Islamic State And Jaish al-Islam Close In On Damascus; Assad’s Regime In Danger

“Islamic State has Damascus in its crosshairs” wrote Times of Israel analyst Avi Issacharoff in an analysis that was published this weekend. Issacharoff paints a bleak picture of the future of the central government of President Bashir al-Assad, who faces the slow but steady advances of both the Islamic State and Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) toward the Syrian capital Damascus.

Jaish al-Islam already has strongholds in the two Damascus suburbs of Douma and Ghouta al-Sharqiyah, and Islamic State holds parts of the former Palestinian refugee camp, Yarmouk, that has been the scene of intensive fighting that caused most of the population to flee.

Assad has shown that he is willing to defend Damascus at any price. Just last week, his air force bombed a crowded marketplace in central Douma, killing and wounding hundreds of citizens. The Syrian dictator has also used chemical weapons against the population of the Jaish al-Islam strongholds in the Damascus area. In August 2013, Ghouta al-Sharqiyah was attacked with chemical weapons, an incident that almost triggered U.S. intervention in Syria and led to international action to strip Assad of his chemical weapons arsenal.

Despite these war crimes, Assad has not been able to stop the Islamic State and the Islamist coalition from closing in on the seat of his government.

The Islamic State has already advanced to Bir Qassab, 40 kilometers southeast of Damascus.

A map published on August 13, 2015 shows ISIS is moving to strangle the Syrian capital while at the same time trying to cut off the supply routes from Damascus to the coastal plain in Latakia and Tartous, which is home to Assad’s Alawite minority. The grey areas are under the control of the Islamic State, the green fields are controlled by the Nusra dominated Islamist coalition Jaish al-Islam, and the pink areas with the red dots are still under control of the regime. Assad has lost 18% percent of Syrian territory so far this year and is now in control of only five-sixths of the country.

Islamic State is also trying to set up camp at the Lebanese border.  As Western Journalism reported last week, Islamic State is “threatening Hezbollah’s rule in the Qalamoun Mountains in west Syria and reportedly is trying to seize border crossings on the Syria-Lebanon border. These border crossings are the last ones under regime control–all the other border crossings in Syria are controlled by rebels and Islamic State.”

Syrian civil war

The map shows why the Islamic State opened an offensive against Hezbollah’s rule in the border area. If the group succeeds in connecting the areas under its control in this part of Syria, Damascus will be cut off from the coastal plain and the port cities.

Issacharoff notes that Assad’s army appears to be exhausted and that “one major incident, such as the fall of a base or a strike against a leader of the regime or the army, could bring about the collapse of Bashar’s military system and the abandonment of the capital.”

This is precisely what seems to be happening right now. The Jaish al-Islam coalition is battling Assad’s forces at the Abu Al-Duhur military air base in northwestern Syria. The base has been the scene of intense fighting before; but this time, the opposition seems determined to seize control of the air base.

The intensification of the fighting and the looming collapse of Assad’s rule caused the parties to resort to even more brutal tactics. Last week, regime forces beheaded eight ISIS fighters during a battle in the area of the Kweris airbase. Assad’s air force uses large amounts of barrel bombs against not only the opposition but also against the civilian population. The attack on the central marketplace in Douma last week was only one in a long series of such attacks.

Islamic State sank to a new low when it used the outbreak of AIDS among its fighters to develop a new sort of suicide attack. AIDS-infected ISIS members who contracted the disease – as a result of the rape culture in Islamic State – are requested (or forced) to volunteer for suicide attacks that will kill two birds with one stone. The attacks will ensure the spread of the disease among the enemy and ensure that ISIS has enough suicide bombers.

ISIS reportedly also used chemical weapons against its opponents for the first time. Doctors at a hospital in Marea, a city 25 kilometers north of Aleppo (Syria’s second largest city), reported they had treated over 30 people who suffered from suppurating blisters after ISIS had shelled their neighborhood.

“On Friday, (a) US official confirmed that the Isil (ISIS) had used ‘a class-one chemical agent’ against Peshmerga forces in an attack earlier this month. Military sources had previously told American media that the substance was a mustard agent,” The Daily Telegraph reported.

