PHOTO: Kurdish police with torn poster of President Assad
- Reports: Intense Russian-Regime Air “Attacks Are Everywhere” — “Multiple Casualties”
- Geneva Talks: Delegation Head Defends Regime Over Humanitarian Aid
- Videos: More Anti-Regime Protests in Suweida Province in Southeast
- 1st Aid Convoy Since 2012 Reaches Rastan in Homs Province
UPDATE 1800 GMT: The Kurdish command in Qamishli has announced a ceasefire with pro-Assad forces after three days of fighting.
The command said the truce was arranged by “the intervention of the elders of the region and tribal leaders”. It called on all supporters to respect the ceasefire, especially after the “lesson” given to the Assad regime.
The statement said 31 pro-Assad militia were killed, while 10 Kurdish militia and police died. Regime attacks killed 17 civilians.
Despite the truce, the Kurdish command denounced “the Baathist regime terror forces” and said detentions and arming of civilians, provoking the clashes, had shown the reasons for the uprising against President Assad.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The prospect of a new battlefront in Syria grew on Thursday, with a surge in fighting between Kurdish units and pro-Assad forces in Qamishli in the northeast.
In the second day of clashes, Kurdish police took the Alaya prison. About 50 members of the pro-Assad National Defense Forces militias surrendered, and video showed 18 detainees being transferred to a Kurdish police station.
A Kurdish official said at least 21 NDF militiamen were killed in the fighting at the prison and elsewhere in the city, He said five officers of the Kurdish police, the Asayish, died.
Kurdish forces remove the regime flag from the prison:
There were conflicting claims about the state of the fighting after the Kurdish victory at the prison. Pro-Assad accounts asserted that the NDF had taken over positions in the city, which has been controlled by both Kurdish and regime forces since 2012. Pro-Kurdish outlets said the Asayish were closing on the regime-held airport.
There was no confirmation that the Kurdish militia YPG or the Syrian army have joined the battles.
The Kurdish Hawar News said a woman was killed and 20 people were injured in regime shelling. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll at 11.
A local activist spoke on Thursday of “large explosions occurring in quick succession and said, “Nobody is leaving their house unless it’s absolutely necessary….Life has ground to a halt in the city.”
A map of the area of fighting:
(Map by @deSyracuse and @vvanwilgenburg)
Syria’s Kurds consider Qamishli, located near the Turkish and Iraqi borders, as the capital of one of their three cantons in northern Syria. There have been periodic clashes between Kurdish police and the NDF, but this week’s fighting is the most intense in Syria’s five-year conflict.
The battles started on Wednesday. Kurdish accounts said that Asayish officers were arrested or killed by the NDF, and that the Asayish responded with their own detentions, leading to the outbreak of fighting. Another version said a Kurdish activist was prevented from filming in the regime-controlled areas of Qamishli.
Regime supporters said Kurds had started the battle by attacking militia positions.
However, State news agency SANA completely ignores the fighting.
Reports: Intense Russian-Regime Air “Attacks Are Everywhere” — “Multiple Casualties”
Reports are circulating of intense Russian and regime airstrikes on opposition areas in and near Aleppo city on Friday morning, causing “multiple casualties”.
The Local Coordination Committees said at least 18 civilians were killed and more than 40 wounded, with bodies still to be recovered from rubble.
Areas struck in Aleppo include Bustan al-Qasr, Layramoun, Sukkari, Saleheddin, and al-Ansari. North of the city, the Russian-regime warplanes are targeting main routes, such as the al-Castello road and Handarat.
The White Helmets civil defense organization said, “Today has been the worst day in Syria for over a year. Attacks are everywhere.”
Tracking attacks in Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and Damascus. Furious intensity. Teams report streets littered with bodies. pic.twitter.com/oBByKD0RAN
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) April 22, 2016
The group continued, “More than 20 attacks today in Aleppo. More in Idlib. We return to work with sadness and heavy hearts.”
Pro-Assad forces tried but failed last week to cut off the Handarat route. Since then, there have been numerous claims of the movement of Russian artillery to support a renewed assault to isolate the opposition areas of Aleppo city.
