PHOTO: President Obama: “No military solution to the conflict in Syria”



“Greater Idlib” — Heartland of the Rebels

UPDATE 1115 GMT: The New York Times has posted a copy of the four-page “dissent channel cable” challenging the Administration’s Syria policy, signed by 51 State Department staff.

The cable concludes, “We firmly believe it is time the United States, guided by our strategic interests and moral convictions, lead a global effort to put an end to this conflict once and for all.”

ORIGINAL ENTRY: President Obama’s advisors have dismissed a call by 51 State Department staff for military action to put pressure on Syria’s Assad regime.

Several US officials told journalists on Friday that the White House would listen to the proposal, set out in a “dissent channel cable”; however, they said it is not expected to bring any changes in Obama’s approach.

One senior official effectively quashed the dissent when he said that the test for high-level consideration was if the proposal “falls in line with our contention that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria”.

The cable called for “targeted military strikes” and a renewed partnership with “moderate” rebel forces to fight against both the Islamic State and the Syrian military and its allies: “Failure to stem Assad’s flagrant abuses will only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such as Daesh [the Islamic State], even as they endure tactical setbacks on the battlefield.”

Secretary of State John Kerry — who has sought military action in the past but been overruled by Obama — was more receptive to the dissent. He said during a visit to Denmark, “It’s an important statement and I respect the process, very, very much. I will…have a chance to meet with people when I get back.”

An official “familiar with [Kerry’s] thinking” said that the Secretary of State would go even farther, considering “a wide range of military operations” beyond the targeted airstrikes.

However, a “senior US official” played down any significance, saying that it was natural that “on a subject as complex and complicated as Syria that we have a diversity of views”> And White House spokeswoman Jen Friedman said that, while Obama is open to a “robust discussion”, his aides had already looked closely at a range of options.

Other officials jabbed that no “senior” State Department personnel had signed the cable.

What Message Has Russian Defense Minister Brought to Assad?

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has made a sudden visit to President Assad in Damascus.

Shoigu arrived at the Russian military’s Hmeimim base in Latakia Province in western Syria and then traveled to the capital.

Syrian State news agency SANA gave no details of the “work visit…commissioned by Russian President Vladimir Putin”, saying only that it was “on military cooperation between the two countries and the joint work to combat terrorist organizations on the Syrian territories”.

Earlier this month, amid setbacks for pro-Assad forces near Aleppo city, Shoigu and Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij went to Tehran for consultations with Iranian counterpart Hossein Dehghan.

Hezbollah Denies Reports of Clashes With Syrian Army Near Aleppo

Hezbollah has denied “categorically” that its fighters clashed with Syrian Army troops near Aleppo this week.

Opposition sites said Hezbollah units, who redeployed to the Aleppo area in recent days, fought with the Syrian military northeast of Aleppo city. Sham News Network claimed that Hezbollah accused regime forces of abandoning their positions in recent battles on the southern Aleppo front with rebels.

The Lebanese organization denounced “all the lies and misleading reports fabricated by local and Arab media outlets”, saying they were “to boost the morale of the takfiri groups linked to US and Israel”.

Hezbollah implicitly referred to its losses this week, including in the rebel capture villages south of Aleppo (see above), as it said fighters “were martyred during direct and fierce clashes with the terrorist, takfiri groups”.

US Gives Details on Russian Attack on American-Supported Force Fighting ISIS

US officials have provided details of Russian bombing of American-supported fighters near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders.

On Thursday the Russian Su-24s attacked the New Syrian Army, formed last year with US backing to fight the Islamic State.

The American officials said the strikes, about six miles from Jordan, killed some fighters. They said 500-pound bombs and possibly cluster munitions were dropped.

US FA-18 warplanes were diverted to the area after the first of the two Russian strikes. They called the Russians on an agreed channel but did not receive an answer. As soon as the US jets left the area to refuel, the Russians came back for another round of bombing.

A “senior defense official” assured that the New Syria Army was confronting the Islamic State near al-Tanf and that “there were no Syrian regime or Russian ground forces in the vicinity”. He said:

Russia’s latest actions raise serious concern about Russian intentions. We will seek an explanation from Russia on why it took this action and assurances this will not happen again.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the incidents raised questions about whether the Russians had intervened in Syria to fight extremists:

Here’s a case where they actually attacked forces that were fighting ISIL [the Islamic State]. And if that was their intention, that’s the opposite of what they said they were going to do. If not, then it says something about the quality of the information upon which they make airstrikes.

The New Syrian Army has been supported by US and British special forces as well as weapons and supplies, but doubts of its officers about the backing — fostered by an ISIS attack in early May that caused heavy casualties — have been compounded by the Russian strikes:

US Denies Proposal for Opposition Inclusion in Government

The US has denied that it proposed inclusion of Syrian opposition members in the Government.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that he agreed with the supposed initiative, and that President Assad accepted there was a need for a political process:

The US proposal is absolutely acceptable. We must think about the possibilities of incorporating representatives of the opposition into the active ruling structure.

However, when asked if Washington had made such a proposal, State Department spokesman John Kirby replied bluntly, “No.”

Another US official said, “There is no such proposal.”

Kirby also was firm when asked if Secretary of State John Kerry had broached the idea during his regular talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “No means no.”

Before the US denial, the Speaker of Syria’s Parliament had rejected any inclusion of opposition figures, and the opposition had also dismissed the idea.

Videos: Bombing of Aleppo Districts on Friday

Footage of bombing by helicopters on the Karm al-Qaterji district of Aleppo city on Friday:

A boy is pulled from rubble in the al-Firdaus neighborhood:

The Local Coordination Committees documented 33 deaths in and near Aleppo on Friday, among 79 across Syria.

Rebels Advance Farther South of Aleppo

The rebel bloc Jaish al-Fatah made another significant advance south of Aleppo city on Friday, capturing the villages of Kalasah, Zaytan, and Birnah.

Rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra had taken part of Kalasah in heavy fighting earlier this week. The offensive was renewed on Friday and quickly claimed the rest of the village.

A series of images of slain pro-Assad troops have been posted. Pro-rebel activists say more than 20 tanks, BMP armored carriers, and other vehicles were destroyed over four days.

The advance opens up the path to attack the town of al-Hadher, the most significant position taken by the regime-Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah offensive last autumn.

Since early April, rebels have regained almost all territory lost in that offensive, which was enabled by Russia’s aerial intervention. They have defeated Iranian-led forces to take the towns of al-Eis and Khan Tuman near the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway.

Hezbollah, which had redeployed its fighters to southern Syria this spring, has now returned to bolster the Iranians and Iranian-led Iraqi and Afghan militias. Photos are circulating of 14 Hezbollah fighters who reportedly were killed at Kalasah.

There is almost no Syrian Army presence on the southern Aleppo front.

Reports from the battlefront:

Rebels with captured munitions in Zaytan:

Some of the captured weapons: