The last remaining food rations are being distributed in besieged rebel-held eastern districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, the UN has said.
Humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland warned that without a resupply there would be no food left to hand out next week to the 275,000 people living there.
Mr Egeland ruled out airdrops of food, explaining that they were not possible in densely-populated urban areas.
Humanitarian agencies have been unable to get into rebel-held Aleppo since the government siege resumed in September, and the last time significant aid supplies were delivered was in July. The area is under siege by government forces with help from Russian air power.
Government forces launched a major assault on eastern Aleppo in September.
Since then, troops have pushed into several outlying areas with the help of Iranian-backed Shia militias and Russian air strikes.
On October 28, an alliance of opposition fighters, including Islamist militants, started a major offensive to break the government siege, which has been in place on eastern Aleppo since July. But their progress slowed after early gains.
The UN says weeks of air strikes and shelling have killed more than 700 civilians in the east, while rocket-fire has left scores dead in the government-controlled west.
“It is a horrendous situation,” said Egeland, the United Nations’ top envoy on humanitarian efforts in Syria.
The Norwegian diplomat said the UN appealed again last week to the conflict parties to let food, medicine and health workers into eastern Aleppo, and to allow the evacuation of some 300 patients along with their families.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that Russia is continuing its humanitarian pause of air attacks on eastern Aleppo, in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.
However, Egeland noted that continuing heavy fighting on the ground has made aid efforts impossible.
In addition, the warring sides have raised various conditions that have further complicated UN efforts.
“I haven’t seen a place where there has been so much politicization, manipulation of aid as we have seen in Syria,” he said at a press briefing.
Egeland urged the United States, which backs Syrian anti-government rebels, and Russia to use their influence to unblock the humanitarian operation.
“Parties that are sponsoring the parties on the ground have to help us more,” he said, adding that he was optimistic that a solution would be found.
In the divided city of Aleppo, regime forces made more advances Thursday into areas which were taken by opposition rebels last month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The monitoring group said regime troops and their allies managed to take over the Dahiyat al-Assad region west of the city.
In preparation for the battle to take back the Iraqi city of Mosul, reports indicate that senior Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) fighters are trying to save their wives from being captured by Iraqi forces
A local source in the Nineveh Governorate who requested anonymity told Alsumaria News on Wednesday, October 19, “In the past two days, the city of Mosul has been cleared from ‘the women of the caliphate’ — wives of the seniors of ISIS, especially the ones that carry Arab or foreign citizenships.
“They were moved to the Syrian cities under ISIS [control], including Al-Raqqah. The departure of ‘the women of the caliphate’ has been given a green light by [self-proclaimed caliph] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in order to prevent their captivity, in case Mosul will be freed by the security Iraqi forces.”
In related news, another source in the Nineveh Governorate reported that the previous day, an uprising by youth in Mosul overtook control an ISIS position. The source said that the youth killed two ISIS jihadis, burned their car and raised the Iraqi flag, before retreating to safety.
In scenes that haven’t been common since the end of the Cold War, Russian warships sailed through the English Channel early Friday in a theatrical display of Russian military might.
Britain dispatched two of its own warships to carefully monitor the Russian flotilla, which included the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, as it sailed by, reportedly enroute to the eastern Mediterranean to aid in the war in Syria.
The aircraft carrier can hold as many as 40 planes, and it is suspected that they will be used in the bombing campaign in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Given Russia’s fierce bombardment of that city, many Western military officials see the ships’ course as a slow-moving harbinger of bloodshed to come in Syria. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned the Kremlin on Thursday not to take any step that would escalate the violence.
“We are concerned that the Russian carrier group will support military operations in Syria in ways which will increase humanitarian and human suffering,” Stoltenberg said.
In Britain on Friday, there was widespread coverage of the Russian fleet sailing near English waters. British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said that it would be marked “every step of the way” as part of the government’s “steadfast commitment to keep Britain safe.”
It is routine for Britain’s Royal Navy to shadow ships, but the route taken by the Russian convoy — through the English Channel — was not routine.
“There’s huge amounts of theater here,” Paul Beaver, an aviation historian, told the BBC. He said that normally the Russians would “go around the top of Scotland, down past Hebrides, past Ireland on a deployment, and actually that’s probably the quickest route. This is very much about power play…. They want to be seen to be doing these things.”
And seen they were. Several British television stations broadcast footage of the carrier billowing black smoke as it sailed through international waters between Britain and France.
Jonathan Eyal, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said the passage through the English Channel in particular was a clear message from the Russians that “they are back” and that “anything you can do, we can do as well,” he said.
Analysts said that the move was an intentional snub toward Britain as one of Europe’s most vocal critics of Russia’s role in Syria.
“It was thanks to the U.K. that Russian action in Syria was on the agenda for this summit,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said, referring to a summit of the European Union’s 28 leaders Thursday and Friday. “It is vital that we keep up the pressure on Russia to stop the assault on Aleppo,” she told reporters.
But so far, Russia’s opponents have proven too divided to respond with any concrete measures. NATO has no plans to get involved, and at the E.U. summit, France, Germany and Britain failed to reach the unanimity required to put sanctions on the table over Russia’s actions in Syria. Diplomats warned that could change if Russia continues to contribute to Aleppo’s bombardment.
f“If Russia continues its airstrikes, it would expose itself to a response that the union would decide on, but we’re not there,” French President François Hollande said Friday after a meeting that was focused on Europe’s deteriorating relationship with the Kremlin.
Russian warships steam through English Channel as U.N. warns of war crimes in Aleppo
Russia has taken steps in recent weeks to reestablish itself as a permanent power in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean, ratifying an open-ended agreement to lease Syria’s Khmeimim air base and declaring that it will upgrade its naval facility in the Syrian port town of Tartus to a permanent naval base. The Kuznetsov will add to the firepower, both offensive and defensive, that Russia has concentrated in the region.
Aircraft flying from the Kuznetsov will increase the payload raining down daily on east Aleppo, especially if the carrier bears a full load of 40 aircraft, likely matching the current complement already on the ground.
Built during the Soviet era and launched as the Leonid Brezhnev, the aircraft carrier has deployed to the Mediterranean a total of five times during its 26 years in service, most recently in 2014. But this would be the carrier’s first combat deployment off Syria, where a Russian and Syrian blitz on the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo has brought that city to its knees.
Turkish jets bombed U.S.-backed Kurdish militants in Syria Thursday night — with each side offering vastly different figures on how many fighters were killed.
The NATO member’s military said it killed between 160 and 200 Kurdish militants north of Aleppo, according to the Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s state-run press service.
Warplanes dropped 26 bombs on 18 targets, including nine buildings being used as headquarters, shelters and an arsenal, Anadolu cited a military statement as stating.
But Mahmoud Barkhadan, a senior Kurdish commander, told The Associated Press that the death toll was far lower, putting it at no more than 10.
He said Turkish tanks had been shelling their positions since Wednesday and that the assault was joined by jets overnight. Barkhadan said around 20 of his fighters were injured.
The strikes came in Aleppo province, north of the embattled city, where the Kurds have been making advances against ISIS in recent days, the AP reported.
Both Turkey and the Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, are fighting against ISIS in Syria. The Kurds and Syrian rebels also share a common enemy in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But despite these shared goals in Syria’s complex civil war, Turkey also sees the Kurds in Syria as a growing threat as the militants recapture territory from ISIS along the Syria-Turkey border.
Furthermore, Ankara views the Syrian Kurds as an extension of its own banned Kurdish militant group, the PKK, which it considers a terrorist organization.
This has caused friction between Turkey and its NATO ally the United States, which backs the Syrian Kurds as the most effective force battling ISIS.
The attack targeted an outpost manned by the Jaish al-Ashair rebel group at the Rakban refugee camp, said Said Saif, spokesman for the Forces of Martyrs Ahmed al-Abdo Brigades, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel faction fighting against Islamic State.
Rakban is home to more than 75,000 people, among the millions of Syrians who have fled their homes during the country’s five-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of others.
Jaish al-Ashair is one of the groups that polices the camp. The blast, triggered when a bomber rammed an explosive-laden truck into the post, targeted one of its positions about 400 yards from a medical station, Saif said.
During a similar attack in July, six Jordanian border guards were killed by a suicide bomber who drove his car at speed across the border and into a military post near Rakban, which is located in a desert area near where Islamic State is present.
Russia ratified a treaty with Syria on Friday that gives Moscow its first permanent air base in the Middle East, a symbol of the Kremlin’s desire to project strength overseas, as Russian officials considered renewing other Soviet-era bases in Cuba and Vietnam.
Friday’s developments were largely symbolic: With the onslaught of Russian airstrikes in Syria, Moscow has left no doubt about its commitment to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told lawmakers Friday that the ministry is considering the possibility of establishing footholds far away from Russia’s borders, but there’s no clear evidence that Cuba or Vietnam would be open to the return of the Russian military.
But it’s clear that Moscow is acting on bringing to life President Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia as a global military power at a time when tensions between Moscow and Washington are as high as they’ve been since the Cold War.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry called Friday for the Syrian and Russian governments to face a war-crimes investigation over attacks on civilians in Syria. Moscow has rejected accusations that its airstrikes are targeting civilians and insists that its goal in Syria is to assist Assad in the fight against terrorism.
Russia warned Thursday that its advanced air defenses in Syria would be ready to fight off a U.S. strike against the Syrian army, and the newspaper Kommersant quoted a military source Friday as saying Russian forces have authorization to “shoot to kill” if they come under attack.
The broad, open-ended agreement ratified by the Russian parliament Friday allows the Kremlin to indefinitely maintain a military deployment in Syria “aimed at maintaining peace and stability in the region.” The contract can be terminated by Russia or Syria with one year’s notice and went into effect Aug. 26, 2015, the day it was signed.
Putin submitted it to the Russian parliament for ratification in August of this year, and the government has not given an official reason for the delay. The Russia-Syria treaty was unexpectedly published on the government’s clearinghouse for official documents in January, allowing our colleague Michael Birnbaum to translate and break down the agreement.
“Russian military personnel and shipments can pass in and out of Syria at will and aren’t subject to controls by Syrian authorities,” the document says. “Syrians can’t enter Russian bases without Russia’s permission. And Russia disclaims any responsibility for damage caused by its activities inside Syria.”
Additionally, according to the agreement, Russia receives use of the Khmeimim aviation base with no fee and does not have to pay taxes in Syria.
Kommersant reported Friday that military officials are considering deploying Su-25 ground-attack aircraft at Khmeimim that Putin ordered out of Syria in March, saying that the Russian military had fulfilled its mission. The newspaper, quoting a “high-ranking military source,” said that two guided-missile ships would join the Russian naval task force in the Mediterranean Sea, to be bolstered later also
by a strike force led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which that will set off for Syria later this month.
With the Russian military presence in Syria formalized, a lawmaker asked a senior defense official about the bases in Vietnam and Cuba, closed in the early 2000s.
Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said the military is “reviewing” the decision to close the Lourdes signals intelligence base in Cuba and the deepwater Cam Ranh naval base in Vietnam, but did not offer specifics, according to Russian news agencies. “As for our presence on faraway outposts, we are working on this,” Pankov said.
In 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to pull back from Cuba and Vietnam as he sought to bolster ties with the United States. The U.S.-Russian relations now have plunged to the lowest point since the Cold War times amid strain over Syria and Ukraine.
Putin has openly criticized the United States for failing to reciprocate on Russia’s drawdown of its Soviet-era military reach. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its entry into the war in Syria have underscored Moscow’s newly assertive foreign policy.
Asked Friday about the possibility of the Russian military’s return to Cuba and Vietnam, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from specific comment, but added that the global situation requires various players to mull possible responses.
“Naturally, all countries assess those changes from the point of view of their national interests and take steps they consider necessary,” he told reporters.
When Putin ordered the military withdrawal from Cuba and Vietnam, Russia was still reeling from its post-Soviet economic meltdown. Putin cited the need to cut costs when he explained reasons behind his move to the military.
Windfall oil revenues in recent years have filled the government’s coffers with petrodollars, allowing the Kremlin to fund an ambitions weapons modernization program and turn the military into a more mobile modern force.
Amid the deterioration of ties with the West, the military began pondering plans to re-establish its global presence. A small naval supply facility in the Syrian port of Tartus is now the navy’s only outpost outside the former Soviet Union.
Oleg Nilov of A Just Russia, one of the factions in the Kremlin-controlled lower house, pointed at the U.S. and its NATO allies’ deployment near Russian borders as he argued that Russia needs to regain its Soviet-era bases
“It’s time to reach agreements to return to faraway outposts if they don’t understand the language of diplomacy,” he said during debates.
Tensions between Russia and The United States are reaching levels not seen since the Cold War.
The latest piece of evidence comes to us from Syria, where Russian diplomats have now threatened to shoot down any American warplanes that come too close for comfort, all the while ignoring the ceasefire in the war-torn country.
“The Russian Embassy in Washington threatened to shoot down U.S. aircraft in Syria with the newly-acquired anti-aircraft missiles in the war-torn country.
“’All jokes aside, #Russia will take every defensive measure necessary to protect its personnel stationed in #Syria from terrorist threat,’ said the embassy’s tweet.
“Relations between the two countries has diminished significantly in the last two weeks. The threat is the latest provocative action in a series of statements and gestures Russia has made in response to U.S. involvement in Syria.
This bold tweet comes at a time in which Secretary of State John Kerry has discontinued diplomatic talks with the Russians after their erratic behavior and unwillingness to work with The United States to protect the Syrian people. These developments are truly alarming, and we will continue to update you on the story.