Some observers fear that in the final stage of the battle for Syria, Jaish al-Islam and Islamic State will cut off the water supply to Damascus to ensure the surrender of Assad’s forces. This tactic has been used before, but only temporarily. In July, for example, Jabhat al-Nusra cut off the water supply to Damascus to force Assad’s army and Hezbollah to suspend a military operation against its forces in the area of Zabadani, close to the border with Lebanon.

Analysts of Jane’s Defence told the International Business Times that Assad is now facing defeat for the first time in the devastating civil war. “The bigger picture is that Assad is not going to last much longer,” they said.

Issacharoff doesn’t agree; he thinks the balance of power will not change anytime soon in Syria. But recent developments tend to prove the analysts of Jane’s right.

Assad’s fate, however, will be dependent on Iran and Hezbollah -his main allies- and on the coalition against Islamic State.

The latest news is that Turkey and the United States will soon launch a ‘comprehensive operation’ against Islamic State that must result in an ISIS free buffer zone in Syria. Washington and Ankara completed talks about the joint operation on Sunday.

However, a closer look at the plan reveals that the operation will be limited to the border area between Turkey and Syria and aims to prevent the establishment of an autonomous Kurdistan in Syria by the Kurdish PYD militia.

Last week, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) announced that it had moved to establish autonomous zones in southeast Turkey. The move has further increased tensions in the Kurdish areas in Turkey and Syria and could lead to all out war between the Kurds and Turkey.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

WATCH Unique Footage Of Kurdish Battle Against Islamic State In Syria

There are few Western reporters who are still willing to go to the battle fields in Syria since ISIS kidnapped and decapitated several Japanese, American and British journalists. VICE News has made several movies about Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the past, but now a VICE reporter has made a series of video reports on the war between the Kurdish YPG militia and Islamic State in northern Syria.

The footage offers a unique view on the inside of the battle against Islamic State in Rojava in the north of Syria, where the YPG succeeded in driving ISIS out of the town of Hasakah after the terrorist organization defeated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces at the end of June. YPG is now almost in control of all of Hasakah.

The first VICE video deals with the conquest of Hasaka by YPG forces and contains an interview with an Arab commander of the Kurdish militia who used to work for Assad’s intelligence services. He dismissed the Turkish claims about ethnic cleansing of the areas liberated by YPG and said that the claim is a lie. He said that Islamic State displaced and beheaded members of the Christian and other majorities who live in Rojova.

(Warning: contains some graphic images)

The second video by VICE reporter Aris Roussinos shows a YPG night operation against Islamic State in the Hasaka area. A YPG commander says there isn’t a single night without battles between the Kurds and ISIS. He also says that after liberating the area of Islamic State, the Kurds will unite their lines and advance in the southern direction, something that is strongly opposed by the Turkish government.

The Kurdish commander also shows Roussinos tunnels that ISIS dug to undermine the positions of the enemy and to ambush YPG units. A second commander says that since the liberation of Kobane and Hasaka, the world should know that the Kurds are the only ones who know how to fight against ISIS. The commander says that ISIS is a professional fighting force and that it will take a few days before the last remaining ISIS positions will be conquered by YPG.

The VICE crew filmed the nightly battle against the ISIS units, which were surrounded by the Kurds. The video also shows how in the distance, coalition airplanes bomb ISIS positions ahead of the YPG assault.

(Warning: contains some graphic images)

Finally, the third video shows a female YPG unit that took part in the battle for Hasaka against Islamic State. The Kurdish militia in Syria and Iraq is the only military force in the Middle East that uses female combat units in the war against ISIS. They took this idea from the IDF, which has a female combat unit too.

The video shows new coalition airstrikes on ISIS positions on the outskirts of Hasaka and contains interviews with female YPG soldiers.

One female commander tells VICE News that the battle in Hasaka is for Christians, Armenians, Arabs and Syrians, and not only for the Kurds. She says that ISIS doesn’t know what humanity is.

Another female commander calls upon refugees to return home and to join YPG in the battle against Islamic State.

One of the commanders tells Roussinos that female soldiers had a fundamental role in forcing ISIS to leave Hasaka and that regime forces are abandoning their positions because they understand that there is no place for them in Hasaka.

The Kurdish female soldiers know that for ISIS, defeat at the hands of women is more than a humiliation–it is an unbearable ignominy that demands revenge. They also know what awaits them if ISIS would be able to capture them.

The VICE reporter concludes that the Assad regime is the main loser in this battle.

At the end of the video, Kurdish soldiers can be seen dancing close to the last remaining positions of Assad’s army while corpses of ISIS fighters are decomposing nearby.

This is the reality in Syria, where more than 250.000 people have died since the start of the uprising against Assad. Four million people fled from Syria, and 7.6 million people are internally displaced as a result of the war. Most of the country lies in ruins, and the economy is devastated; 12.2 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.

(Warning:  video contains some graphic images)

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Secret Deal Between Turkey And U.S. Will Sell Out The Kurds

Analysis

Last week, Western Journalism reported that Islamic State had succeeded in drawing Turkey into the Syrian war after a suicide attack by a Turkish terrorist affiliated with ISIS killed 32 young Kurds in the border town of Suruc in Turkey.

Turkey responded to the attack by launching airstrikes on ISIS positions in Syria. This happened a day after a telephone conversation between President Obama and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in which the latter agreed, for the first time, to allow the US-led coalition against ISIS to use a Turkish air force base for strikes against Islamic State.

Shortly after Turkey entered the battle against Islamic State, it became clear that the government in Ankara had another reason to interfere in Syria and Iraq. Turkish airplanes attacked Kurdish positions in northern Iraq, and the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG reported on Monday that Turkey had shelled their positions in the border area.

Turkish media revealed at the same time details of a deal between the Obama administration and the AKP-dominated government in Ankara and reported a conflicting narrative of why Turkey intervened in Syria and Iraq.

A Syrian journalist reported that US administration officials contacted the Turkish government last month after the Turkish army amassed forces along the Syrian border. This happened after the Kurdish YPG militia conquered vast territories in northeast Syria and seized the strategic border town Tal Abyad in Syria.

Erdogan and Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu vehemently oppose the establishment of a Kurdish autonomous area or an independent Kurdish state along the Turkish border because they fear it will lead to increasing separatism among its own six million-strong Kurdish minority.

The Turks told Administration officials that they had drawn a red line from Aleppo to Kobani and that they would not allow more Kurdish advances along the border. The Americans were receptive to this message and saw an opportunity to finally enlist Turkey as a member of the anti-ISIS coalition. Negotiations started; and after a month, a deal was reportedly closed.

The US Air Force could use the Incirlik air force base in Turkey but had to allow Turkish oversight of the targets it would strike in Syria and Iraq from Incirlik. This means that strikes that would help the YPG seize more territory along the Turkish border would be vetoed, according to the Turkish outlet Today’s Zaman.

In return, the U.S. would cooperate with Turkey to establish a so-called ISIS free buffer zone in the north of Syria. Officially, the Turkish government says that it wants this buffer zone to keep ISIS away from its border and to relocate the one and a half million Syrian refugees in Turkey. The Syrian Kurds, however, think that Erdogan and Davutlogu want to drive a wedge between the three Kurdish cantons in Syria–and by doing so want to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish autonomous area in Syria, Reuters reported.

The U.S. administration denies that it is collaborating with Turkey to create a buffer zone based on the Turkish model, Bloomberg reported.

“We’re not out there staking out zones and doing some things that I know have been discussed in years past — no-fly zones, safe zones. What we’re trying to do is clear ISIL,” a senior administration official said. “I think it’s important not to confuse that with staking out these zones that you can identify with road signs and on big maps, and that’s just not what’s happening.”

“On Monday, a White House official told an audience in a closed-door meeting at the Middle East Institute in Washington the same thing about there being no safe zone inside Syria, according to two people who were inside the meeting. The Obama administration is sending a delegation back to Turkey next week to work on exactly what the new cooperation along the northern Syria border will look like, the official said,” according to Bloomberg.

The Turkish government, however, insists that a buffer zone will be created; so it’s hard to see how the U.S. Administration will prevent Turkey from doing so. Besides, the Obama official Bloomberg quoted said the U.S. is “trying to clear ISIL”; so in the end, the territory will be free of ISIS if everything goes well.

There is more.

Some Turkish media and the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party PKK say that Turkish intelligence and security forces might have been complicit in the Suruc suicide attack. They point to the fact that shortly before the blast, PKK activists were banned from entering the building where the attack took place while the terrorist got through security control.

This might sound far-fetched; but this past weekend, the British paper The Guardian delivered new evidence that the Turkish government has given support to Islamic State in an attempt to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

An anonymous Western official told The Guardian that when US Special Forces raided the compound of ISIS commandant Abu Sayyaf in Syria in May, they found proof of an oil trade between ISIS and Turkey worth tens of millions of dollars per year.

“There are hundreds of flash drives and documents that were seized there. They are being analyzed at the moment, but the links are so clear that they could end up having profound implications for the relationship between us and Ankara,” the Western official Told the Guardian.

As Western Journalism reported last week, the Turkish Intelligence Service MIT has been delivering weapons and ammunition to Islamic State as well.

The Turkish government has clearly used Islamic State to get rid of the Assad regime but has apparently come to the conclusion that direct intervention in Syria has become necessary because of Kurdish national aspirations and because of the overall situation in the country. It has become clear that Syria as we know it has ceased to exist, and Erdogan wants to be in the position to determine the future of the areas that border Turkey. So the Turkish government has clear goals and acts accordingly.

The same cannot be said of the U.S. administration, thinks military affairs analyst Jennifer Dyer.

She wrote that the U.S. military does not understand the new partnership with Turkey because there are no territorial or operational objectives–and there are no clear directives on the use of military power. She recalled how another U.S. operation to improve the situation in Syria without clear objectives became a huge failure. Dyer was referring to the training of a new local ground force that was supposed to turn the tide in the never-ending war. Nine months after the announcement of this plan, only sixty fighters have been recruited and trained. Basically, the U.S. is in this partnership for the convenience of Turkey, she concluded.

Some analysts say that there is another conclusion that can be drawn. By entering into a partnership with Turkey at a time when Kurdish forces were the only ones who succeeded in driving Islamic State out of territories in Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration seems to be selling out the Kurds.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Breaking: Islamic State Succeeds In Drawing Turkey Into Escalating Syrian War

The situation in Syria is becoming more complicated and dangerous by the day.

On Monday, Islamic State launched a suicide attack in the Turkish border town Suruc, killing 32 people. A Turkish ISIS terrorist blew himself up amongst a group of young people who were waiting to cross the border to help the Kurds in rebuilding the city of Kobani that was seized from ISIS by the Kurdish militia YPG after a long battle earlier this year. It marked the first time ISIS staged a suicide attack in Turkey.

Today, tensions on the Syrian-Turkish border further escalated after a Turkish soldier was killed by fire from an area controlled by Islamic State. Suleyman Tapsiz, the governor for Turkey’s Kilis province, reported that an army border outpost was attacked by Islamic State.

Turkish tanks responded by shelling ISIS positions across the border, killing an ISIS terrorist, and the Turkish air force scrambled jets to the Syrian border.

The Turkish government decided on Tuesday to erect a concrete wall on the border with Syria and to reinforce wire fencing. Turkish media later reported that the measures taken by the government include the sending of zeppelins to monitor the border and an increase of border patrols.

Turkish media also reported that Ankara had finally given permission to the U.S. air force to use the large Incirlik air base in the campaign against Islamic State. The permission came after a telephone conversation between President Obama and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan had always refused to join the U.S. led coalition against Islamic State.

His opponents accuse him of tacit support for the Jihadist group. In May, Reuters reported that the Turkish Secret Service, MIT, accompanied arms transports to ISIS. The news agency based its report on testimonies from Turkish gendarmerie officers and state persecutors.

Pundits say that Erdogan will use Turkish intervention in Syria not to fight ISIS, but to prevent the YPG from establishing a Kurdish state along the Turkish border.

Meanwhile in northwestern Syria, Hezbollah and the National Defense Force (remnants of President Bashar Assad’s army, Iranian Al Quds units, and Shiite militias) launched an offensive to drive Islamist rebels of the ‘Army of Conquest’ out of the strategic city of Zabadani.

Zabadani lies 30 miles northwest of Damascus and is crucial to the consolidation of the regime’s control over the border with Lebanon.

The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said that Assad’s air force dropped a large number of barrel bombs on Zabadani, “causing unprecedented levels of destruction and many deaths among the civilian population.”

Heavy fighting continued into the night in the area of Zabadani, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy aerial bombardments in and round the city. The group also reported casualties on both sides as well as widespread destruction.

Syrian state television reported the National Defense Force had destroyed a 77-yard-long tunnel used by the insurgents to transport weapons and equipment into Zabadani. The Army of Conquest retaliated by launching rockets and mortar grenades into the area of Idlib in northern Syria, Mistura reported.

The news about the offensive coincides with reports that Iran has increased its support to Assad after the signing of the nuclear deal with six world powers last week in Vienna. Last week, Iran granted Assad a $1 billion credit line, and more is expected once frozen Iranian assets are released if/when the agreement is implemented. Assad received an estimated $35 billion per year in order to survive, and analysts now say that the Vienna agreement will be his lifeline.

The Tower, citing the Financial Times, reported today that the “Iranians are paying Syrian Army deserters double to keep fighting for Assad.” A recruiter promised Syrian soldiers a monthly wage of $200, much more than the $60 they received from the Syrian government.

Iran-funded paramilitary organizations like the Maghaweer and the National Defense Force offer some “of the few economic opportunities left for many young men.” In addition to generous salaries, the militias offer pardons to young men for draft dodging.

The Daily Beast quoted a Syrian blogger last week who wrote that the economic windfall Iran is expected to receive from the recent nuclear agreement will likely mean “more bombs, more bullets, and more militias will be sent to Assad, and the easing of sanctions means more money will be used to prop up his economy and keep him in power.”

Assad suffered a series of setbacks recently that seemed to indicate the end of his regime was near. The main reason for the string of defeats his army suffered is a shortage of manpower. The Arab news site Albawaba revealed today that Arab media were circulating an allegedly leaked document from the Assad regime that gives evidence to the claim that the Syrian army suffers from mass defection.

“Six hundred eighty six army soldiers are wanted from the western village of Qardaha, Assad’s hometown, after they defected. The list of troops includes key leadership of government forces and, allegedly, men from the Assad family itself. The list of the troops also includes 319 core commanders in charge of infantries, tanks and missile launches,” Albawaba reported.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Exclusive Report: Druze Claim Obama Founded The Islamic State And Jabhat Al-Nusra And Israel Provide ISIS With Weapons

Welcome to Majdal Shams, the largest Druze town in the Israeli Golan Heights and the capital of conspiracy theories.

When I visited the town earlier this year, I noticed a change in the attitude of the residents toward Israel. The Druze I spoke with at the time were very afraid of the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and seemed finally to have reconciled themselves with the fact that they are part of Israel.

Majdal Shams became part of Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, but the Druze residents always stayed loyal to the Assad regime in Syria. The bloody civil war seems to have poured cold water on the love affair between Assad and the Druze in Majdal Shams.

On Monday I was back in Majdal Shams for a series of interviews with local leaders and residents and for a report about a demonstration against the looming threat of an Islamic State assault on the Druze in the Jabal al-Druze area (Suwayda) in Syria.

Salman Fakhr Eddin, Director of the Al-Marsad Arab Human Rights Centre in Golan Heights, was the first Majdal Shams resident I spoke with. He had prepared several booklets for the interview that dealt with the human rights situation after the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights.

I asked him if there wasn’t a greater human rights problem in Syria at the moment. Although he admitted that there was a problem in Syria, he preferred to talk about Israel and the “crimes Israel committed against the Druze.”

When I confronted him with the fact that Israeli Druze are loyal citizens and overwhelmingly choose to serve in the IDF, he excused himself and said that he had to make an important phone call. Needless to say, he didn’t return.

Samara Suleiman, a resident of Majdal Shams, told me that after the IDF thwarted a terrorist attack by a Hezbollah cell on the Syrian border near Majdal Shams in April, the mood in the town changed.

Two of the four Hezbollah terrorists killed by the IDF were Majdal Shams natives. “The brothers Tair and Nazih Mahmoud, both in their 20s, were born in the Druze village but later moved to the village of Hader in the Syrian Golan Heights,” Ynet reported at the time.

Suleiman said the Druze in Majdal Shams who still support Israel are “bought with money” and that Israel is “only interested in another occupation, this time of Damascus.”

He denied that Assad is on his way out. “To the contrary,” he said, ”he controls much of Syria and not Hezbollah or Iran – they only want to help Assad.”

Suleiman also knew “for sure” that Israel helps Jabhat al-Nusra and even the Islamic State. He told me without a blink of the eye that Israel delivers food, medicine, and weapons to al-Nusra and treats ISIS fighters in Israeli hospitals. When he noticed that I gazed at him somewhat flabbergasted, he asked where I got my information. “Everybody knows this is the truth,” he said.

It was almost 5:00 p.m. and the Druze leadership had organized a demonstration against the Islamic State at the central square in Majdal Shams. When I arrived I noticed huge Syrian flags on the buildings surrounding the square. In the center of the square a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was placed at the pedestal of a monument for Druze leader Sultan al-Atrash, who led the Druze uprising against the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon from 1923-1925.

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The Druze were chanting slogans against the Islamic State and al-Nusra and praised the Syrian dictator.

Watch the video of the demonstration here:

I also interviewed Ibrahim Izz al Din, a Druze resident of Majdal Shams. He claimed that the Druze would be able to expel the Islamic State and al-Nusra from Syria and said that they have the necessary weapons to do this. The weapons were purchased from the U.S. administration and from Assad, whom he called “a dog.” He said they would not take weapons from Israel.

He repeated Suleiman’s claim that Israel treated wounded ISIS and al-Nusra fighters in Israeli hospitals and that Israel supplies weapons to al-Nusra. He also claimed that Obama founded the Islamic State and al-Nusra and called the U.S. president a liar.

He then added that “it was obvious that Obama had founded Islamic State because they are not Muslim at all.”

The evidence? “They would decapitate people and then shout, ‘Allah hu akbar.’ Those are not Muslims or Arabs,” he said.

The Druze are ready to fight, he said, adding that “they have fighters from the age of nine to one hundred years.” He claimed that the Druze can form a standing army of 600,000 men. He also said that, if necessary, “the Druze would open the border themselves and supply the weapons to their brethren in Syria.”

You can watch the interview with Ibrahim Izz al-Din here:

When I left Majdal Shams I was puzzled. These Druze have already been living in Israel for 48 years, but they are still acting as if they are part of a Syria that ceased to exist a long time ago. They apparently think that the Syria of old will return one day and then everything will be fine.

Their behavior stands in sharp contrast to the Druze in Israel who have fully accepted the existence of the Jewish state and have adjusted to Israeli society.

Druze are known for their ability to adjust to the country they are living in, so why do the Druze in the Israeli Golan Heights have such different views from the Druze living in Israel within the “Green Line” (the 1949 armistice lines)?

The answer could be that the Druze community in Syria was torn apart by the Six-Day War in 1967. All Druze living on the Israeli side of the border still have family in Syria.

Until recently, they used to “meet” each other on two hills adjacent to Majdal Shams. There they could have direct contact and they used to shout to each other across the valley. The place was called “Shouting Hill,” but the exchanges have stopped because the area is now controlled by al-Nusra.

And if you wonder how they got brainwashed, they still watch the Assad-controlled Syrian state television.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth