UPDATE 2015 GMT: Pro-opposition activists report that regime and Hezbollah forces have finally captured part of Bassima, on the southern edge of the Wadi Barada pocket, after leveling much of the village.
Local activists claimed 130 raids by warplanes and helicopters and hundreds of rockets, including “elephant” munitions, and artillery shells.
About one-third of Bassima is now held by the pro-Assad offensive:
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) January 12, 2017
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The pro-Assad offensive northwest of Damascus, now in its fourth week and defying a nominal ceasefire, is “reducing villages to rubble”, according to opposition activists.
Local activists said the village of Bassima has been hardest hit, with more than 65% “reduced to rubble”. Bassima is at the southern area of the Wadi Barada pocket, and the pro-Assad forces have been trying — so far without success — to overrun it to force the capitulation of other villages.
More than 40% of al-Fija has been destroyed, and the villages of Deir Miqrin and Kfeir al-Zeit have been heavily damaged, the local activists claimed.
The assault on the Wadi Barada area, with 10 villages and between 50,000 and 100,000 people, began December 22 with bombing, shelling, and ground operations. The attacks were not halted for the ceasefire, brokered by Russia and Turkey, a week later — President Assad said on Monday that they will continue until all “terrorists” leave.
Wadi Barada is strategically important because of the al-Fija springs, which provide more than 60% of Damascus’s water. Regime airstrikes damaged the pumping facilities soon after the start of the offensive. As a result, more than 5 million people in and near the capital have little or no water.
The provincial governor claimed on Wednesday that the regime and rebels have agreed on a plan to repair damage to the water facilities. A local opposition media office denied any deal has been reached.
Regime outlets and supporters also claimed an agreement last weekend, but this soon evaporated, amid ongoing talks over access by Russian specialists to the pumping station and renewed pro-Assad attacks.
Footage of the attacks, uploaded Wednesday:
Pro-Regime Media: 5 Killed by Suicide Bomber in Damascus
Pro-regime media say a suicide bomber has killed five people in the Kafrsouseh area of Damascus.
No details are available, although one outlet is posting rumors that the bomber was a female.
Footage of the scene:
Footage of the aftermath of tonight's bombing in Kafarsuseh neighborhood, Damascus. pic.twitter.com/D759JQy56N
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) January 12, 2017
Turkey’s Erdoğan Infuriated by Statement from US-Backed Kurdish-Led Force
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman has denounced the US military for re-tweeting a statement by a Kurdish-led force that denies links to the Turkish insurgency PKK.
The Syrian Democratic Forces — backed by the US with airstrikes, weapons, and special forces to fight the Islamic State — said, “Our force is not part of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).” The US Central Command (CENTCOM) quickly circulated the statement:
SDF confirms that it has no affiliation or ties to PKK pic.twitter.com/mvENTcBpoQ
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) January 11, 2017
Erdoğan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin responded:
Is this a joke or has CENTCOM lost its senses?
Do you believe anyone will buy this? The US must stop trying to legitimise a terrorist group.
Reports: US Kills 20 Jabhat Fatah al-Sham Members in Series of Strikes
Sources say US airstrikes have killed at least 20 members of the jihadist Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in a series of four attacks since Wednesday afternoon on Idlib Province
The sources said 14 members were slain near Saraqeb by a drone about 3 p.m. yesterday. Another five, including three Tunisians, perished about 2 a.m. near Sarmin. A member on a motorbike died this afternoon.
The Americans have escalated attacks on JFS, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, in recent weeks. One airstrike killed two commanders, while a raid on a JFS complex killed 25 members.
Opposition Activists Give Evidence of Russian-Regime “War Crimes” to UN
Opposition activists have given UN investigators evidence of claimed war crimes by Russia and the Assad reigme.
Material on recent pro-Assad operations reoccupying all of Aleppo city, includig alleged killing of civilians and other abuses, was handed to the UN Commission of Inquiry.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, head of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, and Husam Alkatlaby, director of the Violations Documentation Center, met the UN investigators on Wednesday.
Abdul Ghany said activists “found a similarity between the violations committed by the Russians and the regime, and sometimes the Russians exceed the regime in some kinds of violations”.
He said the SNHR “recorded the killing of 1,305 civilians at the hands of Russian forces” between July and December 2016. Roughly one-third of the fatalities were children.
“The Russian air force was trying to target specific points, for example hospitals, schools or whatever. They fly at higher altitude (than the Syrian air force) — this comes through in the testimonies, the interviews,” Alkatlaby said.
Since the Russian air campaign began on Sept 30, 2015, Russian forces have killed “a minimum” of 4,000 Syrians, Abdul Ghany said.
The activists, joined by the “White Helmets” civil defense teams and the Independent Doctors Association, documented 31 cluster munition attacks in Aleppo by Russian forces and three by regime forces, as well as the use of banned incendiary weapons, Abdul Ghany said.
The organization also asked the UN “to explore fully all credible accounts of Iran’s complicity in war crimes in Aleppo”, given the “central role” of Iranian-led militias in enforcing a siege.
US Blacklists 18 Regime Officials Over Chemical Weapons
The US Government blacklisted 18 senior Syrian officials on Thursday, sanctioning them for connections to chemcial weapons programs.
The sanctions were the first by Washington over the Assad regime’s chemical attacks.
A joint inquiry, by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, formally concluded this summer that regime forces were responsible for three chlorine attacks.
Threatening a veto, Russia has effectively blocked UN Security Council consideration of an Anglo-French draft resolution that would ban the sale or supply of helicopters to regime and blacklist 11 military commanders and officials.
Ten of the individuals sanctioned by the US on Thursday are listed for designation in the draft resolution.