Posts Tagged ‘Syrian air force’

U.S. defense secretary says Syria dispersed warplanes, retains chemical weapons

April 21, 2017

Reuters

By Idrees Ali | TEL AVIV

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that Syria had dispersed its warplanes in recent days and that it retained chemical weapons, an issue he said would have to be taken up diplomatically.

The United States launched dozens of missiles earlier this month against a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack that killed 90 people, including 30 children. It says the Syrian government launched the attack from the Shayrat air base.

The Pentagon has said that the strike had damaged or destroyed about 20 percent of the Syrian military’s operational aircraft.

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During a press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart, Mattis was asked whether the Syrian military had moved warplanes to a Russian base in Latakia.

“They have dispersed their aircraft, no doubt. They have dispersed their aircraft in recent days,” Mattis said.

Mattis also reiterated that the United States believed Syria had retained some chemical weapons.

“The bottom line is, I can say authoritatively they have retained some (chemical weapons). It’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically,” Mattis said.

Israel’s military said on Wednesday it believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces still possess several tonnes of chemical weapons.

A senior Israeli military officer told Israeli reporters that “a few tonnes of chemical weapons” remained in the hands of Assad’s forces, a military official told Reuters.

In a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia and the United States, Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons, a global watchdog, said sarin or a similar banned toxin was used in the April 4 strike in Syria’s Idlib province.

Mattis later met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Before the start of their talks, Netanyahu said he was optimistic about relations between the two countries under the new U.S. administration.

The two countries are working to set a more positive tone after eight years of friction under President Donald Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Gareth Jones and Richard Lough)

Are U.S. Airstrikes in Syria Effective? Will the U.S. “play into the hands” of Daesh terrorists?

April 8, 2017

Image may contain: outdoor

Syrian airbase after the U.S. cruise missile attack on April 6, 2017. SPUTNIK photo by Mikhail Voskresenskiy

SPUTNIK

Sputnik has frequently been accused of providing Russian propaganda. None of the photos or text here has been authenticated by Western media.

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The military airfield in Ash Sha’irat, seriously damaged by the attacks of US cruise missiles April 7, was actively used by the Syrian Air Force from the very beginning of the civil war.

Head of the Center for Military Forecasting Anatoly Tsyganok believes that the US military activities in the country “play into the hands” of Daesh terrorists.

“The Syrian Air Force can use about 8-10 military airfields in Damascus-controlled territories,” Tsyganok told Sputnik. “Today, one of them was destroyed, which means that the other air bases will have to do much more work. Now our pilots will also have more work, and the terrorists will definitely try to use this missile strike in their favor.”

In fact, a few hours after the strike, the terrorists launched an offensive in the eastern part of Homs province, just near the airfield, an official representative of the Ministry of Defense of Russia, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said.The information was confirmed by the Arab online portal Al-Masdar. After two hours of fighting, the Syrian army managed to repulse the offensive. However, experts believe that the terrorists are likely to attempt other attacks in the near future.

Aftermath of the US missile attack on a Syrian military airbase
© SPUTNIK/ MIKHAIL VOSKRESENSKIY
Aftermath of the US missile attack on a Syrian military airbase

The convenient location of the airfield in Ash Sha’irat — 38 kilometers southeast of the city of Homs, in the center of the western part of the country — allowed the Syrian forces to carry out combat missions in various parts of the country.

“A three-kilometer long runway could accept planes of all types — from fighters to heavy transporters. An additional runway of similar length was supposed to be used in the event of a major failure,” military observer Alexander Kotz wrote for RIA Novosti.

Now, the airfield is fully out of order. The satellite images published by Western media shortly after the strikes clearly show that the US cruise missiles seriously damaged its infrastructure, including both runways, and hit tanks with aviation fuel. This information was confirmed to Sputnik by an airfield employee.On Thursday night, the US military launched multiple cruise missiles at the Syrian military airfield in Ash Sha’irat, near the city of Homs. US President Donald Trump said the missile attack was a response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria’s Idlib Province on Tuesday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the US attack, adding that the use of chemical weapons in Idlib was impossible, as Damascus did not have such weapons. Moscow also suspended a memorandum of understanding on air safety over Syria with Washington earlier in the day due to the US attack.

https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201704071052427267-strategic-importance-syrian-air-base/

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In this file photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site Friday, April 7, 2017, an aerial view shows shelters for aircraft at a Syrian airbase after the U.S. cruise missile attack.

