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AL NUSRA TURNS ON FORMER FSA ALLIES IN IDLIB, WHILE PUTIN ANNOUNCES RUSSIA TO START A SYRIAN WITHDRAWAL

By Peter Clifford            ©           (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-and-iraq-news/)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

For the second Friday running, the Al Nusra Front showed its true face and intervened in towns in Idlib province under it’s control to stop popular demonstrations against the Assad regime.

In Ma’arat Al Numan a group of masked men arrived on motorcycles and inserted themselves into an anti-Assad protest of around 200 people, at first displaying their own trademark black flags and then attempting, unsuccessfully, to take over the microphone.

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Al Nusra Front Attempt to Take Over Anti-Assad Protest

The Al Nusra fighters eventually managed to disperse the demonstrators and then patrolled the streets to prevent local people from reassembling. You can read more and watch video, HERE:

Over the weekend, things escalated when the Al Nusra Front and other Islamist groups stormed the HQs of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigade known as Division 13, who in the past have had US backing, in Ma’arat Al Numan, Khan Sheikhoun and Al-Ghadafa.

40 members of Division 13 have been arrested and 7 were killed in the fighting and 20 wounded, while others are missing. 4 members of Al Nusra are reported dead.

Al Nusra went on to seize warehouses belonging to Division 13, including large stocks of weapons and TOW anti-tank missiles. Until now Division 13 and the Islamists had worked together as an “army of conquest” to fight Assad and take over Idlib province.

Clearly, local people are angry at the weekend’s events. Latest reports say protesters attacked the Al Nusra HQ in Ma’arat Al Numan today, Monday, freed 10 prisoners and burnt the building down.

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Al Nusra HQ Burns in Ma’arat Al Numan as Locals Revolt Against Islamic Rule

EDITOR: As world powers attempt to impose “peace talks” in order to get some sort of resolution in Syria, if only a federal state, it looks as though new battle lines are being drawn as all the warring factions from every side jockey for position to take sole control of the central part of the country.

Many other anti-Assad demonstrations did take place right across Syria on Friday. In Atarib in Aleppo province they were dancing in the streets, HERE:

Meanwhile in other Syria News, having regained ground in Latakia, the Assad regime and their allies are pushing into Hama province, claiming to have killed 40 Opposition fighters as they recaptured 3 checkpoints and a number of buildings.

Though it was not all one way. Opposition fighters shot down an Assad MIG-21 just after it had bombed the village of Kafr Nabudah. The pilot parachuted towards the ground and unconfirmed reports say he has been captured. Video footage, HERE:

The Opposition also took out an Assad T-72 tank at the Hamamiyat barrier, HERE:

In Homs province on Saturday, Assad’s Air Force and Russian jets bombed IS positions in Palmyra more than 40 times and dropped a dozen barrel-bombs. The pro-Assad forces are said to be less than 5 kilometres from the northern and western entrances to the city.

The latest reports on Abu Omar Al-Shishani, the senior IS Chechen commander reported possibly killed last week after his convoy was attacked by the Coalition (scroll down – see below), say that he still “alive” but very seriously wounded and “clinically dead”, breathing at all only with the aid of machines.

2 of his companions survived the attack according to reports, but another 10 died and a specialist surgeon had been brought in to try and help Shishani.

What exactly Shishani’s role has been is not clear. Described as a top commander and involved in all the major battles, he is apparently not a member of the Islamic State’s political elite.

The New York Times, in a horrific report, describes how IS has been pushing its sex slaves and rape victims into forced birth control. Recommended reading.

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Friday’s Demonstration in Wa’er District in Homs

IS continue lose ground as well in Syria, this time to Opposition fighters north of Aleppo city who captured Qizil Mazra’ah, the 4th village to fall to their fighters in 5 days.

“Peace talks” got underway again today, Monday, in Geneva with all sides taking strongly opposing positions. The Opposition called for a transitional government without Assad and his cronies, the UN mediator Staffan de Mistura said there should be presidential elections in 18 months, and the Syrian Government said Assad was not going anywhere and it was nobody else’s business who their president was. The BBC has more.

However, in an interesting twist today, Monday, President Putin after meeting his advisors, announced that Russia is to start a withdrawal of its main forces from Syria, starting tomorrow, Tuesday, and to concentrate on the “peace talks”.  In his statement, Putin said, “The mission set for the Defence Ministry and the armed forces on the whole has been accomplished”. Apparently Putin has already phoned Assad and told him the “good news”.

Once again, the Kurds, by far and away the most successful group fighting the Islamic State, were excluded from the talks. Undoubtedly another suicide bomb explosion in Ankara yesterday, Sunday, which killed 34 and wounded around 130, will be blamed on the Kurds and used as an excuse, especially by Turkey, to “demonise” them.

Last weekend also marked 5 years since this dreadful war began. The BBC has commentary, video and analysis, HERE:

ROJAVA UPDATE 196: AL NUSRA USE CHEMICAL WEAPONS AGAINST KURDS IN ALEPPO AGAIN, WHILE 32 ISLAMIC STATE FIGHTERS DIE IN ATTACK ON TISHREEN DAM

The Al Nusra Front and its Islamist allies, once again launched shell attacks, some laced with chemical weapons, on the Kurdish Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo on Sunday.

This is the second time in a week that chemicals have been used (scroll down – see below).

The bombardment left dozens of casualties in its wake, including women and children and some of whom lost consciousness after inhaling fumes of what are thought to be phosphorous and chlorine agents.

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The Effects of Chemical Weapons

The groups accused of the attacks as well as Al Nusra, include the Sultan Murad Brigade, the 16th Brigade, Noureddin Zanki and the Ahrar al-Sham Movement.

On Saturday, the Islamic State (IS) also launched another major attack on the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) between Jarablous and the Tishreen Dam

No less than 5 vehicle bombs were launched by IS against the Kurdish/Arab fighters, but all were destroyed before they reached their targets.

Subsequently fighting broke out near the Tishreen Dam in which 32 x IS Jihadists were killed and 4 from the SDF, with 7 SDF fighters wounded.

Welcome back to @ChuckFarrer (who has been busy writing a new book since September, “Phillip Nolan – The Man Without a Country” to be published on April 15th) and his useful maps, here:

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SDF Pushing Towards Manbij From Tishreen Dam

Not for the first time in Hasakah, tensions overflowed in the city on Sunday between the Kurdish Asayish (Kurdish security) and Assad’s remaining forces still stationed there.

The clashes, including gunfire, broke out in the centre of the city between the Marshu roundabout and Al-Ra’eis Square, though so far casualties are unknown.

From the Turkey/Syrian border near Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah province, it is reported that 3 men were beaten by Turkish security after they attempted to cross the frontier from the Syrian side and ended up in hospital.

There are also unconfirmed reports from activists that Turkey is enabling the movement of “hundreds” of Islamist fighters from Ahrar Al-Sham and Failaq Al-Sham into the northern part of Aleppo province between the Kurdish Canton of Afrin and Jarablous to create a “central force” that will hold the territory against a SDF/Kurdish advance as they drive IS from the area.

The International Red Cross also managed to deliver 26 truck loads of humanitarian aid into the Afrin and Azaz area yesterday, Sunday, hopefully to benefit as many as 10,000 families.

Article reporting views of German participant in YPG fight against IS – he came to Syria to “change the world”, HERE:

Latest reports from US Central Command (Centcom) say that the Coalition made 6 airstrikes in Syria on Saturday and 12 in Iraq. In Syria the targets were all around Hasakah, Raqqah and Manbij where the Coalition made 4 strikes hitting 3 separate tactical units and destroying an IS artillery piece, 3 x IS vehicles, an IS mortar position and an IS fighting unit.

Over in Iraq, where the Peshmerga have also suffered chemical attacks from IS, the Kurdish fighters destroyed a main IS chemical weapons facility in northern Iraq near Qabousiyah in Sinjar province, with a barrage of heavy shelling on Sunday resulting in “massive explosions” according to reports. Other suspected IS chemical weapon storage and manufacturing centres are also being targeted.

According to the UN, 409 civilians have been affected by mustard gas and other chemicals falling on the town of Taza Khurmatu just south of Kirkuk from shells fired by IS and resulting in tumours and skin bubbles on people’s faces as well as burning in noses and throats and running eyes.

