PHOTO: Ibrahim Khateeb, a reporter for pro-opposition Orient News, injured during fighting north of Aleppo on Thursday
- Head of Iran’s Qods Force in Moscow for Consultations
- Medical Staff in Hama Protest Deadly Regime Airstrikes on Doctors and Hospitals
- 15,000 Flee Rebel-ISIS Fighting Near Turkish Border
- 3 More Die in Besieged Madaya From Lack of Medical Care
- Aleppo Doctors on Strike Over Torture Murder by Rebel Group
Rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra have foiled another attack by pro-Assad forces near Aleppo, holding territory north of Syria’s largest city on Thursday.
Accompanied by Russian airstrikes, pro-Assad forces tried to seize an area near Handarat, hoping to cut off a vital supply route to rebels in Aleppo.
The attackers briefly moved into the al-Mallah farms, but rebels and Nusra regained the positions by evening.
Free Syrian Army fighters in Handarat:
A pro-regime website tried to redefine the defeat: “[The pro-Assad forces] pressed the enemy defenses to analyze their forces but withdrew before nightfall.”
Earlier this week, an Iranian-led force failed to retake territory south of Aleppo, losing scores of men.
A regime-Iranian-Hezbollah offensive last autumn, supported by intense Russian bombing, gained some areas around Aleppo last autumn. However, the surge could not fully cut off Aleppo or seize the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway before a cessation of hostilities on February 27.
On April 1, rebels and Nusra hit back near the highway south of Aleppo, taking the town of al-Eis and surrounding hills.
UN Envoy Talks with Opposition in Geneva
The latest attacks came as UN envoy Staffan de Mistura tried to renew political talks in Geneva.
After a second day of meetings with de Mistura on Thursday, the opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee said that it is willing to work with regime members in a transition, as long as President Assad steps aside and no “criminals” remain.
However, the Assad regime has said that it will not discuss the President’s future, and Assad said in late March that he will not accept a transitional governing authority.
De Mistura tried to maintain some hope for a ceasefire, saying that battles are “incidents and not a bush fire”. However, he was downbeat about the Assad regime’s continued refusal to allow aid into besieged areas — “Everyone in the meeting was disappointed,” he said after a meeting of the humanitarian task force set up by the February 27 cessation agreement.
The Assad regime’s delegation is expected to arrive in Geneva on Friday.
Head of Iran’s Qods Force in Moscow for Consultations
The head of Iran’s elite Qods Force, General Qassem Soleimani, is in Moscow for consultations.
“Three sources with knowledge of [the] trip” confirmed the journey.
“General Soleimani traveled to Moscow last night to discuss issues including the delivery of S-300s [anti-aircraft missile system] and further military cooperation,” one senior Iranian security official said.
A “Moscow-based Western diplomat” said he understood that Soleimani would confer President Vladimir Putin as well as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, but a Kremlin spokesman said a meeting with Soleimani was not on Putin’s schedule.
Soleimani was last in Russia in July to discuss emergency measures to save the Assad regime and the Syrian military, including a defense line from Latakia Province on the Mediterranean through Homs to Damascus. The talks led to Russia’s with thousands of airstrikes from September 30, supporting regime ground offensives which included Iranian forces.
Medical Staff in Hama Protest Deadly Regime Airstrikes on Doctors and Hospitals
Medical staff in Hama Province protest the latest regime airstrikes on doctors and hospitals:
Earlier this week, a regime attack on a hospital in Kafrzita killed Dr Hasan al-Araj, the head of the Hama Medical Directorate and the last cardiologist in opposition-held areas of the province.
30,000 Flee Rebel-ISIS Fighting Near Turkish Border
Humanitarian organization report that up to 30,000 civilians have have fled the latest fighting in northern Aleppo province near the Turkish border:
The Turkish charity IHH says 15,000 people have left camps that it operates:
Taking their tents and some of their belongings, thousands of people are heading for the Turkish border. pic.twitter.com/z2Hn1nlgZK
— Humanitarian Relief (@IHHen) April 15, 2016
This is the Muqawamah camp that was recently established by IHH. Everyone has left the camp because of ISIS threats.https://t.co/ZvClQvcnzW
— Humanitarian Relief (@IHHen) April 15, 2016
Human Rights Watch puts the number at 30,000, noting that the displaced are trapped because Turkey has closed the border and threatened to shoot anyone who tries to cross:
ISIS [Islamic State] advances on April 13 and 14 have forced out at least half the camps’ 60,000 residents. They have fled to other camps, to the Bab al-Salameh camp on the Turkish border and to the nearby town of Azaz. Three of the camps – Ikdah, Harameen and al-Sham — are now completely empty of the 24,000 people previously sheltering there.
Battles between rebels and the Islamic State, at war since January 2014, have escalated in the last two months between the border town of Azaz and the frontline near Mare’, with territory being handed back and forth.
Footage of the displaced:
3 More Die in Besieged Madaya From Lack of Medical Care
Pro-opposition Orient News reports that three more people, including two infants, have died in the besieged town of Madaya in Damascus Province.
The site says the elderly man and infants died from the acute shortage of medicines and medical equipment, amid a siege by the Syrian military and Hezbollah since last July.
More than 70 people are believed to have died from starvation between December 1 and February 1. Although the Assad regime finally allowed a limited amount of aid into Madaya to counter international pressure, residents have continued to perish because of the blockade of food, medicine, and supplies and of the regime’s refusal for any evacuation of seriously-ill patients.
A local journalist said that some civilians have now been told to collect their belongings and leave their homes.
Aleppo Doctors on Strike Over Torture Murder by Rebel Group
The staff of at least 10 hospitals in opposition-held Aleppo are on strike, demanding that members of a rebel brigade accused of torturing a hospital employee to death are brought to justice, according to opposition activists and a journalist.
Khaled Iskeif, who worked at al-Daqqaq field hospital, was visiting another hospital in the city on Tuesday when “a group of 10 individuals in two cars” kidnapped him, activist Maher al-Halabi said.
Critically injured, Iskeif arrived at a third Aleppo hospital seven hours later and soon died.
The al-Daqqaq hospital accused local rebel faction Jabhat al-Turkman of responsibility for the death by “prolonged torture with electricity, severe beatings and hanging.”
Jabhat al-Turkman is a 50-member battalion that broke away from the Free Syrian Army’s Sultan Murad Division two months ago, Aleppo activist Muhammad Raslan told Syria Direct on Thursday. “The battalion has some corrupt elements, and they commit a lot of abuses,” said Aleppo activist Mohammad Raslan. A motive for Iskeif’s killing was not immediately clear on Thursday.
On Wednesday, al-Daqqaq and at least nine other Aleppo hospitals suspended all work except for emergency care. A statement the same day by the Aleppo City Medical Council confirmed the suspension and condemned “repeated violations against medical centers and their personnel”.
Scores of activists, doctors, nurses, and civil defense members marched on Wednesday to demand action against the attackers. They chanted slogans such as “No assaults on medical staff” and “Shabiha get out”, comparing those responsible to the Assad regime’s Air Force Intelligence Branch, known for its use of torture.
“Strike until the killer is held accountable” (Aleppo Media Center)
The Aleppo Sharia Court said on Wednesday that it would “carry out the appropriate punishment for those whose involvement in the crime is proven”: “All medical institutions and their people are a red line.”