Militant groups split & clash in E. Ghouta, civilians seek shelter – Russian MoD

Militants groups holding Eastern Ghouta have begun fighting each other after one faction attempted to separate from the terrorists, the Russian military said. Civilians are seeking shelter and trying to escape street fighting.

The confrontations broke out a day after the Russian Defense Ministry demanded that the Failak Ar-Rahman group separated from Jabhat Al-Nusra terrorists, currently known as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham. In exchange, the militants were offered safe passage out of the embattled suburb of Damascus.

“Open fighting between the members of illegal armed units is underway in the streets, civilians are forced to seek shelter not to accidentally become victims of hostilities," Major General Vladimir Zolotukhin told reporters on Monday.

© Ruptly

A Russia-backed ceasefire came into effect in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta around two weeks ago, in order to allow humanitarian aid deliveries and the evacuation of civilians. Two humanitarian corridors were established in the areas of Muhayam al-Wafideen and Mlekha to provide for the safe passage of local civilians. Both passages have been constantly shelled by the militants, injuring and killing those who were trying to escape, according to Russian MoD and eyewitnesses.

The first group of 52 civilians, half of whom were children, managed to flee the militant-held Eastern Ghouta on Sunday. Their safe passage was secured by the Russian and the Syrian forces after they had held talks with the armed groups controlling the area.

The situation in the militant-held enclave remains “tense,” according to Zolotukhin. They also continued the bombardment of Damascus and its suburbs, firing seven mortar shells on Sunday, the official added. No one was injured in the attacks.

Despite the provocations, the humanitarian operations went on, the Russian military said. The spokesman reiterated that the safe routes in Eastern Ghouta remain open to both civilians and militants who are willing to flee.

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Syria fully liberated from ISIS terrorists – Russian MoD

The Russian General Staff has declared the liberation of Syria from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), stating that all territories previously under terrorist control were liberated in the final push by the Syrian Army.

“All terrorist units of ISIS on Syrian soil have been destroyed, and the territory is liberated,” Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov said.



“Therefore, as of today, there’s no territory controlled by ISIS in Syria,” he added. Gerasimov made the announcement during an annual briefing for foreign military attachés.

After being briefed on the successful military operation on both banks of the Euphrates River in Syria by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, President Vladimir Putin said that the political process and organization of the Syrian people’s congress in Sochi, agreed upon by Russia, Iran, and Turkey last month, must now become the focus. Among other goals, Putin named the drafting of a new constitution, and, eventually, parliamentary and presidential elections.

“Naturally, there might be some spots of resistance, but the military work has been largely completed in the area and at the time. Completed with a full victory, I repeat, with a victory and defeat of the terrorists,” Russian leader said.

The peace process, however, will be “a very big and lengthy job,” Putin cautioned. For this to happen though, the bloodshed in Syria must stop completely, he said. Securing the recent achievements and reinforcing the fragile de-escalation zones should be the first steps to that end, Russia’s president added.

Russia began providing support to Syria following an official request from Damascus in 2015 to prevent the terrorists from overrunning the country completely. Russia’s help allowed the Syrian Arab Army to turn the tide and liberate large areas of the country previously occupied by the jihadists. Smashing the blockade of Deir ez-Zor, an IS stronghold in eastern Syria, represented a turning point in this year’s campaign against the terrorists, ultimately leading to their demise.

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Report on alleged April Idlib chemical attack based on questionable evidence – Russian OPCW rep

The latest OPCW report on the April Idlib chemical incident lacks sufficient evidence and is based on data provided mostly by only one side of the Syrian conflict without necessary verification, the Russian OPCW representative, Aleksandr Shulgin, told RT.

“The conclusions of this report are based on questionable data provided primarily by all kinds of the Syrian armed opposition groups and NGOs, including the infamous White Helmets,” Shulgin said, referring to the report of the fact-finding mission (FFM) reviewed by the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), on Thursday.

The Russian representative drew attention to the fact that the report itself repeatedly says that the FFM investigative team decided not to visit the incident scene due to “security factors” and was thus unable to gather the necessary material evidence directly on the spot.

The team then had to rely on evidence provided by “various NGOs” that were working on the scene and testimonies of the alleged attack victims as well as those of the medical specialists, who treated the victims in “one of the neighboring countries.”

READ MORE: US slams Damascus as chemical weapons monitor says sarin used in April Syria attack, silent on blame

The report further says that the team was unable to implement the chain of custody for the samples they obtained from third parties, despite the fact that it is a standard basic procedure for such types of investigation, Shulgin noted.

The FFM report seen by RT indeed says that “the team was unable to implement a complete chain of custody, by the team, for samples from source.” Shulgin explained that the lack of the full chain of custody makes such evidence questionable, as its source cannot be verified with certainty.

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‘US info campaign against Syria is intervention warning sign’ – Russian Foreign Ministry

The US information campaign on Syria is a warning sign that an American-led intervention may be in the works, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

"The campaign, which was started by the US and is being backed by London and Paris, on the alleged chemical attack that is claimed to be prepared by Damascus, is not original, it's a textbook script, which has already been used in several countries in the region," Zakharova said.

FILE PHOTO. A Russian Su-30 fighter aircraft takes off from the Hmeimim airbase in Syria. © Maksim Blinov

In 2013, for example, "a provocation with the alleged use of chemical weapons became an excuse for a [potential] direct Western intervention in Syria. The situation was salvaged only by Russia's decisive stance," the official said.

Following the incident in April of this year, when the US leadership claimed a chemical weapons attack had been carried out by Syrian government forces in Khan Shaykhun, Washington is not doing anything that hasn’t been seen before, Zakharova added.

"The current information attack is very likely a warning sign of an intervention. The story will be the same: an incident happens on the territory controlled by the terrorists, civilian casualties follow. The so-called opposition – de facto the same jihadists, not very different from IS [Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL] and Al-Qaeda, but who are still getting help from the US and allies – announce yet another ‘crime by the regime,’" Zakharova said.

The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman even pointed out potential locations for such incidents: Sarrakab and Ar-Riha, where Moscow “believes that such a staged [chemical weapons] attack is being prepared.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley © Joshua Roberts 

The US’ claims on an alleged chemical attack being prepared by Damascus aren’t only aimed against the Syrian authorities, but also against Russia, the Zakharova said.

“The situation seems to be a massive provocation, both military and information-wise, a provocation which targets not only the Syrian leadership, but also Russia,” the spokeswoman said.

“These accusations and threats sound cynical amid the background of the blatantly illegal activities of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition fighting against the sovereign state of Syria,” the official added, referring to the US attack in April on the Shayrat airbase, as well as “mass civilian casualties in the coalition strikes in Raqqa and elsewhere.”

“Only during Ramadan, AFP reported the death toll of 500 civilians, who weren’t connected to the terrorists in any way,” Zakharova said.

On Wednesday, Moscow warned Washington against any “incendiary, provocative action” in Syria, stating there is no threat from the Syrian military.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, slammed the potential action as “unacceptable” and something that “breaches Syria’s sovereignty [and] isn’t caused by any military need.”

Smoke is seen while Philippines army troops continue their assault against insurgents from the Maute group in Marawi City, Philippines June 28, 2017. © Jorge Silva

It came after the White House claimed on Monday that the Syrian government was gearing up for a chemical attack, and threated that the country’s leadership would “pay a heavy price,” should the supposed attack take place.

Also on Monday, the Pentagon issued a statement that the US had spotted “activity” at Shayrat airfield that showed “active preparations for chemical weapons use.”

The US did not offer any further explanations or evidence that such an attack was due to happen, though, and State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert rebuffed questions on the issue as “an intelligence matter.”

On Wednesday, the US suggested that the Syrian leadership had promptly changed its mind about an alleged attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, as cited by Reuters, said: “it appears that they [Syria’s authorities] took the warning seriously. They didn’t do it.”

The Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied any allegations against them, as has the Russian leadership.

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100,000 people displaced by fighting in Raqqa, Syria, since April – UN

Some 100,000 people have been displaced due to heavy fighting near the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, since April this year, a UN human rights chief says. Children are the worst hit, many subjected to torture, sexual violence and executions.

“We need to see a step-change in access to the increasingly dire situation in northeastern Syria…With some 100,000 people displaced due to fighting around Raqqa since April, access is needed now through every possible modality,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said in a statement to the UN Security Council on Syria on Tuesday. 

According to O’Brien, the protection space is “shrinking, humanitarian conditions are worsening, and the level of despair is rising” across the entire country. In Idlib alone, there are over 900,000 displaced people, he said.

READ MORE: US begins arming Kurdish militia fighting ISIS near Raqqa

This is “not due to insecurity or poor infrastructure, but by increasingly strict limitations by local authorities, non-state-armed groups, as well as terrorist organizations, and the actions of some neighboring countries.”

The city of Raqqa, some 40km from Tabqa Dam, Syria’s largest reservoir, was captured by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) back in 2013. Since then the city has been a scene of heavy battles and numerous offensives.

Clashes and airstrikes have recently intensified near the city as US-backed Syrian rebels reached the northern entrance of Raqqa, AP reported on Tuesday, citing activists.

Airstrikes in mid-May killed nearly two dozen farmworkers in a village in eastern Raqqa, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said earlier in May.

Hussein called on all forces operating in Syria to be more careful to correctly distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians.

READ MORE: Safe zones in Syria come into force: Here’s what we know about

In the meantime, O’Brien praised efforts of Iran, Russia and Turkey which established a memorandum on the creation of four de-escalation zones which came into force earlier in May.

This “memorandum that stipulates, in no uncertain terms, that fighting must significantly decrease and unhindered humanitarian access be enabled to these four areas,” he said.

‘Children tortured, subjected to sexual violence & executed’

Children remain the worst-affected group of population amid Syrian crisis, O’Brien said, adding that some 7 million children are now living in poverty in the war-torn country.

“Tens of thousands of children have been killed, and for those who have survived till today, the outlook remains bleak,” he said.

According to O’Brien, Syrian children “have been forcibly detained, they have been tortured, subjected to sexual violence, forcibly recruited and in some cases executed.”

READ MORE: Dozens of civilians, incl women & children, killed in US airstrikes in Syria – state media

He reminded that outside the country, Syrian children are “left to face an uncertain and traumatic future on their own”.

“They have become stateless, abandoned by the world,” he said.

“How are these children meant to function as adults? What future do these children have – illiterate, orphaned, starved, traumatized and maimed?” O’Brien said in an emotional plea to the UNSC.

“What future does a country have when its next generation is a lost generation? For these suffering children, what’s at stake isn’t politics. It’s their lives and their futures. It is their innocent voices, their suffering that need advocating,” he added.

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Turkey warns US against arming Syrian Kurd ‘terrorists,’ ponders end of ‘strategic partnership’

Ankara expressed disappointment with the US decision to send heavy weapons to Kurdish militants, while the Kurds praised Washington’s decision as a “historic” move that greatly expands the group’s capabilities to “fight terrorism.”

The Turkish government has asked the US to reverse its decision to broaden support for Syria’s Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (YPG), stating that it is unacceptable for a NATO ally to support “terrorist groups.”


Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) head a convoy of U.S military vehicles in the town of Darbasiya next to the Turkish border, Syria April 28, 2017. © Reuters

The decision to supply arms to Kurds would have “consequences” and a potentially “negative result” for Washington, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned on Wednesday.

“We cannot imagine [the US] making a choice between our strategic-level partnership and a terrorist organization,” Yildirim said, as quoted by the Sabah daily. “The US administration still has a chance to consider Turkey's sensitivities of highest level on the PKK. If the decision is taken otherwise, this will surely have consequences and will yield a negative result for the US as well.”

Every weapon given to the YPG represents a threat to Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavushoglu told reporters on Wednesday.

“If we support the territorial integrity of Syria, we should take lessons from the mistakes we made in Iraq and abstain from making any wrong moves. YPG and PKK are the same entity, there’s no difference between them,” Cavushoglu said, according to NTV broadcaster. “Every weapon which gets into their hands represents a threat to Turkey.”

“We cannot accept the presence of terrorist organizations that would threaten the future of the Turkish state,” Turkish Deputy PM Nurettin Canikli told broadcaster A Haber on Wednesday. “We hope the US will put a stop to this wrong and back down from it. This policy will not be beneficial to anyone; you can’t be in the same sack as terrorist organizations.”

While the YPG is a US ally in Syria, Ankara perceives it as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group in both Turkey and the US. 

As the decision to supply heavier weapons was announced, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the US “reassures the people and the government of Turkey that the US is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.”


Damaged vehicles that belonged to Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) are transported from their headquarters after it was hit by Turkish airstrikes in Mount Karachok near Malikiya, Syria April 25, 2017. © Rodi Said


The US responded to the comments by the senior Turkish officials, with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promising to “work out” concerns over arming the YPG fighters.

“We will work very closely with Turkey in support of their security on their southern border. It's Europe's southern border, and we’ll stay closely connected,” Mattis said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

The YPG militia praised the US’ decision, stating that it would boost the group’s capability to “fight terrorism.”

“We believe that from now on and after this historic decision, (the YPG) will play a stronger, more influential and more decisive role in combating terrorism at a fast pace,” Reuters cited YPG spokesman Redur Xelil as saying in a written statement.

The decision to supply weapons to YPG militia came amid recent tensions between the US and Turkey after Ankara’s strikes on Kurdish-held areas in Syria and Iraq late in April. The aerial bombing and artillery shelling killed a number of YPG militants and Iraqi Peshmerga fighters. Several civilians also perished in the strikes on Syria, according to the militia groups’ statements. Turkey, however, claimed that it had targeted solely PKK “terrorists.” Iraqi Kurds acknowledged a PKK presence in the targeted areas, but the YPG did not.

After the incident US troops arrived to the targeted locations to inspect the damage The demonstration of American military presence in the region met a harsh reaction in Ankara.

President Erdogan’s senior aide Ilnur Cevik said the US forces in Syria could be “accidentally” hit by Turkish strikes, as their presence wouldn’t shield “PKK terrorists” from Turkey’s forces.

Cevik, however, later somewhat softened his stance, stating that “has never and will never hit its allies anywhere and that includes the US in Syria,” while adding that “no one should allow our US allies to become a shield for them.” 

Erdogan threatens more strikes on US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria

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Pentagon: 45 civilians killed by coalition strikes on Islamic State

Investigations conducted during the month of March reveal that US-led coalition airstrikes targeting Islamic State killed 45 civilians, mostly in and around the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to a Pentagon statement released on Sunday.

In each incident, the Pentagon said "all feasible precautions were taken," but the strikes still resulted in "unintentional" loss of civilian life.

The report did not include findings from an ongoing investigation into a March 17 strike targeting Islamic State fighters in Mosul. That strike resulted in more than 100 civilian deaths, according to reports from residents. Last month, the US acknowledged coalition planes conducted a strike "at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties," but did not confirm the reports of high civilian casualties.

A car bomb explodes next to Iraqi special forces armored vehicles as they advance towards Islamic State held territory in Mosul in 2016A bomb explodes next to Iraqi special forces armored vehicles as they advance towards Islamic State held territory in Mosul in 2016 Credit: AP

The March 17 strike sparked outrage in Iraq and beyond with calls from local government officials as well as the United Nations for greater restraint in the fight against IS for Mosul. The United Nations reported nearly 2,000 civilians have been treated for trauma since the fight for western Mosul began in February following the formal launch of the operation to retake Mosul in October 2016.

Coalition officials have declined to give a time frame as to when the investigation into the incident will be complete.The Pentagon acknowledged at least 352 civilians have been killed by coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria since the start of the air campaign against Islamic state, also known as Isil, in 2014. Activists and monitoring groups put the number much higher. The London-based monitoring group Airwars reported that coalition strikes have killed more than 3,000 civilians in Iraq and Syria since 2014. 

Iraqi forces declared Mosul's eastern half "fully liberated" in January, but have since struggled to retake the city's western side. Claustrophobic terrain and tens of thousands of civilians being held by the extremists as human shields have bogged Iraqi and coalition forces down.

The Sunday statement also included the findings of an audit begun in March that inspected the way the US-led coalition reports and tracks civilian casualties in the fight against Islamic State. The statement said the audit found that 80 civilian deaths caused by coalition airstrikes had not been previously publicly reported and two civilian deaths previously reported were found to have not been caused by the coalition.

The US began the campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State in 2014 after the extremists pushed into Iraq from Syria, overrunning Mosul and large swaths of Iraq's north and west. Since then Iraqi forces have slowly clawed back territory. Now a cluster of western Mosul neighborhoods are the last significant urban terrain under Islamic State control in Iraq. 

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CNN uses anonymous source to push Syria/Russia 'chemical attack' conspiracy

An anonymous senior US official told CNN that, while the US allegedly has proof that Damascus is responsible for the chemical incident in Idlib, Syria, it has uncovered no such evidence implicating Moscow, because Russia is wilier in scrambling its communications.

The anonymous official reportedly told the American news channel that the US intelligence community had intercepted communications “featuring Syrian military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin attack in Idlib last week.” While the source failed to provide any concrete details about the alleged communication – such when it was intercepted or what names or other information it contained – they did note that the US “did not know prior to the attack it was going to happen.”

Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. © Ammar Abdullah

CNN speculated that the communication had been sent prior to the incident, but was not processed until the US began investigating it.

The source added that “there are no intelligence intercepts that have been found directly confirming that Russian military or intelligence officials communicated about the attack,” but noted “the likelihood is the Russians are more careful in their communications to avoid being intercepted.”

The most specific proof the source could come up with was his observation that Russia has a surveillance drone, which he claimed “flew over the hospital that was treating people injured in the attack.”

CNN suggested that even if the US had evidence of Russia’s involvement, it might not go public with it, as “the US feels right now that it has made the case that Russian support for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad must end.”

The report is the latest in a long series based on anonymous sources – with undisclosed agendas citing vague evidence which is never submitted to public scrutiny – that the mainstream media has deployed to level accusations against Russia. The story that Russia allegedly meddled in the US election has become a dominant narrative for opponents of Donald Trump, who are still trying to explain his surprise victory.

The major media outlets’ eagerness to blame Russia for everything occasionally leads to embarrassment, however. A fairly spectacular example came in January, when the Washington Post was forced to backtrack on a story that falsely claimed Russia had hacked into Vermont’s power grid. The newspaper also sparked outrage in December by touting a list of “Russian propaganda” websites, which turned out to include many respected independent media sources.

The alarming trend is not limited to the US media, however. Last year, the Guardian failed to accurately report on an Italian newspaper’s interview with Julian Assange. The British newspaper falsely painted WikiLeaks’ founder as a Trump supporter who would not criticize Moscow because he was presumably in league with the Russian government.

Some examples go back years. In 2014, the New York Times published photos of armed men, claiming that they were Russian troops on a clandestine mission in Ukraine. The newspaper had taken the images from the US State Department, and both had failed to properly verify them.

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