MAP: ISIS clashes in Yarmouk compound suffering of Syria’s Palestinians

The situation in Yarmouk Camp has continued to deteriorate. Photo: UNRWA/Rami Al Sayyed

The situation in Yarmouk Camp has continued to deteriorate

Article by the Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)

The Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus has suffered near constant crisis during Syria’s 5-year-long civil war.

Besieged since 2013, the camp has also been attacked by both Syrian government bombs and ISIS-linked militants, leaving approximately 5,000 civilians trapped inside today in desperate need of basic humanitarian assistance such as medical aid, food and water.

Last week saw Yarmouk’s woes compounded once again when fighting broke out between ISIS and al-Nusra Front militants, putting civilians in the firing line and further cutting them off from food and water.

syria-ig-273x324The Jafra Foundation, a Yarmouk-based human rights organisation, reported that civilians trapped inside the camp had been beheaded by ISIS, and children had been injured by sniper fire in the clashes.

The UN expressed distress and concern about this latest violence, with UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness saying: “Civilians in Yarmouk are facing starvation and dehydration alongside the heightened risks of serious injury and death from the armed conflict.”

Of the approximately 450,000 Palestinians remaining inside Syria, 60 percent are displaced from their homes.

A further 110,000 have fled abroad to neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon. In these countries Palestinian refugees cannot register with UNHCR and instead rely on UNRWA for healthcare, education and often food and cash support.

Conditions in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps were dire even before the war began in 2011, and UNRWA is struggling to provide adequate services to meet the needs of the roughly 45,000 additional Palestinians who have arrived from Syria.

The dismal conditions these refugees meet in Lebanon are causing many to attempt the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to seek safety in Europe.

Civilians in Yarmouk are facing starvation and dehydration alongside the heightened risks of serious injury and death from the armed conflict. – Chris Gunness, UNRWA

MAP is calling on governments to ensure that Palestinian refugees from Syria are granted equal access to all humanitarian assistance, and that they are allowed to access international resettlement programmes.

(Source / 23.04.2016)

Syrian Coalition Condemns Targeting of Civilians in Qamishli

The Syrian Coalition strongly condemned the targeting of civilians and residential areas in the town of Qamishli, where casualties were reported as a result of the ongoing clashes between regime forces and militias of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the town.

The Coalition warned that the regime is attempting to sow discord and division among Syrians, a policy the regime has pursued since the start of the revolution against its rule.

The Coalition expressed its solidarity with the people of Qamishli, especially the families of the victims. It also wished the wounded speedy recovery. The Coalition called on the Syrian people to stand united against the Assad regime in the battle for freedom and dignity.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 22.04.2016)

Abdah: Any Solution That Does Not Lead to Assad’s Departure Is Doomed to Fail

President of the Syrian Coalition Anas al-Abdah said that any proposal for a solution in Syria that does not guarantee the departure of Assad at the beginning of the transitional period would be doomed to fail and is lacking in credibility.

A meeting between the Syrian Coalition and Deputy Secretary-General of the European External Action Service Helga Schmid in Istanbul earlier today discussed the latest developments in the political process and the challenges facing the Geneva negotiations.

President Abdah reaffirmed support for the position the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) took in light of the lack of seriousness on the part of the Assad regime. He warned of the consequences resulting from the continued breaches of the truce by the Assad regime and its allies.

Abdah referred to the fact that not a single blockade on the besieged areas has been lifted, nor has progress been made in the file of detainees in Assad’s prisons since the truce took effect in January 27.

Abdah pointed out that the opposition’s decision to suspend participation in the Geneva negotiations can be seen as an opportunity for the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) to review the course of negotiations and develop mechanisms in order to avoid the collapse of the negotiations in Geneva.

Schmid reiterated the European Union’s support for the Syrian opposition and the demands of the Syrian revolution, stressing the EU commitment to supporting the political process until a political transition is put in place.

