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Syria - 2016

Daily News Updates

Russian commandos, or Spetsnaz, are in the regime’s mix of forces and have been working covertly around Aleppo. Russia's presence and action in Syria is perfectly legitimate under international law, since Moscow intervened following an official request from Damascus.

Russia, Iran and the [Assad] regime are pursuing a military solution in Syria and that this is not being confronted by the US and its allies. Some forecast an implosion of secular and less religious-based militias aligned with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) in northern Syria. Some moderate militias would be forced to merge; others would have no alternative but to disband altogether and join either the powerful Islamist insurgent group Ahrar al-Sham, [Free Men of Syria] or enlist with al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.

On 01 February 2016 the Syrian Army, with the support of Russian aviation, launched a large-scale operation to liberate Aleppo, the former economic capital of Syria, a part of which "has been in the hands of the rebellion since 2012.

The sweeping Russian-backed offensive in northern Syria in early February 2016 by President Bashar al-Assad’s military and foreign fighters from Iran, Lebanon and Afghanistan triggered a humanitarian crisis by propelling thousands of civilians to flee to the Turkish border.

On 04 February 2016 the leadership of Saudi Arabia issued a statement about their readiness "to the ground operation as part of the international coalition in Syria, led by the United States." On 09 February 2016 Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Adel al-Dzhubeyr spoke about the possibility of sending special forces into Syria. "The Kingdom expresses its readiness to provide special forces for the operation of the international coalition led by the United States in Syria against the "Islamic State"".

On 07 February 2016, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates Anwar Mohammed Kargash said that the UAE was ready to send a limited military contingent to Syria.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem warned Saudi Arabia not to send troops to his country, threatening, during a press conference February 06, 2016, that troops would be sent back home in coffins.

The Shiite party "Hezbollah" promised to "open the gates of hell" for the Saudi military, if Riyadh sent troops into Syria. This is stated a statement, which was delivered on 09 February 2016, command the paramilitary wing of the party "Brigade" Hezbollah". "The direction of Saudi Arabian troops in Iraq or Syria would open the gates of hell to Saudi soldiers," - said in a statement. Command "Brigades" Hezbollah "indicated that" mercenaries (the terrorist group), "Islamic State" (banned in Russia Organization) paid the price for trying to carry out their criminal plans in Syria, "and called on the Saudi authorities" not to risk and not to repeat the lamentable experience IG militants. "

Iranian political analyst and expert on the Middle East, Mosayeb Na'imi, said there will be no result of the initiative by Saudi Arabia: “The current Saudi initiative on Syria can be regarded as a joke. After all, from the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Saudi Arabia spent a huge budget for arming and sending terrorists into the country. On the other hand, it has now been 10 months since Saudi Arabia has been carrying out air strikes on neighboring Yemen, but never daring to send ground troops.”

By early February 2016 Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian government forces had pounded their way toward the strategic city of Aleppo, threatening to encircle and crush rebel forces who have been fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime for more than five years. "If that happens, the rebel momentum will be gone," said Omar Lamrani, a military analyst for Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence firm based out of Texas. "If Aleppo were to fall, it would highlight how dire the situation is for the rebels throughout the country."

The United Nations warned February 09, 2016 that if pro-government forces in Syria succeed in encircling the strategic city of Aleppo then up to 300,000 people could be cut off from humanitarian aid. In an assessment of the situation in Aleppo, the UN said the Aleppo offensive had already cut rebel supply lines between the eastern part of the city and the Bab al-Salam crossing on the Turkish border.

On 10 February 2016 Russia proposed a cease-fire to begin March 1 - too late to avert a worsening humanitarian crisis in and around Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city, near the border with Turkey. The US wanted an immediate truce.

Delaying a cease-fire for several weeks would allow Russian and Syrian government troops to complete their operation to retake Aleppo and send even more refugees fleeing toward Turkey. Regaining control of Aleppo, which had largely been under rebel control since mid-2012, would mark a possible turning point in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's drive to crush his opponents.

Turkey's president renewed a call for the establishment of a secure, no-fly zone in Syria, saying it is the only way to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees. On February 11, a senior Russian diplomat said Moscow opposed plans to establish a 'safe zone' along the Turkey-Syria border.

