The long road to Raqqa

The Raqqa offensive (codenamed Operation Wrath of Euphrates), is an ongoing military operation launched by the Syrian Democratic Forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Raqqa Governorate, with the goal of isolating and eventually capturing the Islamic State’s capital city, Raqqa. Another one of the main goals is to capture the Tabqa Dam and the nearby city of Al-Thawrah. The offensive has also been dubbed the Battle to End All Battles in the War on ISIL. The offensive is concurrent with the Turkish anti-ISIL Battle of al-Bab, the Battle of Mosul in Iraq, the Battle of Sirte (2016) in Libya, the Palmyra offensive (December 2016) launched by ISIL, and a reignition of fighting in Deir ez-Zor’s siege.


Heartbreaking last Tweets from inside besieged Aleppo

As Syrian government forces take the last enclaves of rebel-held Aleppo, people trapped there sent their pleas for help out to the wider world.
Activist @Linashamy Lina Shamy’s last distress call from besieged Aleppo: “All those who hear me must move now to save civilians in Aleppo.”
— هادي العبدالله Hadi (@HadiAlabdallah) December 12, 2016
My dad is injured now. I am crying.-Bana #Aleppo
— Bana Alabed (@AlabedBana) December 12, 2016
this is a call and might be the last call.
Save Aleppo people. Save my daughter and other children. #StandWithAleppo
— @Mr.Alhamdo (@Mr_Alhamdo) December 12, 2016
Understand this. I can’t simply surrender and being captive. I am speaking out and this is a crime. I might then ask death and not got it.
— @Mr.Alhamdo (@Mr_Alhamdo) December 12, 2016

I can tweet now but I might not do it forever. please save my daughter’s life and others. this is a call from a father.
— @Mr.Alhamdo (@Mr_Alhamdo) December 12, 2016
Final message – people are dying since last night. I am very surprised I am tweeting right now & still alive. – Fatemah #Aleppo
— Bana Alabed (@AlabedBana) December 12, 2016
Last message from this old man in Aleppo: ‘We don’t have anything left. Oh Arabs, where are you? We are being slaughtered. Safe us.’
— Sakir Khader (@sakirkhader) December 12, 2016

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East Aleppo : ‘No place for people to live’

Residents in rebel-controlled east Aleppo – now down to a handful of neighbourhoods – say they fear retribution if they flee to government-held areas. Aisha, a mother of three children, is one of them. Last week, she and her family fled farther south in Aleppo when government forces took over her neighbourhood. Despite the bombings, weak utilities and sanitation, and depleting food supply, Aisha says she prefers to live in rebel areas. “We’re hearing about the army taking and arresting people, so I’m content to wait for a route to open so I can go to live with my family in the countryside,” she said. Hundreds of men from Aleppo went missing after entering government territory, including some of Aisha’s family members with whom she lost contact. After the military onslaught that began three weeks ago, the Syrian army is now controlling around 85 percent of previously rebel-held parts of  east Aleppo. The UN and rebel sources say 100,000 people are now in east Aleppo, crammed into a handful of neighbourhoods that amount to around 15 percent of the area the rebels held three weeks ago.

Last stand for Aleppo’s rebels

The Syrian army and its allied militias are pushing deeper into east Aleppo as rebel lines collapse and their last urban stronghold looks closer than ever to falling. The fighters withdrew from at least six more east Aleppo neighbourhoods in the face of goverment advances, including al-Salheen, al-Firdous and Bustan al-Qasr, once one of the most fortified districts under opposition control.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said at least 60 people were killed by gunfire or shelling as government forces pushed into the Aleppo’s remaining opposition-held districts. “The battle of Aleppo has reached its end. It is just a matter of a small period of time, no more, no less … it’s a total collapse,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the UK-based monitoring network’s director. Syrian refugees in the Turkish border city of Gaziantep and the capital Istanbul held solidarity protests on Monday night in support of the people in east Aleppo, as the government stepped up its bombardment. 

Inside the Free Syrian Army

The Free Syrian Army is a group of defected Syrian Armed Forces officers and soldiers, founded during the Syrian Civil War on 29 July 2011 by seven  or eight  defected Syrian officers. The group defined “all [Syrian] security forces attacking civilians” as their enemies,  and said its goal was “to bring down the system”  or “to bring this regime down”.  By January 2016, the FSA consists of “about 27 larger factions, each comprised of an average of 1,000 fighters as well as some smaller units or localized militias”, with there being “thousands” of the latter kinds of brigades of various sizes.
On 23 September 2011, the Free Syrian Army merged with the Free Officers Movement  ‎, Ḥarakat aḑ-Ḑubbāṭ al-Aḥrār); Western observers like The Wall Street Journal considered the FSA since then the main military defectors group.  90% of the FSA consists of Sunni Muslims,  but a small minority are (Shia) Alawites  and some Druze fought in FSA units. Some FSA units are led by Druze.  As for further ethnic minorities, a Palestinian rebel commander in the Yarmouk enclave in southern Damascus in 2012 considered his rebel brigade to be part of FSA.
The FSA coordinated with the Syrian National Council starting in December 2011,  and supported the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces after the coalition’s November 2012 creation.  Between July 2012 and July 2013, ill-discipline and infighting weakened FSA, while jihadist groups entered northern Syria and became more effective than FSA.  In April 2013, the US promised $123 million aid to rebels, to be funneled through the then leader of the FSA, Salim Idriss. Since February 2014, Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir is the appointed Chief of Staff and leader of the FSA. A coalition of moderate Muslim rebel groups fighting under the Supreme Military Council of Syria, which includes the FSA, on 25 September 2014 allied with a predominantly Christian coalition called Syriac Military Council, to unite their fight against the Assad government and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS, IS).

Syria War : A man carries a baby wrapped in a blanket

A man carries a baby wrapped in a blanket through rubble following air strikes on the town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region, a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus.

Syrian War : At night in Aleppo

The Aleppo offensive is an operation that started on 16 October when the Syrian Army launched a large-scale strategic offensive south of Aleppo. The main objective of the operation is to secure the Azzan Mountains, while also creating a larger buffer-zone around the Syrian Government’s only highway leading to the provincial capital.  The objective was also reportedly to set conditions for an upcoming offensive to isolate rebel forces in Aleppo City and to relieve the long-standing siege of a pro-government enclave in Aleppo Province. 
Gen. Qasem Soleimani was reported to have personally led the drive deep into the southern Aleppo countryside where many town and villages have been taken by Government forces. Gen. Soleimani has been in command of the Syrian Arab Army’s 4th Mechanized Division, Hezbollah, Harakat Al-Nujaba (Iraqi), Kataebat Hezbollah (Iraqi), Liwaa Abu Fadl Al-Abbas (Iraqi), and Firqa Fatayyemoun (Afghan/Iranian volunteers).  The Syrian government’s progress deep into the southern Aleppo countryside has been attributed in large part to the Iranian leadership during the offensive.
The origins of the planning of the offensive in Aleppo could be traced back to Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s visit to Moscow in July 2015. Gen. Soleimani was reportedly sent to Syria by the supreme leader of Iran himself, Ali Khamenei, in order to discuss military matters with his Russian couterparts and coordinate a joint escalation of forces in Syria. One month before the offensive south of Aleppo, the military launched another operation east of the city in an attempt to break the two-year siege of the Kuweyres military air base.
At 10 A.M. (Damascus Time) on the morning of 16 October, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) – in coordination with Hezbollah, the National Defense Forces (NDF), and Al-Ba’ath Battalions – launched their large-scale southern Aleppo offensive after almost one year of inactivity along this rural area in the Azzan Mountains. According to field reports from the provincial capital, the Syrian Armed Forces and Hezbollah captured four sites from the Islamist rebels of Jabhat Al-Shamiyah (Levantine Front), Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), killing a number of combatants in the process of their advance in the Aleppo Governorate’s southern countryside.
Christopher Kozak of the Institute for the Study of War speculated that the assault was nothing more than a diversionary tactic intended to move rebel forces away from reopening the access to Nubl and cut the Aleppo–Turkey highway, their primary objective in his opinion. Hezbollah’s main incentive in participating in the offensive is believed to be similar to their agenda elsewhere, securing Shi’ite villages. Their ultimate objective is believed to be reaching the villages of Kafriya and Al-Fu’ah, thus lifting the siege imposed by Al-Nusra Front. With reportedly hundreds of square kilometers brought under government control within the span of the first month of the offensive, Al-Masdar concluded that the overall effectiveness of both the senior Iranian revolutionary guards on the ground as well as the close Russian air-support have been noted as part of the main array of factors leading to a revitalized advance by government forces.

Russian Airstrikes in Syria – People mourn over bodies of people

People mourn over bodies of people, who died during what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force on a busy market place in the town of Ariha, during their funeral in Idlib province.