Category Archives: Syria

Ceasefire Begins in Syria

Posted on in Syria title_rule

A nationwide seven-day ceasefire began in Syria on Monday 12 September after a weekend of air strikes, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that it was mostly holding across the country at the start of its second day on Tuesday.

The monitoring body has reported that some air attacks and shelling were reported in the first hours of the truce on Monday evening, adding that incidents were reported in areas including the north Hama countryside, East Ghouta and north of Aleppo. This however appeared to die down, with the Observatory reporting that it had not recorded a single civilian death from fighting in the fifteen hours since the ceasefire came into effect at 7 PM (1600 GMT) on Monday.

The deal was rached late on Friday (9 September) in Geneva, after months of talks between Russia and the United States. It is the second attempt this year to halt Syria’s five-year-old civil war. Russia is a major backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the US supports some of the rebel groups that are fighting to topple him. Syrian state media has reported that President Bashar al-Assad has welcomed the deal. Under the plan, Syrian government forces will end combat missions in specified opposition-held areas. Russia and the US will then establish a joint centre to combat jihadist groups, including the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (known until recently as the Nusra Front). The 10-day truce is due to be followed by co-ordinated US-Russian air strikes against jihadist militants.

Ahead of the ceasefire, the Syrian government carried out heavy airstrikes in several rebel areas over the weekend, killing about 100 people. Syrian activists have reported that Russian warplanes have also been in action in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. On Monday, the first day of the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, fighting had raged on several key fronts before the ceasefire, including in Aleppo and the southern provinces of Quneitra. The Observatory has disclosed that at least 31 people were killed by airstrikes on rebel-held Idlib province and eastern Damascus, and by bombardement of villages in the northern Homs countryside and rocket attacks in the city of Aleppo on Monday, before the truce began.

While the ceasefire appears to be holding on its second day, it currently remains unclear whether rebel factions will abide by it to the end. The Free Syrian Army group has written to the United States administration stating that while it would “co-operate positively” with the ceasefire, it was concerned that it would benefit the government. Another rebel group, the influential hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, has rejected the deal. In a video statement, the group’s second-in-command, Ali al-Omar, stated, “a rebellious people who have fought and suffered for six years cannot accept half-solutions.” However the group’s commander stopped short of explicitly stating that it would not abide by its terms. If the truce does prove to hold, jihadist groups like IS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham will face directly face the power of Russian and US air forces; moderate rebels and civilians in the areas that they hold will no longer face the threat of indiscriminate air strikes, such as barrel-bombing, however the Syrian air force will not be grounded completely; aid deliveries will be allowed to areas that are currently under siege; and President Assad will be in a stronger position as the US and Russia engage two of his most effective military opponents while moderate rebels observe the truce with his forces.

The conflict in Syria, which began with an uprising against President Assad, has now been going on for five years and has claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people. Millions have fled abroad, many of them seeking asylum in the European Union, but nearly 18 million people remain in Syria, which ahs been carved up by fighting between government and rebel forces.

Syria’s History of Failed Agreements

  • February 2012 – Syrian government “categorically rejects” an Arab League plan, which calls for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission.
  • June 2012/January 2014/January 2016 – Three failed UN-sponsored peace conferences in Geneva.
  • September 2013 – Kerry and Lavrov negotiate a deal to strip the Syrian government of its chemical weapons in return for the US backing away from air strikes. Since then, the government has again and repeatedly been accused of using toxic chemicals against rebel-held areas.
  • February 2016 – World powers agree in Munich on a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” in Syria excluding jihadist groups. There is no agreement on any joint US-Russian operations. The “pause” quickly unravels as President Assad promises to regain control of the whole country.
  • March 2016 – Russian President Vladimir Putin declared “mission accomplished” in Syria and orders the removal of “main part” of Russia’s air army in Syria. Russian air strikes however have continued ever since.
Tagged as: , , , , ,

Bombing IS Campaign in Syria and Iraq: Statistics

Posted on in Iraq, Syria title_rule

While United States President Barack Obama was determined not to get into a full war in Syria and Iraq, statistics from the two-year campaign show that the war is far from over.

When the US-led coalition began bombing the so-called Islamic State (IS) group’s targets in Iraq and Syria, senior general and politicians warned at the time that it would be a “generational struggle” that would “last many years.” Two years on, that prediction has proved to be accurate and while the campaign has had its successes, it appears to be far from over.

More than 14,000 strikes have been carried out in the past two years at a cost of US $8.4 billion to the United States and US $365 million to the United Kingdom. In these strikes, some 26,000 targets have been either damaged or destroyed. Rather than lessening the campaign, officials have opted to step it up in its second year. In its second year, there have been 2,336 more airstrikes, which have also resulted in twice as many civilian deaths. According to a London-based monitor, called Airwars, 1,080 civilians have been killed. The Pentagon however assesses that only fifty-five civilians have been killed by US aircraft while the UK Ministry of Defense states that British airstrikes have not resulted in any innocent deaths. In Iraq, some 3.2 million Iraqis have been displaced, however the number of Syrians is considerably greater and this mass exodus has changed borders, swelled towns and emptied cities.

While when he first announced the airstrikes in 2014, President Barack Obama stated that he “…will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” that appears to have failed as there are currently some 3,800 US soldiers in Iraq. US, UK and French Special Forces are also operating in Iraq as well as in Syria. A further 400 American troops will also be deployed to an airbase south of Mosul to help the push on that strategic city.

Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , ,

Growing cooperation between Iran and Russia

Posted on in Iran, Russia, Syria title_rule

The security implications of what appears to be a foreign policy matter.

Moscow’s expansion of its arms sales in the Middle East gives it another dimension through which to pursue its geopolitical goals. Moscow has long been the world’s second largest arms exporter after the US, with average annual income in 2012−15 reaching $14.5 billion. But over the past decade, it has particularly increased its arms exports to the Middle East, part of a broader Russian strategy of re-establishing Moscow as a key player in the region. However until recently, Russia was cautious in using weapons exports as political leverage. This has changed, and the growth of the Russian share of the Middle East arms market will make the Kremlin more decisive still. The instability in the Middle East suggests that that region will remain one of the chief markets for arms for years to come and will help Russian arms suppliers to challenge US dominance there.

On the 16th of August, The Russian Defense Ministry reported long-range Russian TU-22M3 bombers based in Iran have struck a number of targets inside Syria. Russian bombers flying from an Iranian air base struck rebel targets across, dramatically underscoring the two countries’ growing military ties and highlighting Russia’s ambitions for greater influence in a turbulent Middle East. The long-range Tu-22 bombers took off from a base near Hamadan in western Iran and launched raids in the Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Deir al-Zour and Idlib. The ministry said the bombers were accompanied by Russian fighter jets based in Syria. Russia has carried out strikes in support of government troops there where both countries are loyal allies of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russian intervention marked a turning point in the fate of the Assad regime, which had been losing ground to rebel forces. But until now, Russia’s long-range bombers, which require longer airstrips, had to be launched from Russian territory more than 1,200 miles away. Now, those same bombers need to fly only about 400 miles from Iran to Syria. The shorter distance, using less fuel and allowing a bigger payload, will allow Russia to intensify its air campaign against rebel-held areas. Syrian government troops and opposition fighters are now locked in a battle for the strategic city of Aleppo, where residents face a growing humanitarian crisis. The flights marked the first time Russia has launched strikes from Iranian territory. Iran has long banned foreign militaries from establishing bases on its soil. But the raids appeared to signal a budding alliance that would expand Russia’s military footprint in the region.

Russia’s Defense Ministry reported that its long-range bombers only struck targets linked to the Islamic State and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, a group that formally split from al-Qaeda last month and changed its name from Jabhat al-Nusra. The strikes destroyed five major ammunition depots, training camps and three command posts. But rights groups have criticized both Russia and the Syrian regime for repeated strikes on civilian targets, including homes, schools and hospitals. Conversely Russian and Syrian officials have denied those reports.

On Tuesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Syrian and Russian troops have used banned incendiary weapons in civilian areas. The joint Syrian-Russian military operation has been using incendiary weapons, which burn their victims and start fires, in civilian areas of Syria in violation of international law.

