Category Archives: Syria

(EUoberver) Iraq refuses to put European Isis fighters on trial

(EUoberver)

Iraq’s minister of foreign affairs, Ali Alhakim, said in an interview with NRC Handelsblad, that his country will only take back from Syria Iraqi Isis fighters. France, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have been working on having their Isis fighters being tried in Iraq, so that they did not have to let them back into Europe. According to Alhakim, “Iraqi justice does not allow this”.

(CNBC) Pentagon echoes Trump, says securing Syrian oil fields is top priority after ISIS leader’s death

(CNBC)

  • The Pentagon emphasized Monday that U.S. troops will secure oil fields in northeast Syria in the wake of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death.  
  • “At the height of Baghdadi’s reign, these oil fields provided ISIS with the bulk of financial resources used to fund its terror,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday at the Pentagon.
  • What’s more, the latest revelation comes as the Trump administration works to withdraw the U.S. military presence in war-torn Syria.
GP: DOD Secretary Esper And Chairman Of Joint Chiefs Milley Discuss Al-Baghdadi Raid

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley hold a news conference at the Pentagon the day after it was announced that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a U.S. raid in Syria October 28, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia.Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images News | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon emphasized Monday that U.S. troops will secure oil fields in northeast Syria in the wake of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death.

“At the height of Baghdadi’s reign, these oil fields provided ISIS with the bulk of financial resources used to fund its terror,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday at the Pentagon. “U.S. troops will remain positioned in this strategic area to deny ISIS access to those vital resources and we will respond with overwhelming military force against any group that threatens the safety of our forces there,” he added.

“The fundamental purpose of securing those oil fields is to deny those oil fields access to ISIS in order to prevent ISIS from resurgence,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley said alongside Esper.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump confirmed Baghdadi’s death and identified Syria’s oil as a U.S. national security priority. Trump also highlighted a potential U.S. energy market opportunity by tapping into Syrian oil.

“What I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly…and spread out the wealth,” Trump said, adding that U.S. troops would be tasked with retaining control of the oil facilities.

″[The oil] fueled ISIS, number one. Number two, it helps the Kurds – because it’s basically been taken away from the Kurds… And, number three, it can help us, because we should be able to take some also,” he said.

What’s more, the latest revelation comes as the Trump administration works to withdraw the U.S. military presence in war-torn Syria.

“Baghdadi’s death will not rid the world of terrorism or end the ongoing conflict in Syria but it will certainly send a message to those who question America’s resolve and provide a warning to terrorists who think they can hide,” Esper said.

Last year, Trump went through a similar debate over whether to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, ultimately agreeing to keep them there but only after repeatedly raising questions about why they should stay. 

(HP) ISIS Leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Reportedly Killed In US Military Operation

(HP) President Trump tweeted in the early hours of Sunday morning that “something very big” had just happened.

Iran was informed of IS leader Baghdadi’s death – Iranian officials tell Reuters https://reut.rs/346lLUc 

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2256:01 AM – Oct 27, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy177 people are talking about this

The leader of ISIS is believed to have been killed in a secretive US military operation, media reports suggest. 

APCNNFox News and Defense One, amongst other outlets, reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during the targeted attack. 

Iranian officials told Reuters that Tehran had been informed of Baghdadi’s death by Syrian officials “who got it from the field.”

The White House has not confirmed the ISIS leader’s killing, but said President Donald Trump would have a “major announcement” at 9 a.m. Sunday morning local time. No other information about the announcement was provided.

The secret operation targeting Baghdadi was reportedly approved by Trump earlier this month. There were reports Saturday of US military helicopters over Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

A team from the Joint Special Operations Command carried out the operation after receiving actionable intelligence, sources told Newsweek. The location had been under surveillance for some time. A senior US defence official told CNN that the CIA had assisted in locating the ISIS leader.

Trump appeared to cryptically hint at the news in a tweet, writing that “something very big just happened,” however did not elaborate. 

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

Something very big has just happened!323K1:23 AM – Oct 27, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy175K people are talking about this

The ISIS leader has been in hiding for the past five years. In April, a video was published by the ISIS media wing al-Furqan that showed a man purporting to be Baghdadi.

Several U.S. officials said Baghdadi had been wounded in an airstrike in 2017 and had to give up control of the terror organisation for several months. He became the head of ISIS in 2010. 

(ZH) Pence Says US, Turkey Reach Ceasefire Deal In Syria; Lira Soars On “Agreement To Withdraw Sanctions”

(ZH) update: A deal has been reached for Turkey to suspend military operations in northern Syria, as Vice President Pence has confirmed in a briefing to reporters. “A pause in military operations for 120 hours” – or 5 days – while the US facilitates an “orderly withdrawal” of its forces as well as partner SDF Kurdish forces outside a 20-mile ‘safe zone’ will take effect based on Thursday’s meeting with President Erdogan, Pence said. Meanwhile a senior Turkish official has told Middle East Eye “We got exactly what we wanted out of the meeting.”

  • POMPEO: WORK REMAINS IN REGION, DEAL SETS GROUND FOR RESOLUTION
  • PENCE: TURKEY AGREED TO CEASE OPS PERMANENTLY AFTER WITHDRAWAL
  • PENCE SAYS TRUMP VERY GRATEFUL FOR EFFORT ON CEASEFIRE

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

This deal could NEVER have been made 3 days ago. There needed to be some “tough” love in order to get it done. Great for everybody. Proud of all!53.9K7:03 PM – Oct 17, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy23.4K people are talking about this

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!67.5K7:13 PM – Oct 17, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy36K people are talking about this

The deal involves removal of US sanctions conditioned on the “pause” and road map to permanent ceasefire:

“Part of our understanding is that with the implementation of the ceasefire, the United States will not impose any further sanctions on Turkey,” Pence said“And once a permanent ceasefire is in effect, the President has agreed to withdraw the economic sanctions that were imposed this last Monday.”

CBS News@CBSNews

Trump on Syria ceasefire agreement: “What Turkey is getting now is, they’re not going to have to kill millions of people, and millions of people aren’t going to have to kill them” http://cbsnews.com/live 697:25 PM – Oct 17, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy138 people are talking about this

Concerning the 5-day “pause” the Vice President said, “On the basis of a pause… we will not be implementing additional sanctions during that period of time.”

A copy of the printed agreement, handed out the press pool: 

Steve Herman@W7VOAReplying to @W7VOA and 4 others

Here’s a copy of the joint US-#Turkey statement via print pool reporter @EliStokols.

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1107:07 PM – Oct 17, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy165 people are talking about this

The Turkish Lira surged on the announcement, rallying as much as 1.15% to a session high of 5.8194, the strongest point since Oct. 10.

* * *

Visible tension pervaded the icy photo opp during Thursday’s meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara — a meeting which the latter initially rejected, saying he would only meet with Trump, amid a White House initiative to push for a ceasefire in northern Syria. 

The Pence-Pompeo-Erdogan meeting, which reports say lasted for about 90 minutes, which was significantly “longer than planned,” also came after Trump’s strange “don’t be a fool” letter to Erdogan was made public, which Turkish officials say Erdogan threw in the trash.

Ragıp Soylu@ragipsoyluReplying to @ragipsoylu

More pics from Pence, Erdogan meeting.

STILL NOT HAPPY

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7202:04 PM – Oct 17, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy326 people are talking about this

It was further less than 24 hours after Trump seemed to downplay Turkey’s invasion against US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria, saying the fight was over land that “has nothing to do with us.”

Ragıp Soylu@ragipsoyluReplying to @ragipsoylu

VIDEO from Erdogan, Pence meeting

Pence and Erdogan are stiff.

“Thanks for seeing me” Pence says.

Ambassador Jeffrey addresses Erdogan in Turkish 6352:09 PM – Oct 17, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy460 people are talking about this

The president told reporters in the Oval Office Wednesday, “If Turkey goes into Syria, that’s between Turkey and Syria,” and added, “It’s not between Turkey and the United States.”

Jake Sherman@JakeSherman

Here is ⁦@SecPompeo⁩ and ⁦@VP⁩ and erdogan. A US official tell us pence asked ⁦@trpresidency⁩ twice to allow media in. We were allowed in — no questions allowed — for about 45 seconds.

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1303:33 PM – Oct 17, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy118 people are talking about this

All of this means that the US delegation went to Ankara with perhaps significantly less leverage (also considering Erdogan isn’t dealing with Trump directly); however, also after the White House authorized sanctions on Turkey this week, vowing that more could come. 

The US has demanded that Erdogan immediately halt his ‘Operation Peace Spring’ — to which Erdogan responded this week he’ll pursue the Turkish ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria even without international backing or support of allies. 

A Turkish official told Reuters of Trump’s now viral letter, which apparently wasn’t reviewed or proofed by his staff: “The letter Trump sent did not have the impact he expected in Turkey because it had nothing to take seriously.”

“What is clear is that Turkey does not want a terrorist organization on its border and the operation will not stop because of the reaction that has been coming.”

developing…

(GUA) Turkey-Syria offensive: Kurds reach deal with Damascus to stave off assault

(GUA) Agreement to hand over border towns comes after more than 700 Isis affiliates escape camp

Smoke rises from Ras al-Ayn, Syria, during bombardment by Turkish forces on Sunday.
 Smoke rises from Ras al-Ayn, Syria, during bombardment by Turkish forces on Sunday. Photograph: Erdem Şahin/EPA

Kurdish-led forces in control of north-east Syria have reached a deal with the Assad regime to stave off a bloody five-day-old Turkish assault, as more than 700 people with links to Islamic State have escaped from a detention camp in the area.

Kurdish fighters controlling the region would surrender the border towns of Manbij and Kobane to Damascus in a deal brokered by Russia, officials said on Sunday night.

Syrian state media said units from President Bashar al-Assad’s army were moving north to “confront Turkish aggression on Syrian territory”. Unconfirmed reports said the deal between the Kurds and the regime would be extended to apply to the whole of north-east Syria.Advertisement

“After everything, it seems that the fate of the Kurdish people [is to be abandoned]. We did everything that we could, we called upon the international community … but it did not result in a solution. We urged all Kurdish [groups] to show solidarity, but no one listened,” Ismat Sheikh Hassan, the leader of the military council in Kobane, told local television.

The deal is likely to be a bitter end to five years of semi-autonomy for Kurdish groups in north-east Syria, forced by Ankara’s offensive on the area. Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring started on Wednesday after Donald Trump’s announcement that US forces would withdraw from the region.

Trump had not specified a timeframe for the US withdrawal from Syria, but on Sunday US defence secretary Mark Esper said the remaining 1,000 special forces in the country had been ordered to leave “as safely and quickly as possible” as the fighting between Turkey and the SDF began to threaten US military positions.

The area’s Kurdish-led fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have been funded and trained by the US to combat Isis since 2015, finally defeating the militant group in March after losing 11,000 troops in the battle.

Turkey, however, says the largest unit of of the SDF, the Kurdish YPG, is a terrorist group indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades.

 What does Turkey’s military action in northern Syria mean? – video explainer

Trump’s decision to abandon the SDF to an inevitable Turkish assault has been widely criticised even by his staunchest allies as a betrayal of a US military partner which has unleashed to a humanitarian disaster and threatens to sow the seeds of Isis’ resurgence amid the chaos.

On Sunday, at least 750 people with suspected links to the militant group reportedly fled a displacement camp in north-east Syria.

France voiced its concern at the report. Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye told France 3 television: “I do not know, today, who exactly the people are who fled from the camp; it has been a worry for France since the beginning of this armed intervention.”

France has been hit by a wave of jihadist attacks since 2015, many claimed or inspired by Isis, and has expressed concerns that a Turkish assault would bolster the group.

On Monday, the French presidency said in a statement it was taking measures to protect its personnel inside Syria. “Measures will be taken in the coming hours to ensure the safety of French military and civilian personnel present in the zone as part of the international coalition fighting Islamic State and humanitarian action,” the statement said.

The women and children formerly part of the “caliphate” had been held in a secure annexe at the Ain Issa camp. They began to riot and scared away the guards after Turkish shelling struck close to the area on Sunday, said Abdulkader Mwahed, the joint president for humanitarian affairs in the Kurdish-held part of Syria.

