Syria news/Archive/2018-02

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28 Feb. Lavrov: 'US accusations of Damascus using chemical weapons are unfounded'. Meanwhile, Western mass media leak a UN report claiming that 'North Korea sent Syria missile and chemical weapon items'.

Independent Putin blames rebels as no civilians leave eastern Ghouta during second ‘pause’

27 Feb. BBC Syria war: Shelling and strikes despite Eastern Ghouta 'pause'. Seemingly no aid entered Ghouta and no refugees left.

After two days of detainment, Czech authorities release PYD ex-co-chair Salih Muslim under protest of Turkey which demands his extradition.

26 Feb. Russian DM Shoigu: (Rus.)(Eng): a humanitarian pause is being introduced on behalf of the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Eastern Ghouta from February 27 from 09:00 to 14:00 every day, a humanitarian corridor will open for civilians to exit. It is also proposed to establish humanitarian corridors, humanitarian pauses in the area of El Tanf and Rukban refugeee camp (in the US controlled area), so that peaceful citizens can freely return to their homes and begin to restore peaceful life.

Walid: Zinki vs HTS fight in Idlib continues unabated

It is said that HTS captured lots of military hardware of Ahrar al-Sham in north-eastern Idlib: over 10 tanks, Grad, several 'Shilka's, a repair vehicle БРЭМ-2 (report and photos).

Kommersant Russian 5th-gen fighter deployed to Syria for radar test. A Western take on the same matter here. Some account of India's participation in the project here. There are many high-maneuverability videos, sample.

25 Feb. Muraselon: The SAA is attacking on the Al-Nashabiyah axis - which is in the South-East part of Ghouta and the more rural part. In North West Ghouta combat troops entered the Al-Ajami neighborhood after breaking through Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s defenses at the western flank of Harasta.

Reuters: Insurgents report Chlorine attack in Ghouta. 1 Dead.

PYD ex-co-chair Salih Muslim is detained by Czech police in a hotel in Prague where he was to attend a conference. According to the police, that happened because of a Turkish Interpol request.

24 Feb. Turkey is messing around with the Euphrates water supply again.

BBC: UN Security council votes for ceasefire in all of Syria. BBC states with authority there are precisely 393,000 people trapped in East Ghouta. [ https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/sc13221.doc.htm UNSC resolution 2401] does not specify exact time for the ceasefire to start, and states that “2. ...cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council

al-Masdar: No Syrian Army troops have entered Afrin. Official.

al-Masdar: Another two Russian Su-57 jets land at Hmeymim Airbase in Syria. Making a total of four now in Syria.

23 Feb. Reports of an attack on a convoy in Afrin. Turkish apologists say it was an armaments convoy. Most reports say it was a humanitarian aid convoy. Ruptly has footage of Afrin convoy casualties and aftermath. Firat News Agency has footage of the convoy itself, which doesn't look like it's the same as shown on the twitter account. About a dozen clearly civilian minibuses are seen in different states of destruction. One dead and at least 12 wounded civilians are reported.

SOHR Reports killing of civilians including women by Olive Branch insurgents at Jendires Township southwest of Afrin. Video shows dead civilians seemingly shot in a group.

Fort Russ Leaflets instructing use of safe-routes for certan non-combatants dropped on Ghouta.

22 Feb. Reports Russian military police have entered Afrin, heading towards Tall Rifaat right now. With portraits of Assad and some folks in Russian uniforms on social media display.

Bashar al-Jaafari speaks at the UNSC about the situation in East Ghouta.

According to a Firat News Agency report from the frontlines in Afrin, the "FSA" cannon fodder and Turkish army foot soldiers have been replaced by battle-hardened Nusra and ISIS fighters, under command of Emirs released from Turkish prisons in a deal promising them control over the conquered lands. In recent days the Kurds had to retreat from more villages in the regions immediately at the border with Turkey.

According to the SDF, in the still-ongoing Operation Cizire Storm to free the lower east bank of the Euphrates and the desert at the Iraqi border from ISIS remains, 1776 Jihadis were killed during the last twenty days.

21 Feb. Russia deploys two Su-57 stealth fighters to Syria, along with a batch of four Su-35s and four Su-25s. (analysis)

Shoigu: two S-400 complexes are deployed and are on duty around the clock in Syria (in Khmeimim and Tartous).

Reports of fighting in Idlib between JTS - a new alliance of Zinki ( حركة نور الدين الزنكي ) and Ahrar ash-Sham ( حركة أحرار الشام الإسلامية ) - versus HTS ( هيئة تحرير الشام ) (formerly Nusra / al-Qa'ida). JTS is now reported to have completely taken Ma'arat an-Nu'man ( مَعَرَّة النُّعْمَان )

20 Feb. A column of Syrian troops NDF and militias from Aleppo entered Afrin to protect the Kurds from the Turkish army (video), came under Turkish fire (video). This CGTN video gives an overview of Afrin and Ghouta developments.

Washington Post: reports Turkish artillery fire is aimed to prevent Syrian forces from reaching Afrin City (predictably tossing in the forces are 'Iranian Backed').'Erdogan Says Pro-Damascus, Shi'ite Forces Repelled by Turkish Artillery'; however it is said that some group reached Afrin, --shown here on video.

Rebels fired mortars on central Damascus, shelling residential quarters, hotels in Damascus, and the Russian Center for the reconciliation of warring parties; 14 mortar shells were fired. "Significant destruction and casualties among civilians" reported, 9 civilians wounded. "There are no casualties among Russian servicemen". (Rusvesna report, photos, video; Russian MoD video, with text in Russian in the video description).

Russian FM press office: ...In the course of the recent military clash, in which the servicemen of the Russian Federation did not participate in any way and the technical means were not used, there are dead citizens of Russia and the CIS countries, as already mentioned; there are also several dozens wounded (несколько десятков -'several tens'). They were assisted to return to Russia where, to our knowledge, they are undergoing treatment in various medical institutions.

TeleSUR: Lavrov urged the US not to play with fire in Syria (Spanish); (Rus). Also, Lavrov at Valdai club (Rus.)(Eng, as of now partial). Answering questions, avoids making further comments on Deir Ez-Zor, Afrin.

Turkey will lay siege to Syria’s Afrin in coming days — Erdogan (RT).

19 Feb. SANA talks of 'popular forces' going into Afrin to reinforce the Kurds - maybe within 24 hrs? (Seems unlikely any regular SAA will be involved)

Martin Chulov

Vanessa Beeley publishes a summary of the body of work of a long-time "friend" of ACLOS, the Guardian correspondent Martin Chulov.

18 Feb. Following several successful ambushes on the SAA from the ISIS remains in the eastern desert pocket, one of them killing an army general, Al Masdar changes their estimate of the strength of the group from 200 to up to a thousand, equipped with up to a hundred ratmobiles.

According to Southfront the SAA and associated militias are preparing for a major assault on Ghouta; with presently increasing artillery bombardment. Numerous recent 'innocent children being bombed by evil Dictator / Russians' stories e.g. Louisa Loveluck's latest suggests something is about to happen.

More Kurdish 'reports' suggest the SAA may enter Afrin imminently. They've been saying that for some time now, though just how the SAA can manage both 'seize and hold ground in Afrin' at the same time as 'conquer Ghouta' remains to be seen.

Ahrar ash-Sham and Zanki form a new group The Front to Free Syria (FFS) - via EHSANI2 They also, amusingly, include the FSA flag in their new logos

17 Feb. The SDF claims to have attacked the operation desk of "Operation Olive Branch" in Qara Xaneh town inside Turkey, killing seven and wounding "a large number". Link gone.

Turkey systematically attacks the drinking water infrastructure in Afrin according to the co-chair of the local Water Institute.

16 Feb. Lavrov to Euronews: 'US special forces are 'operating illegally in Syria' (Eng); 'US special services are betting on the Kurds' (Rus.); ...they isolate a huge piece of the Syrian territory...

Firat News Agency publishes a break-down of the groups that are attacking Afrin on behalf of Turkey. According to this, with 750 fighters one of the largest groups fighting directly at the frontline is Liva El Hemzet, which was formed in the train-and-equip program Turkey ran together with the US and still receives a salary of $250 per month and fighter from the Pentagon. Another article details the five fronts with fighting taking place "guerilla style" in 37 evacuated villages. There's a total of 336 villages in Afrin canton.

Muraselon publishes a map of the recently reinforced Turkish monitoring points in the Idlib pocket which are part of the Astana agreement.

A Syrian asylum seeker is sentenced to life in prison in Sweden after evidence of his participation in a mass execution of SAA soldiers in May 2012 surfaces.

Rudaw Claims of chlorine gas attacks in Afrin. Both sides (Turkish and Kurdish) blame the other side for the attacks. No actual evidence either way. SANA chips in with photos and story of Turkish gas attack.

Ivan Sidorenko Unconfirmed reports of Syrian Government forces entering Afrin

15 Feb. Syrian Army refuses YPG proposal to enter Afrin, after earlier reports otherwise. It is also reported that Kurdish fighters will 'leave Deir-ez-Zor', to be replaced by Deir-ez-Zor military council, DMC (unconfirmed).

According to a statement by a "rebel" negotiation committee in the Rastan pocket quoted by SouthFront, they have been informed by the Russians that the de-escalation agreement is history if they don't immediately start direct talks with the Syrian government, which they refuse to do.

14 Feb. The largest Kurdish organization in Germany, NAV-DEM, issues a statement protesting that the government refuses to allow them to organize demonstrations against the Turkish actions in Afrin and the use of German weapons in them. They draw parallels to the behaviour of the Erdogan government and accuse the Merkel government of "genuflection" before the Turkish president.

13 Feb. Lavrov: We in general, and especially in recent times, have accumulated many questions to the actions of the United States in Syria. They are carried out without an invitation .... Americans, in my opinion, do not act through the painstaking formation of common consent, but through dangerous unilateral steps. These steps look more and more like part of a line to create a quasi-state on a large part of Syrian territory on the eastern bank of the Euphrates right up to the Iraqi border (...Они осуществляются без приглашения...).

The Russian military in Syria issues a specific warning about the planning of a false flag chemical attack.

More or less confirmed reports that surviving ISIS fighters in Idlib have surrendered to HTS along with their families.

12 Feb. SMART News Agency reports Coalition aircraft (accidentally) bombed and killed unspecified numbers of SDF fighters in Eastern Deir Ezzor.

The SDF releases a statement summarizing the results of the Turkish attack on Afrin. According to them, 98 SDF fighters died while the toll on the other side was 862. This is roughly opposite the numbers the Turkish media is reporting. The number of harmed civilians is given as 180 dead and 413 wounded.

After clearing the ISIS pocket in northern Hama, the SAA starts a large offensive against the Rastan pocket between Hama and Homs.

Meanwhile, the wandering ISIS micro-caliphate is causing the anticipated trouble after re-insertion into the shrunken Idlib pocket.

Israel is reported to have moved medium range anti-aircraft missile batteries near to Syrian border. Engagement range includes Damascus area and potential deep 'security zone' on Syrian side of the border.

The mayor of Ankara starts an initiative to rename the street where the US embassy lies into "Olive Branch Street".

10 Feb. Turkish helicopter is down near Afrin -Rusvesna/videos

Israeli F16 burning

Israeli F16 'crashed' in Northern Israel, amid intensive Syrian anti-aircraft fire, with implication the F16 had been downed by it Sputnik reports. According to IDF spokesman report Israel had been targeting an Iranian drone control centre, and the downed F16 was involved, after an Iranian drone entered Israel from the Golan Heights.

Extended report by RT including details of response in Northern Israel where alarms were sounded and aerial explosions heard. RT reports an Iranian drone was shot down by an Israeli helicopter. In response Israeli F16s attacked 'Iranian targets' in Syria, the drone control centre/drone’s launch site at the Tiyas Military Airbase near Palmyra in a 'complicated surgical strike'. There have been earlier reports that Russia is flying small number of SU-25 planes from Tiyas airbase (also Russian commercial interests in the nearby area have been reported).

In a follow-up, Israel strikes more Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria: “Twelve targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria were attacked.”

Unconfirmed report (Mimi al-Laham) of Israeli Apache Helicopter shot down over Shab'a Farms in Lebanon (possibly a mix-up). No further confirmation so disregard.

Haaretz now reports the same as RT etc and says F16 PilotS were forced to eject. Israel operates a twin seat F-16D variant in addition to the normal single seat variants. Reports suggest that the plane was F16I "Soufa", which Israel has in a 2-seated option. The pilots are safe and were transferred to a hospital. One of the pilots is reported in 'serious' condition.

So far no images of the downed Iranian drone in Israeli territory. Videos of drone and command vehicle destruction have been posted by IDF.

Netanyahu shows a piece of Iranian drone in Munich, 18 Feb. 2018

Pro-Assad Syria-Iran alliance does not confirm (nor cleanly denies) the drone loss over Israel, threatenes 'a severe response'

Collapsed ISIS pocket

9 Feb. Reports that the SAA has permitted several hundred ISIS elements in the town of Suruj in Hama to escape from the area under attack and move to Idlib - sort of green buses without the buses. Al-Masdar says the move was opposed and resulted in dozens of loyalist casualties. A map shows where they allegedly went and captured three villages from HTS. According to Al Masdar, their goal is to reach the town of At-Tamanaa and reunite with up to 1,000 like-minded fighters there. On the linked map, Tamanaa is directly south of the ".com" inscription, the first larger settlement to the east of Khan Sheikhoun.

RU MoD media 'Red Star' claims that submersion and destruction of the Russian-built pontoon bridge over Euphrates could be deliberate, by opening dam locks of hydro power plant El Tabbah, located in the territory controlled by the opposition groups supported by the US-led "international coalition". Photos of the bridge appeared in social media.

8 Feb. New video claims that SU-25 shootdown was by anti-aircraft artillery, not MANPADS. However, another SU-25 was fired on from anti-aircraft weapons on Feb.1, and on Feb 1-2 there was discussion on Russian social media of the incident, of positive sort. There were some videos, one of them here, another from machine gun location 1, here. (Weather conditions appear different from the Feb. 3 shootdown). It is unclear when exactly the latest machine-gun close up first appeared. Russian MP Klintsevich believes the latest claim is a fake. On Feb. 3, there was a second SU-25, whose pilot warned Filipov that he is being 'worked on' and yelled at him to maneuver to avoid fire (tangage !). The second pilot stayed in the air (noise heard on firefight videos), and said that he attacked and destroyed two vehicles approaching olive grove where Filipov was. This pilot account mentions MANPADS fired. (The second plane left the area when there was too little fuel left).

7 Feb. US-led coalition claims a 'defensive strike' killing more than 100 pro-government forces east of the Euphrates River de-confliction line in Khusham, Syria. Russian MP Klintsevich calls it 'an aggression'.

Barbara Starr of CNN is now blaming Russian contractors for being behind the attack that got the 'defensive' response.

For possible Russian private military contractors losses, see discussion + this page.

RU MoD presents a very different version of events - Syrian forces doing reconnaissance-in-force targeting 'a sleeper IS cell' in the area of El Isba oil refinery plant suddenly attacked by the coalition; submits that 'US goal is seizure of economic assets of Syria.'

Two senior American generals came to the front line outside the Syrian city of Manbij, flying outsized American flags on their vehicles... Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, elaborated. “You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves.” (NYT).

6 Feb. The SAA attacks the ISIS micro-caliphate in Hama province on several fronts and has taken over a dozen villages just in the morning. A second wave in the afternoon sweeps another large number of villages in the unfortified rural terrain the dispersed ISIS gangs had taken over from the retreating Nusra Front only some weeks ago.

Several sources report that a large convoy with reinforcements has reached Afrin after traveling from the Kurdish cantons in the East through SAA-controlled territory in northern Aleppo province.

Afrin Map February 2018

Most recent Afrin map from Maghreb and Orient Courier

Body of the Russian pilot Roman Filipov was returned to Russia, said to be by the Russian military intelligence services in interaction with 'Turkish colleagues'.

A robot is formatted at an event in Ankara for interrupting the Turkish communication minister during his speech.

5 Feb. Syrian and Turkish forces exchange artillery fire near the town of Al-Eis in southern Aleppo Province.

Turkish forces convoy entered Al-Eis strategic area in the southern countryside of Aleppo "in implementation to the agreement of de-escalation zones agreement signed in Astana between Turkey, Russia and Iran"

3 Feb. A Russian SU-25 is hit by a MANPADS over Idlib province (launch video). The pilot, Roman Filipov ejects, gets caught by "rebels" and killed, according to Jaysh al-Nasr who claimed responsibility. Cassad: pilot shot back, then detonated himself with a grenade. (Brief video of his last fight, from Idlib+ news. Video of dead pilot at Liveleak). The group has at one point been equipped with anti-tank weapons by the US. Another group that is said to have claimed responsibility is a HTS “air defense battalion”. In the late afternoon it's reported that Russian missiles from Khmeimim airbase and/or the Mediterranean have taken off in the direction of Idlib.

Syria Situation Map 2018-02-02

2 Feb. Al Masdar News publishes high resolution map of Syria - including locations of Western bases

1 Feb. The SAA has been advancing in recent days against both the ISIS micro-caliphate in its Hama province pocket and Nusra in the south-east of the Idlib pocket. The latter has apparently been helped by the fact that relevant portions of the Islamists went north to fight against the Kurds of Afrin on behalf of Turkey. It is reported that there have been protests in the "rebel"-held towns of Idlib against this move and that significant elements are heading back south to fight the advancing SAA.