Incendiary weapons, as the term is understood in international humanitarian law (IHL) describes weapons that act mainly through fire and heat. Napalm and white phosphorous are probably the best known incendiary substances used in incendiary weapons. 1980 Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons (Protocol III to the CCW) prohibits the aerial delivery, in relation to the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict, of incendiary weapons within a concentration of civilians.

The illegal use was already addressed in June 2016 when the Russian state-run television reportedly released a video footage showing incendiary weapons, specifically, RBK-500 ZAB-2.5SM bombs, being loaded on a Su-34 fighter-ground attack aircraft. The use of incendiary weapons by Russia was confirmed by Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, in a letter to Human Rights Watch. Lavrov attributed the ‘significant humanitarian damage’ caused by incendiary weapons in Syria to their ‘improper use’. Incendiary weapons have been used at least 18 times over the past nine weeks, including in attacks on the opposition-held areas in the cities of Aleppo and Idlib on August 7, 2016.

Countries meeting at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva on August 29, 2016 should condemn the use of air-dropped incendiary weapons in civilian areas of Syria in violation of the treaty’s Protocol III on incendiary weapons. However it is important to remember that the implementation of such a belligerent tactic has been historically shared by many other countries despite the international conventions; an example of that is the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Ukraine conflict in 2014.

Israeli Defense Minister Accuses Turkey of Purchasing IS Oil

Posted on in Syria title_rule


Israel’s defense minister has accused Turkey of purchasing oil from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, thereby funding the militants’ activities.

Speaking in Athens, Greece, Moshe Yaalon disclosed that IS had “enjoyed Turkish money for oil for a very, very long period of time.” Speaking to reporters after a meeting with his Greek counterpart, Mr Yaalon further disclosed that “its up to Turkey, the Turkish government, the Turkish leadership, to decide whether they want to be part of any kind of cooperation to fight terrorism,” adding, “this is not the case so far. As you know, Daesh (Islamic State) enjoyed Turkish money for oil for a very, very long period of time. I hope that it will be ended.” Mr Yaalon also alleged that Turkey had “permitted jihadists to move from Europe to Syria and Iraq and and back.”

Turkey has denied allowing IS smuggling. Recently, the United States also rejected Russian claims that Turkish government officials were in league with the militants. While last month, US State Department officials rejected Russian allegations of Turkish government involvement, a state department spokesman did disclose that IS oil was being smuggled into Turkey via middlemen.

Efforts by Israel and Turkey to repair damaged ties already hit a set back earlier this month over demands for compensation for the deaths of ten Turkish activists on a ship that was carrying pro-Palestinian activists in 2010. They were killed in clashes with Israeli commandos who intercepted a flotilla that was trying to break Israel’s blockade on Gaza. In December, senior Israeli and Turkish officials met in a bid to try to repair relations, raising hopes of progress in negotiations to import Israeli natural gas.

IS has captured swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, which includes operating oil fields that are now under the militant group’s control.

Tagged as: , , , , , ,

France Begins Syria Surveillance Flights Ahead of Possible Airstrikes

Posted on in France, Iraq, ISIS, Islamic State, Syria title_rule

Last week, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced that France had carried out its first surveillance flights over Syria in order to prepare for possible airstrikes on Islamic State (IS) group extremists.

Speaking to reporters, Fabius stated that “these surveillance flights will determine what action can be taken when the time comes.”  A French military source, the reconnaissance flights were carried out by two of France’s Rafale fighter jets, which are equipped with photo and video cameras.  The source disclosed that the “two Rafales left the Persian Gulf this morning (Tuesday 9 September) and have just returned.”

The surveillance flights follow President Francois Hollande’s announcement last Monday that France would soon begin surveillance flights over Syria.  During a press conference, he stated that the intelligence gathered from these flights would then be used in order to determine if France would go ahead with airstrikes against IS group targets in the Middle Eastern country.  The French President noted that he wanted to find out “what is being prepared against us and what is being done against the Syrian population.”

This move represents a major shift within France’s strategy in Syria as while the country is part of a coalition of nations that have been carrying out airstrikes against the extremist group in neighbouring Iraq, Paris has so far not commented on extending its bombing mission to Syria.

While President Hollande noted that the fight against terrorism needs to be carried out both at home and in places where it is entrenched, he ruled out deploying ground forces to Syria, stating that such a move would be “ineffective and unrealistic.”