PHOTO: Syrian refugees behind a Turkish soldier on the border, September 2014
- Heavy Fighting in Jobar in Damascus; Opposition Claims Regime Chlorine Attacks
- Kurds and Free Syrian Army Declare Victory over Islamic State in Town of Sarrin
- Kurdish Militia Warn Turkey Not to Cross Border Into Jarablus
- Picture of Day: Children in East Ghouta, Near Damascus, on Swing Made from Regime Bombs
Reversing Washington’s public denials of the past four days, American officials say that the US has agreed to the “outlines” of a Turkish plan for safe zones in northern Syria.
The officials confirmed Ankara’s details of the plan for a safe haven of about 110 km (about 68 miles) in Aleppo Province from Mare’ east through Jarablus on the Turkish border. According to Ankara, the area will extend 40 to 50 km (25 to 31 miles) into Syria.
The US line is that the plan will push the Islamic State, which is fighting rebels near Mare’ and the Kurds further east, out of a the area west of the Euphrates River. However, the proposal effectively fulfils the goal of both the Turkish Government, which presented the idea last year, and the rebels for an opposition-controlled area protected from the Assad regime.
The US officials stopped short of calling the area a declared no-fly zone.
Details remain to be worked out, but what we are talking about with Turkey is cooperating to support partners on the ground in northern Syria who are countering ISIL.
The goal is to establish an ISIL-free zone and ensure greater security and stability along Turkey’s border with Syria.
Turkish officials revealed the agreement last Thursday as they said that Ankara had agreed to allow the US-led coalition to operate from the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey against the Islamic State. The US knocked back the story, with President Obama’s envoy General John Allen saying the safe zone proposal was “off the table”. The State Department followed with a denial of any agreement.
But the Turkish Government continued to put forth the plan over the weekend, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu telling a press conference, “When areas in northern Syria are cleared of the [Islamic State] threat, the safe zones will be formed naturally. People who have been displaced can be placed in those safe areas.”
The confirmation by the US officials followed a week of high-profile involving Ankara, the Islamic State, and Turkey’s Kurdish insurgency PKK. Last Monday, the Islamic State detonated a suicide bomb in Suruc, across the border from the Syrian Kurdish center of Kobane, which killed 32 activists. After a firefight on Thursday between Turkish forces and IS militants who infiltrated across the Syrian border, Turkey’s air force launched operations against militant positions inside Syria.
Meanwhile, the PKK killed two Turkish policeman on Wednesday, claiming that they were linked to the Islamic State. Ankara responded on Friday and Saturday with airstrikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq, threatening a ceasefire and “solution process” in place since late 2013.
NATO’s 28 members will meet Tuesday in Brussels at Turkey’s request to consider the situation along the Turkish-Syrian and Turkish-Iraqi borders.
Heavy Fighting in Jobar in Damascus; Opposition Claims Regime Chlorine Attacks and Deadly Bombing in Retaliation
Amid heavy fighting in Jobar in northeast Damascus, opposition activists claims that the regime has used chlorine gas and retaliated with deadly bombing of another Damascus suburb on Monday.
The clashes follow the capture of an important water pumping station by rebels in the area on Saturday, allowing the resumption of supplies to Jobar and nearby opposition-held territory.
The rebel faction Jaish al-Islam and the opposition website Eldorar say rebels repelled the Syrian military on several fronts overnight. The opposition killed several regime troops including a commander and downed a warplane (see video).
Footage of slain regime soldiers, including some with insignia indicating that they were part of the elite Republican Guard, was posted but has now been removed by YouTube.
Jaish al-Islam fighters facing regime troops:
The failed regime offensive was accompanied by “dozens of artillery shells, rockets, and missiles”. Eldorar reports dozens of civilians being treated at hospital for suffocation from the effects of the chlorine gas.
The Syrian military has retaliated for its losses by bombing the Damascus suburb of Douma:
Aftermath of attacks and rescuers scrambling as another bomb hits:
State media reports that one of its journalists, Thaer al-Ajalani, has been killed in the latest fighting.
— Ivan Sidorenko (@IvanSidorenko1) July 27, 2015
Kurds and Free Syrian Army Declare Victory over Islamic State in Town of Sarrin
The Kurdish-Free Syrian Army coalition has declared victory over the Islamic State in Sarrin, located in northern Syria between the Kurdish center of Kobane and the IS’s central Syrian position in the city of Raqqa:
— Jack Shahine (@jackshahine) July 27, 2015
The Euphrates Volcano offensive had failed to take Sarrin this spring, followed a lengthy advance along the Turkish border. However, attacks were renewed were last weekend, and an Islamic State retreat — marked by the “scorched-earth” tactics of burning grain silos — was soon reported.
The victory consolidates the Kurdish area across northern Syria and opens the way for a further Kurdish-FSA push towards Raqqa, held by the Islamic State since autumn 2013.
Kurdish Militia Warn Turkey Not to Cross Border Into Jarablus
The Kurdish militia YPG has effectively warned Turkish forces not to cross the Syrian border into the town of Jarablus.
The warning came in the form of a Sunday statement denouncing cross-border shelling by Turkey two days earlier. The YPG claimed that shells struck not only the Islamic State — the purported target of Turkish operations — but also its militia and Free Syrian positions in a village near Jarablus, including four FSA fighters and several residents.
The YPG claimed that the shelling of the village was resumed on Sunday night with seven tank rounds, and that the Turkish military also fired on a YPG vehicle west of the Kurdish center of Kobane.
The YPG concluded:
Instead of targeting IS terrorists’ occupied positions, Turkish forces attack our defenders positions. This is not the right attitude. We urge Turkish leadership to halt this aggression and to follow international guidelines. We are telling the Turkish Army to stop shooting at our fighters and their positions.
A Turkish official denied that YPG and Free Syrian Army positions had been targeted:
The ongoing military operation seeks to neutralize imminent threats to Turkey’s national security and continues to target ISIS in Syria and the PKK in Iraq….
We are investigating claims that the Turkish military engaged positions held by forces other than ISIS.