PHOTO: Fighters of the Kurdish YPG militia
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UPDATE 1440 GMT: Leaflets have been dropped on opposition-held areas, telling civilians to leave, promising passage to regime territory, and giving “guidance for a safe exit”.
Leaflet activists in Aleppo say was dropped on besieged rebel area pic.twitter.com/D3uk058Fcu
— Erika Solomon (@ErikaSolomon) July 28, 2016
However, at least one resident is resisting the call, according to Erika Solomon of the Financial Times:
Resident of besieged Aleppo on Russian food drop after days strikes "it's like putting makeup on an old hag". Activists say they won't leave
— Erika Solomon (@ErikaSolomon) July 28, 2016
Other sources in Aleppo say no corridor for passage has been established by the Assad regime and/or Russia. They warn of a possible “trap”, luring out people who may then be detained.
Other observers comment on a tactic by which the area is “de-populated” so Russia, the Syrian military, and their foreign allies can then step up assaults on remaining rebels — similar to tactics used in cities such as Homs.
UPDATE 1430 GMT: President Assad has issued a decree granting amnesty to rebels who surrender and give up their arms within the next three months.
The measure also grants exemption from harsh punishment for kidnapping, if those abducted are freed within one month.
UPDATE 1045 GMT: Russia has declared that it will help establish three corridors through which besieged civilians can leave opposition-held parts of Aleppo city.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said mobile centers will provide food and medical assistance to those who leave.
Shoigu said another corridor can be used by rebels who lay down their arms.
“To avoid unnecessary casualties among the militants who have not laid down arms yet and were not involved in the bloody crimes we ask the leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic to guarantee them amnesty and pardon,” Shoigu said.
He said Russia was appealing to international organizations to join the “humanitarian operation”.
The Governor of Aleppo Province, Mohammad Marwan Olabi, echoed the Russian announcement.
Meanwhile, the Syrian military and pro-regime outlets are claiming that rebels withdrew from the Bani Zeid district of western Aleppo city on Wednesday after weeks of battles.
A regime soldier stands atop a Syrian Revolution flag in Bani Zeid this morning:
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Syria’s Kurdish militia YPG have helped tighten the siege of opposition-held areas of Aleppo, seizing a position on the last route into the city.
The YPG seized the Youth Housing Complex on the al-Castello road north of Aleppo on Wednesday. Pro-opposition activists said Kurdish occupation would reinforce the Assad regime’s control of the route, established three weeks ago when pro-Assad forces took the nearby
al-Mallah Farms and positioned heavy artillery near the route.
Pro-Kurdish outlets claimed the YPG counter-attacked after rebels attacked their positions in the Sheikh Maqsoud area of Aleppo city. There have been clashes in the mainly-Kurdish area between rebels and the YPG for months.
Rebel supporters responded that the YPG had effectively coordinated their attacks in Sheikh Masqoud with ongoing regime assaults in nearby areas such as Layramoun and Bani Zaid.
A pro-regime blogger, with contacts in the Syrian military, pointed to the de facto YPG-regime coordination this morning:
Say what you will about the YPG, but they were helpful in Aleppo. They shelled the jihadists from Sheikh Maqsoud.
— Leith Abou Fadel (@leithfadel) 28 July 2016
@Siyar_Rizgar Silent agreement – northern Aleppo near Afrin is YPG territory; Aleppo City is ours.
— Leith Abou Fadel (@leithfadel) 28 July 2016
The YPG took parts of opposition-held Aleppo Province early this year, taking advantage of attacks by both a regime-Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah offensive and by the Islamic State in northwest Syria.
High-level UN officials have warned since last week of the effects of a siege, with Stephen O’Brien, the head of humanitarian operations, saying on Monday, “I cannot stress enough how critical the situation is for those trapped.” Activists and local officials say up to 400,000 people are in the neighborhoods.
However, the US and other powers have given no indication of pressure on the Assad regime to lift the siege. Instead, Washington is working with Russia on a proposal for a joint command-and-control center inside Syria, pursuing operations against the Islamic State and the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra.
Meanwhile, Russia and the regime have continued bombing of opposiition areas in and near Aleppo, killing hundreds of people and destroying infrastructure such as hospitals.
The Syrian military dropped leaflets on east Aleppo warning residents to leave. The regime’s UN ambassador, Bashar al-Jaafari, sent a letter to the Security Council on Tuesday saying that the residents had been offered safe passage and assurances of temporary accommodation.
Whose Mortars Killed 25 People in Damascus on Monday?
Syria Direct has interviewed a student in Damascus about mortar attacks on neighborhoods in central Damascus that reportedly killed at least 25 people.
The attacks were the first in regime-held districts such as Bab Touma since a now-defunct “cessation of hostilities” on February 27.
