Dozens of families leave encircled Eastern Aleppo under Russia-Damascus plan

More than 150 civilians, mostly women and children, left besieged eastern parts of Aleppo through a safety zone that Moscow and its Syrian ally say they have set up to evacuate people trapped in opposition-held areas.

Syrian state television on Saturday showed scores of mostly women gathered in a government-controlled area of the city, saying how conditions in rebel-held areas were difficult and chanting praise for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Eastern Aleppo citizens cross over to government-held area of Aleppo [30/7/2016]
Eastern Aleppo citizens cross over to government-held area of Aleppo [30/7/2016]

Russia’s defense ministry said that 169 civilians had left since Thursday through three safety crossings. The ministry also said in a statement that 69 rebels had handed themselves in to the army. Syrian state news agency SANA said 169 civilians, mostly women over the age of forty, had arrived at the Salahuddin checkpoint. Videos circulating on social media showed mostly women crossing over at Salahuddin checkpoint.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and its Russian allies declared a joint humanitarian operation for the besieged area on Thursday, bombarding it with leaflets telling fighters to surrender and civilians to leave. But the United Nations has raised misgivings about the plan and U.S. officials have suggested it may be an attempt to depopulate the city – the most important opposition stronghold in the country – so that the army can seize it.

The Syrian opposition has called it a euphemism for forced displacement of the inhabitants, which it said would be a war crime. With rebel-held areas running out of food and medicine after the only supply route into the city was cut by the army after months of heavy Russian and Syrian aerial bombing, many vulnerable civilians are desperate to leave, while being suspicious of the plan.

The Russian defense ministry said Syrian authorities had prepared six humanitarian aid centres capable of accommodating more than 3,000 people.

Residents in these areas who were contacted said many were hesitant to enter into government-held areas for fear of arrest by government forces with no presence of any U.N. body or NGO’s to oversee the evacuation.

They also said the journey to the frontline where the crossings were located was fraught with danger with snipers from both sides at times shooting at civilians.

Sources: Reuters/Syria & Iraq News



CIA’s Brennan says the United States aim at a political transition in Syria

Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan said on Friday he was not optimistic about the future of Syria.

“I don’t know whether or not Syria can be put back together again. Whether it’s going to be some type pf confederate structure where the various confessional groups will have the lead in governing their portions of the country,” Brennan told the annual Aspen Security Forum. He added that the U.S. don’t want implosion of the Syrian government institutions but a clear political path for Bashar al-Assad’s departure from power. “Until that happens, Syrians will continue to die”, Brennan said.

Source: The Aspen Institute

If Aleppo operation is ruse, could hurt US-Russia cooperation: Kerry

If Russia’s humanitarian operation for Aleppo is a ruse, it risks completely disrupting cooperation between the United States and Russia on a political solution to end the Syrian civil war, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.

“It has the risk, if it is a ruse, of completely breaking apart the … cooperation,” he said in response to a reporter’s question.

“On the other hand, if we’re able to work it out today and have a complete understanding of what is happening and then agreement on (the) way forward, it could actually open up some possibilities.”

John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov during a bilateral meeting at the sidelines of the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Vientiane, Laos [26/7/2016. photo by Jorge Silva/Reuters]
John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov during a bilateral meeting at the sidelines of the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Vientiane, Laos [26/7/2016. photo by Jorge Silva/Reuters]

Source: Reuters

Up to one million Iraqis could be forced to flee their homes as fighting intensifies: Red Cross

The International Committee of the Red Cross believes that up to a million more people could be forced to flee their homes in Iraq in the coming weeks and months, posing a massive humanitarian problem for the country. As fighting intensifies in different areas, including near Iraq’s second city of Mosul, the ICRC is calling for additional funds from donors to replenish aid supplies.

More than ten million people are already in need of assistance in the country. More than three million people are already internally displaced. If there is the predicted upsurge in violence, then the figure of internally displaced could dramatically increase.

“The situation is unpredictable but we must prepare for the worst. There’s the likelihood that fighting will intensify, particularly in the Mosul area. Hundreds of thousands of people may very well be on the move in the coming weeks and months, seeking shelter and assistance. We need to be ready,” said the ICRC’s Regional Director for the Near and Middle East, Robert Mardini.

On Friday 29 July, the ICRC is asking for an additional 17 million Swiss francs ($17.1m, €15.6m) to its current budget for Iraq. The funds will be used to provide water, food, medical supplies and other assistance for those people caught up in the fighting. The ICRC will also focus efforts on promoting respect for international humanitarian law with parties involved in the conflict, and on visiting detainees. The money will allow the ICRC to step up its response throughout the country, reaching those most in need of help, as and when they need it.

Civilians fleeing from Fallujah [May 2016]
Civilians fleeing from Fallujah [May 2016]

Source: ICRC

De Mistura says UN wants control of Aleppo humanitarian corridors

United Nations Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura Friday urged Russia to let the U.N. take charge of humanitarian corridors allowing civilians to escape the besieged city of Aleppo. De Mistura voiced provisional support for the humanitarian passages proposed by Moscow, but said the U.N. wanted to see key changes to the plan. “Our suggestion is to Russia to actually leave the corridors being established at their initiative to us,” de Mistura told reporters in Geneva. “The U.N. and humanitarian partners know what to do.”

Staffan de Mistura
Staffan de Mistura

He also echoed calls by U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien for a 48-hour truce to allow life-saving supplies into the city’s rebel-held east, which has been surrounded by pro-government forces since July 17. “How can you expect people to want to walk through a corridor, thousands of them, while there is shelling, bombing fighting,” the U.N. envoy said.

Russia, a key ally of President Bashar Assad, called for the opening of the passages on Thursday for civilians and surrendering fighters seeking to exit Aleppo. “We are in principle and in practice in favor of humanitarian corridors under the right circumstances,” de Mistura said, adding that the U.N. had been “studying” the Russian plan. He said Moscow needed to provide more information on how the system would work, while reiterating the U.N. position that no civilian should be forced to leave Aleppo.

“The clock is ticking for the Aleppo population,” said de Mistura, who estimated that essential supplies including food in the east were likely to run out within three weeks.

Source: AFP

American volunteer dies fighting Daesh alongside YPG in Manbij

Former US marine Levi Jonathan Shirley, known by his Kurdish comrades as Agir Servan, was killed on 14 July in offensive to recapture town of Manbij.

An American volunteer fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Syria has been killed during an ongoing offensive to recapture the town of Manbij from Islamic State militants. Levi Jonathan Shirley, known by his Kurdish comrades as Agir Servan, died on 14 July in Manbij, according to a statement on the official website of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), in whose ranks he was fighting. The statement said Shirley, who was born in Nevada, had first travelled to Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria’s north-east in February 2015 and joined the YPG and then returned to the US.

Jonathan Shirley, in a picture release by the Kurdish Defense Units
Jonathan Shirley, in a picture release by the Kurdish Defense Units

That winter he returned to Syria and rejoined the YPG, helping defend Kurdish-held areas from Islamic State and recently participating in the battle for the northern town of Manbij, which began in May and is backed by a US-led coalition bombing the militants in Iraq and Syria. Shirley was “known for his discipline and sense of responsibility” and his presence among the SDF fighters “always raised the morale of his co fighters” according to the statement. “Comrade Agir was known for his bravery and sense of self-sacrifice.”

Jayson Pihajlic, 30, a former marine, who spent a year in Rojava and fought alongside Shirley in the battle for Shadadi earlier this year described him as a former marine full of life. “He was always full of life, and comedy. The kind of guy that went out of his way to make everyone laugh. Even doing standup comedy shows for us,” said Pihajlic who served two tours in Iraq from 2005-2009.

Source: The Guardian

Nour al-Din al-Zenki rebels behead a 12-year old boy in northern Aleppo

Videos have emerged online that appear to show Syrian rebels taunting and then beheading a boy they say is a captured Palestinian pro-government fighter. One video shows five men posing with the frightened child, who could be as young as 10, in the back of a truck. One of the men grips him by the hair. The same man is later filmed apparently cutting the boy’s head off.

The incident is reported to have taken place in Handarat, north of Aleppo, where there has been heavy fighting. The area is the location of the unofficial Palestinian refugee camp of Ein El Tal, which was home to some 7,000 people before they were displaced by armed groups in 2013. Pro-government forces have been attempting to capture Handarat in recent weeks, as part of an offensive that has seen the last remaining road out of rebel-held eastern half of Aleppo cut, trapping an estimated 300,000 people living there.

A blurred screenshot from the video of the beheading in Handarat [19/7/2016]
A blurred screenshot from the video of the beheading in Handarat [19/7/2016]

The footage of the boy, who some on social media identified as “Abdullah Issa”, first appeared online on Tuesday morning. The men in the first video say he is a fighter from Liwa al-Quds (the Jerusalem Brigade), a Palestinian pro-government militia operating in the Aleppo area.
Enab Baladi, a pro-opposition news website, said the boy was captured in Handarat by members of a local rebel group, the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement. It quoted Yasser Ibrahim Youssef, a member of the group’s political bureau, as saying on Facebook that an independent judicial commission had been appointed to investigate the incident. Anyone proven to have been involved in any violations would be referred to military justice, he added.

A legal adviser for the Western-backed Free Syrian Army was also cited by Enab Baladi as saying it would hold to account those responsible for such a violation.
A report published by the human rights group Amnesty International earlier this month detailed a series of violations allegedly committed by Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement fighters, including abductions and torture. The group is reported to have benefited from financial and military support from the US, UK, France, Turkey, Qatar and other Gulf Arab states in the past.

Source: BBC News