PHOTO: US President Barack Obama



Assad Talks Tough After Russian Intervention — No Reforms, No Negotiations

Accused of indecision and incompetence and under pressure from Russia’s military intervention, the Obama Administration is putting out its plan to deal with the 4 1/2-year Syrian conflict through a confrontation of the Islamic State.

Selected journalists have been told by “military and administration officials” of plan for “a major front in northeastern Syria”. An offensive against the Islamic State’s center in Raqqa will be supported with “ammunition and perhaps some weapons to Syrian opposition forces”. President Obama has approved stepped-up aerial operations, “although important details still need to be worked out”.

The officials said the plan will provide for 3,000 to 5,000 Arab fighters who will join more than 20,000 Kurdish militia, backed by dozens of US-led coalition warplanes, to take Raqqa. Syrian rebels will seal off a 98-km (60-mile) strip along the Turkish border — the “safe zone” proposed by Ankara but turned away by the US — to cut supply lines to ISIS.

On Friday, President Obama had responded to criticism of the Administration — both over its long-term approach towards the Assad regime and its immediate response to the Russian bombing, mainly of rebels, that began last week — with the assurance, “The top-line message that I want everybody to understand is, we are going to continue to go after ISIL [the Islamic State]. We are going to continue to reach out to a moderate opposition.”

However, neither Obama nor the unnamed officials explained how they would overcome obstacles to the Raqqa operations, such as Kurdish reluctance to be involved and the insistence of mainly-Arab rebels that the Kurds are in a supporting and not a leading position. They did not set out how rebels, whose primary objective is the overthrow of President Assad, would be persuaded to focus on the Islamic State.

Indeed, the President and his advisors offered no statement on how an offensive on Raqqa would deal with the central issue of Assad and the escalating Russian military and political support to keep him in power. US officials limited their objections to a message to Moscow to bomb the Islamic State and the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra, while Obama said he would not turn the Syrian civil war into a “proxy war”: “This is not some superpower chessboard contest.”

The US began signalling the Raqqa operation last month, partly as a response to the collapse of its $500 million program to train and equip rebels to fight the Islamic.

General Lloyd J. Austin III, the commander of American forces in the Middle East, admitted to a Senate committee that “only four or five” US-trained rebels remained on the battlefield, after most of a 54-member unit had been killed or captured by Jabhat al-Nusra or had left the battlefield. Howedver, he said that over the next six months the would put “a lot more pressure on key areas in Syria, like the city of Raqqa”.

Austin that, because of US air operation from a base in Turkey, “we’ll have the ability to increase the pace and focus on key places in Syria”.

After a second group of American-trained rebels handed over their weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra, officials began leaking proposals to outlets such as The Washington Post, including the use of US special forces to advise Kurdish troops in northern Syria.

See Syria Daily, Sept 23: “Analysis-Paralysis” Within Obama Administration Over Policy and Operations

Officials told their media contacts of a National Security Council meeting, held last Thursday — a day after Russia began bombing — where Obama would approve the plans.

The day before, as John Kerry held an emergency meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the Secretary of State said:

We are now in position with France, Australia, Canada, Turkey and other coalition partners joining the campaign, to dramatically accelerate our efforts….

We will also be sustaining our support to anti-ISIL fighters in northeast Syria. ISIL will soon face increasing pressure from multiple directions across the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.

American officials did not say whether the proposed offensive on Raqqa would be coordinated with the Russian intervention, which has carried out only limited strikes on the Islamic State as it concentrates on damage to Syrian rebels and hits opposition-controlled areas.

Russia’s Latest Propaganda Line: “The Free Syrian Army Doesn’t Exist”

The latest propaganda ploy of Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov? He says the Free Syrian Army — whose positions the Russian air force has been bombing since last Wednesday — doesn’t exist:

Last week, just after Russian began its attacks on FSA positions, Lavrov said the Army was not a “terrorist” organization so it could be part of a process for a political resolution.

However, on Monday the Foreign Minister solved the need to fulfil that pledge by wiping away the FSA:

They tell us about the Free Syrian Army, but where is it? It remains a phantom group, nothing is known about it.

We will be ready to establish contact with it if it’s really a capable military group of patriotic opposition consisting of Syrians. We do not hide this fact. But this structure is already a phantom. I have asked [US Secretary of State] John Kerry to provide us with information about the whereabouts of this Free Syrian Army and who commands it.

Rebel Faction Jaish al-Islam Deals With Vigilante Justice by Its Fighters

The leadership of the prominent rebel faction Jaish al-Islam is trying to deal with the execution of six suspected Islamic State collaborators by its fighters.

JAI spokesman Hadhifeh al-Sadiq said the fighters broke into a courthouse in the southern Damascus suburb of Yalda over the weekend and executed the detainees. They reportedly were retaliating for a roadside bomb that killed five of their colleagues.

“After the executions, the fighters informed the members of JAI leadership in southern Damascus what they did, and now we are communicating with the judiciary to solve this problem,” al-Sadiq said.

Five prisoners were brought out of the courthouse and executed. A sixth man, a Palestinian, was executed a day later.

The courthouse, an independent judicial authority in south Damascus, condemned the raid and killings in an announcement posted on Facebook on Sunday. It called on the JAI leadership to turn over those responsible.

Some activists accused JAI members, if not the leadership, of disregarding judicial authority.

“We support the killing of Islamic State members 100 percent,” Abu Amad, a south Damascus media activist said on Monday, “but are against the way it was carried out.”

“The people of south Damascus believe that all must be under the jurisdiction of the court and abide by its rulings,” Matar Ismail of the Revolutionary Spring in Yalda asserted.

Activists: Syrian Air Force Kills 20 East of Aleppo

Opposition activists claims that another 20 people have died in al-Bab, east of Aleppo, this time from a regime airstrike.

Opposition sites said at least 80 people were killed last Friday in the Islamic State-controlled town when Russian jet fighters struck.

See More Than 100 Reportedly Killed in Friday Strikes

Today’s assault also injured dozens, as Russian and Syrian airstrikes hit areas near Kweiris airbase, where regime forces are surrounded by Islamic State fighters.

Claimed Video: Syrian Air Force Jet Shot Down Near Damascus

Claimed footage of a regime pilot ejecting after his MiG-21 jet fighter was shot down in the East Ghouta area near Damascus on Monday:

Sources indicate the pilot has been captured by rebels and is facing trial for war crimes.

Long-Established Aleppo Brigade Joins Ahrar al-Sham

The long-established rebel group Kataib Abu Amara, based in Aleppo, has joined the largest rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham.

A video, posted last week, of Kataib Abu Amara’s operations:

Video: Russian Weather Report — “Excellent for Airstrikes”

A Russian weather report proclaims, “Excellent Conditions for Airstrikes” in Syria:

Claim: Russia Demands Removal of Syrian Officers from Latakia Airbase

The opposition site el-Dorar claims, from a “private source”, that Russia has successfully demanded the Assad regime’s withdrawal of officers from their main airbase in Latakia Province in western Syria.

The source said nine Syrian pilots had been ordered by the regime to go to another barracks, with only two officers — a colonel and a lieutenant — remaining at the Humaimam base at Basel al-Assad Airport.

The source said the evacuation was demanded because of Russian concerns over security and confidentiality. He said the officers were sent away after they had helped in the the digging of trenches and construction of military roads around the airbase.

Ankara’s Jets Intercept Russian Warplane In Turkish Airspace

Turkish jet fighters have intercepted a Russian warplane which was in Turkey’s airspace.

According to Turkish “military sources”, Moscow said the violation on Saturday was due to a “navigation error”. Officials at the Russian Embassy said the Turkish military attaché in Moscow was informed of the mistake.

The Turkish sources said a Russian SU-30 breached Turkish airspace for hundreds of meters in the southern district of Yayladağı in Hatay province for two minutes at 12:10 p.m. on Saturday, but returned to Syrian airspace after one warning.

“The Russian aircraft exited Turkish airspace into Syria after it was intercepted by two F-16s from the Turkish Air Force, which were conducting patrols in the region,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

The Ministry summoned the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, and strongly protested the violation. It said the violation must not be repeated and that Russia would be responsible for any “undesired incident”.

Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu called his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to protest. Sinirlioğlu also spoke by phone with his US, French, Italian and British counterparts to evaluate the situation, and the Ministry said he will confer with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

[UPDATE: Stoltenberg reports on his meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister:]

NATO’s North Atlantic Council cited violations on Sunday as well as Saturday by Russian Su-30 and Su-24 fighters over the Hatay region, “despite Turkish authorities’ clear, timely and repeated warnings”. The Council noted “the extreme danger of such irresponsible behaviour” and called on Moscow “to cease and desist, and immediately explain these violations”.

Videos: Russian Attacks Hit Refugee Camp and Free Syrian Army HQ in Latakia Province

Destruction at the Yamadi refugee camp and a Free Syrian Army headquarters in Latakia Province in western Syria after Russian airstrikes:

A local source notes, “Russia is hitting hospitals, refugee camps, and rebels positions very close to the Turkish border — until now, the camps had been safe from attack by the Syrian air force.”

Syrian State news agency SANA is finally acknowledging that the Russian air force is targeting rebels, rather than the Islamic State, with the operations in Latakia.

The Barnas Hospital in Latakia Province near the Turkish Border was closed last week after the Russian bombing of another hospital 20 km (13 miles) away, as well as an airstrike on a nearby area.

The pro-regime al-Masdar News is also undermining the Russian narrative of a focus on the Islamic State, claiming overnight attacks on the opposition-held city of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib Province near the Turkish border.

Rebel-Islamic State Ceasefire South of Damascus

Rebels and the Islamic State have agreed a ceasefire in areas south of Damascus, following clashes last month.

The rebel al-Qadam Joint Operations Room agreed to a truce with ISIS on Thursday, following an attempt by the Islamic State to take control of the al-Qadam district from their base in the Damascus suburb of al-Hajar al-Aswad.

Ammar al-Maydani, a local media activist, said the truce was prompted by regime sieges of both rebels and ISIS.

He said, “The majority [of people] have supported the agreement [to stop] the shedding of their sons’ blood, and to break the dual blockade imposed on them by both IS and the regime.” However, some opposed the ceasefire because members of their family had been killed by the Islamic State.

The ceasefire was preceded by a prisoner exchange of four members of Ajnad a-Sham for one ISIS member. Following the agreement, both sides retrieved the bodies of their dead, removed their checkpoints and roadblocks, and began to withdraw.

Islamic State Blows Up Roman Arch of Triumph in Palmyra

The Islamic State has blown up the Arch of Triumph, a 2nd-century monument in the Roman city of Palmyra in central Syria.

The Syrian Head of Antiquities Maamoun Abdulkarim said the Arch had been destroyed, in the latest demolition of Roman structures — including two temples — by the militants since they captured Palmyra in May.

“It’s as though there is a curse that has befallen this city and I expect only news that will shock us. If the city remains in their hands. the city is doomed,” said Abdulkarim. “It is now wanton destruction…their acts of vengeance are no longer ideologically driven because they are now blowing up buildings with no religious meaning.”


Abdulkaram said ISIS had also destroyed the Lion of Al-lāt, a 2,000-year-old, 10-foot, 15-ton statue.

This summer the Islamic State blew up the Temples of Baal Shamin and Bel, both dating from 1st century A.D.

palmyra destruction