Saturday, 20 January 2018

People of Syria’s Manbij call on Turkey to rescue city from PKK/PYD occupation

File photo

 'In a letter sent to Yeni Şafak, the people of Manbij signal that the time to clear the city from PKK/PYD terrorists has come, pledging support from the local population for any upcoming operation led by the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF).

 “The PKK carries out executions, forcefully extoll payments; they’re kidnapping our kids to fight with Turkish soldiers; Manbij is literally ready to explode. We call on [President] Erdoğan; please rescue us from the PKK. In the name of region’s population, we want to be rescued from the PKK affliction and put an end to the occupation. We’re ready to break the PKK’s link to Hasakah. The organization is summoning reinforcements to Manbij from Ayn al-Arab and Qamishli. Over the past two years, hundreds of Arab youth have abandoned their weapons and deserted the front group called SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] that became a tool in the American ploy. Over the past week, over 200 youth left the PKK and fled. The terrorists are attacking those who defected from the PKK. In the past two days, four Arab youth were killed and seven were injured. As the region’s tribes, we’re regularly in touch,” read the letter.

 The terror organization sensed that we are in the midst of preparing a team and this situation causes them serious discomfort. There are 600 PKK terrorists in the Manbij region. They have been trying to reinforce their positions over the past few days, but Afrin is of greater importance to them that they don’t pay much attention to Manbij. We’re also capable to launch an attack from here when Turkey begins the Afrin operation. At present, we have 300 soldiers and we have set up a secret operation chamber. We want to be in touch with Turkey with regards to the issue of weapons and munitions. When battle begins, we will have no trouble finding soldiers,” the letter continued.

 ‘The Turkish army is stationed only 20 kilometers away from us. We want you to know that Manbij constitutes an easier target than believed for the Turkish soldiers and Free Syrian Army (FSA) units. Not only will the PKK be eradicated from Manbij in a matter of a few hours, they will be forced to abandon the whole of the western Euphrates. We will never abandon our resolve to have Manbij become part of the Euphrates Shield region. We ask of our Turkish brothers to please hear our call and rescue us from oppression. They are trying to brainwash our youth into fighting Turkish soldiers. They’re sending them to die in Afrin. We need your help to rescue the Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen population of Manbij from the PKK, which is the enemy of humanity and religion,” concluded the letter.'

From December 27th, 2017:

 Syria's Manbij 'disappointed' by US support for PKK/PYD
 'The people of Manbij city in northern Syria are "disappointed" in the U.S. for allowing the PKK/PYD terrorist group to maintain a foothold in the region, a Syrian tribal leader said Wednesday.

 Ibrahim Hajji, a member of the Assembly of Syrian Tribes and Clans, blamed Washington for allowing PKK/PYD elements to maintain control of the city.

 The U.S., he said, had broken its earlier promises to disallow terrorist elements from maintaining a presence west of the Euphrates River.

 "The U.S. has deceived the people of Manbij," Hajji said. "The PYD could not have entered Manbij -- or anywhere else -- without a green light from Washington."

 An Arab-populated city located on the west bank of the Euphrates, Manbij remains under the control of the PYD, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist group.

 According to Hajji, the PKK/PYD has set up an elaborate intelligence network in the region with the aim of keeping tabs on local dissidents.

 If the U.S. had not provided the terrorist group with political and military support, he said, the opposition Free Syrian Army would have already captured the city.

 "The reality is that Manbij -- via the PYD -- has been occupied by the U.S.," Hajji added.

 Since the Daesh terrorists were driven from the city in August of last year, Manbij has remained under the control of PKK/PYD.'
Syria's Manbij 'disappointed' by US support for PKK/PYD

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Civilians being targeted in schools, mosques, entire districts

Image result for Syrians displaced by Idlib assault take shelter near Turkey

 'When fighting drove Bahr Diab from his home in southern Idlib last month, it was the fourth time he and his family had been displaced since the start of Syria’s seemingly endless conflict.

 From his pre-war home on the Lebanese border, Diab moved first east and then north searching for safety, finally taking shelter near Turkey where he hopes his wife and four children will be safe from air strikes and ground assaults.

 “Every time I get to a new place I build a house, but we are forced to leave it and move on,” he said at a makeshift camp a few miles from the border, where hundreds of people endure the mud and winter weather.

 “That’s my tent over there, that’s my home. Four homes later we decided to settle for blankets for winter.”

 Diab is part of a wave of Syrians fleeing an offensive by Syrian government forces and their allies, which several people at the Kelbit camp said involved the heaviest bombardment they had seen in nearly seven years of conflict.

 The Idlib area is the largest remaining opposition-held territory in Syria, its population swelled by insurgents and civilians retreating from shrinking rebel strongholds elsewhere. The scale of this latest upheaval has overwhelmed local authorities in Islamist-controlled Idlib.

 They say around 36,000 families have been uprooted, nearly half of which have fled to the Turkish border region. The United Nations said this week it had tracked 212,000 displacements in the last month alone, though some may have been counted more than once on their journey.

 Neighbouring Turkey, already hosting 3 million refugees, says that further fighting could trigger another mass exodus. But it has built a wall along the frontier and tightened control at crossings, leaving tens of thousands of Syrians near the border with nowhere left to flee.

 Diab, who reached Kelbit three weeks ago, said people were suffering from the cold, wet weather and sickness was rife. But compared to his last home in the Idlib town of Sinjar, where people lived in daily fear of air strikes, they felt secure.

 “The Turkish border region is safer,” he said. “Where we were before, you would hear planes 20 times a day. The children and women were terrified.”

 Another man displaced from the Sinjar region said the ground and air assault by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by Russia and Iran, was the most ferocious he had experienced.

 “There were situations when you would get civilians killed, but not like this,” said the 43-year-old father of six, who gave his name only as Abdulhamid. “This is hysteria at an insane level. It’s the first time I’ve seen civilians being targeted in schools, mosques, entire districts.”

 Abdulhamid said his home in Sinjar had been destroyed and he had lost contact with relatives during his three-day trek to the border. “My cousins, I know nothing about them. My sisters, brothers and wives, I don’t know where they are”.

 Next to the canvas and blue tarpaulin structures of the improvised camp, Turkey’s Red Crescent has built 500 new tents which will soon be ready for families to move into.

 But Hassan Darwish, an official with the local authority running the opposition-controlled Idlib region, said they desperately needed more food and shelter to support the displaced population.

 He said there were 1,300 displaced families in Kelbit area, 300 of which could not be housed at the camp. In the wider border region, he said there were 71,000 displaced families.

 The World Food Programme is helping feed tens of thousands, but WFP provisions cover less than half the needs, Darwish said.

 “People who have been displaced from all the governorates (in Syria) have nowhere apart from this region. But this region ... cannot absorb any more people,” he said. “In several camps, you find five or six families in one tent.”

 The overcrowding may only get worse if the army and its militia allies continue to advance from the south, eating further into opposition areas.

 Rakkan Khalil, who said he was first uprooted by the violence six years ago, said that given the chance he would cross the border to Turkey, but he saw no way to make the short trip with his wife, four sons and two daughters.

 “They’ve closed the borders, it’s hard for us,” he said.

 At the approach to the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Syria to Turkey, a large sign in the centre of the road encapsulates the sense of entrapment and resignation in the Islamist-controlled region.

 “All crossings and roads may be closed,” it reads. “Except the path to God.” '

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Russia’s ‘Victory’ in Syria is Debunked, Derailed and Defeated

Image result for Russia’s ‘Victory’ in Syria is Debunked, Derailed and Defeated

 'Premature announcements of political triumphs often result in negative blowback, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of victory in the Syrian war was debunked particularly swiftly (see EDM, January 11, 2018). Putin’s definition of victory included three key points: asserting the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its control over most of Syria’s territory; strengthening the partnership with Turkey and Iran as the main framework for managing the residual conflicts; and withdrawing about half of the Russian forces, while expanding the naval base in Tartus and the Khmeimim air base. All three propositions have been badly shaken, if not shattered. Furthermore, Putin intended to sell the Russian victory to the West, thus pressuring the United States to accept the al-Assad regime and engage in cooperation with Russia, while cajoling the European Union into paying for Syria’s post-war reconstruction. Such bargaining has gone nowhere in both cases, and Russian tensions with US policy in Syria (muddled as it is) have reached a new high.

