In 40 Minutes A Life Time Of Work Is Gone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

When Iraqi government forces seized control of the contested city of Kirkuk on Monday, hundreds of Kurdish families were sent scattering to nearby safe havens.

The swift military operation came just weeks after Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence in a controversial referendum that was condemned by the United States and Baghdad.
The loss of Kirkuk and its nearby oil fields is a setback for Kurds, who have held the city — home to more than one million people — for the last three years. The Kurds took control of the city after it was abandoned by Iraqi forces during ISIS’ lightning offensive in 2014, but it lies outside the recognized borders of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.
Now, driven out of Kirkuk, with their dreams of building a separate nation in northern Iraq suffering a major setback, displaced Kurds are still reeling.

Families flee Kirkuk on the road to Erbil and Sulaymaniyah on Monday.

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From noisy cafés and bars, to the quiet of people’s homes, everyone in Erbil — the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq — is trying to make sense of what happened.
Many of the Kirkuk residents who fled to Erbil for fear of potential clashes expressed their displeasure, grief, and shock that Iraqi troops — backed by Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units — were able to take the city in a single day.
The same forces were later cheered on by Arab and Turkmen residents on Monday as they removed a Kurdish flag that had flown over the Kirkuk governor’s office.
“The shock is too great and I cannot imagine what happened overnight, especially after all the threat and intimidation of the Peshmerga forces against those approaching the province,” Samal Omar, a 33-year-old government employee, told CNN.
“We fled to Erbil before noon on Monday when we heard that the Popular Mobilization [Units] would enter Kirkuk for fear of aggression.”

Some residents celebrate after Iraqi forces took control of Kirkuk on Monday.

Some Kurdish civilians said they took up arms and deployed to the streets in an attempt to ward off the Iraqi army operation.
One of them, Mohamed Werya, 37, said he didn’t sleep for two consecutive days before fleeing Erbil.
“I saw officials leave and I said to myself, ‘why should I stay and danger my life and my family?'” Werya said, describing chaotic scenes as people scrambled to flee the city. “What I saw on the road I have not seen before, only during the [Kurdish] uprising of 1991.”
“Who is responsible for what happened?” he asked.
A version of the same question was echoed by other Kurds.

Kurdish forces open fire on Iraqi troops in the streets in Kirkuk on Monday.

“I cannot express my sorrow and my displeasure. But the question is, why did the Peshmerga forces withdraw? Why they did not they tell us earlier and we lived in a strong feeling that there was someone defending us?” Abu Mahmoud, 55, asked.
“I did not expect the effort of many years lost in 40 minutes,” he added.
There was still much confusion over what transpired during the clashes between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with reports of a split between Kurdish factions. The Peshmerga General Command accused members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a political party within the Kurdistan region, of abandoning their posts as Iraqi forces entered, in what it described as a betrayal.

Kirkuk residents cross a Kurdish checkpoint in Altun Kupri on Monday.

“No one understands what exactly happened,” said Fouad Aziz, 40, who fled Kirkuk for Sulaymaniyah, while his brother went to Erbil. “There are accusations against the Kurdish parties in the region, some accused of deception and leaving the fighting sites.”
“We were welcomed by the people of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah in a way we did not expect,” he added.
Dozens of young people lined the road to Erbil on Monday, handing out food and water to those fleeing, while other Erbil residents opened their doors to those displaced by the fighting.
Abu Nebez, 55, said he hosted dozens in his home.
“I welcomed in my house seven families consisting of 37 people, 14 of whom we do not know,” Nebez said. “They were on the main road in a deplorable condition when they fled from Kirkuk to Erbil.”

Locals wave to Iraqi forces as they arrive in southern Kirkuk on Monday.

On Tuesday, some Kurdish residents began to trickle back into Kirkuk, wary of what might come next.
Qais Book, a Kurdish blogger and social media consultant who lives in Kirkuk, stayed behind as others fled on Monday.
He watched the celebration in the governor’s square, as Arab and Turkmen residents celebrated.
“There are many different feelings in the city now,” Book said. “Some people feel disappointed about what happened, especially the Kurdish people, and some of the Arabs, because they were loyal to the Kurds here. And they feel sorry because many Kurdish families left their houses here and fled to Kurdistan.”
“The city is calm now, but people are waiting to see what happens next.”

