PHOTO: A billboard in Syria featuring Russian President Putin and Hezbollah leader Nasrallah alongside President Assad
- Two More Iranian Revolutionary Guards Officers Killed
- Russia: We Might Meet US and Saudi Later This Week
- Activists: 107 Killed on Monday Amid Russia Airstrikes in Latakia
Covered by Russia’s airstrikes and joined by Iran-supported forces and Hezbollah, the Syrian military pressed for a breakthrough near Aleppo city on Monday, the 13th day of their five-front offensive.
Regime supporters claimed that the Syrian Army’s 4th Mechanized Division captured the village of al-Sabaqiyah after days of firefights, following Russian bombing.
However, the challenge for the regime forces is highlighted by the admission of one pro-regime site that “the Syrian Armed Forces and Lebanese Resistance…recovered the territory they lost…over the weekend”.
The offensive is now likely to move on the village of al-Shughaydilah, with the goal of reaching the highway from Damascus to Aleppo to limit the movement of rebel troops and supplies.
The regime-Russia-Iran are attacking rebels to the south of Aleppo and the Islamic State to the east “to establish a large security cordon around” Syria’s largest city, in the words of a rebel major with the Fateh Halab operations room.
Aleppo has been divided since July 2012, when rebels moved into part of the city. The Islamic State has claimed part of Aleppo Province since early 2014 — in recent weeks, it had closed on Aleppo city from the city, only for the regime to take that territory as it tries to lift the siege of Kweires airbase.
(Map: Syria Direct)
Tens of thousands of civilians — some activists say 100,000 is a conservative figure — have fled the fighting. Journalist Basel Abu-Hamza said:
Some families have moved to surrounding farmland and some have gone to Aleppo’s western countryside. Others have gone to Turkey. Most are staying in tents on farmland outside the bombed villages, but these areas are not safe at all: there are shells that landed only meters away from where the families are staying. They are only a few kilometers away from their villages that were bombed….
The villages in the south Aleppo countryside are so empty that you could walk through three empty villages one after the other, and then only find a few people in the fourth village.
In addition to the attacks near Aleppo, the Syrian military and its allies are pursuing two offensives in Hama Province, one in Homs Province, and one in Latakia Province. Despite the claims of Assad supporters, little changes was confirmed on those frontlines on Monday.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its aircraft carried out 55 sorties on 60 “terrorist facilities” in Hama, Latakia, Damascus, Idlib, Aleppo, and Deir ez-Zor Provinces.
Major General Igor Konashenkov said 19 Islamic State “command posts” were destroyed, as well as “two ammunition depots, one plant for the production of ammunition and explosives and 30 firing positions”.
Iraqi Militia: Orders from Iran’s General Soleimani “Road to Liberate Mosul is Through Aleppo”
Iraqi militia, who reportedly have sent thousands of fighters to the Aleppo offensive, have spoken of their orders from General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Qods Force.
Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, has ordered thousands of Iraqi Shiite militia allies into Syria for the operation to recapture Aleppo, according to officials from three of the militias. The militiamen are to join Iranian troops and forces from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia, the officials said.
Bashar al-Saidi, a spokesman for Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, said:
It makes no difference whether we’re in Iraq or Syria, we consider it the same front line because we are fighting the same enemy. We are all the followers of [Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei and will go and fight to defend the holy sites and Shiites everywhere.
According to Saidi, Soleimani said, “The road to liberate [the Islamic State-held Iraqi city of] Mosul is through Aleppo.”
A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah said that the militia has sent 1,000 fighters to join the Syrian military, Hezbollah, and other Iranian-supported units near Aleppo.
Soleimani has been in Syria on several occasion to oversee offensives. He reportedly entered Latakia Province earlier this month, where Assad forces and Russia warplanes were preparing for attacks, and then moved to the fronts against the rebels and Islamic State near Aleppo.
Two More Iranian Revolutionary Guards Officers Killed
Two more Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers have been killed in action in Syria.
The victims were identified as Mehdi Alidoust and Nader Hamid, who died three days after he was wounded in Quneitra Province in southwest Syria.
Three Guards commanders — including the overall Iranian commander in Syria, General Hossein Hamedani, have been killed since October 8.
Russia: We Might Meet US and Saudi Later This Week
The Russian Foreign Ministry says Moscow might meet with US officials later this week.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Monday:
As soon as we agree parameters of this meeting we will be able to announce it. Currently, it is at a stage of agreement. So far, I have no information about its possible participants.
We are ready for any dialogue in any format.
Earlier in the day, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he planned to meet with Russian, Saudi, Turkish, and Jordanian representatives to discuss political moves over the Syrian crisis. A “Russian diplomatic source” confirmed that a meeting between the Russian, American, and Saudi foreign ministers might soon take place in Vienna.
Activists: 107 Killed on Monday Amid Russia Airstrikes in Latakia
The Local Coordination Committees documented 107 deaths on Monday across Syria, the majority of them from Russian bombardment in Latakia Province in the west.
The LCC said 57 people were killed in the province, most of them in the village of Biz al-Khirbeh in the Jabal Akrad mountain range.
Another 23 people died in Aleppo Province and 12 in Homs Province.
Among the casualties in Latakia was Captain Bassel Zimou, the Chief of Staff of the Free Syrian Army’s 1st Coastal Brigade. He defected from the Syrian Army in 2011.
A brigade spokesman said Zimou and four other troops were en route to assist the wounded from an initial attack, on civilian houses, when their car was hit by a secondary air strike, said Rustum Abu al-Waleed, a First Division spokesman.
A pro-opposition activist said 50 people were slain, including 12 FSA fighters and 10 members of a single family.