they said targeted Assad’s chemical weapons program.

Assad has recovered swathes of Syrian territory with military backing from Russia and Iran and is now militarily unassailable in the conflict that began in 2011.

Large areas however remain outside his control at the borders with Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. These include the SDF-held parts of the north and east, and chunks of territory held by opposition forces in the northwest and southwest.

Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Tehran’s influence in Syria, earlier this month said it destroyed dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time.

Iran-backed militias including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have played a big role in support of Assad during the conflict. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have also deployed in the country.

Assad said Iran’s presence in Syria was limited to officers who were assisting the Syrian army. Assad, apparently referring to the May 10 attack, by Israel said “we had tens of Syrian martyrs and wounded soldiers, not a single Iranian” casualty.

Asked if there was anything Syria could do to stop Israeli air strikes, Assad said: “The only option is to improve our air defense, this is the only thing we can do, and we are doing that”. He said that Syria’s air defenses were now much stronger than before thanks to Russia.

U.S. warns Syria of ‘firm’ measures for ceasefire violations

May 26, 2018

The United States warned Syria on Friday it would take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to ceasefire violations, saying it was concerned about reports of an impending military operation in a de-escalation zone in the country’s southwest.

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FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as seen in Damascus, Syria November 14, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Washington also cautioned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against broadening the conflict.

“As a guarantor of this de-escalation area with Russia and Jordan, the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Assad regime violations,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement late on Friday.

A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported on Wednesday that Syrian government forces fresh from their victory this week against an Islamic State pocket in south Damascus were moving into the southern province of Deraa.

Syrian state-run media have reported that government aircraft have dropped leaflets on rebel-held areas in Deraa urging fighters to disarm.

The U.S. warning comes weeks after a similar attack on a de-escalation zone in northeastern Syria held by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. U.S. ground and air forces repelled the more than four-hour attack, killing perhaps as many as 300 pro-Assad militia members, many of them Russian mercenaries.

Backed by Russian warplanes, ground forces from Iran and allied militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have helped Assad drive rebels from Syria’s biggest cities, putting him in an unassailable military position.

They have recaptured all remaining insurgent areas near Damascus in recent weeks, including the densely populated eastern Ghouta area, as well as big enclaves in central Syria.

The government is now in its strongest position since the early months of the war in 2011, although still a long way from achieving Assad’s aim of reasserting sway over all of Syria.

Anti-Assad rebels still control two large contiguous areas of territory in the northwest and southwest. Kurdish and allied Arab militia backed by the United States hold the quarter of Syria east of the Euphrates.

The government’s gains have brought it to a point where any new military campaign risks putting it in conflict with foreign powers.

Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Paul Tait


Air Strikes in Syria Kill Dozens — Iran says 18 Iranian soldiers killed

April 30, 2018

Media outlets affiliated with the Syrian opposition claim 38 government soldiers were killed in the strike in Hama, with an additional 57 wounded. On Monday, Iran’s ISNA news agency confirmed 18 of its fighters were killed in the strike.

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Fires burning after an attack into Syria, April 30, 2018

The Syrian army said ‘enemy’ rocket attacks struck military bases belonging to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Syrian state TV reported. A report on a Syrian newspaper facebook page attributes the attack to the U.S. and Britain.

Sources in Syria reported explosions in military bases near the districts of Hama and Aleppo on Sunday night. Some Syrian media outlets associated with the Assad regime claim Israel is responsible for the attack.


Full report:


Missile strike: Explosions reported at Iranian base in Northern Syria

AN EXPLOSION at a military site in northern Syria was so powerful it registered as a 2.6-magnitute earthquake. The source of the attack is mysterious.

Jamie Seidel, AFP, AP
News Corp Australia Network
APRIL 30, 2018

THE Syrian army is reporting new enemy aggression, with missiles targeting missile bases in the north of the country.

