Archive for October, 2016

Syrian airstrikes on Aleppo amid intense clashes

October 30, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces launched a counteroffensive Saturday under the cover of airstrikes in an attempt to regain control of areas they had lost to insurgents the day before in the northern city of Aleppo, activists and state media said.

Meanwhile, insurgents launched a fresh offensive on the city, a day after embarking on a broad ground attack aimed at breaking a weeks-long government siege on the eastern rebel-held neighborhoods of Syria’s largest city.

The insurgents were able to capture much of the western neighborhood of Assad where much of Saturday’s fighting was concentrated, according to the Syrian army and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said the new offensive by Syrian troops and their allies went under the cover of Russian and Syrian airstrikes but government forces did not succeed in regaining control of areas they lost. The group said the fighting and airstrikes are mostly on Aleppo’s western and southern edges.

The Syrian army command said troops and their allies are pounding insurgent positions with artillery shells and rockets adding that “all kinds of weapons” are being used in the fighting in the Assad neighborhood.

The Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, reported airstrikes and artillery shelling of areas near Aleppo. The AMC and another activist collective, the Local Coordination Committees, said rebels entered the village of Minian west of Aleppo Saturday afternoon after intense fighting with government forces.

Later Saturday, the rebels said they launched an attack on the Zahraa neighborhood in western Aleppo to try and capture it from government forces. The attack began with a massive explosion that struck government positions on the front line, said Yasser al-Yousef of the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group, a main faction in Aleppo.

A reporter inside the city for the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel confirmed that the rebels have attacked the Zahraa neighborhood. As he spoke from the roof of a building, sounds of heavy exchange of gunfire could be heard in the background.

The Syrian army said troops were repelling the attack on Zahraa. It said the offensive began when the insurgents detonated a vehicle and shelled the area. The Observatory said the fighting was continuing intensely after sunset, saying that government forces detonated explosives and bombs they planted earlier in the area in an attempt to repel the offensive on Zahraa.

Syrian state media said rebels shelled government-held western neighborhoods of Aleppo on Saturday morning wounding at least 10 people, including a young girl. Rebel shelling of Aleppo on Friday killed 15 and wounded more than 100.

On Friday, insurgents including members of Fatah al-Sham and the ultraconservative Ajnad al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham militias took advantage of cloudy and rainy weather to attack government positions. On Saturday the weather was better, according to residents.

“There are ongoing clashes,” said opposition activist Baraa al-Halaby by telephone from besieged east Aleppo, adding that the fighting is far from them but explosions could be clearly heard in the city.

The Observatory said that since Friday some 30 troops and members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group were killed in the Aleppo fighting. East Aleppo has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.

The new offensive by insurgents is the second attempt to break the government’s siege of Aleppo’s opposition-held eastern districts, where the U.N. estimates 275,000 people are trapped. U.N. Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura has estimated 8,000 of them are rebel fighters, and no more than 900 of them affiliated with Fatah al-Sham. Syrian and Russian officials have said that no cease fire is possible as long as Fatah al-Sham remains allied and intertwined with other rebel forces.

Aleppo is the current focal point of the war. President Bashar Assad has said he is determined to retake the country’s largest city and former commercial capital.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.

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Rebels launch Aleppo counter-offensive with exploding tanks and missiles

Friday 28 October 2016

Syrian rebels launched a car bomb and detonated explosives inside a tank on Friday morning as part of a fresh offensive to break a siege on the divided city of Aleppo.

Rebels including Fateh al-Sham Front, the rebranded al-Nusra Front, also launched Grad rockets at the government-controlled Nairab air base, aiming to break the government siege of rebel-held areas of the city.

Rockets fired by rebels killed at least 15 civilians in government-held areas of the city on Friday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

Sources on the ground told MEE that there were also “furious” clashes on the ground, with districts that were once far from the fighting now finding themselves on the front lines.

Residents said on Thursday that the street fighting was now so close to their homes that they could hear rebels trading insults with their foes.

Residents of eastern Aleppo – home to over 250,000 people and under siege for over three months – burned tires in the streets, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air and providing cover for rebel operations, an AFP correspondent said.