So, Racca Syria Is Free Of ISIS: Now What? What Has Been Won? What Has Been Lost

So, Racca Syria Is Free Of ISIS: Now What? What Has Been Won? What Has Been Lost?

 

It is not easy to choose a starting point from the anneals of time when the subject matter is the Ancient City of Racca Syria. Here in the U.S. we tend to think that something from the 1800’s is old and something pre Columbus is ancient history. I chose to start this article in the year of our Lord 639 A.D.. Think about it for a moment, this is more than 1,000 years before the birth of George Washington.

 

I am not going to try to turn this article to you into some type of a history lesson. To be able to catch the essence and history of Racca would take Albums, not paragraphs. In 639 an Islamic Army took the city. Folks, that’s 1,378 years ago. This tidbit of information is for those who are new to the subject as this event happened 1,137 before the Americans signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Folks, Racca was on the “World Heritage Site” list. Racca was a huge piece of human history, now it is gone. Now, what do the teachers of these next few generations teach to these children? What is their History now? I guess their history will have to be broken into the ‘before Revolution, and after Revolution’ segments. What horrible history we leave onto our children as each generation only gets harder on those entering it. How can some deny that depression is the young with no hope of survival and the old who quietly await their own death?

 

Since Christ walked the Earth 2,000 years ago I wonder, how many people have died within 10 square miles of the city of Racca? Just in this past 6+ years, how many? Folks this is sickness, this is madness, how much blood must be spilled? The sad answer to this question is, there is no end, some are simply enraged with hate. The latest emblem of this hate is called ISIS, Daesh and a few other local names. Racca was the Capital City of ISIS new Caliphate, now it is not. Now the (SDF) (Syrian Democratic Forces) backed by U.S. Special Forces have taken control of all of Racca.

 

My question to you today is simple, have you seen the before and after pictures of cities like Racca Syria where Culture had flourished over about 1,400 years? World Heritage Site folks, now it is but rubble. Now that ‘our’ forces who control Racca are anti Syrian Government, how do things get any better here? The Kurdish people who are spear heading this ‘SDF’ have already been back stabbed by the American government once this week on their voting issue. Now, for the Americans to continue to be involved they would have to come into direct contact with the Syrian government forces and the forces of Russia, Iran and even Iraqi soldiers. So, we leave this pile of rubble over to the Syrian Government without a fight and request that our Kurdish ‘Friends’ do the same, without a fight, or the U.S. will desert the Kurdish people once again, leaving them to be slaughtered by the Syrians, Russians and Iranians.

 

Whom ever comes out the Ruler of this region of the world ‘Racca’, has no chance of being what it was before 2010, ever. The beauty it once had is gone, now it is only in memories and old pictures. So folks, now what? I believe that the end result is that Racca will remain as part of Syria for the foreseeable future. Yet even if Russia, Iran the E.U. or even the U.S., became Landlords of the Racca area, how do you rebuild it now? Your people need jobs, the Governments must step up with trillions of dollars to rebuild their own infrastructure from the ground up. They must employ their citizens, have them doing the rebuilding of their own homes, their won businesses, their own Stores. The rest of the world cannot ignore the great chance for investment, even if it is only available to companies of Islamic Culture. Then I still ask you, the people who care about Racca and who can afford to, please try to help the people who have been stuck there for the past few years. To my way of thinking Racca should be at least as important to the Islamic Nations as Puerto Rico would be if decimated by a powerful Hurricane. What this means to the people and what it means to a government is normally two different Creatures aren’t they? For any quality of life to exist there again, all sides who care will be working together for the good of all, or they with will die together, by the thousands. So, is there hope, for rebuilding Racca? We shall see what we shall see is what a good friend used to say. Today’s time is tomorrows history.

 

 

 

 

Two Years on, the Stakes of Russia’s War in Syria Are Piling (Op-ed)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MOSCOW TIMES)

 

Two years ago, on Sept. 30, 2015, Russian warplanes launched their first airstrikes in Syria, plunging Russia into a civil war that had already been festering for four years.

Moscow intervened in Syria vowing to fight Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, terrorist groups banned in Russia. Its objective was to transform its relationship with Washington and Brussels by disarming an imminent threat to the West after it had hit Russia with sanctions for the Kremlin’s “adventures in Ukraine.”

Days before the airstrikes began, Putin delivered a speech at the United Nations General Assembly calling for a united front against international terrorism, framing it as the modern equivalent of World War II’s coalition against Hitler.

But two years later, Russia’s hopes of winning concessions in Ukraine for its campaign against Islamic State have come to very little. Putin’s strategic alliance with the United States never materialized.

Russia, however, has met two less lofty goals. One was to rescue the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, Moscow’s longtime ally, from the inevitable defeat at the hands of an armed Sunni rebellion.

Moscow leveraged its ties with Iran, another regime ally, to deploy Shia militias from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight the Syrian rebels. This allowed Moscow to send a modest ground force to Syria — artillery and some special operations forces — without a large footprint.

Russia helped Assad recast the civil war and the popular uprising against his regime as a fight against jihadi terrorists by focusing its airstrikes over the last two years on moderate Syrian rebel groups, while paying little attention to Islamic State.

This rendered the conflict black and white — a binary choice between Assad and jihadists. It allowed Moscow to sell its intervention as support for Syria’s sovereignty against anarchy and terrorism. Russia made clear that it saw the path to stability in the Middle East as helping friendly autocrats suppress popular uprisings with force.

At home, the Kremlin sold its Syrian gambit as a way of defeating terrorism before it reached Russian soil. Russia, after all, needed to prevent Russians and Central Asians who joined Islamic State from returning home to wreck havoc at home soil.

Moscow was also able to use Syria as a lab for its newest weaponry.

By workshopping newly-acquired precision cruise-missile strikes, Russia joined the United States in an exclusive arms club. Showcasing military prowess, while keeping casualties figures low — some 40 Russia servicemen died in Syria — it was able to win public support at home for the intervention.

But perhaps most importantly, the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria has reaffirmed Russia’s status as a global superpower which is capable of projecting force far from its own borders.

Andrei Luzik / Russian Navy Northern Fleet Press Office / TASS

While Moscow may have been offended by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s dismissive description of Russia as a “regional power,” it impressed Arab leaders with its unwavering support for Assad, which was important at a time when U.S. commitment to allies’ security and the stability in the region was in doubt.

Moscow’s backing of Assad ensured it had channels with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, despite their support for Syrian rebels. It was even able to convince the Gulf to wind down its support for the opposition as a Russia-led victory for the regime became inevitable.

Russia’s alliances with Jordan and Egypt proved useful in setting up direct lines to armed opposition groups to reach de-escalation agreements. And even as it fights alongside Shia Iran, Moscow has avoided being drawn into a sectarian proxy war with Sunni Arab states.

Russia’s most stunning diplomatic coup was to change Turkey’s calculus in the war from a proxy adversary into a major partner in securing the decisive victory in Aleppo. Through the Astana process, Russia alongside Turkey wound down fighting with moderate rebels.

Russia’s victory in Syria was helped by Washington’s decision not to immerse itself into Syria and a war by proxy with Russia. Instead, the U.S. focused its military operations on defeating Islamic State in eastern Syria.

Now, with de-escalation in western Syria, regime forces and Russian airpower are turned to defeating Islamic State, which has brought them into contact with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advancing from the northeast as part of their offensive to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State.

The potential for a U.S.-Russia kinetic collision in Syria with unpredictable consequences is escalating. This highlights the looming endgame in Syria and the choices Moscow and Washington will have to make moving forward.

Washington needs to decide whether it wants to stay in Syria for counterinsurgency operations to prevent the re-emergence of Islamic State. It may also decide to block Iran from establishing the “Shia land bridge” from the Iraqi border to the Mediterranean.

But this entails supporting the SDF and helping them control sizeable real estate northeast of the Euphrates river and blocking regime forces and Russia from advancing east.

Moscow needs to decide whether it wants to be dragged into Assad and Iran’s strategy of ensuring a complete military victory in Syria and preventing the opposition from exercising any autonomous self-rule. That could see Russia pulled into a nasty proxy fight with the Americans.

Two years after Russia intervened in Syria, the war may be winding down. But the stakes for Moscow and Washington are stacking.

The views and opinions expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.

Related

Iran supplying Hezbollah with ever more accurate missiles—To Use Against Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

IDF: Iran supplying Hezbollah with ever more accurate missiles

Israeli military agrees with US that Tehran faked a ballistic missile test earlier this week with recycled footage from January

Iranian military trucks carry surface-to-air missiles during a parade on the occasion of the country's Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Iranian military trucks carry surface-to-air missiles during a parade on the occasion of the country’s Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Iran is working tirelessly to outfit the Hezbollah terrorist group with more accurate missiles for a future war with Israel, which may dramatically affect the nature of such a conflict, according to Israeli military assessments released Wednesday.

The army also believes that Iran will continue with its efforts to establish a presence in Syria through proxies, with which it can support Hezbollah and potentially open a second Syrian front against Israel.

Currently, Tehran has just 1,500 of its own Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria. However, the IDF believes that the Islamic Republic also controls over 10,000 fighters from Shiite militias. Hezbollah also has several thousand troops in the country, assisting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in his war against rebel groups.

Iran announced on Saturday, September 23, 2017, that it has successfully tested a new missile, with a 1,250-mile range, which is capable of reaching Israel and US bases in the Gulf. (Screenshot/PressTV)

Regarding Iranian missile development, the Israeli military agrees with its American counterparts that video footage of a ballistic missile test released by Tehran earlier this week was, in fact, recycled footage from over nine months ago.

Iran said on Saturday that it successfully tested a new medium-range missile. State television carried footage of the launch of the Khoramshahr missile, which was first displayed at a high-profile military parade in Tehran on Friday. It also carried in-flight video from the nose cone.

But according to a Fox News report, two US officials claim that the video was more than seven months old and dated back to a failed launch in late January, which resulted in the missile exploding shortly after lift off.

The Israeli army assessment holds that Iran is upholding the 2015 nuclear deal by the letter but not necessarily the spirit, and that Tehran is doing all it can to prepare itself for the day after the agreement ends in eight years, so that it will be able to begin work on developing an atomic weapon as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah is currently believed to possess approximately 120,000 missiles and rockets in Lebanon. In a future war, the IDF estimates that the Iran-backed group will launch over a thousand rockets a day at Israel.

File: In this May 22, 2010 file photo, a Hezbollah fighter stands behind an empty rocket launcher while explaining various tactics and weapons used against Israeli soldiers on the battlefield (AP/Hussein Malla)

However, not all rockets are created equal. Some are little more than metal containers with no guidance systems that would more likely strike an empty Israeli field than its intended target. But as Iran is providing Hezbollah with the missiles themselves and the ability to produce them independently, with factories in Lebanon, the fear is that the group will have more and more accurate missiles aimed at strategic sites in Israel.

While the IDF and the Defense Ministry have invested significant resources in aerial defense, army officers have repeatedly said that these anti-missile systems will not be able to stop all projectiles.

If it were in possession of superior missiles, Hezbollah would not wage the same type of war as it did in the Second Lebanon War. Notably, more accurate missiles would allow the terrorist group to launch a quick, focused attack on Israel, unlike the prolonged 2006 conflict, the assessment said.

As the Syrian civil war stagnates, Israel has repeatedly warned of Iranian entrenchment in the country and of the Islamic Republic’s efforts to establish hegemony in the entire region.

The Israeli military also believes that going forward the ties between Iran and Syria’s other main ally, Russia, will begin to fray, as their current relationship is one of convenience and shared short-term goals, not necessarily because of deep ideological similarities.

Israeli officials have said that the Jewish state would take whatever measures were needed to prevent Iran from establishing a Shiite-controlled land corridor stretching from Tehran, through Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel has for years been widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.

