New Cold War.org, Feb 17, 2016
Two news reports are enclosed. Note, the aid convoys departing Damascus for besieged parts of the city as well as to other towns in Syria were a key part of the February 12, 2016 agreement by world powers at the Munich Security Conference for a ceasefire to commence in Syria on February 19 and a resumption of political talks in Geneva (so-called ‘Geneva-3’ round of talks).
Aid convoys head to Syrian towns ahead of hoped-for ceasefire
convoy of 35 trucks carrying humanitarian goods entered the besieged area of Moudamiya Al Sham in the suburbs of Damascus on Wednesday, the Syrian state news agency said.
On Wednesday morning, the Syrian Red Crescent said 100 trucks carrying flour, other food supplies and medicines were preparing to leave for five besieged areas.
The UN announced on Tuesday night that deliveries would be made to seven besieged areas, as UN envoy Staffan de Mistura held talks in Damascus aimed at restoring hope for a cessation of hostilities that world powers want in place by Friday.
About 40 trucks were headed for Moadimayet al-Sham, a rebel-held town near Damascus encircled by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Muhannad al-Asadi of the Red Crescent told AFP.
Another 35 vehicles were to travel to Madaya and Zabadani, two other regime-besieged towns near Damascus, and 29 were to go to Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shiite towns in northwestern Idlib province besieged by rebels, he said.
Almost half a million people in Syria are in areas under siege, according to the UN.
Aid workers say several dozen people have died of starvation just in Madaya, which became a symbol of the plight of besieged Syrians after shocking images of starving residents spread last month.
‘Duty’ to allow aid
The UN said on Tuesday that Syria had approved aid deliveries to two other areas — the rebel-held district of Kafr Batna outside Damascus and the eastern provincial capital of Deir Ezzor, where the regime holds parts of the city surrounded by jihadists from the Islamic State group.
It was unclear how aid would be delivered through IS-held territory to Deir Ezzor, though previously cargo planes have airdropped assistance to regime-held neighbourhoods.
“It is the duty of the government of Syria to want to reach every Syrian person wherever they are and allow the UN to bring humanitarian aid,” De Mistura said on Tuesday in Damascus. “Tomorrow we test this,” he said.
A Syrian foreign ministry source angrily rejected talk of a test. “We don’t need anyone to remind us of our duties to our people,” the source told the official SANA news agency.
Diplomats have been pressing the ceasefire deal as a step forward in efforts to end the nearly five-year conflict that has left more than 260,000 dead, devastated the country and forced millions from their homes.
A major international push to resolve the conflict, including Western and Arab nations that have largely backed Syria’s opposition and Assad’s key supporters Russia and Iran, was launched last year. But peace talks between the regime and opposition in Geneva quickly collapsed earlier this month and a major regime offensive, backed by Russian air strikes, has continued in northern Aleppo province.
Air strikes on five medical facilities and two schools in northern Syria earlier this week killed at least 50 people, the UN said. One of the strikes hit a hospital supported by charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing at least 11 people and prompting widespread condemnation.
Turkey push for ground force
MSF did not assign blame for the attack though a Britain-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said a suspected [sic] Russian strike had hit the hospital.
Moscow rejected any responsibility and Syria’s UN envoy Bashar al-Jaafari on Tuesday lashed out at MSF. “The so-called hospital was installed without any prior consultation with the Syrian government by the so-called French network called MSF which is a branch of the French intelligence operating in Syria,” he told reporters in New York.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the ceasefire would be difficult to achieve while Russia’s bombing campaign continues. “If Russia continues indiscriminate bombing of the sort that we’ve been seeing, I think it’s fair to say that you’re not gonna see any take-up by the opposition,” he said Tuesday.
The situation in Syria has also been complicated by Turkey’s launching this week of an assault on Kurdish forces who have been advancing in northern Syria. Ankara has been shelling a Kurdish-led militia [the YPG] which it says is allied with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency on its soil for decades.
Turkey on Tuesday called for foreign ground forces to deploy in Syria, part of a longstanding push by the NATO member for a more robust response to the conflict.
On Wednesday Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan told A Haber television that Ankara wants to create a 10-kilometre (six-mile) “safe line” inside Syria that would include the flashpoint town of Azaz near the border.
Turkey has long pressed for a safe zone, backed up by a no-fly zone, inside Syria and has warned Kurdish forces it will not allow them to seize Azaz, which is held by rebel forces.
Humanitarian aid sent to besieged Syrian towns
Convoy moves out as Turkish President Erdogan vows to prevent Kurdish forces from creating stronghold in northern Syria.
At least 100 trucks of humanitarian aid have started moving towards besieged areas of Syria from Damascus, the Syrian Red Crescent and United Nations have said, in the latest delivery of supplies to trapped residents.
The Syrian government has approved access to seven besieged areas, the UN said after crisis talks in Damascus on Tuesday, a week before a planned resumption of peace talks between Syria’s warring parties.
The aid convoys on Wednesday afternoon started heading for Madaya, Zabadani and Mouadamiya al-Sham near Damascus, and to the villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province in the northwest, five of the locations named by the UN. Turkey launches attacks on Kurdish units in Syria
Supplies included wheat and high-energy foods. A medical team would enter Kefraya and al-Foua, the spokesman said. The Syrian Red Crescent is co-ordinating with the UN on the aid deliveries.
The UN has demanded unhindered access to all besieged areas of the country, where it says hundreds of thousands of people are trapped by fighting and deliberate blockades by Syria’s various warring sides.
Movement on the humanitarian side of the conflict came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that Turkey would not allow the creation of a Kurdish stronghold in northern Syria. Speaking on Wednesday, Erdogan said there was no question of Turkish forces stopping their bombardment of Syrian Kurdish fighters.
“We will not allow a new Qandil on our southern border” with Syria, Erdogan said in a televised speech in Ankara, referring to the mountain in northern Iraq which for years has been a stronghold of the Kurdistan Workers Party armed group.
Alluding to calls to stop shelling Kurdish positions, Erdogan said after Turkey hit their positions for four days in a row: “Forgive me, but there is no question of us doing such a thing.”
The rapid advance of US-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, taking advantage of Russian air strikes to seize territory near the Turkish border, has infuriated Ankara and threatened to drive a wedge between NATO allies.
Washington has long seen the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party and its YPG military wing as its best chance in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria – to the chagrin of fellow NATO member Turkey, which sees the group as “terrorists” and fears it will stir up greater unrest among its own Kurdish minority.
Russian bombing has transformed the five-year-old Syrian civil war in recent weeks, turning the momentum decisively in favour of Moscow’s ally President Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian army has come within 25km of the Turkish border and says it aims to seal it off altogether, closing the main lifeline into rebel territory for years and recapturing Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war.
Meanwhile, the YPG has exploited the situation, seizing ground from other Syrian opposition groups in the area. Now, Kurds have started to carve out a fiefdom in the north of fragmenting Syria, similar to the autonomy enjoyed by their kin in northern Iraq.
The fighting in Syria started as an unarmed uprising against President Assad in March 2011, but has since expanded into a full-on conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people, according to UN estimates.
Syria’s Kurds ‘won’t retreat’ despite Turkish shelling, Al Jazeera, Feb 14, 2016
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