Air and ground attacks reported across Syria despite Russian-proclaimed “de-escalation zones”
Russian and Assad regime warplanes attacked opposition areas in southern Aleppo Province and near Syria’s capital Damascus on Tuesday, causing civilian casualties.
Pro-opposition activists said airstrikes supported a ground assault by pro-Assad forces near the village of Burj Sabna in Aleppo. An Al Jazeera correspondent said hundreds of families were displaced by the bombing, with extensive damage to homes and property.
Russia joined the attacks despite its proclamation of de-escalation zones in both northwest Syria and the East Ghouta area near Damascus. The assaults came a day after President Vladimir Putin, in a visit to Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in western Syria, declared “victory” in the conflict.
One civilian was killed and several wounded by artillery shelling in Zamalka in East Ghouta, said an Al Jazeera correspondent. Activists said rebels destroyed regime tank in Sahin Hina in West Ghouta as pro-Assad forces tried to advance.
Russian airstrikes were also reported on al-Mitnaa in southern Idlib Province. Pro-Assad attacks were also reported in in Homs Province in western Syria and Dara’a Province in the south.
Withdrawal? Putin Seeks Approval to Expand Russian Naval Base
Despite his declaration on Monday of the “withdrawal” of some Russian forces from Syria, Vladimir Putin has asked the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of Parliament, to endorse an agreement with the Assad regime to expand the Russian Navy’s base at Tartous on the Mediterrean.
The agreement, lodged with the Duma, is for 49 years with an automatic extension of 25 years unless one of the parties declares an intention to terminate.
The document is also clear that the Russian base is immune from any regime intervention: “The naval base has full immunity from Syria’s civil and administrative jurisdiction.”
As 1000s of “Private Contractors” Fight, Russian Company Gets Reward of 25% of Oil and Gas Fields
Tucked away in a Washington Post story on the thousands of “private contractors” carrying Russia’s ground operations in Syria — even as President Vladimir Putin proclaims a supposed withdrawal — is this note of Moscow’s reward:
The AP obtained a copy of a 47-page contract between [Moscow-registered] Evro Polis and Syria’s state-owned General Petroleum Corp., which said the Russian company would receive 25% of the proceeds from oil and gas production at fields its contractors capture and secure from Islamic State militants.
Opposition: Regime Obstructing Geneva Talks
The Syrian opposition says that, despite returning to the Geneva political talks, the Assad regime delegation is continuing to obstruct the discussions.
Opposition spokesman Yahya Aridi said on Tuesday that the regime delegation told UN envoy Staffan de Mistura that they will negotiate directly.
Aridi said the opposition High Negotiations Committee “consider this to be a precondition”.
There was no immediate response from the regime group in Switzerland. Syrian State news agency SANA only said that the delegation “held a second session of talks” with De Mistura.
The regime has repeatedly held up the discussions since they were opened on November 26. The delegation, led by UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, arrived after a 24-hour delay and then left after only three days, insisting that no mention be made of Bashar al-Assad’s future and criticizing De Mistura’s conduct of the talks.
The group finally came back to Geneva on Sunday but has said almost nothing about its discussions with the UN envoy since then.
Syrian opposition and government delegates are back in Geneva for a new round of U.N.-sponsored talks after a short break. The government delegation has protested the opposition’s insistence on the absence of President Bashar Assad from any future transition period.
The opposition has been calling for the indirect peace talks to become direct.