Showing posts with label War -Syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label War -Syria. Show all posts

February 26, 2018

"I Joined Jihadis Fighting a Holy War by Holy Accident!"



More than 300 people from Kosovo went to join Islamists fighting "holy war" in Syria and Iraq - per capita the highest number in Europe. But not all of them match the popular image of a jihadi, as Helen Nianias discovered when she met a hipsterish young man for coffee in the Kosovan capital, Pristina.
A man with a short beard, a dark pea coat and a bemused expression weaves towards me between the tables of this smart cafe. Sitting down, he looks slightly embarrassed as a tall glass of coffee topped with a huge quiff of whipped cream is put in front of him. 
This is Albert Berisha. He's 31 years old and five years ago he went to Syria to fight. 
"I know it's hard to believe, but it happened," Albert says about his nine days with different extremist groups. Articulate and focused, he says his primary reason for going to Syria was to oppose the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. 
Al-Nusra front
GETTY IMAGES
Image captionAl-Nusra front fighters help a wounded man after a barrel bomb was dropped on Aleppo in November 2014
To misquote the film Withnail and I, Albert went to fight "by mistake", ricocheting between uncomfortable and frightening experiences. During this brief but eventful period, he says al-Nusra Front - a group once affiliated to al-Qaeda - tried to enlist him, before letting him go. Then he went to stay with a group of fellow ethnic Albanians - before finding out they were trying to join so-called Islamic State, which he didn't want to do. Albert says he escaped while they were busy fighting Kurds, and went to join Ahrar al-Sham, a coalition of Islamist and Salafist groups that is not classified as a terrorist organisation. He was taught how to take apart, clean and reassemble a Kalashnikov, but maintains that he never fought. After just five days, he realised life in Syria didn't match the romantic ideas he'd had of joining a revolution to liberate the oppressed. 
"It would be easy for me to lie like many others have done - saying they just wanted to offer humanitarian aid," he says. "I really thought I would complete my training and be included in the battlefield right away. What I never intended to do was become a member of a terrorist group."
Having grown up in Kosovo, which was at war with Serbia for two years during Albert's childhood, taking up arms for a cause did not seem such a strange idea. The way he tells the story he was not radical, but naïve - before he got there, Albert's knowledge of Syria was mostly gleaned from online videos.
"I had imagined this opposition to Assad didn't have people with criminal backgrounds in the ranks," he says. He thought it would, in his words, "only have people of goodwill who want to help the population".

What he found instead was brutal and petty squabbling between different Islamist factions, more harmful than helpful to Syrian civilians. After explaining to his unit commander that he had contravened a crucial rule - he hadn't asked his mother for permission - Albert was discharged from Ahrar al-Sham, and went home. He was away from Kosovo for barely two weeks. His mother didn't even know he had been to Syria. 
Well, not until Albert was arrested early one morning at his family home in 2014. He has since been convicted of terrorism charges and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison, which he is now appealing against. If the appeal fails he will go straight to jail. 
Explosion caused by Ahrar al-Sham
GETTY IMAGES
Image captionAhrar al-Sham, the group that trained Albert Berisha to assemble a Kalashnikov, said it planted this bomb under a Syrian military outpost in Idlib province in 2014
Because of the number of fighters it has exported, Kosovo has been referred to as "Europe's capital of jihad". It's a tremendously sensitive subject here. When I broach it with one government official, he abruptly ends the interview, saying that the question is "all about Russian and Serbian propaganda".  As IS's caliphate has crumbled in the Middle East, the question is what will happen to the fighters who have started trickling back home. Kosovo's Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, has said he is willing to have the fighters back, in sharp contrast to some countries, such as the UK, which are stripping jihadists of their nationality.  
Albert and his friend Arber have set up an organisation called the Institute for Security, Integration and Deradicalisation. They hope to dissuade people from going to fight, and try to counter the jihadist narrative on social media. They also offer help to returnees to stay on the right path, but admit they aren't sure how many of the fighters who come home will want to give up their radical ways. 
As for Albert, he thinks he will be 34 by the time he gets out of prison.
"When I was young, everyone thought I would go far in politics - and my first media appearance was as a suspected terrorist," he says ruefully.
Albert was right, his story is hard to believe. Who knows what happened in Syria in 2013, but today it's hard to imagine him holding a gun, let alone fighting for an al-Qaeda affiliate, or for Islamic State. 

Fatos Bytyqi

Two weeks after the end of hostilities in Kosovo, three young Albanian-Americans who had joined the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) were arrested by Yugoslav police, tortured and killed. Eighteen years later, the conflict has been largely forgotten, but the men's youngest brother continues a lonely fight for justice.

BBC 




February 8, 2018

Death Toll Rises From Syrian Gas Attacks}} Where is The'Genius' Now?




 Trump sent scores of  Cruise Missiles last year, attacking Syria because he says His wife cried when she saw dying children from a
 Syrian Gas Attack on their own people. The 'Genius" said then that was a warning to Assad to not use chemicals weapons again or he would attack again and Assad himself wouldn't be safe. We know Trump still watches TV, maybe the Media should report more about those children dying every day from regular chemical attacks facilitated by Trump's bro El Putin





New airstrikes launched by Russian and Syrian government forces on a besieged rebel-held region east of Damascus killed at least 10 people on Wednesday, opposition activists said, part of an ongoing aerial campaign that has killed dozens of civilians in the past few days.
Around 60 civilians were killed Tuesday in airstrikes and shelling that overwhelmed rescue workers and prompted calls for an immediate cease-fire that would allow the delivery of critical medical care.
The opposition's civil defense workers, known as the White Helmets, said 10 civilians were killed on Wednesday and many were wounded after warplanes targeted the town of Hamouriyeh, causing a building to collapse over its residents' heads. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an overall death toll of 23 civilians for Wednesday, which it said raised the number of people killed in the area since Jan. 29 to 384, including 94 children.
The Eastern Ghouta region, just east of the capital of Damascus, is home to nearly 400,000 people trapped by the violence and a tightening siege. The area has been under intense attack since the end of December as the government of President Bashar Assad struggles to bring it under control. 
The punishing campaign by the Syrian government and its ally, Russia, has also battered the northwestern province of Idlib, the largest area under opposition control in Syria. The Idlib offensive has hit hospitals and residential buildings and has intensified after al-Qaida-linked militants in Idlib shot down a Russian Su-25 fighter jet near the town of Saraqeb over the weekend.
The children's organization Save the Children said in a statement Wednesday that the escalation in the opposition-held enclave of Idlib is placing thousands of children in extreme danger.
It said more than 30 schools supported by Save the Children and its partners in the area have had to close temporarily due to security fears. Hundreds of families, many of whom have already been displaced and left living in tents that provide no shelter from bombs or shells, have come under increasing fire and have been left with almost nowhere left to turn, it added.
"Children and their families are fleeing in the hope of finding safety and help, but now the bombs are following them even into the camps and hospitals. They are fast running out of places to go," said Sonia Khush, the organization's Syria response director.
Meanwhile, France's foreign minister said Wednesday that Assad's government is likely using chlorine gas in its latest attacks on rebel-held areas.
Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM TV that "all indications show us today that the Syrian regime is using chlorine gas at the moment."
A U.N.-mandated investigator said Tuesday his team was probing reports that bombs allegedly containing weaponized chlorine have been used on two recent occasions in Syria.
"An investigation has been opened on that matter by the United Nations," Le Drian said. "The threat of using chemical weapons remains, this is a very serious situation."
The global chemical weapons watchdog said Wednesday it is investigating recent allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria. In a statement, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its fact-finding mission is "investigating all credible allegations" and reporting its findings to the organization's member states.
By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press

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October 19, 2017

UN Peacekeepers Ready to Go Into Raqqa in Syria





 A UN official in Damascus told the BBC access to the area was the main priority while warning that some 300,000 people who had fled the city had "enormous" needs in nearby camps.
Aid workers have said it may take years before they can return to their homes.
A US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters says it has full control of the city.
Operations were under way to uncover jihadist sleeper cells and remove landmines from the last areas of Raqqa, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Mustefa Bali said.
The four-month assault against IS destroyed Raqqa's civilian infrastructure and homes, humanitarian agencies say.  
Linda Tom, a UN official in the Syrian capital Damascus, said no civilians were believed to be in the city and the end of the battle for Raqqa was a "big change" for humanitarian workers.
"If we're now in a better position to get to people who need assistance, we're ready to do it and we're ready to increase our assistance," she said.

Before and after IS: Raqqa's clock tower roundabout


Pictures from 2014 and 2017 show the destruction of Raqqa's clock tower roundaboutImage copyrightDIGITAL GLOBE

She added that aid groups were struggling to assist the thousands of civilians who were in dozens of displaced camps around Raqqa, and who were in urgent need of water, food, and medicine.
World Food Program Middle East Director Muhannad Hadi told AP news agencythe defeat of IS in Raqqa was a "game-changer" for the work of humanitarian agencies.
On Tuesday, aid group Save the Children warned the humanitarian crisis in north-eastern Syria was "rapidly escalating", with camps "bursting at the seams".
"Most families have little or nothing to return home to and will likely be stuck in camps for months or years to come," the charity said in a statement.

