Syria

Kurdish forces hand over villages to Assad regime?

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are accused of handing over territory in northern Syria to the Assad regime, in a deal brokered by Russia. The handover of five villages west of Manbij, Aleppo governorate, is the first transfer in what is said to be a developing alliance, made amid a Turkish-rebel offensive in Syria's north. "The handover has taken place," Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, the SDF's local command, said in a statement reported by Reuters. The development follows the taking of the strategic town of al-Bab by Turkish-led forces. Pro-Assad forces meanwhile advanced south and east of al-Bab, linking with Kurdish-controlled territory for the first time.

Trump travel ban bars Syrian activist from Oscars

A film celebrating the White Helmets, the volunteer rescue group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria, won an Oscar for best short documentary. The eponymously titled White Helmets, a 40-minute Netflix film, provides a window into the lives of the volunteers as they scramble to pull survivors from the rubble of buildings flattened in air-strikes. (Al Jazeera) But a Syrian cinematographer who worked on the documentary was barred from entering the US to attend the Academy Awards ceremony. Despite being granted a visa, Khaled Khatib, was held up at the Istanbul airport, with US officials reportedly uncovering "derogatory information" about him. Homeland Security at the last minute blocked Khatib from traveling to Los Angeles, saying he now needed a new passport waiver (Raw Story)

US bombs post-Nusra militants fighting Assad

A militant said to be al-Qaeda's second-in-command was killed by a US drone strike in Syria's Idlib governorate, rebel leaders said Feb. 27. Egypt-born Abu al-Khayr al-Masri (formerly Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abdel Rahman), the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was reportedly a close aide to al-Qaeda's current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The drone attack on his vehicle was reported by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (Levant Liberation Body, HTS), a newly formed alliance led by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former Nusra Front. (MEE, BBC News, Feb. 27) Two days earlier, HTS claimed responsibility for a suicide blast in Homs that killed a Syrian senior military intelligence official who was reportedly close to dictator Bashar Assad. The official, Gen. Hassan Daabul, was slain along with several others when a suicide bomber penetrated a security complex in the city. An HTS statement said its "inghimasi fighters" were responsible for the raid, and claimed that some 40 personnel were killed. (LWJ, Feb. 25)

Multiple forces hit ISIS on all fronts

Free Syrian Army militia backed by Turkish forces took the Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS militants Feb. 23, although fighting continues in some districts. The ISIS fighters withdrew via a route left open for them by the commanders of Operation Euphrates Shield, the joint Turkish-FSA campaign. (Rudaw, Feb. 23) As US-led Iraqi and Kurdish forces close the circle on ISIS in Mosul, the Syrian Democratic Forces continue their advance on Raqqa. The US commander in Iraq predicts the imminent taking of both Mosul and Raqqa. "Within the next six months, I think we'll see both conclude," said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend outside Baghdad Feb. 8. The enemy is "overwhelmed anywhere that they are," added Col. John Dorrian, spokesperson for the US-led Combined Joint Taskforce. (Rudaw, Feb. 8)

Amnesty blasts global 'politics of demonization'

Politicians wielding a dehumanizing rhetoric are creating a more divided and dangerous world, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. The report, "The State of the World's Human Rights" (PDF), warns that the consequences of "us vs them" rhetoric setting the agenda in Europe, the United States and elsewhere is fuelling a global pushback against human rights and leaving the global response to mass atrocities perilously weak. "President Trump's policies have brought the US to a level of human rights crisis that we haven't seen in years," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "As the world braces itself for a new executive order, thousands of people inside and outside of US borders have had their lives thrown into chaos as a result of the president's travel ban. This administration, like other governments across the world, is playing politics with people's lives. President Trump and leaders across the globe should be reaffirming and upholding international human rights protections, not exploiting fear and prejudice for their own agendas."

Syria: chemical attacks on Aleppo claimed

Syrian government forces conducted coordinated chemical attacks in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during the final month of the battle for the city, Human Rights Watch said Feb. 13. Through phone and in-person interviews with witnesses and analysis of video footage, photographs, and posts on social media, Human Rights Watch documented government helicopters dropping chlorine in residential areas on at least eight occasions between Nov. 17 and Dec. 13, 2016. The attacks, some of which included multiple munitions, killed at least nine civilians, including four children, and injured around 200. The attacks took place in areas where government forces planned to advance, starting in the east and moving westwards as the frontlines moved, Human Rights Watch said.

Syria: Idlib between jihadis and imperial air-raids

Late last year, when the evacuation of Aleppo began as the city fell to Assad regime forces backed by Russian air-strikes, we noted that residents were being sent to Idlib governorate, which is both under control of jihadist factions and also targeted for air-strikes and eventual conquest by the regime and its Russian patrons. So secularists fleeing Aleppo were likely to find no refuge from either regime or opposition forces in Idlib. Now comes the news that Radio Fresh, voice of the embattled secularist civil resistance in ‪‎the Idlib town of Kafranbel‬, is being censored by the jihadists—and finding a creative way to resist. The FM station's manager Raed Fares told BBC News that they've been broadcasting hours of barnyard sounds each day to protest and mock censorious orders from local militants of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front). "They tried to force us to stop playing music on air," said Fares. "So we started to play animals in the background as a kind of sarcastic gesture against them."

Bashar Assad: Trump's Syria policy is 'promising'

Syria's embattled dictator Bashar Assad was quoted by his own official news agency SANA Feb. 7 saying he found President Trump's stance on the war in his country to be "promising." This word was headlined by Reuters, but it is worth noting the full quote. Assad told a group of Belgian reporters: "What we heard as statements by Trump during the campaign and after the campaign is promising regarding the priority of fighting terrorists, and mainly ISIS, that’s what we’ve been asking for during the last six years. So, I think this is promising, we have to wait, it's still early to expect anything practical. It could be about the cooperation between the US and Russia, that we think is going to be positive for the rest of the world, including Syria. So, as I said, it's still early to judge it."

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