Russia sends more warships as Syrian army strengthens position

Syrian pro-government forces walk around in the village of Minian, west of Aleppo, after they retook the area from rebel fighters on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2016
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Russia sends more warships as Syrian army strengthens position

BEIRUT/MOSCOW/ANKARA: Backed by huge Russian support, the Syrian army captured the Dahiyet Assad district of western Aleppo on Saturday, reversing all the gains made by rebels two weeks into their counter-attack against government-held areas, a war monitor and rebel official said.
In a related development, a flotilla of Russian warships is ready in the eastern Mediterranean off the Syrian coast after being sent to reinforce Russia’s military in the area, a naval commander said on state television.
State television said the army swept the suburban area for land mines after regaining full control.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said the army and its allies made several advances on the divided city’s western edge this week, hampering the rebel offensive to break the siege on opposition-held districts.
Syrian government forces took Minian village and nearby positions, which were captured by rebels last month, the Observatory said.
Zakaria Malahifji, head of the political office of the Fastaqim rebel group fighting in Aleppo, confirmed the army’s advances.
“Of course, when the regime takes control, it has a negative effect, but there is persistence” among the factions, he said. “And hopefully there will be change in the coming days.”
Syrian government forces launched a major Russian-backed assault on eastern Aleppo in September after besieging the area, which the United Nations says is home to 275,000 people.

Russian warship flotilla
The commander of Russia’s flagship Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, Sergei Artamonov, said via videolink that the warships are now in the “designated zone... in the eastern Mediterranean” and “are now jointly carrying out tasks, manoeuvering to the west of the Syrian coast.”
The battle group has traveled to Syria from the North Sea through the English Channel in the biggest such naval deployment in recent years as part of Russia’s military intervention in Syria.
Russia has been flying a bombing campaign in Syria for the past year in support of President Bashar Assad and has deployed a naval contingent to back up its operation.
The naval task force has been monitored closely by NATO, whose chief Jens Stoltenberg voiced concern the ships would be used to support the Russian military operation in Syria and “increase human and civilian suffering.” The ship’s commander was speaking to a presenter on Russia-1 television from inside the Defense Ministry for a news show that will air this evening in Moscow.
He confirmed that aircraft are already taking off from the ship’s deck to view the conflict zone.
“The flights have been going on practically every day for the last four days,” he added.
Russia’s Interfax news agency on Friday had cited a Russian military and diplomatic source as saying that Russian MiG and Sukhoi jets have been regularly flying into Syrian airspace from the Kuznetsov to “determine combat missions.” The Russian television channel also spoke to the commander of the Pyotr Veliky nuclear-powered battle cruiser, which is part of the same flotilla.
Asked whether foreign aircraft were flying over the ships, the commander, Vladislav Malakhovsky, said “they are afraid to come closer than 50 kms away, realizing very well how powerful the nuclear cruiser is.”

New Aleppo
humanitarian pauses
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday it would need the UN mission in Syria to formally confirm its ability to deliver aid to eastern Aleppo before Moscow agreed to any new humanitarian pauses in fighting in the shattered Syrian city.
Moscow says previous temporary cease-fires on the ground, called to allow aid deliveries and the evacuation of the wounded and civilians, have come to nothing because rebels have opened fire on anyone trying to come in or out.
Rebels contest that and say it is the Syrian army and its allies who have sabotaged the humanitarian pauses.

Turkish airstrikes kill 18 ISIS men
Meanwhile, Turkey’s military said it has killed 18 Daesh militants in northern Syria over the last 24 hours, intensifying strikes against the militant group.
Four buildings and one vehicle used by the ISIS fighters were destroyed in the strikes, an army statement said. Separately, five Turkey-backed rebels and five ISIS militants were killed in clashes on the ground, the army said in its statement.
Turkey is backing a group of Syrian Arabs and Turkmen in northern Syria in its Euphrates Shield operation, which has swept ISIS from its southern border.
The hard-line Sunni group claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack in the Turkish southeastern city of Diyarbakir that killed 11 last week.


Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

Updated 18 September 2018
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Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

  • Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport
  • Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the country

TRIPOLI: New clashes flared between rival militias south of Libya’s capital Tripoli on Tuesday, causing widespread power outages, the national electricity firm said.
The fighting underscored the fragility of a United Nations-backed cease-fire reached earlier this month after days of deadly violence between armed groups in the capital, beset by turmoil since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport, according to witnesses including an AFP journalist.
Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the North African nation’s south and west.
Fighting which broke out late last month killed at least 63 people and wounded 159 others — mostly civilians — before the cease-fire came into effect on September 4.
Last week, the capital’s only working airport came under rocket fire just days after reopening following the truce.
Mitiga International Airport, located in a former military base that includes a prison, is currently controlled by the Special Deterrence Forces, a Salafist militia which serves as Tripoli’s police force and has been involved in clashes around the capital.
Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour said Monday that a “regular force” would be tasked with securing the airport.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame later reported 14 cease-fire violations around Tripoli, but sought to play them down, saying the deal had been “generally respected.”
Tripoli’s main airport has been out of action since it was severely damaged by similar clashes in 2014.
Since Qaddafi’s fall in 2011, oil-rich Libya has been rocked by violence between dozens of armed groups vying for control of its cities and vast oil resources.
A UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 established the Government of National Accord (GNA) in a bid to ease the chaos.
But deep divisions remain between the GNA and rivals including military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Libya and backs a competing authority.
The GNA last week announced a series of measures to secure the capital and curb the influence of militias over state institutions and banks.