Before and after IS: Raqqa's stadium


Pictures from 2014 and 2017 show the destruction of Raqqa's stadiumImage copyrightDIGITAL GLOBE

The SDF said on Tuesday it had taken Raqqa, a city where IS made the headquarters of its self-styled "caliphate" in early 2014, implementing an extreme interpretation of Islamic law and using beheadings, crucifixions, and torture to terrorize residents who opposed its rule.

NOTE:
No One is Suggesting ISIS is totally defeated. They still have thousands of miles of Territory in Iraq and Northern Syria. They are in Africa and Afghanistan, they fight for a religious idea in which they don't wait for nonbelievers to die to be punished but they do it while people are alive and kicking and the younger the better if they can't be persuaded to join.
The city also became home to thousands of jihadists from around the world who heeded a call to migrate there by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Map shows control over Raqqa

The jihadist group still has a number of footholds, the largest of which runs along the Euphrates river valley in the south-eastern province of Deir al-Zour.
However, the SDF and Syrian government forces have launched separate offensives in the province with the aim of taking control of a key crossing on the border with Iraq.
IS has also suffered a series of defeats in recent months to Iraqi government forces, who are advancing along the Euphrates on the other side of the border.
The US-led coalition said on Tuesday that forces it supported had reclaimed 93,790 sq km (36,200 sq miles) of Iraqi and Syrian territory seized by IS in 2014, and freed 6.6 million people from jihadist control. 
From BBC 

Map showing control of Iraq and Syria on 18 October 2017

September 7, 2017

UN Says Syria Used Chem Weapons More Than 2 Dozen Times







* Govt plane dropped sarin on Khan Sheikhoun -U.N. investigators

* Say 83 killed there, “majority of them women and children”

* Investigators say U.S. strike on mosque violated law

* Total of 33 uses of chemical weapons documented in Syria - U.N. (Adds quotes from news conference, new paras 6, 14, 17, 20)



 Government forces have used chemical weapons more than two dozen times during Syria’s civil war, including in April’s deadly attack on Khan Sheikhoun, U.N. war crimes investigators said on Wednesday.

A government warplane dropped sarin on the town in Idlib province, killing more than 80 civilians, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said, in the most conclusive findings to date from investigations into that chemical weapon attack.

The panel also said U.S. air strikes on a mosque in Al-Jina in rural Aleppo in March that killed 38 people, including children, failed to take precautions in violation of international law but did not constitute a war crime.

The weapons used on Khan Sheikhoun were previously identified as containing sarin, an odorless nerve agent. But that conclusion, reached by a fact-finding mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), did not say who was responsible.

“Government forces continued the pattern of using chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas. In the gravest incident, the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, killing dozens, the majority of whom were women and children,” the U.N. report said, declaring the attack a war crime.

Commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro told a news conference: “Not having access did not prevent us from establishing facts or reasonable grounds to believe what happened during the attack and establishing who is responsible.”

In their 14th report since 2011, U.N. investigators said they had in all documented 33 chemical weapons attacks to date.

Twenty-seven were by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, including seven between March 1 to July 7. Perpetrators had not been identified yet in six attacks, they said.

The Assad government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. It said its strikes in Khan Sheikhoun hit a weapons depot belonging to rebel forces, a claim “excluded” by Pinheiro.

That attack led U.S. President Donald Trump to launch the first U.S. air strikes on a Syrian air base.

A separate joint inquiry by the United Nations and OPCW aims to report by October on who was to blame for Khan Sheikhoun.

The U.N. investigators interviewed 43 witnesses, victims, and first responders linked to the attack. Satellite imagery, photos of bomb remnants and early warning reports were used.

‘GRAVELY CONCERNED’ ABOUT COALITION STRIKES

The independent investigators said they were gravely concerned about the impact of international coalition strikes on civilians.

“We continue to investigate coalition air strikes carried out to expel ISIS from Raqqa resulting in an increasing number of civilian casualties,” Pinheiro said.

The report said: “In al-Jina, Aleppo, forces of the United States of America failed to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects when attacking a mosque, in violation of the international humanitarian law.”

A U.S. military investigator said in June the air strike was a valid and legal attack on a meeting of al Qaeda fighters.

“However, the commission, however, has not found any evidence that such an al Qaeda meeting was taking place,” Pinheiro said.

The American F-15s hit the building adjacent to the prayer hall with 10 bombs, followed by a Reaper drone that fired two Hellfire missiles at people fleeing, the U.N. report said.

“Most of the residents of al-Jina, relatives of victims and first responders interviewed by the Commission stated on that on the evening in question, a religious gathering was being hosted in the mosque’s service building. This was a regular occurrence.”

