PHOTO: US Secretary of State John Kerry “We are not going to sit back while Assad assaults Aleppo”
- Claims: Hezbollah Clashes with Syrian Army Near Aleppo
- Reports: Confirmation of Deaths of 11 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Including Colonel
- Foreign Operations Center Again Cuts Off Aid to Southern Rebels
UPDATE 1045 GMT: Russia has said that it wants a long-term ceasefire in Aleppo city, hours after declaring a two-day pause in the fighting there.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov made the announcement on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
The Russian Defense Ministry earlier said the “regime of calm”, which went into effect at midnight, is an effort to stabilize the situation.
Russia and regime warplanes have killed hundreds of civilians in the past seven weeks in opposition-held areas in and near Aleppo.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: In a shift of tone, US Secretary of State John Kerry has denounced Syria’s President Assad and Russia over their attacks on opposition-held areas in and near Aleppo city.
Kerry told a news conference in Oslo, Finland on Wednesday, referring to a now-collapsed February 27 “cessation of hostilities”:
Unless we get a better definition of how this cessation is going to work…we are not going to sit there while Assad continues to offensively assault Aleppo and while Russia continues to support in that effort.
The United States is not going to sit there and be used as an instrument that permits a so-called ceasefire to be in place while one principal party is trying to take advantage of it to the detriment of the entire process.
Despite the cessation — brokered by Russia and the US as part of the International Syria Support Group — Russian and Syrian air forces have stepped their strikes across northwest Syria in the past two months.
US officials, including Kerry, initially blunted any criticism of the attacks by saying — incorrectly — that the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra, who are not covered by the cessation agreement, controlled opposition areas in Aleppo city. They have been wary of any criticism of Moscow, given the US emphasis on working with Russia towards a supposed political resolution of Syria’s conflict.
However, talks in Geneva between January and April failed to make any progress, with Assad rejecting any transition which might include his departure from power. In addition to bombing, the regime also has maintained and tightened sieges and refused to free political detainees, leading the opposition-rebel bloc to suspend participation in negotiations.
Despite his tougher words, Kerry gave no indication of any steps that the US might take against Assad or pressure it could put on Moscow.
Earlier on Wednesday, after a meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Kerry said:
It is very clear that the cessation of hostilities is frayed and at risk.
Russia needs to understand that our patience is not infinite, and in fact very limited, with respect to whether or not Assad is going to be held accountable.
But Kerry insisted that Zarif had “indicated to me possibilities of how [a compromise by Assad can be achieved”.
Iran and Russia are the two main backers of the Assad regime.
Claims: Hezbollah Clashes with Syrian Army Near Aleppo
Pro-regime outlets have denied claims that Hezbollah fighters clashed with Syrian army troops northeast of Aleppo city.
The pro-opposition Local Coordination Committees said early Thursday that the allies fought each other in the district of al-Breij district. It claimed that the road linking Aleppo to the Kurdish-controlled Afrin canton had been cut, stranding travelers.
Shaam News Network claimed that the clashes erupted after Hezbollah accused regime troops of abandoning their positions in recent battles on the front south of Aleppo city, leaving Hezbollah’s fighters “easy prey for the [rebel bloc] Army of Conquest”.
Hezbollah had withdrawn its forces this spring to concentrate on fronts in southern Syria. Rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra soon regained territory south of Aleppo, inflicting a series of defeats and heavy casualties on Iranian units and Iranian-led foreign militias.
Last week, pro-regime outlets reported that Hezbollah fighters were returning to the Aleppo area.
Pro-regime outlets denied the reports. One wrote, “There is no truth to what opposition sites published on clashes between the Syrian army, [the mainly-Palestinian] Al-Quds Brigade and Hezbollah, all of them ate together for Suhoor,” the Muslim meal before dawn during Ramadan.
The pro-regime Aleppo News Network said that the Syrian opposition was making up reports of the fighting to deflect from the “losses suffered by the armed groups in the countryside of Aleppo”.
Reports: Confirmation of Deaths of 11 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Including Colonel
Reports are circulating that Iranian authorities have confirmed the deaths in Syria last week of 11 Revolutionary Guards, including Colonel Ali Mansouri.
Mansouri, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, had come out of retirement to join the Syrian battlefront. He served with an armored brigade based in Khorasan in northeastern Iran.
The confirmation would be the second admission by the Revolutionary Guards of multiple casualties in Syria’s conflict. Last month the Guards acknowledged that 13 troops were killed and 21 wounded when rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra defeated the Iranians and Iraqi and Afghan militia at Khan Tuman, on the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway.
Foreign Operations Center Again Cuts Off Aid to Southern Rebels
The foreign-run operations center in Jordan has again cut off weapons and supplies to rebels in southern Syria.
The latest suspension has been prompted by a disputed over rebel operations against the Islamic State in western Daraa Province.
Rebels have been fighting for months with ISIS-linked factions Liwa Shuhada Yarmouk and Harakat al-Muthanna. But last week the Military Operations Command, with officials from Western and Gulf nations, halted assistance as they claimed that the rebels were not advancing.
Rebel sources “close to the MOC” said they received a scheduled shipment of munitions this week but that no more will be supplied until progress is made.
On Monday, rebels announced a new offensive in the Yarmouk Basin area, near the border with Israel, saying they would attack until “all ISIL [Islamic State] fighters were expelled”.
The commander of the forces, Colonel Najim Abu Majid, was replaced by Colonel Saber Sifir.
The US-led operations center has had a tenuous relationship with the rebels, notably the Southern Front bloc, since spring 2015. The MOC halted weapons and supplies, checking rebels as they moved across southern Syria and into Suweida Province, with its mainly-Druze population.
Pro-rebel activists claimed that the Americans and their partners were also trying to prevent the fall of Daraa city, on the Jordanian border. The activists said Washington that a rapid rebel victory, with a subsequent advance towards Damascus, could trigger the sudden collapse of the Assad regime and leave a power vacuum that would be filled by “extremists”.