Residents of the Rukban camp protest conditions, southeast Syria, October 10, 2018 (Omar a-Shawi)
The US has accused Russia of blocking aid to more than 50,000 displaced Syrians in the Rukban camp in southeast Syria, near the Jordanian border.
UN officials have said the situation in Rukban, a barren area to where people fled in 2015 to escape Islamic State attacks, is “desperate” with thousands at risk. A scheduled aid delivery last week was suspended because of a “security threat”.
“Russia has again refused to support a UN delivery of humanitarian assistance from Damascus to the Rukban internally displaced persons camp despite US security guarantees,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command, said on Thursday. “Counter to the false claims made to the United Nations by Russia, conditions are ripe for this critical aid to be delivered to the people of Rukban, where conditions remain dire.”
Russia has claimed for weeks that it is the US military preventing assistance to the camp, as part of Moscow’s call for the Americans to leave their base at Tanf near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders.
Rukban is within the 55-km (34-mile) exclusion zone set up around Tanf to deter pro-Assad attacks. On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said — without evidence — that the US had blocked assistance to attract recruits to Maghawir al-Thawra, a faction trained by the American military to fight ISIS.
But local officials and activists have said it is the Assad regime which has cut off a vital road to the camp, not only blocking aid but also stopping Bedouin from selling food and essential supplies. The blockade has been compounded by a cut-off of movement from Jordan, which closed the border in June 2016 following an Islamic State suicide bombing.
Residents and activists say that, in addition to seeking the closure of the US base, the Assad regime is trying to force the displaced to return to their home areas despite uncertainty over detentions, forced conscription, and the status of property.
Prices of items like flour and vegetables. Medical supplies are running short, with no replacement if they are exhausted. The main UN-run medical facility briefly closed, with clinics unable to provide essential care for the sick, injured, and pregnant.
A Jordanian Government source said last month that Amman and Russia were in discussions about the removal of the residents with the “de-establishment” of Rukban, but there was no apparent outcome.
Turkey’s Double Game: Cooperation with US, Bombardment of US-Supported Kurdish Militia
Turkey is pursuing a double approach of cooperation with the US and pressure on Syrian Kurdish factions, after a series of attacks on positions of the Kurdish militia YPG in northern Syria.
Turkish and US forces began joint patrols on Thursday in the Manbij region in Aleppo Province, the western edge of Kurdish-controlled territory.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and the US-led coalition confirmed the start of the patrols, about 30 km (19 miles) from the Turkish border, along the dividing line between the Manbij Military Council — allied with the Kurdish-led, US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces — and a Turkish-backed opposition area in northern Syria.
Turkey is seeking the withdrawal of the YPG from the area, which was taken by the SDF from the Islamic State in summer 2016.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continued the pledge to attack the “terrorist” YPG, with Ankara’s forces bombarding east of the Euphrates River since Sunday.
The YPG is the leading group in the Syrian Democratic Forces. Ankara considers the militia part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
Erdogan’s office said the President and Donald Trump discussed Manbij, as well as Turkey’s essential presence in opposition-held Idlib Province in northwest Syria, in a call on Thursday.
“Our President and US President Trump stressed their determination to take constructive steps toward strengthening US-Turkey bilateral relations further,” the statement said, making no reference to the bombardment of the YPG, which reportedly killed at least 10 fighters.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the two leaders discussed a desire to work together, especially regarding Syria.