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Russia Steps Up Air Strikes Expediting Ethnic Cleansing of Sunni Muslim Arabs from Syria, Talks Coordination with US

October 10, 2015

Editor's Note:

Both Russian and US-led air strikes on Syria and Iraq target Sunni Muslim Arab areas despite using other terminology, such as they are targeting Assad's opponents or the Islamic State. 

It seems that the ultimate goal is evicting Sunni Muslim Arabs from this oil rich territory in nothing less than ethnic cleansing, which also paves the way for the future expansion of Israel, from the Nile to the Euphrates.


A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia's Defence Ministry October 9, 2015, shows a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber dropping a bomb in the air over Syria. Reuters/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout  


Russia steps up air strikes against Assad opponents in Syria


By Sylvia Westall and Jason Bush


Russia said on Saturday it had stepped up its bombing campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria, while local observers said several of the air strikes had hit areas in western Syria where the hardline group has little presence.

Russia, a top ally of President Bashar al-Assad, started bombing in Syria on Sept. 30 saying it was targeting Islamic State and other opposition groups, a campaign that has drawn Moscow deeper into Syria's more than four-year-old conflict.

Rebels on the ground and Western states have said Moscow's air campaign, which has been combined with ground attacks by pro-government forces, have mainly targeted rebel groups not associated with Islamic State, including U.S.-trained fighters.

A Russian defense ministry representative said on Saturday Russia had intensified its campaign in the last 24 hours, with 64 sorties hitting 55 targets, Russian news agencies reported.

The representative, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, described the targets hit as controlled by Islamic State, also referring to them as belonging to "militants" and "terrorists".

He said they included command and control centers, weapons depots and training bases, located in the Syrian provinces of Raqqa, Hama, Damascus and Aleppo.

The first of those provinces is in eastern Syira and the main Islamic State stronghold, while the other three are in Western Syria where the group is typically weak.

However, Islamic State militants have been advancing on Aleppo in recent days, seizing villages in the province from rival insurgents.

Konashenkov said one of the targets hit near Aleppo was a concealed base for military vehicles, which he said had received a direct hit from an Su-24M bomber.

More than ten vehicles had been destroyed, including two tanks and five infantry vehicles, he said in comments cited by Interfax.


Russian strikes hit northern areas of Latakia province, the coastal heartland of Assad's Alawite minority sect, as well as northern areas of Hama province further east, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

There was no immediate information on casualties.

The Observatory says Islamic State has no real presence in these areas. However, there were other militants in northern Syria, such as Chechens, that Russia might want to attack.

Syrian state television said in a newsflash that attacks carried out by government forces in the area had killed and wounded a number of "terrorists", a term it uses to describe all insurgents in Syria.

The Observatory said a large explosion hit a building on the outskirts of the town of al-Bab in northern Syria, which is held by Islamic State.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blast in the building, which Islamic State had used to store explosives, according to the British-based Observatory, which tracks the conflict using sources on the ground.

The Observatory also said Syrian government forces backed by militia had captured the village of Atshan from insurgent fighters in Hama province after Russian airstrikes in surrounding areas.

Atshan sits to the east of the north-south highway running through major western cities in Syria. Towns and villages around the road have been a focus of Russian air strikes.

Syrian state TV also said in a newsflash that the army had captured the village

Human Rights Watch said late on Friday that the first Russian air strikes on northern Homs last month killed at least 17 civilians and should be investigated for possible violations of the laws of war.

Russian President Vladmir Putin said earlier this month that reports of civilian deaths in Russian air strikes on Syria were an "information attack".

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Jason Bush; Editing by Ralph Boulton)


New U.S.-Russia military talks seen on Syria air safety

 Reuters Fri Oct 9, 2015 10:09pm EDT

New U.S.-Russia military talks seen on Syria air safety

WASHINGTON | By Phil Stewart

The Pentagon said on Friday it expected to hold new talks with Russia's military on pilot safety in Syria's war as soon as this weekend, as the former Cold War foes seek to avoid an accidental clash as they carry out rival bombing campaigns.

Russia's entry into Syria's civil war last week has complicated America's more than year-old campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State, leading to at least one U.S. jet to course-correct to avoid an incident.

The United States, which opposes Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has ruled out cooperation with Russia but has agreed to work on air safety procedures.

U.S. proposals, outlined during a secure video conference between the U.S. and Russian militaries last week, included maintaining a safe distance between U.S. and Russian aircraft and using common radio frequencies for distress calls.

The U.S. military warned it would not accept a Russian offer to hold more talks until it first received a formal response to those proposals, something the Pentagon said has now arrived.

"The Department of Defense has received a formal response from the Russian Ministry of Defense regarding DOD's proposal to ensure safe air operations over Syria," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters. "Department leaders are reviewing the Russian response and talks are likely to take place as soon as this weekend."

Russia's deputy defense minister, Anatoly Antonov, was quoted by the Tass news agency on Tuesday as saying the Russian military agreed in principle with the proposals made by the United States.

Since Russia began air strikes last week it has described all its targets as belonging to the Islamic State group, although most have been in areas controlled by other rebel movements where Islamic State has little or no presence.

Efforts to ensure pilot safety have gained urgency after the United States and NATO denounced Russia for violating Turkish airspace.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said Russian aircraft came within miles of a U.S. drone and criticized Russia for launching cruise missile strikes without warning.

He confirmed that the United States "had some indications" that Russian cruise missiles crashed in Iran before reaching their targets in Syira. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Thursday that four missiles crashed in Iran.

"If so, that would indicate malfunctions of those missiles," Carter said.

Russia's Defense Ministry has insisted the missiles had reached their targets in Syria.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Leslie Adler)


Islamic State closes in on Syrian city of Aleppo; U.S. abandons rebel training effort

 Reuters, Fri Oct 9, 2015, 10:09pm EDT 

 By Dominic Evans and Parisa Hafezi


Islamic State fighters have seized villages close to the northern city of Aleppo from rival insurgents, a monitoring group said on Friday, despite an intensifying Russian air-and-sea campaign that Moscow says has targeted the militant group.

News of the advance came as the United States announced it was largely abandoning its failed program to train moderate rebels fighting Islamic State and would instead provide arms and equipment directly to rebel leaders and their units on the battlefield.

The Obama administration is grappling with a dramatic change in the four-year-old Syrian civil war brought about by Moscow's intervention in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Pentagon said on Friday it expected to hold new talks with Russia's military on pilot safety in Syria's war as soon as this weekend, as the former Cold War foes seek to avoid an accidental clash as they carry out rival bombing campaigns.

The Russian defense ministry said stepped-up air strikes on rebel positions in Syira killed 300 anti-Assad rebels and that it hit 60 Islamic State targets over the last day. There was no independent confirmation of the death toll.

About 200 insurgents were killed in an attack on the Liwa al-Haqq group in Raqqa province while 100 died in Aleppo, the defense ministry said. Two Islamic State commanders were among the dead in Russia's most intense raids since it launched strikes in Syria 10 days ago. In previous updates Russia has reported hitting 10 targets daily.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the fighting, said there had been no significant advances by government forces backed by allied militia in areas where ground offensives were launched this week. "It's back and forth," said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Observatory.

Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps said separately that one of its generals had been killed near Aleppo, once Syria's most populous city. Iran, like Russia an Assad ally, says it has advisers in the country.

Islamic State is now within 2 km (1.2 miles) of government-held territory on the northern edge of Aleppo, which has suffered widespread damage and disease during the civil war that erupted in the wake of protests against Assad.

Syria's military, backed by Russia, Iran and allied militias, has launched a major attack in Syria's west to recapture land lost to non-IS rebels near the heartland of Assad's minority Alawite sect. That area is vital to Assad's survival.

A senior regional official close to the Syrian government said: "The Iranians are at the heart of the battle, with strength and effectiveness. Yes they are participating."

As the government operation in the west pushed ahead, Islamic State said its fighters had captured five villages in its northern offensive and had killed more than 10 soldiers or militiamen. Powerful insurgent group Ahrar al-Sham managed to recapture one of the villages, Tel Suseen, later in the day, the Observatory and online media affiliated with the rebels said, but the others appeared to remain in IS hands.

The British-based Observatory said it was the biggest advance by Islamic State since it launched an offensive against rival rebels in Aleppo near the Turkish border in late August.


"Daesh has exploited the Russian air strikes and the preoccupation of the (rebel) Free Syrian Army in its battles in Hama, and advanced in Aleppo," said one rebel commander with fighters in the region, using an Arabic name for Islamic State.

Russian warplanes and warships have been bombarding targets across Syria in a campaign Moscow says is targeting IS fighters, who control large parts of eastern Syria and of Iraq.

But the campaign appears to have mainly struck other rebel groups, some of which had been battling to stop the Islamic State advance across Aleppo province.

U.S. and Russian warplanes are now flying missions over the same country for the first time since World War Two, risking incidents between the two air forces and their fast jets.

Seeking to underline the dangers, U.S. officials said four Russian cruise missiles fired from a warship in the Caspian Sea had crashed in Iran, which drew a swift denial from Russia.

Speaking in London on Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, however, that the United States had indications that Russian cruise missiles malfunctioned.

Washington said it was pulling the plug on a short-lived $580 million program to train and equip units of fighters at sites outside of Syria, after its disastrous launch this year fanned criticism of President Barack Obama's war strategy.

The Pentagon said it would shift its focus to providing weapons and other equipment to rebel groups whose leaders have passed a U.S. vetting process to ensure they are not linked to militant Islamist groups.

France has also been involved in the anti-Islamic State effort, launching its first air strike in Syria on Sept. 27.

French Rafale warplanes attacked an IS training camp in their stronghold of Raqqa overnight. "We struck because we know that in Syria, particularly around Raqqa, there are training camps for foreign fighters whose mission is not to fight Daesh on the Levant but to come to France, in Europe to carry out attacks," said French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.


The Observatory reported a new wave of Russian air strikes in the west on Friday morning on Hama and Idlib, apparently in support of the ground offensive against anti-Assad rebels.

The offensive has focused around the Ghab Plain, next to Syria's western mountain range which forms the Alawite heartland and the important strategic main north-south highway running north from Hama towards the cities of Idlib and Aleppo.

Securing those areas would help consolidate Assad's control over Syria's main population centers in the west of the country, far from the Islamic State strongholds in the east.

Abu al-Baraa, a fighter with the Ajnad al-Sham rebel group, speaking to Reuters via Internet messenger from the Ghab Plain, said: "The regime has been trying since yesterday to advance ... and tried many times, with Russian jets paving their way, but ... most of the attacks are repelled. Also a number of heavy regime vehicles have been destroyed in the Ghab region."

Alongside the Russian air-and-sea campaign, regional officials have told Reuters that hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria since late September to support the Syrian army and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.

Senior Iranian officials have been in Syria for several years as military advisers. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards said a senior general, Hossein Hamedani, was killed near Aleppo late on Thursday. Hamedani was a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war and was made deputy chief commander in 2005. Several senior Guard commanders have been killed in Syria.

Turkey said on Friday it was concerned about a possible fresh wave of Syrian migrants arriving at its border as a result of Russian air strikes. The conflict has killed 250,000 people and displaced millions, causing a refugee crisis in neighboring nations and in Europe.

(Additonal reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Peter Millership and Frances Kerry; Editing by Giles Elgood, Howard Goller and Ken Wills)



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