“Syria is being exposed to a new aggression with some military bases in rural Hama and Aleppo hit with enemy rockets,” a Syrian army source is reported by state-run media as saying.

Military commentators and Middle East analysts are reporting an attack appears to have been made on the headquarters of the Iran-backed Shiite militia Brigade 47 near the village of Maarin al-Jabal, just south of Hama city. It is said to be used as a recruitment and training facility.

It was also believed to house a weapons depot, which would account for the intensity of the blast.

A second explosion has been reported at the Iranian-backed Brigade 80 headquarters situated north of Aleppo city.

Media outlets with connections to the Syrian regime are claiming 38 soldiers have been killed and 57 injured in the attacks.

The cause of the blasts remains unclear. Reports of Israeli involvement remain speculation, while some Syrian Democratic Force rebels have claimed responsibility.

Syrian state media reported that authorities were working to “determine the cause of the explosions.”

“A new attack with missiles targeted military positions in the provinces of Hama and Aleppo,” respectively in the centre and north of the country, the Assad-government official news agency SANA reported, citing a military source.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights monitor confirmed the firing of missiles, also confirming that “Iranian elements” were stationed at two of the targeted bases.

The Observatory could not immediately say whether there were any casualties, nor who was responsible for the missile strikes.


Yesterday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he reserved the right to strike all over Syria against any threats. He said he would not be deterred if Russia supplies the Syrians with advanced S-300 air defence systems.

“We will keep our freedom of operation in all of Syria. We have no intention to attack Russia or to interfere in domestic Syrian issues. But if somebody thinks that it is possible to launch missiles or to attack Israel or even our aircraft, no doubt we will respond and we will respond very forcefully,” Liberman said.

He added that Israel “will prevent Iran from establishing a forward base in Syria at any cost.”

The report came amid heightened tensions in Syria after Damascus and its ally Iran accused Israel on April 9 of conducting deadly strikes against a military base in the centre of the country.

Several days later, on April 14, the United States, France and Britain carried out strikes against several of the Syrian regime’s military positions, in response to a suspected chemical attack on the rebel stronghold of Douma, which caused dozens of deaths, according to rescue services.

In the April 9 attack, at least 14 soldiers, including seven Iranians, were killed in the strike on a military base in central Homs

A Syrian army sniper taking aim. Picture: APF

A Syrian army sniper taking aim. Picture: APFSource:AFP

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Syrian government forces at the weekend briefly captured four villages east of the Euphrates River in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour after rare clashes with US-backed Kurdish-led fighters before losing the area in a counter-offensive by the Kurdish-led force.

It’s the same region in which US and Russian forces clashed in February.

The area close to the border with Iraq has been the site of ongoing clashes between the two sides who had been focusing on fighting the Islamic State group. The Islamic State had declared its caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq. Crossings into the east bank of the Euphrates in eastern Syria by government forces have been rare.

State news agency SANA said the villages were held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, adding that they are close to the provincial capital, also called Deir el-Zour. The SDF said in a statement later that it regained control of the whole area it earlier lost.

Much of Deir el-Zour province was held by the Islamic State group but over the past year Syrian government forces captured most areas west of the Euphrates while SDF fighters took areas east of the river.

A picture taken on April 29, 2018, during a government guided tour in Damascus' southern al-Qadam neighbourhood, shows a Syrian army tank parked in a street. Picture: AFP

A picture taken on April 29, 2018, during a government guided tour in Damascus’ southern al-Qadam neighbourhood, shows a Syrian army tank parked in a street. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

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On February 7, pro-Syrian government fighters attacked SDF positions east of the river and faced a ferocious US counter-attack that left dozens, including Russians, dead.

SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said in a statement earlier yesterday that the Syrian army attack coincided with “our forces’ preparations to complete the Island Storm campaign” to liberate the remaining areas east of the river from Islamic State. Gabriel said the Syrian army and pro-government fighters began targeting SDF fighters to impede “the launching of our campaign against terrorism. Our forces are responding in self-defence.”

