PHOTO: President Assad with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, February 2012
UPDATE 1600 GMT: UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has repeated that aid can only be delivered with the consent of the Assad regime.
De Mistura told a briefing in Geneva, “We need government permission. That is obvious.”
The envoy argued that the Assad regime’s latest declarations that it would allow into some besieged areas should be taken at face value.
He then passed the issue back to the International Syria Support Group — which had mandated the World Food Program to carry out airdrops, only for the UN to retreat from the commitment — to decide if deliveries could happen without regime permission.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: With the Assad regime continue to besieged towns across Syria, the US has criticized Russia for taking no “demonstrable steps” to ensure assistance, even though Moscow has been part of the international calls for aid.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner noted on Wednesday that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Vienna in mid-May as part of the International Syrian Support Group’s declaration for assistance by June 1, including airdrops, if the Assad regime did not permit ground access:
We are obviously disappointed, to put it mildly, that…Russia has not taken any demonstrable steps to support the International Syria Support Group’s call for the delivery of humanitarian relief by air.
They were there in Vienna. And they committed to this deadline as well. So, you know, they can also step up and apply pressure.
The airdrops into opposition-held areas, such as Darayya near Damascus, were never carried out. Before the deadline, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said that the Assad regime’s consent would be necessary, and other UN officials cited issues of security, logistics, and cost.
Earlier this week, the UN set a new target date of June 10 for the regime to agree to assistance on the ground.
Pressed by reporters on Wednesday about why the airdrop option was even mentioned if it depended on the Assad regime’s consent, Toner initially noted that Damascus has said it may permit an aid delivery to Darayya — cut off since November 2012 — tomorrow: “I think we’re going to – we’re – although skeptical, we’re also going to wait and see what happens on Friday.”
He then made his call for Moscow to intervene.
Russia has publicized its airdrops of aid into regime-held parts of Deir ez-Zor Province in eastern Syria, but has never made a delivery to opposition-held territory.
The Assad regime briefly allowed assistance into some areas after a now-defunct February 27 cessation of hostilities, but tightened its blockades in April and May. UN agencies assisted only 5% of Syrians in hard-to-reach areas.
Toner indicated, “Russia actually has air assets on the ground in Syria and ostensibly has the permission of the Syrian government to fly.
He assured that Moscow was “aware of our concerns” but declined to say whether Washington had talked to the Russians. about using its aircraft to deliver aid, saying he did not want to discuss specifics.
Assad “Sadly Mistaken” Over “Military Solution”
Asked about Bashar al-Assad’s pledge on Tuesday of “more bloodshed” until he had won back “every inch” of Syrian territory, Toner said the President was “sadly mistaken if he thinks there’s a military solution”:
His speech was vintage Assad. He’s been in this for five – over five years. He’s carried out horrific violence against his own people. So it’s not surprising that he’s still fully committed to what he believes is a military victory.
The spokesman denounced the latest Russian-regime bombings near medical facilities in opposition-held Aleppo, “[This] is unconscionable and should be strongly condemned….It continues to exacerbate the suffering of innocent civilians.”
US Designates ISIS-Linked Brigade as “Terrorist”
The US has listed the ISIS-linked Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade as a terrorist entity.
Technically, the designation freezes any Brigade property in US jurisdictions and blocks any transactions between Americans and the group. The effect is mainly symbolic, however, extending the US labeling of Islamic State factions in the Syrian conflict.
The Brigade was formed in August 2012 in Daraa in southern Syria. While confronting pro-Assad forces, it came to prominence with its detention of UN personnel, including the March 2013 abduction of 21 Filipino peacekeepers.
The Brigade cooperated with Jabhat al-Nusra Front through 2014, but later pledged allegiance to ISIS. It is now battling rebel factions in parts of Daraa.
Reports: Rebels Defeat Another Iranian-Led Attack South of Aleppo
Reports indicate that the rebel bloc Jaish al-Fatah have repelled another Iranian-led attack on the southern Aleppo front.
Iranian units and Iranian-led foreign militia tried to recapture Humayra, taken last week by the rebels, but were turned away. Pro-rebel outlets say about 30 attackers were killed and two armored vehicles were destroyed.
Jaish al-Fatah then counter-attacked and took the village of al-Qurassi, northeast of Humayra.
Later reports said rebels are attacking Khalasa, and an unconfirmed claim says they have captured Zaytan.
Footage of the advance into al-Qurassi, with fleeing pro-Assad militia and images of those killed (Warning — Graphic):
Rebels blow up a tank near Humayra:
Rebels have won a series of victories this spring, regaining territory lost in last autumn’s regime-Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah offensive. They have captured the towns of al-Eis and Khan Tuman on the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway, villages, and fuel and ammunition depots, while inflicting heavy casualties on the Iranian-led forces.
Rebels also withstood an assault north of Aleppo. Pro-Assad forces, supported by Russian airstrikes, briefly took territory around Mallah but a rebel counter-attack regained the area.
Regime Continues Attacks on Besieged Darayya Near Damascus
While supposing offering the possibility of aid, the Assad regime is continuing its assault on the besieged town of Darayya, 12 km (7.5 miles) southwest of Damascus.
Activists say the Syrian air force dropped at least 24 barrel bombs on Darayya on Wednesday while ground forces, supported by tanks and mine sweepers, tried once more to enter the town.
A rebel spokesman said at least 10 Syrian troops and militia were killed and several wounded as they attacked from the west of Darayya. A mosque was set on fire by the bombing, with worshipers injured as they prayed.
The situation was quieter in the town today, with only some shelling reported.
The regime’s ally Russia had announced a 72-hour truce on Tuesday.
Darayya has been cut off by the Syrian military since November 2012. In an apparent attempt to force a surrender through “reconciliation”, the regime has combined assaults with the prospect of assistance this spring. One convoy was halted by the Syrian army last month. Another did make it to the town but had no food and half-empty parcels.
Images of Wednesday’s bombing:
France: We Have Special Forces with Kurds-Led SDF
France has acknowledged its deployment of special forces with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who are pursuing an offensive in northern Syria against the Islamic State.
The US has already revealed that its special forces are with the SDF, accompanying American assistance through weapons, ammunition, and airstrikes.
The SDF is closing on the Islamic State’s main position in Aleppo Province, the city of Manbij.
“The offensive at Manbij is clearly being backed by a certain number of states including France. It’s the usual support — it’s advisory,” a French Defense Ministry official said.
He said the special forces are in an advisory role and are not supposed to engage in combat.
The SDF also could move on the Islamic State’s main center in Syria, the city of Raqqa, although so far it has only carried out probing operations about 60 km (37 miles) to the north.
Last weekend, The Times of London reported that British special forces are with the mainly-Arab New Syrian Army, which is fighting the Islamic State in southeastern Syria.
Incubator Babies Taken to Hospital Basement Amid Russia-Regime Airstrikes
Some of the nine babies taken from incubators to the basement of an Aleppo hospital on Wednesday, protecting them from Russian and regime airstrikes and barrel bombs:
Three hospitals were damaged in the attacks on the al-Sha’ar district. The Local Coordination Committees said that 41 people died across Aleppo Province on Wednesday, many of them in the airstrikes.
A doctor in one of the hospitals recounted:
It was a horrible moment. The nurses were trampling each other to rush the babies to the basement, while many of them started to cry. As my staff moved the incubators, I went to tell the people in the waiting room to leave the hospital. I ordered them, “Leave now! There might be a second attack.
The hospital is now out of service, like so many other hospitals inside Aleppo today.
With most medical facilities closed, there are now only 18 incubators in opposition-held areas of Aleppo city.