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IS Burn Hundreds of Christian Books in Mosul

According to activists in Mosul, IS collected hundreds of Christian books from churches and schools in Mosul last week and burnt them all as the “books of infidels”. Mosul once had a large Christian population, but not any more as most have fled the city and many have left Syria altogether.

Others are determined to remain to retain a Christian presence in the Middle East. Interesting article, HERE:

ROJAVA UPDATE 192: SDF TAKE YET MORE TERRITORY FROM ISLAMIC STATE (IS) AND ARREST IS SLEEPER CELL IN NORTH-EAST HASAKAH:

By Peter Clifford         ©       (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-and-iraq-news/)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

Work continues by the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) to push back the Islamic State (IS) south of Shaddadi and completely out of Hasakah province.

This morning, Friday, the SDF took control of the village of Semendor which is 50 kilometres west of Mount Abdul Aziz. Recent SDF operations have liberated another 35 square kilometres.

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Funerals Held for YPG/ YPJ Fighters Killed in Tal Abyad Battles

Current fighting is around “Area 47”, not far from Shaddadi. Voice of America has a video report from Shaddadi itself.

In the north-east of Hasakah province, the Asayish (Kurdish security) arrested members of an IS sleeper cell on Wednesday in the Suwediya district of the city of Derik.

The 5 pro-IS gunmen had explosives and ammunition in the building in which they were living and were believed to be preparing for attacks in the area.

YPG members also found an IS fighter still alive under some rubble at Ain Al-Aroush who turned out to be a Turk from Adana.

In comments on the recent heavy battles with IS over Tal Abyad, official YPG Spokesman, Redur Khalil, accused Turkey of allowing “IS terrorists to move freely across its borderline with Syria to facilitate its attacks on the Kurdish positions” and trying to help IS retake the Tal Abyad border crossing “to assist the terror group export its oil to the black market via Turkey”.

Khalil also described the fighting as the most difficult since the defence of Kobane. Video of the news conference with English sub-titles, here:

Funerals for the YPG/YPJ fighters killed this week in the fighting around Tal Abyad and other battles with IS were held in Tal Abyad, where 21 were buried and another 14 in Kobane.

However, overall the security situation in northern parts of Syria held by the Kurds is considered good enough for a number of Syrian Kurds who fled to Iraq to decide to return home. The BBChas a video report.

However, clashes continue in Aleppo province between the YPG and the Al Nusra Front (AFN) and their allies both near Afrin Canton and on the outskirts of the Kurdish district in Aleppo city, Sheikh Maqsoud. 3 female civilians were reported killed in the latest AFN bomb attack on Sheikh Maqsoud.

3 members of the SDF were also reported shot by IS snipers in the region of the Tishreen Dam, probably in retaliation for the YPG sniper attack reported earlier (scroll down -see below) which killed 13 x IS Jihadists at Jarablous.

DESPITE NUMEROUS BREACHES OF THE AGREED “TRUCE”, DEATHS WELL DOWN IN SYRIA:

The YPG has accused the Opposition of being in cahoots with Al Nusra and breaching the “cessation in hostilities” agreed by world powers, while the Opposition has accused the Kurds of doing the same.

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Thousands Demonstrated Across Syria Against Assad for the First Time in a Year

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) is reporting 100 breaches of the ceasefire by the Russians and the Assad regime, while the Russians are reporting far fewer.

In general, despite the violations, the truce is seen as holding. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) says that it has documented 118 deaths in areas where there is supposed to be a truce over the last 5 days, including 24 civilians. 6 of the civilian dead were children and 5 of them women.

Despite the continuing grim statistics, this is far less than what has become “normal” in Syria on a daily basis, the average of 120+ deaths a day.

European leaders, Cameron, Hollande, Merkel and Italian PM Matteo Renzi, held a telephone conference call with Russia’s President Putin this morning, Friday, and called on him to help use the “truce” to move onto “peace talks” that would include a more durable peace and a “transition away from President Assad”.

Syrians across the country in Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa and Homs provinces took advantage of the relative calm of the current “truce” to go out on the streets after Friday prayers and resume, for the first time in more than a year, demonstrations calling for the fall of the Assad regime. Thousands demonstrated under the banners “The Revolution Continues!” and “Long live Syria, may Assad fall!”

Almost the whole of Syria, in all provinces, was hit by a nationwide electricity blackout yesterday, Thursday, for unexplained reasons. Normally most areas only get between 2 and 4 hours a day, but yesterday everything went down across the board, including Internet connections. You can read more, HERE:

However, in Aleppo water from the Al-Furat river has reached the Al-Nairab and Suleiman Al-Halbi pumping stations and will be piped again directly into the city after being cut off for 3 months.

Amnesty International issued a report yesterday, Thursday, accusing the Russian and Syrian Governments of deliberately targeting medical facilities and of specifically targeting 6 hospitals in Aleppo province in the last 12 weeks. The attacks killed 3 civilians, including a medical worker, and injured 44 others.

Physicians for Human Rights says that 315 of the 346 attacks on medical facilities that have taken place in Syria over the last 5 years were conducted by Syrian or Russian forces. According to their records 705 medical workers have been killed so far.

On the positive side 236 UN and Syrian Red Crescent aid trucks had reached 115,000 people over the last 3 weeks and they hope to reach another 20,000 in Eastern Ghouta near Dasmascus this weekend.

In the Yarmouk refugee camp in the southern part of the capital, an Al Nusra ambush on the Islamic State yesterday, Thursday, killed an IS Emir, Abu Khidir, who was in charge of IS operations in area, and 4 of his compatriots.

And in Qunietra province, a car bomb, which no-one has so far claimed responsibility for, on Wednesday, killed 18 people including the leader of the Opposition Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF). The explosion destroyed the SRF’s finance office where a meeting was taking place. You can read more, HERE:

Fighting on the borders of Hama and Aleppo provinces continues between the Assad regime and the Islamic State for the control of the Aleppo – Khanaser road, which is vital to Assad to keep supplies and troops travelling to Aleppo city.

So far at least 130 x IS fighters have been killed in the battles and 94 from the pro-Assad side including a senior commander from Hezbollah and 8 of his men. Clashes between the same 2 sides are also continuing in Deir Ez Zour in eastern Syria, mainly around the north-western districts of the city.

A regime rocket attack is also reported on Khan Shakour in Idlib province today, Friday, killing 3 women and wounding many other civilians.

Lastly, interesting article on Muhammed Faris, the only Syrian to have gone into space as a cosmonaut to the Mir Space Station in 1987 and who has schools and roads named after him but now lives in Turkey as a refugee. You can read more in the Guardian.

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Muhammed Faris (Centre) on the Mir Space Station 1987

ROJAVA UPDATE 190: AS “CEASEFIRE” TAKES EFFECT ACROSS SYRIA, ISLAMIC STATE LAUNCH MASSIVE ATTACK AGAINST THE KURDS

By Peter Clifford       ©           (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-and-iraq-news/)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

As last preparations came into force for the agreed “cessation of hostilities” in Syria at midnight on Friday, the Islamic State (IS) launched a massive attack in nothern Aleppo province against towns and villages held by the Kurdish YPG and the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF).

The main target was Tal Abyad (Gire Spi in Kurdish) on the Turkish border. Following reported shooting from the Turkish military across the frontier, IS launched a 2-pronged attack on the town, striking from the south and the north.

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Tal Abyad Under Attack From IS

The attack from the north hit the eastern side of the town, several car bombs reputedly being driven from the Turkish side of the border and hitting YPG checkpoints. The southern attack started with mortar shells fired from Raqqah and then battles gathered pace with sleeper cells inside Tal Abyad.

Some reports suggest that the IS sleeper cells had been inside Tal Abyad for more than a month and consisted mainly of “Caliphate Cubs” or young fighters under the age of 18. Other IS fighters are said to have entered the town wearing SDF or YPG uniforms.

IS fighters also attacked YPG positions in villages near to Tal Abyad at Sharghrat, Kantari, Nastleh, Ghuwera and Qantrah.

