Today in Syria: Air strikes, protests and peace talks

Violence mars a frail ceasefire as regime and opposition leaders push forward with peace talks in Astana.

Photo by: REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
Photo by: REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

A girl blows bubbles in the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria.

Five Turkish soliders were killed and nine wounded in a car bomb attack by Daesh militants in the Suflaniyah area near Al Bab, the Turkish military said in a statement on Friday.

In response, fighter jets pounded around 200 Daesh targets in four towns around the city of Al Bab in northern Syria, killing at least 23 Daesh fighters, the Turkish military said in a statement Friday morning.

Despite a December ceasefire, fighting and air strikes continued across the country. Here's a round-up of the day's events.


Smoke rises after a car bomb explosion in Jub al Barazi east of the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria on January 15, 2017.

Al Bab

This small city east of Aleppo is of strategic importance.  Al Bab is the last Daesh-controlled city on the way to the group's stronghold in Raqqa. On Friday, shelters, defensive positions, and command centres were hit, the Turkish military said.

"Daesh is now fleeing completely from Al Bab," Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.

Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield began in late August 2016, offering artillery, air support and about 8,000 Turkish troops to support the Syrian opposition Free Syrian Army in establishing a corridor along the Turkish border in northern Syria.

Twenty-three Daesh terrorists were ‘neutralised’ in northern Syria over the last 24 hours as part of the offensive, the Turkish military said. 

Ankara uses the word "neutralised" to describe targets that were either killed, captured or surrounded.

Turkish warplanes carried out air strikes against 14 Daesh targets in Al-Bab, Bzagah, Qabbasin and Suflaniyah towns in northern Syria on Thursday.

Since the start of the operation, 3,014 handmade explosives and 43 mines have been disposed of.

Upcoming peace talks in Astana

Peace talks, arranged by Moscow, will bring together officials from Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United Nations in an attempt to resolve the crisis in Syria. 

Russia and Turkey, the brokers of the latest ceasefire deal, have extended an invitation to the United States to attend the upcoming round of peace talks in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.

Donald Trump's incoming administration has not indicated if he would attend. 

"We did get an invitation, and it's under review," US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said.

"That would be up to the incoming team to decide."

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appealed to the incoming government to send a "Middle East expert". 

Moscow was "ready to move toward effective dialogue", he said. 

The opposition delegations will include both military and political figures and will be led by Mohammed Alloush, a leader of Jaish Al Islam, according to the opposition's High Negotiations Committee (HNC).

Syria's Bashar al Assad will be represented by foreign minister Bashar Jaafari and his ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad as well as three unnamed Syrian intelligence officers.

Idlib

More than 40 fighters of Jabhat Fateh Sham (JFS) were killed in air strikes on their camp in northern Syria on Thursday night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. It was unclear whether Russia or the US launched the strikes.

JFS was formerly known Jabhat Al Nusra before it formally broke ties with the international jihadist network Al Qaeda in July 2016. Despite changing its name and leadership, the group is still sanctioned as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations Security Council, and has continued to be targeted by both the US and Russia.

Things were peaceful in Idlib city – where no strikes were reported, residents took the streets for a Friday protest – a regular tradition during the early days of the Syrian protest movement that began in 2011 that has since returned with the calm brought by the pause in fighting.

Homs

Fierce clashes continued in Syria's central Homs province, where seven soldiers of the Syrian regime army were killed by a Daesh car bomb.

At least 18 Daesh fighters were killed in the resulting fighting, which took place in the sparsely-populated villages that surround Palmyra, an ancient archaeological ruin designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.


The UNESCO chief's statements came at the release of new satellite imagery showing damage to Palmyra's Roman amphitheatre.

UNESCO's General Director Irina Bokova called Daesh's destruction of the ancient patrimonial ruins in Palmyra "a new war crime, seeking to destroy both human lives and historical monuments in order to deprive the Syrian people of its past and its future," Reuters reported Friday.

Deir Ezzor

Daesh fighters are closing in on capturing a key military airport from the Syrian regime, according to local media sources. 

A remote and resource-poor province in Syria's southeast, Deir Ezzor fell to Daesh's control in 2014, when the militants overran several hundred square kilometers of open desert. The provincial capital, also named Deir Ezzor, is a divided city – parts are under Syrian regime control, others are firmly controlled by Daesh. 

Translation: "Protesters in Maraat Al Nouman (Idlib) chant: 'Deir Ezzor - death on both sides'"

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies