PHOTO: Ruins in opposition-held east Aleppo (Ameer al-Halbi/AFP/Getty)
- 30+ Killed in Airstrike on Displaced Persons’ Camp in Northwest
- Claims: Double Car Bomb Kills 8, Wounds 50 in East Homs
- Rebel Factions in Northwest Create “Buffer Force” to Prevent Spillover from In-Fighting in South
- Claimed Picture: Iran Elite Commander Soleimani Returns to Aleppo Front
- Top UN Official: Hold Assad Regime to Account for War Crimes
- Syrian Currency Continues to Plummet — Down More than 90% Since 2011
- Russia’s Lavrov Warns Turkey and Saudi Arabia — But Is He Also Dropping Assad?
- Islamic State and Regime Battle for Gas Fields in Central Syria
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UPDATE 1345 GMT: President Assad has effectively rejected the truce in Aleppo, only hours after it was declared by his military.
Assad said in a telegram to Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Thursday that the army will not accept less than “attaining final victory” and “crushing the aggression” in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria.
The ostensible reason for Assad’s telegram was congratulations to Putin on Victory Day, marking Russia’s defeat of Germany in World War II. He linked the historical event with the civil war in Syria, according to State news agency SANA:
Aleppo city, as well as other Syrian cities, has become like the heroic Stalingrad….Despite the brutality and cruelty of the enemy, and the great sacrifices and pains, our cities, towns, people and army will not be satisfied until they defeat the enemy and achieve victory serving the interests of Syria, the region and the world.”
UPDATE 1330 GMT: Despite the declared truce in Aleppo, airstrikes and fighting are reportedly continuing on the front south of the city.
The jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra had earlier announced the offensive.
Russian and regime warplanes are reportedly bombing the area.
Footage of the fighting:
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The US and Assad regime both declared on Wednesday that there is a temporary truce in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, after almost two weeks of Russian-regime attacks that have killed up to 300 civilians.
The State Department said that the extension went into effect just after midnight and asserted that there had been an “overall decrease in violence” despite some continued fighting in northwest Aleppo. The announcement of the truce was delayed because American officials wanted to see how long it would take for the ceasefire to come into effect.
The Syrian military subsequently said that it would observe a 48-hour truce in the city from 1 a.m. on Thursday.
The American announcement came after conversations among Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and UN envoy Staffan de Mistura.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “We look to Russia as a co-chair of the International Syria Support Group to press for the Assad regime’s compliance with this effort, and the United States will do its part with the opposition.” Kerry said that both the US and Russia were seeking to communicate with commanders in the field.
Battles continued in the al-Zahra district of northwest Aleppo on Wednesday. The Syrian military claimed that it had retaken some of the key positions captured by rebels on Tuesday. However, a local source said, “Rebels blasted all tall buildings to ground level in the area they took yesterday. Then as massive regime and Russian airstrikes starte,d they withdrew a little.”
Since April 21, a surge in Russian and regime airstrikes and missiles on opposition areas has killed hundreds of civilians and damaged medical facilities, mosques, a school, a water plant, and a bakery.
Syrian State media has claimed that about 100 people have been killed in regime-held west Aleppo by “terrorist shelling”. There is no independent verification of the toll.
30+ Killed in Airstrike on Displaced Persons’ Camp in North
More than 30 people have been killed in an air strike on a displaced persons’ camp in opposition-held northern Syria.
The attack was on the Kamounia camp, near Sarmada in Idlib Province, close to the Turkish border.
The Local Coordination Committees verified the death toll and said dozens were wounded. It said the attacking warplane is believed to be Russian.
The White House quickly reacted in a statement by spokesman Josh Earnest:
There is no justifiable excuse for carrying out an air strike against innocent civilians who have already once fled their homes to escape violence.
These individuals are in the most desperate situation imaginable, and there is no justification for carrying out military action that’s targeting them.
Images of the smoldering camp (Warning — Graphic):
Claims: Double Car Bomb Kills 8, Wounds 50 in East Homs
Pro-regime accounts say eight people were killed and 50 injured in a double car bombing in eastern Homs Province.
The Islamic State, which has been fighting the Syrian military in the area, is suspected of the attack.