Kurdish forces, with heavy air support from the Coalition, fought back throughout Saturday for 16 hours and into Sunday when the IS Jihadists were finally defeated. Around 70 x IS fighters were reported killed near Tal Abyad and 20 members of the YPG, with many injured on both sides. 10 civilians were also reported killed in the fighting, one of them beheaded.

Retreating IS forces captured the villages of Hamam al-Turkman and Mastal near Tal Abyad and further south staged attacks on Suluk and Ain Issa, plus the surrounding villages.

By Sunday evening, the fighting was reported virtually over. An unconfirmed report says that another 100 x IS fighters were wiped out in 20 Coalition airstrikes on the village of Al-Khazali, due north of Raqqah and south-east of Ain Issa, where IS reinforcements from Raqqah had gathered.

While all this was going on, an IS car bomb hit a YPG security checkpoint at Ajila village near Ras Al-Ain (Sere Kaniya in Kurdish) in the far north-east of Hasakah province on Saturday. 2 YPG fighters were killed and 4 injured.

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Islamic State Attacks SDF/YPG in Northern Syria

After Coalition jets pinpointed an IS unit holed up in the village of Hafayer south-west of Hasakah, 13 dead IS Jihadists were found dead there following a direct hit.

The Al Nusra Front (ANF) and their allies the Ahrar Al-Sham Movement, took advantage of the situation at the weekend and bombarded the Kurdish villages of Pashmera, Gunde Mazin and Basufan in the countryside of Kurdish Afrin Canton, reportedly killing and injuring many civilians on Sunday.

ANF and their allies also launched homemade mortar and bomb attacks on the Kurds in the Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood of Aleppo city over the weekend, some of the bombs, in a chilling message, “signed” Enver Pasha, the name of the Armenian genocide perpetrator on behalf of Turkey in World War 1.

The SDF have consolidated their hold on Shaddadi and have now moved further south towards Raqqah. Currently they are fighting around the village of Dashisha, north of Markadah, their next main target. Ironically Markadah was a major site for those Armenian genocides. The BBC has a video report from the area.

Interestingly, Anonymous, disgusted with Turkish treatment of the Kurds, have issued a video threatening to disrupt Turkish government and financial websites, HERE:

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The Rebuilding of Kobane Continues

Meanwhile, a small local battalion, Kazem Aref, has joined the SDF and construction and redevelopment goes on in Kobane city. A completely new district is being built with 15 multi-occupancy buildings which will house 500 people each.

The new neighbourhood will also include a children’s home, 4 schools, a health centre, council administration buildings, markets, shops and parks.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 24 airstrikes in Syria on Saturday and Sunday and the same number in Iraq.

Most of the airstrikes in Syria were directly in support of the Kurds, 14 strikes hitting IS at Tal Abyad and 3 at Ain Issa.

Strikes on those targets hit 7 separate IS tactical units and destroyed 33 x IS-held buildings, an IS tanker, an IS tactical vehicle, 7 other IS vehicles and suppressed 3 x IS tactical units, an IS mortar position, 9 x IS fighting positions, an IS heavy machine gun position, and an IS rocket fire position.

Strikes on Abu Kamel, Raqqah, Ma’ra and Manbij, and across Iraq, hit similar targets. The Kurdish media are reporting that one strike in eastern Mosul hit an IS convoy as it arrived at an IS weapons storage facility on Sunday, killing at least 30 x IS fighters. The Coalition had tracked the weapons delivery convoy all the way from Raqqah to its destination.

This Coalition released video shows a strike on an IS fighting position near Hasakah on 20th February 2016, here:

https://youtu.be/Hgc_f2dJyfk

And another in a similar location on February 21st, here:

https://youtu.be/6l9Jgx0KHUo

An interesting interview with US aircrew flying the B1 bombers that supported the fight back at Kobane city has been published. The Americans were sceptical at first but as the Kurds gave them accurate co-ordinates they were able to track the frontline and see it move eastwards as the Islamic State were driven out of the city, HERE:

Elsewhere across Syria, the “ceasefire” is generally considered to have held so far over the last 3 days, but Russia and the Assad regime have not desisted from bombing and there have been plenty of violations.

France has called for a meeting of the task force overseeing the “ceasefire” to discuss these violations this afternoon, Monday.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors deaths in Syria, says there has been a marked decrease in deaths in areas where the Islamic State are not present.

Around 21 people died on Saturday and a similar number on Sunday. This compares with 144 on Friday, before the “ceasefire” began, and an average daily toll throughout February of 120.

The UN aims to take advantage of the scaling down of fighting by rolling out deliveries of aid to 150,000 people over the next 5 days, HERE:

ROJAVA UPDATE 183: SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCE REPORTED TO HAVE TAKEN CHARGE OF FORMER ASSAD AIR BASE FROM OPPOSITION

By Peter Clifford            ©             (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-and-iraq-news/)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

Reports from Aleppo province say that the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) has taken control of more of the road between Aleppo and Turkey near Kafr Atun, just south of the Menagh military airbase.

And today, Wednesday,there are unconfirmed reports that the SDF has taken over the Menagh base itself, which was until now held by Opposition fighters since they seized it from the Assad regime. Whether this take over is by force or agreement is not yet clear.

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Syrian Refugees at the Bab Al-Salman Border Gate to Turkey

If by agreement, the presence of the SDF will presumably stop the Russian Air Force bombing there and at the same time allow the Opposition fighters to concentrate on stalling the Assad regime advance near Aleppo.

Kurdish sources are are also reporting that 221 young Arab men from villages recently liberated from the Islamic State (IS) near the Tishreen Dam have in the last month enlisted in the SDF. 50 Turkmen who have completed training at Tal Abyad have additionally joined the YPG.

Electricity generated at the Tishreen Dam is now reaching Kobane for the first time in 4 years.

Thousands of displaced refugees from Aleppo are currently resident in camps, schools and other public buildings across Kurdish Afrin Canton, while an estimated 35,000 are camped near the Turkish Border at the Bab Al-Salman gate.

While Turkey continues to refuse to open the frontier, despite requests from both the UN and the EU, they have allowed ambulances across to bring back to Turkey the sick and the injured for treatment and supplied truck loads of food, blankets and other humanitarian supplies.

Medicin Sans Frontieres (MSF) says that all the camps for displaced persons along the Syrian/Turkish border are full to capacity and that in and around the Syrian border town of Azaz, families are sleeping on the ground in what is still winter weather.

To make matters worse, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that it has recorded 506 deaths from Russian bombing in and around Aleppo since February 1st, dozens of the victims civilians and 23 of them children.

Meanwhile Turkey’s President Erdogan is furious at both the recent visit of US President Obama’s anti-IS Coalition envoy Bret McGurk to Kobane city and a statement from a US State Department spokesman that the US does not regard the YPG as a terrorist organisation.

Late yesterday, Tuesday, the US Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry to explain the remarks.

Both Erdogan and his Prime Minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, have said that the US must decide who it is partnering in the fight against IS: Turkey or the YPG (which it sees as a mere offshot of the PKK with whom it is fighting in southern Turkey). You can read more, HERE:

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Kurdish Commander Offers to Donate Kidney to Sick Girl

Over in Iraq, reports coming out of Mosul, the IS “capital” say that the Jihadists executed by firing squad on Sunday no less than 300 Iraqis, mostly civilian activists and former members of the Iraqi Army and security services. The men were shot at various locations across the city and buried in mass graves.

Yesterday, Tuesday, IS are also reported to executed Wathiq Abdulwahab, reporter of the local Hadbaa newspaper in Mosul, after he was accused of taking photographs of a detention centre.

The Iraqi Army however, is reporting complete control now over Ramadi after weeding out the remaining IS fighters from pockets across the city.

Also from Iraq comes the heart-warming story of a Kurdish counter-terrorism commander who has not only offered one of his kidney’s for the daughter of a Peshmerga fighter, but said he will pay for the operation itself.

15 other Peshmerga turned up at the hospital with similar offers after the story of the girl’s suffering from kidney failure went viral on social media. You can read more, HERE:

OPPOSITION PULLING IN MORE REINFORCEMENTS AND FIGHTING BACK IN ALEPPO PROVINCE:

In addition to the earlier contingent of Opposition fighters allowed to cross through Kurdish Afrin Canton (scroll down – see below), activist sources are reporting sight of a 100 vehicle convoy carrying men, weapons and ammunition leaving the northern countryside of Idlib province on Tuesday and crossing towards Aleppo province.

Assad’s forces, supported by recently liberated gunmen from the Allawite villages of Nubl and Zahraa, have so far failed in their campaign to take nearby Dahrat Al-Qar’aa. 5 confirmed deaths of Assad’s fighters and militiamen were reported, though more casualties on both sides are likely.

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Tafas Medical Centre Hit by Russian Bombing

From Daraa province in southern Syria, Medicin Sans Frontieres (MSF) is reporting yet another Russian airstrike on one of its medical facilities at the town of Tafas.

3 people were killed and 6 injured, including a doctor on his way into the hospital who was knocked unconscious and wounded by shrapnel.

In what appears to be a deliberate policy by the Russians, MSF say that 13 of its medical centres in Syria have been hit by bombs since January 1st 2016. You can read more in the Guardian.

As well as in Aleppo province, with the help of Russian bombing, the Assad regime appears to making advances in Daraa province in southern Syria. On Monday it was reported that the Syrian Army had agreed a local truce with the villagers of Ibtaa and Dael, 2 villages that lie on the A5 highway running south from Sheikh Miskeen to Daraa city.

Under the agreement, 22 detainees will be released, local men will be allowed to keep their weapons and the Army will stay beyond the periphery of the villages as long as they have free passage to and from Daraa.

The Opposition fighters in Daraa province were doing well until the Military Operations Centre (MOC) in Amman, Jordan, called in the commanders of the Free Syrian Army units operating in southern Syria and told them to stop directing their fire power towards Assad and his allies and to direct it against the Islamic State instead.

The commanders, whose supply of weapons and ammunition had virtually dried up in recent months from the MOC who had effectively been directing the southern campaign against Assad, were promised more and better equipment if they complied with this request. Reluctantly, most FSA groups seem to have done so.

In Damascus on Tuesday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a police officer’s club in the regime Masaken Barzeh district and near a busy vegetable market. 20 people are reported killed including 5 police officers, and many more injured. IS has claimed responsibility.

At Madaya in Damascus province, the town formerly under chronic siege by the Assad regime, vehicles of the International Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent have come under fire as they evacuated people sick from malnutrition on Tuesday night. However, no casualties were reported and the affiliation of the gunmen is unknown.

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Anisa Al-Assad Dies Aged 86

President Assad’s mother, Anissa Makhlouf Al-Assad, is reported to have died in Damascus on Saturday aged 86. She was also the wife of former Syrian dictator Hafez Al-Assad.

It maybe that the Opposition decided to give her a rousing send-off. Unconfirmed reports say that four missiles hit Qardaha, the Assad family home and site of the Assad family burial mausoleum in the Latakia mountains on Tuesday while the funeral was in progress.

Reliable sources say 3 of those present were killed and 13 injured, including family members.

Other than Assad supporters, few will mourn the mother and wife of several monsters.

On Monday, UN human rights investigators published a report on Syria and in particular on thetreatment of civilians in detention by the Assad regime, which it described as operating “a government policy of extermination — a crime against humanity”.

The report was based on the testimony of 500 survivors of detention. At least 200 had seen fellow detainees killed, usually at the hands of the security forces.

“Children as young as 7 years old were among those who died in Government custody. The parents of a 13-year-old boy arrested during a 2011 protest in Sayda next saw his body when it was returned to them dead and mutilated.

A survivor who was detained in Homs recalled watching an elderly man die after prison guards burned his eyes with a cigarette, stabbed him with burning metal, and hung him from his wrists. It took three hours to kill him. Others were starved to death or died from untreated pre-existing conditions”.

The report also mentioned ill-treatment by Opposition and Islamist groups, but overwhelmingly the Assad regime is by far and away the main violator of human rights in Syria. You can read more about this sickening regime, HERE:

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Some of Assad’s Torture Victims

ROJAVA UPDATE 180: TOP US ENVOY VISITS KOBANE AS KURDISH DELEGATION TURNED AWAY FROM PARTICIPATION IN GENEVA PEACE TALKS

By Peter Clifford          ©         (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-and-iraq-news/)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

On Saturday morning, Islamic State (IS) units attempted to send in a suicide vehicle bomb against YPG fighters protecting the Tishreen Dam in the south-west of Kobane Canton.

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View of the Tishreen Dam

Spotting the vehicle, a YPG team was dispatched to intercept it, destroying the vehicle and killing 3 x IS fighters and wounding a fourth.

Also on Saturday, IS once again attacked in the Ain Iss area in the southern part of the Canton near the village of Abdul-Razaq. The YPG led a search operation and found a small weapons cache of rifles, machine guns and mines as well killing 3 x IS Jihadists and capturing 2 more.

The YPG General Command has also issued a statement warning the Turkish Armed Forces to stay out of Rojava after they crossed the border on Thursday and Friday last week near the village of Sermisax, 13 kilometers to the west of the city Derik.

The Turks fired at local Kurds who gathered near the border to protest the incursion, but fortunately there were no casualties.

The Coalition is reported to have bombed the IS-held town of Shaddadi on Sunday, north of Raqqah, hitting several IS checkpoints and a weapons storage centre. 14 x IS Jihadists guarding the checkpoints were reported killed according to local sources.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 5 airstrikes in Syria on Saturday, 2 near Hasakah hitting IS tactical units, destroying an IS structure and 2 x IS fighting positions and other strikes near Raqqah, Ayn Issa and Mar’a, destroying a crane and hitting 2 tactical units. The same day, 18 strikes were made in Iraq.

In Aleppo city, both the Al Nusra Front (ANF) and the Islamist Opposition group Ahrar Al-Sham (AAS) attacked the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsoud on Saturday with mortars. In an immediate response, the YPG attacked a position on the Jandol Road, from where the attack originated, and destroyed 3 vehicles and a communications centre.

6 fighters from ANF and AAS were killed in the operation and another 8 wounded and taken prisoner.

Also in Aleppo, in retaliation for a barrel-bomb attack by the Assad regime on Sheikh Maqsoud (scroll down – see Rojava Update 179 below), the YPG attacked an Assad security checkpoint with mortars. 4 pro-Assad fighters were killed and 7 injured.

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Obama’s US Envoy on IS Meets Kobane Administration

Meanwhile, while the Kurds appear to have, for moment at least, been excluded from the Syria “Peace Talks” in Geneva, a high-level delegation from the US-led International Coalition made a 2 day visit to northern Syria at the weekend.

The delegation, which included British and French representatives plus most interestingly, President Obama’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk, met with Kobane Canton Adminstration officials in Kobane City on Saturday and then with senior officers of the Syrian Democratic Force to discuss the campaign against the Islamic State.

McGurk’s visit, the first by a top US diplomat to Rojava, appears to be a deliberate attempt to assuage Kurdish anger over their exclusion from the talks in Geneva.

Despite not having a formal invitation, a Kurdish team, led by PYD co-chairman Saleh Muslim, travelled to Switzerland last week and based themselves in Lausanne, ready to step forward to Geneva if called.

According to US sources, the Kurds were discreetly asked to leave Switzerland on Saturday after Turkey said it would not participate in the talks if the Kurds remained. US Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken apparently called Saleh Muslim to discuss “Washington’s view on the Kurdish issue and the peace talks” and assurances have been made that the Kurds will be involved “at a later date”.

Returning to Syria, Saleh Muslim said the Kurds would not recognise an agreements made under Geneva 3 unless their had been Kurdish participation in making those agreements. You can read more, HERE:

Over in Iraq, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concern about the preservation of the sites of mass graves on and around Mount Sinjar, where 25 locations have been identified, 19 of them confirmed.

Already, many of the graves have been disturbed before experts can evaluate them and catalogue the remains of victims executed by the Islamic State as they rampaged across northern Iraq. You can read more at HRW.

40 kilometres east of Mosul, IS launched a mortar attack on a Peshmerga security centre in the Khazir district on Sunday evening, killing 8 Kurdish fighters and wounding another 6.

In Mosul city itself, IS are reported to executed on Sunday 4 Kurdish civilians from the Shabak clan for “spying for the Peshmerga” and on Friday another 20 of its own Jihadists for “abandoning their posts in western Mosul without permission”. The Jihadists were beheaded, according to local reports.

DEVASTATING ISLAMIC STATE ATTACK NEAR SHIA SHRINE IN DAMASCUS, WHILE ANOTHER 16 DIE OF STARVATION IN MADAYA:

As well as rejecting the Kurds, the “Peace Talks” got off to a shaky start on Friday, with only the Syrian Government delegation, led by Syria’s UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, having arrived.

Jaafari started off well in typical “conciliatory” style by branding all Opposition representatives as “terrorists”, and the Opposition team, known as the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) did not even make a decision to attend at all until late Friday night.

Arriving in Geneva over the weekend, the HNC insisted that they would not negotiate with Assad’s representatives until women and children were released from government jails, air strikes on civilians ended and aid was allowed into besieged towns.

Meeting with the UN mediator Staffan de Mistura on Sunday, the Opposition were given some hope that the Assad regime will go some way to meeting those demands. Talks are expected to last for 6 months but not “face-to-face”.

Initially, “proximity talks” will take place with delegations in separate rooms and UN mediators moving between the parties to try and negotiate some steps forward. The BBC has a rather grim assessment of the likelihood of a “positive” outcome.

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Aftermath of Triple Explosion Near Sayyida Zeinab Shrine, Damascus

In a statement of some kind the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a huge bomb attack in southern Damascus early on Sunday morning near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine.

Sayyida Zeinab was the grand-daughter of Prophet Mohammed and the shrine is of major importance to Shia Islam with regular visitors from all over the Moslem world.

Hezbollah has gone out of its way to protect the shrine and even now in the height of the war, many pilgrims travel there from Iran.

Altogether, there were 3 explosions near the shrine, one from a car bomb and 2 from suicide belts. The car bomb was exploded at the bus station in the Koua Soudan area and after people came to help the injured, two suicide bombers blew themselves up nearby.

Many death toll figures have been widely quoted, though the latest from Syria’s Ministry of Interior is 50 dead and 110 injured.

According to sources inside Syria, President Assad has replaced the commander in charge of the Republican Guard, the country’s elite unit charged with protecting the leadership.

Out goes Badiaa Ali and in comes one of Assad’s cousins from his mother’s side, Brigadier General Talal Mahklouf. Human Rights Watch (HRW) identified Mahklouf as one of the officers responsible for the brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in Syria in 2011. The officer commanding the surrounded garrison in Deir Ez Zour has also got the sack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented the deaths of 4,680 people in Syria in January 2016 – 1,345 of them civilians, including 295 children and 190 women. The other 3,335 deaths were roughly split between the pro and anti-Assad combatants on the two sides, including IS.

Interestingly, Free Syrian Army (FSA) founder, Colonel Riad Al-Asaad, has said in an interview that the FSA is holding prisoner a “large number” of Iranian, Hezbollah and pro-Assad Shia militia fighters, including officers and an Iranian Captain. Asaad assured the interviewer that these prisoners were being looked after well.

Meanwhile, fighting goes across Syria. In Latakia the Opposition, having lost territory, have moved to a more “hit and run” campaign, destroying a Syrian Army ammunition truck with a TOW missile, HERE:

In their usual “compassionate” manner, Assad’s or Russian planes bombed a tented refugee camp in northern Latakia on Saturday in an attempt to drive the pro-Opposition residents out of the province and into Turkey.

In Hama province, Opposition fighters have gained ground, taking over all of Al-Buwaydah and destroying 2 of Assad’s tanks and a BMP armoured vehicle.

In Idlib province an exchange of prisoners between the regime and Islamist Opposition groups at the 2 Alawite villages of Kafraya and Al-Fuah has taken place, the second stage of an agreement reached in January, along with humanitarian access to Madaya near Damascus. The regime released 27 prisoners, the Islamists 18.

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Syrian Red Crescent Aid Convoy Approaches Madaya on January 14th, 2016

However, Medicin Sans Frontieres (MSF) is reporting that another 16 people have died from malnutrition in Madaya since humanitarian aid agencies gained access in January after a worldwide outcry, bring the total that have starved to death there to 46.

According to their estimates there are 320 outstanding cases of malnutrition and 33 so severe that they require urgent medical treatment. The Syrian Red Crescent said that they were allowed access on Saturday but only to make assessments, not to deliver aid.

This moving report from Marianne Gasser of the International Red Cross on her visit to Madaya says it all:

“A cold rain was falling as the men carried the small bundle towards me. They were insisting I should take it. A crowd had gathered. The only light came from the phones we carried; there had not been electricity for months.

The men stopped and slowly, carefully unwrapped the blanket. At first, I could not make out what was inside. Then it suddenly dawned on me that it was an old man”.

You can read more (recommended reading) via the BBC.

In Deir Ez Zour heavy fighting is reported today, Monday, in the northern outskirts of the city, around Assad Base Brigade 137 and to the south-west, despite an estimated 200 airstrikes by Russian jets. Heavy casualties reported on both sides.

Also today, the Assad regime launched a new attempt to gain ground north of Aleppo city around Duwayra Al-Zeytoun and Bashkuy but latest reports suggest it is not going to plan, with Opposition fighters destroying Assad’s tanks, an armoured vehicle and a technical (pick-up with mounted heavy machine gun) and retaking villages they had lost earlier to both the regime and the Islamic State.

ROJAVA UPDATE 179: KURDS RETALIATE AGAINST BOMBARDMENT FROM THE ISLAMIC STATE IN JARABLOUS AND ASSAD REGIME BARREL-BOMBS KURDISH DISTRICT IN ALEPPO:

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SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

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As the Kurds across Rojava celebrated the first anniversary this week of their victory over the Islamic State (IS) at Kobane in January 2015, YPG units launched an attack on IS positions in Jarablous west of the Euphrates.

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Kurdish Forces on the Move to Jarablous?

Attacking from the western countryside of Kobane Canton, the YPG bombed the IS-held town with artillery shells and mortars.

According to reports the YPG assault hit an IS security centre, several IS vehicles and a Sharia Court building, as well as killing 21 x IS Jihadists.

Jarablous, which is thought to be a main route for IS recruits and supplies entering Syria from Turkey is a major target of the YPG, despite Turkey’s objections to a Kurdish presence along a 100 kilometre stretch of the Aleppo/Turkey border, currently controlled by IS.

The US has been requesting Turkey to secure this border against IS infiltration for months but the Turkish authorities, who tend to support Islamist groups, have failed to act effectively.

Strong reports persist the the Syrian Democratic Force, consisting of the YPG and Arab, Turkman and Assyrian Christian units, is about to launch a major campaign in Aleppo province to take Manbij and Jarablous away from IS control.

It is also expected to target Azaz which is held by various Opposition brigades, but which from where the Islamist Al Nusra Front threatens the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

Separately, Assad and his Russian allies are closing in on IS-held Al-Bab, 50 kilometres south-west of Manbij.

Other reports from Jarablous say that Sharia officials brutally beat 30 women there on Wednesday evening in the central market, before arresting them on charges of violating the IS dress-code.

The women are expected to be flogged with 50 lashes in a public display before being released.

By contrast, a number of Kurdish women journalists have launched their own radio station in Hasakah province broadcasting programmes in both Arabic and Kurdish and specialising on topics relevant to the full role of women in society (English sub-titles) here,

In the north-western countryside of Raqqah province this week, IS fired a number of missiles into Ain Issa, though no heavy casualties have so far reported.

Also for the first time, the Assad regime targeted Sheikh Maqsoud, the Kurdish neighbourhood of Aleppo, with barrel-bombs this week. 5 civilians were killed, including 2 children and nine people were injured. 3 of the barrel-bombs hit a crowded market place.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 10 airstrikes in Syria yesterday, Thursday, one hitting an IS tactical unit and a checkpoint near Hasakah, one hitting an IS oil and gas separation plant near Raqqah and 2 strikes near Manbij hitting 2 separate tactical units and destroying an IS building.

A further 5 strikes near Ma’ra in Aleppo province (probably in support of the SDF) hit 4 separate IS tactical units, destroyed 2 x IS fighting positions and disabled an IS vehicle. The tenth strike on Thursday hit an IED explosive manufacturing area in Palmyra in Homs province.

Over in Iraq on Thursday there were 14 airstrikes across the country, all with similar targets to those in Syria.

One of the Coalition’s airstrikes on Thursday evening in Iraq is reported to have killed the Islamic State’s supposed “minister of war”, Jalal Hamdan Al-Naama. The Coalition monitored a convoy which was taking senior IS members to a meeting in a building near Mosul and once everyone was inside, they destroyed it.

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Mosul Dam – A Catastrophe Waiting to Happen?

Around 20 x IS Jihadists are believed to have been killed in the operation on the building in the Al- Hadra suburb of Mosul city.

3 senior IS members in charge of security and finance were also reported killed on Wednesday near Tikrit in another Coalition raid.

The US military has also expressed concern over the state of Mosul Dam which has suffered from poor maintenance for a long time.

U.S. Army Lieutenant, General Sean MacFarland, said on Thursday that he had been working with the Iraqi government on a plan to protect civilians should the dam collapse when snow melt water fills the lake behind the dam in early Spring.

A collapse of the dam would send a surge of water down the heavily populated Tigris river valley. The dam was held for some time by IS but was later recaptured by the Kurdish Peshmerga.

An Italian company is negotiating with the Iraqi Government to sign a contract to reinforce the dam. Hopefully this will not be too late as a complete collapse would be catastrophic.

Latest reports from Europe say that the Dutch Parliament has agreed for its military to send jets to join the Coalition strike force in Syria.  Further details awaited.

ROJAVA UPDATE 178: RUSSIA DENIES AIRBASE PLANS AS ISLAMIC STATE LAUNCHES NEW ATTACKS ACROSS HASAKAH

By Peter Clifford           ©          (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-and-iraq-news/)

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SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

In a motorcycle bomb attack in Quamishli or Friday evening, 4 are reported killed and 9 wounded.

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IS Bomb in Qamishli Causes More Destruction

The Islamic State (IS) have already claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place in the predominately Christian Assyrian area of Wista in the central part of the city.

This follows 3 similar bomb attacks on December 30th.

Yesterday, Sunday, IS also launched several other attacks across Hasakah province.

In the first IS used car-bombs and mortar shells against a headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Al-Hawl. 2 SDF fighters were killed and 5 others wounded.

The attack came from the IS-held town of Shaddadi which is a current target of the SDF advance.

The other IS attacks on Sunday were on villages and security posts around Mount Abdel Aziz in Hasakah province, using suicide bombs and heavy machine guns.

4 x IS Jihadists were killed in these clashes, with one Kurdish fighter killed and 2 more injured.

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Location of New US Base in NE Syria

Further to the previous report of preparations for a US airbase in north-east Hassakah province on an old agricultural crop-spraying airfield, the BBC has more information.

The size of the runway has been increased from 700 metres to 1.3 kilometres, long enough now to take Hercules transport aircraft.

In a rather tentative statement a spokesman for the US Department of Defence has justified the airfield by saying its small team in Syria needed “occasional logistical support”. You can read more, HERE:

Further to other reports (scroll down – see below) that the Russians were considering an airbase in Hasakah province as well, just 30 miles away from the American one, these were denied this morning, Monday, by Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia’s Ministry of Defence.

However, this is probably as reliable as recent Russian statements that they “are driving IS out of Latakia” (there are no Islamic State units in Latakia) and the Russian officer at the Russian airbase in Lattakia in the video below saying “Russian planes have not killed any civilians” (at the last count civilian deaths caused by Russian bombs were estimated from several sources as in excess of 1,000).

The BBC has returned to Russia’s main airbase in Syria, 2 months after its previous visit. Russia now claims to have made 6,000 sorties across Syria, HERE:

Off the coast, Russia, in an attempt to prove that it is a serious world power, has also now established an extensive well-armed battle force, HERE:

In Iraq, a new campaign is expected to be launched soon by the Kurdish Peshmerga south of Kirkuk in order to protect the oil rich town further. Joining them for the first time will be units of the Turkmen Popular Mobilization Forces who have been trained and equipped by the Coalition.

An Iraqi Government spokesman has also announced that launching a battle to retake Mosul is their next aim, “within the first half of 2016”. US Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, has also recently expressed the strong view that removing the Islamic State from both Raqqah and Mosul are now priorities.

RUSSIAN BOMBING KILLS ANOTHER 200 CIVILIANS OVER THE WEEKEND AS PEACE TALKS STUMBLE:

Russia’s “civilian friendly airstrikes” are credited with killing as many as 160 people, the majority civilians, in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Ez Zour over the weekend, where IS militants are closing in on the remaining regime held areas of Deir Ez Zour city.

Activists say that the dead included 35 children and 9 women. As many as 90 civilians were reported dead in the town of Khasham and 55 in Al-Tabyiya.

A Russian missile on the Idlib town of Salquin on Sunday is additionally reported to have killed and injured dozens more, bringing the total of Russia-caused civilian deaths to over 200 in 2 days.

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Pro-Assad Forces Capturing Opposition Strongholds in Latakia

In Latakia province, Russian fire power has enabled the Assad regime with its allies to retake the Opposition stronghold of Rabi’ah, first surrounding the town on 3 sides and capturing the villages of Daroshan and Al-Rawda.

Slowly, the Opposition are being forced out of Latakia province, having recently lost Salma as well after holding it for 3 years, and may have to retreat to Idlib and Hama provinces. The BBChas more.

International peace talks on Syria due to start in Geneva this morning, Monday, appear to have stumbled with all sides still diagreeing over which groups should be allowed to take part.

UN special representative on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is expected to give a press conference this afternoon, while US Secretary of State, John Kerry, is still confidently predicting that everything “will be sorted out in the next 24 to 48 hours”.

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Coalition and Russian Airstrikes Across Syria

Meanwhile, the Islamic State continues to produce “delightful” videos, the latest one glorifying the IS killers who attacked 130 innocent people in Paris in November.

The video then goes to on to threaten the UK, showing its well-known landmarks and pictures of rifle crosshairs across the faces of UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. TheGuardian has more.

However, IS may be beginning to feel the financial pinch. A leaked memo from the Islamic State’s
bureaucratic powers has warned fighters that they’re going to get a 50 percent pay cut across all positions “on account of the exceptional circumstances the Islamic State is facing.”

What exactly they mean by “exceptional circumstances” is unclear, but certainly their oil distribution business has been severely disrupted recently and the US now claims that they have bombed and destroyed 9 x IS cash distribution and storage facilities across Syria and Iraq, exploding and burning the equivalent of millions of dollars in notes.

ROJAVA UPDATE 177: USA OPENING AIRBASE IN HASAKAH PROVINCE CONFIRMED. RUSSIA PLANNING TO DO THE SAME?

By Peter Clifford            ©           (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-and-iraq-news/)

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  SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

As previously reported on this page, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have now confirmed that the US has secured and taken control of the Rmeilan airbase in the far north-east corner of Syria after reaching agreement with the Kurdish YPG who have controlled the former Syrian Government agricultural airfield for the last 2 years.

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Syrian Democratic Forces in Hasakah Province

The US plans to use the base to provide air and logistical support to the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting against the Islamic State (IS) and presumably it will be a conduit for weapons, ammunition and other supplies.

The base near Rmeilan town is not far from both the Turkish and Iraqi borders.

The SDF is currently west of the Euphrates River battling with IS units south of Manbij where the Coalition aircraft destroyed an IS fighting position on Thursday.

Turkey remains obsessed at the possibility that its 98 kilometre border running west from the Euphrates could come entirely under Kurdish control.

The US is encouraging Turkey to seal this border in order to prevent the movement of “terrorists” across it, but Turkey’s ambivalence towards the Islamic State remains.

Assistance offered includes aerostat surveillance equipment, anti-tunneling technology, and methods for detecting materials used in improvised bombs.

Unconfirmed reports originating from Turkey say that Turkish troops “crossed the Turkish/Syrian border on Tuesday and entered the IS-held town of Jarablous without any resistance from IS” in order to counter any SDF advance in the area. (EDITOR: Treat this with some skepticism as there is no independent confirmation) SDF has a large contingent of Kurdish YPG in its make-up.

Jarablous is directly opposite Kobane Canton on the other side of the Euphrates and IS regularly bombs Kurdish villages and even the outskirts of Kobane city from there with mortars and other shells.

The Turkish Army on Tuesday also bombed the YPG headquarters east of Kobane Canton in the border town of Tal Abyad. 2 YPG fighters were injured and 3 armoured vehicles destroyed in the attack.

Turkey has repeatedly shelled Tal Abyad and its suburbs since the town was captured by the YPG in June 2015. Kurdish sources say that altogether the Turkish Army has attacked them 23 times recently in northern Syria.

Turkish soldiers also stopped an aid convoy destined for Kobane city this week. The convoy was halted just before the border in the Turkish town of Suruc, because it was trying to cross the border “illegally” in order to help “a terrorist organisation”.

Much of the aid was urgently needed medical supplies. Turkey sees the YPG as an ally of the PKK with whom it is fighting in Turkey’s south-east.

The Kurdish Red Crescent does its best to distribute the limited supplies it has around the countryside, HERE:

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Tabqa Dam – Base and Prison for IS?

Following a meeting between Assad’s Interior Minister and representatives of the the YPG and PKK in Qamishli recently (scroll down – see below), it has been reported, though remains unconfirmed, that Russia has an interest in opening another airbase near the city at Assad’s Base 154.

While Assad’s forces still have a small presence in Qamishli in central and southern areas and control Base 154, most of the city is in Kurdish YPG hands.

According to the reports “100 Russian soldiers, including ten officers of different ranks, arrived in Qamishlo airport on Monday, and afterwards inspected Base 154”.

The Russians have taken the side of the Kurds in the forthcoming International Peace Talks on Syria which due to begin in Geneva, Switzerland on January 25th.

This is an anathema to the Turks and Saudia Arabia who say the Kurds should not be allowed to attend, despite the fact that they have been the most effective fighting force against IS.

Germany has also backed a Kurdish seat at the talks. Salih Muslim, the co-chairman of the YPG’s political arm, the PYD, has suggested a compromise of a second opposition grouping which includes the Kurds and other minorities and sits separately from the main Opposition delegation. You can hear more in this English report from Rohani News, HERE:

On Wednesday, the Saudi backed Opposition group appointed Mohammed Alloush, as their chief negotiator. Alloush recently took over as commander of the Saudi-backed Jaish Al-Islam Brigade, after his well-known relative, Zahran Alloush, was killed in a Russian air strike.

Alloush is demanding a halt to sieges on Opposition areas and no third party attending the talks. Russia objects to the attendance of Alloush.

With so many contradictions it will be a miracle if the talks start at all on the 25th January. Invitations to the talks are due to be sent out this coming Sunday, but it will not be surprising if the start date is delayed.

There is an interesting article about a group of Canadian filmmakers who are making a video about Kobane and especially the role of women in the city, HERE:

In southern Hasakah province at IS-held Shaddadi, a current target of the Kurdish YPG and combined SDF force as they move towards Raqqah, activists have reported that they have been banned from private Internet access or using any Internet linked device at home.

Private Internet cafes have also been closed and only IS controlled Internet centres are now allowed, in a bid to restrict information leaking out and into the town. The local Sharia court ruling says that anyone violating these rules “will be mercilessly punished”.

There are also reports that the Islamic State is hiding prisoners and senior officials inside the Tabqa Dam 40 kilometres upstream from its Syrian HQ at Raqqah and at the head of Lake Assad, secure in the knowledge that the Coalition will not risk bombing it. IS has already used the dam to restrict the availability of water in nearby Iraq’s Anbar province.

In Iraq itself, 2 more Yezidi men are said to have been abducted in Sinjar province, IS infiltrating the village of Sakiniya in a search for people it could take hostage.

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Confirmation of St Elijah’s Monastery Destroyed in Mosul

Activists have also reported that as many as 20 top commanders of IS from Niveneh province in Iraq’s north-west have transferred to Libya and Yemen in the last 2 weeks.

The move is an attempt to avoid Coalition airstrikes which killed 9 leading IS members on Monday this week near Baiji and another 30 x IS fighters in Mosul on Thursday.

On Wednesday a group of unidentified gunmen attacked an IS base at Badoush west of Mosul and escaped after killing 4 x IS Jihadists.

Earlier on Sunday a bomb attack on an IS convoy near Badoush killed or injured 17 Jihadists. (EDITOR: These attacks have the ring of Western special forces operations about them, but that has not been confirmed)

Satellite pictures this week have revealed that IS has completely destroyed the 1,400 year old St. Elijah’s Monastery in Mosul, the oldest monastery in the whole of Iraq and a significant part of the country’s Christian heritage.

The monastery was believed to have been destroyed in 2014 soon after IS took control of the city.

The Reverend Manuel Yousif Boji, a Chaldean Catholic priest resident in the US, who remembered attending mass at St. Elijah’s 60 years ago, said, “A big part of tangible history has been destroyed”.

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St Elijah’s Monastery in 2011 and Since 2014

 

ROJAVA UPDATE 173 – SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES PREPARE ATTACK ON MANBIJ, WHILE ISlAMIC STATE COUNTER-ATTACK ON TISHREEN FAILS

By Peter Clifford          ©        (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-iraq-news-5/)

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SYRIA – IRAQ – NEWS

In preparation for an Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) attack on Islamic State (IS) held Manbij in the Aleppo province of Syria, the US-led Coalition made 14 airstrikes on IS targets around the town on Wednesday, destroying 24 x IS fighting positions, 4 x IS buildings and suppressing IS vehicle movements and denying them access to terrain.

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Snow Starts Falling in Kobane From January 1st 2016

SDF are said to be less than 18 kilometres south of Manbij and a convoy of reinforcements has been sent from Kobane province across the Euphrates via the Tishreen Dam.

Yesterday, Thursday, IS attempted a counter-attack at the SDF-held town of Tishreen, west of the dam, but after fierce fighting withdrew with losses of at least 50 men killed.

Many other IS Jihadists were wounded or captured by SDF units.

SDF losses were put at 3 killed and 7 wounded.

IS fighters were also ambushed by the SDF west of Tishreen at Abu Qelqel in the same operation.

Turkey will no doubt see the Kurdish involvement with SDF and their presence west of the Euphrates as “crossing a red-line”.

But Jaish Al-Thuwar, a ethnically Arab Opposition group fighting with the SDF issued a statement, presumably to reassure the Turkish Government, saying that they had no connection with the Kurdish PKK battling with the Turkish Army in south-east Turkey and Iraq.

Jaish Al-Thuwar also officially announced the campaign to take Manbij in the same statement and said that they were already launching rocket attacks on IS bases there.

No mention was made of Jaish Al-Thuwar’s close ties with the Kurdish YPG, whom they have fought alongside in northern Syria throughout 2015.

Unfortunately, there is a report that a Coalition strike on the IS-held town of Hazima, which is under attack by the SDF, has killed 11 civilians, including 8 children and 3 women. Investigations are ongoing.

Rumours have been circulating that US special forces helped the SDF with the liberation of Tishreen Dam, but it appears that they were in fact US volunteers fighting as part of the YPG.

At dawn on Wednesday, east of the Euphrates and the Tishreen Dam, a unit of IS Jihadists attacked the village of Qereqozak in south-west Kobane Canton and assaulted multiple YPG security positions in the area.

YPG/YPJ protection units launched a counter-offensive and a number of IS Jihadists were killed and several weapons caches seized.

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Kobane – Even Ruins Look Better With Snow Cover

Again, early yesterday at 5.00am, Thursday, 2 large units of IS fighters crossed the Euphrates and launched an attack on the village of Qadiriye near Sarrin.

Attempting an approach from 2 directions, they were quickly intercepted and driven back by YPG/YPJ units. An unknown number, at this stage, of IS Jihadists were killed or wounded.

The YPG are also reporting a barrage of mortar shells being fired across the Euphrates Thursday evening by IS from positions south of Jarablous and hitting Kurdish villages all down the east bank of the river in Kobane Canton.

Further east near Ain Issa, despite severe weather, the YPG recaptured a further 2 villages from the Islamic State, Abu Shehen and Hebsawy.

Snowfalls in Kobane city this week did not deter another 440 Kurds returning across the border from Turkey on Monday, and the snow cover temporarily “improved” the damaged landscape and gave the children some snowball fun.

A large memorial to those who died in defence of Kobane was also opened on Monday and the Kobane Energy Council announced that it has started work on restoring the electricity power supply from the Tishreen Dam, though this might take 2 months to complete.

In another sign of returning normality to Kobane, 16,000 students in 145 schools will this week be taking mid-term exams.

Interesting interview with Kurdish HDP leader Selahattin Dermitas after his return from a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavro in Moscow, the Turkish Government calling the meeting “treason”, HERE:

Turkey is denying the return across the Syrian border of the bodies of Turkish Kurds who fought and died with the YPG/YPJ. One family have been waiting now for the return of the daughter’s body for 60 days.

Interesting article from the Washington Institute that postulates that with the crossing of the Euphrates by the Kurds as members of the SDF force, “the die is caste” for the creation of a new Kurdish state, HERE:

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Kurdish Kids Enjoying Snow in Kobane

Meanwhile, Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for Coalition Operation Iherent Resolve in Syria and Iraq, says that IS are now in a “defensive crouch” rather than moving forward.

In a statement on Wednesday, Warren said that the US estimates that IS has lost 40% if its taken territory in Iraq and 10% in Syria, plus no less that 2,500 fighters in December alone.

Warren also said that 65 airstrikes against IS oil facilities had reduced IS production capacity from 45,000 barrels of oil a day to 34,000, a loss of around 30%.

The US Army Colonel also confirmed that in the last 10 days the SDF had killed around 140 x IS Jihadists in north-east Aleppo province in Syria and reclaimed more than 310 square miles after taking and crossing the Tishreen dam.

Over in Ramadi in Iraq, Colonel Warren reported that over 60 x IS Jihadists had been killed in 24 hours, but clearing operations in the city continue.

Iraqi security forces are currently bombing an IS base in the Sarsar area of Anbar province in Iraq.

In response to a question about the rules of engagement against the terrorist army in Iraq and Syria, Warren said, “If you’re part of ISIL we will kill you. That’s our rule.”

This video released by the Coalition from an attack on January 1st 2016 shows the destruction of a bridge near Abu Kamal in Syria in order to impede the movement of IS oil, fighters and supplies, here:

https://youtu.be/tedSmieC2Oc

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Memorial Opened to Fighters Who Died Defending Kobane and Rojava

 

ROJAVA UPDATE 171: 219 ISLAMIC STATE JIHADISTS REPORTED KILLED AS SDF COMPLETE 4 DAY TISHREEN OPERATION AND LOOK TOWARDS MANBIJ

By Peter Clifford        ©         (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-iraq-news-5/)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA – IRAQ – NEWS

In their sweep through the south of Kobane Canton to the Tishreen Dam, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) have removed the Islamic State (IS) from another 640 square kilometres of territory and liberated a further 100 villages and hamlets.

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SDF on Campaign to Liberate Tishreen Dam

219 x IS Jihadists are reported killed in the operation, with 9 dead from the SDF side, including 2 from the Asayish (Kurdish security police).

The SDF have also freed a number of villages on the west bank of the Euphrates in order to protect their fighters looking after the dam.

According to an SDF statement, the civilian workers at the dam were arrested by IS but later released, though one of them was killed as IS withdrew.

The management of the dam and its hydro-electricity facilities has now been given to the Board of Energy in Kobane Canton.

Some very happy villagers on the west bank of the Euphrates, released from IS control, can be seen in this video footage, (English sub-titles) here:

The YPJ Kurdish women’s force have also been fully involved in the latest SDF operation, (English sub-titles) here:

ARA News has a video report on the Tishreen Dam operation, (English sub-titles) here:

One mystery from the capture of the Tishreen Dam is the identity of a tearful little girl found on her own in the vicinity of the river crossing. She was wearing a bloody dress and with no clue to the whereabouts of her parents, the SDF sent her to Amal Hospital in Kobane.

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Silent Unidentified Child Rescued from Near Tishreen Dam

Discharged after a day she is now in the care of a family in Kobane until her identity can be confirmed.

The little girl has not spoken a word since she was found on December 26th, not even her name.

With the capture of the town of Tishreen as well, the SDF recovered a lot of ammunition and weapons, most of it, according to the box labelling, originating in Saudi Arabia.

Local reports say that the Islamic State is reinforcing Manbij in Aleppo province with heavy weapons, though its civilian members are being evacuated along with those from Al Bab, to Raqqah.

At least 300 civilians were transported from Manbij on Monday, along with some prisoners, some of whom were executed.

Turkey’s response to the presence of Kurdish YPG members of the SDF on the west bank of the Euphrates remains muted, despite it supposedly being a Turkish “red line”.

Speaking in Serbia, after the Tishreen Dam was recaptured, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey “would not look positively on Syrian forces hostile to Ankara moving to the west of the Euphrates,” but added (delusionally) that “available information indicated that it was Arab forces, and not Kurds, who had crossed the Euphrates over the weekend”.

As the Kurds make up 20,000 of the 25,000 joint Arab, Kurdish, Turkman and Syriac Christian force of the SDF, Davutoglu is clearly in lula land, though other commentators suggest that Turkey, under pressure from Russia and the US, may just have to accept the inevitable – a Kurdish presence all along its southern border. You can read more at Business Insider.

This does not stop acts of Turkish spite, for which it has developed an unenviable reputation. Kurds on the east bank of the Euphrates in Kobane Canton have expressed concern at the vast amounts of uncontrolled water Turkey is allowing to flow down the Euphrates at present.

And near Qamishli in Hasakah province, the Turkish Army has even crossed the border into Rojava, digging a trench under the border fence and taking tens of metres of territory. Asked by Kurdish villagers what they were doing, the Turkish military said they were “regulating the border line”, (English sub-titles), HERE:

A Turkish journalist, jailed by President Erdogan, writes on press control in Turkey, in the Guardian:

The entrance into Aleppo province by the SDF has not stopped IS from attacking Kurdish targets. Yesterday, Wednesday, an IS unit attacked Asayish headquarters in Tel Abyad and detonated explosives inside the building. Several members of the Kurdish security police were killed.

In the clashes that followed 3 x IS Jihadists were killed and 2 captured, the rest of the group escaping towards Raqqah. Another member of the Asayish later died from his injuries.

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One of 2 Restaurant Suicide Bomb Attacks in Qamishli

2 x IS suicide bombers also attacked the Christian sector of Qamishli under Assad regime control late on Wednesday night.

The bombers blew themselves up near 2 restaurants, killing 17 and wounding 30.

In the north-west of Aleppo province in the Kurds Afrin Canton, the Al-Nusra Front (ANF), along with their Islamist allies, Ahrar al-Sham, fired dozens of mortar shells indiscriminately into Afrin city on Monday.

The mortars hit the city centre and residential areas causing a lot of damage and casualties, victims being pulled from the rubble of destroyed buildings. The YPG has vowed to retaliate.

Over in Iraq, 3,000 homes are said to have been destroyed in Ramadi and IS rigged almost all public buildings with explosive devices before leaving.

True to the Islamic State’s grisly and inhuman reputation, IS also took 40 members of 25 families as hostages as they left the city, but later executed them, including women and children.

A large mass grave has been discovered in north-west Nineveh province near Aski village. It is believed to contain the remains of 120 Iraqi security personnel and some civilians, killed when IS swept into Mosul and northern Iraq.

In Mosul on Tuesday, IS is reported to have burned to death 20 media activists on charges of leaking information to “hostile parties”. The executions were carried out in a public square infront of dozens of people, including some of the victim’s family members, in the Al-Houd district of the city.

And yesterday, a well known member of the Jabour tribe in Mosul, was beheaded in public on charges of “treason” after he attempted to help several Yazidi girls escape from IS custody. The girls were unfortunately apprehended and returned to IS headquarters in the city.

(EDITOR: The sooner these monsters are stopped, the better!)

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Map of Northern Syria Showing Tishreen Dam