Assad regime shows defiance of US strikes, continues to pound opposition areas, including with incendiary weapons
- 4th Group of 1000s of Residents Removed from al-Wa’er in Homs
- Claims: US and Jordan Special Forces Back Rebels Attacked by ISIS
UPDATE 1900 GMT: Journalist Elizabeth Tsurkov reports on intense bombing of Saraqeb in Idlib Province:
All my contacts (5 people in total) inside Saraqeb are offline. The town is being burned down w/ Thermite, a material so hot it melts metal
— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) April 9, 2017
Video of the night-time use of incendiary munitions points to Russian-piloted warplanes:
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) April 9, 2017
White Helmets rescuers in front of a large fire in Besida:
UPDATE 1530 GMT: Russian President Vladimir Putin has withdrawn a planned meeting with the US Secretary of State when Rex Tillerson visits Moscow on Tuesday.
Only a day after the first US airstrikes on its positions inside Syria, the Assad regime has renewed intense conventional bombing throughout the country.
Early Friday, two American warships fired 59 Tomahawk missiles on the Shayrat airbase, from which the regime carried out last Tuesday’s chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province in northwest Syria, killing more than 100 people and wounding at least 574. The Trump Administration said it wanted to ensure that Damascus could no longer use chemical weapons in airstrikes.
However, Washington said nothing about its response to conventional strikes, and the regime did not halt its bombing of opposition-held suburbs northeast of Damascus. On Saturday, the Syrian military resumed its sustained attacks throughout the northwest, with officials declaring that some of the warplanes were taking off from Shayrat.
Khan Sheikhoun was bombed again, with at least six strikes, and photographs and videos documented bombing in Uram al-Jouz in Idlib Province and Latamneh — attacked recently with chlorine — to the south in Hama Province. Some of the raids included incendiary munitions.
In Uram al-Jouz alone, 19 people were killed. Mustafa, a resident, said:
There are no military headquarters here, there are no checkpoints and no medical positions nearby, or even remotely close to where the airstrikes hit. The majority of those killed are the shop owners and residents of the area….
There has been an undeniable escalation in this area and the Idlib countryside as a whole since the US airstrikes. If anything, they’ve made matters worse and have led Russia and the regime to increase their airstrikes.
Rescuers in Urum al-Jouz:
— AEJ خليل ้้้้้็็็็Ⓜ (@AEJKhalil) April 8, 2017
Map: Syria Direct
Regime: Flights Resume After US Attack
The Governor of Homs Province, Talal al-Barazi, declared on Saturday, “The airport is operating as a first phase. Planes have taken off from it.” An opposition activist said the initial flight was on Saturday morning.
Footage from Russia’s RT of the claimed flight:
While the US strikes destroyed or damaged jets — between 15 and 20, according to most estimates — hangers, and buildings, it only pockmarked runways.
Analysts noted that the US may not have targeted the runways, as Tomahawks are not the ideal weapon. Donald Trump appeared to confirm this in a tweet:
The reason you don't generally hit runways is that they are easy and inexpensive to quickly fix (fill in and top)!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2017
Admiral Michelle Howard, who lead US naval Forces in Europe and Africa, said Friday’s operations had removed the Assad regime’s capability for chemical attacks from Shayrat. However, there was no American response about the regime’s conventional bombing.
Asked if it was true that Shayrat is operating, a Pentagon spokesman referred questions to the Assad regime.
Claimed footage of fires set by thermite bombs on Ma’arat Harma:
— Rami (@RamiSafadi93) April 9, 2017
Trump Administration Divides Over “Assad Has to Go”
The Trump Administration appears to be divided over the removal of President Assad.
Before Tuesday’s chemical attack, the Administration had shifted to accept that Assad could remain in power. The White House said his departure was no longer a priority, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson echoed Assad’s words in saying the decision “must be left to the Syrian people”.
But in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday morning, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley says, “We don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there.”
Haley had told reporters on March 30, “You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”
However, Tillerson is cautious in his interview airing this morning, saying the US emphasis is still on the Islamic State. After ISIS’s threat is reduced, “I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria,” the Secretary of State says.
He also does not explicitly refer to Assad’s departure: “If we can achieve ceasefires in zones of stabilization in Syria, then I believe – we hope we will have the conditions to begin a useful political process.”
He then indicates that there is no change in the acceptance of the Syrian President’s position: “We are asking Russia to fulfill its commitment and we’re asking and calling on Bashar al-Assad to cease the use of these weapons. Other than that, there is no change to our military posture.”
The Secretary of State said Friday’s US strikes were “a message to Bashar al-Assad that your multiple violations of your agreements at the UN, your agreements under the chemical weapons charter back in 2013 that those would not go without a response in the future”.
Turkey’s Erdoğan to Russia: Step Away from Assad
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has asked Russia to reconsider its support for the Assad regime, following Tuesday’s chemical attack and Friday’s American response:
It is our hope that this will not be limited to the US action. We hope that Russia gets involved as well — that at least they stop defending Assad.
Erdoğan said he welcomed Moscow’s recent statement that “unconditional support is not possible” to the regime, “but let’s speed it up. Let’s get rid of this evil.”
The Turkish President said he was sure of Assad’s responsibility for the chemical attack “as we have radar records”. He repeated Turkish Government statements that treatment of victims confirmed the use of a nerve agent.
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu amplified, “If you try to legitimize a regime that kills so many people, commits crimes against humanity, and commits war crimes, then that regime will continue to kill.”
He criticized the recent Trump Administration shift towards acceptance of Assad:
If one considers they don’t have any alternative to the regime amid the fight against the Islamic State, then the regime will suppose everyone will opt for it.
They don’t have to prefer one of the two evils. You can defeat ISIS and the regime could be toppled.
Çavuşoğlu spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late Friday by phone.
TOP PHOTO: Fires from regime bombing, reportedly with incendiary munitions, on Latamneh in northern Hama Province
4th Group of 1000s of Residents Removed from al-Wa’er in Homs
The removal of the fourth group of rebels and residents of al-Wa’er in Homs city has been completed.
About 3000 people were transferred from al-Wa’er, the last opposition-held district in Homs, to al-Bab in northwest Syria near the Turkish border.
About 20,000 of the 50,000 people left in al-Wa’er are being taken to northwest and north-central Syria under a capitulation agreement brokered by the Russian military last month.
The district has besieged and bombarded since 2013.
Claims: US and Jordan Special Forces Back Rebels Attacked by ISIS
Claims are circulating that US and Jordanian special forces and armored vehicles crossed the border to assist Free Syrian Army units attacked by the Islamic State in eastern Syria.
The ISIS attack near the Tanf crossing with Iraq included a large car bomb.
In recent weeks, the FSA has cleared the Islamic State from almost all of its areas in the desert of the Eastern Qalamoun region.