PHOTO: A dust-covered man sits in opposition-held Aleppo city after Russian airstrikes earlier this week
UPDATE 1230 GMT: Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that “it is hard to imagine a better exercise” than Moscow’s operations in Syria.
At a press conference, Putin defiantly said that Russia “will never agree to someone from the outside imposing something” over the fate of President Assad.
The President said that, despite mounting economic problems for Russia, the intervention will not be a strain: “We can keep exercising there for a long time without much spending.” He added that the operations and bombing would be financed through the redistribution of the budget for military exercises.
Putin took a firm line against Turkey, following the downing of a Russia warplane by Turkish jets on November 24: “If someone in Turkey decided to kiss Americans on a certain body part, I don’t know whether it was right or not.”
Saying the shootdown as “an act of enmity”, he explained:
It is hard for us to reach agreement with the current Turkish leadership, if at all possible….
“What have they achieved? Maybe, they thought that we would run away from there [Syria]? But Russia is not such a country.
He dismissed the possibility that Russian bombing in northwest Syria of the Turkmen community, which has ethnic and cultural links to Turkey, might have prompted Ankara’s action: “I had never heard about the Turkomans before. No one said anything.”
Putin was not as hostile about the 34-nation Islamic coalition announced by Saudi Arabia last week, saying he did not think it would have an “anti-Russian character”: “For the war on terror, we have to unite all our forces, the alliance created by Saudi Arabia must act in the common interest.”
And the President was positive about Washington: “Russia’s plan for a resolution to the situation in Syria coincides in its main points with that of the United States.”
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Russia has tried to counter the criticism of the damage and civilian deaths from its bombing in Syria, asserting that it is hitting “selective” targets in the campaign that began September 30.
Russian warplanes have struck infrastructure and civilian sites among the more than 4,000 sorties, and the attacks have escalated since late November, particularly on opposition-held areas of northwest Syria. Hundreds of people have died in the assaults by bombers, jet fighters, and helicopters.
Among the sites damaged area a grain warehouse, a water treatment plant serving 1.4 million people, bakeries providing food for hundreds of thousands, schools, mosques, and markets. The UN and aid agencies say 80% of assistance to northwest Syria has been cut and about 260,000 people have been displaced by the airstrikes and the regime ground offensives that they support.
However, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov defended the campaign on Wednesday:
We regularly hear criticism of our air strikes against terrorist infrastructure targets in Syria, and there is even a pattern — the more accurately we strike the terrorists, the more noise there is in the foreign press with references to some anonymous sources about Russian air strikes allegedly being non-selective.
Today, we are the only army in the world which has shown in detail, how and with what Russian high precision weapons on planes and ships we are hitting terrorist targets.
Konashenkov then implied that it was the US-led coalition that had to answer for any possible effect on civilians from aerial operations: “At the same time, at best we only know of the results of the anti-IS coalition operations from the words of a few officials.”
The spokesman put out a barrage of claims to prop up his defense. He said “more than 320 militants and 34 armored vehicles and cars” had been destroyed by 59 sorties on 212 targets in 24 hours. Among the targets hit were “15 petrol tankers and about a hundred tanker trucks” used by the Islamic State.
There was no independent evidence to support Konashenkov’s numbers.
The Russians say they have destroyed more than 1,000 ISIS oil “tankers”. However, the militants do not have tankers to distribute their oil in Syria — most is carried by local truck drivers looking to make money from transport to both regime-controlled and opposition-held areas of Syria.
Moscow has also said over the past week — even as most of its attacks have been on opposition-controlled territory — that 30-40 airstrikes each day are supporting Free Syrian Army operations.
Opposition Journalist Assassinated in Idlib Province
Opposition journalist Ahmad Mohamed al-Mousa was killed in Idlib Province on Wednesday by masked assailants.
Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, the media activist group to which Mousa belongs, reported the assassination without giving details.
Another member of the group, Ibrahim Abdelqader, and his friend were killed in Turkey on October 29.
Video: Rebels Try to Retake Military Bases East of Damascus
Rebels pursue a counter-attack on the Marj al-Sultan military bases east of Damascus:
Regime forces captured the bases, including a complex for helicopters, and the nearby village on Monday. Rebels said the following day that they had established an operations room, with five factions including the leading group Jaish al-Islam, to reclaim the area.
Clashes Between Kurds and pro-Assad Fighters in Northeast
Clashes broke out in Qamishli city in northeastern Syria between Kurdish security forces and pro-Assad fighters on Wednesday, according to ARA News.
Citing “security sources and eyewitnesses”, the site said the two sides exchanged fire from their checkpoints in central Qamishli. Two regime fighters and one Kurdish policeman were injured.
On Tuesday, Kurdish security forces arrested nine regime fighters after one of them reportedly opened fire on traffic police. Regime forces responded by arresting three Kurdish personnel on Wednesday afternoon.
ARA says the regime’s National Defence Force militia have arrested dozens of young men as part of forced military service, angering Kurdish authorities.
Top Judicial Official in Daraa Province Assassinated
The top judicial official in opposition-controlled parts of Daraa Province has been assassinated.
Sheikh Osama al-Yatim was head of the Court of Justice (Dar al-Adl fi Houran), which adjudicates on civil and military disputes between civilians and rebel brigades.
Yatim was traveling by car with two of his brothers and two other companions in western Daraa Province on Tuesday when they were attacked. All were shot to death.
The men were killed between a Jabhat al-Nusra checkpoint and one controlled by the Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiyya faction, according to a local journalist.
Yatim’s deputy was assassinated by an unknown party in September, and the sheikh escaped an assassination attempt in July, discovering explosives attached to his car.
The Court of Justice was established in December 2014, setting up its headquarters at the Daraa Central Prison.
In April, Jabhat al-Nusra and Harakat a-Muthanna al-Islamiyya pulled out of the Court of Justice after the rebel bloc Southern Front disavowed military cooperation with Nusra and other “extremist” groups. .
Islamic State Mediates Tribal Dispute Over Oilfield in Eastern Syria
The Islamic State is mediating a dispute between two tribes over rights to an oilfield in Deir ez-Zor Province in eastern Syria.
ISIS organized a formal reconciliation meeting between the Hammar and Saawa tribes, bringing in a mediator from the larger clan which includes both tribes.
Two years ago, fighting between members of the two tribes left 11 dead. ISIS is paying SP25 million (about $113,000) to the families of tribesmen killed in that fighting.
The Islamic State has called on both tribes to pledge attention to it after the reconciliation.
The Islamic State is trying to show itself as the custodian of the tribes and that it is able to solve their problems in order to bring them into its ranks. The biggest motivation for IS is to prevent armed confrontations between its fighters. There are IS fighters from both tribes, so they are afraid that this problem will spread internally within the Islamic State.