US strike on Syrian air base has limited impact on Assad

Posted: Apr 08, 2017 3:09 AM EDT — Updated: Apr 08, 2017 3:09 AM EDT

(SANA via AP, File). FILE - In this file photo released on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows warplanes inside the Kweiras air base, east of Aleppo, Syria. A U.S. missile attack on Friday, April 7, 2017 has caused h...
In this file photo released on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows warplanes inside the Kweiras air base, east of Aleppo, Syria. A U.S. missile attack on Friday, April 7, 2017 has caused damage to the airfield infrastructure. SANA via AP, File).

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By BASSEM MROUE
Associated PressBEIRUT (AP) – The U.S. missile attack caused heavy damage to one of Syria’s biggest and most strategic air bases, used to launch warplanes to strike opposition-held areas throughout Syria.Videos from inside the Shayrat air base showed fighter jets and hangars destroyed and runways pocked with holes after the strike in the pre-dawn hours Friday. Still, the impact on President Bashar Assad’s military capabilities is limited: His air force has more than a dozen other bases from which to operate.In fact, just hours after 59 U.S. Tomahawk missiles hit the base southeast of the city of Homs, Syrian warplanes struck opposition targets in the north and south of the country, including one near the town of Khan Sheikhoun, where a chemical weapons attack Tuesday triggered the U.S. missile strike.

The missiles -launched from the USS Ross and USS Porter warships deployed in the Mediterranean – targeted the base’s two airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition depots, U.S. officials said. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said they destroyed six Syrian air force MiG-23 fighter jets that were undergoing repairs, but didn’t damage other warplanes at the base.

The Kremlin maintained only 23 of the 59 cruise missiles reached the base, leaving the runways intact. However, a U.S. official said all but one of the 59 missiles struck their targets, hitting multiple aircraft and air shelters, and destroying the fuel area. The official, who was not authorized to discuss initial reports, spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Although the strike will further weaken the overall air defense and ground attack capabilities of the (Syrian air force), it will not significantly diminish the ability of the Assad regime to conduct further chemical weapons attacks,” wrote analyst Reed Foster of the defense and intelligence publication Jane’s.

Col. Hassan Hamade, a Syrian pilot who defected in June 2012 when he landed his MiG-21 in Jordan, agreed.

“The bombardment of Shayrat will not have a major effect on military operations of the regime,” said Hamade, speaking to The Associated Press by telephone from Turkey. He said if only the tarmac was destroyed it can be fixed within hours, but if the communications system and the control tower were heavily damaged it will take weeks if not months.

No matter how extensive the damage at Shayrat, Assad has other options, Hamade said. There are 25 air bases in Syria, including 20 under government control. He said Shayrat is the second-most active when it comes to take offs and landings, superseded only by the Hemeimeem base operated by the Russian military in the coastal province of Latakia. He said he expects the country’s third-most active, Saqqal air base, which is also located in central Syria, will fill the vacuum created by the destruction at Shayrat.

Hamade said Iranian military advisers were active at the base, though it was not possible to independently confirm the claim. The Russian Defense Ministry made no mention of any Russian presence at the base before, during or after the attack, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there were no Russian casualties.

Opposition activists in the area reported extensive damage. “Shayrat air base in Homs that killed and displaced innocent people is out of order after the American military strikes,” said activist Mohammed al-Sibai, who is based in Homs province.

“The air base is almost nearly destroyed, including aircraft and air defense bases,” said Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, which operates a network of activists on the ground in Syria. Still, he said the strike on the base, Syria’s second-largest, with a fleet of Sukhoi-22, Sukhoi-24 and MiG-23 warplanes, is more a moral blow than a military one.

Syrian government officials said the base has played an instrumental role in the fight against the Islamic State group, which until recently controlled the historic town of Palmyra in Homs province.

“This very airport that was attacked by the United States has been fighting against terrorists for the last six years,” Assad adviser Buthaina Shaaban told the AP in Damascus.

“If the United States is serious about fighting terrorism, why not direct its missiles on Daesh and al-Nusra,” she said, using an Arabic acronym for IS and referring to al-Qaida’s branch in Syria.

Hours after the bombardment, opposition activists reported several Syrian warplanes took off from Shayrat. The Observatory said they attacked a position of the Islamic State group, while Osama Abu Zeid of the Homs Media Center said they landed at the nearby T4 air base, but did not carry out any attacks.

Opposition activist Bebars al-Talawy, who is from Homs province, said the base is surrounded by villages that are loyal to Assad and many of their residents work there. Syria’s state news agency SANA said two missiles hit nearby villages, killing four people and wounding seven.

Al-Talawy said that after the bombing dozens of ambulances rushed to the area to evacuate the wounded adding that people living nearby saw balls of fire that lit through the sky when the missiles hit the base.

A video posted on Syrian state TV showed some of the hangars received direct hits, while photos posted online by a Russian journalist who visited the base showed that at least one warplane was totally destroyed inside the hangar.

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Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Philip Issa in Beirut and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

War Crimes In Syria: Assad Regime Bombed Damascus Water Supply in December, Leaving 5 Million Without Water, U.N. Commission Finds

March 14, 2017

AFP

GENEVA (AFP) – The Syrian government intentionally bombed the Ain al-Fijeh spring in December, leaving more than five million people in Damascus without access to water, a UN probe said Tuesday, as it branded the strike a “war crime”.

“The information examined by the Commission confirms that the bombing of (the Ain al-Fijeh) spring was carried out by the Syrian Air Force,” the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a report.

The report meanwhile dismissed regime allegations that rebels had contaminated the water.

Around 5.5 million people in Damascus and its suburbs were cut off from water when fighting intensified in Wadi Barada near Damascus in late December.

A picture shows the area around the Ain al-Fijeh water pumping station, in the countryside of Damascus, on January 29, 2017, after the Syrian army entered it for the first time in four years after a deal with rebels who first seized it in 2012
© AFP 2017/ STRINGER
A picture shows the area around the Ain al-Fijeh water pumping station, in the countryside of Damascus, on January 29, 2017, after the Syrian army entered it for the first time in four years after a deal with rebels who first seized it in 2012

The regime accused the rebels of poisoning water resources and cutting off the mains, while the armed opposition said regime bombardment had destroyed the infrastructure.

The UN experts, who have never been granted access to Syria and who base their reports on interviews and documents, said they had found no “indications that the water was contaminated” before the spring was bombed on December 23.

“On the contrary, interviewees say that Wadi Barada residents used water up until the bombing of 23 December and no one experienced any symptoms of contamination,” the report said.

Following the bombing, the water was contaminated after shrapnel damaged fuel and chlorine storage facilities, it said.

The bombing itself indicated that the “spring was purposely targeted,” the report found.

“While the presence of armed group fighters at (the Ain al-Fijeh) spring constituted a military target, … the damage caused … was grossly disproportionate to the military advantage anticipated or achieved,” it said.

“The attack amounts to the war crime of attacking objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, and further violated the principle of proportionality in attacks,” the report concluded.

At the end of January, Syria’s army regained control of Wadi Barada, which rebels first seized in 2012.

More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions forced to flee their homes since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011, as protests against President Bashar al-Assad morphed into war following a government crackdown.

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Syrian Military, Not Rebels, Severed Damascus Water Supply, U.N. Finds

GENEVA — Syrian military airstrikes on rebels were responsible for severing water supplies to 5.5 million people in the Damascus region for weeks starting last December, the United Nations said on Tuesday, rebutting government claims that insurgents were to blame.

In a bombing campaign to drive rebel forces from the Barada Valley north of Damascus, Syrian air force jets launched multiple strikes on their positions around the al-Feijeh spring, which supplied water to the capital, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry monitoring the conflict in Syriasaid in a report.

Source/Read the rest: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/14/world/middleeast/syrian-military-not-rebels-severed-damascus-water-supply-un-finds.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fmiddleeast&_r=0

US, Russia set to clash over Syria sanctions

February 28, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Carole LANDRY | Rebels ride a motorcycle past a destroyed building in the northwestern Syrian border town of al-Bab on February 25, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – Russia and the United States were headed for a clash at the UN Security Council on Tuesday as Moscow prepared to veto a draft resolution that would impose sanctions on Syria.

The council will vote on a text drafted by the United States, Britain and France that would put 11 Syrians and 10 entities linked to chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 on a UN blacklist.

Russia has vowed to use its veto to block the measure, which would mark the seventh time that Moscow has resorted to its veto power to shield its Damascus ally.

