Syria Daily: US Turns Down Meeting With UN Envoy and Russia

Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura delivers remarks at a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, U.S., April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

US spokesman: “At this time there is no new trilateral meeting scheduled.”


The US has turned down a possible re-entry into the political process over Syria’s conflict, declining a meeting with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov in Geneva on Monday.

The session was to evaluate the next planned set of indirect talks between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition, scheduled for May 3-4 in the Kazakhstan capital Astana.

After working alongside the US since 2013 in a claimed attempt at political advance — but one which yielded no results — Russia pushed aside Washington last summer, preferring to deal with Turkey as well as the Assad regime’s other main ally Iran.

De Mistura insisted “the trilateral [meeting] is not off the table, it is just being postponed”, but he gave no rescheduled date.

A US spokesman also held a vague line, “The U.S. welcomes discussions with Russia regarding the UN-led political process on Syria in Geneva, and we have met in the past in the trilateral U.S.-Russia-UN format. But at this time there is no new trilateral meeting scheduled.”

The postponement added to uncertainty over Washington’s approach to Syria after its April 7 missile strikes on an Assad regime airbase. The 59 Tomahawk missiles, targeting the base from which a deadly chemical attack was launched three days earlier, was the first deliberate US attack on a regime position in the 74-month conflict.

But the Pentagon made clear that the operation was only to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, and gave no indication of any action against the Russian and regime “conventional” bombing — including with incendiary, thermobaric, and cluster munitions — that have killed many tens of thousands of civilians. Since April 7, that bombing has escalated with no response from Washington.

The resumption of indirect talks from late January between the regime and the opposition, in Astana and Geneva, have brought little progress. President Assad has rejected any transitional process in which he leaves power, and the regime has also not responded to opposition conditions for the release of political detainees and an end to sieges. Instead, Damascus — with Russian and Iranian assistance — has pressed for more arrangements for the removal of rebels and residents from opposition areas.

But De Mistura insisted there had been an advance, since technical talks in Iran, with “some type of movement regarding the issue of detainees…and on possible issues related to demining as well”.

TOP PHOTO: UN envoy Staffan de Mistura at a Security Council meeting, April 12, 2017 (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

Russia’s Lavrov: Evidence on Assad Chemical Attack Used for “Regime Change”

In Russia’s latest attempt to divert blame from the Assad regime for the deadly chemical attack in northwest Syria on April 4, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has dismissed evidence as part of an attempt for “regime change”:

After a meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Lavrov said:

I think that this is a very serious situation, because it is evident now that the false information about chemical weapons use by the Syrian state is being used to avoid enacting resolution 2254 that stipulates a political settlement. Instead, there is a move towards the long-standing plan for regime change. I’m certain that we must prevent it.

Lavrov claimed that a Russian proposal for a visit by chemical weapons inspectors to Khan Sheikhoun, the site of the April 4 attack that killed at least 93 people, had been rebuffed — ignoring that it was Moscow who vetoed a UN Security Council resolution for the Assad regime to cooperate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

China, who had supported Russian vetoes of six of seven previous occasions over Syria resolutions, abstained in the vote.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis reiterated, during a press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman:

I can say authoritatively they [the Assad regime] have retained some [chemical weapons]. It’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically and they would be ill advised to try to use any again. We made that very clear with our strike.

Russian Officer Killed in Combat

A Russian marine major has been killed in combat in Syria, according to the Defense Ministry.

Major Sergei Bordov was killed during an attack on a garrison on Tuesday.

“They were caught in shell fire. Two of our Russian servicemen and two Syrian soldiers died,” Vyacheslav Pavlyuchenko, who has served with Bordov, told Reuters.

Bordov is one of the highest-ranking Russian officers killed in Syria. In early March, Major-General Petr Milyukhin was seriously wounded by an Islamic State IED near Palmyra, losing both legs and an eye.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that 21 Russian personnel — comprising regular troops and private military contractors — were killed in Syria between late January and the end of March. The Defense Ministry, which had confirmed only the deaths of five soldiers in that period, responded with a bitter denial (see Thursday’s Syria Daily).

The Ministry has acknowledged the loss of about 30 personnel since Russia’s military intervention in September 2015.

Pro-Assad Forces & Russian Bombs Take Another Hama Town

Continuing to reverse the battle in northern Hama Province, pro-Assad forces — enabled by intense Russian bombing — captured the town of Taibet al-Imam on Thursday.

Rebels had taken about 25 towns and villages in northern Hama in an offensive last month, moving within 5 km (3 miles) of both Hama city and Hama airport at one point. However, the Russian airstrikes, with the use of incendiary and thermobaric munitions, enabled a counter-offensive — including Iranian-led foreign militias — which has reclaimed almost all the territory.

The pro-Assad assault is now hoping to regain towns along the Damascus-Aleppo highway, including Morek, and is attacking other areas such as Halfaya and Latamneh.

