PHOTO: Men help an injured youth after a regime airstrike on the Fardous section of Aleppo city on Tuesday (Ameer al-Halbi/Getty)
- White Helmets: Russia-Regime Killing of 5 Rescuers “Won’t Deter Us”
- Local Activists: Hezbollah Evicts Residents in Town of Yabroud
- Rebels and Kurdish YPG Clash Again in Northern Aleppo
- Russia Tries Again for UN Label of Rebel Factions as “Terrorist”
- UN Rejects Israeli Claim to Golan Heights
- Russia-Regime $1 Billion Power Plant Talks Show Urgency of Syrian Military’s Fight East of Damascus
- Turkey: US Putting Multiple-Rocket Launcher on Border to Respond to ISIS Attacks
UPDATE 1730 GMT: Four civilians have been killed and more than 10 wounded Aleppo city in the latest Russian-regime airstrikes.
The victims were in the Bab al-Neirab district. Activists said “many houses were reduced to rubble”.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The latest round in Syria’s political talks ended in Geneva on Tuesday, with no sign of advance amid the collapse of the ceasefire in the northwest of the country.
The head of the Assad delegation, UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, said the final discussions with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura concluded a “useful and constructive round”, but gave no indication of any agreement on central issues.
President Assad had said before the talks convened earlier this month that he would not consider a transitional governing authority, the central element of international proposals since 2012, and the delegation reiterated at Geneva that it would not negotiate over Assad’s future. Meanwhile, the opposition-rebel bloc suspended participation because of the regime’s continued bombing, sieges, and detentions, as well as the insistence on the President’s retention of power.
De Mistura made no statement on Tuesday. He is expected to adjourn the talks today and to ask for an urgent meeting of the International Syria Support Group, which arranged the February 27 cessation of hostilities.
More Russian-Regime Bombing of Aleppo
That cessation had already been broken by fighting in northwest Syria, including in Latakia Province and near Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, following numerous regime breaches with air and ground attacks.
It has now collapsed with sustained bombing by both the Syrian air force and Russia, which had suspended strikes until last week. Trying to counter this month’s advances by rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra — and possibly to prepare for a ground assault on Aleppo city — the warplanes have attacked steadily since last Thursday, killing more than 100 civilians.
Late Monday night, five airstrikes and a missile killed five White Helmets rescuers in Atarib, 20 km (12 miles) west of Aleppo city. The Local Coordination Committee documented another 22 deaths from attacks in Aleppo Province on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Syrian State media continues to blame “Jabhat al-Nusra” shelling for the deaths of 17 people and wounding of almost 100 in regime-held parts of Aleppo city on Monday.
Jabhat al-Nusra has no presence in Aleppo city, but rebels have been battling with the Syrian military in the west of the city.
Footage from the pro-regime ANNA News:
Diplomats said the ISSG task force on the cessation of hostilities was meeting in Geneva on Tuesday to review developments.
White Helmets: Russia-Regime Killing of 5 Rescuers “Won’t Deter Us”
Radi a-Saad, an officials of the White Helmets civil defense organization, has spoken of the “precise and targeted” Russian-regime attack late Monday that killed five experienced rescuers late Monday night.
A-Saad confirmed that multiple strikes and a missile hit a White Helmets center and garage as rescuers were sleeping. He could not confirm whether Russian warplanes or the Syrian Air Force was responsible, but said the Assad regime “targets whatever gives people hope and a chance at life”.
Despite the attack, a-Saad pledged, “This action will not deter us, but rather we will keep going. We’ll meet their crimes with our humanity.”
Three of the demonstrations of solidarity with the White Helmets today:
Local Activists: Hezbollah Evicts Residents in Town of Yabroud
Local activists claim Hezbollah is evicting residents in Yabroud, north of Damascus.
The General Commission of Yabroud said Monday that the Lebanese group’s fighters “are emptying…dozens of houses” in the Qaa neighborhood of the town, which is on the M5 motorway linking Damascus to the Mediterranean coast via Homs.
Hezbollah, the Syrian military, and pro-Assad militia seized Yabroud in March 2014 during an offensive from the Lebanese-Syrian border across the Qalamoun region.
The General Commission of Yabrud, Hezbollah fighters moved resident on the pretext that they need the buildings for military purposes. It said Hezbollah purchased “more than 25 houses” and acquired more through middlemen.
Syria’s opposition has repeatedly accused the Assad regime and its allies Iran and Hezbollah of attempting to institute demographic changes in sensitive areas of the country, including Qalamoun and southwest Damascus.