“We affirm that we are determined to eradicate terrorism from its roots and to assert our right to self-defence,” Gabriel said about Islamic State. “We consider this aggression by regime forces to be a support for terrorism and falls within the attempts to impede the war on terrorism.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said yesterday’s offensive left six SDF fighters dead and 22 wounded adding that there were also casualties on the government side.

Gabriel issued another statement later saying all the area lost earlier was regained by SDF fighters. He said Syrian troops were backed by Russian fighters adding that after the SDF’s counter-offensive, government forces “are now far away.”

Syrian army fights US-backed SDF troops east of Euphrates

April 29, 2018

So far Syrian government forces have largely stayed west of the Euphrates river, but rare clashes have changed that. Last time this happened Syrian forces faced a violent US counter-attack.

Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen standing next to a sign in Arabic which reads, Deir el-Zour welcomes you, in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, Syria.

Syrian government forces directly clashed with US-backed rebels on Sunday, with state-run new agency SANA reporting they had seized rebel-held villages.

The two sides have only rarely clashed before, with the Syrian army largely staying west of the Euphrates.

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

Rare clashes

  • Syria’s rather unreliable SANA news agency reported government forces seized four villages held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
  • The somewhat more reliable Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported regime forces killed six US alliance fighters and injured 22.
  • Both outlets said the clashes occurred close to provincial capital Deir el-Zour, near the Iraq border.
  • The SDF later said in a statement that it regained control of the whole area. The Observatory said one village remained in regime hands.

Read more: UN warns of humanitarian disaster, displacement in northwest Syria

Map of Syria

Crossing the Euphrates: In its fight against the “Islamic State” group the Syrian army has rarely clashed with SDF forces in the area. The predominantly Kurdish alliance seized much of the territory east of the Euphrates River in Deir el-Zour province during a campaign to drive out IS, but they have mostly stayed on their respective sides of the river. In February an attack on US personnel and SDF forces led to US airstrikes killing at least 100 pro-regime fighters.

Read more: US-led coalition in Syria attacks pro-Assad fighters, 100 dead

Sabotage: On Sunday, the SDF accused Syrian authorities of attempting to disrupt plans US plans to resume an imminent
offensive against IS in the area.

“We affirm that we are determined to eradicate terrorism from its roots and to assert our right to self-defense,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said about IS. “We consider this aggression by regime forces to be a support for terrorism and falls within the attempts to impede the war on terrorism.”

IS expelled:  IS once held a large part of Deir el-Zour province but over the past year regime forces recaptured most areas west of the Euphrates while SDF fighters took areas east of the river.

aw/rc (AP, Reuters, AFP)

US, UK must support Kurds in Syria: British Labour MPs

April 21, 2018

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Many Kurds believe the west has abaondoned them allowing Turkey, Russia, Syria and Iran to kill them at will. AP Photo


  • Kurds of northern Syria face an “exponential threat” from Turkey while Western allies in the fight against Daesh remain silent — British MP
  • The UN estimates 137,000 people left Afrin leaving only about 150,000 in the district. Only the Turkish Red Crescent and Turkish relief organizations can operate there

LONDON: The Kurds of northern Syria face an “exponential threat” from Turkey while Western allies in the fight against Daesh remain “silent,” Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of Parliament for the UK opposition Labor Party, told Arab News.

Speaking after visiting the Kurdish region of northern Syria this month, he said Kurdish communities in the area “feel abandoned” by the West in a “moment of real need.”

“While we were there, a place we’d been the day before was shelled by Turkey, so these things do go on and they do affect day-to-day lives. People seem genuinely very afraid,” he said.