“In terms of sanctions against the Syrian leadership, I think that now they are completely inappropriate,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday at a press conference in Kyrgyzstan.

“This would not help the negotiation process but would only interfere or undermine confidence,” Putin said, adding that Russia “will not support any new sanctions in relation to Syria.”

The vote scheduled for 11:30 am (1630 GMT) would mark the first major council action by the new US administration of President Donald Trump, who is seeking warmer ties with Russia.

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the three countries were united in the view that those responsible for chemical weapons use must be held accountable.

Support for the resolution will send a “strong, clear message… that the international community means business on preventing the use of these abhorrent weapons,” Rycroft said.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley was in Washington on Monday to join Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for a White House lunch.

“How much longer is Russia going to continue to babysit and make excuses for the Syrian regime?” she said on Friday following a closed-door council meeting on Syria.

“People have died by being suffocated to death. That’s barbaric.”

The vote would see the Trump administration joining old allies France and Britain to confront Russia over its support for Syria.

“We are very pleased that the new American administration has confirmed it shares completely our view on this and so we are ready to move forward,” said French Ambassador Francois Delattre.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said Friday that Moscow would veto the measure because it was “one-sided” and based on “insufficient proof.”

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the war that has killed 310,000 people since March 2011.

– Punishing those behind chlorine attacks –

The vote comes as UN-brokered talks in Geneva to end the war in Syria were struggling to get off the ground while government air strikes continued, despite a ceasefire.

The draft resolution follows a UN-led investigation which concluded in October that the Syrian air force had dropped chlorine barrel-bombs from helicopters on three opposition-held villages in 2014 and 2015.

The joint panel of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also found that Islamic State jihadists used mustard gas in an attack in 2015.

Under the measure, 11 Syrians, mostly military officials, and 10 entities linked to chemical weapons development would be placed on a UN sanctions blacklist, hit by a global travel ban and assets freeze.

The draft resolution would also ban the sale, supply or transfer of helicopters and related materiel, including spare parts, to the Syrian armed forces or the government.

The UN-OPCW panel had identified the Syrian air force units who dropped chlorine barrel-bombs on the villages of Qmenas, Talmenes and Sarmin in 2014 and 2015.

The head of Syrian air force intelligence, Major General Jamil Hassan, and Major General Saji Jamil Darwish, the commander of Syrian air force operations during the attacks on the villages, are among those on the proposed blacklist.

The United States last month imposed sanctions on 18 senior Syrian military officers and officials over the use of chemical weapons.

Chlorine use as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013 under pressure from Russia.

by Carole LANDRY

Syrian warplanes resume strikes near Damascus late on Sunday amid shaky ceasefire — But Unlikely to lead to the ceasefire collapse

January 1, 2017

Airstrikes in parts of Syria have threatened an unstable truce brokered by Russia and Turkey. Hundreds of people have also fled a mountainous region near Damascus, where government forces were battling insurgent groups.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

As the fragile Syrian ceasefire entered its third day on Sunday, Syrian government warplanes carried out several air strikes and ground-level clashes.

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According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, jets bombed the villages of Kafr Kar, Mintar and around the town of Banan in the southern Aleppo countryside.

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Regime air strikes also hit the Wadi Barada region near Damascus, where the government says rebels last week deliberately targeted water infrastructure that supplies the capital.

‘Unlikely to lead to the ceasefire collapse’

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Outside Damascus, the Observatory also reported exchanges of fire between the regime and rebels in Eastern Ghouta, where President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have waged a months-long offensive to retake an opposition bastion.

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Despite the unrest, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the air strikes and fighting were “unlikely to lead to the ceasefire collapsing, but they are violations of the deal.”

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As a result of the strikes, the Syrian military said some 1,300 people have fled the Barada Valley region since Saturday.

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Talks due in Damascus

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The nationwide truce, between the Syrian regime and non-jihadist rebels aims to ease the path to peace talks in Kazakhstan later this month, orchestrated by Damascus’ allies Moscow and Tehran and rebel backer Ankara.

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The truce excludes “Islamic State” (IS) militants, however, as well as the formerly al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front.

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The United Nations Security Council unanimously backed the Russia and Turkey initiative on Saturday. If it holds, the ceasefire could mark a potential breakthrough in Syria’s multifaceted war, which began in 2011 with an uprising against President Assad. Hundreds of thousands people have died in the Syrian conflict, which also made way for the so-called “IS” terrorist group.