In August a former commander of Israel’s air force said that it had carried out dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys destined for the Hezbollah over the past five years. The remarks by Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel revealed for the first time the scale of the strikes, which are usually neither confirmed nor denied by the IAF.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

READ MORE:

Israeli Jets Reportedly Launch Strikes On Syrian Military Facility

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Israeli jets reportedly launch strikes on Syrian military facility

Syria: Israeli jets strike Syrian facility

(CNN)Israeli jets fired missiles at a military facility in Syria on Thursday, killing two army personnel, the Syrian army claimed.

The strikes caused material damage near Masyaf in the northwestern part of Syria near the Lebanese border, according to the Syrian army, which told state media that the missiles were fired from Lebanese airspace at 2:42 a.m. local time.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) refused to comment.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) describes the site as a scientific research facility and a short- and medium-range missile depot.
Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror said the site was one of the Syrian regime’s centers of military research and development, which had produced missiles and, in the past, chemical weapons.
The strike marks a new level of alleged Israeli involvement in Syria since the civil war began six years ago, according to Amidror, who served as National Security Advisor between 2011 and 2013.
“It is the first time the target … is a formal Syrian facility; not just a warehouse, but a center of research and development and [production],” he said.
In its report, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency quotes Syria’s military accusing Israel of propping up ISIS’s “morale,” and linking the reported strike with recent military wins over the terror group in the strategic Syrian town of Deir Ezzor.
“This aggression comes in a desperate attempt to raise the collapsed morale of the ISIS terrorists after the sweeping victories achieved by the Syrian Arab Army against terrorism at more than one front, and it affirms the direct support provided by the Israeli entity to the ISIS and other terrorist organizations,” the Syrian army said in a statement to SANA.

‘Dozens’ of strikes

Syria: What Israel sees

Syria: What Israel sees02:41
Israel has consistently said it is not taking sides in Syria’s civil war.
Even so, Israel has conducted “dozens” of strikes inside Syrian borders since 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted last year. Additionally, Israel has treated thousands of Syrians wounded in the country’s civil war, including rebel fighters.
Israel has repeatedly said there are red lines in Syria which prompt it to act. These include preventing Hezbollah, a key ally of the Syrian regime and an Iranian proxy, from getting its hands on advanced weaponry, and preventing Iran from establishing a permanent presence in Syria.
“[This strike] is within the framework of the [red lines] policy, but it is another level of interfering,” Amidror said.
Addressing the threat posed by Iran in Syria, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said that Israel “reserves complete freedom of action [to protect] the security of Israeli citizens.”

Netanyahu rips UN, says Iran turning Lebanon, Syria into war fronts against Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Greeting Guterres, Netanyahu rips UN, says Iran turning Lebanon, Syria into war fronts against Israel

With secretary general by his side, PM accuses United Nations of bias against Israel and of allowing Iran to build missile sites and Hezbollah to smuggle arms

 August 28, 2017, 4:08 pm 13

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (GPO)

AP — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted visiting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday with blistering criticism of the international body’s treatment of Israel and accused it of failing to prevent arms from being smuggled to Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah terror group.

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Netanyahu also claimed that Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon for the manufacture of “precision-guided missiles,” with the aim of deploying them against Israel.

Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed President Bashar Assad’s government forces in the civil war that has ravaged Syria.

“Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the UN should not accept.”

The Israeli leader offered no specifics to support his allegations.

Guterres arrived on Sunday for a three-day visit to the region, his first since taking office at the beginning of the year. His meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders are aimed at encouraging the resumption of peace talks.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the UN chief, Netanyahu criticized the United Nations, saying that it fails to check Palestinian hate speech, “absurdly denies” Jewish connections to Jerusalem and has not stopped arms from reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon.

He was referring to a recent UN cultural agency resolution about Jerusalem that angered Israel, which said it diminishes Jewish ties to the city. Israel also criticized the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, for being, according to Israel, soft on Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces in the border area.

Guterres vowed that he will “do everything in my capacity” to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations. The UN peacekeeping force’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent what Israel says is Hezbollah building up its weapons.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” the UN chief said.

Earlier, President Reuven Rivlin called on Guterres to curb what he described as “the discrimination against Israel” in some UN institutions.

