Archive for December, 2016

Iran appoints ambassadors to Syria, Oman

December 17, 2016

Iran’s foreign ministry has announced that it had made decisions on its new ambassadors to be appointed to both Syria and Oman, and that their names would soon be released, The New Khaleej reported yesterday.

Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said that the names of the two ambassadors to the two countries would be released when a series of diplomatic and strategic considerations were concluded.

He noted that the sensitivity of the situation in Syria is one of the reasons why the appointment of the ambassador to Damascus was delayed.

The news website noted that the appointment of Iranian ambassadors is subject to strict censorship by the intelligence branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Qods Force brigade that focuses on Iran’s extraterritorial activities.

Reports indicated that the administration of President Hassan Rouhani had been severely criticized in the Iranian parliament due to the delay of the appointment of the ambassadors for the two aforementioned countries, especially to Syria, where there are Iranian forces fighting alongside Assad regime forces.

In April, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, the former deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, was chosen to head up the Iranian embassy in Muscat, but he withdrew himself from consideration for “personal reasons”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161217-iran-appoints-ambassadors-to-syria-oman/.

Iran threatens Bahrain, Yemen with ‘Islamic conquest’ like Aleppo

December 17, 2016

A senior Iranian military commander has threatened further wars of conquest after describing the recent collapse of the Syrian opposition in Aleppo as an “Islamic conquest”, as footage has appeared showing Syrian refugees attempting to evacuate the ravaged city being shot at by Iran-backed Shia jihadists.

In comments to local Iranian media, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Hossein Salami said: “It is now time for the Islamic conquests. After the liberation of Aleppo, Bahrain’s hopes will be realized and Yemen will be happy with the defeat of the enemies of Islam.”

The IRGC commander also said that “the people of Mosul will taste the taste of victory,” in reference to the ongoing Mosul operations.

The taste of “victory”, however, tasted of blood and terror in Aleppo as the Middle East correspondent for BuzzFeed News tweeted footage of what pro-Assad regime Iranian proxies were doing there.

Borzou Daragahi tweeted “This is what hell on earth looks like,” as video footage from the devastated city shows “hungry, freezing men, women and children” who are trying to evacuate Aleppo are fired upon by the Shia jihadists.

This footage was supported by further reports and footage from Syrian journalist Rami Jarrah. Jarrah’s footage shows witnesses recounting their stories of how their convoy that was travelling with the Red Cross was waylaid by the Assad regime.

As the men in the video are talking, they and a vast convoy of cars come under attack by Assad regime, creating panic as people try to escape.

Iran’s ’empire’ and ‘Shia Liberation Army’

Salami’s comments are not the first to emerge from within influential and powerful Iranian official circles.

In March 2015, Presidential Adviser Ali Younesi said that the Iraqi capital of Baghdad was now a “capital of the Iranian empire,” inflaming the Arab world and especially Iraqis who have felt Iran’s pervading and dominating influence in their country.

Last November, Iranian army Chief of Staff General Mohammed Bagheri said that his country would in all likelihood set up military bases in Yemen, Syria and other Arab countries.

Speaking to the state-run Mashregh news agency in August, retired IRGC General Mohammad Ali Falaki said that Iran had created a “Shia Liberation Army” under the command of IRGC Qods Force commander Brigadier-General Qassem Soleimani.

According to Falaki, the Shia Liberation Army was already active on three “fronts” in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161217-iran-threatens-bahrain-yemen-with-islamic-conquest-like-aleppo/.

Turkish roads full of aid convoys for Syria

16 December 2016 Friday

A Turkish aid campaign to support civilians in Aleppo gathered pace on Friday, with hundreds more vehicles ferrying humanitarian supplies to the Syrian border.

The Open Road to Aleppo campaign saw around 100 vehicles organized by Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) join a convoy in the central Anatolian province of Kayseri.

Departing Friday, the convoy will go to the Turkish border province of Hatay, close to the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo.

A first group of vehicles started its journey on Dec. 14, carrying humanitarian aid to Turkey’s Cilvegozu Border Gate in Hatay.

Musa Yilmaz, IHH Kayseri board member, said he wanted to show his support for people in Aleppo and react to the “torture and persecution” of civilians there.

“Muslims are oppressed, persecuted and tortured in the four corners of the world, including countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We will organize a rally [in Hatay] to support Syria [and] Aleppo and explain that we stand with them,” he added.

From Turkey’s central province of Konya, around 150 vehicles plus 60 trucks were headed to Hatay, said local IHH figure Hasan Huseyin Uysal.

“Our aid campaign is still ongoing. We will try to organize aid until the persecution is over,” Uysal said.