Schmid pointed out that the EU still insists on accountability and ending killing in Syria, adding that the EU fully supports the Syrian people’s right to self-determination. She also said that the EU refuses attempts by others to determine Syria’s future, and that the interests of the Syrian people must be represented in any future solution.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 21.04.2016)

Rajavi: The Iranian Regime Will Collapse Following Assad’s Leave from Power

By Huda al Husseini

Maryam Rajavi

Paris-Maryam Rajavi, President of the “People’s Mujahedin of Iran” party, said that the Iranian regime is founded on three main pillars for it to prevail. The three principals are assembling a nuclear deterrent, absolute oppression of the interior and the export of terrorism and extremism to the outside.

Rajavi, in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, said believes that Tehran’s strategy is established on the extent of interference it manages in affairs of other countries, the incitement of war and the exporting of terrorism; however, all the regime’s plots have failed after the Decisive Storm.

“The Iranian regime can be defeated once and for all in Bahrain if it was confronted with a decisive alliance formed by regional countries,” Rajavi said. She mentioned that the Iranian regime is close to drowned in the swamps of the Syrian civil war.

Rajavi clarified the connection entailing that the Iranian regime would collapse consequentially should Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be toppled, which is why Iran has been stretching out an arm’s length for keeping Assad in rule.

“If Assad falls out of authority in Damascus, then the Iranian regime will evidently follow and collapse in Tehran,”Rajavi said.

“It’s dying,” Rajavi used to express the current state-of-affairs on the Iranian regime; “It has faced defeat in Yemen. Fronts in Syria and Iraq are in effective escalation, the regime has sent 60 thousand Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers and affiliated militia to fight in Syria,” Rajavi added.

When asked about nuclear danger looming in the horizon, Rajavi explained that the Iranian regime has only “temporarily” lost its ability on manufacturing a nuclear arsenal and will soon resume what it had long planned for.

“The Iranian regime is skilled with the art of keeping to its confidentiality and vagueness of its activities. It hasn’t revealed all its cards, and one must say that the international community was not firm enough, because the international community could have taken away everything from the regime,” Rajavi said.

On the topic of the recent ballistic missile activities and violations, Rajavi clarified that all corners to the Iranian governing system are the same, seeking internal oppression of the people and terrorizing regional nations.

The missile program, according to Rajavi, is an attempt for establishing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, as a part of a plan on frightening the region and raising the morals of its supporters.

(Source / 21.04.2016)

Syrian Coalition Calls for International Investigation into Assad Crimes & Violations

President of the Syrian Coalition Anas al-Abdah said that negotiations in Geneva cannot be resumed while the Assad regime carries on with its crimes against civilians with impunity. Abdah defended the High Negotiating Committee’s (HNC) decision to suspend participation in the Geneva negotiations, calling for opening an international investigation into the regime’s crimes and its repeated violations of the truce.

At a press conference held earlier today in Istanbul, Abdah said that the Assad regime has effectively killed the truce by the brutal massacres it committed in Idlib, Aleppo and Rural Damascus on Tuesday.

“Regime forces have committed over 2,200 breaches of the truce since it was declared 53 days ago, all of which were documented and reported to the UN Security Council,” Abdah added.

“International inaction and silence over Assad’s crimes, especially yesterday’s massacres in which 108 civilians were killed, suggest the international community is complicit in these crimes which have not been met with even a verbal condemnation by any state.”

Abdah said that the Syrian Coalition began consultations with representatives of the Friends of the Syrian People group concerning the Geneva talks. “The ball now is in the court of the international community, which has not yet shown it is serious about implementing the UN Security Council resolution 2254.”

“We will not accept any proposals for a solution if they include keeping in power Assad or any of the pillars of his regime who must be tried for war crimes.”

Abdah concluded his remarks by stressing that a political solution needs a suitable environment, adding that there cannot be a return to the talks as long as the Assad regime continues to violate the truce and seeks to thwart all attempts aimed at reaching a solution in Syria.

(Syrian Coalition / 20.04.2016)

Hijab: Assad Will Not Stay in Power, His Crimes Will Not Go Unpunished

General Coordinator of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Riad Hijab said that there is no solution in Syria while Bashar al-Assad holds to power, stressing that the goal of the Geneva talks is the formation of a transitional governing body without any role for war criminals, including Assad.