Senior members of the rebel coalition arrayed against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were either deeply skeptical or outright scornful of Russia's attempt to promote a cease-fire plan – because, they say it might only prolong and expand civilians' suffering. Mohammed Adeeb, a senior figure in the 10,000-strong Shamiya Front, an alliance of secular and moderate armed factions, said his associates are dismissing the cease-fire offer as 'a feint.' Adeeb, head of the Shamiya Front's political department, told VOA: "We are going to refuse this cease-fire because it is just a trick which the regime will use to prepare for other military operations."

The Western powers said Moscow's backing of the Syrian ground war, even as it supposedly was negotiating a truce at the UN, is what caused an escalation of the conflict. "We are facing a dangerous military escalation that could easily get out of control and lead us to uncharted territory," French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said. Delattre said that Turkey's bid to intervene in the conflict was the "direct result of the brutal offensive in the north of Syria led by the Syrian regime and its allies.... Russia must understand that its unconditional support to [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad is a dead-end and a dead-end that could be extremely dangerous".

On 11 February 2016 the Syrian Center for Policy Research, a Damascus-based independent, non-profit, reported in their paper "Confronting Fragmentation! 2015" that 400,000 Syrians had been killed in violence linked to the conflict, while 70,000 people lost their lives because they lacked necessities like adequate health care, housing, sanitation, food and potable water. The center said 11.5 percent of Syria's population have been killed or injured since the start of the conflict in March 2011.

The new casualty figure is nearly twice that of past United Nations estimates. The United Nations previously put the number of civilian deaths at 250,000 with 12 million displaced but the newspaper reports that the U.N. human rights office stopped counting the number of dead in mid-2014 due to lack of access to reliable sources of information.

The report noted that "the state of fragmentation is being solidified as each of the fighting subjugating powers is rebuilding its own independent entities and institutions in which cultural, social, and economic resources are being reallocated to serve its objectives regardless of people’s needs and aspirations. Consequently, human development, rights, and dignity have been comprehensively ruined..."

An ambitious plan to end hostilities in Syria with verifiable results within a week, revive the Geneva-3 peace talks, and immediately begin delivering humanitarian aid to civilians was unveiled 11 February 2016 in Munich, Germany after talks including the US, Russia, and the UN. Hostilities in Syria could come to a halt within a week after confirmation by the government of President Bashar Assad and the opposition, according to an official communiqué from the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting.

The general message that Kerry and his German and British colleagues were trying to send at a panel discussion during the Munich Security Conference 12 February 2016 was one of hope and conviction that their trans-Atlantic union could weather the current crises. "We are doing just fine," Kerry said in his closing remarks. This message of hope, however, appears increasingly out of touch, especially as an end to the carnage in places such as Aleppo was still not in sight.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev denied outright that Russia was targeting civilians in Syria, a remark that made the negotiated end of hostilities in the country within one week appear almost impossible. "I've got to say I was quite shocked by that statement," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told Deutsche Welle. "It's as if Medvedev is living in an alternate reality."

Syrian rebels warned their five-year-long struggle to oust President Bashar al-Assad will go underground, if they were deserted by Western backers or an attempt was made to foist an unacceptable political deal on them. They would wage a relentless guerrilla campaign against the Assad regime and “foreign invaders” from Iran and Russia, turning the war into a national liberation fight, rebel commanders and opposition politicians said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the French news agency AFP that his forces planned to “retake the whole country,” fueling doubts about the parties’ commitment to end the nearly five-year-old conflict. Assad said recapturing all of the territory could take “a long time.” The Syrian president said he supports peace efforts, but he cautioned that the negotiations do “not mean that we stop fighting terrorism.”

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE voiced their readiness to contribute troops for a ground operation in Syria on the condition that the US would lead the intervention. Damascus and its key regional ally, Iran, warned that such a foreign force would face strong resistance.

Saudi Arabia was to deploy military jets and personnel to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base in the south of the country, Ankara said 12 February 2016. The base is already used by the US Air Force for their sorties in Syria. The deployment was part of the US-led effort to defeat the Islamic State terrorist group, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. "At every coalition meeting, we have always emphasized the need for an extensive result-oriented strategy in the fight against the Daesh terrorist group,” he said, referring to IS by an Arabic-language abbreviation.

Cavusoglu spoke to the Yeni Safak newspaper after addressing a security conference in Munich, Germany, where the Syrian crisis was one of the top issues on the agenda. "If we have such a strategy, then Turkey and Saudi Arabia may launch a ground operation,” he added, fueling concerns that a foreign troop invasion may soon further complicate the already turbulent situation in the war-torn country.

By mid-February 2016, Russian observers believed that a Turkish invasion of Syria was becoming ever more likely as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops moved closer to taking the strategic northern city of Aleppo, given Ankara’s opposition to Assad’s regime and the Syrian Kurds. Ankara intended to "drive a wedge" between the Kurdish factions in the Afrin and Kobane districts. The Turkish authorities repeatedly said they do not intend to send troops to Syria, but shelling and clashes continued on the border between the two countries.

Turkey could launch a limited ground offensive north of Aleppo, with the possible aim of controlling the “secure” zone along the Turkey-Syria border declared by Turkey and the US in summer 2015. They want to preserve the so-called secure zone whatever it takes – the Turks have said for a long time that it should not be less than 10 km. Turkey could use the 40,000 refugees said to have recently fled from Aleppo, where residential neighborhoods were suffering from bombing, as a formal pretext for an attack.

The number of areas in Syria that were besieged, primarily by Assad’s forces, grew from 15 to 18 in January 2016. Nearly five million people live in these difficult to reach places. According to the UN, nearly half a million have been cut off from any food or medical assistance.

On 12 February 2016 the members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) agreed to a cessation of hostilities in Syria. The group had been working since November to secure a broader ceasefire and Syrian political negotiations. It was comprised of the Arab League, the European Union, the United Nations, and 17 countries, including the United States and Russia.

On 22 February 2016 the United States and Russia were reported to have agreed on a plan for a cease-fire in Syria starting on 27 February 2016. Officials and diplomats said the truce would exclude attacks on the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida affiliated Nursra Front. Syrian President Bashar Assad said Damascus was ready for a ceasefire, but will not tolerate terrorists exploiting it to restore their positions, adding that the Syrian Army will still continue fight Al-Nusra and Islamic State, as well as radical Islamist Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam.

The main opposition High Committee for Negotiations (HNC) gave a reserved endorsement for the cease-fire, saying it will participate for two weeks to determine the commitment of the other side. The HNC also said its participation is contingent on the delivery of humanitarian aid and the end of sieges and airstrikes against civilians.

The truce, brokered by the United States and Russia, took effect at midnight Friday Damascus time (2200 UTC) February 27, 2016. The Syrian opposition’s umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee, said in a statement that 97 groups promised to take part in the cease-fire. The cease-fire mostly held, but there have been some incidents of violence. State media report that a car bomb explosion on the outskirts of the central city of Salamiyeh in Hama province killed two soldiers. No one claimed responsibility for the blast near the town's entrance. Elsewhere, clashes between government forces and rebel groups were reported in Latakia province near the Turkish border.

In March 2016, the Syrian Arab Republic entered the sixth year of a conflict that had caused untold suffering to its population.

The intensity of fighting fluctuated among different regions according to the actors involved and the strategic value of the objectives at stake. In recent months, the most intense hostilities have set government forces and their allies against the rebels in Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo governorates, and Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) against YPG forces and their allies in Hasakah and Ar Raqqah. The situation in southern governorates remained broadly unchanged despite incessant confrontations.

Most parties to the conflict continued to employ siege warfare on neighborhoods and localities (albeit to different degrees) in combination with continuous bombardment. Whenever the tactical circumstances have allowed, the sieges have been imposed in an attempt to force opponents and their supporting communities to surrender or to extract political concessions.

The conflict had devolved into a multisided proxy war steered from abroad by an intricate network of alliances. States, entities and individuals outside the Syrian Arab Republic have supported all sides, profoundly shaping their operational capabilities and performance. Paradoxically, the international and regional stakeholders that are ostensibly pushing for a peaceful solution to the war are the same that continue to feed the military escalation.

In this regard, the direct and active military intervention of external State actors had escalated. The international coalition, led by the United States of America and involving a number of Western and Arab countries, continues its air operations against ISIS. It provided air support to military ground operations conducted in north-eastern governorates by SDF, facilitating its progress farther south into areas held by ISIS. The coalition’s airstrikes have also continued to target the terrorist group’s financial and operational resources in Dayr az-Zawr.

The Russian Federation intensified its involvement through the deployment of an air force group in Latakia, reportedly pursuant to a request from the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. Since beginning its air strikes on 30 September 2015, the Russian forces have provided – in coordination with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic – close air support to ground operations conducted by the State forces and their supporting militia, enabling their expansion in large areas. Besides the Al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and some of its tactical allies, the air strikes have also targeted the anti-government armed groups battling pro-government forces initially in the north-west of the Syrian Arab Republic before extending its strikes to all other restive governorates. Russian sorties also attacked ISIS command centres, logistical assets and training camps in Ar Raqqah, Homs and Dayr az-Zawr. Simultaneously, spillover effects, including border insecurity and the outflow of refugees, have spread beyond neighbouring countries, affecting other regions of the world and confirming the risk of the internationalization of the conflict. The sectarian schism sustained by extremist actors on different sides contributed to the recent escalation between regional powers.

Government forces and their allies regained the operational initiative on a number of fronts, reversing the conflict trajectory to their advantage. Bolstered by the Russian airstrikes and foreign militia reinforcements, they have made substantial advances during large offensive operations in the countryside of Latakia and Aleppo governorates, securing the defensive perimeters around some of their strategic positions and lines of communications.

The Government also made important gains in the governorates of Homs and Damascus countryside through local ceasefire agreements reached after months of besiegement and bombardment.

Severely constrained by a shortage of manpower, government regular ground forces have relied on a growing number of foreign militia groups in their recent attacks, implying an increasing fragmentation of the government forces and the decentralization of Syrian State authority.

Anti-government armed groups have failed to sustain the offensive momentum that allowed them to make significant gains in the first months of 2015. Apart from the minor advance in northern Hamah, they have been pushed back into a defensive posture in most of the other contested areas, subsequently losing several strategic positions.

The capacity of the rebels to confront multiple opponents simultaneously on different front lines decreased in recent months, partly owing to the intensified airstrikes against their command centres, logistical networks and lines of communications. Disagreements among certain groups with regard to the political process have also affected their operational cohesion.

Jabhat al-Nusra was one of the parties most engaged in opposing the most recent attacks by State forces. The terrorist group continued to control large parts of Idlib while maintaining an influential presence throughout rebel-held areas in Dar’a, Damascus countryside and Homs.

In spite of divergences over political and governance matters, Jabhat al-Nusra and anti-government armed groups have continued to coordinate most of their military operations when facing the other belligerents. The group was particularly targeted by the increased aerial bombardments in Idlib and Latakia; reports indicated significant human and material losses.

ISIS remained in control of large swathes of the Syrian eastern and north-eastern governorates, while maintaining smaller pockets in other areas, including around Damascus. Recently, the terrorist group came under mounting military pressure from different belligerents, including, in particular, SDF in Hasakah and Ar Raqqah, and pro-government forces in Homs and Aleppo. In reaction to its recent losses in eastern Aleppo and in Al-Hawl near the Iraqi border, the group escalated its military pressure on government-held areas in Dayr al-Zawr and eastern Homs countryside.

The coalition led by the United States and the Russian air strikes have diminished the financial and operational capabilities of ISIS, but failed to eradicate its ability to attack sensitive areas, such as the Hamah-Aleppo supply line or in the country’s central corridor in eastern Homs. As its ability to conduct symmetric operations was hampered, ISIS gradually reverted to its preferred tactics, including the extensive use of explosive devices and the conduct of operations in enemy territory, often by means of sleeper cells.

YPG and allied Arab and Assyrian armed groups have made significant gains in their military operations targeting ISIS in the northern governorates. Recently integrated into SDF, they have launched new attacks in Hasakah, Aleppo and Ar Raqqah, pushing farther south into territory held by ISIS and inflicting significant damage to their lines of communications. Benefitting from the air strikes made by the international coalition led by the United States, they have increasingly threatened key towns held by ISIS, including Al-Shaddadeh (Hasakah) and Manbij (Aleppo).

On March 27, 2016 Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes retook the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State, according to activists and state media, dealing a crucial symbolic and strategic defeat to the militants. "This is an important achievement, and fresh proof of the efficiency of the Syrian army and its allies in fighting terrorism," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said during a meeting with a French parliament delegation in Damascus. The fighting in Palmyra had intensified in recent days as Syrian forces pushed to close their three-week offensive. The Observatory said 400 Islamic State militants and 180 government troops and allied fighters died in the battle for Palmyra.

The Islamic State group declared Raqqa the capital of its caliphate on June, 29, 2014. Raqqa is located on the north bank of the Euphrates River, some 100 miles east of Aleppo. On 24 May 2016 Syrian Kurdish group YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition kicked off the operation to free the city from the Islamic State group. More than 50,000 fighters from Syria’s Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians, launched a major offensive on Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State group in Syria. "Today our forces headed to Raqqa," a source from the the coalition said as his forces kicked off operations from Tel Abyad town in northern Syria. US officials, and some Kurdish officials, cautioned the objective of the military operation was to seize villages and territory north and west of Raqqa rather than to seek to retake the beleaguered city.

US-led coalition warplanes carried out intense airstrikes on Raqqa, the de facto Syrian capital of the Islamic State group, a monitoring group said, continuing days of air-raids that appeared to be aimed at demoralizing jihadist fighters before an offensive by Kurdish-led forces on villages to the north of the city. The airstrikes appeared targeted mostly on IS defensive positions on the outskirts of the city. This may be to try to avoid civilian casualties, although civilian deaths had been reported.

By the end of May 2016 Syrian rebel commanders and opposition politicians conceded their armed revolution against President Bashar al-Assad can’t win, thanks to the military intervention by Russia and Iran. But, they insisted, neither can the regime wipe them out and end the rebellion. The violent standoff led to a de facto partition of the war-wracked country with no signs of a political solution on the horizon to stitch Syria together. Behind the scenes, US diplomats were pressuring rebel negotiators to agree to form a transitional government with President Bashar al-Assad. Rebels dismissed the suggestion out of hand. “That is just not going to happen — it is wasted breath,” a member of the rebels’ High Negotiations Committee, or HNC, told VOA May 26, 2016. “Assad is our red line — and unlike President Obama when it came to his red line on the regime’s chemical weapons use, we won’t cross it,” he added.

On August 31, the Syrian army and its allies, supported by the Russian Aerospace Forces, captured the village of Qarasi, about 60% of Al Amiriya and the strategic hill of Tal Al Sanoubrat, smashing the Jaish al-Fatah defenses along the road between Khan Tuman and the Ramouseh Neighborhood of Aleppo city. By September 1, the road had been physically cut off north of the Um Qara hill. The Syrian army has also liberated Souq al-Jibs. This success allowed the pro-government forces to pose an additional threat to militants in the northern part of the 1070 Apartment Project.

Russian warplanes have delivered massive air strikes on Jaish al-Fatah targets in the province of Idlib, destroying militant manpower and military equipment at the villages of Taftanaz, Binnish, Sarmeen, Ariha, Saraqib, and Jisr Al-Shughour and along the road from Saraqib to Aleppo city. Local sources report that at least 2 militant convoys have been destroyed and some 50 militants killed by the air strikes.

Clashes between terrorist factions and pro-government forces continued across Hama. On 01 September 2016, during an attack on Iskandariyah and Ma’ardis in the northern countryside of Hama, terrorists claimed Syrian Arab Army casualties ranging from 10-23 soldiers, along with ‘several’ vehicles. The FSA and terrorist factions reportedly captured a Russian missile battalion position northeast of Ma’ardis. Both rebels and government sources confirmed that the village of Ma’an remains under government control. The SAA and National Defense Forces stationed in Ma’an repelled multiple attempts by Jund al-Aqsa to occupy the village, briefly losing control of an outer barrier checkpoint.

Officers were not immune from the combat in northern Hama, with the SAA losing Major General Ali Sharaf Makhlouf, Commander of the Mechanized Brigade 87, while terrorist faction, Ansar al-Deen, lost its commander, Abo Ahmad Nayef. Terrorist factions also took aim at the city of Hama itself. Indiscriminate artillery barrages on Mount Zayn al-Abdeen rocked the fortifications protecting an important local shrine.

Islamic State (IS) terrorist group has launched a large-scale offensive in the eastern region of Qalamoun Mountains, targeting the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) defenses from three different axes. The IS captured several sites of the FSA and kill over 20 of their combatants on Saturday morning. Clashes are still ongoing between the two sides, as the IS continues its onslaught.

Russian Aerospace Forces carried out a series of airstrikes on positions of Jund al-Aqsa terrorists in the areas of the villages Taybat al-Imam, Suran, Halfaya and Morek in Hama province.

On 01 September 2016 senior United Nations officials acknowledged that efforts to resume deadlocked Syrian peace talks and gain humanitarian access to besieged areas in that war-torn country remain unsuccessful, as fighting continued to escalate with no let up in sight. U.N. officials had hoped to restart the Syrian peace talks, which broke off in April, by the end of August. Officials said they set a new target date of September 21 for the resumption of negotiations.

A US-Russia mediated ceasefire, the second the superpowers had struck in 2016, called for an initial 48-hour, renewable, cease-fire “anywhere where the opposition is present.” It also stipulates that aid agencies should not be blocked or impeded from accessing besieged towns and areas. Under the terms of the new cease-fire accord Washington and Moscow will begin joint targeting of jihadists including former al Qaida affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in a week.

The US-Russia mediated truce went into effect 12 September 2016 in Syria, hours after government warplanes launched airstrikes around Aleppo and other Syrian provinces, prompting skepticism and anger among rebel leaders who are already highly suspicious of the deal. They said the ceasefire would only serve to boost President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Syria’s armed opposition issued a series of demands as well as requests for clarifications to the United States about the cessation of hostilities coinciding with the start of Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim holiday.

The ultra-conservative Ahrar al-Sham, a close ally of the Fateh al-Sham, previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra, announced it won’t honor the cease-fire. The group had condemned the deal earlier, but withheld full rejection. Mainstream opposition forces are extensively ‘marbled’ or ‘coupled’ with JFS forces on front-lines from Deraa in the south, to Damascus and throughout the northwest of the country.

On 19 September 2016 the Syrian military declared the cease-fire over, contending US-backed rebels had repeatedly violated it. US Secretary of State John Kerry said only Washington and Russia, the architects of the latest attempt to halt hostilities in Syria, could declare the cease-fire at an end, not Damascus. "Opposition forces were rightly skeptical of the arrangement and had little incentive to trust the terms of the cease-fire," said Jessica Ashooh, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Middle East Strategy Task Force. "The end result is that the U.S. now has less leverage than ever — if it ever had any over the non-extremist opposition fighters on the ground."

Deir Ezzor is a virtual island surrounded by hundreds of square kilometers of desert, not far from the Iraq border. IS has controlled nearly the entire province since mid-2014, except for small pockets of the city that remained in the hands of Syrian government forces. The attempt to keep in place a widespread cessation of hostilities deteriorated quickly after a US-led coalition airstrike 17 September 2016 near Deir al-Zor airport that Moscow and Damascus claimed killed dozens of Syrian soldiers. The coalition strike that Syria and Russia claim hit Syrian government troops may have struck a battalion of Syrian prisoners who were aligned with Syrian government forces but were in a separate location from the Syrian army.

The investigation into the strike is ongoing, but three US officials said internal military reporting suggests the people hit in the strike in Deir ez Zor province were not dressed in Syrian military attire and were using technicals — trucks modified with guns strapped on their backs — which are frequently used by Islamic State fighters and different from the tanks used by Syrian government fighters. The officials say Syrian government prisoners may have been fighting for the regime as an alternative to captivity. The US military said the coalition believed it was targeting Islamic State fighters in Deir ez Zor province and halted the strike after Russian officials told the US that vehicles and personnel being targeted were possibly part of the Syrian military.

Despite the errant US airstrike, the Syrian government upped the battle against Islamic State fighters in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. Soon after the U.S. raid at least 1,000 additional Syrian soldiers were deployed to the besieged desert city, which has strategic significance for both the regime and the Islamic State group. Syrian troops counter-attacked Monday and Tuesday at one neighborhood near a mountain area that IS extremists temporarily controlled following the U.S. strike. Social media reports say several IS fighters were killed as the regime regained control of the area. The offensive came as the Syrian government unilaterally ended a truce in the Syria war, even as U.S. and Russian officials sought to keep the truce alive.

The Syrian army announced 23 December 2016 that Aleppo was now completely back under its control. In a statement, it also said the four-year long civil war had come to an end. The last rebel fighters were evacuated from the city on Thursday, handing President Bashar al-Assad his biggest victory of the war. Syrian state television said the final group of rebels and their families holed up in a small eastern enclave were evacuated under a deal that gives the army and its allies full control of the city.

A senior UN official warned that those evacuated from Aleppo, some 34-thousand civilians and fighters, have mostly gone to Idlib, and this could 'in theory' be the next Aleppo. Elsewhere in Syria, clashes between Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and ISIS militants have intensified around the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab. Sixteen Turkish soldiers were killed in the fighting, the military's highest single-day death toll in four months.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2017 19:19:45 ZULU