By Stephanie Nebehay
Reuters
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by John Stonestreet
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

November 4, 2016

Russian Ghost Soldiers Dying for Real in Syria






The start of this year proved deadly for one unit of about 100 Russian fighters supporting President Bashar al-Assad's troops in northern Syria.

On Feb. 3, 38-year-old Maxim Kolganov was killed in a firefight with rebels near Aleppo when a bullet pierced his body armor and heart. Then, on March 9, the same unit came under shell-fire near Palmyra, and Sergei Morozov, also 38, was hit and died on the way to hospital.

Back in southern Russia, medals were delivered to their families: the order of bravery, with certificates signed by President Vladimir Putin. The medals, seen by Reuters, were intended to honor the sacrifice they had made for their country.

Except Kolganov and Morozov were not employed by the Russian state. They were in Syria as private contractors, a small part of an army of such people who are being deployed secretly by the Kremlin in Syria.

The deaths of Kolganov and Morozov, and others like them, have not been made public. Families say they were given little information and told not discuss the cases. In at least one case that Reuters uncovered, the family of a fighter killed in Syria received a payout of around $100,000 in compensation.

Officially, Russia is participating only in an air war over Syria with a small number of special forces on the ground. Moscow denies that its troops are involved in regular ground combat operations.

However, in interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of these deployments, Reuters has established that Russian fighters are playing a more substantial role in ground combat than that the role the Kremlin says is being played by the regular Russian military.

The sources described the Russian fighters as contractors or mercenaries, hired by a private company, rather than regular troops. But despite their unofficial status, according to these accounts, they operate in coordination with the Russian military and are given privileges back home normally available only to serving soldiers.

They fly to Syria on board Russian military aircraft which land at Russian bases. When they are injured, they are treated in hospitals reserved for the Russian military and get state medals, people interviewed by Reuters said.

Reuters was not able to determine the precise number of such Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria, nor the total number of casualties they have sustained, but three people familiar with the deployments said there were many units of a similar size to the one that included Kolganov and Morozov.

Neither the Kremlin nor the defense ministry responded to questions from Reuters. Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Syrian officials on the question of Russian mercenaries.

Reuters was not able to identify the company or companies that hired the fighters, or the source of any payments to the fighters or their families.

 

THE KREMLIN'S BIDDING

Under Russian law, it is illegal to work as a private military contractor in another country. However, Russian citizens have participated in wars across the former Soviet Union throughout the 25 years since it broke up in 1991.

In 2014, large numbers of Russians fought openly on behalf of pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine. Western countries say those rebel units were organized, paid and armed by Moscow; the Kremlin says any Russians there were independent volunteers.

Last year, Russia joined the war in Syria, its first conflict outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since the Cold War. Word got out among veterans of the Ukraine conflict that mercenaries were needed.

According to three people who knew Morozov and Kolganov, both had fought in Ukraine as part of the same unit that would eventually take them to Syria. It was led by a man who goes by the nomme de guerre "Vagner", who has become a leader of Russian mercenary forces in Syria, one of the sources said.

Little is known of his real identity. Two of Vagner's comrades say he had already traveled to Syria as a mercenary in 2013, before commanding his group of Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine. He then headed back to Syria, where Russia began its intervention in Sept. 2015.

A Russian-language website, Fontanka, has published what it says is the only known photo of him, a picture of a bald man in military fatigues striding near a helicopter. The website said his name was Dmitry Utkin. Reuters could not verify the image or the name.

One Ukrainian rebel commander who was close to the Vagner group in eastern Ukraine said many of the fighters there were tempted to fight in Syria because they had found it difficult to return to civilian life.

"I meet them now and see how much they have changed. I simply have nothing to discuss with them. They can't imagine any other life but war. That's why they go fight in Syria."

Morozov, the fighter who was killed near Palmyra, had returned from Ukraine to his home in southern Russia and dabbled in local politics.

He served as an aide to a member of parliament originally from his native city of Samara, Mikhail Degtyaryov. Degtyaryov told Reuters Morozov was a friend and confirmed that he had died in combat during the battle for Palmyra.

"Kapa", a former Russian officer and volunteer in the Ukraine conflict who asked to be identified only by a nomme de guerre, was friends with Morozov and also knew Kolganov and several other Russians who fought in Ukraine and went on to fight in Syria with the Vagner group. He is still in contact with some of them.

He said Morozov became frustrated when he attended a meeting of the far-right LDPR party, and no one listened to him. Morozov gave up lucrative business ventures to rejoin his Vagner comrades in Syria, Kapa said.

According to Kapa, Russian veterans of the Ukraine fighting were recruited for ground combat in Syria when it became clear that Syrians would not be able to hold ground without help, despite Russian air support.

