PHOTO: An infant in Madaya, where thousands are threatened with starvation



US-Kurdish Alliance, Special Forces, & A Reassurance for Turkey

UPDATE 1300 GMT: A protest in opposition-held Idlib city calls for the “burning down” of the regime enclaves of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya, in response to the siege of Madaya:

Despite the pressure for action, the rebel bloc Jaish al-Fateh is still adhering to the ceasefire agreement covering the enclaves and Zabadani, the opposition-held town near Madaya in Damascus Province.

The Assad regime has said that the UN can send aid into the town of Madaya, northwest of Syria’s capital Damascus, where about 40,000 people are facing starvation after a six-month siege.

Facing the growing international attention to the plight of the residents, the regime relented and agreed to the belated UN request to send food and supplies.

Assistance will also be delivered to the regime enclaves of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya, in Idlib Province in northwest Syria, which have long been surrounded by rebels who control almost of the province.

“The UN welcomes today’s approval from the Government of Syria to access Madaya, Fu’ah, and Kafraya and is preparing to deliver humanitarian assistance in the coming days,” a statement said.

The UN had been accused of inaction over the crisis, in which at least 31 people have died of starvation and hundreds more are seriously ill or fainting, according to local doctors. A medic said a UN official had responded to pleas with the message that staff were on holiday from December 24 to January 5.

The UN’s Coordinators in Syria finally said on Thursday:

The UN calls for unimpeded humanitarian access to reach those in need in hard-to-reach and besieged areas in Syria. We are particularly concerned about the plight of nearly 400,000 people besieged by parties to the conflict in locations such as Deir ez-Zor city, Darraya, al-Fu’ah and Kafraya, as well as besieged areas of East Ghouta.

Madaya has been besieged since July, when Hezbollah and regime forces tried to overrun nearby Zabadani. It has received only one aid delivery, providing a few days of food, since then, with the regime refusing any other access.

Medicins Sans Frontiers said yesterday that 23 people, including six infants, had died from starvation since December 1 in a clinic that it supports. A local doctor said two to three people were perishing each day.

Sources inside the town said that a bag of milk can now cost $100, a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rice $150, and flour $100.

Those trying to flee or searching for food, even grass to eat, have been killed by Hezbollah and regime forces or have risked death or injury from mines, according to local sources and Medicins Sans Frontieres.

MSF added, “The desperation is getting so acute that yesterday there were scenes of rioting as people tried to seize the last remaining food available at the MSF-supported food-distribution point, intended to provide for the most vulnerable.”

Hezbollah responded to criticism yesterday by issuing a statement that acknowledged 23,000 people in Madaya — a figure challenged by Assad supporters on social media. It accused rebels of using residents as “human shields” and of hoarding food.

The English-language site of Syria’s State news agency SANA ignored the agreement over Madaya and the regime enclaves, preferring instead to write about “health cooperation” between Iran and Damascus. Pro-regime al-Masdar News tries to handle the situation with “Madaya: Why Would Assad Starve His Own Supporters?“.

Russian State sites RT and Itar TASS have also make no reference at all to Madaya this morning.

Rebels Support Negotiating Team But Criticize International Pressure

More than 20 rebel factions have supported the opposition-rebel negotiating team, established at a conference in Saudi Arabia last month; however, they have warned of international pressure “to offer concessions that will prolong the suffering of our people and the spilling of their blood”.

The statement follows meetings between members of the negotiating team and UN Staffan de Mistura this week.

Following the discussions, Riad Hijab, the head of the opposition-rebel delegation, said that conditions would have to be met before talks could be undertaken with the Assad regime. These include release of detainees, ceasefires with a halt to Russian and regime aerial bombardment, and access to humanitarian aid.

De Mistura, who has held further talks with the Turkish Government and is in Damascus on Friday, has not responded to the opposition-rebel statement.

US-Led Coalition Kills 11 in Raqqa Province

The opposition Local Coordination Committees says the US-led coalition has killed 11 civilians, including eight children, in airstrikes on the Islamic State-controlled area of Hazima in Raqqa Province.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported last week that 271 civilians were killed in coalition attacks in 2015.

Turkish President Makes Point With Meetings With Syrian Turkmens

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pointedly shown support for Syria’s opposition and rebels by meeting delegations from the Syrian Turkmen minority, on the same day that another official hosted UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura in Ankara.

Erdoğan told the delegations that Turkey is standing by the Turkmens in northwest Syria near the Turkish border. northwestern Syria, close to Turkey’s Yayladağı border gate in Hatay province, sources from the president’s office told state-run Anadolu Agency.

“Turkey has been trying to convey the oppression imposed on the people by the al-Assad regime, its supporters and terrorist organizations…to the international community,” the President said.

Attacks on Turkmen communities have surged since Russia began its bombing campaign on September 30, including support of the Syrian military’s ground operations near Turkmen areas of northern Latakia Province.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu hosted de Mistura, who had come from Saudi Arabia and is now meeting officials in Iran.

Iran Denies Paying Immigrants to Fight in Syria

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have denied payment to Afghan and Pakistani immigrants to fight in Syria.

Ali Asghar Gorjizadeh, commander of the Guards force protecting regime officials, said the claim that Tehran “gives financial promises” to the fighters is “a clear lie”.

Iran’s offer of money and permanent residency to Afghan immigrants to fight has been established in a series of reports and testimony from the men’s relatives.

See Syria Feature: How Iran Is Providing Afghans to Fight for Assad

The commander also insisted that Iran has not sent troops to accompany the Syrian military, saying Tehran’s involvement is only “advisory”.

Gorjizadeh leads the Ansar al-Mahdi Security Unit, which has lost several mens among almost 120 Iranian troops — including eight commanders — whose deaths in Syria have been confirmed since October 7.

Iran has deployed commanders in Syria since 2012, when it created a pro-Assad militia to support the Syrian military. In late September, it sent in more commanders and soldiers for the ground offensives covered by intensive Russian bombing.