Syria Daily: Turkey and Rebels Expand “Safe Haven” Near Border
PHOTO:< Turkey sent in more tanks in its 11-day intervention on Saturday
UPDATE 0815 GMT: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meets US counterpart Barack Obama on the sideline of the G20 summit in China:
Turkey’s pro-Erdoğan Daily Sabah said the two delegations discussed issues such as “cooperation on regional terror threats, relations between Turkey and the EU [European Union], the refugee crisis, as well as the extradition of Fetullah Gülen”, the US-based cleric wanted by Erdoğan for supposed organization of the failed July 15 coup.
After the meeting, Erdoğan repeated his line on the intervention in Syria: “Turkey’s fight against all terror organizations, including Daesh [the Islamic State] and [the Kurdish militia] YPG, will continue with determination.”
The Turkish President also met German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Bolstered by an expanded Turkish intervention, Syria’s rebels expanded an area of control near the Turkish-Syrian border on Saturday, capturing about a dozen villages from the Islamic State.
Turkey — which launched its intervention on August 24 with aerial operations, armored vehicles, and special forces along rebels who crossed the border — sent in more tanks yesterday to open a new front near al-Rai.
Al-Rai is about 55 km (34 miles) west of Jarablus, the town captured within hours of the initial Turkish-rebel operations.
The Turkish-rebel intention appears to be to close the gap between the two towns, securing more than half of a “safe haven” proposed by Turkey in 2014.
Ankara’s plan was checked since then by US objections, division within the Turkish system, and Russia’s intensive aerial intervention from September 2015.
The Turkish-rebel offensive has also moved south from Jarablus to the Sajur River, taking territory from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Both sides are still in a rhetorical battle, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promising to clear the border of the “terrorist” Kurdish militia YPG as well as the Islamic State. However, clashes have eased since the Turkish-rebel force reached the Sajur River last weekend.
Aleppo Front: Pro-Assad Forces Finally Regain Artillery Base
After weeks of assaults, pro-Assad forces have finally regained one of the regime’s largest artillery bases and an air force college, captured by rebels in their offensive southwest of Aleppo city.
A rebel commander confirmed that the Syrian military and foreign allies finally held the college on Sunday. He denied claims by Assad supporters that the assault has also retaken part of the adjacent artillery base; however, pro-opposition sites and activists later confirmed that the Jaish al-Fatah rebel bloc had withdrawn after a surge in Russian-regime airstrikes accompanying the ground assault.
Regime forces captured the artillery, armament and aeronautical colleges, encircling Aleppo City for the second time
— Abdurahman (@bdrhmnhrk) September 4, 2016
This is not an exaggeration. Today's airstrikes was perhaps the most extensive airstrike ever. Every m² of land was bombed.
— أبو خالد الشام (@ahlalsham3) September 4, 2016
The advance effectively reinstates the siege of opposition areas of Aleppo city, established in early July when pro-Assad forces took control of the al-Castello road north of Aleppo city.
Rebels launched a counter-offensive to the southwest at the end of July, quickly seizing territory and lifting the siege as they put pressure on the Syrian military and its foreign allies.
The pro-Assad units have sent in wave after wave of men and armor in attempts to retake the college, suffering heavy casualties. They briefly occupied part of the complex last week but withdrew under intense fire, leaving behind a “no-man’s land” of destroyed buildings.
Russia-regime airstrikes on the complex:
— Military Advisor (@miladvisor) September 4, 2016
Jaish al-Islam Launches Another Phase in Counter-Offensive Near Damascus
The fighting is across a 12 square-km (4 square-mile) area (see map), with tires burnt to deter Russian-regime airstrikes. Jaish al-Islam said that it “killed more than 200 terrorists of the Assad regime and the Palestinian Liberation Army group” and destroyed “a number” of tanks while capturing two others.
Regime forces took much of the East Ghouta area this spring, as well as territory northeast of Damascus including a military base.
Overhead footage of the area:
Obama: “We’re Not There Yet” on Ceasefire Deal With Russia
President Obama said the US and Russia have not yet secured an agreement for temporary ceasefires to allow aid into parts of Aleppo city.
“We’re not there yet,” Obama told reporters on Saturday, cautioning that previous ceasefires have not been sustained.
A senior State Department official, with Obama’s delegation in China for a G20 summit, had said that a deal could be announced as early as Sunday.
American and Russian officials have been working for weeks on an arrangement for 48-hour ceasefires and aid along a route into parts of divided Aleppo. Diplomatic sources have talked up the prospects since technical meetings in Geneva on Wednesday.
Despite the collaboration with Moscow — an essential backer of President Assad — Obama continued to insist on Saturday that the US is maintaining an independent line: “We have grave differences with the Russians in terms of both the parties we support but also the process that is required to bring about peace in Syria.”
However, he said, “But if we do not get some buy-in from the Russians on reducing the violence and easing the humanitarian crisis, then it’s difficult to see how we get to the next phase.”
The Syrian opposition and rebels are sceptical about the US-Russian ceasefire plan, noting that only the al-Castello Road from the north of Aleppo — a route taken over by pro-Assad forces, enabled by Russia’s airstrikes, in early July — would be used.
The opposition and rebels have proposed use of the Ramouseh corridor, opened by a rebel offensive early this month, from the southwest of Aleppo.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter is also reportedly concerned about a proposal to share intelligence with Russia on airstrikes, possibly enabling Moscow to strike rebels and opposition territory as well as the nominal targets of the Islamic State and the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra.
An official in the Defense Department said, “No one thinks that any of this is actually going to come to pass.”