Fighting Further Buries Hopes For Syria Truce

syria2Syrian rebels and pro-government forces battled each other on major frontlines near Aleppo and Hama, and air strikes reportedly killed a dozen people, including four medical workers, as a ceasefire appeared to have completely unraveled.

The renewed battles demonstrated the thin prospects for reviving a truce that collapsed into fresh fighting and bombardments on Monday, including an attack on an aid convoy which U.S. officials believe was carried out by Russian jets. Moscow denies involvement.

The U.N. Security Council was due to hold a high-level meeting on Syria later on Wednesday.

Despite accusing Moscow of being behind the bombing of the aid convoy, the United States says the ceasefire agreement it sponsored jointly with Russia is “not dead”.

But the deal, probably the final hope of reaching a settlement on Syria before the administration of President Barack Obama leaves office, is following the path of all previous peace efforts in Syria: still being touted by diplomats long after the warring parties appeared to have abandoned it.

Overnight fighting was focused in areas that control access to Aleppo city, where the rebel-held east has been encircled by government forces, aided by Russian air power and Iran-backed militias, for all but a few weeks since July.

Syrian state media and a TV station controlled by its Lebanese ally Hezbollah said the army had recaptured a fertilizer factory in the Ramousah area to the southwest of the city. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring body, confirmed the advance and said government forces had pressed forward near an apartment complex nearby.

A rebel fighter in the Aleppo area said warplanes had been bombing all night in preparation for an attack. But “the regime’s attempts to advance failed,” said the rebel, speaking to Reuters from the Aleppo area via the internet.

A Syrian military source said insurgent groups were mobilizing to the south and west of Aleppo, and in the northern Hama area. “We will certainly target all these gatherings and mobilizations they are conducting.”

The army reported carrying out air strikes on seven areas near Aleppo. The Observatory said an air strike killed four medical workers and at least nine rebel fighters in the insurgent-held town of Khan Touman south of Aleppo, saying the rebels were part of the Islamist alliance Jaish al-Fatah.

The medical staff killed were working for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), it said. UOSSM confirmed in a statement that at least four of its staff had been killed.

Syrian government forces also launched a major advance in Hama province in the West of the country.

“It is a very intense attack, for which Russian jets paved the way, but it was repelled by the brothers, praise God,” Abu al-Baraa al-Hamawi, a rebel commander fighting as part of the Islamist Jaish al-Fatah alliance, told Reuters.

He said rebels had destroyed four tanks and inflicted heavy losses on government troops. Syrian state TV said government forces had killed a number of insurgents and destroyed their vehicles.

Rebel sources also reported an attempt by pro-government forces to advance in the Handarat area to the north of Aleppo, saying this too had been repelled. Pro-government media made no mention of that attack.

The Observatory reported that a Syrian jet had crashed near Damascus, saying the cause of the crash and fate of the pilot were unknown. Islamic State said it had been shot down.

Fighting in Syria’s Hama Province Displaces 100,000- U.N.

syriaFighting in Syria’s western Hama province displaced an estimated 100,000 people between Aug. 28 and Sept. 5, the United Nations said on Wednesday, citing the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the governor of the province.

Syrian rebels launched an offensive last week in northern Hama, an area of strategic importance to President Bashar al-Assad that is home to loyalist towns populated by minority Christians and Alawites. Rebels rapidly captured the town of Halfaya. Pro-Assad forces have hit back with heavy air strikes.

Many people had fled from the fighting towards Hama city and neighbouring villages, as well as north into Idlib province, the U.N. said.

There were originally about 4,500 families in the town of Halfaya, of which 2,800 remain trapped by the fighting while the rest managed to flee, the U.N. report said.

Another 4,500 families were displaced from Taybat al Imam, out of 9,500 in that town, and 5,000 families were uprooted from the army stronghold of Soran, about half the population there.

Many of the displaced people were sleeping outdoors, but four mosques in Hama city and 12 schools in rural areas were temporarily housing people, the U.N. said.

The Red Crescent had provided aid to about 7,000 families in Hama, roughly 35,000 people, and the United Nations sent a convoy of 12 trucks to Hama on Sept. 4 with aid for another 15,000 people. Another 6,500 families still urgently need food and other aid, the U.N. said.

Syria Conflict: Russia Pounds ISIS Targets

cruise missilesRussia has stepped up its attacks on the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group in Syria, bombarding targets with cruise missiles from warships in the Mediterranean and Caspian seas.

The Russian Defence Minister, Sergey Shoigu, said that in four days of heavy bombings against ISIS, more than 100 cruise missiles were launched and more than 800 terrorist targets were destroyed in Syria.

The strikes came after Moscow confirmed on Tuesday, that a bomb brought down a Russian airliner over Egypt in October. The ISIS-affiliated Sinai Province group claimed responsibility for the attack in which 224 people died, saying it was revenge for Russia’s intervention in Syria.

Mr Shoigu said that the Russian air force had conducted 522 sorties and deployed more than 100 cruise missiles since Tuesday.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Russian warplanes conducted air raids in the Idlib, Hama and Lattakia provinces on Friday. At least eight people were killed in 50 air raids in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor province.

Mr Shoigu said that Russian warplanes had targeted 15 oil storage and refinery facilities and 525 oil trucks belonging to terrorists over the past week.

However, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said that a lot more needs to be done to produce the expected result.

Putin Defends Russia’s Air Strikes In Syria

Russia-putinPresident Vladimir Putin has defended Russia’s military interventions in Syria, saying it would aid efforts to reach a political settlement and stabilise the “legitimate authority” of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.

Putin denied that Russian air strikes were hitting moderate opposition groups rather than Islamic State (IS) militants.

Syrian forces have made significant advances against rebels.

Government gains in Idlib, Hama and Latakia provinces were also reported both by Damascus and opposition activists.

The main battlefront is currently close to the key highway that links the capital with other major cities, including Aleppo, and Mr Assad’s forces are believed to be seeking to cut off rebels in Idlib.

Putin believes that without Moscow’s support for President Assad, there was a danger that “terrorist groups” could overrun Syria.

NATO Renews Pledge To Defend Allies

natoNATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, says the organisation’s Defence Ministers are determined to boost response forces to be able to deploy troops speedily to defend allies, while it figures out a proper response to Russia’s presence in Syria.

Russia has been conducting airstrikes in Syria, supposedly on the Islamic State (IS) militants, and recently began launching rocket strikes on targets.

Mr. Stoltenberg disclosed that Russia’s involvement has not been helpful.

Russia on the other hand, has denied it has been targeting opponents of Bashar al-Assad. It says its strikes have hit infrastructure of the so-called IS and other militant groups.

The IS has been waging a war on the Syrian and Iraqi governments, in a bid to establish a caliphate.

Heavy fighting has been reported in areas of Idlib, Hama and Latakia provinces, where a coalition of rebels that includes the Nusra Front operates.