Russia says US is “pretending to fight ISIS”

Russian defense ministry spokesman Maj.-General Igor Konashenkov Tuesday accused the United States of deliberately reducing air strikes in Iraq, to allow the jihadists to stream across into eastern Syria and slow the Russian-backed advance of the Syrian army. As a result, ISIS in large numbers had reached Deir ez-Zour and were digging in on the left bank of the River Euphrates. The Russian spokesman said Syrian troops were in the midst of trying to push Islamic State out of the city of al-Mayadin, southeast of Deir al-Zor, but that ISIS was reinforcing its ranks there with “foreign mercenaries” pouring in from Iraq. Continue reading

Russians building army base at Syria’s Palmyra site

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Russian base seen in satellite photo. Photo: ASOR/DigiGlobe

 

Beirut: The Russian military is constructing a new army base in the central Syrian town of Palmyra, within the protected zone that holds the archaeological site listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site and without asking for permission from relevant authorities, an American heritage organisation and a top Syrian archaeologist said Tuesday.

The American School of Oriental Research’s Cultural Heritage Initiative posted pictures from the satellite imagery and analytics company DigitalGlobe that show the construction on the edge of the ancient site that was damaged by the Islamic State group, which held Palmyra for 10 months.

A UNESCO official said it was unclear whether the encampment was in a buffer zone to the archaeological site but said it does not form a threat to the historic area. Continue reading

Russia suspects Turkey is preparing for incursion into Syria

The Russian Defense Ministry said it has observed “a growing number of signs of hidden preparation of the Turkish armed forces for active actions on the territory of Syria.”

Ankara responded by saying it has the right to to protect its security and accused Russia of diverting attention from its own “crimes” in Syria. Continue reading

US, UK, French elite units on standby for seizing Syrian chemical weapons

US C130 transports stand ready at Middle East air bases to fly into Syria US elite units especially trained in combat against chemical and biological weapons and tactics for securing their arsenals. Western intelligence sources reported Thursday, Aug. 23 that those units are on standby at bases in Israel and Jordan. Their assignments are to engage Syrian troops attempting to move those unconventional weapons systems to battle fronts or Hizballah and to prevent them falling into the hands of radical Islamic rebel fighters, especially Al Qaeda.

Those elite units have been issued with special equipment for chemical and biological warfare including anti-contamination suits. The transports are also fitted with purification equipment for operating in polluted terrain.

Also on standby for stealthy raids into Syria are British special operations forces in Cyprus and French units trained in unconventional warfare in Jordan. Thursday morning, President Obama talked by phone to British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande to wrap up the details of their combined operation in Syria, effectively the onset of direct Western intervention in the Syrian conflict.

Some – though not all – of the targeted stockpiles of shells and missile warheads are located around centers of the fiercest fighting in Syria’s civil war such as Aleppo in the north.  They may be inadequately guarded since the Syrian ruler may have been forced to throw the units securing them into battle against rebel forces.

Important stress was laid by Obama in his comments Monday on the fact that he had not ordered US military engagement in Syria “at this point.”  In other words, beyond that point, he was free to change that order. debkafile’s military sources report that direct American military involvement in the Syrian conflict has to all intents and purposes begun and looks like expanding in the coming days.

This is a sharp reversal of the military situation in the Middle East. It could lead to all-out warfare exploding in Syria possibly involving Hizballah ahead of a strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons, although this strike could unfold from the Syrian campaign – during its course or at its conclusion.

Washington is hoping that its direct action in Syria, aside from grappling with the unconventional warfare menace looming over the region, may persuade Tehran to cave into American demands for halting uranium enrichment and turn it aside from its race for a nuclear weapon in order to save itself from attack.

Full article: US, UK, French elite units on standby for seizing Syrian chemical weapons (DEBKAfile)

Syria crisis: Fierce fighting erupts near Damascus

Fierce fighting has been reported between Syrian troops and rebel forces in the suburbs of the capital Damascus.

Witnesses say it is some of the most intense violence in the area since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began more than a year ago.

Reports from activists, which cannot be verified, say rebels clashed with Syria’s elite Republican Guard.

The violence came as Turkey issued a stark warning to its neighbour Syria over the downing of a jet last week.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliament that if Syrian troops approached Turkey’s borders, they would be seen as a military threat.

Correspondents say it is rare for fighting to take place near Republican Guard bases and suggests a growing confidence among the rebels.

The elite Republican Guard, commanded by President Bashar al-Assad’s younger brother Maher, is tasked with protecting the capital.

State TV confirmed the fighting but said dozens of “terrorists” had been killed and many others taken prisoner, including foreign fighters.

It said large numbers of armed rebels had moved into al-Hama and tried to take control of a main road to the west in order to bring in more arms and fighters.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP: “This is the first time that the regime has used artillery in fighting so close to the capital.

“This development is important because it’s the heaviest fighting in the area and close to the heart of the capital.”

Earlier, Mr Erdogan spoke of Turkey’s “rage” at Syria’s decision to shoot down the F-4 Phantom last Friday and described Syria as a “clear and present threat”.

“A short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack,” he said.

Full article: Syria crisis: Fierce fighting erupts near Damascus (BBC News)