Syria Daily, Feb 16: Rebel Defenses Collapsing in Northern Aleppo

PHOTO: Man carries a child from a hospital in Azaz, damaged by Russian airstrike on Monday (Mujahed Abul Joud/AFP)


Special: Is Turkey Ready to Move Without the US? (Not Quite.)

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UPDATE 1730 GMT: Russia’s Defense Ministry has tried to counter criticism of its airstrikes on hospitals and other civilian sites, following Monday’s attacks that killed an estimated 50 people during assaults on four medical facilities and a school.

“All strikes against terrorist targets are carried out only after multiple checks of intelligence and concerted efforts with the aim of reducing the risk for civilians,” spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

“Once again I remind you that the Russian armed forces together with our partners have launched a multi-level intelligence system that works round the clock to obtain reliable information about the actions of terrorists in Syria and some of its neighbors,” he insisted.

Konashenkov claimed that the reports of Russian attacks were Turkish propaganda.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond has joined French and Turkish condemnation of Moscow’s operatoins:

“The reported airstrikes conducted on hospitals in northern Syria in recent days could amount to war crimes and must be investigated.

I am appalled that the Assad regime and its Russian supporters are still bombing innocent civilians despite the agreement last Thursday to a cessation of hostilities….Russia needs to explain itself, and show through its actions that it is committed to ending the conflict, rather than fueling it.

Medecins Sans Frontieres have raised the death toll of the Russian attack on its hospital at Ma’arat al-Numan in Idlib Province.

The White Helmets civil defense organization say three survivors have been found, 36 hours after the airstrike

UPDATE 1630 GMT: A Turkish official has told reporters that Ankara will not intervene with ground forces unless it is joined by the US:

Turkey is not going to have a unilateral ground operation. We are asking coalition partners that there should be a ground operation. We are discussing this with allies.

We want a ground operation. If there is a consensus, Turkey will take part. Without a ground operation, it is impossible to stop this war.

Local sources have confirmed to EA that Saudi Arabia also requires US acceptance before any military intervention, amid both regime-Russian-Hezbollah-Iranian and Kurdish offensives against rebels in northwest Syria.

See also Syria Special: Is Turkey Ready to Move Without the US? (Not Quite.)

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has told French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault of Ankara’s dissatisfaction with Paris’s criticism of Turkish shelling of the positions of Kurdish YPG militia.

On Sunday, the French Foreign Ministry called on Turkey to halt bombardment of Kurdish-controlled zones.

ORIGINAL ENTRY After months of attacks from three sides, rebel defenses are collapsing in northern Aleppo Province in northern Syria.

Rebels have held the area since 2012 but have faced a foreign-led regime offensive, enabled by intense Russian bombing, since October 2015. They have been at war with the Islamic State, including a frontline near the town of Mare’, since early 2014. This month, the Kurdish YPG militia — now also supported by Russian airstrikes — have advanced.

On Monday, rebels suffered a series of losses between Aleppo city and the Turkish border. After days of battles, they gave up the town of Tal Rifaat, held since 2012, to the Kurdish-led assault. The YPG and allies also captured Kafrnaya, following clashes between the Syrian Army and rebels, and Kafrnashih.

The Syrian Army, which has been fighting alongside Iranian forces, Hezbollah units, and Iraqi and Afghan militias, occupied Misqan and Ahras.

Rebels had gained territory in northwest Syria through much of 2015, while holding the line against the Islamic State. However, Russian aerial intervention checked the advance and began threatening rebel lines. Defense was still maintained until this month; however, the Kurdish entry into the battles this month appears to have broken the rebel resistance.

Kurdish leaders are hoping to join the Afrin canton, northwest of Aleppo city, with the Kobane and Cezire cantons in northeast Syria to establish a territorially-unified Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava).

The Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, repeated on Monday that Ankara will not accept a Kurdish takeover of the border town of Azaz. But rebels face the loss of Mare’, to the east of Tel Rifaat, to either the Kurds or the regime offensive — this in turn would raise the possibility, for the first time, of a Kurdish fight with the Islamic State in northwest Syria.

Earlier this month, the regime offensive split rebel territory to the the north of Aleppo city, cutting supplies between the Turkish border and the opposition in Aleppo, divided since July 2012.

111 Killed Amid Russian Bombing of Hospitals and School

The Kurdish and regime gains in Aleppo Province on Monday were accompanied by more Russian bombing, including attacks on two hospitals, killing at least 15 people, and a school.

The Russians also damaged two hospitals in rebel-held Idlib Province, leaving another seven people dead and eight missing and presumed killed.

Farhan Haq, a United Nations spokesman, said a total of 50 people died in the bombings. Two of the hospitals were supported by the UN children’s organization UNICEF, one by the international organization Medecins Sans Frontieres, and one by the French-based Syria Charity.

See Syria Videos and Pictures: Latest Russian Airstrikes on Hospitals and a School

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the airstrikes “constitute war crimes”, an assertion echoed by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees documented the deaths of 111 people on Monday, most of them from the Russian bombing.

