Jihadists Kill Nine Syria Regime Fighters

Jihadists on Friday killed nine Syrian regime fighters near a planned buffer zone around the country’s last major rebel bastion, a monitor said.

A September deal between government ally Russia and opposition backer Turkey aimed to set up a de-militarised zone around the northwestern region of Idlib to protect it from a regime assault.

But its implementation has been stalled since jihadists who hold around 70 percent of the planned buffer area failed to withdraw by mid-October, and sporadic clashes have rocked the area since.

Early Friday, jihadist groups attacked government forces in the northwest of Hama province near the planned buffer zone, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Nine regime fighters and five assailants were killed” in the attack, causing government forces to respond with artillery fire, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The attackers included the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen group, which has publicly rejected the Russian-Turkish deal, he said.

The lion’s share of Idlib is held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate.

Under the September 17 deal, all fighters in the zone were supposed to withdraw their heavy weapons and jihadists including HTS and Hurras al-Deen were supposed to leave.

On Thursday, Russian spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticised “sporadic clashes”, as well as “provocations” by HTS in northwestern Syria.

Late last month, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem expressed dissatisfaction with the implementation of the Idlib deal, and criticised Turkey for shortcomings.

He said heavy weapons had not been withdrawn and accused Turkey of not wanting to “respect its obligations”.

Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

AFP

Germany Considers Expelling Convicted Syrians

Germany is examining if Syrians convicted of crimes in Europe’s biggest economy or who are deemed dangerous can be sent back to their conflict-torn country, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Friday.

“That is being looked at closely in our ministry,” Seehofer told newspaper group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

Tens of thousands of Syrians have sought asylum in Germany, with the biggest influx taking place in 2015.

A ban on expulsions to Syria has been in place as war rages there, but the restriction runs out at the end of the year.

Germany would then need to consider whether to extend the ban, and the foreign ministry’s assessment of the situation in Syria would be crucial in the decision.

But several high-profile crimes involving migrants have soured the public mood in Germany, prompting interior ministers of several states to push for the expulsion of asylum seekers who have been convicted.

“Once the security situation allows, dangerous individuals and criminals can be sent back to Syria,” Saxony state’s interior minister Roland Woeller told RND.

Idlib and some surrounding areas are the last major rebel bastions in Syria, where the Russian-backed government has in recent months retaken much of the territory it had lost since the civil war erupted in 2011.

Berlin in 2016 signed a controversial deal with Kabul to repatriate Afghans who had failed to obtain asylum, even though Afghanistan remains strangled by violence.

AFP

Britain Admits Killing Syrian In Air Strike

Britain’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London for a Brexit cabinet meeting on May 2, 2018. Ben STANSALL / AFP

 

A British air strike on Islamic State jihadists in Syria unintentionally killed a civilian, London said Wednesday — the first time it has confirmed a civilian death in the fight against IS.

The Royal Air Force strike on three IS fighters in eastern Syria on March 26 also killed a motorcyclist who crossed into the area at the last minute, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said in a statement.

It comes a day after the BBC reported that a source inside the coalition fighting the IS group, also known as Daesh, as saying he believed civilians had been killed in “several” RAF attacks.

“During a strike to engage three Daesh fighters, a civilian motorbike crossed into the strike area at the last moment and it is assessed that one civilian was unintentionally killed,” Williamson said.

“We reached this conclusion after undertaking routine and detailed post-strike analysis of all available evidence,” he said.

A Ministry of Defence statement on March 26 had said of the attack that a Reaper remotely-controlled aircraft had tracked “a group of terrorists in a vehicle” in the Syrian Euphrates valley and “successfully destroyed it and its occupants with a precision Hellfire missile attack”.

Wednesday’s statement also gave details about Britain’s involvement in the fight against IS.

The RAF has conducted more than 1,600 air strikes in Iraq and Syria — second only to coalition leaders the United States, said the statement.

It said Britain had nearly 1,400 military personnel in the region providing “support to local partners”.

“British soldiers have trained over 60,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces in engineering, medical, counter-IED and basic infantry skills,” the statement said.

AFP

Turkey Suspects Syrian Govt Responsible For Chemical Attack

Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yildirim listens to Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah during a press conference at Sapedar palace in Kabul on April 8, 2018/ AFP

 

Turkey on Sunday strongly condemned what it said was a chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Douma, saying there was a “strong suspicion” the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was responsible.