"The Arabs are not warriors by nature, but are thrown together and told to storm high ground. They don't know how to storm it let alone conquer their instincts and move towards the bullets. How can you make them do it? Only by setting yourself as an example," Kapa said. "That's why our guys reinforced their units."

Asked if fighters in the group coordinated with the Russian defense ministry, Kapa said: "Of course".

According to two people who knew different fighters, they arrive in Syria via ships that land in the port of Tartous, leased by the Russian navy, or in military aircraft that land at Russia's Hmeymim air base in western Syria.

A doctor at a Russian military hospital told Reuters the wounded are evacuated to Russia on board military cargo planes and then treated in military hospitals.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared losing his job, said he had personally treated contractors injured in Syria, whose role there was clear from their conversations.

His hospital is officially meant to admit only serving military personnel, their family members or veterans who have served long careers in the military, a category his patients were too young to fit, the doctor said. 

When Morozov and Kolganov were killed, their bodies were flown to Russia aboard military aircraft and delivered to a morgue used by the military in the southern city of Rostov, according to relatives and Morozov's friend Kapa.

A Reuters reporter saw the Order of Courage which was given posthumously to Kolganov. It was delivered to his family home in Togliatti, a city on the Volga river, by someone in civilian clothes who did not identify himself, according to relatives. Reuters has also seen a photograph of Morozov's Order of Courage, dated Sept. 7, 2016.

 

SECRECY

Kolganov never told his relatives where he was deployed, but pictures he sent contained clues. One of them, in which he posed under an orange tree, is now on the wall of his parents' house.

The family got proof he was in Syria only after his death, when they saw his passport with a Syrian stamp in it.

The people who informed the family by phone of his death, and the people who turned over the body in the Rostov morgue, did not explain where he was killed or who he had been working for, the relatives said. The people they interacted with did not identify themselves and told the family not to talk to reporters, the relatives said.

In another case, a 55-year-old Russian woman said her husband was killed this year while working as a military contractor in Syria. She did not want her name, or her husband's, to be published because she feared reprisals.

"They only told me about it after his death. A young man ... phoned and told me. And he also threatened me, so I would never tell anyone about it," she said. "They are scary people."

By contrast, Russian authorities do acknowledge some combat deaths among serving military personnel, though often with a delay and without keeping an official tally.

Reuters was unable to determine how many Russians have died in Syria. According to Kapa, the small unit that included Kolganov and Morozov has lost four fighters since the start of the Russian campaign in Syria, including its commander, killed in the same firefight as Morozov. Dozens have been wounded.

Reuters earlier reported that Russian major Sergei Chupov was killed in Syria on Feb. 8 He also belonged to the Vagner group, a person who knew him told Reuters.

The doctor at the military hospital who spoke to Reuters said that the surgical department where he works had treated six or seven Russian fighters back from Syria with combat injuries who were not serving Russian servicemen.

The overall number of wounded contractors treated at his hospital could be a few times higher, the doctor said. He also says he knows of at least two more hospitals in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg where contractors are treated.

 Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev | TOGLIATTI, RUSSIA

October 3, 2016

US Suspends Diplomatic Relations with Russia Over Syria


 Syrians in Aleppo try to evacuate child as the city is bombed by Assad’s/Russians Forces


In a sharp deterioration of relations, the U.S. on Monday suspended diplomatic contacts with Russia over Syria, while Moscow halted cooperation on a joint program for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium.

The U.S. move followed a threat last week from Secretary of State John Kerry after new Russian and Syrian attacks on the city of Aleppo. The State Department said Russia had not lived up to the terms of an agreement last month to restore the cease-fire and ensure sustained deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged cities.

"This is not a decision that was taken lightly," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments ... and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed."
"Rather, Russia and the Syrian regime have chosen to pursue a military course, inconsistent with the Cessation of Hostilities, as demonstrated by their intensified attacks against civilian areas, targeting of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need, including through the September 19 attack on a humanitarian aid convoy," he said.

An airstrike last month hit a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy, killing 20 people. The United States has accused Russia of hitting the convoy, but both Russia and Syria deny it.

 U.S. deal on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium, in a move that also underscored rising tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Putin's decree cited Washington's "unfriendly actions" and the United States' inability to fulfill its obligations under the 2000 deal as reasons for the move. Under the agreement, which was expanded in 2006 and 2010, Russia and the U.S. each were to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough material for about 17,000 nuclear warheads.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said patience had run out with Russia.

"What is clear is that there is nothing more for the United States and Russia to talk about with regard to stopping the ongoing violence in Syria and that is unfortunate," he told reporters.

