Russian-backed air strikes hit Islamic State in southern Syria:...
Assault on IS positions in the Yarmouk Basin. IS are, as they did before, taking over the positions of former rebels in the province. According to the reports, 18 or so villages abandoned by the rebels awaiting Assad’s govt and Russian troops have been occupied by IS:
Russian and Syrian jets stepped up their bombing of an Islamic State bastion along the Jordan-Israel border in southwestern Syria, as the militants pushed into areas abandoned by other rebel groups, diplomatic and opposition sources said.
Islamic State-affiliated forces entrenched in the Yarmouk Basin, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, also repelled a ground attack by the Syrian army and its allies, the sources added.
The rebel evacuations continue, allowing (once IS are also removed), the SAA units to occupy the agreed 1974 demarcation line:
On Sunday, the evacuation of hundreds of rebels and their families resumed for the third day from villages along the Golan frontier as part of a Russian-brokered surrender deal, sources said.
The deal brings the area back under government control and lets Syrian army brigades return to where they were stationed before Syria’s seven-year-old conflict - posts near a 1974 demilitarized zone with Israel on the Golan frontier.
The fighting has also interrupted the evacuation of the Sy White Helmets mentioned above:
Separately, a source told Reuters on Sunday the unrest in the border area had disrupted efforts to evacuate hundreds of members of Syria’s “White Helmet” civil defence group over the Golan frontier into Jordan.
The plan, backed by Israel and Western powers, had meant to evacuate 800 people overnight, but only 422 made it because of the increased presence of Islamic State and government roadblocks, the source said
Dame Chakrabarti appears to have finally taken leave of her senses.
Shami Chakrabarti, Labour's shadow attorney general, said Mr Javid had "secretly and unilaterally abandoned Britain's opposition to the death penalty" and appeared to be encouraging "this grave human rights abuse".
In a sign of high tensions, Israel launched two David’s Sling interceptor missiles at rockets which it said fell inside Syrian territory and were part of the internal fighting there.
It was Israel’s first operational use of the mid-range David’s Sling, which is jointly manufactured by U.S. firm Raytheon Co (RTN.N). The incident triggered sirens in northern Israel and on the Golan, sending many residents to shelters.
An Israeli source briefed on the David’s Sling activation said the interceptor missiles were launched following an initial assessment that the two incoming Syrian SS-21 rockets would hit the Israeli side of the Golan. When Israeli sensors realized they would land on the Syrian side, David’s Sling was given an abort order for the interceptors to self-destruct in mid-air.
Russia has sent envoys as they want to preserve the ‘74 demarcation. Israel is still concerned at Iranian influence in the Region:
Russia has said it wants to see the separation of forces on the frontier preserved. Lavrov’s deputy, Grigory Karasin, told Russian media the foreign minister’s trip was “urgent and important”.
Netanyahu, in broadcast remarks, said he would tell the envoys that “Israel insists on the separation of forces agreement between us and Syria being honored, as they were honored for decades until the civil war in Syria broke out”.
He also reaffirmed “Israel will continue to act against any attempt by Iran and its proxies to entrench militarily in Syria”.
Considering that that UK has apparently stripped the persons in question of their UK citizenship, I'm not sure what grounds the UK would have for involving themselves in the case beyond providing intelligence.
Earlier this year, in an interview with Associated Press, they complained that they would not get a fair trial because the UK government had stripped them of their British citizenship.
the Kurds try them despite the Kurds' legal authority to conduct trials being somewhat nebulous, or
the Kurds turn them over to the Syrian government, who unquestionably do have legal authority, or
some other legal authority claims jurisdiction on some grounds and let them conduct the trial, or
reverse the decision to strip them of their citizenship, and ask the Kurds to please hand them over.
Options "1" and "2" will likely result in a short trial and a shallow grave. If option "3" were pursued it would at least have the potential to involve a fair trial, even if the end result is much the same as with the previous two options. I suspect that the persons lobbying on behalf of the two suspects seem to be angling for option "4", which may be the only one which gives them any chance at survival.
Note to the Foreign Office: Please slip a quiet word to the Kurds to let them know that there may be something in it for them if they could discretely arrange to avoid such future inconveniences to Her Majesty's government.
The US backed Syrian rebels can expect to be abandoned.
