Category - Levant

Ceasefire broken in northwestern Syria

Rebels shell Fuaa after they say government forces dropped barrel bombs nearby, just a day after truce declared in area.

Al Jazeera, September 27

A ceasefire in northwest Syria, part of a wider deal that included cessation of hostilities in the area, as well as in a town near the Lebanese border, has been broken after just one day, according to an activist monitoring group.

Shells apparently fired by rebel fighters hit the village of Fuaa in the province of Idlib on Saturday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said, after rebels blamed government forces for violating the ceasefire by dropping barrel bombs on an area nearby.

Warring sides, including Hezbollah, had agreed on Friday a ceasefire in Fuaa and next-door Kafraya, two villages held by pro-government forces and besieged by rebels, as well as in the town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border, where fighters are holed up and surrounded by government forces.

But shelling of Fuaa resumed, the observatory said, with no immediate casualties reported.

A Philosopher Looks at the Syrian Refugee Issue

One of my favorite blogs is Justin Smith. He’s always worth reading but this is particularly good.

One of the memes circling around the French Internet shows the mayor of the town of Roanne telling a huddled group of refugees that they cannot stay, since they are not Christian. “Neither are you,” is the reply.

Yes, some people are so ignorant as to believe that all Syrians are Muslims, but the most relevant clarification is not that some are not, but that that is irrelevant to the refugee crisis.

At the popular level in Europe, there is both dispiriting xenophobia and its opposite, a seemingly unprecedented preparedness to welcome the refugees and to take responsibility for their well-being. State officials have so far tended to play to the interests of the xenophobes, mostly not by expressing outward xenophobia (with plenty of exceptions of course, as with the mayor of Roanne, or with Hungarian president Viktor Orbán), but by classic buck-passing, insisting that the crisis is someone else’s problem. This is particularly the case for the poorer countries of the EU to its south and east, which are of course also the countries that are so placed as to first receive the refugees travelling by land (and, more perilously, by water). The absence of any obvious authority, either at the union-wide level or in each individual member state, reveals, like no other situation has since the EU’s expansion to include former Soviet Bloc states, that transnational body’s utter impotence and irrelevance.

American liberals and progressives love to fawn over the great liberal democracies of northern Europe with their advanced welfare states and their commitment to fair distribution of resources to all citizens. Yet as long as these societies continue to adhere to a sharp political and moral distinction between citizens and outsiders, between those who are in the system and those who are outside of it, what they have accomplished is scarcely any more worthy of praise than the sort of ‘socialism’ we see practiced within major corporations. European social democracies that extend medical care and education to everyone who has theirpapers in order, while expelling irregular migrants in nighttime raids and strong-armed police operations, are not truly egalitarian societies, but protection rackets. The extent that European citizens are today, en masse, resisting this arbitrary distinction between citizen and non-citizen, in order to come to the direct aid of the Syrian refugees, is precisely the extent to which Europe is living up to its claim to be Christian.

France says tackle Syria to solve migrant crisis, promises strikes

CNN, By Mick Krever, September 9

France will soon launch air stikes in Syria, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday, saying the refugee crisis “cannot be solved just by receiving them.”

“At the moment there are millions of Syrians who are displaced. There are refugee camps — in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Turkey — receiving 4 to 5 million Syrians. And we’re not going to receive 4 to 5 million Syrians, so the problem has to be dealt with at source,” he said through an interpreter.

“These are very difficult subjects. And of course, in Syria, so long as we haven’t found a political solution; so long as we haven’t destroyed this terrorist group, Islamic State; so long as we haven’t got rid of Bashar Assad; we will not find a solution.”

France began flying reconnaissance missions over Syria this week, and Valls said he would appear before the country’s Parliament next Tuesday to announce “the objectives of France and that there will be strikes.”

CNN: U.S. to Russia: Backing al-Assad ‘is not a winning strategy’
New York Times: U.S. Begins Military Talks With Russia on Syria

Putin Said to Explore Sidelining Assad Even as He Arms Him

Bloomberg, By Henry Meyer & Donna Abu-Nasr, September 13

Russia is sending signals to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that it may allow Syria’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad to be eased out of power as it seeks to forge a united front against Islamic State and retain influence in the region, officials and Syrian opposition leaders said.

Officials from the three countries, as well as from the opposition, have been negotiating possible terms for sidelining Assad since at least June, when President Vladimir Putin hosted Saudi King Salman’s son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed, they said. Saudi Arabia is Assad’s main regional enemy, while Russia is his longtime ally. Since then, Russia’s whirlwind diplomacy has brought key officials from across the region to Moscow for talks.

Syria’s civil war has traumatized the Middle East, spilling into neighbors and enabling the rise of Islamic State amid the turmoil. The latest Russian-backed efforts to end the conflict come as its fallout spreads westwards, with hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking refuge in the European Union.

Like every other aspect of the war in Syria, though, Russia’s policy isn’t straightforward. U.S. and Russian officials say they’re weighing a transition plan that would strip Assad of power while remaining interim head of state.

Exclusive: 50 Spies Say ISIS Intelligence Was Cooked

The Daily Beast, By Shane Harris & Nancy Youssef, September 9

It’s being called a ‘revolt’ by intelligence pros who are paid to give their honest assessment of the ISIS war—but are instead seeing their reports turned into happy talk.

More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials, The Daily Beast has learned.

The complaints spurred the Pentagon’s inspector general to open an investigation into the alleged manipulation of intelligence. The fact that so many people complained suggests there are deep-rooted, systemic problems in how the U.S. military command charged with the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State assesses intelligence.

“The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one defense official said.

Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the analysts claim.

Turkish ground forces cross into northern Iraq to pursue PKK

AFP, September 8

Ankara – Turkey on Tuesday confirmed its special ground forces had crossed into northern Iraq to pursue Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants following deadly attacks but emphasised the incursion would be short-term.

“Turkish security forces crossed the Iraqi border as part of the hot pursuit of PKK terrorists who were involved in the most recent attacks,” a Turkish government source told AFP.

“This is a short-term measure intended to prevent the terrorists’ escape.”


U.S. Revamping Rebel Force Fighting ISIS in Syria

New York Times, By Eric Schmitt & Ben Hubbard, September 6

Washington — In an acknowledgment of severe shortcomings in its effort to create a force of moderate rebels to battle the Islamic State in Syria, the Pentagon is drawing up plans to significantly revamp the program by dropping larger numbers of fighters into safer zones as well as providing better intelligence and improving their combat skills.

The proposed changes come after a Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda attacked, in late July, many of the first 54 Syrian graduates of the military’s training program and the rebel unit they came from. A day before the attack, two leaders of the American-backed group and several of its fighters were captured.

The encounter revealed several glaring deficiencies in the program, according to classified assessments: The rebels were ill-prepared for an enemy attack and were sent back into Syria in too small numbers. They had no local support from the population and had poor intelligence about their foes. They returned to Syria during the Eid holiday, and many were allowed to go on leave to visit relatives, some in refugee camps in Turkey — and these movements likely tipped off adversaries to their mission. Others could not return because border crossings were closed.

Russian Moves in Syria Pose Concerns for U.S.

New York Times, By Michael R. Gordon & Eric Schmitt, September 4

Washington — Russia has sent a military advance team to Syria and is taking other steps the United States fears may signal that President Vladimir V. Putin is planning to vastly expand his military support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, administration officials said Friday.

The Russian moves, including the recent transport of prefabricated housing units for hundreds of people to a Syrian airfield and the delivery of a portable air traffic control station there, are another complicating factor in Secretary of State John Kerry’s repeated efforts to enlist Mr. Putin’s support for a diplomatic solution to the bloody conflict in Syria.

The Russians have also filed military overflight requests with neighboring countries through September.

American officials acknowledge that they are not certain of Russia’s intentions, but some say the temporary housing suggests that Russia could deploy as many as 1,000 advisers or other military personnel to the airfield near the Assad family’s ancestral home. The airfield serves Latakia, Syria’s principal port city.


“We have regularly and repeatedly expressed our concern about Russian military support for the Assad regime,” said John Kirby, the State Department spokesman. “But we’re also watching their actions very carefully. If these reports are borne out, it would represent a very serious shift in the trajectory of the Syria conflict and call into question any Russian commitment to a peaceful settlement.”

U.S. consulate in Turkey targeted as wave of attacks kills nine

Reuters, By Yesim Dikmen & Seyhmus Cakan, August 10

Istanbul/Diyabakir – Two women shot at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Monday and at least eight people were killed in a wave of separate attacks on Turkish security forces, weeks after Ankara launched a crackdown on Islamic State, Kurdish and far-left militants.

The NATO member has been in a heightened state of alert since starting its “synchronized war on terror” last month, including air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq. It has also rounded up hundreds of suspected militants at home.

Police armed with automatic rifles cordoned off streets around the U.S. consulate in the Sariyer district on the European side of Istanbul, following the gun attack there.

Ahmet Akcay, a local resident who witnessed the attack, told Reuters that one of the women fired four or five rounds, aiming at security officials and consulate officers.

“Police were shouting ‘drop your bag, drop your bag’. And the woman was saying: ‘I will not surrender’,” Akcay said.


The Dogan news agency said the injured woman was aged 51 and had served prison time for being a suspected member of the far-leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C), which is virulently anti-American and is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and Turkey.

Reuters could not immediately verify the report.


On the other side of Istanbul, a vehicle laden with explosives was used in an attack on a police station, injuring three police officers and seven civilians, police said.

Obama authorises air strikes in Syria

FT, By Geoff Dyer, August 3

Washington – The Obama administration has decided to provide air cover to the Syrian rebels it has trained if they come under attack by the Assad regime, potentially deepening the US role in the four-year old Syrian conflict.

The Syrian fighters are being trained by the US to take on Islamist militants from Isis but there is also a chance that they could also come under attack from Assad regime forces.

The administration has been reluctant to discuss any military action against the Assad regime for fear that it could lead to greater US involvement in the civil war, but felt it was necessary to provide greater assurances to the fledgling rebel force it has been building up.

The decision, made by President Barack Obama, comes after some US-trained rebels were attacked on Friday by elements of the Nusra Front, a jihadi group in Syria that is allied with al-Qaeda. The US was forced to conduct air strikes to defend the troops.

Ha’aretz: Obama Green Lights U.S. Airstrikes in Syria to Protect Rebels Against Both ISIS and Assad
Russia says any support for Assad’s rivals hampers Damascus’ fight against ISIS.
IBT: Obama Authorizes Airstrikes To Defend US-Backed Syrian Rebels From Assad Forces: Report