Of the deaths, 52 were in Aleppo Province, especially in the attacks on Tal Rifaat and on the Islamic State-held al-Bab. Another 19 people died in Idlib Province, and 18 in Damascus and its suburbs.

According to Physicians for Human Rights, 697 health care workers have been killed in 336 attacks on medical sites during the conflict. Almost all of the assaults have been by the Syrian and Russian air forces.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. SDF took Marea thx to a deal with rebel forces. Significantly they are heading east towards ISIS and not north. Azaz and whats north of it and the border region seemed indeed a safe zone under turks control.

    • The SDF can still connect their cantons without taking Azaz. Maybe this is the compromise for now. Of course a small enclave in Azaz makes no sense but it can be dealt with at a later date.

      That being said the idea of a connected Kurdish region in North Aleppo makes no sense long-term and I don’t believe could work out. Most of Northern Aleppo is almost exclusively Arab especially is you move west until you reach Afrin.

        Every move Putin makes adds to Russia’s economic burdens and to the totality of its enemies. Yesterday oil prices fell by $4 a barrel after Saudis and Russia failed to agree on a production cut. Had they managed a deal, wildcatters in Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota (none of whom belong to OPEC) with 4,000 wells drilled and just waiting for better prices to be brought on stream. A price recovery could effectively bail out dozens of shale companies now struggling with $30-a-barrel oil, allowing them to return to the capital market.
        An end to sanctions won’t do much for oil prices–the main source of Russian government revenues. As Russia catches cold, neighbors with close economic and military ties are catching pneumonia. Common sense tells you that cannot continue yet Russia has no way to bail out its puppets. The moment one satellite explodes, a chain reaction is likely. Any effort to put it out by force is foredoomed and will be costly. The attempt to fight several Afghan-type wars simultaneously, typical of Putin, is what seems certain to blow the top off in Russia itself.
        As you’d expect, Russian trolls online deny growing popular disillusionment. Citing a bad analogy (World War II) they assure us Russians will tolerate anything. Afghanistan, an avoidable war where patience ran out, is a more apt example. Why does Putin himself fear mass disruption—a fear visible in so many moves: his fostering of anti-maiden militias, his moving up elections before people sour, his murders of journalists and opposition politicians, his appointment of security cronies to most parts on the country. All of this tells us something else as well: Having nowhere to flee and no Putin of his own to rescue him, this dictator will not hesitate to do to Russia and Russians what Assad did to Syria.
        Russia may well break up after Putin in which case a new and very lengthy time of troubles is likely. One reason recovery won’t be easy is its one dimensional economy. Throw in its shrinking, aging, emigrating population. Add the self-made, radicalized enemies it is likely to face to its south. Historically a collapse of this sort can happen fast, as we saw in 1989. Russians’ only hope is that a coup ousts Putin and reverses his worst moves before he can “pull an Assad.”

  2. Update:

    #Aleppo: 1) “Reports that 16 YPG members were captured in al Hulluk” – Abduhark


    2) “Rebels destroyed a YPG pickup north of Tal Rifaat by a TOW missile. The first time rebels use TOWs (supplied by Saudi) against YPG” – Abduhark

    That’s going to be the first of many, the rebels have considerable practice in capturing troops through ambush, shame they haven’t manage to capture high-grade Russian weapons through ambush.

    3) “Rebels take control of multiple positions in #Aleppo from Russian/Assad backed YPG (Hellok, Bustan Basha, Masakin Ayn Tall & Farah hospital)” – Paradoxy13


    4) “Rebels captured #YPG fighters tried to sneak into Bostan al-Pasha district from the kurdish neighborhood Sheikh Maqsud” – markito0171

    I’ve mentioned this many times, rebels often deliberately withdraw from an area to draw out an opponent into an ambush, did it in the Ghab and they’re doing this in Aleppo.

    5) “Turkish artillery shelling YPG militia in all locations of Tal Refaat & Afrin rural Aleppo” – Malcolmite

    I still standby my prediction that YPG risk losing Afrin in the long term if they persist in their alliance with the Russians/Assadists.

    6) YPG allies expose their opportunism again “Jaysh al-Thuwar #SDF said to Al Aan TV:
    “Race now to seize areas before regime & if they refuses to leave, we’ll use force”” – markito0171

    Which was followed by

    7) “Jaysh al-Thuwar #SDF warn #Assad-forces to advance on al Bab city in eastern #Aleppo ” – markito0171

    With friends like these who needs enemies?

    8) “Rebels retook CP near northern #Aleppo’s Ratyan & seized heavy regime gear” – markito0171

    Wise move (ie capturing weapons for later use).

    #Latakia: 1) “Syrian Rebels recapture Al Taraf & killed dozens of pro Assad forces including an office” – Malcolmite

    2) A FSA ambush on a regime convoy

    As mentioned before, Latakia is ideal guerilla territory. Rebels don’t even need to use TOWies all the time, planting IED’s followed by machine gun fear will also do.

  3. Looks like the Russian firepower/tactics are beginning to show some results. The rebels/jihadists cannot challenge this force in a conventional manner. They will have to resort to assymetrical tactics.

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