Bombing of Halfaya on Friday morning:

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  1. #Observation: The regime launching a large-scale offensive against rebel positions anywhere isn’t really that bad. Absurd you say? Think of it this way – whenever the regime prepare a large scale offensive against rebels it has to first create giant arms/ammo depot to that front-line with rebels in order to supply regime units. All rebels have to do is to fill the towns/areas they know regime is going to assault with enough IEDs (e.g. booby-trapping buildings, creating mine-traps on likely assembly points, tunnel-mines, VBIEDs on narrow roads of that town/area as well as digging transportation tunnels in/out that area) and tunnels that a smaller number of rebel troops in it can defend it against a much larger regime troops for weeks (and even months?) whilst the rest of the rebel troops over-run regime check-points that protect the regime arms/ammo depot that is supplying regime operations in rebel/areas during deep-behind-the-lines night-time rebel raids. And this can be done not in just one area but across an ENTIRE front.
    One of the advantages of the above is that rebels not only inflict much higher WIA rate on regime troops but rebels also, because of their raids on regime depot centres, get enough arms/ammo from the regime to organise their own future offensive against the regime in that area or in other areas. The desert area of eastern Hama is ideal for this because it not only has many arms/ammo centres it doesn’t have natural barriers for the regime to rely on during a surprise rebel raids as the rebels in the Homs pocket have shown.

    • Multiple groups of fast-moving (using truck-mounted light-artillery as well as motorbike assault units?) mobile small-units carrying out night-time mobile (ie not tied to one location but circulating/rotating around several areas) warfare operations (e.g. over-running regime positions in raids/ambushes, taking all captured equipment and then withdrawing and then keep repeating this over and over again: just like Jaish Al-Islam did in Damascus did a few days ago) as the area of eastern Hama is ideal (ie can hide/conceal in and ambush from the desert) for this type of warfare.

      • With the current POTUS in office? As long as there’s a client state to support. Can you imagine Trump, who campaigned on vehemently fighting “radical islamic terrorism”, accept defeat in Afghanistan? Either they send the troops back in or watch the whole thing collapse like a house of cards. The Afghan Hashish Army cannot hold its own against the Taliban.

        • Tundra: I’ve begun to notice that the Taliban is starting to use drones (both for marketing/publicising their exploits and perhaps to guide their mortar shelling?) heavily which makes me wonder whether the battle-tactics of insurgents in Syria is beginning to be picked up (via instructors/individuals moving between the two countries or through exposure to youtube videos from Syria) inside Afghanistan. Too fantastical to be plausible or there could be something to it? It’d certainly explain the uptick in professionalism of Talib fighters.

          • Yes. Employing drones in such a manner is a very recent trend among jihadists, starting in late 2014 IIRC. That the Taliban picked it up last year is no coincidence. They keep track of other jihadist arenas and the innovations employed therein. Hell, they even took the tune from an Islamic State nashīd and created their own Pashto version of it to use in one of their videos.

  2. #Hama: “Rebels stopped a Regime assault on #Helfaya launched from #Muhardah & Power Station Area.” – QalaatAlMudiq
    Why the Mhardeh Power Station is not being targeted by rebels is beyond me.
    #Quneitra: “Second Israeli strike targeting a Regime position in #Quneitra province, this time near Al-Samadiniyah Al-Sharqiyah (close to frontline).” – QalaatAlMudiq
    I wonder whether rebels in Quneitra will exploit Israeli air strikes to infiltrate regime positions around Madinat Al-Baath.
    #Observation: 1) Interesting comment “Increasing signs that Turkey may be moving towards launching an operation on #YPG/#SDF held Tel Abyad. On Apr 16 credible source reported rebel factions have officially joined Turkish op to take Tel Abyad after meeting w/ Turkish intel. Supporting this report, one of the factions listed “Eastern Shield Army” announced its formation 3 days later. Eastern Shield Army is not new faction, they have gone public at this time because Turkey is more serious about launching a Tel Abyad op. There have also been reports that the Turkish Military has begun moving tanks to the border, though I have not been able to confirm this… An intervention in Iraq against PKK’s YBS wing in Sinjar/Shengal is also an option on the table. If Turkish intervention in Iraq fails to pan out for whatever reason, reports show that Tel Abyad in Syria is an option they can take” – RaoKomar747
    An offensive by the Turks from Tal Abyad towards Raqqa wouldn’t just harm the YPG/PKK as the below post shows on it’s comment upon the remarks of the above poster it’ll also harm the regime too.
    2) “Wouldnt just cut the cantons in half, would once again cut Aleppo/Govt held territory from an “open” land trade route with Hasaka & the NE…Costly & less accessible once again. Already expensive enough that tens of thousands of tons of reserve grain in Hasaka is being sold Out of country instead of to the Gov(against govt wishes) because its to expensive to transport.” – Jacm212
    What will eventually take-out Assad is enough irate (because of collapsing economic standards?) Alawites in the Republican Guards launching a coup against Assad. This is what brought down the Czar (insubordinate troops defying their officers over lack of food whilst the remaining loyalist troops are permanently tied down to a deteriorating front-line) of Russia 100 years ago and it’ll be the same thing that brings down Assad also. However what doesn’t help for the rebels is that none of their leaders seemed to have realised that operations against strategically important (but defenceless?) regime infrastructure is what will accelarate this economic collapse and the biggest vulnerability on the regime side is the TWO remaining oil refineries (ie in Baniyas and in Homs) it still controls but if lost could lead to petrol prices in regime areas to spiral/inflate out of control.

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