PHOTO: Three of the Revolutionary Guards troops killed last week south of Aleppo


UPDATE 2030 GMT: The Jaish al-Fateh rebel bloc claims that it killed more than 50 fighters in repelling today’s attempt by Iranian units, foreign militia, and the Syrian army to retake Khan Tuman south of Aleppo.

The bloc says that it destroyed four armored vehicles.

UPDATE 1000 GMT: Iranian forces, foreign militia, and the Syrian military are again trying to re-enter Khan Tuman, near the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway, after the loss of the town last Thursday.

Rebel outlets are claiming that they repelled the attacks so far, killing dozens of fighters and destroying a tank and 2 BMP armored vehicles.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards made a significant but limited admission on Saturday, revealing that they had suffered more than 30 casualties as Syria’s rebels advance south of Aleppo on Thursday.

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps spokesman Hossein Ali Rezaie broke the silence over the southern Aleppo front, where rebels and Jahbat al-Nusra have reclaimed territory since the start of April. He said 13 IRGC troops had been killed and 21 wounded. All the casualties were from the Mazandaran Division in northern Iran.

However, Rezaie still would not concede the full involvement of Iran in Syria’s civil war. He continued to call the casualties “advisors” — the Iranian regime’s official name for anyone on the battlefield — and would not give the location.

It was State news agency IRNA that revealed the losses were at Khan Tuman, the key town on the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway suddenly retaken by the Jaish al-Fateh rebel bloc on Thursday.

Rezaie cautioned Iranians not to be affected by graphic images of the dead, which he described as “psychological warfare” by the enemy.

On Saturday, pro-rebel outlets said more casualties had been inflicted on Iranian forces, foreign militia, and the Syrian army as they failed to move back into Khan Tuman.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian condemned the “occupation” of Khan Tuman, asserted that “terrorists and armed groups, erroneously called moderate opposition, have joined hands in capitalizing on the ceasefire”.

Curiously, Revolutionary Guards outlet Fars News continued to deny the loss of Khan Tuman, despite the Foreign Ministry’s statement. The outlet, quoting “Syrian army officer and military analyst Mohammad Kamal al-Jafa”, said the reports of capture were “baseless and psychological warfare”: “What has happened in Khan Touman in Aleppo province is a failure not only for the terrorist groups but also for their supporters in Ankara and Riyadh which had invested a lot in their offensive, but to no avail.”

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader’s top aide, Ali Akbar Velayati, met President Assad in Damascus. No details were given of the meeting.

Velayati repeated on Friday that Iran supported Assad serving out the remainder of his seven-year term, due to expire in 2021. That is a subtle shift from the Islamic Republic’s previous open-ended commitment to Assad’s stay in power.

See Iran Daily, May 7: “Syria’s Assad Should Stay 5 More Years”

A Deepening Involvement

Iran has provided essential military direction for the survival of the Assad regime since 2012. Its commanders created the pro-Assad militia National Defense Forces to supplement the Syrian army, and Iranian personnel provided intelligence, logistics, reconstruction, and propaganda. Tehran also backed the involvement of Lebanon’s Hezbollah from 2013, and it organized the entry of foreign militia such as Iraqis and Afghans.

The intervention escalated in autumn 2015, after Russia and Iran arranged aerial and ground operations to prevent the collapse of the Assad regime. Enabled by thousands of Russian airstrikes, Iran led some of the ground offensives that took territory in northwest Syria.

However, the multiple offensives — almost all against Syrian rebels — failed to take key objectives before a February 27 cessation of hostilities. Instead, with battles continuing in the northwest, rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra began a fightback.

The rebel-Nusra force took the town of al-Eis on the Damascus-to-Aleppo highway on April 1. Ten days later, they rebelled an Iranian-led counter-attack, killing more than 100 Iranians and foreign militia.

In addition to putting in more IRGC personnel, Iran has deployed its first Army troops, including special forces and mechanized infantry. General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Guards’ elite Quds Force, has been photographed on the southern Aleppo Front — his first appearance since he was injured near Aleppo city last November.