He said the U.S. would withdraw personnel that it had dispatched to take part in the creation of a joint U.S.-Russia center that was to have coordinated military cooperation and intelligence had the cease-fire taken hold. The suspension will not affect communications between the two countries aimed at de-conflicting counter-terrorism operations in Syria.

Last week, amid the deteriorating conditions, Kerry threatened to suspend contacts with Russia unless "immediate" action was taken to ease the situation. Despite no improvements, however, he did not order the suspension until Monday.



photo:adamfoxie* file

September 10, 2016

Agreement Reached with US-Russia to Reduce Violence


 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that the U.S. and Russia have finalized a plan to reduce violence in war-torn Syria and allow humanitarian access.

Kerry called it a possible "turning point" in the five-year civil war.

The deal calls for a nationwide ceasefire to begin at sunset on Sept. 12. If the ceasefire holds for 7 days, it could lead to Russian and U.S. military coordination, Kerry said.

"If this arrangement holds, then we will see a significant reduction in violence across Syria," Kerry said in an address in Geneva.

The agreement also pullbacks from both sides in a major road in the war-torn city of Aleppo and the creation of a demilitarized zone, and unhindered humanitarian access.

Under the agreement the U.S. would work with opposition groups and the Russians with the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad to make sure the cease fire holds.

"I want to emphasize: These measures can only be implemented effectively if all the parties live up to their obligations," Kerry said.
 
Kerry said that if "legitimate opposition groups" want to be considered legitimate parties they "need to distance themselves in every way possible" from the terror groups al-Nusra Front and ISIS.

"And we expect that Russia will ensure that the Syrian government will adhere to all of its requirements about its air activities and about the access for humanitarian deliverance," Kerry said.

The agreement would involve a joint center to share initial information and delineate territories controlled by opposition groups as part of the broader peace effort, Kerry said.

Eventually, U.S. and Russian experts would work together to defeat ISIS and al-Nusra in the country, he said.

The deal looked like it might not occur earlier Friday. ussian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he was considering "calling it a day" and blamed Washington for an impasse.

Shortly before midnight Geneva time (7 p.m. ET), Lavrov appeared with several boxes of pizza, saying: "This is from the U.S. delegation." A few minutes later he returned with two bottles of vodka, adding: "This is from the Russian delegation."

Kerry and Lavrov said two weeks ago that the two countries were "close" to a deal but that technical details remained and there was more work to do.

A nationwide ceasefire was declared in February, but it collapsed after frequent violations.

PHIL HELSEL

July 22, 2016

US Backed Syrian Fighters Give IS Ultimatum of 48 hrs To Get OUT Manbij


U.S.-backed fighters in Syria Thursday gave Islamic State jihadists 48 hours to evacuate their stronghold in the northern city of Manbij. The forces surrounded the city last month and have been slowly closing in on it.

According to a statement from the Manbij Military Council, the IS fighters would be afforded the opportunity to leave the city with light weapons, without interference.

"This initiative is the last remaining chance for besieged members of Daesh [IS] to leave the town," said the Manbij Military Council, part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance.
The SDF is allied with the U.S.-led coalition of forces fighting against IS in northern Syria. The statement from the military council comes at the same time as tensions are flaring in the country following the reported deaths of dozens of civilians in air raids carried out by coalition forces.
Heavy civilian toll

Air raids near Manbij Tuesday killed at least 56 civilians, including children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Activists are planning protests across Syria and opposition government leaders are now calling on Western countries to halt airstrikes.

Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters man a checkpoint as civilians on pick-up trucks evacuate from the southern districts of Manbij city after the SDF advanced into it in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, July 1, 2016.

Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters man a checkpoint as civilians on pick-up trucks evacuate from the southern districts of Manbij city after the SDF advanced into it in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, July 1, 2016.

By Thursday, activists had taken to social media to organize protests and ask people from around the world to take to the streets to call attention to the casualties. One Syrian news page on Facebook encouraged its followers to demonstrate in opposition to “the massacres carried out by coalition warplanes.”
“We ask all Syrians, whatever their affiliations or sects, and all free people of the world and especially the people of Manbij to stand in solidarity with our devastated city on Sunday, July 24," wrote one page that publishes local news about Manbij.

Several other local news pages from Manbij posted photos from protests that took place Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Syria’s main opposition leader has called for the air strikes to be halted until a full investigation can be conducted into Tuesday’s civilian deaths.

“It is essential that such investigation not only result in revised rules of procedure for future operations, but also inform accountability for those responsible for such major violations," Syrian National Coalition President Anas al-Abdah wrote in a letter to foreign leaders.