 The affirmation of al-Assad’s grasp on power was supposed to happen at the gathering of those opposition groups that subscribe to the arrangement for “de-escalation zones,” negotiated through the so-called “Astana process” (Russian Council, January 8, 2018). Putin wanted to stage this “congress” in Sochi immediately after his declaration of “victory” last November, but too many parties objected; so a new date in late January or early February is still uncertain (RIA Novosti, January 9, 2018). Turkey remains adamantly against any representation of Kurdish forces in this zero-trust process. And without Ankara, the “Russian peace” plan makes little sense. In order to stimulate the pacification, Syrian government forces have launched an offensive in Idlib province, which is supposed to be the largest “de-escalation zone.” However, this encroachment on Turkish interests has angered President Recep TayyipErdoğan even more (RBC, January 10, 2018).

 Putin is trying to mollify his capricious Turkish counterpart, but a more serious problem has been simultaneously growing in the relationship with Tehran (Kommersant, January 10, 2018). One factor is the al-Assad regime’s increasing dependency on the Iranian-sponsored Shia militia, which controls large parts of Syrian territory, including close to Russian bases (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 9, 2018). Israel refuses to accept these facts on the ground and keeps hitting Hezbollah bases with airstrikes; Russia neither interferes with nor has protested these attacks (RIA Novosti, January 9, 2018). A new and unexpected element related to the Iranian problem has been the explosion of street protests, which amplifies Putin’s angst about popular revolutions. The high point in this turmoil may have passed, but it has become clear for the Iranian leadership that foreign engagements—and in particular the huge expenses of waging the war in Syria—are a major cause for domestic discontent (New Times, January 9, 2018). Putin has no real insight into the decision-making in Tehran, and so he cannot know how and whether the behavior of this key but difficult ally might change.

 The most direct blow to Russian “victory” was delivered by a series of attacks on the Khmeimim airbase, which remains the main operational base for all Russia forces in Syria, including the semi-legal private contractors (see EDM, March 16, 2017; March 22, 2017; January 11, 2018). The Russian Ministry of Defense boasts about the success in intercepting the “drone attack” on January 6, but it has given scant information about the deadly attack on December 31, which was exposed by the media (Novaya Gazeta, January 9, 2018). The high command insists that the militants involved had received technical and targeting support from abroad, even if the captured drones are primitive plywood models fixed with tape (Kommersant, January 11, 2018). Russian generals have also announced that the terrorist group responsible for the attacks was destroyed by a high-precision strike, which is impossible to verify since no group has claimed credit for inflicting the unprecedented damage (RBC, January 12, 2018).

 This muddled emergency makes clear that Russia cannot reduce its military grouping in Syria, because the task of guarding the bases cannot be delegated to Syrian or Iranian forces. Moscow seeks to explain away the “post-victory” casualties by alleged hostile operations of US Special Forces and their proxy-rebels. But simultaneously, Russia is trying to maintain the “de-conflicting” arrangement, particularly since one of the most dangerous air incidents happened immediately after Putin’s declaration of “victory” (, December 15, 2017). While Russian propaganda insinuated US involvement in the attacks on Khmeimim, Chief of the General Staff Gennady Gerasimov and Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a useful phone conversation on Syrian matters (RIA Novosti, January 11, 2018).

 It is convenient for Moscow to pin the blame for every Syrian setback on US “sabotage,” but it is also quite important to preserve a cooperative pattern because Syria is perhaps the only place where Russia has assets to bargain with in the high geopolitical game. Moscow has nothing against Washington arming the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), but it needs to dissuade the US from turning the Kurdish-controlled territories into a base for training anti-al-Assad rebels (RBC, January 10, 2018). Russia has won some time for the regime in Damascus, but its grasp on power remains tentative because it is shunned by regional stake-holders, ostracized internationally and is deeply disagreeable for Washington. The EU, for that matter, has flatly turned down Russia’s invitation to engage in post-war reconstruction of Aleppo and other cities conquered by government forces (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 11, 2018).

 Putin needs to prove that his declaration of victory was not a mistake but a somewhat premature mark of a real turn in the course of the protracted war, in which the dictatorial regime is the only solution to the chaos of revolution and menace of terrorism. Quietly rebuilding the reduced grouping of forces can be a part of this reaffirmation of triumph (of which there are too few). But the war is increasingly unpopular in Russia, and every new casualty casts a pall over the presidential election campaign, tightly controlled as it is. Despite launching the intervention and sustaining the air war for more than two years, for a time Putin was still open to propositions of gently removing al-Assad from power. Yet, he has now embraced the Syrian authoritarian leader, who is implicated in the use of chemical weapons, and so the flexibility is lost. The road to Damascus has led Putin into a blind alley. He can neither bomb his way out nor hope for guidance from his Iranian comrades-in-arms.'

Image result for Russia’s ‘Victory’ in Syria is Debunked, Derailed and Defeated

Monday, 15 January 2018

Syrian rebel delegation in Washington seeking revival of CIA aid

 'Free Syrian Army envoys have urged U.S. officials at talks in Washington to resume a suspended CIA program of military aid if it is serious about challenging growing Iranian influence in Syria, according to Syrian opposition figures.

 Mustafa Sejari, a senior official in Syria’s mainstream rebel group, said the envoys described to U.S. officials the damaging impact of President Donald Trump’s decision last year to stop equipping and training certain rebel groups.

 Trump’s move was driven by a wish to focus on fighting Islamic State militants and to improve relations with Russia, as well as a lack of results from the CIA’s support of the FSA, U.S. officials suggested.

 “We endorse President Trump’s statements about the need to confront Iranian hegemony in the region. It is time to turn words into action. Until now on the ground it’s the Iranian militias that are expanding without serious resistance,” Sejari told Reuters by telephone from Washington.

 “With every U.S. statement about the need to confront Iran’s influence, Iran has been expanding in Syria while moderate forces that are backed by Washington see aid being dried up and are weakened,” Sejari said.

 “We asked for the resumption of aid and explained the dangers of leaving moderate FSA forces without support.”

 Sejari said the delegation’s meetings had included members of the U.S. Congress and officials from the White House, and they hoped for sessions with Defense Department and State Department officials as well.

 The White House and Defense Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 The FSA delegation, Sejari said, included recipients of the CIA-led program, which began in 2013 and funneled, via Jordan and Turkey, weapons, cash and trainers to vetted FSA groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

 Sejari said his delegation had briefed U.S. officials on Iran’s “destructive” role in Syria, where Shi‘ite Muslim militias led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah have, along with Russian air power, have turned the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor.

 The FSA also says that Iranian Shi‘ite militia fighting in Syria have stoked wider sectarian conflict in which mainly Sunni Muslims have been driven out of former opposition strongholds.

 “In all our talks with U.S. officials there was common ground, and on top of the matters discussed was the war on terrorism, (and) expelling Hezbollah and Iranian militias from Syria,” Sejari said.

 Another delegation member who requested anonymity told Reuters they told officials U.S. inaction in Syria would only allow Iran and its regional allies to recreate a land corridor linking Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut - often termed the “Shi‘ite crescent” by Iran’s regional enemies.

 The Syrian opposition said the previous U.S. administration of President Barack Obama had given “Iran a free ride” in Syria.

 FSA rebels have long complained that U.S. support has fallen well short of what they needed to make a decisive difference in the war against Assad’s army and the Iran-backed militias helping it, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

 While cutting support to Syrian rebel groups that have fought Assad, the United States has deepened ties with a Kurdish-led militia alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces, with which it partnered against Islamic State.

 The SDF is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, and has mostly avoided conflict with the Syrian government while seeking to entrench Kurdish autonomy over regions of northern Syria.'

Image result for Syrian rebel delegation in Washington seeking revival of CIA aid

In Syria, only ‘The Octopus’ and a motley crew of rebels keep Iran from Israel

Abu Muhammad al-Akhtubut, a commander from National Syrian Liberation Front rebel group from the Syrian Golan Heights. (Courtesy)

 'As Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and the Iran-backed militias in his employ move toward Israel, the only thing standing in their way is a ragtag group of beleaguered rebels fighting for their homes and “viciously” defending the border.