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ksb/se (Reuters, AFP, AP)

http://www.dw.com/en/syrian-warplanes-resume-strikes-near-damascus-amid-shaky-ceasefire/a-36969430

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Syria: Third Day Of Truce — Air strikes, clashes persist

January 1, 2017

Reuters

Syrian government warplanes carried out several air strikes and low-level clashes persisted in some areas on Sunday, but a Russian and Turkish-backed ceasefire largely held in other areas on its third day, a monitoring group and rebels said.

Jets bombed the villages of Kafr Kar, Mintar and around the town of Banan in the southern Aleppo countryside, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Government forces also advanced overnight against rebels in the Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, seizing 10 farms close to the town of Douma, the monitor added.

But other areas were quiet, and opposition groups did not follow through on threats made on Saturday to abandon the truce altogether, raising hopes for an end to almost six years of fighting.

Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel group operating mostly in western province Hama, said the area was mostly calm. There were low-level clashes in Wadi Barada near Damascus but government forces and their allies had stopped carrying out air strikes and shelling, he said.

The rebels warned on Saturday they would abandon the truce if government truce violations persisted, giving an 8:00 p.m. deadline for attacks in Wadi Barada to stop. The shelling and air raids ceased by that time, rebels said.

(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Russia foreign ministry says Syria school strike photos ‘fake’

October 28, 2016

AFP

© AFP/File | A general view shows a damaged classroom at a school after it was hit in an air strike in the village of Hass, in the south of Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province on October 26, 2016

MOSCOW (AFP) – A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman on Friday said an expert examination of pictures showing a strike on a Syrian school that UNICEF said killed 22 children, had shown they were fake.

“Today after expert analysis of photographs from the Syrian village of Hass, it turned out that there was no strike on the school and there were no victims either,” Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.

“The photographs are computer graphics,” she said, without giving any details.

Air strikes on a school in Hass village in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province killed 22 children and six teachers, the UN children’s agency UNICEF said on Wednesday.

Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Thursday that photographs taken by a Russian drone showed that the roof of the school reportedly hit in the strikes showed no damage and that there were no craters attributable to bombs in the area.

And he said that “not one Russian warplane entered that area” on that day.

“This is an absolute fact.”

Zakharova had on Thursday initially described the attack as a “terrible tragedy,” while insisting that reports of Russian involvement were untrue after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes were carried out by “warplanes — either Russian or Syrian”.

Syrian government forces and their Russian allies have been accused by Western powers and rights groups of carrying out indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure.

Turkey Vows to Press Syria Offensive Despite Warning From Pro-Assad Forces

October 26, 2016

Reuters

OCT. 26, 2016, 5:36 A.M. EDT

ANKARA/BEIRUT — Turkey said on Wednesday it will press its military offensive in Syria until Islamic State is driven from the town of al-Bab, despite a warning from forces allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a helicopter attack on the rebels it backs.

Turkey’s incursion into Syria, launched two months ago to drive Islamic State from its border and prevent Kurdish militia fighters gaining ground in their wake, has complicated an already messy battlefield in northern Syria.

As the Turkish-backed rebels push south towards al-Bab, an Islamic State-held town 35 km (22 miles) northeast of Aleppo, they face confrontation with both Kurdish and pro-Assad forces, whose frontlines lie close by.

The field commander of the forces allied to the Syrian leader – which include the Lebanese group Hezbollah, Iraqi militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – warned Turkey any advance towards their positions north and east of Aleppo would be met “decisively and with force”.

The commander, who was not identified by name, nationality or affiliation made the comments during a tour of frontlines to the north of Aleppo in a written statement sent to Reuters. They came a day after what the Turkish military said was a barrel bomb attack on the rebels its backs by a Syrian helicopter.

“This kind of attack will not stop our fight against Daesh (Islamic State),” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in the capital Ankara.

“This operation will continue until al-Bab. The operation needs to continue, and it will,” he said.

The Turkish military said a helicopter “assessed to belong to regime forces” bombed the rebels in a village near Akhtarin, a town 5 km (3 miles) southeast of Dabiq, late on Tuesday. Dabiq is a former Islamic State stronghold which the rebels seized from the jihadists this month.

It was the first time a direct clash between Syrian forces and the Turkish-backed rebels has been announced. Two rebels were killed and five wounded, the Turkish army said.

