• Video: Rally in Western Aleppo Province Calls for Fall of Regime
  • Rebels Claim 35 JFS Killed, But Jihadist Gains Are “Huge”
  • British FM: Assad Can Stand in Elections

  • Russia has warned US President Donald Trump not to proceed with “safe zones” inside Syria — even though Trump’s statement appeared to be rhetorical cover for his plan to ban Syrian refugees from the US.

    Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said on Thursday:

    Our American partners did not consult with Russia. It is their sovereign decision.

    It’s important to make sure that this does not further aggravate the situation with refugees. Evidently, all the possible consequences should be taken into account.

    In an interview broadcast on Wednesday, Trump made a fleeting reference to the safe zones in a lengthy denunciation of immigration and the admission of refugees into the US:

    You’re looking at people that come in, in many cases, in some cases with evil intentions. I don’t want that. They’re ISIS. They’re coming under false pretense. I don’t want that.

    I’m gonna be the president of a safe country. We have enough problems. Now I’ll absolutely do safe zones in Syria for the people. I think that Europe has made a tremendous mistake by allowing these millions of people to go into Germany and various other countries. And all you have to do is take a look. It’s — it’s a disaster what’s happening over there.

    I don’t want that to happen here.

    Reuters said it had seen a copy of a draft executive order for a study of the safe areas. The draft said:

    The Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Defense, is directed within 90 days of the date of this order to produce a plan to provide safe areas in Syria and in the surrounding region in which Syrian nationals displaced from their homeland can await firm settlement, such as repatriation or potential third-country resettlement.

    But there were no details of what would constitute a safe zone, where they would be located, and how they would be protected.

    As early as 2012, Obama Administration officials — including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus — pressed for areas where Syrian civilians would be secure from bombing by the Assad regime. However, the proposals were vetoed by the President.

    Obama also rejected the plans after the Assad regime’s chemical attacks near Damascus in August 2013, killing more than 1,400 people, and he continued to push aside Turkish proposals from 2014.

    Ankara has now established a de facto safe zone in northern Syria, following its intervention from August 2016 alongside rebels that has pushed back the Islamic State.

    Lavrov Hosts “Opposition” in Moscow

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is hosting Syrian figures whom Moscow considers acceptable “opposition”.

    Lavrov met politicians such as Randa Kassis, Louay Hussein, and Qadri Jamil as well as Jihad Maqdisi, the former spokesman for the regime.

    None of those present are from the opposition-rebel bloc at this week’s political talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. The opposition site says both the Syrian National Coalition and the High Negotiations Committee turned down the invitation.

    Pro-opposition activists also claim some leading figures such as former heads of the Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib and Ahmed Jarba turned down Moscow’s invitation.

    Ralllies from Aleppo Province to Douma Call for Fall of Regime

    A rally in Atareb in western Aleppo Province on Friday:

    Image from the rally in Douma, northeast of Damascus:

    DOUMA DEMO 27-01-17

    Rebels Claim 35 JFS Killed, But Jihadist Gains Are “Huge”

    Rebels claim they have killed 35 members of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham during fighting this week in northwest Syria.

    The pro-opposition site Eldorar reported the claim amid the assault of JFS, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, against rebel positions, headquarters, and ammunition warehouses since Monday.

    However, local sources said the JFS gains of weapons from their offensive are “huge”.

    The JFS advance has forced some factdions, such as Jaish al-Mujahideen, to abandon their positions west of Aleppo city. Thousands of men from other factions have joined the leading rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, which has pledged protection against attacks.

    British FM: Assad Can Stand in Elections

    In a shift of British policy, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that London believes President Assad can stand in elections in a political transition.

    Johnson told a Parliamentary committee:

    It is our view that Bashar al-Assad should go, it’s been our longstanding position. But we are open-minded about how that happens and the timescale on which that happens

    I have to be realistic about how the landscape has changed, and it may be that we will have to think afresh about how we handle this. The old policy, I am afraid to say, does not command much confidence….

    We have been wedded for a long time to the mantra that Assad must go, and we have not been able at any stage to make that happen, and that has produced the difficulty we now face.

    We are getting to the stage where some sort of democratic resolution has got to be introduced … We believe in democracy, we support democracy, and if there is a political solution then I don’t think we can really avoid such a democratic event. I think that is the way forward.