Rebels have previously areas in Damascus, saying that they were attacking regime military positions. In early 2015, Jaish al-Islam fired rockets into the capital in response to bombardments on opposition-held Damascus suburbs that killed hundreds of civilians.
Prior to February’s ceasefire agreement, rebel militias in the East Ghouta suburbs regularly shelled regime-controlled Damascus neighborhoods.
However, no one has claimed responsibility for Monday’s killings.
The student says of earlier assaults, “People used to want the opposition to enter. But they don’t any more, not since hundreds of people died last year because of their mortar attacks.”
But he comments about Monday’s mortars: “Both the regime and the opposition target Damascus. They’re both just as bad.”
Jabhat al-Nusra Repositions Itself to Fight Regime in South
The jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra have repositioned their fighters in southern Syria to confront pro-Assad forces rather than the Islamic State.
In the past two weeks, Nusra has pulled back its members from four-month battles in southwestern Daraa Province — working alongside rebel factions — to push back the ISIS-linked groups Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk and Harakat al-Muthanna.
Nusra worked with rebels such as Ahrar al-Sham and the Southern Front to push back initial gains by the ISIS forces.
However, “Nusra withdrew large numbers of its forces” this month, according to frontline citizen journalist Omar al-Jolani. “It hasn’t completely withdrawn from the fighting, but no longer has any real numbers to speak of at the flashpoints.”
A Southern Front commander confirmed, “Nusra has withdrawn from the ongoing battles against Jaish Khaled bin al-Waleed [the merged ISIS groups]. The FSA [Free Syrian Army] factions are displeased.”
A local source explains that Nusra’s move was prompted because of the US-led restriction of support to the anti-ISIS forces:
You see what happens when the US throttles funds and supplies — fighters join Jabhat al-Nusra.
From what I know, Nusra in the south will definitely attack the regime soon, because they know the fight against Daesh is supported by MOC [the US-led Military Operations Center in Jordan] whilst the fight against the regime is halted by the MOC.
[Nusra’s] street credit will increase [because of this].
Citizen journalist Jolani supported the analysis, without mentioning the MOC restrictions: “If Nusra and Ahrar are able to open fronts against the regime and advance, this would increase their support base.”
Human Rights Watch Documents 47 “Systematic” Russian-Regime Cluster Bomb Attacks in 2 Months
Human Rights Watch has documented 47 cluster munition attacks by Russian and regime forces in the last two months across three Syrian provinces.
The organization said the total of assaults, which have killed and injured dozens of civilians in opposition-controlled territory, is likely to be higher.
Many of the attacks were north and west of Aleppo, as pro-Assad forces — enabled by Russian airstrikes — established a siege of the city.
Other bombings were in Idlib and Homs Provinces.
The use of cluster munitions is banned under international humanitarian law. Russia has denied using the bombs, but its aircraft have been filmed with the armed munitions and numerous videos have recorded the remnants of the exploded ordnance.
Targets included a fuel market, in which all the victims were civilians, with repeated strikes as rescuers responded. Cluster bombs were also used in a June 19 attacked on the US-supported New Syrian Army, which is fighting the Islamic State, in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.
Witnesses identified the use of SU-34 jet fighters, which are only flown by Russian pilots, in some of the bombings.
Renewed Pro-Assad Offensive in East Ghouta Near Damascus
Pro-Assad forces have renewed their offensive in the East Ghouta area near Damascus, attacking farmland near the town of Hosh al-Fara.
Syrian State news agency SANA said the assault was successful. Islam Alloush, the spokesman for the rebel faction Jaish al-Islam responded, “It is not true, but the regime is waging a very big attack.”
The Syrian army and allied militias, including Hezbollah, took much of the southern part of East Ghouta in May.
The ground attacks have been accompanied by months of sustained bombing, killing hundreds of civilians, in towns in the area such as Douma.
ISIS Truck Bomb Kills At Least 44 in Qamishli
An Islamic State truck bomb killed 44 people in Qamishli in northeast Syria on Wednesday, according to State media.
Medical sources said 140 people were injured, many of them severely.
The Local Coordination Committees put the death toll at 48, among 113 victims across Syria on Wednesday.
ISIS claimed the attack near a Kurdish security forces headquarters in the mainly-Kurdish city near the Turkish border. It said the bombing was a response to the offensive of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to capture the city of Manbij, ISIS’s main position in Aleppo Province.
Local Kurdish officials said the detonation of the truck set off a fuel container nearby. The explosion was so powerful that it shattered windows in shops in the Turkish town of Nusaybin, where two people were slightly wounded.
Control of Qamishli is divided between Kurdish and regime forces. The Islamic State has regularly struck the city and nearby Hasakah with bombings. In April, a suicide bomb killed six Kurdish security officers, while at least 16 people were slain in an attack in Hasakah earlier this month.