A Turkish tank on the outskirts of Jandaris town, southwestern Afrin, on Wednesday. Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP
A Turkish tank on the outskirts of Jandaris town, southwestern Afrin. Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP

Traveling via Baghdad and Irbil, before being escorted across the Syrian border by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), his delegation, which undertook the visit independently of the Labor Party, witnessed the devastation wreaked by Daesh and Turkish rockets in Kobani and other cities.

The route opened up a few months ago, Russell-Moyle said, creating a “window of opportunity” to “talk to the Kurds about what they were facing” and to “give hope to people that are struggling and are doing an amazing job.”

Describing the democratic, secular, feminist state being established in the Kurdish-controlled area of northern Syria as “impressive,” he said this is the “best” and “only” example of the kind in Syria and that Britain should be helping to rebuild it in the aftermath of the conflict.

During a visit to Qamishli, Lord Glasman, a Labour peer who was part of the delegation, said: “We’re here for a long-term relationship with you, where we can support you against all the people who are trying to destroy your liberty.”

In March, the Turkish military overran the north Syrian city of Afrin following a bloody campaign to oust the YPG from the area. Dozens of Kurdish fighters lost their lives, including 26-year-old British national Anna Campbell, who’d been volunteering with the YPJ, the female arm of the YPG.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish president, has vowed to expand the offensive to other YPG-held areas, citing security concerns in response to US plans to help Kurdish militias create a 30,000-strong “border security force” to defend the Syrian-Turkish border against Daesh.

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it defines as a terrorist organization, following a three-decade battle for Kurdish independence on Turkish soil.

The UK and US, wary of upsetting an important NATO ally, remain reluctant to get involved. A statement released by the US State Department in March said it was “committed to our NATO ally Turkey” with its “legitimate security concerns,” sentiments reiterated by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who insisted: “Turkey has the right to want to keep its borders secure.”

Kurdish forces are “infuriated” by the response, feeling that they have been let down by their allies, commentators said. Kurdish fighters make up the majority of the US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting against Daesh.

Josh Walker, a British YPG fighter who has since returned to the UK, said: “Kurds have been seeing this as another chapter in their long history of betrayal by major powers; they are especially disappointed considering their major contribution to the near-defeat of ISIS, which was only prevented from being total defeat by Turkish intervention.”

Since the assault on Afrin, the YPG has redeployed hundreds of troops from the frontlines against Daesh to defend the city on the other side of Syria. Turkey’s “increasingly belligerent” position toward the Kurds has thrown up “contradictions” for UK and US foreign policy in Syria, said Robert Lowe, deputy director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economic and Political Sciences.

“Their overriding priority is to defeat ISIS (Daesh) and associated groups. That’s been hurt by the Turkish invasion and made their continuing operations to defeat ISIS, or clear out what’s left of them, more difficult because the Kurds have had to move resources.

“The US and the UK are only prepared to go so far in their criticism of Turkey,” he said. “They have urged restraint … but also haven’t been as critical as they might have been.”

Russell-Moyle said the UK needed to be “stepping up, not stepping away.” The recent decision taken by Theresa May, UK prime minister, to engage in US-orchestrated airstrikes targeting the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons facilities without parliamentary approval was a “very risky strategy,” he said.

To bring an end to this conflict “we should be building up societies,” he said, and “supporting a civil population that will never allow it to happen again.”

In Rojava, and the cantons of Kobani, Cizre and Afrin, Kurdish communities have embarked on a political project to form the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, establishing a system of government based on democratic confederalism, ecology and gender equality. Councils set up by local people, have been established, based on equal representation of minority groups in the area.

Elif Gun, from the Kurdistan Students Union in the UK, described a “system of stateless democracy, working from bottom up, with power handed and divided.

“It is the only form of democracy and state that offers real change to the people and gives the power of decision making to the people.”

ISIL given ’48 hours’ to evacuate area south of Damascus

April 19, 2018

Al Jazeera

ISIL fighters have been in control of an area south of Damascus for nearly three years.