The UK-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the number to have escaped at 100, publishing pictures of men, women in black niqabs and small children running through yellow scrubland.

The camp was home to a total of about 13,000 people, including three suspected British orphans and a British recruiter for Isis, Tooba Gondal.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stated goal is to create a 20-mile-deep “safe zone” on its border with the SDF, enough to keep Turkish border towns out of the range of shelling and rocket fire.

However, Ain Issa and other Kurdish-held roads and towns south of the proposed safe zone have been hit by airstrikes and shelling. Syrian rebel proxies fighting on behalf of Turkey were pushing south and refused to allow the town of Manbij to fall into regime hands, a fighter with the Syrian National Army (SNA) rebel umbrella group said, reporting that Turkey had begun shelling the SDF-held town west of the Euphrates.

A convoy of 40 armoured Turkish trucks travelled into Syria from the Jarablus border crossing to reinforce the Turkish offensive, another military source said.

Speaking on Sunday, Erdoğan rejected offers for mediation with the SDF and criticised his western Nato allies for standing by what Turkey considers to be a terrorist organisation.

He also dismissed the reports of escaped Isis prisoners as “disinformation” aimed at provoking the US and other western countries.

About 130,000 people have been displaced in Syria in the five-day-old operation so far, with at least 60 civilian casualties in Syria and 18 dead in Turkey after counterattack SDF shelling of Turkish border towns.

The SNA summarily executed nine civilians including a female politician, a human rights monitor has claimed. The umbrella group said it had ordered an investigation and commanders were to “continuously supervise combatants on the frontlines to prevent any abuse”.

(ZH) EU Must Reject Turkey’s ‘Blackmail’ On Syrian Refugees, Urges Italy’s Conte

(ZH) update: Though Erdogan has been used to getting his way utilizing his well-known bullying tactics, it appears Europe is not going to fold this time.

After yesterday European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared of Turkey’s push to militarily carve out a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria that“if the Turkish plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the European Union to pay for any of it,” some European leaders have pushed back against his reiterated threat to “open the doors” for 3.6 million refugees currently in Turkey to seek shelter in Europe if external powers don’t support his operation. 

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said European Union must adopt a common position against Erdogan’s threats. Conte told RAI television, as cited in Bloomberg:

“We cannot accept that there be blackmail involving the welcome given by Turkey” to refugees with European funding, and the offensive in Syria.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, via EPA/BBC

No doubt Erdogan won’t take kindly to the Italian leader charging him with an attempt the “blackmail” but Conte firmly voiced what many EU leaders are likely thinking. 

* * *

As fighting ramps up in northeastern Syria following Turkey’s armed incursion into territory held by the Kurds, President Trump made clear during a press conference Wednesday night that, while Washington has threatened to punish Turkey for attacking the Kurds, President Trump doesn’t feel any deeper loyalty to the one-time “tip of the spear” in the fight against ISIS.

But President Erdogan wants Europe to understand that if it pursues sanctions or other punitive measures against Turkey – or even if European leaders complain too loudly – he won’t hesitate to release millions of Syrian refugees and allow them to start making their way to Europe, which is still struggling with the ramifications of the last wave of Syrian refugees.

According to BBG, Erdogan said he would “open the doors” for 3.6 million refugees currently in Turkey to seek shelter in Europe, should his country face criticism.

Erdogan’s threat comes as Turkish troops begin their advance into northeastern Syria (Erdogan has asked European leaders not to call this an ‘invasion’). So far, he has faced intense criticism from European nations and nearby Arab states.

The Turkish lira, and Turkish assets like stocks and foreign-currency bonds, have slumped in the wake of the invasion, with the Turkish currency trading near its weakest level since August.

Ankara has said the operation, which was given the green light by the US over the weekend, is intended to force back Kurdish militants along the border area while targeting ISIS militants. But since ISIS has been stripped of all its territory in the region, many who oppose the Turkish incursion believe the claims of going after ISIS and preventing the creation of a “terror corridor” are merely a ruse.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan@RTErdogan

The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria. Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area.49.9K2:16 PM – Oct 9, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy17.4K people are talking about this

Turkish F-16 warplanes and artillery units have struck at least 181 targets so far. At least 19 Kurdish militants have been killed since the Turkish assault began, while 38 have been wounded. Meanwhile, a group of American senators from both parties have promised to try and punish Ankara over the incursion.

(BBC) Turkey launches air strikes on Syria border area

Turkey has launched a ground and air offensive on territory held by Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria. Residents began to flee some areas, and plumes of smoke were seen rising from towns near the border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation was to create a “safe zone” cleared of Kurdish militias, which will also house Syrian refugees. The Kurdish-led militias have been key US allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, but Ankara regards them as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.

(AJ) Turkey to launch offensive in Kurdish-controlled area in Syria

(AJ)

Accusing the US of delaying the set up of safe zones, Erdogan announces incursion into Syria to dislodge YPG militia.14 hours ago

Turkish President Erdogan said Russia and the US have been informed of the upcoming operation [Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency]
Turkish President Erdogan said Russia and the US have been informed of the upcoming operation [Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency]

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has renewed a pledge to carry out a cross-border military operation into northeastern Syria to dislodge Kurdish fighters close to its border. 

In a speech on Sunday during a motorway-opening ceremony in Bursa, Erdogan said Russia and the United States have been informed of the planned operation, but did not say when the offensive would begin.

Turkey had in the past warned of carrying out military operations east of the Euphrates River, but put them on hold after agreeing with the US to create a safe zone inside Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey that would be cleared of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.

But Ankara has accused Washington of stalling progress on setting up the safe zone and has demanded it sever its relations with the YPG.

The group was Washington’s main ally on the ground in Syria during the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but Turkey sees it as a “terrorist organisation” allied with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). 

The planned operation would mark Turkey’s third incursion into Syria in as many years. Turkey conducted two operations into northern Syria in 2016 and 2018 to clear the areas of ISIL members and the YPG. 

“We entered Afrin, Jarablus, and Al-Bab. Now we will enter the east of the Euphrates,” Erdogan said in the city of Bursa. 