Meanwhile, another 12-truck convoy from Turkey’s western province of Afyonkarahisar is also headed to Hatay. Another five-truck convoy carrying 150 tons of foodstuffs is on the road to the Cilvegozu Border Gate from Istanbul’s Kucukcekmece district.

Kucukcekmece’s local religious department organized the aid drive.

In Turkey’s southern province of Kilis, various aid organizations — including the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency and Turkey’s Red Crescent — sent humanitarian supplies to Syria via the Oncupinar Border Gate.

The aid included food, clothing, coal, blankets, shoes and baby food.

At least 7,500 civilians have so far left eastern Aleppo for safe areas in Idlib, according to Syrian opposition group officials.

Since mid-November, more than 775 civilians have been killed and 2,500 injured in regime attacks on opposition-held parts of Aleppo, according to local civil defense officials.

Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests — which erupted as part of the “Arab Spring” uprisings — with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have been killed and millions more displaced by the conflict.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/181823/turkish-roads-full-of-aid-convoys-for-syria.

Turkey takes in over 50 injured civilians from Aleppo

2016-12-16

ANKARA – More than 50 wounded civilians from Aleppo, many in serious condition, have been transferred to Turkey for treatment, the Turkish Red Crescent said on Friday.

The transfers came as rebel areas of Syria’s war-torn second city were being evacuated in a massive operation which began on Thursday but was suspended early on Friday, a Syrian security source said, citing violations of the deal.

The move to bus out rebels and civilians began on Thursday, with thousands leaving the battered eastern sector exactly a month after forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad began a deadly offensive to seize control of the whole city.

“Since the beginning of the evacuation, over 50 heavily injured (people) have been taken to Turkey,” Kerem Kinik, president of the Turkish Red Crescent, said at the Cilvegozu border crossing opposite Syria’s Bab al-Hawa post.

The injured are “all civilians… from the besieged Aleppo,” he said speaking in English.

UN officials said late Thursday they believed around 50,000 people, mostly civilians, were still trapped in the city’s east.

The evacuation of Aleppo is part of a ceasefire deal negotiated by Russia and Turkey.

Although the transfers were to have started on Wednesday, the plan was halted as clashes erupted, although fresh talks allowed the effort to begin in earnest a day later.

– Tent camps for evacuees –

Kinik said Turkish NGOs were preparing 10,000 tents to house the evacuees in Aleppo province near the Turkish border and were also helping out in Idlib some 60 kilometers (35 miles) south-west of the city.

“It’s not Turkish camps. We are just supporting Syrian NGOs inside Idlib, so they will manage their IDP camps,” he said, saying they expected up to 30,000 people would need sheltering there.

Turkish groups would provide shelter, infrastructure, and sanitary and hygiene systems as well as regular humanitarian assistance, he said.

Bulent Yildirim, head of the Turkish Islamic charity IHH, said only a tiny number of people had been evacuated so far, saying there were not enough buses to ferry people out of Aleppo.

“I believe the evacuation process will take 20 to 25 days,” he told reporters at the crossing. “We will stand vigil here until the evacuations are finalized.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80374.

Syria regime suspends Aleppo evacuations

2016-12-16

ALEPPO – The Syrian government on Friday suspended an operation to evacuate civilians and fighters from the last rebel-held parts of Aleppo, accusing the opposition of violating the deal, a security source said.

An AFP correspondent heard gunfire and explosions in Ramussa, the government-held neighborhood that evacuees had been passing through, and said buses and ambulances waiting to collect residents had left empty.

“The evacuation operation has been suspended because the militants failed to respect the conditions of the agreement,” the security source told AFP.

“The terrorist groups violated the agreement and tried to smuggle heavy weapons and hostages from east Aleppo,” state television said.

Robert Mardini, regional head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, confirmed Friday that “regretfully, the operation was put on hold”.

“We urge the parties to ensure it can be relaunched and proceed in the right conditions,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said the suspension was a bid to pressure rebels to allow evacuations from two government-held villages under opposition siege.

“Ahrar al-Sham and other rebel groups have prevented buses and ambulances from entering Fuaa and Kafraya, despite pledging to the Turks that they would let the evacuation go ahead,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Abdel Rahman said pro-government fighters were also blocking the route out of the city in a bid to pressure rebels to allow the evacuation of Fuaa and Kafraya.

The two Shiite-majority villages are in Idlib province, which is mostly controlled by rebel groups, and have been under siege since 2015.

Syria’s government and its ally Iran reportedly blocked initial implementation of the Aleppo evacuation on Wednesday until a deal to allow the injured and sick to leave the villages was agreed.