 Over the past few days, a rebel officer — Abu Muhammad al-Akhtubut al-Asmar, whose nom de guerre means, literally, “The Dark Octopus” — has been speaking to The Times of Israel about their plans to fight back against the Syrian military, Hezbollah and Shiite groups, following the fall of the town of Beit Jinn, some nine kilometers (less than six miles) northeast of the Israeli border, late last month.

 His group, known collectively as the National Front for the Liberation of Syria, is made up of about a dozen groups from the Quneitra region that joined forces this summer. With various ideologies and a wide range of military capabilities, they don’t necessarily agree on much, but the hundred or so officers who make up the loose umbrella organization have recognized the need to keep Assad and the Iran-backed forces away from the border, al-Akhtubut said.

 “The issue now is defending this area because we want to preserve it,” said the Octopus, who acts as something of a spokesperson for the group. (His nickname was bestowed on him by an older comrade early in the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, who used to tell him, “You’re like an octopus — you have a hand in everything.”)

 “The borders with Israel are important politically and internationally,” he continued. “I’m not just saying this because you’re Israeli and I’m talking to you. And that’s why we are protecting this area so viciously.”

 These opposition forces have been largely isolated in the past few years, surviving in large part because of outside humanitarian assistance, not only from Israel, but also from Jordan and international aid groups.

 The need for support is acute. Al-Akhtubut, speaking via an in-and-out Skype connection, stressed that Beit Jinn — also known as Beit Jann — did not suffer a military defeat, but fell because of the extended siege placed on it by Assad.

 “[Assad’s troops] didn’t win in Beit Jinn — it wasn’t a military victory. [The rebels] were under siege for a year. It was attrition,” the Octopus said.

 On December 29, dozens of opposition fighters and their families left the Beit Jinn area as part of a ceasefire agreement, traveling on buses to the rebel-held Idlib area, in northwestern Syria, after holding out for nearly a year following a renewed push by the Assad regime to starve out the town.

 Now that Beit Jinn has fallen, al-Akhtubut fears that Assad’s army and the Iran-backed militias supporting him can better turn their attention to his group’s last holdouts and further cut off their access to supplies.

 “We can tell that they are working to take over this area and we are trying to stop it from happening,” he added.

 On Thursday, the top brass from the various opposition groups in the Quneitra region gathered at an undisclosed location for one of a series of discussions on their next steps.

 On Friday morning, the Octopus said in a message that the groups decided to plan various offensives “in order to free up some locations,” while also preparing “defense plans in case there’s an invasion by Assad and Iranian forces.”

 He said the main area under threat is the town of Jubata al-Khashab, along with Khan Arnabeh and Hamidiya, all of which lie either in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria or adjacent to it.

 “We see from that behavior that they’re trying to cut off access to Jubata,” he said. “They’re trying to put Jubata under siege. They’re trying to do what they did in Beit Jinn, because it worked there.”

 The regime’s control of Jabah, in particular, makes it possible for Assad to cut off Jubata al-Khashab from the rest of the rebel-held area, he said.

 The remaining rebel forces in the Quneitra region are also boxed in, as Assad forces control the towns of Dayr al-Adas, As Sanamayn, Barqa and al-Sheikh Maskin.

 It is not entirely clear how large a role the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Shiite militias have played in the fighting in southern Syria.

 Israeli and pro-rebel officials stress their involvement. Al-Akhtubut said these Iran-backed groups — including Hezbollah — are “the scariest thing right now. They are our biggest problem.”

 But according to analyst Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi of the Middle East Forum think tank, not all of those claims are backed by facts on the ground. In a recent article on his website, al-Tamimi said the Syrian army’s 7th and 4th divisions are leading the effort on the Syrian Golan Heights, with limited assistance from Iran-backed forces.
 As the National Syrian Liberation Front prepares for its offensive and defensive campaigns, it must cope with limited weapons stores.

 “Our military support has been cut off for the past year,” al-Akhtubut said. “Several of our materiel sources have dried up as well.”

 He noted that the various groups’ limited access to weaponry and supplies was a major factor in them coming together as a group in July, after a Jordanian training and support program ended.

 When asked what specific types of weapons and munitions the groups have left in their arsenals, al-Akhtubut declined to answer, joking that it sounded like he was in an interrogation with the mukhabarat, or intelligence service.

 Beginning in 2013, Israel began providing medical treatment to Syrians wounded in the fighting who came to the border. The army initially set up a field hospital, but eventually moved to transporting them to hospitals in northern Israel.

 As Russia entered the civil war in 2015 and Assad started scoring more battlefield victories, Israeli officials grew concerned that if the Syrian dictator succeeded in routing the rebels from the Golan Heights, Iranian proxies could take up positions on the border. From there, the Iranian proxies could open up a second front should Israel go to war with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group.

 Last year, the army dramatically expanded its humanitarian aid program, code-named Operation Good Neighbor, and started not only providing medical care to people injured in the war but also to civilians with chronic illnesses. Israel also began sending over shipments of food, fuel and other goods.

 According to the Israel Defense Forces, in 2017, the army facilitated the transfer of nearly 700 tons of food, half a million liters of fuel and over 14,000 containers of baby formula.

 The army has been upfront that while its primary mission is simply to help the beleaguered civilians in war-torn Syria, its secondary or peripheral goal is to engender goodwill toward Israel among those same people in order to plant the seeds of better relationships for the future.

 In recent months, the amount of aid has been somewhat “scaled back,” al-Akhtubut said.

 The humanitarian aid sent into Syria from Israel — as well as military assistance, according to foreign reports — has been a controversial issue, in light of the two countries still technically being at war with one another.

 The Assad regime has repeatedly used this assistance in its propaganda to “prove” that the opposition forces are actually Zionist stooges in attempts to discredit them.

 Some of the first images to come out of Beit Jinn after it was taken over by the Assad regime were of food products bearing Hebrew labels.

 According to the Octopus, despite this, most people in southern Syria do not remove the Hebrew labels from the food and other humanitarian products that come across the border, with the exception being those who try to resell the aid for profit.

 “People who have special interests do take the labels off — they’re the only ones who do,” he said.

 But al-Akhtubut said most people do not try to make money off the aid, but give it away for free.

 “There are people who do good work, and we’re trying to keep things under control so that we benefit from the aid as much as possible,” he said.

 “But there are those looking out for themselves, instead of having it benefit everyone equally so that we can endure the pressures [from the Assad forces],” he said.

 The rebel commander said the main things the civilians in the area need are baby formula, flour and medicine.

 Baby formula, which is difficult to produce locally, was in especially short supply, he said. “It’s something we always need and we’re always short on,” he said.

 However, al-Akhtubut said that while “of course there are shortages,” the rebel-held areas are able to survive for now. “It’s not that severe — we’re not there yet — but it is enough for us to feel the burden of it,” he said.'

Image result for Jubata al-Khashab: Beit Jinn, Jabah and Dayr Makir

Tehran Seeks Reduction in ‘Cost’ of Syria Involvement

 'For more than six years Syria has been on front pages and top headlines of the media in Iran as the most important international news story. The Syria “story” also enjoyed an almost unique position in the media scene in Iran because it was of keen interest to both those in power and society at large.

 Those in power regarded Syria as of urgent importance because “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei has described the struggle there as “decisive” for the future of the Khomeinist revolution and its ambition to dominate the Middle East.

 “The Tehran leadership believes that without maintaining control of Syria it would be unable to consolidate its gains in Lebanon and Iraq and spread its message to other Arab countries and Turkey,” says Iran media analyst Massoud Barazandeh. “In no other country has Iran spent so much money and offered so much blood. What Iran pays to use Hezbollah in Lebanon is chicken-feed compared to what it has spent in Syria.”

 Khamenei’s interest in Syria isn’t limited to his need for a base to extend the Khomeinist zone of influence. It has deep emotional roots as well.

 In 1984, Khamenei, then President of the Islamic Republic, visited Damascus for talks with then Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad. In a speech, Khamenei recalled that Damascus had been the capital of the Bani Umayyad who had “martyred” Hussein Ibn Ali, the third Imam of Shi’ism in 680 AD. Hussein had been killed in Karbala, Iraq, but his mortal remains and his captive family had been transported to Damascus.

 In a speech, interrupted by his tears, Khamenei whose full-name is Husseini Khamenei, claimed that his visit as “a descendant of Hussein” to Damascus was in itself a symbol that the martyred imam was being avenged.

 For the past six years, Khamenei has been repeating the mantra “We shall never leave Syria!”

 In other countries of interest, Iran has shown a degree of pragmatism, toning down its involvement when the price gets too high.

 In Lebanon, for example, Khamenei agreed to propel Michel Aoun, who had been Tehran’s bete-noire because of his collaboration with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, into the presidency because that was expedient. According to Tehran sources, the Lebanese branch of “Hezbollah” has also had to accept a modest pay-cut.

 In Bahrain, Khamenei has so far refused to arm the Khomeinist groups challenging the monarchy or to organize attacks on the US naval base there.

 More recently, in Yemen Khamenei ordered the transfer of Iran’s embassy from Sana’a to Muscat, Oman, and the withdrawal of at least half of the estimated 200 “military advisers” stationed to help the Houthi rebels.

 Even in Iraq, the dire economic situation in Iran itself has forced Khamenei to order a cut in money spent on some 23 pro-Iran militia groups there.

 But, at least until the end of 2017, support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has remained constant.

 That, however, may be changing.

 One sign is that for the past two weeks at least Syria has been relegated to inside pages in the Tehran media. Even when Bashar’s army, backed by the Russian Air Force, launched what it boasted would be “the last great battle” in Idlib, the news didn’t make the front pages. The key reason, of course, was that Iran itself was shaken by more than 10 days of nationwide protests in which the slogan “Forget about Syria! Attend to our problems!” was a popular slogan.

 There was no sign of multi-page reportages, dotted with photos in color, and TV footage “from the front-line” that have been dished out for more than six years.

 There was also no sign of Jerusalem (Quds) Corps commander Qassem Soleimani, whose “selfies” have shown him leading the liberation of parts of Idlib as he had liberated Aleppo, Albukamal and Deir Ezzor before.

 More importantly, perhaps, the usual hullabaloo regarding the martyrdom of “Defenders of the Shrines” was toned down significantly. In the first week of 2018 the remains of four Iranian officers killed in clashes around Damascus were buried in four cities without attracting the usual publicity.

 To some observers, this was a sign that the decision-makers in Tehran begin to appreciate the deep unpopularity of Iran’s involvement in Syria’s seemingly endless tragedy.

 One indication of that “appreciation” came in a long editorial in the daily Kayhan, believed to reflect Khamenei’s views.

 The editorial expresses deep dissatisfaction with how things are going in Syria and the “political plan” proposed by Russia.

 “Russia is making a lot of propaganda about its plan, presenting it as the best and most complete plan” the editorial says. “However, this plan is full of major defects that must be removed before Iran, the Syrian government and the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah agree with it.”

 The editorial then singles out Khamenei’s opposition to three key features of the “Russian plan”.

 “Iran,” it says, “cannot accept the creation of a parliamentary system, as opposed to the present presidential system, in Syria. “Nor can it accept the formation of a transition government composed of the (Syrian) government and its opponents.”

 The editorial also rejects Russia’s proposal for the creation of a federal system in Syria.

 Iran cannot accept a situation in which “Kurds, Alawites and Sunni Muslims each have their own zone of domination”, the paper says.

 One reason, as far as Tehran is concerned, is that there are not enough Shi’ites in Syria to receive their chunk of territory in a federal Syria.

 However, the deeply hidden purpose of the editorial is revealed in a short sentence.

 “The process of future security developments (in Syria) can be pursued in a less costly way compared to previous years,” the Khamenei organ asserts.

 This may well be a thinly disguised threat to Russia which is anxious to disentangle itself from Syria as fast as possible and transfer more of the financial burden to Iran. The message is: We want cost reduction, not an increase!

 However, it may also be a message to Iranian protesters that the regime is contemplating a lower and less costly involvement in Syria, using Russian “double-dealing” as an excuse.

 For more than two weeks there has been no news of new Iranian forces, or even “volunteers for martyrdom” from Pakistan and Afghanistan, being dispatched to Syria while Gen. Soleimani remains in purdah.

 Iranian leaders may be beginning to understand that helping Bashar al-Assad kill more Syrians may prove too costly at home and abroad.'

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Current situation & dynamics in NW. Syria

 'Rebels took back 20+ locations from Regime - Regime & IRGC almost encircled Jebal Hoss - ISIS pocket keeps extending.'