President Reuven RIvlin (R) with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

President Reuven RIvlin (R) with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Guterres, in turn, stressed his commitment to impartiality in “treating all states equally.” He said those who call for Israel’s destruction peddle in a “form of modern anti-Semitism” — though he also said he doesn’t always agree with the country’s policies.

During a visit to the Holocaust memorial before meeting Israeli leaders, he warned that anti-Semitism remains “alive and well” in today’s world and vowed to combat all forms of racism and bigotry.

“I believe that the horror of the Holocaust should be such that anti-Semitism should now be dead forever,” he said, adding how he was shocked “to listen to the chant of a group of neo-Nazis in a developed country in the world, chanting ‘blood and soil’, the slogan of the Nazis.”

Guterres will meet Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Tuesday in the West Bank. He is scheduled to visit Gaza on Wednesday.

Two Chemical Weapons Shipments North Korea To Syria Intercepted By U.N. Forces

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Two shipments of North Korean chemical weapons bound for Syria have reportedly been intercepted by United Nations member states in the past six months.

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The shipments bound for the Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were detailed in a confidential UN report on North Korean sanctions violations submitted to the Security Council earlier this month, Reuters reported Monday.

“The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” a panel of independent UN experts wrote in their 37-page report.

“Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria,” the experts said, adding that another member state had since informed the panel they believed the weapons were part of an arms contract between Damascus and North Korea’s primary arms dealer, which has been subject to international sanctions since 2009.

“The consignees were Syrian entities designated by the European Union and the United States as front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), a Syrian entity identified by the Panel as cooperating with KOMID in previous prohibited item transfers,” the experts wrote in their report to the Security Council.

Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamed al-Bakour)

Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamed al-Bakour)

Western analysts and intelligence services believe the SSRC is responsible for Syria’s research and development of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, including its missile technology.

Neither Pyongyang or Damascus responded to a request for comment by Reuters.

Tuesday marks the four-year anniversary of the Ghouta chemical attack on opposition-held neighborhoods in Damascus that killed hundreds of people. The West and the UN roundly blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for attack, which prompted an agreement brokered by the US and Russia to disarm Syria’s chemical stockpile.

However, chemical attacks have continued to target civilians and rebel fighters, according to opposition groups and others.

In April, a suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held Idlib province left over 90 people dead, including many children, with the West accusing Assad of being responsible.

That attack prompted the US to impose “sweeping” new sanctions on Syrian officials, and President Donald Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at the airbase where the attack was launched.

The new sanctions ordered by the Treasury included freezing all assets in the US belonging to 271 employees of the SSRC, and blocked any American person or business from dealing with them.

Washington said at the time the SSRC was responsible for the producing the chemical weapons used in the April 4 attack.

The report on ties between Syria and North Korea comes as tensions between Pyongyang and the West have soared in recent months over North Korea’s weapons ambitions, which have seen it subjected to a seventh round of Security Council sanctions.

Army soldiers walk by a TV news program showing a file image of a missile being test-launched by North Korea at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, July 4, 2017 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Army soldiers walk by a TV news program showing a file image of a missile being test-launched by North Korea at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, July 4, 2017 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Earlier this month, Pyongyang threatened to send a salvo of missiles toward the US territory of Guam — although it appears to have backed off for now.

Trump has promised “fire and fury” and said that Washington’s weapons were “locked and loaded.”

The intense rhetoric on both sides has raised fears of a miscalculation leading to catastrophic consequences — North Korea has vast artillery forces deployed within range of Seoul, where millions of people live.

7 White Helmets rescuers shot dead in Syria gun attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

7 White Helmets rescuers shot dead in Syria gun attack

People gather Saturday for the funeral of slain members of the Syrian Civil Defense in Idib province.

Story highlights

  • The attack occurred in rebel-controlled Idlib province amid recent spikes in violence
  • The unidentified attackers stole vehicles and equipment, activists said

(CNN)Seven members of the White Helmets rescue group were shot dead Saturday by unidentified gunmen who stormed the volunteers’ office in northwestern Syria, the group and opposition activists said.

