LATEST:Aid Reaches 2 Besieged Damascus Suburbs


Another attempt to get aid to besieged Yarmouk in southern Damascus failed on Wednesday, as a United Nations convoy turned back after it was fired upon.

The Assad regime had authorized a six-truck convoy from the UN Relief and Works Agency to deliver food for 6,000 people, 10,000 doses of polio vaccine, and medical supplies to Yarmouk, where about 50 people have reported died from starvation after a six-month siege by regime forces.

The mandated route for the convoy took it 20 kilometers (12 miles) through an insecure area. As the convoy passed a checkpoint near the southern entrance to Yarmouk, machine gun fire erupted and a mortar exploded.

It is unclear who carried out the attack.

Earlier this week, Palestinian organizations tried unsuccessfully to deliver food and supplies to Yarmouk, one of a number of insurgent-held areas in and near Damascus cut off by the Syrian military.

On Wednesday, Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, said about 245,000 people live in besieged neighborhoods in Syria: “Siege has become a weapon of war with thousands of people blockaded in their communities, running out of supplies and unable to get basic services.”

Amos made clear that, as insurgents have also blockaded regime-held areas, notably parts of Aleppo city and villages in Aleppo Province, “All sides in this conflict have shown a total disregard for their responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Aid Reaches 2 Besieged Damascus Suburbs

Supplies sufficient to feed 10,000 people for a month reached the Damascus suburbs of al-Ghezlaniya and Jdaidet al-Shibani on Thursday, according to Khaled Iriqsousi, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent,

Iriqsousi said 30 trucks carrying 2,000 boxes of food entered the two areas without incident. Items include rice, lentils, baby formula, blankets, and detergents.

“This is the first time we have reached this area. It is considered one of the entrances of Ghouta [the area near Damascus,” Iriqsousi said. “We hope that this will be the beginning for wider supply efforts.”

An activist questions if this is really a breakthrough for civilians in insurgent-held neighborhoods:

Insurgents Down Regime Helicopter Attacking Darayya Near Damascus

Sources confirm that insurgents have downed a Syrian Mi-17 helicopter amid the regime’s airstrikes on Darayya, southwest of Damascus:

The attack appears to have been carried by the faction Liwa al-Islam using an Osa surface-to-air missile.

Syrian forces have escalated their air assault on Darayya in the past week.

Claim: Bomb on Besieged Yarmouk in Damascus Kills 8

Update: Video of the aftermath of the attack:

UN Warns of “Soaring” Number of Executions by Islamic State of Iraq

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has warned of a “soaring” number of executions by the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham — in January.

Pillay say her office had received reports of the killing of “a succession of mass executions of civilians and fighters who were no longer participating in hostilities in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa”.

The UN reported on a January 6 incident in which three people held by ISIS at its base in Makhfar al-Saleheen were found dead, handcuffed and with bullet wounds in their heads. Two days later, “numerous bodies, again mostly handcuffed and blindfolded, were found in a Children’s Hospital” that ISIS used as a base in Aleppo.

Pillay says there also are “deeply disturbing reports emerging of mass executions” by ISIS in the city of Raqqa, both when it withdrew and after it regained control earlier this week.

Jabhat al-Nusra Issues Recruitment Call For Aleppo Prison Break

Jabhat al-Nusra have put out a call for fighters to help break prisoners out of the regime-controlled Aleppo Central Prison.

VDC Report: “Internationally Prohibited” Chemical Weapons Are Likely to Be Used By Syrian Regime Forces

The Violations Documentation Center have issued a report into the allegations that regime forces used prohibited chemical agents in Darayya in West Ghouta, on January 13.

The VDC contacted Muhannad AbuIzzen, the Media Spokesman of Darayya Local Council, by Skype. He gave a statement about the attacks:

The Syrian Army forces used poisonous gases at one of the clashes between their forces and the forces of the Free Syrian Army east of Daryya on 01/13/2014 between 10-11 pm. The shells- loaded with poisonous gas- were grenades. However, we still cannot tell the way those bombs were launched; whether thrown manually or with a special gun.

Immediately, fourteen members of the Free Army got wounded. And due to the severity of the clashes taking place at the time of the attack and the delay in moving the injured to the medical point; four of those wounded died. The attack followed many other attacks in which the regime forces had used explosive barrels for shelling the city. During the three days that preceded the attack, (12) air strikes had been reported, and (36) explosive barrels had been dropped on the city during the preceding twelve days.

The detailed report includes photos of victims, information about the location of the attacks, and videos from field hospitals where victims were brought.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Coalition slammed what it said were “gas attacks” on Darayya, and called for an investigation into the incident.

Jabhat al-Nusra Issues Recruitment Call For Aleppo Prison Break

Jabhat al-Nusra have put out a call for fighters to help break prisoners out of the regime control Aleppo Central Prison.

Opposition Inside Syria: We Will Not Attend “Geneva II” Conference

The National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, the leading opposition group inside Syria, has issued a statement that it will not attend the international “peace” conference in Switzerland next week.

The leader of the organization, Haytham Manna, said, “If the opposition participates in Geneva 2, it will commit suicide.”

UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi confirmed the NCB’s decision.

Regime Bombards Darayya Near Damascus With More Barrel Bombs

Footage from Thursday shows more barrel bombs hitting Darayya, the town in West Ghouta that is immediately adjacent to besieged Moadamiya. The regime has so far not been able to take either town, which are both strategically located near regime military bases. Assad’s forces have continued with an intense assault on Darayya over the past weeks.

Damascus Bolsters Economy & Reserves With Dollar Purchases

Reutuers reports, from bankers and dealers, that the Assad regime has propped up the economy with purchases of dollars:

“In the last three months, the central bank has bought more dollars than it is selling,” said a banker in a local private bank familiar with central bank thinking, who estimates between $5 million and $10 million are bought daily.

The central bank has amassed at least $600 million by selling local currency since the summer, two well-informed bankers said, and yet this has weakened the pound only slightly to 159 to the dollar from the 140.

Last summer the pound fell as low as 335 when the West threatened air strikes before backing off, compared with 47 before protests against Assad erupted in March 2011.

Bankers say the central bank has also become adept at making profits from its interventions, driving home the message to other players that it is the market leader.

“It’s the state that…creates the supply and controls prices too,” a banker at a private Damascus lender said. The message from the central bank was: “‘Don’t play with this issue’ … They are proving effective,” he added….

In an irony of a war which has no single front line, bankers say the pound has been supported by $100 million to $200 million flowing into rebel areas in northern Syria. Some of this money, largely private and state funding for the rebels from the Gulf, finds its way through local trade into central bank vaults.

“The dollars which are changed to the pound are going back into the veins of the economy. They get into the economic cycle and in the last resort go to the central bank ” said one Damascus-based Syrian banker who works in a foreign subsidiary.

Reports Of Gains For Islamic Front Against ISIS North Of Aleppo City

Zman al-Wsl reports on Thursday that the Islamic Front has main gains against ISIS in the Sheikh Najjar industrial zone north of Aleppo city (map below).

Syrian rebels have made a progress in the industrial zone of Sheikh Najjar near Aleppo city against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Zaman Alwasl reporter said.

Since a fortnight, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the nascent Mujahedeen Army, the Islamic Front has been engaged in fierce fighting with ISIL in rebel-held areas.

IF expelled ISIL from villages of Hardtinin and Ratian with speculations to take control of the industrial zone tonight, the reporter said.

The report follows news of fighting between regime forces and other insurgent groups just to the south of Sheikh Najjar, in an-Naqqarin and az-Zarzour. Syrian State media reported earlier this week that pro-Assad forces had made gains in those two villages; however, on Wednesday there were reports that the Chechen-led Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar insurgent faction — which is likely fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra though it is not formally a part of that group — had been sent to an-Naqqarin to combat regime troops there.

However, it is not possible to confirm the accuracy of these reports. There is very little information from the ground about these battles at present.

Al Bab, the town taken by ISIS several days ago, is northeast of Sheikh Najjar:

View Larger Map

Hraytan, the adopted hometown of ISIS Chechen emir Umar Shishani, is just west of Sheikh Najjar.

Video: Continued Regime Shelling in Devastated Homs

Footage from Wednesday of the devastation in Homs, amid continued regime shelling of insurgent-held areas:

Assad Meets Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif

President Assad welcomed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday.

Little of detail came out of the meeting, with Syrian State media headlining Assad’s declaration — pointed at Saudi Arabia as well as insurgents — “that the danger of Wahhabi thinking has become a threat to the entire world and not just the region’s countries”.

The conversation was framed as a consideration of “the epidemic of terrorism and extremist takfiri thinking”, although a reference to the proposed “peace” conference on January 22 in Switzerland was included: “Discussions also tackled the preparations under way for Geneva 2 conference, with Zarif expressing the Iranian leadership and people’s support for Syria in its efforts to make the conference a success.”

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, senior Assad advisor Buthaina Shaaban, and Deputy Foreign Minister Feisal Mikdad — the leaders of the Syrian delegation to the conference — were present at the meeting.

However, the most interesting note came out of Zarif’s conversation with Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi on “the future of economic relations”, with a refercence to “activating the credit line and providing the Syrian people’s needs of food, supplies, and petroleum products”.

In July, Tehran made a vital commitment of $3.6 billion in credit — much of it in oil and natural gas — to prop up the Assad regime amid the economic difficulties of the conflict.