Turkey has been deploying large numbers of troops to the border with Syria in recent days.

Finding common ground

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Gaziantep, Turkey, said that a new delegation is arriving in Ankara on Monday for further talks, but it is difficult to predict whether the two NATO allies will be able to find common ground.

“[Turkey] has carried out cross-border operations over the past two years, but on both occasions, the area of operations was under the sphere of influence of Russia,” Khodr said.

“Turkey and Russia cooperate on Syria. But east of the Euphrates is an area under the control of the US which is allied with the YPG.

“Deep differences remain over a planned safe zone… Turkey is insisting it is 20km deep and Turkey insists that it controls the zone which is something the US so far has not accepted,” Khodr said.

Asked about Erdogan’s comments, a US official told Reuters: “Bilateral discussions with Turkey continue on the possibility of a safe zone with US and Turkish forces that addresses Turkey’s legitimate security concerns in northern Syria.”

Overnight, three Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters were killed during clashes with the YPG, state-owned Anadolu Agency reported on Sunday.

It said the YPG tried to infiltrate the front lines in Syria’s al-Bab area, where Turkey carved out a de facto buffer zone in its 2016 “Euphrates Shield” offensive.

Clashes such as these are frequent in the area, but casualties tend to be rare.

On Thursday, the Kurdish-led administration running north and east Syria issued a statement objecting to Turkish threats to attack the area.

“These threats pose a danger on the area and on a peaceful solution in Syria, and any Turkish aggression on the area will open the way for the return of [ISIL], and that aggression will also contribute to the widening of the circle of Turkish occupation in Syria,” the statement said.

It called on the international community to take a stance that stops Turkey from carrying out its threats.

(ZH) Syria & Iran To Defy Sanctions By Building Railway From Tehran To Mediterranean

(ZH)

Iran is preparing to begin construction on a large railway that links their capital city of Tehran to the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, the Director of Syrian Railways Najib Al-Fares said on Wednesday.

According to Fares, the new railway will promote regional trade between Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The new project is expected to be funded by the Iranian government, with support from both Syria and Iraq.Illustrative file image of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways, slated to undertake construction work in Iraq on a railway line to link Iran with Syria.

The Director of the Iraqi Railway Company, Jawad Kazim, said that Iraq had previously signed contracts to implement projects with Iranian companies, but most were delayed.

For Syria, the new railway system is expected to help ease their economic issues that have derived from the U.S.-led sanctions on the Levantine nation.

During the signing of the minutes, [Iranian Deputy Minister and Chairman of Roads Maintenance and Transport Organization] Shahram Adamnejad said that the tripartite meeting resulted in positive outcomes among the three sides, affirming that the goal of the negotiations is to activate the Iranian-Iraqi-Syria load and transport corridor as a part of a wider plan for reviving the Silk Road as the three countries have an old experience in the international trade. — Syria’s SANA

While this should be beneficial for all parties, this new railway system will face heavy criticism and possibly military attack from the U.S. and its allies, most notably Israel.

Mehr News Agency@MehrnewsCom

Tripartite meeting of Iran, Iraq, Syria on railways coop. https://ift.tt/2RJVVAC 112:31 PM – Jul 1, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacyTripartite meeting of Iran, Iraq, Syria on railways coop.TEHRAN, Jul. 01 (MNA) – The tripartite meeting of Iran, Iraq and Syria was held on Monday morning at the Headquarter Railways of The Islamic Republic of Iran.en.mehrnews.comSee Mehr News Agency’s other Tweets

Israel has paid close attention to the Iranian developments in Syria and has often acted when they suspect weapons are being transported across borders.

Map via Syrianews.cc: Iran will bypass the Strait of Hormuz, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and Suez Canal to reach the Mediterranean.

The U.S. is likely currently opposing the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) control over the border city of Albukamal in Deir Ezzor because it allows Iran to build a land bridge along the international highway.

(Haaretz) Mossad Assassinated Syrian Weapons Chief, NYT Reports

(Haaretz) Middle Eastern spy agency claims Dr. Aziz Asber was working closely with Iran’s Quds Force chief on long range missiles capable of reaching Israeli cities

City of Masyaf in northwestern Syria, 2016
Pavel Golovkin / AP

Israel is responsible for the car bombing assassination of a Syrian rocket scientist on Sunday, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The account in the report, given by an official from a Middle Eastern intelligence agency who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the highly classified nature of the operation, claims the car bombing near the northwestern Syrian city of Masyaf that killed Dr. Aziz Asber was executed by Israeli Mossad agents.

Dr. Asber ran the northern bureau for research and science in Masyaf, where he was believed to be developing an underground weapons manufacturing facility with the help of the Iranians.

Photo of Asbar distributed on social media

>> How the Mossad broke into an Iranian facility and stole half a ton of nuclear files

The official, who said his agency was notified of the operation, alleged that this was the fourth time in the last three years Israel has covertly killed a weapons engineer on foreign soil.

Despite the attack being claimed by a Syrian rebel group, the Abu Amara Brigades, pro-Assad and Hezbollah-affiliated media outlets were quick to point the finger at Israel as responsible for the assassination.

According to the official, the Mossad had been keeping tabs on Asber for some time and believed him to be working closely with Iran’s Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani on future plans to manufacture precision-guided missiles in Syria by modifying Syrian SM6000 Tishereen rockets.

Israel had targeted Asber as key player of the Syrian missile program long before the civil war had begun, according to a representative of the Syrian-Iranian alliance who spoke on terms of anonymity, as he was not allowed to talk to Western journalists. He was close with both Syrian and Iranian top brass, and coordinated with Iranian and Hezbollah forces working in Syria, said the intelligence official.

In recent months, in his role as chief of a classified weapons development program known as Sector 4, Asber was focused on modifying the Syrian artillery array’s range and accuracy – which the official posits made his termination more imperative for Israel, as it works to limit and suppress Iran and Hezbollah’s presence and involvement in Syria.

Several strikes on Masyaf, the city where the Scientific Studies and Research Center is located, have been attributed to Israel in recent years. The last one was on July 22. The factory Asber was said to be building with Iranian aid is set to replace the one allegedly destroyed by Israel last September.

The Israeli government has not officially commented on the report, or the allegations. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, speaking to Israel’s News Company, dismissed the claims and said “Every time, they try to place the blame on us. So we won’t take this too seriously.”

+++ (JN) Putin avisa que mais ataques na Síria trarão o “caos” às relações internacionais

(JNO presidente russo afirma que a intervenção dos Estados Unidos, França e Reino Unido na Síria diminuiu as hipóteses de se chegar a uma solução política para o conflito naquele país.

O presidente russo Vladimir Putin avisou este domingo, 15 de Abril, que mais ataques do Ocidente na Síria trarão o “caos” às relações internacionais.

Segundo a Reuters, Putin deixou o alerta numa conversa telefónica com o seu homólogo iraniano Hassan Rouhani depois de os Estados Unidos, França e Reino Unido terem realizado, no sábado, uma série de ataques com mísseis contra três alvos associados à produção e armazenamento de armas químicas na Síria.

Um comunicado do Kremlin informou que Putin e Rouhani concordaram que os ataques ocidentais diminuíram as hipóteses de se chegar a uma solução política para o conflito que dura há sete anos e que já matou pelo menos meio milhão de pessoas.

“Vladimir Putin, em particular, enfatizou que, se tais acções cometidas em violação da Carta da ONU continuarem, isso inevitavelmente levará ao caos nas relações internacionais”, refere o comunicado do Kremlin, citado pela agência noticiosa.

Os ataques levados a cabo pelos Estados Unidos, França e Reino Unido atingiram o coração do programa de armas químicas da Síria, disse Washington, em resposta a um ataque com armas químicas realizado há uma semana. Os três participantes insistiram que a sua resposta não teve como objectivo derrubar o presidente Bashar al-Assad ou intervir no conflito.

Os bombardeamentos, descritos pelo presidente dos EUA Donald Trump como um sucesso, mas denunciados por Damasco e seus aliados como um acto de agressão, marcaram a maior intervenção dos países ocidentais contra Assad e a Rússia.

As palavras de Putin foram divulgadas pouco tempo depois de o ministro-adjunto dos Negócios Estrangeiros da Rússia, Sergei Ryabkov, ter feito uma nota mais conciliatória dizendo que Moscovo faria todos os esforços para melhorar as relações políticas com o Ocidente.

Questionado sobre se a Rússia estava preparada para trabalhar com as propostas dos países ocidentais nas Nações Unidas, Ryabkov disse à agência de notícias TASS: “Agora a situação política é extremamente tensa, por isso não farei nenhuma previsão”.

“Trabalharemos com calma, de forma metódica e profissional, aproveitando todas as oportunidades para que a situação saia deste pico político extremamente perigoso”, afirmou.

(Reuters) Threat of U.S.-Russia clash hangs over Syria

(Reuters) The prospect of Western military action in Syria that could lead to confrontation with Russia hung over the Middle East on Friday but there was no clear sign that a U.S.-led attack was imminent.

International chemical weapons experts were travelling to Syria to investigate an alleged gas attack by government forces on the town of Douma which killed dozens of people. Two days ago U.S. President Donald Trump warned that missiles “will be coming” in response to that attack.

The allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were eager on Friday to lay blame for the crisis not with him but with Trump.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said international relations should not depend on one person’s morning mood, in apparent reference to Trump’s tweets.

“We cannot depend on what someone on the other side of the ocean takes into his head in the morning. We cannot take such risks,” said Dvorkovich, speaking at a forum.

Russia has warned the West against attacking Assad, who is also supported by Iran, and says there is no evidence of a chemical attack in Douma, a town near Damascus which had been held by rebels until this month.

Vassily Nebenzia, Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations, said he “cannot exclude” war between the United States and Russia.

“The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war,” he told reporters. “We hope there will be no point of no return.”

Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, told Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria: “The conditions do not point to a total war happening…unless Trump and (Israeli leader Benjamin) Netanyahu completely lose their minds.”

U.S. allies have offered strong words of support for Washington but no clear military plans have yet emerged.

British Prime Minister Theresa May won backing from her senior ministers on Thursday to take unspecified action with the United States and France to deter further use of chemical weapons by Syria.

Trump was also expected to speak with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said on Thursday France had proof the Syrian government carried out the Douma attack and would decide whether to strike back when all necessary information had been gathered.

For a graphic on an overview of chemical warfare, click tmsnrt.rs/2CnTeQh

A bus carries rebels and their families who left Douma, at the entrance of the Wafideen camp in Damascus, Syria April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

ASSAD TIGHTENS GRIP

Trump himself appeared on Thursday to cast doubt on at least the timing of any U.S.-led military action, tweeting: “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”

He met his national security team on the situation in Syria later in the day and “no final decision has been made,” the White House said in a statement.

“We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies,” it said.

A team of experts from the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was travelling to Syria and will start its investigations into the Douma incident on Saturday, the Netherlands-based agency said.

The capture of Douma has clinched a major victory for Assad, crushing what was once a centre of the insurgency near Damascus, and underlines his unassailable position in the war.

He has cemented his control over most of the western, more heavily populated, part of the country, with rebels and jihadist insurgents largely contained to two areas on Syria’s northern and southern borders.

They still control the northwestern province of Idlib, near Turkey, and a southern region around Deraa, on the border with Jordan. Turkish forces and rebel allies control territory in northern Syria, while U.S.-backed Kurdish forces hold wide areas of the northeast, and pockets of Islamic State fighters remain.

But none of those any longer directly threaten Assad’s grip on power, which has been reinforced by Russian air power and Iran-backed fighters on the ground.

(ZH) Trump Warns Russia “Missiles Are Coming” At Syria After Moscow Vows To Shoot Them Down

(ZH) A shooting war between the US and Russia appears imminent.

Following overnight speculation that the US may launch an airstrike on Syria at any moment, this morning, in his latest fiery tweetstorm, after slamming the failing New York Times and again lashing out at the Russia collusion probe and Cohen’s office raid, Trump tweeted that “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia,  because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!

The tweet prompted several observers to point out the following Trumps statement from the historical archives:

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

@walaa_3ssaf No, dopey, I would not go into Syria, but if I did it would be by surprise and not blurted all over the media like fools.

In any case, Trump’s comment came in response to a statement by the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin who said overnight that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria will be shot down and their launch sites targeted in response to Trump promise of a forceful response to an alleged chemical attack on a rebel enclave near Damascus.

“If there is a strike by the Americans, then we refer to the statements of President [Vladimir] Putin and the chief of staff that the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV.

Nasser Atta@nasseratta5

ambassdor in beirut : “If there is a strike by the Americans on , then… the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV, speaking in Arabic.

In response, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that US “smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not a legitimate government that has been fighting international terrorism for several years on its territory” and sarcastically noted that the US “smart missiles” could be an attempt to destroy evidence of the alleged “chemical attack” on the ground in Syria.

Jennifer Jacobs

@JenniferJJacobs

RUSSIA RESPONDS TO Trump missiles-are-coming tweet.

Foreign Ministry’s Maria Zakharova: “Missiles must fly towards terrorists, not a legitimate government that has been fighting international terrorism in its territory for several years.”

And missiles would “destroy evidence.”

Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia “categorically” disagrees that a chemical attack took place in Syria. “I still want to hope that all parties will avoid any steps, which in reality aren’t provoked by anything, that can destabilize the already fragile situation in the region.”

Peskov also said that Putin has no plans so far for phone talks with Donald Trump, while adding that Russian market volatility is partly emotional, partly speculative; Russian economy has sufficient durability, Peskov says

Meanwhile, indicating that a US strike on Syria is imminent, on Tuesday Trump canceled a trip to Latin America to focus on the Syria incident, the White House said. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also canceled plans to travel to California in the coming days, as Trump told reporters all options were on the table regarding Syria.

As we reported on Monday, the USS Donald Cook, a Navy destroyer, left a port in Cyprus on Monday. The guided missile destroyer is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, which were used a year ago after an alleged sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians.

Also overnight, Eurocontrol, the European air traffic control agency, warned airlines Tuesday to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to possible airstrikes in the next 72 hours.

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former head of NATO and an NBC News analyst, warned that any U.S. strike on Syria would likely require manned aircraft and characterized it as a “high-risk operation.”

“Last year was about sending a signal,” Stavridis said, referring to the April 2017 strike ordered by Trump. “This year its about destroying actual Syrian capability.”

Of course, if Russia is serious and it intends to shoot down not only US missiles but their sources – including ships and fighter jets – what happens in the next several hours could unleash World War III. Which would be bizarre if the only purpose for that is for Trump to prove to Mueller that he is not, in fact, a Russian puppet, even as the Military Industrial Complex enjoys its final victory.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, futures did not like the news that war between the US and Russia may be coming, and slumped to session lows.

 

(GB) Alwaleed sells Damascus hotel stake to Assad-linked businessman – report

Sold out of his own free will…?
I wouldn’t bet one cent on it.

FCMP

(GB)The deal is said to have taken place while the businessman was still detained under Saudi’s anti-corruption drive.


Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has reportedly sold his stake in the Four Season hotel in Damascus to a Syrian businessman linked to President Bashar al-Assad.

The Financial Times cited sources as confirming the sale, which was completed while Alwaleed was still detained as part of Saudi’s Arabia’s November anti-corruption drive.

The buyer was Samer Foz, a businessman with close ties to Assad’s inner circle, according to the publication.

Alwaleed was released from Riyadh’s opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel, used as a luxury prison for those detained in the corruption purge, at the end of January.

He is reported to have handed over assets in exchange for his freedom, like hundreds of other businessmen, royals and government officials that were detained, but has denied any settlement took place.

The billionaire’s investment firm, Kingdom Holding, had been divesting its stakes in hotels long before Alwaleed’s detention.

Reports in January suggested it also sold its stake in the Four Seasons Beirut for $100-$115m including debt and was in the process of a similar deal for its stake in Beirut’s Movenpick hotel.

Sources told the FT that the Damascus Four Seasons transaction generated a larger sum than the one in Beirut.

However, it said the deal could stir controversy given the sensitivity of dealing with the Syrian regime.

Foz is said to have businesses across the Middle East ranging from a water company to transport, cement and contracting, investments in hotels and a gold mine in Turkey.

He uses Dubai as a business hub, according to the publication.

(BBG) UN Panel Blames Syrian Forces for Deadly Sarin Attack in April

(Bloomberg) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s
government was behind a deadly chemical attack that killed
scores of civilians in a rebel-held village last April, an
investigative panel said in a report to the United Nations
Security Council.
The April 4 attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun killed
more than 80 people and injured almost 300 others, according to
a report Thursday by a panel of investigators known as the Joint
Investigative Mechanism. In June, investigators from the
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the
attack probably involved the use of sarin, a lethal nerve agent,
or similar toxic weapons. But that agency isn’t authorized to
conclude who’s responsible for the use of banned chemicals.
After the attack, as images of dying children gasping for
air circulated in the media, the U.S. placed blame on the Syrian
military while also accusing Russia, which backs Assad’s
government, of pushing a “false narrative” that rebel forces
were behind the incident. In an early test of his
administration, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered dozens of
cruise missile strikes on the Shayrat airfield from which the
jet fighters had launched.
The attack on the town crossed “many, many lines, beyond
red lines,” Trump said at the time.
Assad’s government has repeatedly denied the charges.
“‎Time and again, we see independent confirmation of
chemical weapons use by the Assad regime,” U.S. Ambassador to
the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement after the report was
circulated. “The Security Council must send a clear message that
the use of chemical weapons by anyone will not be tolerated.”
The use of chemical weapons would also mean Syria violated
a deal to destroy such weapons, an accord brokered by the Obama
administration and Russia after an August 2013 sarin attack
killed more than 1,000 people in a Damascus suburb.

(ZH) Trump Saw A Disturbing Video, Then He Shut Down The CIA’s Covert Syria Program

(ZH) While we’ve carefully documented the dynamics in play behind Trump’s decision to end the CIA’s covert Syria program, as well as the corresponding fury this immediately unleashed among the usual hawkish DC policy wonks,new information on what specifically impacted the president’s thinking has emerged.

Thomas Joscelyn, a Middle East analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explains in the August edition of The Weekly Standard:

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump was shown a disturbing video of Syrian rebels beheading a child near the city of Aleppo. It had caused a minor stir in the press as the fighters belonged to the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, a group that had been supported by the CIA as part of its rebel aid program.

 

The footage is haunting. Five bearded men smirk as they surround a boy in the back of a pickup truck. One of them holds the boy’s head with a tight grip on his hair while another mockingly slaps his face. Then, one of them uses a knife to saw the child’s head off and holds it up in the air like a trophy. It is a scene reminiscent of the Islamic State’s snuff videos, except this wasn’t the work of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men. The murderers were supposed to be the good guys: our allies.

Trump pressed his most senior intelligence advisers, asking the basic question of how the CIA could have a relationship with a group that beheads a child and then uploads the video to the internet. He wasn’t satisfied with any of the responses:

Trump wanted to know why the United States had backed Zenki if its members are extremists. The issue was discussed at length with senior intelligence officials, and no good answers were forthcoming, according to people familiar with the conversations. After learning more worrisome details about the CIA’s ghost war in Syria—including that U.S.-backed rebels had often fought alongside extremists, among them al Qaeda’s arm in the country—the president decided to end the program altogether.


Screenshot of the horrific video of a CIA-backed Syrian group beheading a boy named Abdullah Issa.

At the time the beheading video surfaced (July 2016), many in the American public naturally wanted answers, but the story never really picked up much momentum in the media. As Joscelyn describes, it caused nothing more than “a minor stir in the press.” The State Department seemed merely satisfied that the group responsible, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, claimed to have arrested the men that committed the gruesome crime, though nothing more was known. Absurdly, a US government spokesperson expressed hope that the child-beheading group would “comply with obligations under the law of armed conflict.”

The only press agencies that publicly and consistently challenged the State Department at the time were RT News and the Associated Press, yet even these attempts didn’t get picked up beyond the confines of the State Department’s daily briefing. When the AP’s Matt Lee initially questioned spokesman Mark Toner as to whether Zenki would continue to receive any level of US assistance, Toner casually replied “it would give us pause” – which left Lee taken aback.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t just the US government which had aided Zenki, but as fighting in Aleppo raged it became a favored group among both the mainstream media and prominent think tank pundits. One of the UK’s major broadcasters (Channel 4) even went so far as to attempt to delete and hide its prior online content which sought to normalize the beheaders as “moderate” and heroic once news of the video got out.

Controversial, but @AbuJamajem is largely right:

– “In , U.S. Can Keep Its Hands Clean or Get Things Done”https://tcf.org/?p=15688 

Photo published for In Syrian Proxy War, America Can Keep Its Hands Clean or It Can Get Things Done

In Syrian Proxy War, America Can Keep Its Hands Clean or It Can Get Things Done

Last month, video of a Syrian rebel apparently beheading a child captive stunned the world. In the amateur cell phone footage, a fighter from Aleppo factio

tcf.org

Among think tankers, Zenki’s most prominent public supporter, frequently presenting the terror group as actually representative of Syria’s “secular” and supposedly democracy-promoting armed opposition (even after the beheading video emerged), was Charles Lister. Lister was finally confronted not by mainstream media, but by AlterNet’s Max Blumenthal at a DC event held by the (largely Gulf funded) Atlantic Council.

Only by the time of this January 2017 public forum, and after being persistently questioned, did Lister awkwardly back off his previous enthusiastic promotion of Zenki:

We can imagine that Trump saw other things beyond the shocking Zenki beheading video which made him fully realize the utter criminality of the CIA program (Thomas Joscelyn further emphasizes that Trump came to understand the full scope of CIA cooperation with al-Qaeda in Syria).

The only question that remains is who in the CIA or Obama-era State Department should be prosecuted first?

(Economist) De-escalation in Syria

(Economist) The latest ceasefire will test Russia’s ability to rein back its allies.

WHEN a group of teenage boys scrawled “down with the regime” on their school wall they lit the powder that ignited Syria’s civil war. Ever since their torture at the hands of state-security agents in March 2011, the boys’ home city of Deraa has become synonymous with the start of the rebellion to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But Deraa may yet turn out to be the place where dreams of overthrowing the regime finally die.

The guns fell silent over the battered city at noon on July 9th as a ceasefire brokered by Russia and America came into force. The truce, announced by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin after their first meeting, is the latest in a string of failed attempts by the two powers to quell more than six years of violence that has killed perhaps 400,000 people. Its success, if it lasts, may open the door to deeper co-operation between Moscow and Washington. That could lead to a kind of peace, but at the price of what may be a lasting carve-up of Syria into zones controlled by different foreign powers, which will in all probability leave Mr Assad firmly in place on the populous coastal west of the country.

It is unclear whether the ceasefire will work this time. Months of secret meetings between American, Russian and Jordanian officials in Amman have produced a deal that lacks teeth. Russia says it will deploy troops to police the ceasefire zone, which covers three southern regions that abut the borders with Israel and Jordan. American diplomats say the make-up of any ground force is still being discussed. The truce has held so far but, like past deals, may quickly fall apart without a way to enforce it. Rushed out to give the two presidents something to announce at their first meeting, the ceasefire appears premature.

The geography and make-up of the region covered by the ceasefire may, however, help it to last. The area—Deraa, the province of Quneitra and parts of Suwaida province—is smaller than regions covered in the past. There are also fewer extremists to spoil the truce, and fewer rebel factions to pressure into abiding by it. The rebels in the south are also less rebellious: Jordan keeps a tight hold on those fighting the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militias that have made incursions into areas close to its borders.

The ceasefire is a result of Russian plans to wind down the war. Since January, Moscow has led talks with Turkey and Iran, which back opposing sides in the conflict, to establish four “de-escalation zones” where rebels and the regime will agree to stop killing each other. The aim is to have each region policed by different foreign powers. America’s rush to cut a deal with Russia in the south, the first of the zones to be formally demarcated, is partly a test of Moscow’s sincerity. “We’ll soon see if the Russians are willing or even able to rein in Assad and the Iranians,” said a Western diplomat.