The start of the rebel assault was hailed by the loudspeakers of eastern Aleppo mosques on Friday morning.

“There is a general call-up for anyone who can bear arms,” a senior official in the Levant Front rebel group, which fights under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner, told Reuters. “The preparatory shelling started this morning,” he added.

Zakaria Malahifji, an official with the Fastaqim rebel group in Aleppo, said a number of factions would participate in the new offensive and that the bombardment of the air base was part of this.

“Today is supposed to be the launch of the battle,” Malahifji said. “All the rebel groups will participate.”

A spokesperson for Fateh al-Sham said the group had detonated a suicide car bomb at an eastern entrance to the city, with rebels also detonating explosives inside a tank in the Aleppo suburb of al-Assad.

The twin suicide blasts came after rebels from Ahrar al-Sham earlier detonated two car bombs in the city.

SOHR, a British-based monitoring group, said that Grad surface-to-surface rockets had also struck Nairab air base and locations around the Hmeimim air base, near Latakia.

Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year, pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and militias from Lebanon, against mostly Sunni rebels including groups supported by Turkey, Gulf monarchies and the United States.

Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city before the war, has for years been split between a government-held western sector and the rebel-held east, which the army and its allies managed to put under siege this summer.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/rebels-launch-aleppo-counter-offensive-car-bombs-and-exploding-tanks-1359125266.

Assad allies bomb Turkish-backed forces amid warning against Aleppo advance

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Forces allied to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria warned Turkey on Wednesday against any advance towards their positions to the north and east of Aleppo, as Turkish officials accused the Syrian government of carrying out a strike on its allies.

It was the first time a direct clash between Syrian forces and the Turkish-backed rebels has been announced. Two rebels were killed and five wounded, the Turkish army said.

The Turkish military said a helicopter “assessed to belong to regime forces” bombed the rebels in a village near Akhtarin, a town 5km southeast of Dabiq, late on Tuesday.

Dabiq is a former Islamic State stronghold which the rebels seized from the militants this month.

“This kind of attack will not stop our fight against Daesh (Islamic State),” said Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu. “This operation will continue until al-Bab. The operation needs to continue, and it will.”

The reported attack came as pro-Assad forces warned that any attempt by Turkish-backed forces to would be seen as a breach of “the red lines”.

The field commander of the forces allied to Damascus – who was not identified by name, nationality or affiliation – made the comments during a tour of frontlines to the north of Aleppo in a written statement sent to Reuters by an official from the same alliance.

“We will not let anyone use the excuse of fighting Daesh to advance and attempt to draw near to the defences of the allies forces,” he said.

The alliance fighting in support of Assad includes the Lebanese group Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

On Wednesday, Erdogan emphasised that Turkey’s operations in Syria were not intended to stretch to the city of Aleppo.

“Let’s make a joint fight against terrorist organisations. But Aleppo belongs to the people of Aleppo, we must explain this … making calculations over Aleppo would not be right,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.

Turkey’s incursion into Syria, launched two months ago to drive IS from its border and prevent Kurdish militia fighters gaining ground in their wake, has complicated an already messy battlefield in northern Syria.

As the Turkish-backed rebels push south towards al-Bab, an IS-held town 35km northeast of Aleppo, they face confrontation with both Kurdish and pro-Assad forces, whose frontlines lie close by.

The Syrian military could not immediately be reached for comment, but it said last week that the presence of Turkish troops on Syrian soil was a “dangerous escalation and flagrant breach of Syria’s sovereignty”.

It warned it would bring down any Turkish warplanes entering Syrian air space.

Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield” two months ago, sending tanks and warplanes into Syria in support of the largely Turkmen and Arab rebels.

Erdogan has also said the operation will continue to al-Bab, which the Kurdish YPG militia is also seeking to control.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-says-kurdish-militias-should-not-take-part-raqqa-opp-clashes-continue-1869500414.

Over 7,700 Syrians return to Jarabulus city from Turkey

25 October 2016 Tuesday

More than 7,700 Syrians have returned to northern Syria’s Jarabulus city from Turkey’s Gaziantep province, two months after the city was liberated from the ISIL extremist group, the regional governor’s office said Tuesday.