The attackers also stole two vans, helmets and walkie-talkies, according to a statement from the group, which is formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense.
The Aleppo Media Center activist group also said seven volunteers were killed in an attack — and posted video and photos of their funeral.
A procession of mostly men carried the dead to be buried, the images show. Many of the mourners wore the White Helmets badge and broke down in tears.
The Syrian Civil Defense called for northern Syrian checkpoints to detain any vehicles bearing the White Helmets logo that were not verified.

Attacked amid spikes in violence

The attack occurred in the city of Sarmin in Idlib province, which last month came mostly under the control of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a coalition of Salafi jihadist groups that includes Fateh al-Sham. The latter group had been known as Jabhat al-Nusra before renouncing its ties to al Qaeda.
Idlib, one of the last Syrian provinces still beyond regime control, has been experiencing spikes in violence.
After the Syrian government — with the help of Russian air power — regained control of the key city of Aleppo last year, masses of opposition rebels were bussed to Idlib as part of a people-swap agreement.
The White Helmets have brought to light the scale of the Syrian conflict in a painfully visceral way, documenting their recovery operations through video and photo.

Trump and Putin’s Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

Trump and Putin’s Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook

12:55 PM ET

Two weeks after the White House threatened to impose a “heavy price” on Syrian President Bashar Assad if it launched a new chemical attack, President Donald Trump’s first attempt at peacemaking looks set to keep the autocrat in power for the foreseeable future.

A regional ceasefire took hold in Syria’s southwest [when], following negotiations with Russia and Jordan. It’s the newest curveball in the Trump administration’s evolving policy on Syria, which has gone from bombing Assad’s military in April and shooting a Syrian warplane from the sky in June, to the new ceasefire deal and renewed calls for cooperation with Assad’s chief outside supporter, Russia.

Observers and former U.S. officials say the ceasefire deal effectively guarantees Assad’s regime remains in place, in spite of Trump administration rhetoric to the contrary. Trump discussed the Syrian truce during his first face-to-face meeting as president with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany on Friday.

“My sense is that the Trump administration is resigned to the fact that the Assad regime has been secured by Iran and Russia for the indefinite future,” Fred Hof, a former U.S. special envoy on Syria under President Barack Obama, told TIME in an email. “They are forced – in large measure due to five plus years of Obama administration policy paralysis – to put Syrian political transition on the back burner.”

The ceasefire deal illustrates a new political reality as diplomatic attempts to resolve the six-year-old Syrian crisis as a whole give way to piecemeal efforts to deescalate the conflict in different parts of the country. Following more than a year of Russian-supported military gains by the government of President Bashar Assad, few now expect a broad national peace agreement between the regime and the rebel groups arrayed against it.

“There is no integrated solution for Syria anymore, at least for the time being in Washington,” says Joseph Bahout, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking to TIME from Paris. “The core of the problem, the political question, the Assad aspect, the transition; today it’s off the hook. Today this is on the shelf,” he adds.

International diplomacy has focussed lately on containing, rather than resolving the conflict as a whole. In May, Russia, Iran, and Turkey (a key supporter of the Syrian opposition) agreed to a plan to establish a series of four “de-escalation zones” in sections of the country held by the opposition. It achieved limited success in calming fighting between rebels and the regime.

The new ceasefire calls for Jordan and Russia to restrain Syrian rebels and the regime, respectively, along the existing front line in Syria’s southwest, according to an senior State Department official who briefed reporters on Friday. Russia, the United States and Jordan released few other specifics of the agreement. No text of the deal was made public, and it was not clear how the truce would be enforced or monitored.

The new truce could yet provide relief to people living in three provinces in southwestern Syria, if it holds: Daraa, Suwayda, and Quneitra. The southwest has long been a redoubt of mainstream rebel groups who oppose both Assad and extremist groups, owing in part to support from the United States and Jordan, Syria’s neighbor to the south. Assad and allied forces have intensified attacks on rebel-held areas in the south since February. Past national ceasefires have unravelled within days or weeks. Human rights monitors and President Trump claimed that the ceasefire held, at least in its opening hours.

Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding. Many lives can be saved. Came out of meeting. Good!

Others weren’t certain it would be durable. “Is the ceasefire actually going to lead to a reduction in hostilities and violence in the south? That remains to be seen,” said Charmain Mohamed, a Jordan-based Advocacy Advisor for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Past diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s civil war have sought to broker a peace deal between Assad and a spectrum of rebel groups who demand his removal from power. Those talks collapsed last year as Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, launched a ferocious offensive that reclaimed territory lost to the rebels, including the insurgent stronghold of Aleppo. The loss of the northwestern city was a historic blow to the rebellion that all but ended maximalist hopes of future military success against Assad.

More than six years on from the mass uprising against Assad that spawned Syria’s civil war, the contours of the conflict are shifting. After years in which the United States supported armed opposition groups but avoided direct conflict with Assad, the U.S. military struck Assad’s forces and allied troops at least four times since April, beginning with a cruise missile strike in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 70 people. In June, hostilities escalated again when American forces shot down a Syrian government warplane that attacked U.S.-allied militias on the ground eastern Syria.

The U.S. posture toward Assad is now difficult to gauge. Over the weekend, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated a call for a “transition away from the Assad family,” but also acknowledged that there was no plan in place to replace the current regime. Speaking to reporters in Hamburg, Tillerson said of Russian policy in Syria, “Maybe they’ve got the right approach and we’ve got the wrong approach.”

Under Trump, the U.S. has focused its efforts in Syria on fighting ISIS, sending additional troops to support Kurdish-led militias now battling their way into the jihadists’ stronghold in the eastern city of Raqqa. The ISIS-focused approach has placed diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict as a whole on the backburner.

The ceasefire agreement overshadowed a new round of United Nations-brokered peace talks taking place in Geneva on Monday. Bahout, the analyst, said few expected any progress. “No one is betting one dollar on that,” he said.

U.S. Backed Rebels Have Broken Through Raqqa’s Old Cities Walls: ISIS Caliphate Is On It’s Way To Hell

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

US-backed rebels have breached a strategic wall surrounding the Old City of Raqqa in ISIS’s self-declared capital on Monday, US Central Command has said in a statement.

Breaching the Rafiqah Wall means the Syrian Democratic Forces will be able to penetrate Raqqa’s Old City, the last redoubt of ISIS defenders in the city. The ancient wall — first constructed in the 8th century by the Abbasid dynasty and stretching around the Old City on three sides — has provided important fortification for ISIS.
The operation was “a key milestone” in the campaign to “liberate the city,” Brett McGurk, the US envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, said on his official Twitter account.
In a CENTCOM statement, the US added: “Coalition forces supported the SDF advance into the most heavily fortified portion of Raqqa by opening two small gaps in the Rafiqah Wall that surrounds the Old City.”
The battle for Raqqa is not dissimilar to that of Mosul, where US-backed Iraqi forces are fighting to expel the last of ISIS fighters from Iraq’s second-largest city. But the fight to retake Raqqa has gone quicker, with attacking forces gradually forcing a diminishing number of ISIS fighters into a smaller area of narrow streets around the ancient mosque of Rafiqa, which has already been extensively damaged.
The Rafiqah Wall — which is 3 kilometers from the city center — is approximately 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) long, 3.8 meters (12.4 feet) high and 1 meter thick, Syrian state media reported in 2009.
ISIS fighters had planted mines and improvised explosive devices at several breaks in the wall, a US Central Command (CENTCOM) statement said.
“The portions targeted were 25-meter sections and will help preserve the remainder of the overall 2,500-meter wall,” CENTCOM said.
CENTCOM and the SDF did not specify which area of the wall was breached.
The SDF launched an offensive to seize Raqqa on June 6. For more than three years, ISIS has used Raqqa as a staging ground for its deadly attacks on the Middle East and further overseas.
The group is running out of places to go. If ISIS is evicted from Raqqa it will lose the last vestige of any “governance” of its so-called caliphate. But it’s not just losing control of territory, it will also lose the facility to move freely between Syria and Iraq — especially since Iraqi militia seized the key town of Baaj last month.
The coalition hopes that the loss of Raqqa and Mosul will dull ISIS’ appeal to potential recruits.
“It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin ‘capitals’ in both Iraq and Syria,” General Steve Townsend, the coalition’s commanding general, said.

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