Advances against ISIS raise possibility of joint Assad-Kurdish front v. Turkey in northern Syria



Russia Blocks UN Resolution on Chemical Weapons

In another twist in the four-way conflict in northern Syria, the main Kurdish militia are speaking of a link with pro-Assad forces which would reshape the economic and political situation.

The map has been redrawn in the past week in Aleppo Province by both Turkish-rebel and pro-Assad advances against the Islamic State, whose position is eroding. First, the Turkish-rebel assault captured the city of al-Bab, the last major ISIS position in the province. Then the regime’s military and allies took more territory just to the south, including the town of Tadaf and nearby villages.

An attack by Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army units failed to dislodge the pro-Assad force from Tadaf. Meanwhile, the regime’s gain reached the area controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the Kurdish militia YPG, near the city of Manbij.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo said on Monday, “On the trade front and on the civilian front it is seen as an excellent thing, because now there is…a link between the entire northern rural area.”

The potential — provided that the regime can rebuild areas devastated in years of attacks — is of a trade connection between pro-Assad areas in the northwest and the farmlands and oil fields in the northeast.

Mutual Regime and Kurdish PYD-YPG Interest v. Turkey

However, the significance is far more than economic. The Assad regime is hoping to draw a line against a further advance by the Turkish-rebel offensive, which began last August with Turkey’s airstrikes, armored vehicles, and troops joining the fight against the Islamic State.

After taking a 55-km (34-mile) corridor along the Turkish-Syrian border, the offensive has moved south through Aleppo Province. It has now reached al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo city, re-occupied by pro-Assad forces in December.

The next objective could be Manbij, with Turkey wanted to drive the YPG, the military branch of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, back into northeast Syria. Ankara has set the Euphrates River as a “red line” for the Kurdish-led advance against ISIS, but the SDF crossed the river to the west in late 2015 and took Manbij in June 2016.

Turkey had hoped that political pressure, including from the US, would bring a withdrawal from Manbij, but Turkish officials have indicated that they will consider military operations.

Washington had no comment on the developments on Monday.

While they are not formally allied, pro-Assad forces and the YPG have co-operated at key points since early 2016, when the Kurdish militia fought rebels in northwest Syria near Aleppo city. This included attacks to establish the siege of the city in August 2016, helping lead to the fall of the opposition areas.

The PYD and YPG have hoped that they could connect the smaller canton of Afrin in the northwest with the Kobane and Cezire cantons in the northeast, but analysts believe they do not have the strength to do this without support from another faction in the civil war.

However, the regime’s military has periodically clashes with Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, particularly in the city of Hasakah, which is divided between the two sides.

TOP PHOTO: Kurdish YPG fighters in northern Syria (File)

Jihadist Leader Denounces Geneva Talks, Praises Suicide Bombings

Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, the leader of the jihadist faction Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, has appeared in a recorded video to denounce the Geneva political and praise last week’s suicide bombing of regime security branches in Homs:

The operation will be a lesson for some of the defeated politicians in Geneva and Astana, and this lesson will wipe a bit of a shame inflicted on the people of Syria by these adventurers, and it’s time for these adventurers to leave the war to its people and step down aside.

Joulani, who is also military commander of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham bloc, said the bombing show the fragility, “weakness”, and “cowardice” of the Syrian regime, which is unable to protect its senior officers.

The head of the Homs Military Security was among more than 30 people killed in the bombings, and the head of Homs State Security was seriously wounded.

Joulani indicated the attack marked a shift in tactics turning from conventional warfare, vulnerable to airstrikes, towards guerrilla tactics.

Airstrikes Knock Out Only Children’s Hospital in West Aleppo

A pro-Assad airstrike knocked out the only specialized children’s hospital in opposition-held western Aleppo Province on Monday.

A day earlier, five vacuum missiles hit the al-Huda Hospital, 10 km (6 miles) northwest of Aleppo city in the town of al-Hoor. Staff said 90% of the facility, including four neo-natal incubators for premature infants, was destroyed.

The al-Huda Hospital previously admitted 300 to 500 patients daily, including about 60 children. Parents of children in need of medical care now have to try to cross into Turkey, but Turkish border guards only allow entry to “40 patients per day”, said a local doctor.


Photo: Fadi al-Shami

US Strike Kills Another Senior Jihadist

A US drone strike has killed another senior figure in Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra).

Abu al-Khayr al-Masri died on Sunday near Mastuma in Idlib Province.

The US stepped up aerial attacks this winter on Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which is now part of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham bloc. A series of senior members have been slain, with one strike killing more than 100 fighters and another at least 25 fighters in JFS complexes in Idlib and western Aleppo Provinces.

The attacks have also killed members of other factions, including the leading rebel group Ahrar al-Sham.