“We strongly condemn the attack and we have the strong suspicion it was carried out by the regime, whose record on the use of chemical weapons is known by the international community,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

Rescue workers said dozens of civilians had been killed in a chlorine gas attack on Douma — claims denied by Assad’s regime and its ally Russia.

Turkey said that the incident showed that past UN Security Council resolutions on the use of chemical weapons in Syria were “once again” being ignored.

The foreign ministry called for an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and said it expected condemnation from the international community.

However, in recent months, Ankara has been working tightly with the Syrian regime’s closest allies Russia and Iran in a bid to bring an end to the seven-year civil war.

Last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted a summit on Syria in Ankara with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The foreign ministry statement did not explicitly refer to Russia and Iran, maintaining Turkey’s caution in not lashing out at its partners.

But it called on “the parties who have influence over the Syrian regime” to ensure that such attacks are halted and punished.

It noted that “in the past no measures have been taken against these attacks”.

Syrian Government Will Not Join Peace Talks On Monday – UN Envoy

al-assad

The Syrian government has not yet confirmed that it will attend talks with the opposition aimed at ending the war and will not head to Geneva on Monday, the UN envoy said.

“Last night, we received a message that the government would not travel to Geneva today,” Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council.

The UN envoy is due to open an eighth round of talks on a political settlement after previous negotiations achieved little progress.

Syria’s disparate opposition groups agreed last week following a meeting in Riyadh to send a united opposition to Geneva, a move seen as a boost to prospects for a breakthrough.

“The government did not yet confirm its participation in Geneva but indicated that we would be hearing from them soon,” De Mistura said via videoconference from the Swiss city.

“Naturally we know and indeed expect that the government will be on its way shortly, particularly in light of President Assad’s commitment to President Putin when they met in Sochi,” he added.

During a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi last Monday, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad said he was “ready for dialogue with all those who want to come up with a political settlement.”

Russia has proposed holding a “congress” to bring together the government and opposition in Sochi, but has not yet set a date for that gathering.

Moscow is seeking UN support for that meeting, but De Mistura told the council that it was “premature for me to say anything regarding this initiative.”

Western powers are concerned that Russia is seeking to take a leading role in the peace process and will carve out a settlement that will largely favor its ally, Assad.

De Mistura said he would be meeting with the ambassadors from Security Council permanent representatives — Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States — in Geneva on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming talks.

“This crisis — one of the worst in the history of the UN — now has the potential, the real potential to move toward a genuine political process,” said the envoy.

More than 330,000 people have died in the six-year war, half of the population has been displaced and the country lies in ruin.

The UN envoy said he expected reconstruction to cost $250 billion.

Germany Releases Six Syrians Suspected Of Terror Plot

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks after exploratory talks on forming a new government broke down on November 19, 2017 in Berlin. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

Six Syrian refugees arrested in Germany on suspicion of preparing a terror attack on behalf of Islamic State were freed Wednesday because of a lack of evidence, a prosecutor said.

The suspects, aged 20 to 28, were detained in dawn raids Tuesday that saw 500 police officers swoop on residences in the cities of Kassel, Essen, Hanover and Leipzig.

Media reports said they were believed to be targeting a Christmas market.

But the Frankfurt public prosecutor said there was “insufficient evidence” they were preparing an attack or were in any way linked to IS, a spokesman told AFP.

The six arrived in Germany between December 2014 and September 2015 at the height of a refugee crisis which has seen Germany take in 1.2 million people in the past two years.

German authorities have been on heightened alert since IS claimed a lorry assault on a Berlin Christmas market last December which killed 12 people.

Earlier this year a man who had had an asylum claim rejected by Germany stabbed one person to death at a supermarket and injured six others in a suspected jihadist assault.

And German police last month arrested a 19-year-old Syrian suspected of preparing a “serious” Islamist-motivated bomb attack.

Fire Hits Syrian Refugee Camp In Lebanon, Kills Three

A big fire tore through a camp for Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on Sunday (July 2), killing three people, Lebanese media reported.

Flames and thick clouds of black smoke rose from the site near the town of Qab Elias, around an hour’s drive east of Beirut, and at least one explosion was seen in footage broadcast by Lebanon’s MTV.

A security source said the cause of the fire was not immediately known.

Lebanon is hosting at least one million registered Syrian refugees, many of them living in informal tented settlements scattered around the country.