Rebel Factions in Northwest Create “Buffer Force” to Prevent Spillover from Conflicts in South
Several leading rebel factions in northwest Syria have created a “buffer force” to prevent spillover from in-fighting that has weakened rebel defenses in the East Ghouta area near Damascus.
The factions, including Free Syrian Army units, said all disputes must be handled by the buffer force and resolved by a court to prevent escalation. If necessary, the force will stop any clashes with an armed response.
Since late April, the leading rebel group near Damasacus, Jaish al-Islam, has been in clashes with Failaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Fustat, which has links with the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra. Each side has blamed the other for the fighting which has claimed several casualties.
Claimed Picture: Iran Elite Commander Soleimani Returns to Aleppo Front
A claimed picture, from Iran’s Ahlul Bayt News Agency, of Iranian Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani returning to the battlefront near Aleppo:
Soleimani, the leading Iranian general in the Syrian conflict, was injured on the Aleppo front in November. This would be his first confirmed return to Syria since he was wounded.
Top UN Official: Hold Assad Regime to Account for War Crimes
A senior UN official has called for the Assad regime to be accountable for “war crimes”.
Jeffrey Feltman, in charge of political affairs, told the Security Council on Wednesday, “Let me be absolutely clear once again: intentional and direct attacks on hospitals are war crime. Using starvation as a weapon during conflict is a war crime.”
He demanded that the regime be referred to the International Criminal Court, “Those responsible for war crimes must be held to account.”
An attempt by the Security Council in 2014 to refer Syria to the ICC was blocked by China and Russia.
Syrian Currency Continues to Plummet — Down More than 90% Since 2011
The Syrian Pound continues to plummet against the US dollar on unofficial markets, sinking to about 580:1.
The pound has fallen another 15% in the last two months, signalling the inability of the Assad regime to deal with the economic crisis around the civil war.
Damascus has been dependent for years on external support, especially from Iran and Russia. GDP has sharply contracted, inflation has soared, and the regime has lost more than 90% of its oil and gas production.
Before the start of the uprising in March 2011, the Syrian pound stood at 47:1 vs. the US dollar.
Russia’s Lavrov Warns Turkey and Saudi Arabia — But Is He Also Dropping Assad?
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has put out a veiled warning to Turkey and Saudi Arabia against military intervention in Syria.
Lavrov said on Wednesday that the Turks and Saudis are unlikely to launch ground operations: “I do not think that anyone will decide to play dangerous games and carry out any provocations due to the fact that there are Russian Aerospace Forces stationed [in Syria].”
He asserted that “it’s necessary to educate, those who are trying to advocate” a military invasion because it “would be a direct aggression.”
However, the Foreign Minister also may have signalled that Russia is willing to see President Assad leave power. He told the Russian State outlet RIA Novosti:
Assad is not an ally for us. Yes, we support him in the fight against terror and in preserving the Syrian state.
But he is not an ally in the sense Turkey is an ally for the United States.
The Foreign Minister said that Russia foresees the resumption of political talks in Geneva this month but that conditions are not yet right for direct negotiations due to the “whims” of the opposition and its supporters, including Turkey.
Islamic State and Regime Battle for Gas Fields in Central Syria
The Islamic State and Syrian military are battling for the al-Sha’ar gas fields near Palmyra in central Syria, a day after ISIS suddenly took over the area.
Pro-regime outlets said ISIS captured all the wells on Wednesday afternoon, almost two months after the Syrian military and its foreign allies drove the Islamic State out of the Roman-era city of Palmyra.
A photograph from the Amaq News Agency, linked to ISIS, claiming the Islamic State’s control of the main building at the gas fields:
Other photographs showed a large haul of vehicles, weapons, and ammunition as ISIS claimed the capture of 20 tanks:
Video has also been posted of the ISIS capture of the complex.
The pro-regime outlets claimed that elite regime units such as the Tiger Forces and the Desert Hawks were being sent to al-Sha’ar to lead operations, at the request of Russian military advisors. They asserted that the Syrian army retook nearby hills and a well on Wednesday night.
Al-Sha’ar changed hands between ISIS and the regime throughout 2014. In spring 2015, a sudden Islamic State offensive took much of the area in eastern Homs Province, including Palmyra.