The UN has also condemned the raids, which it said caused the deaths of more than 20 children.
“Such horrific incidents confront parties to this conflict with their shared responsibility to respect international humanitarian laws that protect children in war," said UNICEF's Syria representative, Hanaa Singer.

In a statement, the U.S.-led coalition said that it had conducted the air strikes and it was gathering information about the reports of civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, Syria’s main opposition leader has called for the air strikes to be halted until a full investigation can be conducted into Tuesday’s civilian deaths.

“It is essential that such investigation not only result in revised rules of procedure for future operations, but also inform accountability for those responsible for such major violations," Syrian National Coalition President Anas al-Abdah wrote in a letter to foreign leaders.

The U.N. has also condemned the raids, which it said caused the deaths of more than 20 children.
"Such horrific incidents confront parties to this conflict with their shared responsibility to respect international humanitarian laws that protect children in war," said UNICEF's Syria representative, Hanaa Singer.
In a statement, the U.S.-led coalition said that it had conducted the air strikes and it was gathering information about the reports of civilian casualties.

Voice of America

February 12, 2016

Putin Trying to Destroy E.U. Killing as Many Woman and Children as ISIS in Syria


                                                                        


Relations between Russia and Turkey have been dismal since late November, when a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber on the border with Syria, killing its pilot. That began a war of words between Moscow and Ankara that ought to concern everyone, since the former has several thousand nuclear weapons and the latter is a member of NATO.

Kremlin propaganda against Ankara has increased of late, setting the stage for further confrontation. As I explained here last week, Russian media outlets initially blamed the Sinai crash of Metrojet 9268 last autumn on the Islamic State, an atrocity which killed 224 innocents, nearly all of them Russians—a quite plausible claim. However, the Kremlin has abruptly shifted course and now blames the mass murder on Turkish ultranationalist terrorists, without any evidence provided to support that explosive assertion.

Where things may be going between Russia and Turkey, ancient enemies who have warred many times over the centuries, was evidenced this week, when the Kremlin announced large-scale surprise military exercises in the regions of the country that are close to Turkey. Troops were moved to full combat readiness, the last stage before a shooting war, with Sergei Shoygu, the Russian defense minister, announcing on TV: “We began our surprise check of the military preparedness in the Southwest strategic direction.”

That would be the direction of Turkey. These snap exercises involve the Southern Military District and the navy’s Black Sea Fleet, which are deeply involved in Russia’s not-so-secret secret war in eastern Ukraine. However, they also involve the navy’s Caspian Sea flotilla, which is nowhere near Ukraine.

It’s difficult to see how Turkey could stand idly by as an ancient city of two million is crushed just fifty miles from its frontier.

This implies that the snap exercises, which have been prominently featured in Kremlin media, are about Turkey, not Russia. This goes back to recent events on the ground in Syria, where the Kremlin-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad is slowly crushing its opponents, thanks to prodigious military help from both Russia and Iran. Regime forces are closing in on Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, and 50,000 civilians have already fled the city in panic.

The Russian military displays scant regard for civilian casualties. Mr. Putin’s air force killed almost 700 Syrian civilians last month (to compare, the Islamic State killed less than a hundred Syrian civilians in January), and if the crushing of the Chechen capital of Groznyy in 1994-95, when Russian forces killed roughly 35,000 Chechens, mostly civilians, in just six weeks, is any guide, residents of Aleppo are wise to get as far away as they can.

Needless to add, such a bloody siege of Aleppo would set off a humanitarian crisis that the world could not fail to notice. It’s difficult to see how Turkey could stand idly by as an ancient city of two million is crushed just fifty miles from its frontier.

That is precisely the scenario that has seasoned analysts worried. In Pentagon circles, among those who are watching the budding war between Moscow and Ankara, citations of this famous movie clip are now commonplace. Distressingly, smart Russian analysts are thinking along similar lines.

Today Pavel Felgenhauer published his analysis under the alarming title, “Russia has begun preparations for a major war,” and he marshals a convincing case that the snap exercises in the country’s southwest are really a cover for a shooting war with Turkey—and therefore with NATO too, if Ankara is perceived as defending itself and can assert its right to Article 5, collective self-defense, which obligates all members of the Atlantic Alliance to come to Turkey’s aid.

‘It’s clear that there has to be some actual ‘redline’ for Mr. Obama, something that the United States cannot tolerate Russia doing – but where is it? If I don’t know, I’m sure the Kremlin doesn’t either.’

As The New York Times dryly noted of the Kremlin, “The [Defense] Ministry has ordered surprise maneuvers over the last three years as tensions between the East and West have worsened. The maneuvers have at times come as combat escalated in Ukraine and Syria.” In fact, using large-scale military exercises as a cover for aggression is old hat in Moscow. It was used during the August 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which explains why NATO always got jumpy when Moscow held military exercises anywhere NATO territory, while snap exercises like this week inevitably caused Cold War panic.