Syrians can be seen waiting in line at Turkey’s Karkamis border crossing to go to Jarabulus after registration and security checks.

Oktay Bahceci, head of the Gaziantep regional migration office, said Jarabulus was now clear of all extremist groups.

“After our office carries out the registrations, they may go to their hometowns,” Bahceci said. “To date, a total of 7,741 people have returned to Jarabulus.”

Operation Euphrates Shield, which began on Aug. 24 backed by the Turkish Armed Forces, is aimed at bolstering border security, supporting coalition forces and eliminating the threat posed by extremist organizations in Syria, especially ISIL.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests – which erupted as part of the Arab Spring uprisings – with unexpected ferocity.

The Syrian Center for Policy Research, a Beirut-based NGO, has put the total death toll from the five-year conflict at more than 470,000.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/179119/over-7700-syrians-return-to-jarabulus-city-from-turkey.

After al-Hameh & Qudsayya .. Muadamiyat al-Sham’s inhabitants leave to #Idlib

19 October, 2016

The Negotiations between the delegated Committee by the al-Assad regime and the Muadamiyat al-Sham’s people got to the final stages, to be on Wednesday the date of the fighters’ exit the city with their families who refuse to reconcile with the regime.

620 Fighters with their families decided to get out of Muadamiyat al-Sham, bringing the number to 1,500 people, and go to the city of Idlib northern Syria, pointing out that among the displaced families people came from Darya and KafarSoseh and Mezzeh, according to media sources.

Last week, about 2,500 people had left “al-Hameh and Qudsayya” towards Idlib’s towns, as part of an agreement held for the residents’ evacuation of the besieged areas in Rif Dimashq to the city of Idlib under international auspices.

The al-Assad regime imposes a genocidal blockade on the Eastern and Western Ghouta areas several years ago, in order to compel the people of those areas for reconciliation, or to leave the entire region, as happened in the town of Darya, which its current population are Iraqi and Afghan families.

Source: el-Dorar.

Link: http://en.eldorar.com/node/3516.

“Euphrates Shield” Expands northern #Aleppo, close to al-Assad regime’s zone

18 October, 2016

The Free Syrian Army factions fighting within the process of the “Euphrates Shield” made new progress on the IS Group-held areas of the northern Aleppo countryside; where they expanded south of Dabiq town and have become close to the al-Assad regime’s sites.

Seven new areas seized by FSA backed by the Turkish army: “Tal Maled, al-Sayed Ali, Albarrozah, Tannorah, Baraan, Ataiwahnyah, Asamoukah Bridge and al-Wash” all of which are located south of Dabiq town which seized by FSA earlier, ElDorar’s correspondent reported.

Our correspondent pointed out that “the Euphrates Shield” forces are in close proximity to areas controlled by the al-Assad regime; there are just three villages separate the FSA controlled areas and the al-Assad forces’ areas, namely: “Sorouj, Hasasek and al-Wahshya.”

It should be noted that the Turkish president, “Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” said in a statement today that the Democratic Union Party’s fighters will be driven off from the city of Manbej after the al-Bab’s Battle, in an indication that the fight is so close.

Source: el-Dorar.

Link: http://en.eldorar.com/node/3512.

Gaza University to launch first film major in Palestine

October 23, 2016

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza is getting ready to launch its first film studies major in the Palestinian territories in January 2017. The university program will be implemented in universities, as hundreds of students wishing to major in cinematography and film studies are unable to travel abroad to pursue their studies given the closure of crossings in the Gaza Strip, namely the Rafah crossing.

Although launching the program could be a bumpy ride given the lack of the necessary equipment, such as school curricula and other work equipment, the program organizers, a group of people who hold university degrees from art faculties in Egypt, are seeking to bring in some material from abroad or tap into the available modest tools in Gaza after having obtained preliminary approval by the Ministry of Culture in early October.

Mai Nayef, an academic and one of the people in charge of the program, told Al-Monitor, “The main reason behind this initiative is the lack of any film and cinematography major in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, despite the large number of students who wish to pursue this career.”