A child killed by one of today’s airstrikes:
Geneva Talks: Delegation Head Defends Regime Over Humanitarian Aid
The head of the Assad regime’s delegation in the Geneva talks, Bashar al-Ja’afari, has spent much of Friday’s press conference defending the regime over the issue of humanitarian aid.
UN officials and activists say the regime has refused aid to several areas and tightened the blockades in April.
Speaking after a meeting with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, Ja’afari said aid had been delivered on 42 occasions, in a total of 219 trucks, into “unstable or restive” areas in the last four months. He cited Thursday’s delivery by 65 trucks into opposition-held Rastan in Homs Proivnce, the first assistance that has reached the town since 2012.
Ja’afari, who serves as Syria’s UN Ambassador, declared that 90% of 6.5 million internally-displaced Syrians are in regime-controlled areas.
The delegation head said discussions will resume with de Mistura on Monday, asking the UN envoy to consider the regime’s amendments to the envoy’s proposals.
President Assad and his representatives have ruled out any discussion of Assad’s future or of a transitional governing authority, the central element of international plans since 2012.
The opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee suspended formal participation in the talks earlier this week, citing the regime’s sieges, bombing, and detentions.
Videos: More Anti-Regime Protests in Suweida Province in Southeast
There were more anti-Assad protests on Thursday in Suweida Province, with its mainly-Druze population, in southeast Syria:
Shortly after noon, scores of protesters rallied in the main square of Suweida city in a demonstration organized by the “You Broke Us” movement.
As they had last Sunday, protesters chanted slogans challenging regime authority over the province: “There it is, there it is, the Syrian revolution, peacefully, peacefully!”; “The people want to bring down corruption”; and “O’Syrian lift your hand up, we don’t need to corrupt! O’Syrian lift your hand up, we don’t need the traitor!”
The demonstrators denounced the head of Suweida’s Political Security Branch, Wafiq Nasser, and Governor Atef Nadaf. They held placards saluting opposition-held towns and cities, including Maarat al-Num’an, the town in Idlib Province which has withstood regime bombardment and protested against the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra.
A local newspaper said security agencies mobilized a parallel protest by hundreds of people bearing regime flags and portraits of President Assad.
“You Broke Us” was launched on March 13 with a public statement in which it vowed to organize a “long-term protest” until its demands to help “build a better future for the province” were met. It cited eight main problems: rampant corruption, poor electrical services, declining provision of fuel and heating gas, the firing of state employees who refuse military service, the fixed salary of state employees amid inflation, high prices for basic commodities, increased lawlessness, and poor health care.
On Sunday, a parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Syria’s independence from France turned into an anti-Assad protest, replacing a portrait of former President Hafez al-Assad with that of an early 20th-century Druze leader, Sultan Pasha al-Atrash. Slogans included “Syria is ours and not the Assad family’s” and “Live Syria! Fall Bashar!”
1st Aid Convoy Since 2012 Reaches Rastan in Homs Province
The besieged town of Rastan, in northern Homs Province, has received its first aid convoy since 2012.
On Thursday, 65 trucks delivered food and medicine to about 120,000 civilians.
— ICRC Syria (@ICRC_sy) April 21, 2016
The delivery came after days of regime bombing of Rastan and nearby villages in an opposition-held pocket of territory, about 20 km (12 miles) north of Homs city. Pro-regime activists declared that a ground offensive was imminent.
However, Red Cross official Pawel Krzysiek expressed hope that humanitarian teams could assess the water and waste infrastructure and the nutritional and other needs of its population, as well as providing food, wheat, medicine, and other supplies.
The Assad regime is continuing to block aid to other opposition-held areas, such as Darayya, southwest of Damascus, despite a UN Security Council resolution and the terms of a February 27 cessation of hostilities.
However, earlier this week, an agreement permitted about 250 wounded and injured residents of the Madaya area in Damascus Province, under a deadly siege since July, to leave for Idlib Province. At the same time, about 250 people were moved out of the regime enclaves of Kafraya and al-Fu’ah, north of Idlib city.
Footage of children among the Madaya evacuees: