Saturday, 11 February 2017

Syria war seethes despite cease-fire between regime and rebels

 'Syria’s fronts are on fire despite a cease-fire reached in December between the rebels and the government. Though the two sides sat face-to-face in the Kazakh capital of Astana a month later, the government has pressed offensives against rebels around the capital, Damascus, and recently escalated its air campaigns in Homs and Idlib.

 Here’s a look at the fighting around Syria:

 DAMASCUS: Despite a rebel ultimatum delivered in Astana against further aggression around the capital, Syrian government forces along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group pressed on with an offensive against rebels holding Damascus’ primary water source, and defeated them one week later. About 2,000 rebels, opposition activists and their families chose exile from the Barada Valley rather than remaining under government authority.

 This has become the hallmark of the government’s strategy – to squeeze its opponents through siege then offer them exile. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes from bombardment across the country, with thousands more fleeing to northwestern Idlib province instead of submitting to government rule. Opponents call the strategy “forced displacement.”

 Government forces have also intensified their assault on the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus. Home to some 400,000 people, the area has hardly seen a day without fighting since the rebels expelled the government in 2012. The government justifies its attacks, saying those areas include fighters from the Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, although the rebels deny that. Rebel factions are fighting back with tank, artillery, and other heavy weapons fire.

 IDLIB: This province in northwestern Syria is now almost entirely under rebel control and has been overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of people displaced by fighting there and elsewhere.

 But it is hardly safe. Multinational aircraft are constantly raiding the province, striking Al-Qaeda-linked rebels as well as civilian positions. U.S. coalition aircraft are believed to have killed more than 100 Al-Qaeda-linked fighters on the last day of Barack Obama’s presidency, according to the Pentagon, while government or Russian aircraft are believed to be behind a string of raids on the provincial capital, also called Idlib, that killed at least 26 civilians and more than a dozen militants earlier this week, according to the Observatory.

 Rebels, meanwhile, are fighting one another in the province as they divide into competing camps over whether to engage in the diplomatic process in Geneva and Kazakhstan. On the one side are groups aligned with the Al-Qaeda-linked affiliate, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, while on the other are an array of Western- and Turkish-backed rebels, led by the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham.

 CENTRAL SYRIA Pro-government forces have intensified their bombardment of Al-Waer, the only enclave for the opposition in the country’s third-largest city, Homs. Nine people were killed in shelling and airstrikes Wednesday, according to local activists. Osama Abu Zeid, a resident, said he believes the government is trying to force the neighborhood to surrender and activists like him into exile. Rebels, meanwhile, are raiding towns and villages loyal to the government in neighboring Hama province.

 DAESH TERRITORY Daesh seized Palmyra and its ancient ruins on Dec. 11 and has maintained its grip on it ever since. It has gone so far as to threaten the government’s position at the strategic T4 air base in central Syria, but the military has so far stood up to the test. The group has seized and destroyed several natural gas fields and facilities, with consequences for the national economy for years to come.

 The extremists also stepped up their campaign for Deir al-Zour, which has been under siege since 2015, and for a nervous two weeks in January forced the U.N. food agency to abandon its air drops due to safety fears. The U.N. estimates more than 90,000 civilians are trapped inside. Government troops and loyal militias are fighting back.

 With the U.N. planning to convene peace talks in Geneva on Feb. 20, hopes for success hinge on the intentions of the three powers closest to the conflict – Turkey, Russia and Iran – who together pledged to guarantee the tenuous cease-fire.

 And nowhere will their intentions crystallize more clearly than in Al-Bab, where each side has a stake – Turkey fighting alongside the Syrian rebels, and Russia and Iran backing the Syrian government and allied Shiite militias.

 The outcome in Al-Bab – whether it is ultimately taken by the government or the rebels, and whether the front between the two sides stabilizes or dissolves into all-out warfare – will set the direction of future talks and any settlement.'

  'Assad regime seems overwhelmed. Too many frontlines at the same time. Al_Bab, Khanaser, Tiyas, DeirEzzor, Eastern Ghouta, Sayqal.'

  'People in Latakia besieging the last gas stations. The Assad regime is running out of fuel.'

 'Pro-Assad forces are blocked now. They will never reach Al_Bab without a bloody battle with EuphratesShield.'

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