She added, “Gaza, in particular, is a fertile ground for the success and growth of such an initiative. The drama works and art projects that are produced every year, which culminate during the month of Ramadan through TV series and programs, are further proof of Gaza’s ability to thrive in this domain.”

Nayef noted that the produced works by Gazan directors, filmmakers and photographers are made on an ad hoc basis and are drawn from their own personal experience without having acquired any scientific or academic expertise. Therefore, many Gazan artists and workers in the cinema industry will seek to enhance their skills through this new academic specialization. She also said that her group has been contacted by several directors, cinematographers and scriptwriters inquiring about the program’s schedule and admission dates.

She added that the needed textbooks will be brought in from Egypt given the scarcity of the necessary teaching material in Gaza’s libraries, stressing that her group is seeking to conclude an agreement with the Academy of Arts in Egypt for the procurement of the textbooks. This is in addition to contracting with some Egyptian academics to give lectures through video conferences and Skype calls.

Mohammed al-Bayoumi, a holder of a doctorate degree in cinematography from Egypt’s Academy of Arts and one of the program’s creators, expects the program to have a high turnout of students who are interested in cinema studies.

He stressed that the program’s administrators will focus on both theory and practice during the studies to ensure that the students will acquire the necessary experience to engage in the labor market.

Bayoumi told Al-Monitor that the program will be focusing on “acting, script writing, film directing and cinematography.” He expects that after completion of the two-year program, students will be able to engage in the labor market and participate in big film festivals in Gaza and abroad.

He stressed that several conditions were implemented for selecting educators, saying that applicants must hold a university degree in film studies, have experience in this domain and have won some awards for their productions and works.

Palestinian director Abdullah al-Ghoul told Al-Monitor, “This program is a great opportunity for many directors, actors and cinematographers in Gaza. Although they have acquired experience through work, they seek to obtain a degree in this domain.”

He noted that the many social, political and economic events and developments in Gaza can be shown to the world through short films and even TV series. Ghoul expressed hope that such a step would shift the attention back to the Palestinian cinema industry that burgeoned in the 1930s.

Gaza used to have 10 film theaters, first of which was al-Samer Cinema, established in 1944 in central Gaza. However, all of them are out of service. Some theaters were demolished, some were completely shut down, while other theaters were turned into public facilities. Gaza’s cinemas used to play Arab and Western ms brought in from abroad.

Lina Bukhari, the head of the cinema department at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, told Al-Monitor that the ministry supports such initiatives to promote the Palestinian cinema industry, stressing that this domain is highly advanced in the Gaza Strip in comparison with the West Bank.

She also stressed that concerted efforts between Gaza University, which will be launching the film studies program, and the Ministry of Culture along with other institutions could lead to a new strong infrastructure to serve as a launch pad for the program. This is especially true in terms of providing necessary academic equipment, material and references.

Photographer Alaa Suleiman, who is eagerly waiting to enroll in the program, told Al-Monitor that she is seeking to be admitted to the film studies program as she aspires to become a filmmaker. She said that she has been working as a photographer at a TV station because university majors in Gaza are limited to audiovisual and printed media.

Aspiring students must be holders of a high school diploma to be able to enroll in this new program.

Suleiman also said that she is expecting some difficulties down this path, as the film industry is seen as reserved for men only. She noted that she has faced some hardships when she first started working at Al-Aqsa TV three years ago, but she shrugged off all criticism.

Nuhad Abu Saleh, a Palestinian high school student, told Al-Monitor that he was considering stopping the enrollment procedures in the Fine Arts Faculty at Al-Aqsa University and will wait to apply for the new program at Gaza University that is scheduled to start in the beginning of 2017.

Saleh said he is passionate about acting, especially since he has taken part in many successful experiences during his school years. He sees the program as a way to develop his skills through scientific study so as to gain more experience and academic credentials.

Eventually it all boils down to the efforts of the trailblazers and their ability to attract students and to overcome the anticipated obstacles, such as acquiring the necessary materials, curricula and staff.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/10/gaza-university-film-studies-major-students.html.