PHOTO: Kurdish fighters near Afrin in northwest Syria (File Photo)



Syria Analysis: The Top 10 Developments in 2015

Kurdish forces have claimed a further advance in a growing battle with rebels within Syria’s 58-month conflict.

Kurdish military sources said they captured Keshtaar village, near the town of Tal Rifaat north of Aleppo city, on Sunday. The area is about 10 km (6 miles) from the town of Azaz on the Turkish border.

The village is the third near Azaz taken by Kurdish militia and the dissident rebel faction Jaish al-Thuwar in 72 hours. On Friday, the Kurds and Jaish al-Thuwar claimed Tat Mrash and Tanab.

All three villages lie in opposition-held territory between the Kurdish canton of Afrin, northwest of Aleppo city, and the cantons of Kobane and Cezire in northeastern Syria.

See Syria Daily, Jan 3: Rebels Attacked from 3 Sides in Aleppo Province

Pro-opposition activists claim the Kurds are trying to establish a continuous area of control along the Turkish border. Last month, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Force — advancing in the Kobane-Cezire area against the Islamic State — crossed to the west bank of the Euphrates River for the first time, raising the prospect of an offensive on Jarablus, on the Turkish border in north-central Syria.

The Kurdish sources claimed on Sunday that they had defeated Jabhat al-Nusra, a jihadist group paying allegiance to Al Qa’eda, in Keshtaar: “Nusra terrorists escaped the village under heavy shelling by our forces.”

Rebels say that it is their forces, and not primarily Jabhat al-Nusra, who are being attacked in northwest Syria. The Syrian Islamic Council warned on Sunday of the “conspiratorial and divisive schemes” of Kurdish-led forces, saying that areas such as Azaz are under “real threat”.

Last month a dissident faction, Jaish al-Thuwar, seized several villages in northern Aleppo Province, as Kurdish militia clashed with rebels between Afrin and Azaz

A ceasefire was agreed in early December but was broken last week as Jaish al-Thuwar and Kurdish forces renewed their attacks.

Islamic State Executes Female Citizen Journalist in Raqqa

The Islamic State has killed citizen journalist Ruqia Hassan, the first known examination of a woman for reporting inside ISIS territory.

Under the pseudonym “Nisan Ibrahim”, Hassan wrote about life in the Islamic State’s center of Raqqa in northern Syria. Her work on social media reporting abruptly stopped on July 21, 2015, and she disappeared from the city at some point between July and December.

Opposition media said the Islamic State informed Hassan’s family last week of her execution on charges of espionage.


Opposition Backs Saudi Cutting of Diplomatic Ties with Iran

Opposition and rebel groups have issued statements of support for Saudi Arabia’s cutting of ties with Iran, a key backer of the Assad regime.

On Sunday, Riyadh gave Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave the country and withdrew its personnel from Tehran. The dispute was spurred by Saudi Arabia’s execution of a leading Shia cleric among 47 detainees on Saturday, followed by protests that burned and ransacked an annex to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

See Iran Audio Analysis: Why Saudi Arabia Cut Relations — and What It Means
Iran Daily, Jan 4: Saudis Cut Diplomatic Ties with Tehran

The Syrian National Coalition said:

We call upon the Arab League to respond to Iran’s aggression against the Arab countries. We also call for expelling Iran from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in response to its support of terrorism and recruiting of dozens of sectarian militias that kill and besiege Syrian children and women.

The Iranian regime, well-known for its oppression against the Iranian people. It has executed thousands of opponents, intervened in the affairs of other countries, committed crimes against humanity and aided and abetted the Assad regime and the Russian invaders in killing over 400,000 Syrians and displacing 13 million more.

The leading rebel faction Jaish al-Islam has posted its statement of support on social media.

Jaish al-Islam reiterated its message with 25 other rebel groups in the Syrian Islamic Council.

Report: Hezbollah Kills 2 Men Smuggling Food Into Besieged Madaya

Pro-opposition Orient News reports that Hezbollah fighters have killed two men trying to smuggle food into the besieged town of Madaya, southwest of Damascus.

The site said the men were killed on Sunday evening, and another was captured and taken to an unknown destination.

Local sources also say that claims on social media of civilians killed as they tried to flee Madaya are accurate.

The claims said three civilians, including a pregnant woman and her daughter, were killed and four other women were injured when regime and Hezbollah troop opened fire on them.

Madaya was first surrounded by regime troops and Hezbollah fighters in July 2015 as part of a bid to put pressure on rebel fighters holed up in nearby Zabadani.

With a population of about 40,000, Madaya has been cut off by the Syrian military since last July, when Hezbollah and regime forces tried to overrun nearby Zabadani. Even though a ceasefire was reached in late September, the siege was maintained.

Local activists said last week that more than 20 people have died from starvation, with hundreds of infants at risk of malnutrition.

See Syria Feature: Threat of Starvation in Another Town Near Damascus

Claimed photo of a boy eating a meal of grass and tree leaves: