Category Archives: Syria

Syrian president remains skeptical about Daesh leader’s death

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has once again cast doubt on his US counterpart Donald Trump’s claim that Daesh ringleader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in an operation by the US military last month, calling the much-publicized operation a “fantastic play” staged by the Americans.

Assad made the remarks in an interview with the French magazine Paris Match published on Wednesday.

Trump announced Baghdadi’s death in a military raid by US forces in Syria’s Idlib province late in October. During his announcement Trump, thanked the Syrian government, among others, for helping with the operation.

When asked whether Damascus really gave the US information on al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts, Assad said he “always laughs when this question is raised, because the more important question which should be asked is: was al-Baghdadi really killed or not? And did this “fantastic play” staged by the Americans take place in reality?”

Asked again why Trump thanked him, Assad said, “It’s one of Trump’s cute jokes. It’s a joke.”

The interview comes a few weeks after Assad told the Syria TV news network that the US operation to kill al-Baghdadi was little more than a trick, because US politics “is no different from Hollywood; it relies on mere imagination, not even science fiction.”

Elsewhere in the Wednesday interview, Assad lashed out at certain countries, including Turkey, the US, Britain and France for providing support to terrorists in Syria.

He said that the presence of French troops on the Syrian territory without an invitation from the Damascus government is considered an “occupation,” and a form of terrorism, calling on Paris to return to the international law and to stop everything that could increase the bloodshed and and suffering in Syria.

“France, Britain, and America are violating international law under the pretext of supporting the Kurds, who are a part of the Syrian population, not an independent group,” Assad added.

Assad also said that foreign members of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group held in jails currently run by the US-allied Kurds in northern Syria will stand trial in local courts specialized in terrorism cases.

“Every terrorist in the areas controlled by the Syrian state will be subject to Syrian law, and Syrian law is clear concerning terrorism. We have courts specialized in terrorism and they will be prosecuted,” he said.

The Syrian president further criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for “trying to blackmail Europe” in the issue of extraditing terrorists to their home countries.

“Erdogan is trying to blackmail Europe.  A self-respecting man doesn’t talk like this.  There are institutions and there are laws.  Extraditing terrorists or any convicted person to another state is subject to bilateral agreements between countries; but to release people from prison knowing that they are terrorists and sending them to other countries to kill civilians – this is an immoral act,” said Assad.

Earlier this month, Erdogan warned Western nations that he would continue to release people who were thought to be members of the Daesh terrorist group and send them back to their home countries if governments continued to pressure Turkey with sanctions over its offensive in Syria.

Most European countries are refusing to take back their citizens, who joined the terror group, and a number of French Daesh prisoners received death sentences in trials in Iraq.

Over 250,000 displaced persons return to Deir Ezzor, Syria (+Photos)

More than 250,000 displaced persons returned to their homes in the city of Deir Ezzor, located about 450 kilometers northeast of this capital.
The figure was released by Raed Mandil, mayor of Deir Ezzor, who referred to a gradual increase in the number of returnees to their homes since the liberation of this city just over two years ago from the Islamic State (Daesh), which occupied over 70% of it.

Mandil explained that during the terrorist occupation lasting from 2013 to the end of 2017, the Deir Ezzor population barely reached 60,000 inhabitants, yet today it exceeds 325,000.

‘Most of the city’s neighborhoods are witnessing a return of their residents, except the neighborhoods of Huwaiqa, Ghanamat, Sinaa and Hamidiya, which were utterly ravaged and need total reconstruction,’ he explained.

‘Due to the blockade and sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, we lack financial resources and work with old vehicles, but we managed to restore basic services and pave over 60% of the streets of the provincial capital,’ he added.

The province of Deir Ezzor was almost completely occupied by Daesh and the Syrian government presence was limited to only 30% of the provincial capital, under siege by terrorists.

Russia sets up helicopter base in northeast Syria

The Russian military says it has begun setting up a new combat helicopter and air defense base at a formerly US-controlled civilian airport in northeastern Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced the news in a statement, carried by the state-run TASS news agency, on Thursday, with the ministry’s Zvezda TV channel releasing footage of helicopter gunships arriving at the site.

The base is located in the northeastern city of Qamishli, which had been occupied by US troops until last month. Following a cross-border offensive launched by Turkey into the northeastern parts of the Arab country, the American forces left the city, and Syrian government troops re-established control over it.

The new Russian base is guarded by Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems; and three military helicopters, two Mi-35 gunships, and a Mi-8 transport helicopter have already been deployed there, with more to follow.

The footage also showed armored vehicles and ground support crews for the helicopters, as well as a weather station and a small medical clinic.

“This is the first group of Russian military helicopters here in northern Syria… It’s a historic moment. From this day onwards, our aviation group will operate permanently at Qamishli’s city airport,” said Pavel Remnev, Zvezda’s correspondent.

Turkish army forces launched the cross-border operation in Syria on October 9, in a declared attempt to create a 30-kilometer “safe zone” free from the presence of members of the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militant group.

Thirteen days into the operation, Turkey clinched a deal with Russia in Sochi to push the YPG militants — regarded by Ankara as a national security threat — south of the frontline, and launched joint patrols of the area with Russia.

According to Timur Khodzhayev, the head of the new Russian base, also referred to as an aviation commandant’s office, the helicopters there will be used to expand the area of Russia’s patrols in border areas.

“Military police, special equipment, vehicles, and fuel to ensure uninterrupted flights have also been allocated,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Russian jets have been carrying out air raids against targets belonging to the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group and other terror outfits inside Syria at the Damascus government’s formal request since September 2015.

The airstrikes significantly helped Syrian forces advance against anti-Damascus militants, who began a campaign of terror in Syria in 2011.

Fifth Russian-Turkish joint patrol mission continues in Syria despite provocations

Russian and Turkish servicemen are conducting the fifth joint patrol mission east of the Euphrates in Syria, despite provocations, the Turkish National Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

“The fifth Russian-Turkish ground patrol mission is underway near Ayn al-Arab [Kobani — TASS] east of the Euphrates. The due level of security is ensured for both civilians and the military personnel, despite terrorists’ provocations,” it said.

On October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Sochi to agree on a ten-provision memorandum on joint operations to control the situation in northeastern Syria. Under the arrangement, Russian military police and Syrian border guards were deployed to Syrian territories outside the zone of Turkey’s Peace Spring operation. They are tasked to facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish units to a distance of 30 kilometers from the Syrian-Turkish border. The previous patrol missions were conducted east of the Euphrates on November 1 (near Qamishli), on November 5 (near Ayn al-Arab), on November 8 (between Qamishli and al-Malikiyah), and on November 11 (from Sheyreq along the Syrian-Turkish border).

198 SNA martyred fighting YPG/PKK terrorists in N Syria

At least 198 soldiers of Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) have been martyred in attacks by YPG/PKK terrorists since the launch of Ankara-led anti-terror operation in northern Syria last month.

According to the SNA commanders in the field, a total of 643 SNA soldiers were wounded and one soldier went missing during the Operation Peace Spring.

Yusuf Hammud, SNA spokesman, told Anadolu Agency they will continue to fight YPG/PKK terrorists, who have been ignoring the agreement between Turkey and Russia on creating a safe zone.

“YPG/PKK does not comply with the agreement between Turkey and Russia. They are still attacking our frontlines and civilians in the areas liberated [from terrorists],” said Hammud.

SNA soldiers continue search and sweep activities in the region, destroying improvised explosives seized from terrorists, and have been holding the frontlines, which were cleared of terrorists.

Launched on Oct. 9, the Operation Peace Spring aims to eliminate terrorist YPG/PKK elements from northern Syria east of the Euphrates River in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees, and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.

Ankara agreed with Washington on Oct. 17 to pause its operation to allow YPG/PKK terrorists to withdraw from the planned safe zone.

On Oct. 22, Ankara and Moscow reached a deal under which YPG/PKK terrorists will pull back 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) south of Turkey’s border with Syria within 150 hours, and security forces from Turkey and Russia will mount joint patrols there.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union — has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants. The YPG is the PKK’s Syrian offshoot.

Assad: US operation a trick, Baghdadi may be hiding

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has cast doubt on the death of Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whom US President Donald Trump claimed had been killed in an operation, saying he may be hiding.

Assad said in an interview with Russia’s RT that the operation to kill Baghdadi was a trick, since US politics “are no different from Hollywood; it relies on the imagination. Not even science fiction, just mere imagination.”

The Syrian president speculated that the Daesh leader may have been kidnapped, hidden or had his appearance surgically changed.   

Trump said late last month that Baghdadi blew himself up, dying “like a dog,” and “like a coward” after American forces trapped him inside a dead-end tunnel.

Russia’s Defense Ministry was the first country to question the “contradictory details” of the US operation, which was also taken with a pinch of salt by many people in Iran, Iraq and elsewhere. 

“The increase in the number of direct participants and countries allegedly taking part in this operation, each with completely contradictory details, raises legitimate questions and doubts about its reality and all the more in success,” ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said this month. 

Among the countries, Turkey has said Baghdadi was killed with military and intelligence cooperation between Ankara and Washington.

In his interview, President Assad hit out at Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, describing him as the enemy of Syria.

Turkey is a key supporter of militants fighting to topple the Syrian government and has recently launched an invasion in northeastern Syria against Kurdish militants.

“We must remember that Erdogan aimed, from the beginning of the war, to create a problem between the Syrian people and the Turkish people, to make it an enemy,” Assad said.

He said the Turkish army initially supported the Syrian army and “cooperated with us to the greatest possible extent, until Erdogan’s coup against the Army”.

“Erdogan and his group are enemies, because he leads these policies, but until now most of the political forces in Turkey are against Erdogan’s policies. So, we must ensure not to turn Turkey into an enemy, and here comes the role of friends – the Russian role and the Iranian role.”

Assad also did not rule out the possibility of holding a meeting with Erdogan if there is a national interest at stake.

Describing the Turks as occupiers, “exactly like Israelis”, the interviewer asked Assad about the possibility of a similar meeting with Israelis.

In response, Assad said, “The difference between them [Turkey] and Israel is that we do not recognize the legitimacy of its existence as a state.”

“We don’t recognize the existence of the Israeli people. There is no Israeli people except the one that existed for several centuries BC, and now they are a diaspora who came and occupied land and evicted its people.” 

Instead, “the Turkish people exist, and they are a neighboring people, and we have a common history, regardless of whether this history is good or bad or in between – that is irrelevant. Turkey exists as a state and it is a neighboring state,” he said.

Answering a question on how Israel seems to be absent from the events of Syria and the greatest beneficiary of the crisis, Assad stressed that Israel has always been present in the Syrian conflict.

“It has never been absent. It might be absent in terms of language, because we fight its proxies, agents, flunkies, or tools in different ways, some military, some political. They are all tools serving Israel directly or through the Americans.”

Assad said, “Israel is in fact a main partner in what is happening, and as an enemy state, that is expected.”

‘Western sanctions desperate attempt’

Assad also said sanctions imposed by the US and Europe against Syria initially aimed to pit people against the government.

Later, the renewal of the sanctions for almost a decade aimed to punish Syrian people for refusing to rise up to the government and bow to outside pressures.

Assad touched on Britain’s seizure of an Iranian-operated supertanker in Gibraltar over accusations it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria in July as “piracy” that aimed to harm the Syrians for not upholding the West’s agenda.

“Those people were expected to rise against their government during the different stages of the war but they did not. They were supposed to support the terrorists – the ‘moderate rebels’ and ‘angels’ of White Helmets – but the people did not and stood with their government.

“So, they have to suffer. They have to pay the price and learn their lesson that they should stand with the agenda [of the West],” Assad said.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies aided Takfiri terrorist groups to wreak havoc and weaken the country.

New Railway to Link Iranian, Syrian Coasts

A report by the Syrian ministry of transport revealed a bid on connecting Iranian and Syrian coasts as well as the Iranian town of Shalamcheh to Iraq’s Basra by a railway system that stretches from the Port of Imam Khomeini to the Port of Latakia.

Iran’s national state-owned railway system announced in April a project linking the cities of Shalamcheh and Basra via a 32-kilometer railway project financed and implemented by the Iranians.

Iran seeks to bolster its presence in Syria through scoring many vital economic agreements which will help it in dodging US sanctions.

It recently obtained the right to manage Syria’s port of Latakia after signing an agreement with President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Tehran last February. Iran will use the Syrian port as an alternative route for shipping.

All this coincides with accelerating the implementation of the railway project linking Iran to Syria through Iraq. While the terms of the Iranian agreement to manage the port of Latakia were unclear, Moscow was quick to take control of the port of Tartus through a 49-year lease.

More on Syria-Iran deals, state news agency IRNA said a memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries’ electricity ministers in Tehran covered the construction of power plants, transmission lines, cutting losses in Syria’s electricity network, and the possibility of connecting the two countries’ grids through Iraq.

Iran, which has estimated expenditures in Syria at $6 billion yearly since 2012, has won economic contracts in Syria in agriculture, oil, industry, livestock and ports.

Its exports to Syria increased after a tax exemption. Tehran also signed an agreement to develop phosphate mines in Syria and is looking to enter the telecommunications sector as a third mobile operator.

Explosion in Syrian town on Turkish border kills 10

ISTANBUL: At least 10 people were killed and more than 30 injured in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad on Turkey’s border after an explosion in a market there on Saturday, according to Turkish state media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said pro-Turkey fighters and civilians were among the dead and injured in the car explosion.

Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu Agency called it a bomb attack in Tel Abyad. The town is where some of the heaviest fighting has taken place since the Turkish military launched an incursion last month against Kurdish militia in northeast Syria.

International community hails Geneva talks on Syria

Foreign ministers of several countries welcomed the launch of talks in Geneva on Syria’s Constitutional Committee.

Top diplomats of the U.S., U.K., Germany, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia issued a joint statement late Thursday and saluted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen for their efforts on Syria.

“We support efforts to create a safe and neutral environment that enables Syria to hold free and fair elections, under UN supervision,” the statement said, adding the political solution in the war-weary country should be based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

“We recall our statement in New York on September 26 and continue to call for an immediate and genuine nationwide ceasefire in Idlib,” it said, referring to opposition-controlled northwestern Syria.

Structure of Constitutional Committee

The committee is composed of two different bodies. The large body is made up of members from the opposition, regime and civil society whereas the small body includes 45 people responsible for the creation of the new national charter.

The drafts prepared by these 45 members must be approved by the large body, from which it must acquire a “yes” vote from 75% of its 150 members.

Notably, the committee includes two co-chairman.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, over 5 million civilians have become refugees. Turkey hosts 3.6 million of them — more than any country in the world.

US continues repositioning forces in northeastern Syria

Col. Myles B. Caggins III, spokesperson for the US-led coalition, explained to Kurdistan 24 that the coalition is beginning to reposition troops to the Deir al-Zor region.

“The Coalition continues a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria and will reposition some forces to the Deir al-Zor region in order to continue partnering with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to defeat ISIS remnants, protect critical infrastructure, and deny ISIS access to revenue sources,” he told Kurdistan 24 on Thursday.

“Adding mechanized forces provides infantry, maneuverability, and firepower. All Coalition military operations are de-conflicted with other forces operating in the region, through pre-existing channels and interlocutors in order to reduce the risk of interference, miscalculation, or unintended escalation of military operations.”

He added that the Kobani Landing Zone remains open to facilitate the additional movement of troops and equipment outside of Syria. 

On Thursday, a Kurdistan 24 reporter witnessed a convoy of US forces arriving near the village of Şelomê southeast of the town of Al-Qahtaniyah (Tirbespiye), on the border with Turkey.

Moreover, the local Hawar News Agency reported that a convoy of the US-led coalition was spotted passing from Tal Tamr toward Ain Issa and Serin, south of Kobani.

Caggins confirmed that Coalition forces, on Thursday, transited “the M4 highway and other routes, as it withdraws troops from northern Syria and repositions some troops to the Deir al-Zor region.”

Last Wednesday, US President Donald Trump announced that the US would retain a military presence in eastern Syria to prevent the Islamic State from regaining control over the oil fields.

Then, on Saturday, a US military convoy was seen traveling west on the M-4 highway toward Qamishli, before it turned south.

Local sources thought the movement might be part of the newly announced US deployment, but that was not correct.

Thomas McClure, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center, told Kurdistan 24 that SDF sources said there had been no “patrol per se, just a part of an ongoing return to positions of US troops.”

“They were on the move on the main border road between Tirbespi and Qamishlo,” he said.

“General movement has been southward but US forces are also back in positions close to the border near Derik.”

Along with its partners in the SDF, the US now holds the Syrian oil fields. But as it withdraws from other areas of northeast Syria, it will bolster its presence in the oil fields to include armored vehicles: Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.

Media reports suggest that some 500 US troops – roughly half the current deployment – will be involved in controlling the Syrian oil fields.

The US will continue to control air space, and counterterrorism operations will also continue, the Washington Post earlier reported.