“We can assure the Syrian people that al-Assad will not remain in power and that his crimes will not go unpunished,” Hijab told reporters today in Geneva. “Any talk about a national unity government or a broad government is just empty talk. There will be no solution with Bashar al-Assad in power; Assad is only dreaming.”

“We asked the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to set a clear agenda for political transition that takes into consideration the regime’s attempts to procrastinate and evade regarding a political solution because the regime sees its end in such a solution,” Hijab added.

Hijab reiterated rejection of any proposals or deals designed to keep Assad in power, adding that Assad is a war criminal and must be brought to justice.

“The opposition agreed to the truce so that humanitarian aid could be allowed into the besieged areas, but the Assad regime has not complied with the terms of the truce. Only 6 percent of people in the besieged areas have received aid since the Geneva talks began.”

Hijab pointed out that the suffering of the Syrian people has increased since the talks resumed, citing the death of an eighteen-year old man who starved to death in the besieged town of Madaya after Hezbollah terrorist militias prevented his evacuation.

“We will not negotiate whilst our people die of bombardment and hunger.”

With regard to detainees in Assad’s prisons, Hijab said that not a single detainee has been released from Assad’s prisons since the truce took effect. “Assad besieges around 1.7 million Syrians. It is a crime that outweighs crimes committed by the Nazis. Dozens of Syrians die every day in Assad’s prisons. The international community must take immediate action to rescue them.”

Hijab asked how the international community claims it supports a political transition in Syria when it is incapable of introducing a pack of milk to the besieged areas.

He warned of a humanitarian catastrophe should regime forces and their allies succeeded in encircling Aleppo where they have been ramping up forces. “Iran has reportedly sent the 23rd Armored Brigade to Syria, along with mercenaries and weapons. Russia has also been sending large shipments of weapons to the Assad regime. Meanwhile, the Syrian people are denied the means they need to defend themselves,” Hijab said.

“We receive from our friends, including the United States, just about 20% of the military support the Assad regime receives from its allies,” Hijab said.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 19.04.2016)

FSA & Rebel Groups Set up Joint Operations Room to Respond to Regime’s Violations of Truce

Member of the opposition’s negotiating delegation in Geneva Mohammed Aboud said that the armed opposition would exercise its right to respond to the Assad regime’s violations of the truce and to defend themselves in case of an attack. He warned that the FSA and other rebel groups will no longer tolerate any aggression by the Assad regime and its allies and will carry on with its primary mission to defend Syrian civilians.

Aboud pointed out that the Assad regime continues to bomb civilians and prevent the introduction of humanitarian aid to the besieged areas even during the negotiations in Geneva. He stressed that the regime is exploiting the negotiations to cover up its continued crimes against the Syrian people.

The Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups earlier today announced they had set up a joint operations room to response to the violations of the truce by regime forces and militants of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

A statement issued by the FSA and rebel groups announced the launch of a new offensive against pro-regime forces dubbed “Repelling the Aggressors”, in response to the regime forces’ repeated breaches of the truce and their targeting of the IDP camps and residential areas.

The FSA and rebel groups vowed that “any regime position that fires a single shell against civilians will be met with a strong response so as to deter other regime positions and military checkpoints where the shelling comes from.”

The statement was signed by Ahrar al-Sham, Failaq al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Ansar al-Sham, the 1st Coastal Division, Jaish al-Izza, the Northern Division, and Jaish al-Nasr.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 18.04.2016)

US should ditch ‘plan B’ for Syria

Civil defense workers look for survivors after an airstrike on rebel-held Old Aleppo, April 16, 2016

The failure to date of Turkish-backed Syrian armed groups to retake the Syrian border town of al-Rai from the Islamic State (IS) should be a warning to US intelligence officials reportedly preparing a “plan B” for Syria, should the cessation of hostilities collapse.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Central Intelligence Agency and its regional partners are drawing up plans to provide more advanced arms, possibly including anti-aircraft weapons, to Syrian opposition forces as a contingency plan. Old habits and bad ideas seem to die hard in some Washington policy circles. One might recall, for example, the failure of the ill-fated initial train and equip mission, which cost $382 million to train 180 fighters, 95 of whom are reportedly still active. But instead of coming to a reasonable conclusion of “been there, done that, that didn’t work,” for many understandable reasons, the CIA is consulting with Turkey and Saudi Arabia on a scheme to ramp up the capabilities of Syrian proxies, which would of course be devastating for the Syrian people who have enjoyed a mild reprieve from the bloodbath of the past five years, as Mohammed al-Khatieb reported from Aleppo last week.

The divide between the United States and Turkey over the role of Syrian Kurdish groups has further complicated the campaign against Jabhat al-Nusra and IS in northern Syria, and is a major reason why a plan B would fail.

Fehim Tastekin writes that the Turkish-backed operation in al-Rai has turned into a “fiasco.” The weeklong campaign has so far gone poorly, with IS putting up a fierce defense. The plan appears to have been hatched after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed to US President Barack Obama to back off support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the leading force in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and instead work through armed groups linked to the Turkish National Intelligence Service, “a composite force of Turkmens, Free Syrian Army factions and Salafists,” according to Tastekin.

Turkey’s Syria policies will only become more problematic as there is little or no hope for a “cessation of hostilities” with the Kurdistan Workers Party. Metin Gurcan writes, “The milder meteorological conditions will allow the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to become more mobile. With improved logistics support, the PKK could integrate its urban units, which have been operating independently, and transform them into a regional force and escalate fighting. Security forces, which are aware of these realities, are frantically preparing. Security officials in Ankara expect multiple, simultaneous PKK operations on the ground or actions in the cities at the end of April. Ankara has reacted by increasing the number of special operations teams trained in urban warfare, appropriate vehicles and weaponry.”

Tastekin concludes, “Turkey’s tactical moves designed to keep the YPG away from the area are impeding a real and meaningful struggle against IS. The expectation is that if the Kurds and their Arab allies move against Menbic, Turkey will arrange for a repeat of the al-Rai offensive. If the Syrian army succeeds in the “Great Aleppo War,” the northern front will be even more complicated, so much so that even Turkey won’t be able to cope with it. Then, the ‘with Kurds or without Kurds’ debate will become irrelevant.”

Despite the leaks of a plan B, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is not ready to write off progress since the US-Russian agreement in February, despite a breathless report in The Washington Post on April 14 about the “apparent collapse” of the cessation of hostilities. At the start of a new round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva, de Mistura told reporters April 13, “We need to make sure, at any cost, that the cessation of hostilities, in spirit and in substance, continues to give hope to the Syrian people, because that is what made all of them believe that, in fact, even if they have to wait for the intra-Syrian talks, their lives are at least improved.”

Laura Rozen reports that US concerns about the challenges to the cessation of hostilities are in part the result of disputes over the targeting of Jabhat al-Nusra in and around Aleppo by the Syrian military and its backers, especially Iran and Russia, as some of the armed groups supported by the United States and its regional partners are in close proximity to Jabhat al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

The relationship and proximity of other Syrian armed groups to Jabhat al-Nusra is a matter of some urgency. UN Security Council Resolution 2254 reiterates that the cessation of hostilities does not apply to Jabhat al-Nusra “and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with al-Qaeda or [IS].” This column has zero tolerance for those who run with al-Qaeda, even if for tactical reasons or a shared hatred of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Plan B, in our score, should be kept on the shelf for good, if not a candidate for the shredder. The thought of advanced arms, including anti-aircraft weapons, falling into the possession of sectarian Salafi groups such as Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, which are fellow travelers with Jabhat al-Nusra, and are backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, should be something to be avoided, not discussed.

The bottom line is that the US-Russia partnership on Syria is mostly working, and is Syria’s best bet for an end to the war. Rather than a plan B, a better approach would be to build on what is working and establish a mechanism for both monitoring potential cessation violations, which is under discussion, and enhanced intelligence coordination among the United States, Russia and its regional partners in the International Syria Support Group about Jabhat al-Nusra and IS, especially in and around Aleppo, in anticipation of a likely offensive to retake the city, which would be a turning point in the war.

Kamal Sheikho reports from Kobani that “the latest military movements by the SDF and armed Syrian opposition factions in northern Syria aim to cut off the supply route to IS, which links the eastern and northern Aleppo countryside to Raqqa, and to bottleneck IS militants by cutting off the remaining border passages with Turkey. Analysts and experts in Syrian affairs believe it is likely for the coming days to witness heated and decisive battles between conflicting parties, changing the balance of power in favor of the forces fighting IS.”

As we wrote in January, “If the Syrian army, backed by its Iranian and Russian allies, retakes Aleppo, the city’s liberation will come by directly defeating terrorists and armed groups that are already deserting the battlefield. A government victory would be of a different order and have a different impact than the negotiated departures of besieged armed opposition forces in Homs and around Damascus. The people of Aleppo would experience a flat-out victory by the government and a defeat, and exodus, by the armed groups. … A Syrian government victory in Aleppo could be the beginning of the end of the sectarian mindset that would have been alien to the city prior to 2011. There is no more appropriate city to begin Syria’s healing. A Syrian government victory in Aleppo will make it harder to rationalize Western backing for jihadi groups that want to keep up the fight against long odds in the rest of the country. IS and al-Qaeda may prefer, over time, to begin to relocate to Libya and other countries where they can avoid the pounding from the US-led anti-IS coalition and Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian forces. This may already be happening, and if so, it is to be cheered by those who seek a unified, secular and nonsectarian Syria, as outlined in the Vienna Communique, and as is Aleppo’s tradition.”

(Source / 18.04.2016)

Syrian Coalition and HNC Stress Need for Accountability in Syria

General Coordinator of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee Riad Hijab stressed the HNC’s commitment to pursuing the interests of the Syrian people and their aspirations. He said that the HNC is keen on prioritizing the discussion of the issue of political transition and the formation of a transitional government body (TGB) with full power without Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle during the ongoing round of talks in Geneva.

Hijab was speaking during a meeting with the Syrian Coalition’s political committee, President Anas al-Abdah and members of the General Assembly in the Coalition’s headquarters in Istanbul earlier today.

Hijab gave a detailed overview of the course of the third round of the Geneva talks. He also reviewed the meetings the HNC held with the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, representatives of active players in the Syrian file and friendly countries.

The HNC’s general coordinator pointed out that the HNC’s insistence on its demands forced the Assad regime to allow the entry of humanitarian aid to some of the besieged areas across Syria. He added that the HNC is pressing to introduce relief aid to the rest of the besieged areas. The HNC persistently raises the issue of the detainees in Assad’s prisons, Hijab said.

The conferees stressed the need to hold war criminals, including Bashar al-Assad, accountable. While he rejected partial solutions to the conflict, Hijab underscored that no one in the opposition has the right to waive any of the Syrian people’s rights or deviate from the principles of the Syrian revolution.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 16.04.2016)

Syrian Coalition: Assad Regime Negotiating in Geneva Whilst Starving Children in Syria

Member of the Syrian Coalition’s political committee Yasser Farhan said that the intransigence of the Assad regime and its refusal to lift the blockades on the besieged cities have exacerbated the suffering of civilians.

Farhan said that regime forces are preventing the delivery of life-saving medical equipment such as vaccines, which amounts to a war crime. He called on the UN the Security Council and the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG) to put pressure on the Assad regime and the Hezbollah militia to lift the blockades they impose on Syria’s cities and towns.

Farhan questioned how Assad has sent a negotiating delegation to Geneva whilst his troops continue to besiege children in Syria and deny them access to food and medicine.
Civilians trapped in the besieged towns of Madaya and Zabadani in Rural Damascus on Thursday sent a distress call asking for the introduction of vaccines for children. Medics warned that children in these two towns have not received any vaccines for nearly a year.

The besieged civilians appealed to the United Nations and international organizations to take immediate action in order to save the children trapped by regime forces, adding that creating a better future for Syria depends on the welfare of its children.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 15.04.2016)