MUNICH/AMMAN (Reuters) – Major powers agreed on Friday to a pause in combat in Syria, but Russia pressed on with bombing in support of its ally President Bashar al-Assad, who vowed to fight until he regained full control of the country.
Although billed as a potential breakthrough, the “cessation of hostilities” agreement does not take effect for a week, at a time when Assad’s government is poised to win its biggest victory of the war with the backing of Russian air power.
The August 21 incident in Marea, a town about 28 miles (45 kilometers) north of Aleppo, exposed at least two people “to sulfur mustard, and there is reason to believe that a baby might have also suffered and died as a result,” according to an official with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The report doesn’t assign blame and even mention any force involved in Syria’s messy, years-long civil war — including ISIS, the terrorist group that’s taken over swaths of the country, or fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
“It’s very serious because mustard gas is a known chemical weapon,” the OPCW official said. “It’s obviously very, very dangerous and extremely toxic, so it’s a new level of concern.”
Kaine, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gave a very cautious welcome to Obama’s shift in policy on Syria last week. The White House announced Friday that the president had ordered up to 50 U.S. special operators to be based in that war-torn country. Those elite commandos will advise and assist rebels who are battling the Islamic State but who also find themselves under fire from forces loyal to strongman Bashar Assad. Kaine said that the White House still lacks a clear strategy for taking on the Islamic State in Syria nearly 16 months after U.S. bombs first starting striking the group.
“They’ve got to put a credible Syria strategy on the table,” Kaine said. “They’ve got to put a strategy on the table that deals with the ISIL third of the problem, with the Assad third of the problem, and with the massive humanitarian disaster third of the problem. And they’re just not doing that.”
Kaine said the administration’s approach to taking on the Islamic State in Iraq was relatively clear, but “in Syria, it’s just not really a strategy.”
“It looks like a classic bit of Russian asymmetric warfare – you have a strong propaganda message that says you’re doing one thing while in fact you are doing something completely different and when challenged you just flatly deny it,” Philip Hammond told Reuters in an interview in Manchester.
He said Britain had held discussions with Russia but kept on getting the same response – that Moscow was attacking Islamic State militants in Syria.
“You try talking to the Russians,” he said. “They just keep repeating their position – that is by the way also the Iranian position – and it is just incredible.”
He said that Britain needed “absolute clarity” that Assad would not be part of Syria’s future.
“That’s not some random bee in the bonnet that I’ve got; it’s that without that commitment we will never get the broad spectrum of Syrian opposition groups to sit down and agree around a table how we take forward the discussion about Syria’s future,” he said.
Hammond dismissed proposals put forward by Russia and Iran for elections, saying Syria was “a million miles away” from being able to hold a free and fair vote.
“In a country where 250,000 people have been killed and 12 million people have been displaced, half of them outside the country – how can you talk about free and fair elections?” he said.
Beirut (AFP) – Syrian rebels who oppose both the regime and the Islamic State group have been hit hardest by Russian air strikes, showing Moscow’s determination to defend President Bashar al-Assad against all enemies, analysts say.
More than four years into Syria’s devastating war, Russian warplanes began air strikes there on Wednesday, saying they were targeting IS jihadists and “other terrorist groups”.
But Western officials said they had indications the Kremlin was concentrating its attacks on anti-Assad factions instead of jihadists.
Experts and a key monitoring group say that Moscow’s targets show it intends to strike all opposition groups opposed to Damascus — jihadist or otherwise — in an effort to save Assad.
“Moscow has entered Syria to hit not just Daesh, but all groups it regards as terrorists, including those supported by the Gulf monarchies and Turkey,” said Syria specialist Fabrice Balanche, using the Arabic acronym for the group.
So Russia is propping up Assad in Syria while selling billions of dollars of technology to Iran, Assad’s ally. Nice gig if you can get it.
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Iran has signed contracts worth $21 billion to buy satellite equipment and aircraft from Russia, Manouchehr Manteghi, the managing director of Iran Aviation Industries Organization, said in an interview with Russian agency Sputnik on Saturday.
Manteghi said the contracts had been signed at the MAKS-2015 air show in Russia last month.
So Russia and Iran are helping Assad kill or export anyone who opposes him and our response is to accept the refugees. Gotcha.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Syrian military has recently started using new types of air and ground weapons supplied by Russia, a Syrian military source told Reuters on Thursday, underlining growing Russian support for Damascus that is alarming the United States.
“The weapons are highly effective and very accurate, and hit targets precisely,” the source said in response to a question about Russian support. “We can say they are all types of weapons, be it air or ground.”
The source said the army had been trained in the use of the weapons in recent months and was now deploying them, declining to give further details other than saying they were “new types.”
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Thursday Russia had provided new weapons and trained Syrian troops how to use them, without saying when or naming any specific systems.
“I’m having a tough time seeing it come back together,” Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart told an industry conference, speaking of Iraq and Syria, both of which have seen large chunks territory seized by the Islamic State.
On Iraq, Stewart said he is “wrestling with the idea that the Kurds will come back to a central government of Iraq,” suggesting he believed it was unlikely. On Syria, he added: “I can see a time in the future where Syria is fractured into two or three parts.”
That is not the U.S. goal, he said, but it’s looking increasingly likely.
CIA Director John Brennan, speaking on the same panel at an industry conference, noted that the countries’ borders remain in place, but the governments have lost control of them. A self-declared caliphate by the Islamic State straddles the border between both countries.
So the Russians and Iranians are supporting the tyrannical Assad regime and forcing a massive humanitarian crisis. And our response is to give Iran nukes. Got it.
Washington (CNN)America’s top diplomat called his Russian counterpart Wednesday to warn that Moscow’s military buildup of troops in Syria could escalate the bloody conflict there that has engulfed the region for more than four years.
The U.S. has been watching Russia’s movement of military personnel with concern for several days, though the Foreign Ministry only confirmed the buildup Wednesday.
There are “Russian military experts in Syria who are instructing (the Syrians) on the use of the military systems being delivered” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a close Moscow ally, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.
Russia “has long been supplying arms and military equipment to Syria in accordance with bilateral contracts,” she said.
(CNN)Airstrikes from Syrian government forces hit the rebel-held town of Douma on Sunday, killing as many as 82 people and wounding hundreds, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and aid groups.
Graphic video purporting to show the immediate aftermath of the blast depicted massive plumes of smoke, bodies strewn on the street, and people frantically running for their lives.
Why yes, Assad is still a vile evil tyrant. And he may be the only viable counterweight to IS. What to do…
The State Department has obtained 27,000 photographs showing the emaciated, bruised and burned bodies of Syrian torture victims — gruesome images that a top official told Yahoo News constitute “smoking gun” evidence that can be used to bring war-crimes charges against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The photos are “horrific — some of them put you in visceral pain,” said Stephen J. Rapp, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, in an interview. “This is some of the strongest evidence we’ve seen in the area of proof of the commission of mass atrocities.”
The photos — a small number of which will be put on public display for the first time on Wednesday at the U.S. Holocaust Museum — were smuggled out of Syria by an official regime photographer who has since defected and is known only by his code name, Caesar.
They were shown at a closed-door session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July where Caesar, wearing a hood, testified. They are now being analyzed at Rapp’s request by the FBI in part as an effort to determine whether any U.S. citizens may have been among the victims — a finding that could be the basis to bring criminal charges in the U.S. against officials of the Assad regime.