The delicate operation to evacuate remaining civilians and fighters from east Aleppo began on Thursday afternoon and continued through the night.

The Observatory said around 8,500 people had left the city, going to rebel-held territory in the west of the province.

The army began an operation to recapture all of Aleppo in mid-November, and had overrun more than 90 percent of the former rebel bastion in the east of the city before the evacuations began.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80375.

Assad Retaking Syria Would be an Unbridled Catastrophe

2016-12-15

Predicting any outcome to the conflict in Syria is a tricky pursuit but, with the tide turning for the Syrian government, how would the country and wider region look in ten years if Damascus were to retake all territory it lost to rebel groups and the Islamic State (ISIS)?

The signs of this happening are already there. The regime is recapturing Aleppo street by bloody street, having previously ousted rebel forces from towns around the capital such as Daraa and Khan al-Shih in addition to Tadmur in the east earlier this year. Government forces are pushing slowly if relentlessly into eastern Ghouta outside Damascus. A full sweep of opposition-held areas in the coming months must now be a major consideration.

So, what might Syria, a Syria in which President Bashar Assad has regained territorial control, look like a decade from now?

First, a win for Assad would rule out a return of the 6 million people who have fled since 2011. The wealthiest Syrians left early on as the revolution unfolded but the middle-class brainpower and labor force required to run a post-war country disappeared during the great migration to Europe in 2015. Assad remaining in power would ensure they remain in Germany, Sweden, Austria and elsewhere.

It would also mean that international investors and donor organisations, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, would stay away because of the regime’s abject human rights record and ingrained corruption. Many post-conflict countries rely heavily on injections of vast amounts of foreign finance. Reports suggest the cost of the Syrian war — thus far — comes to about $300 billion. For Assad’s Syria, that essential financial aid would not come — think present-day Somalia, not Bosnia.

And having backed from the start the various rebel groups that took on the Syrian government, traditional sources of capital such as Qatari, Saudi and other Gulf investment funds and contractors would play no part in financing the rebuilding of Syria.

That would mean no building of new homes, water supply or electricity systems and no new hospitals or medical centers for the millions of physically and psychologically maimed Syrians. With the economy gutted, shabiha gangsters would rule the street, extracting bribes from the business owners who remain. Damascus, once a leading center of Arab culture and thought, would be gutted by hyperinflation.

The country’s great cities and sites — Aleppo’s Old City, Palmyra and Krak des Chevaliers — would remain in ruins and subject to low-level pillaging as the government would have no funds to embark on reconstruction efforts or to provide adequate security. True, some small-scale UN-sponsored reconstruction efforts such as the souq in Homs’ old city have begun but the possibility of revenue from international or local tourism would never materialize.

Critically, a Syria under Assad would remain a breeding ground for extremists who could easily expect to take up space at the physical verges of the country. For example, major centers of opposition where the post-war regime could not or would not fully stamp its authority, places such as Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa or Idlib may simply be blasted to pieces and left, leaving space for jihadists to congregate and scheme attacks on Iraqi, Syrian and European populations.

For neighboring Lebanon, a failed Syrian state ruled by Assad would be catastrophic. Freed from the constraints of fighting domestic rebel groups, Damascus would once again turn its attention to taking back political control of its smaller neighbor as it attempted for decades until 2005, only this time a battle-hardened Hezbollah and Iran both operating openly out of Damascus would swamp all and any opposition.

There is no crystal ball to tell exactly how Syria will turn out but it seems, tragically, that the ideals — dignity and freedom — called for in new Syria by the brave protesters who took to the streets of Daraa, Damascus and elsewhere in 2011 may never be realized.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80350.

Aleppo wounded among first in line as evacuation plan begins

Thursday 15 December 2016

Hundreds of wounded civilians and their families are being evacuated from rebel-held areas of Aleppo, as a Russian and Turkish deal to end fighting in the Syrian city gathered pace after a day of broken promises and more violence.

Zouhir al-Shimale, a journalist in the city, said that government buses had arrived in his area and were loading injured civilians.

“The green buses have just arrived and the evacuation process has recommenced,” he said. “The process is going really smoothly right now but it was very tense in the beginning.”

“They evacuated the injured people and now they are taking the families of the severely injured people. They are either being taken to the Turkish border or countryside outside of Aleppo.”

Russia stated the evacuation would be “swift” and promised that no harm would come to anyone who was leaving, a UN spokesman told the Reuters news agency.

Members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent were assisting the evacuation.

At the same time, Syrian state media reported that a fleet of trucks and ambulances were headed to the villages of Foua and Kefraya, which are besieged by rebels, to evacuate wounded and families.

On Wednesday, rebels attributed the hold-up of the ceasefire and evacuation of the insurgent-held part of Aleppo city to demands by Iran-backed militias that the wounded in al-Foua and Kefraya should also be taken to government areas.

The International Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent said that 200 wounded were among the first to be moved. Some of those civilians were in a critical condition, the Red Cross said on Twitter.

The evacuation comes a day after a deal to end fighting in Aleppo, agreed by Russia and Turkey, fell into disarray amid renewed fighting.

The deal was reinforced overnight and a ceasefire largely appeared to remain in place in the early morning.

Tens of thousands of people remain in the small pockets of rebel-held territory in the east of the city.

Early reports on Thursday however said fighters loyal to the Syrian government fired on one evacuation convoy, wounding three, the head of the ambulance service said.

“The convoy was shot at by regime forces and we have three injured, one of them from civil defense… They were brought back to besieged areas,” ambulance service Ahmed Sweid told the pro-opposition Orient TV.

Syrian state-run Ikhbariya television also reported that what it called terrorists had shelled a government-held part of Aleppo with rocket fire, citing its own reporter in the city.

However, a resident in a rebel-held district next to the area which Ikhbariya said the projectiles had hit said he had not heard the sound of bombardment there on Thursday.

The evacuation of the last rebel enclave would end years of fighting for the city and mark a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian state TV has reported that 4,000 rebels and family members are due to quit east Aleppo.

“All the procedures for their evacuation are ready,” the television said in a breaking news alert.

Orient TV also said a first group of wounded people had reached the Ramousah area on their way out of eastern Aleppo.

An official with an Aleppo rebel group said the first convoy had crossed out of the eastern district, but later said it was only halfway along the road out of the besieged rebel enclave where it had stopped.

A Reuters witness in nearby government-held territory heard a burst of gunfire that lasted several minutes.

Residents burn personal belongings

A Syrian official source told Reuters earlier on Thursday that efforts to organize the departure of fighters from east Aleppo had begun and the International Committee of the Red Cross said it had been asked to assist with the evacuation.

A Reuters witness in government-held territory said columns of black smoke could be seen rising out of the rebel-held area. Thirty green buses guarded by Syrian soldiers were waiting to ferry people out of eastern Aleppo.

Residents hoping to be taken out have been burning personal belongings they cannot take with them. “Outside every building you see a small fire, papers, women’s clothes,” a resident of eastern Aleppo told Reuters.

Russian soldiers were preparing to lead rebels out of Aleppo, the defense ministry in Moscow said. Syria had guaranteed the safety of rebels and their families, who would be taken towards Idlib, a city in northwestern Syria.

Russia would use drones to monitor how rebels and their families were transported on 20 buses, accompanied by 10 ambulances, along a humanitarian corridor, the ministry said.

A truce brokered by Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, and opposition backer Turkey on Tuesday broke down following renewed fighting on Wednesday and the evacuation did not take place then as planned.

An official from the Jabha Shamiya rebel group said a new truce came into effect at 2.30 am (00:30 GMT) on Thursday.

Shortly before the new deal was announced, clashes raged in Aleppo.

Government forces made a new advance in Sukkari – one of a handful of districts still held by rebels – and brought half of the neighborhood under their control, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

Rebels said they attacked government forces with suicide car bombs.

The Russian defense ministry said – before the report of the government forces’ advance in Sukkari – that the rebels controlled an enclave of only 2.5 square km (1 square mile).

Rapid advances

The evacuation plan was the culmination of two weeks of rapid advances by the Syrian army and its allies that drove insurgents back into an ever-smaller pocket of the city under intense air strikes and artillery fire.

By taking control of Aleppo, Assad has proved the power of his military coalition, aided by Russia’s air force and an array of Shia militias from across the region.

Rebels have been backed by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies, but that support has fallen far short of the direct military assistance given to Assad by Russia and Iran.

Russia’s decision to deploy its air force to Syria 18 months ago turned the war in Assad’s favour after rebel advances across western Syria. In addition to Aleppo, he has won back insurgent strongholds near Damascus this year.

The government and its allies have focused the bulk of their firepower on fighting rebels in western Syria rather than Islamic State, which this week managed to take back the ancient city of Palmyra, once again illustrating the challenge Assad faces re-establishing control over all Syria.

Carla Del Ponte, a United Nations investigator and former UN war crimes prosecutor, told German newspaper Die Zeit that Russian and Syrian bombing of homes, hospitals and schools amounted to war crimes, as did the starving out of parts of Aleppo for months by militias loyal to the government.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/pro-assad-forces-fire-convoy-leaving-east-aleppo-rescue-worker-215897105.