Iranian media have acknowledged more than 250 deaths of commanders and troops since October 7. They have not given casualty figures for the Iraqi, Pakistani, and Afghan militias, a toll which is unknown but certain to be in the hundreds.

While not declaring the extent of its growing involvement, the Iranian regime has been preparing the public for the escalating intervention and losses since January. The Supreme Leader has been featured in photo opportunities with families of “martyrs” from the Iraq-Iran War of the 1980s and subsequent conflicts and with the wounded from the battles.

Regime Outlets: 46 Pro-Assad Troops Killed in Aleppo Tunnel Bomb

Regime outlets have confirmed that 46 pro-Assad troops were killed by a rebel tunnel bomb in the al-Zahra district of northwest Aleppo on Tuesday.

One pro-regime blogger said the casualties were all from the Palestinian-Syrian group Liwa al-Quds.

Rebels briefly seized territory in al-Zahra, the site of battles for more than a year, before pulling back after they destroyed buildings used by the pro-Assad units.

The moment of the tunnel bombing:

Reports: Russian or Regime Warplanes Hit Another Hospital in Aleppo Province

Reports are circulating that Russian or regime warplanes have struck another hospital in Aleppo Province, this time in Kafr Naha:

Two ambulances were also damaged and put out of service.

The hospital is supported by the international medical organization Medicins Sans Frontieres.

On April 27, another MSF-supported facility, the al-Quds Hospital in east Aleppo city was hit by missiles, killing 55 people and wounding 80. A medical warehouse and clinic were also damaged during the week.

Since the Russian aerial intervention on September 30, dozens of medical facilities have been damaged or destroyed by Russian and regime warplanes.

Turkey: We Killed 55 Islamic State Fighters Inside Syria

The Turkish military claims that it killed 55 Islamic State fighters in northern Syria on Saturday.

“Security sources” said surveillance vehicles spotted ISIS positions in areas north of Aleppo city. They said three vehicles and three rocket launchers were destroyed.

Reports on social media said Turkish special forces were involved on the ground, in addition to the aerial operations.

Ankara has stepped up cross-border attacks on the Islamic State, as ISIS rockets and mortars fired into southeastern Turkey have killed more than 20 people in Kilis Province this year.

Video: Protest in Maarat al-Nu’man Against Jabhat al-Nusra

Demonstrators in Maarat al-Nu’man in Idlib Province protest against the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra on Saturday:

There have been a series of protests calling for opposition and rebel unity against Jabhat al-Nusra in northwest Syria, with the jihadists failing to disrupt them.

Despite cooperation on the battlefield elsewhere in Syria, notably near Aleppo, political differences have widened between rebel factions and the jihadists as Jabhat al-Nusra is criticized over political, legal, and social issues.

Video: Message from Detainees of Besieged Hama Prison

Detainees in the besieged Hama Prison, “”We ask all anti-Assad Rebels not to attack civilians while defending our cause”:

The inmates took control of the prison on Monday as they protested the attempted transfer of four prisoners for execution. Security forces have ringed the facility and brought in reinforcements. However, they have failed in three attacks — the latest on Friday — to retake the complex.

With electricity and water cut off, conditions are worsening. Human rights activist Mazen Darwish, said on Saturday, “Inmates are running out of food and water and even medicines are no longer being given to those in serious conditions.”

Negotiations earlier in the week led to the release of 46 detainees; however, more than 1,200 remain with more than 800 classified as “terrorists”.

See Syria Feature: Warnings of Imminent “Massacre” of Protesting Detainees at Hama Prison

3 Spanish Journalists Freed After 9 Months

Three freelance journalists from Spain, who went missing in Syria last July, have been freed.

The Spanish government announced the release on Saturday.

Antonio Pampliega, Jose Manuel Lopez, and Angel Sastre were working on an investigative report in Aleppo city. Some Spanish media siad the journalists were held by the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra.

The three men are reportedly in Turkey awaiting their return home. Spain’s acting Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria had spoken with them, a government spokesman said.

Qatar said it had played an important role in the release, with State media saying the Spanish Foreign Minister, Ignacio Iapanaz Rebeo, had thanked Doha.