PHOTO: Claimed image of aftermath of regime airstrike in western Aleppo Province
- Intelligence Site: Russian Military Staged “Rebel Attack” on Road North of Aleppo
- Israel’s Iron Dome System Intercepts 2 Rockets from Southwest Syria
- Rebels Reject US Special Forces in Northern Syria
- Video: Extended Interview with JFS/Nusra on BBC
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UPDATE 1945 GMT: An American official has said “condolence payments” will be made to families of regime troops killed by today’s US airstrikes.
UPDATE 1945 GMT: The US military has acknowledged that its warplanes were flying in the area where Syrian troops were hit this afternoon in eastern Syria.
Central Command said the aircraft thought they were attacking Islamic State fighters “that they had been tracking for a significant amount of time” in the area near Deir ez-Zor airport. The warplanes “halted immediately” when Russian officials said the targets might be regime forces and equipment.
The command said that US aircraft have operated in the area before, and that they had informed Russian personnel of the planned attack.
The Russian military, citing its Syrian counterpart, says 62 regime troops were killed and more than 100 wounded.
The Defense Ministry said two F-16 jet fighters, supported by two A-10 aircraft, carried out four attacks.
Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov effectively denied that the US had consulted with the Russian military, “If the airstrike was caused by the wrong coordinates of targets, then it’s a direct consequence of the stubborn unwillingness of the American side to coordinate with Russia in its actions against terrorist groups in Syria.”
The Syrian General Command said the bombing was a “serious and blatant aggression” and “conclusive evidence” that the US and its allies support the Islamic State.
UPDATE 1730 GMT: The Syrian military claims that US-led coalition aircraft struck a regime army position on the al-Tharda mountain near Deir ez-Zor airport in eastern Syria.
The military said there were casualties and destruction of equipment, and declared that the strikes “clearly paved the way for Islamic State terrorists to attack the position and take control of it”.
The statement continued, “This act is a serious and blatant aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic and its army, and constitutes conclusive evidence that the United States and its allies support ISIS and other terrorist organizations.”
However, a well-placed analyst expresses caution about the assertion:
Every once in a while regime blows up its own positions in Deir ez-Zor because they can’t target, and and then they claim it was coalition. Happens every other month.
UPDATE 1400 GMT: Russian President Vladimir Putin has bolstered Moscow’s pressure on the US to act against the Syrian opposition and rebels, and not just the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra:
We agreed that the Aa-Nusra Front and the likes of it would be separated from the so-called healthy opposition factions, and we would be shown where the latter are located.
But what we see today is not separation of the healthy part of the opposition and the terrorists. We see terrorist forces trying to regroup.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Syria’s ceasefire looked increasingly fragile on Friday, its fourth day, with no movement on aid to its largest city Aleppo and more violations were reported.
Briefings to the UN Security Council by the representatives of the US and Russia, the two powers who arranged the truce, were cancelled on Friday.
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the session was abandoned because of the American refusal to meet Moscow’s demand to disclose the text of the US-Russia agreement:
The United States is not prepared to share the document with the members of the Security Council, and not even describe them in detail. When we agreed to do a briefing, at least you need to describe the content of the document…
So, it’s another strange, strange attitude of the United States which does not make it possible to proceed with the briefing and also, I’m afraid, to proceed with the adoption of that resolution.
However, senior UN officials showed increasing frustration with the Assad regime over the inability to get assistance into Aleppo, besieged by pro-Assad forces and Russia in early July and again from early September.
The UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said, “The Syrian government promised permits for UN aid convoys before the ceasefire….They have not been received. This is something that is required to happen immediately.”
The UN’s humanitarian affairs spokesman, Jens Laerke, echoed on Friday, “To actually initiate the actual movement of these convoys we need the facilitation letters. They have not come. It’s highly frustrating.”
Two convoys of 20 trucks each, with enough food for about 80,000 people for one month, crossed the Turkish border on Tuesday. However, they were soon held up.
The Assad regime has said that it will not allow assistance that is not controlled by itself or the UN.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Washington “expects Russia to use its influence on the Assad regime to allow UN humanitarian convoys to reach Aleppo and other areas in need”, according to State Department spokesman John Kirby.
Opposition activists reported more regime violations of the ceasefire on Friday, including airstrikes that killed wounded civilians in Idlib Province in northwest Syria.
Regime attacks, including bombing, were also reported on Hama, Homs, and Aleppo Provinces. Barrel bombs were reportedly dropped on Khan al-Shih, south of Damascus.
A pro-regime website acknowledged the Syrian air force’s raids on villages and towns — recently captured by rebels — in northern Hama, but said these were in response to rebel rocketing of regime-held territory.
Claimed footage of an airstrike with incendiary weapons on a village in northern Homs Province:
September 17, 2016: Local footage shows incendiary airstrikes on Syria's Ter Maala village, northern Homs province pic.twitter.com/nfj0nfcpG4
— أسامة (@OSilent4) September 16, 2016
Opposition activists and rebels also said the Syrian military tried to storm Jobar, an area in northeast Damascus where there has been fighting for four years, but were repelled.
State media claimed rebels violated the ceasefire by shelling the adjacent neighborhood of Qaboun, wounding three people.
The Russian Defense Ministry maintained its practice of putting out an unsupported number for rebel violations, claiming on Friday that there had been 39 breaches in the previous 24 hours. The Syrian military chose the number 45 in its statement.
Intelligence Site: Russian Military Staged “Rebel Attack” on Road North of Aleppo
The Russian site Conflict Intelligence Team has concluded that the Russian military staged a “rebel attack” earlier this week on the main route north of Aleppo city.
Investigating the video and photographs from two Russian State TV outlets and the Defense Ministry, CIT assesses that the supposed “rebel shell” was fired from regime-controlled territory near the al-Castello Road.
On Tuesday — hours after the start of a ceasefire — a Defense Ministry briefing was punctuated by the supposed attack, seen on a video screen behind the Ministry spokesman. Two Russian soldiers, one a colonel from the Russian “Reconciliation Center”, awkwardly fell to the ground, while a TV reporter supposedly rushed for cover.
Pro-Assad forces, enabled by Russian airstrikes, took control of the al-Castello Road in early July to impose a siege on opposition-held areas of Aleppo city.
Under the US-Russian ceasefire plan, the route is to be used for assistance into Aleppo. However, Russia has maintained that rebels are preventing use of the road.
Israel’s Iron Dome System Intercepts 2 Rockets from Southwest Syria
[UPDATE 1615 GMT: A pro-Assad activist says Israel’s retaliatory airstrike has killed one regime soldier and wounded five.
The Syrian military said the strike was near the town of Khan Arnaba in Quneitra Province.]
Two shells fired from southwest Syria were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system on Saturday afternoon, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The IDF said the first shell was intercepted at around 4 p.m. local time and the second approximately 90 minutes later. It said there was no damage or casualties.
Military officials said the shells did not target Israel but were spillover from the fighting in Quneitra Province, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Last week, Israel began five straight days of airstrikes on Syrian military positions in response to the cross-border rockets and mortars. The Assad regime claimed — with no evidence — that its forces downed an Israeli jet fighter and drone.
However, on Thursday “Israeli security sources” said errant rockets had also been fired by anti-Assad forces, including the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra.
Rebels Reject US Special Forces in Northern Syria
[UPDATED 1500 GMT: Reports indicate that, despite Friday’s confrontation, US special forces and rebels are now working together in northern Aleppo Province.
Turkish-supported rebels rejected the entry of a group of US troops into a town in northern Syria on Friday, amid hostility towards Washington over the US-Russian ceasefire plan and the American support of a Kurdish-led force.
About 25 US special forces crossed the Turkish border into the town of al-Rai, captured by the Turkish-rebel offensive from the Islamic State two weeks ago. However, video showed rebels angrily telling the Americans to leave.
عدد من المقاتلين التابعين للجيش السوري الحر يحتجون على التواجد الأميريكي بالقرب من الحدود السورية التركية. pic.twitter.com/YT2W7xlxpm
— أَحمَد بريمو (@PrimoAhmad) September 16, 2016
The Pentagon did not refer to the incident as it said that approximately three dozen Americans “are accompanying Turkish and vetted Syrian opposition forces as they continue to clear territory” from ISIS.
Mainstream media such as The New York Times carried the Pentagon statement without mentioning the verbal clash in al-Rai.
Instead, the Times quoted an unnamed US official who said the decision to deploy the special forces was made last week, shortly after a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Barack Obama during the G20 summit in China.
There were unconfirmed claims later on social media that the US troops later joined the Turkish-rebel force after Turkish mediation. However, other information indicated that the Americans had moved to the west to the town of Tel Ahmar:
Pro-opposition outlets asserted that Free Syrian Army units had withdrawn their fighters because of the American entry.
Turkey intervened in northern Syria alongside rebels on August 24, with air support, tanks, and special forces. An offensive quickly took a strip of about 55 km (34 miles) from ISIS along the Turkish-Syrian border.
The force also moved south to capture areas from the Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the Kurdish militia YPG and backed with substantial US assistance since its creation last autumn. The offensive halted as it reached the Sajur River, before it made any further move on Manbij, the city seized by the SDF from the Islamic State in July.
Rebels are hostile to the YPG — which Turkey believes is linked to the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK — because the militia moved into opposition areas in northwest Syria early this year. The rebels accuse YPG of continuing attacks near Aleppo, in de facto support of the Assad regime’s forces.
Video: Extended Interview with JFS/Nusra on BBC
The BBC has now posted the extended interview with the spokesman of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, about the US-Russian plan for a ceasefire with ongoing attacks on JFS/Nusra.
Abu Sulayman maintains that JFS/Nusra cannot be singled out as it is “deeply embedded within Syrian society”: “The US and Russia know this very, very well.”