April 19, 2018
The Yarmouk refugee camp has been under ISIL control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012 [Reuters]
The Yarmouk refugee camp has been under ISIL control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012 [Reuters]

The Syrian military has given ISIL fighters 48 hours to leave a pocket they control in the capital’s south, a pro-government local newspaper reported on Thursday.

Syrian forces have for days been launching air attacks on the area controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in the south of Damascus, primarily around the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp and its surrounding neighbourhoods, Al-Watan daily said.

“The two-day window is an attempt to avoid a military assault. If they refuse to leave, the army is ready to launch a military operation to end their presence in the area,” the newspaper added.

Yarmouk, about 8km from central Damascus, was home to Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee community before the Syrian war began more than seven years ago.

Although most of the camp’s residents fled to other parts of Syria or to neighbouring countries, the United Nations estimates thousands remain trapped inside.

The camp has been under ISIL’s control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012, barring thousands from exit and re-entry.

Since 2015, the Syrian government has regained control of the majority of Syria, with opposition groups now restricted to the northern part of the country.

Though other pockets controlled by ISIL group fighters still exist, the armed group were driven out of their last major stronghold in Syria in October last year, when the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the United States, launched a four-month long offensive to push them out of Raqqa.


Surprise IS attack kills 25 regime forces in east Syria

April 19, 2018
© AFP | A picture taken on October 20, 2017, shows Islamic State group slogans on a wall in the Syrian town of Mayadeen
BEIRUT (AFP) – The Islamic State group launched a surprise attack near a town in eastern Syria they had lost six months ago, killing at least 25 regime forces, a monitor said Thursday.At least 13 jihadists were also killed in the attack which IS carried out near Mayadeen on Wednesday afternoon, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Mayadeen lies in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on the western bank of the Euphrates River and is flanked by the vast Badia desert to its west and south.

A military source on Thursday however denied any attack against positions of the Syrian army along the western bank of the Euphrates.

But intermittent bombardment on army positions from its eastern bank had prompted retaliation with suitable weapons, the source said.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, control most of the territory to the east of the Euphrates, where a few villages are still under IS control.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said Thursday morning “IS attempts to advance in the direction of the town of Mayadeen are ongoing” from the Badia desert.

He said it was the “largest IS attack since they were expelled from the town” by regime forces and their allies in October 2017.

IS swept across large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, declaring a cross-border “caliphate” in areas they controlled.

At its height their pseudo state covered an area the size of Italy, but IS has since lost most of it to a Russia-backed regime assault and a US-backed SDF offensive.

IS now control around five percent of Syria, according to Syria expert Fabrice Balanche.

But the jihadists have retained their ability to carry out deadly attacks. They hold pockets in Deir Ezzor and are present in the southern districts of the capital.

Since regaining full control of Eastern Ghouta to the northeast of Damascus from rebels last week, the regime has turned its attention to jihadist-held districts in the capital’s south.

More than 350,000 people have been killed since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Turkey declares once and for all: Assad regime must go

April 12, 2018

Daily Sabah

A Syrian child receives treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, April 4, 2017.

A Syrian child receives treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, April 4, 2017.

Ankara has insisted that Assad’s removal from Syria and the elimination of all terror groups are necessary for peace to be established in the war-torn country

The time has come for the Bashar Assad regime in Syria to go, Turkish officials said yesterday after the deadly chemical attacks by the regime in the Eastern Ghouta and Douma districts, and the U.S. vowing to strike regime targets in Syria. “The Assad regime must leave Syria. This is not the first time the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. It has killed nearly 1 million people with airstrikes and barrel bombs,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said at an event organized by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Ankara.

On April 8, the White Helmets organization in Eastern Ghouta alleged that Syrian regime forces carried out a chemical attack on targets in the Damascus suburb’s Douma district that left dozens of civilians dead. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted a resolution on Feb. 24, calling for a month-long cease-fire in Syria, especially in Eastern Ghouta, to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. Despite the resolution, the regime and its allies early this month launched a major ground offensive backed by Russian air power to capture opposition-held parts of Eastern Ghouta. “[Assad] must leave the county and a transition to political process must began,” Çavuşoğlu added.

He added that the attempts to establish a permanent solution, “such as the Astana and Sochi processes,” must be put to work effectively, and the country must prepare for transparent elections in a very short time. “It is important to hold a transparent election under the U.N.’s roof. We do not want to see blood and tears in Syria anymore,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Since the breakout of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the Turkish government has maintained that the ultimate solution to finding the peace in the war-torn country is to replace Bashar Assad and establish a new political environment that will be mediated by the United Nations and be an inclusive entity.

Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli also said that Assad’s removal and clearing Syria of terror groups are two conditions that must be established for peace in Syria to prevail. “Clearing Syria of all terror groups and withdrawal of the regime. If these two parameters had been established by now, peace would have been established by now, and none of these [chemical attacks] would have happened,” Canikli said in a televised interview yesterday.

Canikli said both Russia and the U.S. are on the wrong side in Syria. “One supports terror elements, supporting the PKK/PYD/YPG, and they act with them in Syria. And the other one supports the Assad regime, which is the reason behind the murders of hundreds of thousands of Syrians,” he added.

Assad’s removal was a non-negotiable condition for Turkey in planning Syria’s future from the beginning of the conflict. However, U.S. support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), made Turkish governments focus on elimination of the group from northern Syria. The growing influence of the YPG in northern Syria triggered the Turkish military to launch Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 in Syria’s northwestern Afrin province. The Afrin operation, which was conducted by Turkish armed and air forces, as well as the Free Syrian Army, was also coordinated with Russia, the main backer of the Assad regime. While Russia provided heavy military support to Assad, his presence in leading the regime has been a matter of disagreement between Ankara and Moscow. Yet, Turkey and Russia, as well as Moscow, have been able to find a common ground in establishing ceasefire and de-escalation zones in parts of Syria, through several meetings the leaders held in what has been known as the Astana agreement and Sochi talks.

‘Turkey to remain in Afrin as long as threats exist’

Defense Minister Canikli also responded to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments, suggesting to return Afrin to regime control, saying that Turkey is in Afrin to eliminate terror threats posed to its national security. “As long as the risk and threats continue, we have to remain in Afrin. We must do this for the security of our country,” Canikli said.

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey was coordinating with Russia during the Olive Branch operation’s first phase, which was clearing the terrorists. “The second phase of operation is to ensure the safe returns of locals and bringing stability. We have no interest in Syrian soil,” Çavuşoğlu added.

The foreign minister underlined that due to the ambiguous relations between the regime and the YPG, returning Afrin to the Assad regime is not an option.

“One day the regime fights with the YPG, the next day they get along. There are many strange things happening on the field in Syria. Groups fighting each other today, can be selling weapons to each other tomorrow,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Turkey sees the presence of the YPG in northern Syria as a terror threat to its national security, as the YPG is organically linked to the PKK, a group that has been listed as a terror organization by the U.S., the EU and Turkey. Ankara has also vowed to eliminate the YPG from northern Syria’s Manbij and eastern parts of the Euphrates River, currently under the control of the U.S.-backed group.

Turkish, French FMs to meet about PKK-linked SDF

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu also said that he would hold a meeting with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian over President Emmanuel Macron’s offer to mediate talks with the SDF, on request of the French side.

He said the two ministers had originally planned to meet earlier but couldn’t because of their busy schedules.

The meeting comes after a diplomatic crisis erupted over France’s offer to mediate between Turkey and the U.S.-backed SDF, which is dominated by the YPG.

President Macron’s meeting offer with the SDF was branded as “unacceptable” by Turkey with Çavuşoğlu saying it showed France’s “double standard” on terrorist groups and calling on Paris to take a clear stance against all of forms of terror.