The Syrian rebels who spent so long begging for American help and arms can now expect to be entirely abandoned. As part of the de-escalation process, Trump is said to be eager to withdraw the 2,000 or so US special forces still stationed in Syria.
Israel have said they will have no problems working with Assad in future.
Benjamin Netanyahu dropped his own diplomatic bombshell following yet another meeting with Putin in Moscow (they have met at least nine times during the past 18 months). Israel, he said, would have no problem working with an Assad regime in Syria in the future.
This about face from the Israelis appears to result from Russian assurances that they can ease Iranian and Hezbollah forces back home now that the war is winding down.
So why is Bibi now keen on Assad? Because his main concern is routing the Iranian forces who have been settling down in Syria — often with Russian connivance. Israel also wants fighters from Hezbollah to return to Lebanon, and for Syria’s own forces to stay away from the border areas with Israel. If Russia would agree to this, Israel would be content to accept that Syria is under Russian management — and that the Kremlin has its own naval base on the Mediterranean.
The Russians are offering $50 billion in investment in Iran's gas industry as incentive to them. Hezbollah can declare victory and go home.
And what do the Iranians get in return? In what appears to be compensation for selling them out, Putin announced $50 billion in direct Russian investment in Iran’s oil and gas sectors — up from precisely nada the day before. Hezbollah can now retreat to southern Lebanon and Iran can even save face by saying its revolutionary guard has seen off Assad’s enemies.
The US have declared they no longer have a strategic interest in Syria.
Trump’s adviser John Bolton said that Assad’s continued rule in Syria is no longer a ‘strategic issue’ for the US. As comebacks go, this is rather extraordinary. Assad has gone from being the focus of western ire —with the House of Commons even taking a vote on whether to bomb his army — to being there for good.
Assad is now the first Arab leader to survive a coordinated regime change campaign by the West, Gulf Arabs, and Israel since Nasser survived the Suez crisis in 1956.
As one seasoned Middle Eastern observer has drily noted, the West and its allies threw everything at him — but to no avail. Assad is now the first Arab leader to survive an attempt at regime change coordinated by the West, Gulf Arabs and Israel since Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdul Nasser emerged unscathed from the Suez debacle back in 1956.
A recent survey of Arab public opinion shows that the US and Israel are still viewed as the greatest threats to regional security, ahead of Iran or Russia. An overwhelming majority of Arabs have a negative view of US policy towards Syria (before the recent about face).
An annual survey of Arab public opinion published last week revealed that the US (84 per cent) and Israel (90 per cent) are still perceived by Arabs as the greatest threats to regional security, ahead of Syrian allies Iran and Russia. More to the point, according to the same survey an overwhelming majority of Arabs (81 per cent) were also found to view US foreign policy towards Syria negatively.
The author thinks that Trump's decision to stay out of Syria has been the most clear-headed Middle East related decision by a US president in many decades.
But his decision to leave Syria’s fate to the Syrians (and their new friends in Russia) is the bravest and most logical decision by a US president when it comes to the Middle East since Eisenhower ordered Britain, France and Israel to withdraw from Suez.
This US disinterest in the Middle East is likely to last, since the US today has much less dependence upon the oil reserves of the region.
We had best get used to this American disinterest. Once, Washington policed the Middle East because it thought it would always depend on the region for its energy. Now America will soon be energy self-sufficient — and the expectation of this is visibly shaping its foreign policy. Last year the US produced 90 per cent of its domestic energy needs. So why should the US continue to spend blood and treasure keeping peace in the Middle East? Fracking means it can now finally leave, as long as the Saudis remain willing to help control oil prices.
The author feels that everyone except the terrorists and the inveterate warmongers comes out a winner. The US gets free of a potential quagmire. Russia maintains their relationship with Syria. The Iranians and Hezbollah go home, making the Gulf Arabs and Israel happy.
The result of the Helsinki summit Syrian peace initiative that Trump pulled out of his hat, then, promises to be a win-win for everyone other than the terrorists over there and the warmongers in our midst. Russia gets a proxy in Syria and keeps its warm-water naval port on the Mediterranean coast, as a reward for its brilliant military gamble and massive financial investment in saving Assad. The US gets out of the quagmire. The Gulf Arabs’ paranoia about Iranian expansionism is less acute. Israel gets rid of the threat on its border posed by Iran and Hezbollah. And even the latter can console themselves with the knowledge that their sacrifices prevented a genocide against their fellow shia.
I will add my own speculation that if the Iranians do go home, the US may decide that perhaps the nuclear deal with Iran was not so bad after all and reverse themselves on that score as well.
The world being the place that it is, I suspect that things won't work out with all the loose ends wrapped up quite so neatly as the article suggests. However, I won't be surprised to see Syria drifting further and further from the front pages of the newspapers as time goes on.
A junior Canadian diplomat saw warning signs last month that the White Helmets were on borrowed time and sent "extremely forceful" notices up the chain which landed on foreign minister Freeland's desk.
It was late last month when a savvy young Canadian diplomat saw and heard the warning signs in southwestern Syria.
(...) It wasn't long before "extremely forceful" notices were landing in the inboxes of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her top officials, multiple, confidential government and diplomatic sources told CBC News.
Freeland raised the issue during a formal dinner with her NATO counterparts. She said that the West had an obligation to the White Helmets due to them having been so publicly supported by Western countries.
Freeland raised the plight of the White Helmets in the region of Daraa — the cradle of the rebellion against Assad — in an emotional, off-the-cuff address during a formal dinner with her NATO counterparts.
According to federal sources, she said they had a "moral obligation" to help people that Western nations had publicly lauded.
Freeland and Trudeau followed this up with some extensive lobbying over the course of the summit.
Both Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went further and used what are known as "formal interventions to draw attention to this" at the summit, said federal government sources, who could not speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the file.
When back in Ottawa, Trudeau marshalled the various ministries together to coordinate a plan.
Once back in Canada, the sources say, Trudeau ordered a marshalling of federal departments, including Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Public Safety, all of which were required to create the conditions for rescue and resettlement.
The story isn't clear what this involved, but from the context it appears to be referring to the deal with Israel to get their cooperation. Cotler has extensive connections with various senior influential people in Israel due to his past work on the behalf of Jewish dissidents in the Soviet Union (as well as other unrelated causes) and perhaps was able to use these connections to his advantage in this case. This however is speculation as this aspect was not mentioned in the news story.
The initial plan was for three large groups totalling up to 1,300 people.
Sources said the initial plan called for three large groups, totalling up to 1,300 people, to move separately towards the border.
However, only one group made it to the UN camp. The story was unclear as to what happened to the rest. This does not imply though that anything bad happened to the rest. It may be that there were simply fewer people than planned who wanted to take advantage of this opportunity.
Only one group made it all the way to a United Nations camp, where Canada, Germany and Britain had to guarantee quick processing and resettlement.
There is no information yet as to when these new refugees will be resettled, although reports have said that Jordan was guaranteed this would happen quickly. Canada has offered to take the largest share of them, and Britain and Germany have so far offered to take some as well. I suspect that Canada will if necessary be willing to take whatever number of this group remain.
It should be noted that the above story was based on Canadian government and diplomatic sources. Other countries may have also played a significant role but that information may not have been available to the reporter at this time.
The first part of the story details how the actual evacuation was run, and more details appear further down. I won't try to summarise it all, but I would recommend reading the full story for those interested in the details.
A total of 422 people were brought to Jordan. It started as 421, but one woman went into labour and gave birth along the way.
Another group 400 were supposed to come, but they couldn't get past Syrian army and IS positions to make it to the start point.
The operation was "conceived" by the UK, Canada, and Germany, and supported by Israel, Jordan, the US, and the UN.
In all, it took about six hours to execute the evacuation, which was conceived by Britain, Germany and Canada, and supported by Israel, Jordan, the United States and the UN.
Apparently the surrender negotiations between the Syrian government and various rebel groups did not cover the White Helmets, so they were not eligible to be evacuated to rebel territory in the north.
In early July, government forces began negotiating surrender deals with armed groups and civilians in villages and towns that were fast succumbing to the latest Syrian government offensive. (...) But not the Syrian Civil Defence. Syrian government officials and Russian representatives said the White Helmets were "a red line" who needed to be "eradicated."
On the night of the 21st the group crossed into Israeli controlled territory (the article says "frontier" but it may actually be the line of control of occupied territory rather than the actual sovereign border). They were then taken by bus to Jordan.
On the night of July 21, the evacuees congregated at two points in the northern end of the frontier.
They crossed on foot and were received on the other side by Israeli soldiers, who verified their identities and took them in buses to one of the two crossings into Jordan.
Overall it appears to be a very successful operation which will provide a much needed fig leaf to cover the recent news about the war having been conceded by the West in favour of the Syrian government.
All the news stories I've seen so far list the drivers behind the operation as being Canada, the UK, and Germany. It isn't clear how these three came to work together on this.
However, we might speculate. A previous story mentioned that Canada's involvement came about through a low level Canadian diplomat pushing the issue so that it reach the Canadian foreign minister's desk in Ottawa. In the case of the UK, the Syrian Civil Defence (to give them their more formal name) seem to have some sort of low profile connections with the UK. Getting the SCD personnel out of Syria will help the UK's reputation for reliability when working with other organisations in similar circumstances in future.
I can't really speculate on how Germany might have got involved.
I would also add that superficially at least Trudeau and May seem to get along fairly well together. If one asked the other to get involved that sort of factor could tip the balance in getting cooperation, especially when time is short and things have to move quickly.
According to press stories so far, US involvement appears to be limited to Trump calling Netanyahu. While this was no doubt helpful, it does explain why the US are not one of the parties accepting any of the resulting refugees. Very likely Trump's call to Netanyahu came at the request of Trudeau and/or May.
I will finally add that Canada has accepted tens of thousands of Syrian refugees so far with no significant problems that I am aware of. A few hundred more are not likely to pose any great difficulties.
That's all nice and rosy for Assad but he shouldn't forget that it was Western forces that hollowed out IS in Syria east of the M5 motorway. I don't expect him to pony up for all the brass and bombs paid for by Western tax payers but I can think of a few regimental messes he should be making a contribution to.
The plane was apparently conducting air strikes on rebel ("armed terrorist") positions.
"The Israeli enemy confirms its support for the armed terrorist groups and targets one of our warplanes, which was striking their groups in the area of Saida on the edge of the Yarmouk Basin in Syrian airspace," the official news agency SANA quoted a military source as saying.
Islamic State militants killed more than 200 people in a coordinated assault on a government-held area of southwestern Syria on Wednesday, local officials and a war monitor said, in the group’s deadliest attack in the country for years.
Local sources told a radio station reportedly loyal to Assad’s regime say 215 killed, 180 wounded. SOHR day more than 200 killed. IS say more than 100 killed earlier:
The head of the Sweida provincial health authority told the pro-Damascus Sham FM that 215 people were killed and 180 injured in the attack, as well as 75 Islamic State fighters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the attackers had killed more than 200 people including many civilians. Islamic State said in an earlier statement that it had killed more than 100 people in the attacks.
Talks on the return of state officials to help with the Tabqa dam, plus thoughts on providing troops on the forthcoming offensive in Idlib and even against the Tr sponsored FSA on the border region:
Talks between the Syrian Kurds and Damascus have now begun on a return of state employees and repairs to one of Syria’s most important pieces of infrastructure: the Tabqa dam, the country’s largest, which the SDF took from Islamic State last year with U.S. air power.
A top Kurdish official has also signaled the fighters could join any future offensive against rebels holding Idlib province bordering Turkey, and cooperate more widely against Turkey, which has sent forces into an arc of Syria’s northwest.
Assad’s obviously not going anywhere whilst he’s still useful to Russia and of course, the US could declare IS eradicated east of the Euphrates and pull out, along with their coalition partners. In fact, the longer Assad waits in confronting the SDF, the better his position once the rebels and IS are defeated. So channels to Assad’s govt must be open to them:
“We have a conviction that channels must be open...the constitution, the political process, these will not be solved without the regime,” said Ilham Ahmed, a senior Kurdish official in the SDF’s political wing. “The regime is not going anywhere.”
Whilst some have played down a US withdrawal, nothing is certain:
“It’s not clear what they want,” Ahmed told Reuters.
The SDF has become wary, especially after an “American silence” during a Turkish offensive on Syria’s Kurdish Afrin region this year. “We felt let down,” she said.
“If you’re a Syrian Kurd, you have to think about the day Trump decides to withdraw,” he said. “You have a president who can change his mind and order policies that are completely contradictory.”
The return of Raqqa is seen as important to Assad’s govt. there’s still a lot to do in repairing the city and allegedly US aid hasn’t been up to scratch. The dam mentioned above will aid that process:
Syrian state officials have highlighted Raqqa as a key target for “liberation” from foreign occupiers - a reference to American forces. An SDF-backed council now runs the city, much of which was destroyed by months of U.S. air strikes.
Critics say U.S. recovery aid has fallen short.
Fixing the hydroelectric Tabqa dam near Raqqa is a top priority. Without the government’s help, restoring it would need major foreign aid, Ahmed said. Talks over collaborating on health and education could follow.
“It could pave the way, play a positive role in growing trust for us to take it a step further,” he said.
Syrian army fights IS despite hostage threat
IS, as they do, have apparently taken some hostages in their fight within Deraa province near the Golan Heights when they temporarily took Sweida. The SAA and allies have continued their fight after a short tactical pause. According to sources, an informal comms channel is being opened between them and IS ref the hostages:
Pro-Syrian government forces advanced in an Islamic State pocket in southwest Syria on Sunday, a military media unit run by Damascus’ ally Hezbollah reported, despite a threat to hostages the jihadists seized last week.
Syrian state television broadcast footage from near the scene of the fighting showing military vehicles moving along a road.
Islamic State holds only a small area of Deraa province near the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, after army advances last week that forced it to retreat.
Apparently, according to Lebanon’s security chief, it will be hundreds of thousands in the ‘coming period’:
Lebanon’s security chief Abbas Ibrahim said “the coming period will witness the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Lebanon” in comments reported by Hezbollah’s al-Manar television channel.
A snr Russian official whilst in Beirut is planning for a mass return of refugees including 1.7M from abroad ‘in the near future’, albeit the UN says conditions are not yet right:
This week a senior official from Assad’s ally Russia was in Beirut to discuss a plan for mass returns of refugees and its defense ministry said over 1.7 million would be able to return to Syria from abroad in the near future.
The United Nations says that conditions for returns to Syria are not yet fulfilled, more than seven years into a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than half the pre-war population from their homes.
Apparently there’s just a few villages left in their control. Methinks it’s a bit too early to call personally:
The army seized Islamic State’s main redoubt in the town of Shajara on Monday, which left just a few villages in the hands of an IS-affiliated faction, the Khalid Ibn al-Walid army, that had controlled the Yarmouk Basin.
The rural area has been the last wedge of southwestern Syria with continued fighting, with the army having taken control of the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and most of Deraa province to the east.
“Today, UN peacekeepers accompanied by Russian military police conducted their first patrols in six years in the separation zone,” Rudskoi told a briefing for journalists in Moscow.
“With the aim of preventing possible provocations against UN posts along the ‘Bravo’ line, the deployment is planned of eight observation posts of Russia’s armed forces’ military police,” Rudskoi said.
They will be replaced by SAA troops and occupy 8 x OP’s overlooking the zone. Israel obviously have concerns about Iranian presence, so the Russians say they won’t get closer than 85km, which is still too close for Israel:
Iranian forces have withdrawn their heavy weapons in Syria to a distance of 85 km (53 miles) from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, TASS quoted a Russian envoy as saying on Wednesday, but Israel deemed the pullback inadequate.
The Israeli military said it carried out an air strike on the Golan on Wednesday night, killing seven insurgents it believed were from the Khaled Bin Walid Army and en route to attack an Israeli target.
Separately, the Jordan military said it had clashed with encroaching Khaled Bin Walid Army fighters for 24 hours between Tuesday and Wednesday, killing an unspecified number of them.
“We applied rules of engagement and members of the Daesh (Islamic State) gang were forced to retreat inside Syria,” an army source told Jordanian state news agency Petra.
Israel also appears to be upbeat about restoration of the situation as it existed on the Golan Heights prior to the Syrian Civil War:
But Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman sounded more upbeat on Thursday as he described an Assad win as a given.
“From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is a real address, someone responsible, and central rule,” Lieberman told reporters during a tour of air defense units in northern Israel.
Asked whether Israel should be less wary of possible flare-ups on the Golan - much of which it seized from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized abroad - Lieberman said: “I believe so. I think this is also in Assad’s interest.”