Mr. Felgenhauer paints an alarmingly plausible scenario. As rebel forces defend Aleppo in Stalingrad fashion, the Syrian military, with Russian help, commences a protracted siege of the city, employing massive firepower, which becomes a humanitarian nightmare of a kind not seen in decades, a tragedy that would dwarf the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo. However, any Turkish move to lift that siege, even with international imprimatur, would quickly devolve into all-out war.

Mr. Felgenhauer minces no words about this: “Russia has begun the deployment of forces and resources for a major war with Turkey.” Mr. Putin has decided to let his client, the Assad regime, win its bloody civil war, first in the north around Aleppo, and any moves by Turkey or NATO to stop them will be met with force. So far, President Barack Obama has let Mr. Putin do whatever he likes in Syria, no matter the cost in innocent lives, so the Kremlin has no reason to think that will change.

The Yom Kippur War of October 1973, when the United States and the Soviet Union came alarmingly close to great power war, is cited as an ominous precedent by Mr. Felgenhauer—albeit one that ended happily when nuclear war was averted thanks to wise diplomacy. There is no reason to think the befuddled Obama administration is that diplomatically deft.

But who is Pavel Felgenhauer? Regrettably, he is not a guy in furry slippers in someone’s basement spouting weird conspiracy theories. Instead, he is one of Russia’s top defense analysts with solid connections in that country’s military. He is a frequent critic of the Russian military and the Putin regime; it’s noteworthy that he published his analysis in Novoe Vremya (New Times), a Ukrainian newsmagazine, not a Russian outlet, perhaps because this sort of truth-telling is unwelcome at home. His prognostications are often correct, for instance his prediction of the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008, which he called two months before it happened.

That is NATO’s top concern right now: that after years of weakness and vacillation, the Obama administration may find itself backed into a corner by aggressive Russian action.

Is Mr. Felgenhauer’s alarmism warranted? Many Western insiders think along similar lines. By letting Mr. Putin get away with whatever he likes in Syria, Mr. Obama has created a deeply dangerous situation in the region. By abandoning his infamous Syria “redline” in September 2013, the White House in effect outsourced American policy there to Mr. Putin, as I warned you at the time, and which the Obama administration, powerless to influence terrible events in Syria, is slowly realizing.

“Are we heading for our ‘Sarajevo moment’?” a senior NATO official bluntly asked: “It’s clear that there has to be some actual ‘redline’ for Mr. Obama, something that the United States cannot tolerate Russia doing – but where is it? If I don’t know, I’m sure the Kremlin doesn’t either.”

That is NATO’s top concern right now: that after years of weakness and vacillation, the Obama administration may find itself backed into a corner by aggressive Russian action. Particularly if coupled with intemperate Turkish reactions, that could create a nightmare of historic proportions around Aleppo. Although the White House has foresworn any military intervention in Syria’s fratricide, it’s worth noting that Mr. Obama led NATO to war in Libya exactly five years ago to prevent possible slaughter in Benghazi, a far smaller humanitarian threat than the terrifying sword of Russian artillery and airpower that’s hanging over Aleppo right now.

For their part, the Russians are upping the ante, with regime media publishing claims by the Defense Ministry that air attacks on Aleppo yesterday that killed civilians, including the bombing of a hospital, were actually perpetrated by U.S. Air Force A-10s, a war crime that they say the Pentagon has tried to pin on Moscow. In fact, American intelligence knows this was the work of the Russian Air Force: “We have intercepts of the Russian pilots talking during the attack,” explained a Pentagon official, “as usual, the Russians are lying.” Yet this sort of dishonest Kremlin propaganda, what spies term disinformation, is exactly what the Obama administration has refused to counter, as I’ve explained in this column, in a futile effort to keep the Kremlin happy.

Mr. Putin instead has taken his measure of Mr. Obama and has doubled down, saving his client regime in Syria. Russia has won in Syria and NATO and the West are stuck with that outcome, as are the unlucky residents of Aleppo. “I hope Obama doesn’t decide to get a backbone now,” suggested a retired American general who knows the Russians well, “since the Kremlin is in ‘drive’ in Syria and isn’t about to do ‘reverse’.”

There seems to be little chance of this White House taking on the Russians in Syria. However, there are no guarantees that Ankara is equally inclined to let the Kremlin do whatever it wants on its southern border, and that is how NATO could get embroiled in World War III over the Levant. Cooler heads may prevail, and all sensible people should hope they do here.

By letting Putin get away with whatever he likes in Syria, Obama has created a deeply dangerous situation.

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