PHOTO: Regime troops on top of a destroyed tank in Aleppo (Reuters)
- Regime: ISIS Cuts Off Water for Aleppo City
- UN: 4 Million in Damascus Without Safe Drinking Water
- Turkey: Russian Airstrikes Support Turkish-Rebel Offensive v. ISIS
UPDATE 0915 GMT: The pro-opposition site Eldorar reports regime airstrikes this morning on the Wadi Barada pocket, northwest of Damascus, which pro-Assad forces have been trying to overrun.
The area of 13 villages and about 100,000 people has been shelled and bombed for more than a week, disrupting the main water supply to Damascus (see earlier entry), after the opposition rejected a capitulation agreement.
Eldorar says pro-Assad forces are attacking Bassima village at the edge of the pocket.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Russia and Turkey have announced a national ceasefire in Syria’s 69-month conflict, but uncertainties remain with ongoing clashes and a leading rebel faction not signing the agreement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the truce would begin at midnight after days of talks with Ankara. The announcement was the latest step in the reconcilation between Moscow, which has propped up the Assad regime since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011, and Ankara, a long-time backer of the opposition and rebels.
The Kremlin claimed that President Assad “expressed readiness to abide by these agreements”. However, a rebel official said clashes were ongoing near the border between Idlib Province, controlled by the opposition, and Hama Province in northwest Syria.
Pro-opposition activists are also reporting regime attacks near Damascus and Daraa Province in southern Syria, as well as northern Hama Province.
— Sami (@Paradoxy13) December 29, 2016
Several rebel officials acknowledged the agreement, and Free Syrian Army commander Colonel Fares al-Bayous said, “This time I have confidence in its seriousness. There is new international input.”
Ahrar al-Sham, one of the largest rebel factions, said it was not accepting the truce. However, a local source said the group will observe the ceasefire, provided it is not violated by pro-Assad forces.
Iran, the major backer of the Assad regime alongside Russia, formally welcomed the agreement, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif conveying the message in a phone call with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Russia and Turkey, who have taken the lead in international maneuvers while excluding the US, are now looking towards political talks next month in Kazakhstan between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition and rebels.
Details remain to be agreed. Ankara is insisting that the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) is excluded, even though the group and its YPG militia are in effective control of much of northeast Syria. Turkey considers the PYD as part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
In the past, talks fostered by Moscow have included only a nominal “opposition” with the PYD and politicians and officials close to Russia. Even then, the discussions have not even been able to agree an agenda.
Lavrov said on Thursday that the US can join the peace process once Donald Trump become President on January 20. He also said Saudi Arabia and Qatar — leading backers of the Syrian opposition and rebels — Iraq, Jordan, and the UN should attend.
7-Point Draft Text
Earlier in the day, members of the opposition High Negotiations Committee gave a 7-point draft text to Turkey’s national broadcaster TRT.
The agreement said the Turkish Government will guarantee the commitment of the opposition and rebels, with an end to any shelling of regime-controlled area, while Russia will guarantee the commitment of the Assad regime and its allies, including termination of “all types of aerial bombardment and artillery shelling”. The guarantors will ensure that neither side tries to seize new territory.
Rebel factions had rejected earlier proposals because they covered only part of Syria. They insisted that the ceasefire included the opposition areas near Damascus, such as Wadi Barada and East Ghouta, as well as opposition territory in the northwest of the country.
Hadi al-Bahra, the spokesperson of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), said the Islamic State and groups designated by the UN as “terror organisations” are excluded.
It is unclear whether the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, is excluded as well. However, rebel sources told EA that their understanding is that areas where JFS is present are covered by the ceasefire.
JFS/Nusra indicated this morning that, like Ahrar al-Sham, it will cease fire if there are no pro-Assad attacks.
In the past, Russia has used the pretext of a campaign against ISIS and JFS/Nusra to attack opposition areas. However, on Thursday it signalled a shift by releasing a list of seven rebel factions whom it now classified as “moderate”, including Ahrar al-Sham.
Turkey and Russia will “present an appropriate mechanism to monitor the ceasefire based on UN frameworks”, circumventing the objection of the Assad regime and Iran to direct UN oversight.
Humanitarian aid is to be delivered to besieged areas — almost all of them opposition-held — with Russia and Turkey guaranteeing full compliance.
1- A ceasefire in all Syrian territory excluding military headquarters in areas under Daesh control. The ceasefire will continue as long as the political process is ongoing.
2. The Turkish government guarantees the commitment of the opposition in all the areas that the opposition controls to the ceasefire, including an end to any type of shelling.
3. The Russian Federation guarantees the commitment to the ceasefire, including all types of aerial bombardment and artillery shelling, of the Syrian government and its allies in all the territory that they control.
4. The guarantors of the agreement will ensure that the parties in the conflict will not attempt to seize new areas that were not under their control prior to the ceasefire.
5. The guarantors of the agreement will present an appropriate mechanism to monitor the ceasefire based on UN frameworks after the parties agree to these terms.
6. Negotiations will begin as to a political solution 1 month into the ceasefire.
7. Humanitarian aid will be delivered to all of the besieged areas according to a plan where Russia and Turkey will guarantee full compliance.
Regime: ISIS Cuts Off Water for Aleppo City
The Assad regime has declared that “ISIS terrorists” cut off water for Aleppo city.
The director of the Aleppo Water Company, Fakher al-Hamdo, said the supply from the Euphrates and al-Khafsa stations on the Euphrates River was cut at 6 a.m. Friday.
There has been no statement from the Islamic State about operations in the area, and no other report corroborating the claim.
Pro-opposition activists say the regime has failed to restore supplies from pumping stations after the pro-Assad reoccupation of all of Aleppo city, adding that restoration has been hindered by looting by the Syrian army and militias.
He said that Aleppo Governorate and the Water Company, in coordination with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and civil sides, are working to address the situation and resume pumping water to the city as soon as possible.
Protest in Douma Calls for Rebel Unity
A protest on Friday in Douma, northeast of Damascus, calling for rebel unity:
The protesters chant for a “Liberation Syrian Army” in the demonstrations, labelled “The Revolution Brings Us Together”:
UN: 4 Million in Damascus Without Safe Drinking Water
The UN said Thursday that four million people in Damascus have been without safe drinking water supplies for more than a week.
The supplies have been disrupted as regime forces shelled and bombed the opposition-held Wadi Barada pocket, northwest of Damascus, over the past week. A resident in the capital says each neighborhood only gets water for about two hours a day, and bottled water prices had more than doubled at state-subsidized grocery stores.
The pumping station providing water from the al-Fija springs, which supply more than 60% of Damascus’s supply, was damaged and put out of service. Videos showed the damage, with overflow from the springs spilling onto roads.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) December 28, 2016
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs implicitly held the Assad regime responsible, saying “infrastructure was deliberately targeted and damaged”.
The regime had tried to cover up responsibility by saying that rebels had polluted the springs with diesel fuel.
A resident and rebels in the area said air strikes had damaged a water pumping station. The government accused rebels of polluting the springs with diesel, forcing authorities to cut the supplies on Friday and use reserves instead.
Turkey: Russian Airstrikes Support Turkish-Rebel Offensive v. ISIS
[UPDATE: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said Friday afternoon that US-led coalition aircrafts bombed Islamic State positions in al-Bab for the first time on Thursday.]
Turkey’s military has said that Russia has carried out airstrikes for the first time in support of a Turkish-rebel offensive against the Islamic State in northern Syria.
Ankara said Russian warplanes launched three attacks near al-Bab, the last major ISIS position in Aleppo Province, killing 12 ISIS fighters.
Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the US-led coalition for not supporting the offensive.
Despite the Turkish statement, some local sources cautioned that Russian airstrikes south of al-Bab could hope to weaken ISIS for an advance by pro-Assad forces.
The Turkish-rebel offensive, begun August 24, has taken much of the Islamic State’s territory in northern Syria, as well as drawing a line against the Kurdish-led, US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces.
However, the al-Bab offensive has struggled since it was announced a month ago. Several attacks in the past week have been repelled by ISIS, with at least 16 Turkish troops killed and several armored vehicles destroyed. Turkey has also been criticized for killing scores of civilians in its airstrikes.
The Turkish army said another soldier was killed and five wounded in an ISIS attack south of al-Bab on Thursday. It said its airstrikes destroyed 17 Islamic State targets and killed 26 fighters.
Among the dead were an ISIS emir, Ebu Husen Tunusi, and his bodyguards in a motorcade hit by airstrike, the army claimed.
The military said on Friday that 1,171 Islamic State fighters were killed, 177 were injured, and six captured since August 24. In addition, 291 YPG members were killed, four wounded and 11 captured, according to the statement.
The Air Force dropped 965 bombs on 883 targets, the military said.