PHOTO: British Ministry of Defence picture of Tornado jet fighter taking off from Cyprus early Thursday for attack on Islamic State



Audio Debate: Is Britain’s Bombing of ISIS Justified?
Syria & Iraq Analysis: The Bombing of the Islamic State is a Political Sideshow

British warplanes have carried out their first airstrikes on Islamic State targets inside Syria, hours after Parliament approved a Government motion for action.

Defense Minister Michael Fallon told the BBC on Thursday morning that four Tornado het fighters attacked the al-Omar oil fields in eastern Syria, 35 miles from the Iraqi border: “This strikes a very real blow at the oil and the revenue on which the Daesh terrorists depend.”

The Ministry released photographs of four Tornadoes leaving in pairs from the Akrotiri base in Cyprus. Each was carrying three 500 lb Paveway bombs.

There are only eight front-line Tornadoes based at Akrotiri — 1/3 of the number needed for effective operations, according to retired British military personnel — although they are to be joined by another two. Six Typhoons, which cannot carry laser-guided Brimstone missiles, are also being deployed.

The warplanes took off about 3 a.m. GMT, less than five hours after the House of Commons approved the Cameron Government’s request for strikes by a 397-223 vote.

See Syria & Iraq Analysis: The Bombing of the Islamic State is a Political Sideshow
Syria & Iraq Audio Analysis: Bombing Won’t Defeat the Islamic State

Russia Suspends Pipeline Project With Turkey, Risks Up to $14 Billion in Investment

Russia has suspended work on the Turkish Stream, a pipeline intended to pump Russian gas into southeastern Europe via Turkey and bypassing Ukraine
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak made the announcement to reporters on Thursday.

Gas pipes worth $1.95 billion, belonging to Russian energy firm Gazprom, will be stranded on the shores of the Black Sea. The head of Italian oil company Eni, one of the main buyers for the pipeline’s gas, said the project was dead in the water.

Gazprom has spent between $12-14 billion on Turkish Stream and its aborted predecessor South Stream, abandoned last year in the face of European Union opposition and heightened tensions over the Ukraine crisis.

The announcement came as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu for 40 minutes on the sidelines of European conference in Belgrade, the first high-level encounter since Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane on November 24.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin continued to trade verbal punches on Thursday. Returning Russian allegations of Ankara’s cooperation with the Islamic State, Erdoğan alleged that Moscow was involved in oil trading with ISIS: “We have the proof in our hands. We will reveal it to the world.”

Meanwhile, Putin said in a State of the Nation address, “Allah has punished the rulers of Turkey by depriving them of reason. They will regret what they have done.”

Iran: Assad Will Be Able to Stand in Elections

The Supreme Leader’s top aide has said that Syria’s President Assad will be able to stand in elections under any international agreement for a political transition.

Ali Akbar Velayati told Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV on Wednesday:

President Assad’s government has been formed on the basis of legislative elections and the legal term of this government should end and then presidential elections will be held on their due date and President Assad will participate in these elections….

Day-by-day President Bashar al Assad’s popularity in Syria grows and we are certain that the people of Syria will vote for him once again.

A statement from the second round of international talks in Vienna set out an 18-month transitional period which included elections after ceasefires and a new Constitution, but it did not mention Assad’s future.

Russia, Assad’s other main ally alongside Iran, has also pressed for elections, but Moscow has not said that Assad’s personal participation should be guaranteed.

Velayati, a former Foreign Minister, also declared that “the joint Iran-Syria-Russia-Lebanese Hezbollah partnership will lead to the Syrian government’s victory” with the Syrian military, supported by Russian airstrikes and including Iranian-led units and Hezbollah fighters, regaining control throughout the country “very soon”.

He ruled out any involvement of rebel groups in a political settlement:

The terrorists that took up arms against the Syrian nation do not have the right to negotiate with the Syrian government. Only opposition groups that did not take up arms against the Syrian people can negotiate with the government of Syria.

(Cross-posted from Iran Daily)

Activists: 40 Killed by Russia Amid Rebel Fighting with Dissident Faction & Kurds in Aleppo Province

The pro-opposition Local Coordination Committees report the deaths of 40 people in Aleppo Province on Wednesday, most of them killed by Russian airstrikes in an area where rebels are fighting a dissident faction and Kurdish militia.

The LCC said a “massacre” was caused in the village of Kafarnaseh by Russian bombing. The location is between the Kurdish canton of Afrin and opposition-held Azaz and Atmeh, where rebels have been battling the dissident group Jaish al-Thuwar.

Kurdish officials in Afrin said on Tuesday that the Kurdish militia YPG has joined the fighting.

The LCC said it confirmed the deaths of 82 people across Syria yesterday.

Russia Welcomes Prospect of Homs Ceasefire

The Russian Foreign Ministry has welcomed the possibility of a ceasefire in Syria’s third-largest city of Homs.

“We believe that its implementation will make it possible to finally normalize the situation in this major Syrian city and put an end to the suffering of its people,” the Ministry said on Wednesday

There were conflicting reports yesterday on whether the truce had been completed for the al-Wa’er district in southeast Homs, held by the opposition since 2011. The Ministry said the “first group of 200-300 people” would begin leaving on Saturday.

A participant in the negotiations said on Wednesday that an oral agreement had been reached.

“This time we saw that the regime was serious about concluding a truce and quickly implementing it,” the member of the rebel committee said of Tuesday’s talks. “I think that the regime is trying to show that it is capable of negotiating and working out settlement agreements before the upcoming international conference [in mid-December].”

The talks at the as-Safir hotel includes the release of an unknown number of detainees from regime prisons and the entrance of food and medicine into the neighborhood.

Rebel fighters said some would remain in al-Waer under any agreement:

We won’t leave and abandon our families to become a target for the shabiha’s hatred…the truce we recognize is one that allows rebels to stay in the neighborhood to protect civilians. In that case, we’ll abide by all conditions including a ceasefire.

The Syrian military took over most of Homs in early 2012 after a devasting aerial campaign that destroyed parts of the city. Following two more years of assaults, an agreement was reached in May 2014 for the withdrawal of rebels from almost all areas. However, they remained in al-Waer, where the population had swelled to an estimated 200,000 people because of the entry of Syrians dispalced from other areas.

Since then, regime forces have been unable to take al-Waer despite periodic air and ground attacks. There are now an estimated 90,000 residents and rebels in the area.