Clashes Reported In Syria Despite Truce

Syria CeasefireFighting between government and rebel forces has been reported in parts of Syria, despite a nationwide truce, brokered by Russia and Turkey, overnight.

Reports however say, the new nationwide ceasefire between Syrian government forces and rebel groups, appears to be largely holding in the Middle East.

The deal includes many rebel groups but not jihadists such as the Islamic state, or the Kurdish YPG.

Peace talks are scheduled to be held in Kazakhstan within a month, if the ceasefire holds.

At least 300,000 people are believed to have been killed in fighting that followed the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad in March 2011.

Meanwhile, four million others have sought refuge in neighbouring states or Europe.

Turkey Pounds Kurdish Fighters In Syria

Turkey and Syria kurdish fightersAt least 90 Turkish rockets have pounded a group of Kurdish fighters allied to a U.S.-backed militia in northern Syria.

Clashes intensified on Friday between two sides both supposed to be fighting Islamic State, a monitor and militia spokesperson said.

The confrontation between Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters allied to a U.S.-backed militia fighting Islamic State is escalating, as both sides race to be the first to expel Islamic State from the northern Syrian city of al-Bab.

Reuters reports that on Wednesday the heaviest Turkish air strikes so far on the Kurdish fighters hit villages recently captured from Islamic State by the Kurdish fighters, highlighting the conflicting agendas of NATO members Ankara and Washington in an increasingly complex battlefield.

The United States has backed the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their fight against Islamic State, infuriating Ankara, which sees the umbrella group’s dominant YPG militia as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in south-eastern Turkey.

Turkey, a major backer of the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad, entered the Syrian conflict in August, using its armour and air power to help Free Syrian Army rebel groups take territory near the border held by Islamic State.

But it fears the YPG will try to connect three de facto autonomous Kurdish cantons that have emerged during the five-year war to create a Kurdish-run enclave in northern Syria, stoking the separatist ambitions of Kurds on its own soil.

Its intervention therefore also aimed to prevent Kurdish forces from gaining more ground.

An adviser to the Turkey-backed FSA alliance who gave his name as Osama Abu Zayd told Reuters Friday’s clashes were fierce and were widening as they try to push the Kurdish fighters out of the northern Aleppo countryside.

“Two days ago the (Kurdish fighters) tried to exploit our battle against Daesh (Islamic State) to advance towards Marea”, he said. Marea is a town in Turkey-backed rebel territory on the way to al-Bab.

“What is happening today is a natural response to these separatist groups,” Abu Zayd said.

Ahmad Araj, a political representative for the Kurdish fighters allied to the U.S.-backed SDF militia told Reuters their fighters were now under attack both from Islamic State and from Turkey.

Truce Takes Hold In Aleppo, Fighting On in Syria

SyriaRelative calm prevailed on Thursday in Aleppo city in Syria following a U.S.-Russian agreement to extend a cessation of hostilities that had crumbled after nearly two weeks of violence between rebels and government forces that killed dozens.

Syrian state media said that the army would abide by a “regime of calm” in the city that came into effect at 1 a.m. (2200 GMT on Wednesday) for 48 hours.

But the army again blamed Islamist insurgents for violating the agreement overnight by what it called indiscriminate shelling of some government-held residential areas of the divided city.

President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that his country would not accept less than an outright victory against rebels in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and across Syria, state media reported.

In a telegram sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he thanked Moscow for its military support, Assad said the army would not accept less than “attaining final victory” and “crushing the aggression” in its fight against the rebels.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least one person was killed in rebel shelling overnight of the Midan neighborhood on the government side of the city. State media said rockets hit the New Aleppo district.

A resident contacted in the rebel-held eastern part of the city said although warplanes were flying overnight, there were none of the intense raids seen during more than 10 days of aerial bombing.

People in several districts ventured out onto the streets where more shops than normal had opened, the resident of al Shaar neighborhood said.

Air strikes Pound Syria’s Aleppo, ‘Calm’ In Farther Southwest

Syria AleppoNearly 30 air strikes hit rebel-held areas of Syria’s northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, killing more people in a ninth straight day of bombardments by warring sides, and a temporary “calm” declared by Syrian military took hold around Damascus and in the northwest.

The violence in Aleppo, which has borne the brunt of an escalation in fighting that has all but destroyed a ceasefire deal brokered in February by Washington and Moscow, has killed nearly 250 people since April 22, a monitoring group said.

It has also contributed to the break up of peace talks in Geneva, which the main opposition walked out of last week.

A temporary “regime of calm”, or lull in fighting, announced by the Syrian army late on Friday, which Damascus said was designed to salvage the wider ceasefire deal, appeared to hold in the capital and areas in its suburbs, as well as parts of northwest coastal province Latakia. Aleppo had not been included in the plan for a lull.

At least five people were killed in Aleppo early on Saturday in the latest round of air strikes, which were believed to have been carried out by Syrian government warplanes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The British-based monitoring group put the civilian death toll in government and rebel bombardments of neighbourhoods in Aleppo since April 22 at nearly 250.

This figure included around 140 people killed by government-aligned forces in air strikes and shellings of rebel-held areas, including 19 children, it said.

Insurgent shelling of government-held areas killed 96 people, including 21 children.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war, has been divided for years between rebel and government zones. Full control would be the most important prize for President Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting to keep hold of his country throughout a five-year civil war.

Russia, Despite Draw Down, Shipping More To Syria Than Removing

russiaWhen Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawal of most of Russia’s military contingent from Syria there was an expectation that the Yauza, a Russian naval icebreaker and one of the mission’s main supply vessels, would return home to its Arctic Ocean port.

Instead, three days after Putin’s March 14 declaration, the Yauza, part of the “Syrian Express”, the nickname given to the ships that have kept Russian forces supplied, left the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk for Tartous, Russia’s naval facility in Syria.

Whatever it was carrying was heavy; it sat so low in the water that its load line was barely visible.

Its movements and those of other Russian ships in the two weeks since Putin’s announcement of a partial withdrawal suggest Moscow has in fact shipped more equipment and supplies to Syria than it has brought back in the same period, a Reuters analysis shows.

It is not known what the ships were carrying or how much equipment has been flown out in giant cargo planes accompanying returning war planes.

But the movements – while only a partial snapshot – suggest Russia is working intensively to maintain its military infrastructure in Syria and to supply the Syrian army so that it can scale up again swiftly if need be.

Putin has not detailed what would prompt such a move, but any perceived threat to Russia’s bases in Syria or any sign that President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow’s closest Middle East ally, was in peril would be likely to trigger a powerful return.

Russia operates an air base in Hmeymim and a naval facility at Tartous. Putin has said Russia will keep both and that they will need to be well protected.

“Since the main part of the force de facto stayed there, there is no reason to reduce the traffic,” said Mikhail Barabanov, a senior research fellow at the Moscow-based CAST military think tank. “Supplies for the Syrian army remain significant as well.”

Moscow has not revealed the size of its force in Syria, nor has it given details of its partial withdrawal.

Reuters has calculated that around half of Russia’s fixed-wing strike force based in Syria flew out of the country in the days after the partial draw down was made public. The precise number of planes Russia had was secret, but analysis suggested it had about 36 fixed-wing military jets there.

On Monday, state TV showed three heavy attack helicopters being flown out of Syria along with some support staff.

United States To Press Russia On Syria’s Assad

united statesU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to press President Vladimir Putin on how Russia sees a future political transition in Syria and the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.

With a fragile truce in place in Syria and warring sides attending peace talks in Geneva, Kerry wants to “get down to brass tacks” on the question of Assad’s future, a State Department official said.

While the United States want Assad to step aside, Russia says only the Syrian people can decide his fate at the ballot box and has bristled at any talk of regime change.
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Kerry is holding talks with Putin at the Kremlin on Thursday, in a meeting arranged after the Russian leader’s surprise announcement on March 14 that he was partially withdrawing his forces from Syria.

“The Secretary would like to now really hear where President Putin is in his thinking … on a political transition” in Syria, the official said as Kerry arrived in Moscow.

“Obviously what we are looking for, and what we have been looking for, is how we are going to transition Syria away from Assad’s leadership,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

After five years of conflict that has killed over 250,000 people and caused the world’s worst refugee crisis, Washington and Moscow reached a deal three weeks ago for a cessation of hostilities and delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged areas.

