Russia’s military says it has coordinated airstrikes with Turkey against the Islamic State inside Syria for the first time, but Ankara has not confirmed the claim.
Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi said on Wednesday that the attacks were carried out near al-Bab, ISIS’s last major position in Aleppo Province.
A Turkish-rebel offensive has taken much of ISIS’s territory in northern Syria since last August, but it has struggled since early December to advance in the al-Bab area, northeast of Aleppo, with dozens of Turkish forces killed.
Earlier this week the US confirmed its first strikes in support of the operation, after fierce criticism from Turkey — including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — that a US-led coalition has offered no help, even as it backs the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces against ISIS in other parts of northern Syria.
Russia’s Rudskoi described “highly effective” operations on Wednesday:
The air operation, agreed on with the Syrian government, involves nine warplanes of the Russian Aerospace Force, including four Sukhoi Su-24M, four Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft and one Sukhoi Su-34 bomber, as well as four F-16 and four F-4 fighters of the Turkey’s Air Force. A total of 36 targets were planned to be hit.
The general said the targets were agreed between Russian and Turkish General Staffs since Monday.
But the Turkish military made no reference to the Russian report. It said instead that “164 Daesh terror targets, including hideouts, defense positions, command control facilities, weapons, and vehicles” were hit on Wednesday. The statement added that the US-led coalition attacked three targets.
The Daily Sabah site, close to President Erdoğan, cited the report of Russia’s Interfax news agency but offered no further comment.
Russia and Turkey have been on opposite sides for almost all of the six-year Syrian conflict, with Moscow backing the Assad regime and Turkey supporting the Syrian opposition and rebels. However, their cooperation has flourished since a reconciliation between Erdoğan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in August. Ankara agreed to accept the reoccupation of all of Aleppo city — facilitated by a siege and intense Russian bombing — by pro-Assad forces, while Moscow acceded to the Turkish-rebel offensive in Aleppo Province.
The militaries of the two countries have established procedures for cooperation, including arrangements to ensure no accidental clashes between their air forces.
Reports: Ceasefire Deal in Wadi Barada
Opposition outlets report a ceasefire deal to halt the four-week pro-Assad offensive on Wadi Barada, northwest of Damascus.
The outlets post the text of the agreement in which engineers will be able to reach infrastructure for the al-Fija springs, which provide more than 60% of the capital’s water, after the pumping facility was damaged by regime airstrikes. Families will return to the area of 10 villages, while rebels will withdraw to Idlib Province in northwest Syria.
The deal was reportedly brokered by a German diplomat, Andreas Krüger, after the head negotiator, retired Syrian general Ahmad Gharban, was killed last weekend in disputed circumstances.
172 Russian-Regime Attacks on Medical Facilities in 6 Months
Russia and the Assad regime carried out 172 attacks on medical facilities and personnel from June to December 2016, according to a report by the Syrian American Medical Society.
The report documents an 89% increase in attacks, to one every 29 hours, after the UN Seucrity Council passed a resolution in May calling for a halt to the attacks. Assaults included cluster munitions, incendiary weapons, and bunker-buster bombs.
The strikes killed 14 medical staff and wounded 23.
Russian-regime operations have damaged most medical facilities in northwest Syria, including almost all in eastern Aleppo city before it was reoccupied by pro-Assad forces in December. Hospitals and clinics have also been struck in other areas of the countries, leaving many Syrians without any local medical facility.
Reports: Jihadist Suicide Bombing Kills 7 in Damascus
Reports are circulating of a second suicide bombing within days on a key regime area in southern Damascus, killing at least seven people.
The jihadist Jabhat Fatah al-Sham has reportedly carried out the attack in Kafrsouseh, near the position of elite Republican Guards, regime buildings, and the Presidential Palace.
At least five people — reportedly including high-ranking military officers — died in a suicide bombing in the area last week.
Iran Gets A Payoff for Support of Assad
Iran has been rewarded for its support of the Assad regime in a series of economic agreements signed on Wednesday.
Iran’s 1st Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri and Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis signed documents allowing Iran to open a mobile service provider and establish an industrial oil storage facility.
Tehran is also being given “5,000 hectares of farmland” and rights to operate phosphate mines near Palmyra in central Syria and a port which was not named.