The Syrian military could not immediately be reached for comment, but it said last week that the presence of Turkish troops on Syrian soil was a “dangerous escalation and flagrant breach of Syria’s sovereignty”. It warned it would bring down any Turkish warplanes entering Syrian air space.

Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield” two months ago, sending tanks and warplanes into Syria in support of the largely Turkmen and Arab rebels. President Tayyip Erdogan has also said the operation will continue to al-Bab, which the Kurdish YPG militia is also seeking to control.

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Tom Perry in Beirut, Humeyra Pamuk and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall and Angus MacSwan)

Amid Syria’s Misery, Hundreds of Thousands Dead or Refugees, Chemical Weapons, War Crimes — The U.S. May Answer With More Sanctions

October 6, 2016

AFP

© AFP / by Andrew Beatty, with Carole Landry at the United Nations | A member of Syria’s pro-government forces guards a lookout point as they advance in Aleppo’s rebel-held Bustan al-Basha neighbourhood on October 6, 2016

WASHINGTON (AFP) – With diplomacy faltering and Aleppo under siege, President Barack Obama is considering fresh Syria sanctions that could claw deeper into the regime and target its Russian backers.

Officials and diplomats said the strategy is still being thrashed out, but initial efforts could focus on passing UN sanctions against those implicated in chemical weapons attacks.

A UN-backed panel is expected in the next few weeks to present new findings about deadly chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015.

The panel — formed by the United Nations and the independent Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — has already pinned the blame on the Syrian Air Force.

But the latest report, due before October 27, is expected to go into more detail about who is responsible, paving the way for targeted sanctions.

Supporters say the sanctions would send a signal that despite years of fighting, innumerable atrocities and at least 300,000 deaths, some small measure of accountability in Syria remains.

And while most of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle and top military aides are already the subjects of US travel bans and assets freezes, officials believe that targeting lower-level military officers would have a chilling effect on Syrian military morale.

But the greatest impact may be diplomatic.

A demand for sanctions would put Russia in the uncomfortable position of defending chemical weapons use by its ally, and could force Moscow to wield its veto in the UN Security Council.

The report had earlier been delayed, partly to provide space for US and Russian efforts to broker a ceasefire.

Those have now failed, heaping pressure on Obama to act to stop the carnage in Syria.

“What we are doing now is a different type of diplomacy — one which might be more robust — it could be resolutions which are designed to put pressure on them,” a Security Council diplomat said.

“The strategy that we are on is to try to change Russian behavior and let’s face it we have not been very successful at that in the year that they have been militarily supporting Assad,” the diplomat added.

“There is already work going on a draft resolution to take forward the 3rd and further 4th report in terms of what we do about it.”

– Gaining leverage –

If the UN route fails, attention is likely to turn to sanctions agreed by the United States, the European Union and other allies.

Officials indicated the scope could be broad, covering not only Syrians but also Russian firms that provided the means to carry out the bombing of civilian areas.

That would be intended as a strong signal to Moscow that it is not immune and continued support for the regime would come at a price.

“I wouldn’t rule out multilateral efforts outside of the UN to impose costs on Syria or Russia or others with regard to the situation inside of Syria,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

“I wouldn’t take that off the table in terms of options that the president may consider.”

The sanctions would be targeted at specific firms — aircraft parts suppliers or chemicals producers — to overcome opposition in European capitals to broad sanctions against Russia, a major trading partner.

But with Russia and Syria dropping bombs on besieged Aleppo and a humanitarian crisis of historic proportions looming, key hurdles to action have fallen away.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, eying the carnage in Aleppo and the severity of the refugee crisis that has rocked Europe, is reportedly taking a tougher line.

After a call with Obama last week, the two leaders decried “barbarous Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes against eastern Aleppo,” saying in unusually strong language that Moscow and Damascus bear a special responsibility to stop the fighting.

But none of the sanctions options under consideration is likely to directly end fighting in Aleppo.

Several officials poured cold water on the idea that Obama would reverse years of opposition to military action against the regime by approving air or cruise missile strikes against airfields or other targets.

“There are significant consequences for using US military force against the Assad regime,” Earnest said. “I’d say the most important of those consequences that we should be mindful of is dragging the United States into another ground war in the Middle East.”

Sending in troops “would have grave consequences for our national security,” he added. “It would be expensive, it would put at risk more American lives and it’s unclear how a conflict like that would end.”

Obama was elected with a mandate to draw down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He has sent around 300 troops to Syria, focused on the battle against the Islamic State group, but has refused to plunge them into a civil war that is not deemed in America’s strategic interest.

He has backed diplomacy instead as the only way out of the crisis.

But with just months left in office, the siege and bombardment of Syria’s second city has put his reluctance to use force in Syria back under the spotlight, exposing deep unease within his administration.

by Andrew Beatty, with Carole Landry at the United Nations

Russia sends advanced missile system to Syria — “Ghastly avalanche of violence and destruction” continues in east Aleppo

October 5, 2016

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One of Russia’s most advanced anti-missile systems goes into Syria

AFP

Latest update : 2016-10-05

Russia said Tuesday it has sent an advanced missile system to the Syrian port of Tartus, as tensions escalate between Moscow and Washington over the five-year conflict.

The announcement came after Washington said it was suspending talks with Moscow aimed at reviving a ceasefire deal over Russia’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

On the ground, Assad’s forces advanced on rebels during intense street fighting in the opposition-held east of Aleppo city, which Russia has been accused of bombing indiscriminately including targeting its hospitals.

The UN rights chief called for action to halt the “ghastly avalanche of violence” unfolding in Syria’s second city, which is reeling from some of the most brutal fighting in the conflict.

Russia, which has denied its strikes have hit hospitals, said it was deploying an S-300 missile system to Tartus on the Mediterranean coast.

“The S-300 is a purely defensive system and poses no threat to anyone,” said defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

“It’s not clear why the placement of S-300 in Syria has caused such a stir among our western colleagues,” he said in a statement.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the Russian missile system would not affect operations in the US-led air campaign against the Islamic State group in northern Syria, and questioned why Moscow was making the move.

“Last I checked, the Russians said that their primary goal was to fight extremism, ISIL and Nusra, in Syria,” he said, referring to IS and another group formerly known as Al-Nusra Front.

“Neither one has an air force… So this is something we’ll watch carefully. But it should be clear to the Russians and everybody else operating in Syria how seriously we take the safety of our air crews.”

As well as operating a naval facility in Tartus, Russia runs an air base outside the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, which currently houses warplanes used in its bombing campaign in support of ally Assad.

In August, a Russian official said Moscow was planning to expand into a permanent military facility its Hmeimim air base, which already has an S-400 air defence system, its most modern equipment.

Washington announced late Monday that it would suspend joint efforts to reinstate a nationwide truce, accusing Moscow of abetting Assad’s assault on Aleppo.

‘Patience has run out’

“Everybody’s patience with Russia has run out,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

A US official said Secretary of State John Kerry was focused on finding a diplomatic solution, but his talks with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the crisis were over.

US security and foreign policy chiefs were set to meet Wednesday to discuss “diplomatic, military, intelligence and economic options” ahead of a meeting with President Barack Obama, a State Department spokesman said.

“Just because we’ve temporarily suspended the cooperation that we had bilaterally with Russia on Syria doesn’t mean that we’ve closed any doors on multilateral action,” Mark Toner added.

The Kremlin said it “would like to hope for the presence of political wisdom and the continuation of exchanges on particularly sensitive issues that are necessary for maintaining peace and security.”

The US-Russia truce plan had envisioned an end to hostilities, increased aid deliveries, and eventual coordination in the fight against jihadists.

But it collapsed after a week, with Russia blaming Washington for failing to convince rebels to distance themselves from jihadists.

Russia and the US will keep a communications channel open solely to ensure their separate anti-jihadist bombing campaigns do not get in each other’s way.

The Syrian army announced a major Russian-backed military push nearly two weeks ago to capture the eastern half of Aleppo, once the country’s commercial hub.

‘Avalanche of violence’

The regime forces were “gradually advancing” after street battles on the front line dividing the city, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

State media said rebel shelling on the government-held west, including the Aleppo University campus, killed six people.

More than 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in March 2011, and the latest attempt at securing a diplomatic solution to the war has fallen apart.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein decried the “ghastly avalanche of violence and destruction” in east Aleppo, saying 100 children had been killed in the past 10 days.

He urged the Security Council to introduce a limit on its members’ veto power, to prevent countries like Russia blocking the referral of Syria’s conflict to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

On Monday, the largest hospital in the rebel-held side of Aleppo was completely destroyed in an aerial attack, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, which supports the facility.

(AFP)