PHOTO: Rebels inspect an aid truck entering regime enclaves in northwest Syria — Reuters



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Convoys of humanitarian aid have been sent to some besieged areas of Syria, with the UN urging all parties to use assistance to build confidence for ceasefires.

A UN spokesman said the despatch of the convoys to two regime enclaves in northwest Syria and long-besieged towns in Damascus Province was “an incredibly important first step”.

At least 100 trucks left Damascus on Wednesday afternoon. Thirty-four vehicles with 4,350 food baskets arrived at the entrance to Moadamiyeh, southwest of the capital, which has been cut off by the Syrian military since late 2012.

Scores of people died of starvation and lack of medical care in the winter of 2013-2014. Despite a ceasefire in January 2014, the regime forces have continued to restrict food, supplies, and movement of civilians.

Wednesday’s baskets provided rice, bulgur, lentils, beans, chickpeas, oil, sugar, and flour for the approximately 8,000 families in the town.

Children in Moadamiya on Wednesday night:


Another 18 trucks departed for al-Fu’ah and Kafraya, the regime enclaves in rebel-held Idlib Province, the Red Crescent said.

About 50 more trucks travelled to Zabadani and Madaya, northwest of Damascus.

A local journalist said 36 of the trucks reached Madaya, where an estimated 70 people died from malnutrition since December 1 amid a 7 1/2-month regime siege. Food baskets included canned beans, four kilos of lentils, ten kilos of rice, five kilos of sugar, six kilos of chickpeas, and four liters of vegetable oil.

After international attention to the starvation in Madaya, the Assad regime relented and allowed two deliveries of aid in mid-January. However, residents said the food would only last until the end of the month.

The journalist said Wednesday’s delivery would provide enough “for a few days”:

Residents want the blockade to be lifted and for a humanitarian corridor to be opened. The aid is nothing more than temporarily postponing impending death. They are still suffering under the blockade and fear the inevitable return of hunger and the cold.

Earlier this week, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura met Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem in Damascus to request access to the besieged areas. De Mistura said afterward that aid for seven areas would be a “test” of the regime, but the Foreign Ministry cast doubt on any agreement by saying that it was the UN envoy who should be tested for his impartiality.

The US State Department said on Wednesday that the Assad regime may only permit a “one-time” delivery. Spokesman Mark Toner told a press conference:

We’re still very concerned that the Syrian regime has thus far only agreed to what they call temporary access to these besieged communities….

We’ll wait and see, but what we’ve heard from the regime thus far is that it’s kind of — they said “temporary”.

Syria’s opposition-rebel bloc has said that it will not enter “proximity talks” with the regime without ceasefires and the lifting of the sieges.

Rebels Claim Reinforcements and Weapons Across Turkish Border

Rebels claim they have brought at least 2,000 reinforcements, tanks, missiles, and heavy weapons across the Turkish border in the past week to fight Kurdish-led militias in northern Aleppo Province.

The rebel sources said Turkish forces escorted fighters as they moved from Syria’s Idlib Province, across Turkey, and back into Syria to defend the town of Azaz.

“We have been allowed to move everything from light weapons to heavy equipment, mortars and missiles and our tanks,” said Abu Issa, a commander in the Levant Front.

A “Turkish security source” confirmed fighters had crossed the border but put the number at 400 to 500.

Rebels have received Grad rockets but have not been given the launchers to deliver them, according to local sources.

See Syria Feature: Rebels Get Some Badly-Needed Rockets — But No Launchers

Kurdish Forces Celebrate Victory Over Rebels in Northern Aleppo

Footage of celebrations by Kurdish troops after victory over rebels in the town of Tal Rifaat in northern Aleppo Province earlier this week (Warning — graphic images of bodies):

Regime Forces Claim Capture of Last Rebel Position in Latakia Province

The Syrian military is claiming the capture of the last rebel position in Latakia Province, the town on Kinsabba.

The military gave a brief statement about the advance to State media on Thursday.

Enabled by Russian airstrikes, the Syrian army has pursued an offensive in northern Latakia, on the Mediterranean and near the Turkish border, since last October. Gains were initially limited, but the forces have claimed territory in the past month, including the town of Salma.

Medecins Sans Frontieres: 25 Killed in Monday’s “Outrageous” Russian Airstrike on Hospital

The international medical organization Medecins Sans Frontieres says 25 people died in Monday’s Russian airstrike on a hospital in Maarat al-Num’an in Idlib Province.

MSF, which supported the hospital of 50 staff and 32 beds, said the first strike at 9 a.m. was followed by an attack 40 minutes later on responders to the initial strike:

Targeting rescuers and medical staff is outrageous.

This cynical destruction of hospitals and killing of medical personnel deprives entire communities of critical medical care.

It can only be considered deliberate, probably carried out by Syrian-government-led coalition that is predominantly active in the region.

Russian warplanes attacked four hospitals and two schools in Idlib and Aleppo Provinces on Monday, killing about 50 people.

See also Syria Feature: Hospitals and Schools Close in Northwest After Russia’s Deadly Bombing

The organization’s International President, Joanne Liu, concluded:

Rebels: “US Is Not Defending Us, Even Though We Fight ISIS”

Abdallah al-Othman of the Levant Front writes about the American switch of support from rebels to Kurdish-led forces, even as the rebels are attacked in northern Aleppo Province by the Islamic State, the foreign-led regime offensive, and the Kurdish units backed by Washington:

The United States is not defending us, even though we are one of the main Syrian groups fighting the Islamic State. The Levant Front desires a Syria that is free and pluralistic, with respect for human rights, peaceful elections, and the rule of law. Syrians in 2011 marched by the millions for this idea, and we will continue to fight for it until the Syrian people realize their aspirations for freedom.

But we have not received meaningful lethal support from the United States, and we were barely receiving any support at all until two months ago. It is not possible for even the most dedicated army to face swarms of Russian warplanes if they are armed with only basic weapons. Unless the United States drastically increases its support to the moderate Syrian opposition, the field will remain open for IS and for extremist ideologies to flourish. If America wants to win the battle of ideas, it must support its partners who are bravely fighting to beat back the Islamic State.

Video: Rebels Still in Control of Mare’ in Northern Aleppo

Journalist Hadi al-Abdallah reports from rebel-held Mare’ in northern Aleppo Province:

Rebels are pinned into Mare’ by a frontline with the Islamic State, whom they have fought since early 2014; a foreign-led regime offensive; and Kurdish-led attacks which have taken territory in the past two weeks. Both the regime and Kurdish offensives are supported by intense Russian airstrikes.

False reports circulated earlier this week that Mare’ had fallen to the Kurdish militia YPG.