Rebels and Kurdish YPG Clash Again in Northern Aleppo
Rebels have clashed again with the Kurdish militia YPG and its ally Jaish al-Thuwar in northern Aleppo Province.
A pro-rebel site said the latest skirmish occurred when YPG tried to block the only road connecting Mare’, near the rebel frontline with the Islamic State, with other villages.
Free Syrian Army units and other rebel factions launched a counter-attack, with an advance for the FSA and YPG casualties, according to The Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office.
The YPG launched a series of attacks in northern Aleppo in February, taking territory from rebels who were also facing regime-Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah offensives. The Kurdish assault was checked both by a Turkish warning, drawing a “red line” at the border town of Azaz, and a February 27 cessation of hostilities.
However, clashes have continued in the province, on the main road to Aleppo city, and in the city in the Sheikh Maqsoud district.
Russia Tries Again for UN Label of Rebel Factions as “Terrorist”
Russia has tried again to get the UN to label leading rebel factions Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham as “terrorist”.
Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said on Turkey that Moscow has filed a request with the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the UN Security Council to place the groups on a sanctions list.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly attempted to exclude the factions from the political process, including talks in Geneva, through the “terrorist” designation.
The label would also give Russian warplanes the pretext for their attacks on rebels and opposition territory, despite a February 27 cessation of hostilities. The Islamic State and the “terrorist” Jabhat al-Nusra are excluded from the ceasefire.
UN Rejects Israeli Claim to Golan Heights
The UN Security Council has rejected a claim by Israel’s Netanyahu Government to the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi, who holds this month’s Council presidency, said the Golan’s status “remains unchanged”. He cited a 1981 resolution which states that Israel’s “decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights was nul and void and without any international legal effect”.
Liu said that Council members “expressed deep concern” over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks on April 17 — issued for the first Israeli Cabinet session in the Golan since 1967 — that “the Golan Heights will remain in the hands of Israel forever”.
Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon issued a statement rejecting the Council statement:
Holding a meeting on this topic completely ignores the reality in the Middle East. While thousands of people are being massacred in Syria, and millions of citizens have become refugees, the Security Council has chosen to focus on Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East.
It’s unfortunate that interested parties are attempting to use the council for unfair criticism of Israel.
About some 23,000 Israelis now live alongside roughly the same number of Druze Arabs in the Golan.
Russia-Regime $1 Billion Power Plant Talks Show Urgency of Syrian Military’s Fight East of Damascus
A brief announcement on Syrian State media, about Russian-regime talks over construction of a power plant, have pointed to the urgency of the Syrian military’s fight against both rebels and the Islamic State east of Damascus.
State news agency SANA said consultations are underway with Russia’s Inter RAO Company over a $1 billion project to build the Tishreen 3 Thermal Plant, east of Damascus.
Last July, Russia’s Kommersant daily said Damascus had asked for Russian investment.
A source at the company in Moscow told reporters on Monday that talks have not been completed.
The Syrian military has tried to break through rebel lines — Jaish al-Islam, the Free Syrian Army, and the Rahman Corps — in Tishreen but has been unsuccessful.
The Islamic State also has a presence in the area, clashing with both regime and rebel forces (see map).
Turkey: US Putting Multiple-Rocket Launcher on Border to Respond to ISIS Attacks
Turkey says the US will be sending a multiple-rocket launcher to the Syrian border to help Ankara respond to ISIS rocket attacks and possibly to assist an offensive against the Islamic State in northern Syria.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Monday that the Americans are deploying a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) in May.
We have come to an agreement with the US regarding closing down the Manbij area [in northern Aleppo Province inside Syria]. Our strategy on the issue is set too….HIMARS rockets will arrive on the Turkish border in May according to this agreement, and we will be able to hit Daesh [Islamic State] targets more effectively.
The Islamic State has regularly fired rockets across the border into Kilis Province in southeastern Turkey, killing several civilians. The Turkish military has retaliated with artillery fire.
Çavuşoğlu noted, “Our cannons have a range of 40 kilometers while American HIMARS rockets have a range of 90 kilometers.”
The Foreign Minister added that the measure would further empower Syrian rebels to push back ISIS in northern Aleppo Province, “With the new strategy, more forces will be relocated for the fight against Daesh – new names are being chosen for this- the Syrian opposition will be supported by air and via the Turkish border.”
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by US personnel and weapons, have wanted to advance on Manbij, but Turkey is wary of that operation.
Ankara considers the YPG militia, the leading force in the SDF, a close ally of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.