Hunger and hopelessness in Madaya, Syria, are no longer a secret. The starvation is likely to persist as long the siege is upheld. And the siege will last as long as the world remains silent. It would be a grand betrayal of Syrian civilians if the international attention turns away once the U.N. aid is delivered. In his last year in office, the world is looking to Ban Ki-moon to show what the U.N. can be at its best but this is just a hope as he couldn’t do enough to stop the ongoing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Libya which has a negative impact on the whole Middle East day after day.
The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria said after meeting representatives of the United States, Russia and other major powers this week that Syria peace talks were still planned to start in Geneva on Jan. 25.
What’s the current situation?
- In Syria, raids target Isis stronghold of Raqqa and nearby Ayn Isa
- Strikes hit north-east of Aleppo as mainly Kurdish forces advance
- In Iraq, multiple strikes near Mosul and Sinjar target supply line into Syria
- Airstrikes also support ongoing Iraqi army operations in Ramadi
- UN condemns “atrocious acts” in Syrian war
14th of January (Reuters): United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has blasted Syria’s warring parties, particularly President Bashar al-Assad’s government, for committing “atrocious acts” and “unconscionable abuses” against civilians.
The UN Security Council will be briefed tomorrow on the besiegement of some 400,000 people in Syria, diplomats said. The meeting was requested by Britain, France and the United States after reports from Madaya revealed the direness of the situation in the Syrian city of 42,000 following months of blockade.
— United Nations (@UN) 15 Janvier 2016
Aid was delivered to Madaya and two Shia villages on Monday for the first time in months. Madaya is besieged by pro-Syrian government forces, while the two villages in Idlib province are encircled by rebels. On Jan. 12, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were finally allowed to deliver aid to Madaya, the Syrian town that has been besieged by president Bashar al-Assad’s government forces and his allies for the last six months. The U.N. says an estimated 300 to 400 severely malnourished people in Madaya and two northern towns hemmed in by rebels are living in “horrifying conditions.”
— FRANCE 24 (@FRANCE24) 16 Janvier 2016
For New York Times, the Islamic State gives people one choice: Escape your poverty by fighting for us. The world has to offer people living under the Islamic State better choices. Stop the Assad government from bombing markets and bridges, and its Russian allies from bombing civilian infrastructure, as happened recently when a Russian airstrike reportedly hit a water main, cutting off water for the entire city.
Russian military officials have claimed Vladimir Putin’s forces “do not even plan” air strikes that might harm civilians, despite reports of hundreds of Syrians being killed.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) 12 Janvier 2016
Since the beginning of its campaign in September, the Russian air force has carried out 5,662 sorties, including 145 by fighter jets and bombers, and launched 97 cruise missiles Lieutenant General Sergey Rudskoy said.
Amnesty International put the civilian death toll from Russian strikes at 200 “at least” in a report released last month, while the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) put it at almost four times that figure, saying more than 600 Isis militants were also killed.
The Russian defence ministry previously dismissed the claims as “fake information” and its spokesperson, Major General Igor Konashenkov accused the US-led coalition of covering up civilian casualties today.
- The US is considering a new plan for Syria — and the Kurds ‘will not be happy about it’
The Pentagon is weighing a new request from Turkey to train and equip Arab rebels battling government forces in northern Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, 13th of January.
As of 3:59 p.m. EST Jan. 10, the U.S. and coalition have conducted a total of 9,560 strikes (6,341 Iraq / 3,219 Syria). (defense.gov)
U.S. has conducted 7,390 strikes in Iraq and Syria (4,361 Iraq / 3,029 Syria)
Rest of Coalition has conducted 2,170 strikes in Iraq and Syria (1,980 Iraq /190 Syria)
The countries that have participated in the strikes include:
In Iraq: (1) Australia, (2) Belgium, (3) Canada, (4) Denmark, (5) France, (6) Jordan, (7) The Netherlands, and (8) UK
In Syria: (1) Australia, (2) Bahrain, (3) Canada, (4) France, (5) Jordan, (6) Saudi Arabia, (7) Turkey (8) UAE and (9)UK
— Terrormonitor.org (@Terror_Monitor) 15 Janvier 2016
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) 11 Janvier 2016
A newly empowered, US-backed Arab rebel brigade aimed at enabling larger groups of Arab forces fighting in Syria would presumably serve as a counterweight to Kurdish territorial ambitions in the north.
Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a Kurdish affairs expert embedded in Iraqi Kurdistan, largely echoed those sentiments.
“Most likely the Turkish plan is to insert these forces into the Azaz border strip and to prevent YPG expansion into these areas in the future,” van Wilgenburg told Business Insider on Thursday, referring to the northern Syrian town of Azaz through which Turkey funnels weapons and supplies to the rebels it supports in Aleppo. “Turkey wants to prevent Kurdish expansion and stop them from linking the Kurdish administrations in Afrin and Kobani.”
However, Turkey is already beginning to worry about the “nightmare scenario” of Russia supporting the Kurds in Syria and facilitating their expansion westward — especially since Russia is still looking for ways to retaliate against Turkey for shooting down its warplane in November.
The Turkish pro-government daily newspaper The Daily Sabah reported in early December that Russia was delivering weapons and heavy armor to the YPG while instructing them to attack opposition groups, many of whom are backed by Turkey.
Turkey Attacks ISIS in Iraq and Syria in Response to Istanbul Bombing
Turkey has ramped up its efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after the group attacked the tourist district in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square on Tuesday.
- Syrian civil war: Putin hints at asylum for Assad
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad could be granted political asylum in Russia if he has to leave his own country, Vladimir Putin suggested yesterday.
In a candid interview with German tabloid Bild, the Russian President said Moscow intended to stand by its ally throughout the current civil war.
Asked whether he would be willing to grant the Syrian leader asylum if he was forced to leave his country, Putin replied it was “too early” to give that option serious consideration – but then drew parallels between Assad and CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is now living in Russia.
- Syrian refugees in Lebanon forced underground
The refugee crisis caused by the Syrian civil war has affected Lebanon more severely than any of its neighbors. There are approximately 1.2 million Syrian refugees in the country — a remarkable figure considering Lebanon’s population was only four million before the war. The number of unregistered refugees is unknown.
In January 2015, as it struggled to deal with the weight of the crisis, Lebanon imposed tough new controls on its border with Syria that made it harder for those fleeing war and persecution to cross into the country. At the same time, the Lebanese government made it more difficult for Syrians who are already residents of Lebanon to renew their visas.
Nadim Houri, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said this has made life “impossible” for many refugees in Lebanon, pushing them into the shadows and underground. “The last thing Lebanon needs is a large, undocumented community living at the margins of society, at heightened risk of abuse,” he said.
But restrictions elsewhere are also having a knock on effect in Lebanon. The report comes less than a week after the Lebanese government forcibly deported more than 400 Syrian refugees back to Syria. The Syrians had flown from Damascus to Beiruton Jan. 7 with the intention of flying on to Turkey, but their flights were canceled ahead of new visa restrictions in Turkey, which were due to come into effect on Jan. 8.
Amnesty International said the deportation has put hundreds of lives in danger.
- U.S. and Russia agree: Syria peace talks ‘must go forward’
The United Nations-facilitated peace talks are expected to take place on Jan. 25 in Geneva, involving delegations from the Syrian government and opposition factions in order to reach a solution for the five-year-long conflict.
U.N. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed ‘deep concern’ over attacks on civilians in Syria, in a telephone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday.
De Mistura’s statement came after meeting representatives of the United States, Russia and other major powers to discuss the upcoming Syria peace talks between the regime and opposition forces.Syrian rebel groups said on Wednesday they would not take part in peace talks scheduled this month unless humanitarian articles in the latest U.N resolution were implemented.
The groups, which include the powerful Islam Army, mentioned articles 12 and 13 of a resolution that was passed late last year, which calls on the sides in Syria’s civil war to allow humanitarian access to all in need and cease attacks on civilians.
- Elite U.S. targeting force has arrived in Iraq to fight the Islamic State
According to the Washington Post,an elite U.S. Special Operations targeting force has arrived in Iraq and will carry out operations against the Islamic State, part of a broader effort in 2016 to strike at the militants and that also includes U.S. Special Operations troops in Syria, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Wednesday.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) 11 Janvier 2016
About 1,300 more soldiers from the 101st’s “Screaming Eagles” are expected to deploy later this spring to train Iraqi forces as the U.S.-led military coalition and the Iraqi government prepare for an assault on Mosul. Soldiers from the 101st also played a major role in taking Mosul back from insurgents during the Iraq War, but Carter stressed Wednesday that Iraqi forces must do it this time, with the U.S. in a supporting role.
A much anticipated campaign to recapture Iraq’s northern city of Mosul from Islamic State is unlikely to happen this year, the Kurdistan region’s deputy prime minister said, dampening hopes the militants could be driven from the country in 2016.
“I don’t think the Mosul offensive could happen this year,” Talabani told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. “I don’t think the Iraqi armed forces are ready and I don’t think the (U.S.-led) coalition is confident in the ability of everyone to get ready in time for an offensive this year.
Since their occupation of Mosul in 2014, ISIS militants have destroyed priceless museum artifacts, burned thousands of books, bulldozed churches and mosques, and demolished ancient archaeological sites. The irreparable devastation mirrors their ruthless treatment of entire communities of people.
- ISIS Reportedly Abducts Nearly 400 Children in Iraq (Aina.org)
Kurdish authorities from the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq reported on Jan. 13 that up to 400 children are being held captive and potentially trained to be suicide bombers by ISIS.
Around 600 children from the country’s Yazidi minority were kidnapped by ISIS, which maintains control of key cities such as Mosul in northern Iraq. Around 200 managed to escape.
That leaves the remainder in the hands of the terrorist group, which may be using them as soldiers in an effort to bolster its ranks following heavy losses in the city of Ramadi, which was recaptured by international coalition forces in December.
— Haidar Sumeri (@IraqiSecurity) 15 Janvier 2016
Other children may be forced to train as suicide bombers, according to CNN. A 12-year-old boy who escaped ISIS, called “Nasir” for his own protection, told the news outlet that he and 60 others were indoctrinated against Americans, Yazidis and anyone standing in the way of the group’s victory.
— IraqiSuryani (@IraqiSuryani1) 16 Janvier 2016