The State Department official said meetings with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would evaluate the status of the ceasefire and try to “get on the same page” about ending violations and increasing humanitarian assistance.

Damascus Under Pressure Ahead Of Syria Peace Talks

Syria peace talkWestern powers have condemned efforts by the Syrian government to set limits to the agenda of fresh peace talks starting on Monday.

Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Uuallem, on Saturday, ruled out discussions of presidential elections.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, responded by accusing Damascus of “trying to disrupt the process.”

Mr John Kerry expressed dismay over the Syrian Foreign Minister’s firm line about President Bashar al-Assad, saying they were a “disruption” in the peace efforts.

He called for Iran and Russia- key backers of Assad  to rein in the Syrian President.

“The fact is that his strongest sponsors, Iran and Russia, have both adopted at the United Nations in support of an approach which dictates that there must be a political transition and that we must move towards a presidential election at some point in time.

“If the regime and its backers think that they can test the boundaries, diminish compliance in certain areas, or act in ways that call into question their commitment to the cessation, without serious consequences for the progress that we have made, they are deeply mistaken, ” Kerry said.

The UN-led talks represent the first serious diplomatic intervention since Russia began air strikes in September.

At the Geneva talks, diplomats hoped to build on the fragile and partial truce, which has reduced the level of violence in Syria since it came into effect at the end of February.

But analysts said that expectations for the talks were low.

On Sunday, the HNC said it would push for an interim government in which President Assad and the current leadership would have no role.

The indirect talks in Geneva were mediated by the United Nations. UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, had said he wants presidential elections to be held in the next 18 months.

The fate of President Assad has been one of the main stumbling blocks in previous talks. The last round collapsed in February without agreement.

More than 250,000 Syrians had been killed and about 11 million people had been forced from their homes in five years of Syria’s civil war, which began with an uprising against President Assad.

Syria Reports Turkey To UN  

SyriaSyria has asked the UN Security Council to take punitive action against Turkey for an alleged violation of its sovereignty.

This is due to the Turkish military action against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

On Sunday, Turkey carried out a second day of shelling on Kurdish forces advancing in northern Aleppo province.

Ankara views the Kurdish militia in Syria as allied to the outlawed PKK, which has carried out a decades-long campaign for autonomy in Turkey.

But the United States and others back the Kurdish militia in Syria, the YPG, in its fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) group.

Syria says Turkey violated its sovereignty by backing “al-Qaeda-linked terrorists” in the north and has warned it has a right to respond.

Syria Conflict: Rebels Pledge To Keep Fighting

SyriaIt seems world powers may find it difficult to implement a ceasefire in Syria as rebel groups in the country have vowed to continue fighting because they do not believe that Russia will end its bombing campaign in support of the government.

The rebels also expressed doubt over a deal by world powers to push for a cessation of hostilities within a week.

They have also reiterated their demand that President Bashar Al-Assad be removed from power.

But the President is still talking tough as he has vowed to retake “the whole country” from rebels.

On Thursday, world powers reached an agreement in Germany to try to bring about a cessation of hostilities and allow more access for humanitarian aid , but neither the Syrian Government nor the rebels were involved.

A new UN Task Force set up to co-ordinate aid distributions convened in Geneva on Friday.

Some Syrian cities had been cut off from aid for more than a year because of fighting. About 13.5 million people are in need, the UN said.

The US State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said that Mr Assad was “deluded” if he thought there was a military solution to the conflict.

More than 250,000 people had been killed and about 11 million displaced in almost five years of fighting in Syria.

Major Powers Agree To ‘Cessation Of Hostilities’ In Syria

Syria-warMajor powers agreed on Friday to a cessation of hostilities in Syria set to begin in a week and to provide rapid humanitarian access to besieged Syrian towns.

They, however, failed to secure a complete ceasefire or an end to Russian bombing.

Following a marathon meeting in Munich aimed at resurrecting peace talks that collapsed last week, the powers, including the United States, Russia and more than a dozen other nations, reaffirmed their commitment to a political transition when conditions on the ground improved.

At a news conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the Munich meeting produced commitments on paper only.

Reuters quoted him as saying that “what we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground, in the field”.

“Without a political transition, it is not possible to achieve peace,” Mr Kerry stated.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, told the news conference that Russia would not stop air attacks in Syria, saying the cessation of hostilities did not apply to Islamic State and al Nusrah, which is affiliated with al Qaeda. Islamic State militants control large parts of Syria and Iraq.

“Our airspace forces will continue working against these organizations,” he said.

The United States and European allies say few Russian strikes have targeted those groups, with the vast majority hitting Western-backed opposition groups seeking to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad government.

Lavrov said peace talks should resume in Geneva as soon as possible and that all Syrian opposition groups should participate. He added that halting hostilities would be a difficult task.

But British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, said ending fighting could only succeed if Russia stopped air strikes supporting Syrian government forces’ advance against the opposition.

Diplomats cautioned that Russia had until now not demonstrated any interest in seeing Assad replaced and was pushing for a military victory.

Russian Prime, Minister Dmitry Medvedev, on Thursday raised the spectre of an interminable conflict or even a world war if powers failed to negotiate an end to five years of fighting in Syria, which has killed 250,000 people, caused a refugee crisis and empowered Islamic State militants.

Syria’s main opposition group welcomed the plan by the world powers on Friday, but cautioned that the agreement must prove to be effective before it joins political talks with government representatives in Geneva.

Syrian Army Sees Aleppo Encircled Soon, Rebels Hope For More Weapons

syrianA Syrian Army source said the city of Aleppo would soon be encircled by government forces as rebels pounded by Russian air strikes expressed hope that the failure of Geneva peace talks would encourage their foreign backers to send better weapons.

Turkey, a major sponsor of the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad, said there was no point to peace talks while Russia carried out attacks in Syria. Moscow confirmed a Russian military trainer was killed in Syria this week, but denied that Russian servicemen were fighting on the ground.

The United Nations on Wednesday suspended the first peace talks in two years, halting an effort that seemed doomed from the start as the war raged unabated on the ground and government forces severed a major rebel supply route into strategically-important Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city before the war began.

Turkey said on Thursday that tens of thousands of refugees from Aleppo were moving towards the border due to air strikes.

Four months of Russian air strikes have tipped the momentum Assad’s way after rebel advances earlier in 2015 that posed a growing threat to his control of crucial areas of western Syria.

With the help of Russian air power and allies including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iranian fighters on the ground, the overstretched Syrian army is regaining ground on key fronts in the west, where Syria’s most important cities are located.

But vast swathes of the country are in the hands of armed rebels, including a mosaic of groups in the west, Islamic State in the east, and Kurdish militia in the north.

The refugee crisis created by the five-year-long war moved back into focus as donors convened in London on Thursday, with U.N. agencies seeking billions in aid to help the victims of a conflict that has forced millions from their homes.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the first steps in peace talks were undermined by increased aerial bombing. U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura announced a three-week pause.

“I think the special envoy decided to suspend the talks because the organisation did not want to be associated with the Russian escalation in Syria, which risks undermining the talks completely,” a U.N. official told Reuters.

Washington and Moscow’s support for opposite sides in the five-year-old war, which has drawn in regional states, created millions of refugees and enabled the rise of Islamic State, means a local conflict has become a fraught global stand-off.

Moscow accuses Washington, which is backing opponents of Assad, of supporting terrorists, while the U.S. State Department said the air strikes around Aleppo focused mainly on Assad’s foes rather than the Islamic State militants Russia says it is trying to defeat.

Putin Pours Fresh Scorn On Turkey For Downing Russian Jet

Russia-putinRussian President, Vladimir Putin, has launched a fresh verbal attack on Turkey over the downing of a Russian combat jet in November.

Speaking at his annual news conference, Mr Putin said the incident on the Syria-Turkey border was a “hostile act” but Russia is “not the country” to run away from confrontation.

He also said he saw “no prospect” of ties improving with Turkey.

Russia has already placed some economic sanctions on Ankara.

Russia deployed its Air Force to Syria in September, to support President Bashar al-Assad and has been carrying out airstrikes on his opponents.

Its intervention has been heavily criticised by Turkey, the US and Gulf Arab States.