US joins Russia and Iran in helping Assad regime regain Roman-era Palmyra from ISIS


The Assad regime, with help from Russia and the US, has recaptured the historic city of Palmyra in central Syria from the Islamic State.

The Syrian Army’s Command announced victory on Thursday after ground operations supported by Russian and regime air forces and Iranian-led militias. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also announced the Syrian regime’s control of the city.

Neither the regime nor Moscow acknowledgeed American assistance for the first time, through other strikes on ISIS positions and fighters.

Palmyra, a prominent travellers’ stop in the Roman era, has changed hands four times in less than two years. ISIS first took it in May 2015. Pro-Assad forces reoccupied it in March 2016, but the Islamic State — taking advantage of the preoccupation of the regime with the capture of all of Aleppo city — returned in December.

Footage from Russian State outlet RT:

A regime soldier takes away an Islamic State flag in Palmyra, March 2016

Russia Turns Against Opposition at Geneva Talks

Pulling back from an apparent small advance in political talks in Geneva, Russia turned against Syria’s opposition on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee said an agenda might include their demand for a “transitional process”, following discussions with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov. The Assad regime’s delegation said battling “terrorism”, their reference to any armed opposition, could also be included.

But on Thursday, Moscow returned to pressure on the HNC, accusing it of not working with the Russian-preferred “Moscow” and “Cairo” groups of Syrian politicians, who are also in Geneva.

“The talks are once again raising questions about the ability of representatives of the Syrian opposition to do a deal,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in Moscow. “The so-called High Negotiations Committee is refusing to cooperate equally with the Moscow and Cairo platforms and is in fact sabotaging fully fledged dialogue.

The regime’s negotiator, UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, accused some HNC members of “high treason” because of support from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel: “The Riyadh opposition will be held responsible for any failure of the Geneva talks.”

Ja’afari said he had discussed “substantive issues, particularly counter-terrorism” with UN Staffan de Mistura, and would continue on Friday.

The chief opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri said he had held “very positive” discussions with de Mistura, centered on the political transition — opposed by President Bashar al-Assad because it could involve his departure from power. He said he would also talk with the UN envoy on Friday.

But no progress was apparent, as al-Hariri accused Iran — an essential backer of the Assad regime through economic aid, troops, and Tehran-led foreign militias — of being a fundamental obstacle to a resolution: “”We reiterated [to Russia’s Gatilov] the devilish role that Iran is playing through hundreds of thousands of fighters on the Syrian soil,”

“The prospects are very dim,” HNC negotiator Basma Kodmani said.

Protests in Aleppo Province Against Jihadists

Local people talk to Syria Direct about protests in Atareb, in western Aleppo Province, against the jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and its leading faction Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

The demonstrations, now in their 7th week, have been spurred by HTS attacks on other factions, including Jaish al-Mujahideen, the headquarters and warehouses of the Free Syrian Army and the headquarters of Thuwar al-Sham.

Mohammad Shakurdi, a member of the Atareb council, says:

We took to the streets against HTS because they said they’d come to protect the revolution and the Syrian people. They said they’d fight the regime, but that’s not what we’ve seen. So far, they haven’t fought a single battle against the regime. All they’ve done is kidnap people, put up checkpoints and terrorize residents. They arrest members of the Free Syrian Army and attack FSA military headquarters….

Residents are frustrated, and they’re speaking out against what’s happening. They had a lot of hope that Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham would carry the banner of the revolution and its demands. One million Syrians have died and 300,000 people have been detained in this revolution started by the Syrian people. Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham has let down the people. They stand in the way of efforts to alleviate the suffering of the people.

Reports say HTS is currently attacking elements of the leading faction Ahrar al-Sham in neighboring Idlib Province, hoping to split off units and fighters.