Syrian Army Pushes Into Palmyra Amid Heavy Bombardment

Syrian ArmySyrian government forces advanced into Palmyra on several fronts on Saturday with support from air strikes and artillery bombardment, state media and a monitoring group said, and live television showed waves of explosions inside the city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described it as the heaviest assault yet in a three-week campaign by the Syrian army and allied militia fighters to recapture the desert city from Islamic State fighters.

Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said Syrian soldiers and allied militias had taken control of one-third of Palmyra, mainly in the west and north, including parts of its ancient Roman-era ruins. Soldiers were also fighting on a southern front, he said.

State-run television also said the army was advancing inside Palmyra, recapturing several neighborhoods.

Television footage from the slopes of the medieval citadel, which was seized by the army on Friday and overlooks the city, showed tanks and armored vehicles firing into Palmyra.

Waves of explosions hit buildings, and smoke could be seen rising from many locations. Earlier, the Observatory said that Islamic State militants had launched counter-attacks – including car bombings – against advancing soldiers.

The recapture of Palmyra, which the Islamist group seized in May 2015, would mark the biggest reversal for Islamic State in Syria since Russia’s intervention turned the tide of the five-year conflict in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor.

State TV Shows Russian Troops In Syria Packing Up

RussianRussian state television on Tuesday showed personnel at Russia’s air base in Syria loading transport aircraft for return to Russia a day after President Vladimir Putin ordered most of his country’s military contingent there to start to withdraw.

The images, broadcast on the Rossiya 24 TV station, showed personnel loading equipment and boxes onto Ilyushin Il-76 heavy lift transport aircraft at Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Latakia province.

The Kremlin has used the base, which Putin said Russia would keep along with a naval facility at Tartous, to mount a 5-month campaign of air strikes to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an intervention that has tipped the balance of power in the Syrian leader’s favor.

Putin announced on Monday that “the main part” of Russian armed forces in Syria would start to withdraw, telling his diplomats to step up the push for peace as U.N.-mediated talks resumed on ending the five-year-old war.

 

Russia Backs Syrian Forces In Major Assault On Insurgents

syriaSyrian troops and militia backed by Russian warplanes mounted what appeared to be their first major coordinated assault on Syrian insurgents on Wednesday and Moscow said its warships fired a barrage of missiles at them from the Caspian Sea, a sign of its new military reach.

The combined operation hit towns close to the main north-south highway that runs through major cities in the mainly government-held west of Syria, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group which tracks the conflict via a network of sources within the country.

Ground attacks by Syrian government forces and their militia allies using heavy surface-to-surface missile bombardments hit at least four insurgent positions and there were heavy clashes, the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdulrahman, said.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia took part in the fight, according to a regional source who is familiar with the military situation in Syria.

Abdulrahman said later there was no sign that Syrian troops and their allies had made any tangible advances on the ground.

They briefly entered one town, but were forced to pull back, he said, and around 15 of their tanks or armored vehicles had been either destroyed or disabled.

Islamic State militants have seized much from Syria since civil war grew out of anti-government protests in 2011, but the areas targeted in Wednesday’s combined assault are held by other rebels, some U.S.-backed, fueling accusations by Russia’s critics that its real aim is to help the government.

Moscow says it shares the West’s aim of preventing the spread of Islamic State, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin during a televised meeting that four Russian warships in the Caspian Sea had launched 26 missiles at Islamic State in Syria earlier in the day.

The missiles would have passed over Iran and Iraq to reach their targets, covering what Shoigu described as a distance of almost 1,500 km (900 miles), the latest display of Russian military power at a time when relations with the West are at a post-Cold War low over Ukraine.

The terrain-hugging Kalibr cruise missiles, known by NATO by the codename Sizzler, fly at an altitude of 50 meters and are accurate to within three meters, the Russian defense ministry said.

The air campaign in Syria has caught Washington and its allies on the back foot and alarmed Syria’s northern neighbor Turkey, which says its air space has been repeatedly violated by Russian jets.

Ankara summoned Russia’s ambassador for the third time in four days over the reported violations, which NATO has said appeared to be deliberate and were “extremely dangerous”.

Syrian rebels take third border crossing to Turkey

Syrian rebels seized control of a third border crossing with Turkey on Wednesday after battling with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, consolidating their grip on a border zone that until now had remained under Assad’s control.

On the diplomatic front, Iranian’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, whose country is Assad’s main Middle East ally, arrived in Damascus to consult with the Syrian leader about proposals by regional powers to resolve the 17-month Syrian crisis.

