PHOTO: Men push children and possessions on a cart as they flee fighting in eastern Aleppo city on Tuesday



Analysis: Keeping the Lights On in Opposition-Held Idlib

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UPDATE 1000 GMT: Witnesses report another mass killing of civilians as they tried to flee ground fighting in eastern Aleppo city.

The White Helmets civil defense organization said about 45 people died this morning in the Jub al-Qubba district from shelling by pro-Assad forces:

A young victim of the attack:


Men put another victim in a bodybag:


ORIGINAL ENTRY: A “senior official” has said the pro-Assad alliance intends to take all of Syria’s largest city Aleppo before Donald Trump becomes US President on January 20.

“The Russians want to complete the operation before Trump takes power,” said the official.

Moscow initially set the timetable because of its fears that Hillary Clinton would take a tougher line against the Russian-regime strategy than the Obama Administration, seeking to established protected zones. However, Trump’s surprise victory — and his likely support of Russian President Vladimir Putin and thus Syria’s Bashar al-Assad — has not altered the scenario.

Pro-Assad forces — Iranians, Hezbollah, Iraqi and Palestinian militia, Russian warplanes, and Syrian military, paramilitary and militia units — have captured about 1/3 of the opposition-held territory in eastern Aleppo city since Saturday.

The official, whose nationality was not revealed, said the next phase in the campaign could be more difficult as the forces try to occupy more densely populated areas.

Although an estimated 20,000 civilians have fled the fighting — some into regime-held areas, some into the mainly-Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsoud — about 250,000 remain. Those on the move on Tuesday faced Russian-regime airstrikes on uncaptured parts of eastern Aleppo, with at least 25 killed and dozens wounded in an attack on Bab al-Neyrab.

See Syria Daily, Nov 29: The Devastation of East Aleppo and Its People

Marianne Gasser of the Red Cross, which gave the estimate of 20,000 who have fled, said on Tuesday, “With no end in sight to the fighting or indeed a wider peace being reached, thousands more civilians face a daily struggle to survive.”

Russia and the Assad regime have not allowed aid into eastern Aleppo city since they imposed a siege in late August. The UN distributed its final food rations almost three weeks ago.

Almost all medical facilities have been put out of service by Russian-regime bombing. The White Helmets rescuers can no longer retrieve dead and wounded, with two of their four centers bombed and no more fuel for vehicles.

A medic said:

The situation is very bad. There’s intense fear of collective annihilation.

“This week I’ve changed locations three times. In the shelter, we had dead people who we couldn’t take out because the bombardment was so intense.

The Russian Defense Ministry, which put out the unsupported claim that more than 9
0,000 civilians have left east Aleppo, insisted, “These Syrians were used as human shields for long years in Aleppo by terrorists of all allegiances.”

Meanwhile, residents are expressing fears for local men who have been seized by pro-Assad forces.

Families and friends said up to 500 men had been taken as the offensive captured the Masakan Hanano district and other areas last weekend.

“They took my nephew and my uncle, one was 22 and the other 61,” said one man who fled. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again.”

Hisham al-Skeif, a member of a local council in eastern Aleppo, said on Tuesday that civic activists had explored the idea of using so-called safe routes to leave the area:

For the civilians, they have the choice whether they want to leave or stay, but for those of us who don’t trust the regime, we have no choice. I can’t turn my back on my city.

US Military Inquiry: “Human Errors” Behind Airstrike on Assad Forces in September

A US military investigation has concluded that a series of “unintentional human errors” led to airstrikes that killed more than 60 pro-Assad troops on September 17 in eastenn Syria.

Brigadier General Richard Coe, who led the investigation, told reporters on Tuesday that the errors ranged from a basic misidentification of targets to “group think” during intelligence development and a communications blunder on a hotline with Russia.

Aircraft from the US, Britain, Australia and Denmark were involved in the operation, which dropped 34 precision-guided weapons and fired 380 rounds of 30-millimeter ammunition.

The warplanes hit the pro-Assad troops near a frontline with the Islamic State in Deir ez Zor Province, believing they were targeting ISIS fighters. The troops were not wearing the standards of the Syrian military, said Coe, and intelligence misidentified a vehicle as belonging to the Islamic State.

Before the strike took place, the US contacted the Russian military, but gave the wrong coordinates.

The mission was aborted after Russia finally reacched a designated US military point-of-contact, which had been unavailable for 27 minutes.

Russia Blocks Any Action Over Regime’s Chemical Weapons Attacks

Russia has again blocked any UN action over the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attacks.

France and Britain are pressing for a resolution authorizing sanctions on anyone using the weapons, but Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Tuesday that the initiative was a “misplaced effort”.

A formal inquiry by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has found that regime forces were responsible for four chlorine gas attacks since spring 2014, while Islamic State fighters have used mustard gas.

Churkin maintained that there is “just not enough material proof to do anything”.

France’s UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said on Tuesday that the resolution will be submitted to the Security Council as soon as possible. British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said measure would “make sure that those members of the regime who were involved in that abhorrent use of chemical weapons in Syria will face the consequences.”

However, Russia can veto any resolution, and Churkin assured reporters, “We wouldn’t support any action on this.”