Mr Assad is sitting pretty in Damascus. If the ceasefire holds, it will partly be because the Syrian president and his Iranian backers see in the truce a chance to solidify their territorial gains, drive rebels from other parts of the country and race American-backed forces for control of the oil-rich lands still occupied by Islamic State in the east. The American secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, says America “sees no long-term role for the Assad family”. But removing the dictator, who has repeatedly vowed to reclaim every inch of territory lost during the war, will be impossible without the consent of Iran and Russia.

If anything has remained constant in America’s approach to the Syrian conflict over the past year, it is its faith in Russia to bring the fighting to a close and keep Iran in check. Mr Tillerson believes the warring parties are “tired” and “weary” of the conflict. The coming weeks will establish how fanciful this reading is.

(BBG) Turkish State News Agency Publishes U.S. Base Locations in Syria

(BBG) Turkey’s state-run news agency published U.S. base locations in northern Syria, a move that threatens to deepen distrust between the two allies by exposing American soldiers on the front lines of the fight against Islamic State.

In reports published in both Turkish and English on Tuesday, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency provided detailed information about 10 U.S. bases in northern Syria, including troop counts and a map of the U.S. force presence in the Turkish version. The reports said that the military outposts are “usually hidden for security reasons, making it hard to be detected.” It said they were located “in the terrorist PKK/PYD-held Syrian territories,” a reference to Kurdish groups that Turkey’s government considers terrorist organizations.

Despite a tight military alliance dating back to the Cold War, Turkey and the U.S. have been at odds for years now over the U.S. backing of Kurdish fighters in Syria who are affiliated with separatist movements inside Turkey. The Turkish government probably leaked U.S. troop locations to Anadolu as retaliation, according to Aaron Stein, a fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

“The U.S. takes force protection seriously, obviously,” Stein said by email on Wednesday. “The Turkish government knows this, and still decided to leak the locations of U.S. bases in Syria. Hard not to see this as a F-you.”

‘Unnecessary Risk’

The Pentagon said it had conveyed its concern to the Turkish government.

“While we cannot independently verify the sources that contributed to this story, we would be very concerned if officials from a NATO ally would purposefully endanger our forces by releasing sensitive information,” Major Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway, a Defense Department spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “The release of sensitive military information exposes Coalition forces to unnecessary risk and has the potential to disrupt ongoing operations to defeat ISIS.”

Levent Tok, an Anadolu Agency reporter on the story, said the information about U.S. troop positions wasn’t leaked. The story was based on field work by Anadolu’s Syria reporters and some of the information on bases had been broadcast on social media by Kurdish fighters, he told Bloomberg on Wednesday. “The U.S. should have thought about this before it cooperated with a terrorist organization,” he said.

Base Building

Syria’s civil war has drawn in several external powers, raising questions about their longer-term plans in the country now that Islamic State is in retreat. Construction of military bases is often taken as a clue. In recent days, Israeli officials have warned that they won’t tolerate the establishment of permanent Iranian facilities, while Russia signed an accord that could keep its air bases in Syria for decades. Turkey is most worried about Kurdish-run enclaves in Syria’s north; its national security council said a statement on Monday that it wouldn’t allow a “terrorist state” on its borders.

News of the Anadolu story was published earlier on Wednesday by the Daily Beast, which also released correspondence with U.S. military officials urging the reporter, Roy Gutman, not to disseminate the information because they said it would expose sensitive tactical information and put coalition lives in jeopardy.

The incident is the latest to strain relations between Turkey and a major NATO ally. Last week, a senior Turkish official told Bloomberg that Turkey had agreed to purchase a missile defense system from Russia, a move that could jeopardize Turkey’s relations with the Western security bloc. Germany is in the process of withdrawing from Turkey’s most important NATO base, Incirlik, after Turkey repeatedly refused to allow German lawmakers to visit troops there.

(BBG) Editorial Board: Syrian Cease-Fire Is a Baby Step Toward Peace

(BBG) A fragile truce in the southwest is a good omen for U.S. interests.

War’s still just a shot away.

Photographer: Mohamad Abazeed/AFP/Getty Images

After years of horrific fighting in Syria — including several failed cease-fires — it’s hard to get too excited about a limited agreement to stop hostilities in a tiny corner of the country. Yet the modest “de-escalation” deal in Syria’s southwest is a promising sign.

Islamic State is not yet defeated. But the cease-fire, reached by Jordan, Russia and the U.S., is an indication that the end of that fight is near, as all sides are beginning to jockey for position in the next stage of the Syrian civil war.

The halt in the fighting in parts of three provinces, reached earlier this month, seems to be mostly holding. The next steps of the deal, which reportedlyinclude the departure of non-Syrian fighters, providing humanitarian aid to civilians, and setting up a monitoring center in Jordan, are pending.

Still, what has already been achieved is notable. Russia — Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful backer — has cut an independent deal with the U.S. that will not just give rebel troops a respite but also help protect Israel and Jordan, two of America’s most important Middle East allies. Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have hammered out the truce without giving the Syrian regime or its Iranian patrons a say. And this despite the fact that Iranian-backed militias had been making military inroads in southern Syria.

The area covered in the de-escalation agreement includes the rebel stronghold of Deraa Province, which is within 50 miles of the Jordanian capital of Amman and is adjacent to the Golan Heights, which Israel has considered a crucial buffer zone since conquering it in the 1967 war. The deal will be help keep Iran and its proxies from gaining too close a foothold to Israel and Jordan.

A piecemeal approach to cease-fires has its downsides. It may undermine the fitful negotiations to end the civil war that are now taking place in Kazakhstan, and the Assad regime may use this opportunity to strategically reposition forces at other battlefronts (the Syrians seem to have an eyeon the oil-rich Euphrates River Valley near the Iraq border). And the deal relies on the questionable assumption that the Russians will be able to rein in aggression by the Syrian army its allies.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted that the pact is the “first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria.” As distasteful as it sounds, cooperation with the Kremlin may be the best hope for an enduring political solution to the civil war — and for ensuring that Islamic State won’t rise again.