In Feature Articles, Multipolarity

News compilation on New Cold, July 23, 2017

Syria: Safe zone demarcation agreement reached for Damascus, fighting among terrorist forces in northwest Syria leaves 92 dead

Report by Associated Press, July 22, 2017  [original headline confusingly reads ‘Syria: Safe zone demarcation agreement reached for Damascus after fighting leaves 92 dead’

Situation map Syria July 1, 2017 (map by Thomas van Linge, University of Texas map collection)

Russia’s Defence Ministry says an agreement has been reached with the Syrian opposition on the boundaries for a de-escalation zone for the eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus, after days of intense fighting and bombardment in the area.

The ministry statement did not give details, but said the agreement includes the zone’s borders as well as routes for delivery of humanitarian aid and free movement of civilians. It said the agreement was reached in talks in Cairo, with Egyptian mediation.

The zone is one of four proposed in a plan approved in May by Russia and Iran, which support Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Turkey, which backs rebels fighting his forces. Under the Russian plan, Mr Assad’s air force would halt flights over designated areas across the war-torn country.

Violence had been reported in the “de-escalation zones” since the deal was struck more than two months ago.

Until early on Saturday [July 22], the eastern Damascus suburbs known as eastern Ghouta had been subjected to shelling and airstrikes. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Ghouta-based activist Anas al-Dimashqi reported at least three airstrikes early on Saturday on the suburbs of Douma and Ein Tarma. “The situation is quiet now in Ghouta,” Mr al-Dimashqi said via text message, adding that it was not clear if this is the result of the Russian announcement.

Fighting between the ultra-conservative Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaida-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee — that is also known as HTS, broke out on Tuesday, July 18 [in Idlib province, northwest Syria] in several areas and focused on the Bab al-Hawa crossing at the border with Turkey.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that calm had prevailed in Idlib since sunset on Friday. It added that four days of fighting left 92 dead, including 15 civilians.

Ahrar al-Sham and HTC had issued statements saying a ceasefire agreement has been reached and both sides will free detainees. They said Bab al-Hawa will be run by a civilian administration.

Hezbollah and Syrian army advance in border offensive

Reuters, Sunday, July 23, 2017

Lebanon’s Shi’ite militia Hezbollah and the Syrian army advanced against Sunni militants on Saturday [July 22], the second day of an assault to drive them from their last foothold along the Syria-Lebanon border, pro-Damascus media reported.

The operation has targeted Sunni Muslim insurgents from the former Nusra Front, a group that was aligned to al Qaeda and who have controlled the barren, mountainous zone of Juroud Arsal.

A military media unit run by Hezbollah said its forces captured a strategic hilltop area called Dhahr al-Huwa, previously a key Nusra Front base, which allowed them to overlook several border crossings in the area. Forces had earlier seized Jwar al Sheikh, Wadi Kriti and other areas in the southern part of Juroud Arsal, it said.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran’s Shi’ite government, has played a critical part in previous campaigns against Sunni insurgents along Lebanon’s border, part of its wider role backing President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war.

Hezbollah’s role has drawn criticism from its Lebanese political opponents, including Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who is a Sunni.

Footage on Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV channel showed fighters on a hilltop firing assault rifles and wire-guided missiles at militant positions. The media unit also reported that some Nusra fighters had raised white flags in surrender.

The chances of any negotiation with the militants appeared dashed, however, when a mediator and former deputy mayor of Arsal was killed in rocket fire by Nusra fighters, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported. The rocket hit Ahmed al-Fliti’s his car, killing him and wounding another passenger, it said.

Previous negotiations had failed to secure the militants’ withdrawal from the Juroud Arsal area to other rebel-held parts of Syria. Syrian warplanes meanwhile struck militant positions on the Syrian side of the border, near the town of Fleita, the report said.

Refugee influx expected

The offensive began on Friday and killed at least 23 Nusra militants on the first day, the Hezbollah unit said. At least five Hezbollah fighters were also killed. A security source put Hezbollah’s death toll at 15 early on Saturday, and said at least 43 militants had been killed.

The Lebanese army has taken up defensive positions around Arsal town, ready to fire at Sunni militants trying to break through its lines, and has beefed up security in the area.

The Lebanese army is not taking part in the operation, according to a commander in the pro-Damascus military alliance and a Lebanese security source. The army is facilitating the passage of Syrian refugees fleeing the area, with UN supervision, the security source said.

UN refugee agency UNHCR and aid groups are preparing for an influx of Syrian refugees from Juroud Arsal and Arsal town. Only a handful of refugees were reported to have fled on Friday. Several thousand Syrian refugees occupy camps east of Arsal.

The Lebanese army and Hezbollah have regularly targeted militants penetrating the border area. In 2014, Arsal was the scene of one of the most serious spillovers of the Syrian war into Lebanon when jihadists briefly overran the town.

Related news:
Syrian Army makes territorial gains in Damascus countryside, SANA news agency, July 23, 2017

Latest ceasefire in Syria’s southwest is holding; battle against Al-Quaeda forces on Syria-Lebanon border intensifies, news compilation by New Cold, July 22, 2017

A top U.S. commander tells security conference U.S. has no legal right to be in Syria,, July 23, 2017

Trump officially hands Syria over to Russia and Iran, op-ed commentary by Zvi Bar’el, published in Haaretz (Israel), July 23, 2017

[In his commentary, the writer entirely overlooks last week’s news reported by Turkey’s Anadolou news agency that the U.S. has quietly established no less than ten militry bases in eastern Syria. So how can he write, “Russia has become a dominant player in Syria in particular and the Mideast in general, while the Americans are heading back across the ocean.”?]

Explosion kills 11 in Syria’s militant-held city of Idlib, Press TV, July 23, 2017


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