Salehi’s talks followed a meeting in Cairo on Monday of the “Contact Group”, grouping Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Salehi said before leaving Cairo that the four states had a “great role” to play and could table a proposal that might produce a satisfactory result but that it needed more talks.

In the Syrian capital Damascus, rebels said they had started to retreat from southern districts early on Wednesday after weeks of heavy bombardment and government air strikes.

The neighborhoods of Hajar Al-Aswad, Al-Asali and Al-Qadam lie on the southern edge of what is considered Damascus proper and a withdrawal will be seen as a large setback after rebel gains in the capital three months ago.

The revolt, which began as peaceful street protests cracked down on by Assad’s military, has escalated into a civil war in which more than 27,000 people have died. Daily death tolls now approach 200 and the last month was the bloodiest yet.

London-based Amnesty International said in a report on Wednesday that civilians, including many children, are the main victims of indiscriminate Syrian army bombing and shelling of areas abandoned to opposition forces.

The international human rights group said attacks near hospitals and on bread queues appeared to be deliberately targeted at civilians, and thus constituted war crimes.

REUTERS

Haye spoiling for a Klitschko fight after Chisora demolition

British boxer David Haye after fifth round final pounding of heavyweight boxer, Briton Dereck Chisora on Saturday declared he is ready to throw fists with Vitali Klitschko.

Haye, a former heavy weight and cruiserweight initially lost one of his world titles to Wladimir Klitschko, little brother to Vladimir and he was criticised for not showing a good performance despite his claims that he had a broken nose before the fight.

But David Haye managed to do what Vitali failed to do in the last defence of his World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight title in February which is knocking out Chisora.

But Haye felt an amount of redemption after twice leaving Chisora slumped on the canvas at Upton Park, from left hooks and hopes it will earn him another crack at a Klitschko.

Wladimir, who holds three of the world title belts, insists he is not interested in a rematch with Haye for the moment.

Vitali, who holds the other world title belt, was linked with a defence against Haye earlier this year.

But WBC champion Vitali’s next challenger on September 10 is Germany-based Syrian Manuel Charr, who gate-crashed the Haye-Chisora post-fight press conference to announce he would be prepared to fight Haye once he beats the WBC champion.

Haye, however, expects Vitali to prevail and hopes to face the Ukrainian later this year or in 2013.

“I held a version of the world heavyweight championship and I would like to regain a version of the world heavyweight championship,” Haye told a news conference.

“If Vitali beats this gentleman [Manuel Charr] I would love to challenge him for his title. If it’s not meant to be, so be it.

“If this was my last performance, I have gone out with a bang and everyone is happy. After a performance like that and him getting on, if you were one of his advisers you wouldn’t tell Vitali to fight me.

“I’ve proved my punching power against someone who pushed Vitali to the wire. It was a measuring stick to show how I performed against his last opponent.

“I would be very confident of beating Vitali.”

Vitali, 40, may well retire after facing Charr to pursue a full-time political career, which would leave Haye trying to convince Wladimir, 36, to give him a rematch.

Haye’s rediscovered his knockout power – he has stopped 24 of 25 opponents – against Chisora and was well ahead on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage, with one judge scoring it 40-36 and the other two seeing it 39-37.

But Haye had to take some shots from Chisora, who kept marching forward until he was caught by a brilliant left hook in the fifth round. Another quick right sent Chisora stumbling backwards onto the canvas.

He got to his feet at the count of seven but after a ferocious onslaught, he was left open and Haye seized his chance with a swinging left hook to the jaw.

This time, referee Luis Pabon waved the contest over as Chisora sluggishly got to his feet.

But after the distasteful pre-fight trash-talk, which followed the pair’s punch-up at a press conference following Chisora’s point’s loss to Vitali in February, the two Londoners embraced in the ring.

Haye then paid tribute to Zimbabwe-born Chisora, who has lived in London since the age of 16.

“It was tough,” he said. “I thought it would be easier than it was but I trained for it to be tough. I trained for the best Dereck Chisora and that guy turned up.

“He stepped up a level here and took some amazing shots and landed some amazing shots. It felt like a great fight. After sharing the ring with Dereck I have a new-found respect for him.”

Chisora, 28, will pay Haye #20,000 for him to donate to a charity after the pair had a bet on their fight for the minor World Boxing Association (WBA) and World Boxing Organisation (WBO) International heavyweight titles.

“For a split second I didn’t concentrate and it was the sort of shot that puts you down,” said Chisora.

“Vitali has not got power and isn’t interested in fighting anymore, so David probably wins.”