"And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness, the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief. "

Khalil Gibran (How I Became a Madman)

Lübnan Marunîleri / Yasin Atlıoğlu


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Syrian Army Repels Al-Nusra Front Offensive Near Golan Heights- Sputnik News

The Syrian Army and popular forces beat back a series of attacks by the Al-Nusra Front terrorist group in the country’s southern Quneitra province near the Golan Heights on Saturday leaving scores of militants killed and wounded, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.

Geagea to Nasrallah: If March 8 Won Nominations Battle, then it Must Attend Feb. 8 Polls- Nahanet

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea urged on Saturday the March 8 camp to head to parliament on February 8 to take part in the presidential elections.
He said via Twitter: “If Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah believes that the camp achieved a victory in the presidential nominations, why doesn't his camp head to the polls in February?”
Nasrallah had declared on Friday that his party would head to parliament “tomorrow” if it guarantees that Change and Reform bloc chief MP Michel Aoun would be elected president.
Addressing Nasrallah's remark that “no one can impose anything on our allies,” Geagea said: “Where was this claim when his non-allies were forced to name Najib Miqati as premier?”
The Hizbullah leader also reiterated on Friday his commitment to the election of his ally Aoun as head of state.

Jumblat to Nasrallah: If Iran isn't Blocking Presidential Polls, Why Hasn't Quorum Been Met at Parliament?- Naharnet

Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat questioned on Saturday the criticism that was indirectly addressed to him by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah for his recent “sarcastic remarks on Iran's democracy,” saying that “based on the several meetings I have held with him, I recall that he has a political sense of humor.”
He said in his weekly editorial in the PSP-affiliated al-Anbaa website: “I was therefore suprised at the reactions that were made over marginal comments I made over the Islamic Republic and its role in obstructing Lebanon's presidential elections.”
“If Iran was indeed not hindering the elections, as you are claiming, then any citizen has the right to ask what are the real reasons for the lack of quorum at electoral sessions?” he asked in an indirect reference to Nasrallah.
He noted that this question holds more significance now that both presidential candidates are members of the March 8 alliance.

Isis kills at least 60 people in triple suicide bomb attack near holiest Shia shrine in Syria capital Damascus- The Independent

Isis has claimed responsibility for a triple bomb attack near the most holy Shia mosque in Syria that has killed more than 60 people.
Suicide bombers detonated an explosive at a bus stop in capital Damascus, before triggering more blasts as rescuers rushed to help those hurt.
Hundreds are thought to have been injured near the mosque, which is situated in the mainly Shia district, Sayyida Zeinab.
The ministry initially reported 45 people were killed, but local police said the death toll was set to rise.
"Dozens were injured. Some of those injured are in a critical condition," a spokesperson said.

IŞİD Şam'da Şii bölgesini hedef aldı: En az 45 ölü, 100'den fazla yaralı- Sputnik News

Suriye İçişleri Bakanlığı, başkent Şam'da bir Şii türbesi yakınlarında art arda meydana gelen üç ayrı bombalı saldırıda en az 45 kişinin hayatını kaybettiğini, 110 kişinin yaralandığını duyurdu.

Şam merkezi yakınlarındaki Seyyide Zeynep Türbesi yakınlarında bu sabah üç ayrı bombalı saldırı meydana geldi.

Russia deploys Su-35 fighters to Syria- Defence Blog

Russia deploys reinforcements to to Syria. Up to four Su-35s are now believed to have joined the four Su-30SMs,  already present at Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP, Lattakia Governorate.
As the leader of a group of fighters Su-35S acts board “05” Red RF-95815, followed by “06” Red RF-95816, “04” and the red “03” red (presumably serial numbers 02517, 02518).
The Sukhoi Su-35 (NATO reporting name: Flanker-E) is a designation for two separate, heavily upgraded derivatives of the Su-27 ‘Flanker’ jet plane. They are single-seat, twin-engine,supermaneuverable multirole fighters, designed by Sukhoi and built by Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KnAAPO).

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Syria peace talks finally begin after delays- CNN

After days of delays, the Syrian peace talks led by the United Nations kicked off Friday -- though the exact parties involved remains to be seen.
The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said Friday that he had met with a "substantial" delegation from the Syrian government.
Friday's meeting was a preparatory one, de Mistura told reporters.
Substantive talks will have to wait until members of an umbrella opposition group called the High Negotiations Committee arrive in Geneva, which de Mistura said wouldn't be before Sunday or Monday.
The committee told CNN on Friday it will take part in the peace talks. They said they decided to participate in the talks to test the seriousness of the Syrian government, through negotiations with the United Nations team.

YPG responds to Syrian airstrike on Kurdish district by bombing pro-Assad security checkpoint in Aleppo- Ara News

Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) bombed on Friday a security checkpoint for forces loyal to president Basahr al-Assad in Syria’s Aleppo, killing and wounding a number of security troops.
At least four pro-Assad security members were killed and seven others injured under mortar shells fired by the YPG fighters in Aleppo.
The YPG leadership said in a statement that the operation comes in response to Syrian airstrikes that hit the Kurdish-populated district of Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo.
On Wednesday, the Syrian regime’s air force hit Sheikh Maqsoud district with several barrel bombs, killing and wounding a number of civilians. At least five people were killed, including two children, and nine others were injured in the regime’s bombardment in the Kurdish district.
“Any group attacks peaceful civilians should face justice. All pro-Assad troops will be a target if they continue striking Kurdish areas with barrel bombs or other weapons,” the YPG leadership said in a statement on Friday evening. 

Yüksek Müzakere Heyeti Cenevre’ye Katılıyor- Suriye Muhalif ve Devrimci Güçler Ulusal Koalisyonu

Suriyeli devrimci ve muhaliflerin katılımıyla gerçekleştirilen Riyad konferansı çerçevesinde oluşturulan Yüksek Müzakere Heyeti, Cenevre görüşmelerine katılacağını duyurdu. Heyet yaptığı açıklamada, Birleşmiş Milletler ve uluslararası toplumdan gerekli garantileri aldığını ifade etti.
Yüksek Müzakere Heyeti yaptığı açılamada, “Birleşmiş Milletler heyeti ile yaptığımız görüşmelerde diğer taraftan aldığımız yeni haberler çerçevesinde siyasi sürece katılma kararı aldık” ifadelerine yer verdi.
Açıklamada şu ifadeler yer aldı;
“Müzakere sürecine başlamak için uluslararası taahhütler ve insani taleplerin uygulanması için katılım kararı alınmıştır. Bu vesile ile gerekli bütün yetkilere sahip bir Geçiş Süreci Yönetim Kurulu oluşturularak siyasi sürecin hayata geçirilmesi istenmektedir.”
Açıklama şu şekilde devam etti;
“Yüksek Müzakere Heyeti, kardeş ve dost ülkelerin desteğini görüşmüştür. Özellikle Suudi Arabistan Dış İşleri Bakanı Adil Cubeyir’in dün yapılan görüşmede; Suudi Arabistan’ın Yüksek Müzakere Heyeti’nin kararını desteklediğini ifade etmesi cesaret verici olmuştur.”

Syria conflict: Key opposition group to join Geneva talks- BBC News

The main Syrian opposition group has said it will join peace talks that have opened in Geneva.
The Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC) earlier said it would only join if Syrian government forces ended their air strikes and blockades.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has already met the Syrian government's delegation in the Swiss city.
More than 250,000 people have died and 11 million have fled their homes in almost five years of war in Syria.
The Syrian civil war has also been the biggest driver behind Europe's migration crisis.
On Saturday, at least 39 migrants, among them children, drowned in the Aegean Sea while trying to cross from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.

Suriye muhalefetinin diplomasi direnişi- Al-Jazeera Turk

Suriye muhalefeti Cenevre’ye gelmek için şartlar öne sürerek, hem ABD’den hem BM’den güvenceler aldı. Kendileri olmadan Cenevre görüşmelerinin tiyatrodan öte gitmeyeceğini de dünyaya kanıtladı. Ancak bu yalnızca başlangıç.Muhalefetin diplomasi direnişi de zorlu geçeceğe benziyor.

Syrian Opposition in Geneva for Peace Talks- VOA

Members of Syria's main opposition group arrived in Geneva Saturday, but it is not clear whether the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee will participate directly in U.N.-backed talks on a political settlement of the Syrian civil war.
Despite the absence of the opposition delegation, U.N. officials opened the talks Friday in Geneva the first international effort for a peace settlement since earlier U.N. negotiations collapsed in 2014.  
Talks began with a meeting between the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and a Syrian government delegation headed by the country's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Jaafari.

Turkey says Russia violated its airspace again — but there's not much Turkey can do about it- Business Insider

On Friday, a Russian SU-34 jet violated Turkish airspace despite receiving radar warnings, Turkey's foreign ministry said on Saturday.
The Russian ambassador was summoned over the incident.
On Saturday, the Turkish ministry said in a statement that the violation was a clear sign thatRussia wanted issues between the two countries to escalate.
Russia will "have to face consequences if it keeps up such violations," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned following the incident.
Russian warplanes have been conducting airstrikes in Syria since late September, sometimes causing tension with Turkey when its planes come too close to the Turkish border.
These tensions first came to a head in late November, when a Russian warplane allegedly violated Turkish airspace and was shot down by Turkish F-16s.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Al Nusrah Front chief proposed rebel unity plan- The Long War Journal

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has discussed a possible merger with some of its closest allies, according to well-connected jihadists online.
The news was first reported on Twitter by a user known as Muzamjir al Sham. His tweets drew responses from others, including Abu Ammar al Shami. Jihadists have identified Abu Ammar as a veteran al Qaeda member in Syria.
Abu Ammar offered his summary of the talks in a series of tweets on Jan. 27. Earlier this month, Al Nusrah called together the various factions that make up Jaysh al Fath, a coalition that swept through the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib last year. The al Qaeda branch proposed a “full merger,” meaning that the groups would fold their operations into a single entity with a unified leadership, according to Abu Ammar.
Two unnamed “scholars” attended the proceedings as “witnesses” and to oversee the talks, Abu Ammar explained. After they spoke, the head of each Jaysh al Fath faction addressed their allies.
The final person to speak was Abu Muhammad al Julani, Al Nusrah’s emir (or leader).

Hasty Retreat: Terrorists on the Run as Syrian Army Advances in Aleppo- Sputnik News

Syrian troops and popular defense forces (NDF), on Thursday, regained control over the town of Bluzah in the country’s northwestern Aleppo province, Iran’s Fars news agency reported on Thursday.

Will Syrian regime's advances on the ground strengthen their position in Geneva?- Al-Monitor

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian regime forces achieved significant progress on the front opened in October on Latakia's countryside by controlling the town of Salma in the north of the province Jan. 12. On this same date, another military offensive opened on the southern countryside of Hama, specifically on the Homs-Hama border.

The offensive began when the regime forces took control of the village of Jarjisa north of al-Rastan lake — which separates the provinces of Homs and Hama — and advanced eastward toward the village of Hirbnafsah — controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamic factions. Intense artillery shelling by the regime forces was met with violent clashes with Jabhat al-Nusra militants and other factions.
The Syrian Arab News Agency did not cover the regime offensive on Hirbnafsah very extensively, only reporting Jan. 19 on the Syrian air force's destruction of vehicles of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters in the town. The National Defense Forces announced via YouTube that the regime forces were able to control the al-Madajen area north of Hirbnafsah on Jan. 20, a victory corroborated by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Road to Geneva: the Who, When, and How of Syria’s Peace Talks (Aron Lund- Carnegie Middle East)

A new round of Syrian peace talks, known as Geneva III, was supposed to begin on January 25 but ended up being postponed to January 29. Now that the day has arrived, they’re still not quite ready to begin—but UN envoy Staffan de Mistura is putting on a brave face. He has already met with the Syrian government delegation headed by President Bashar al-Assad’s UN representative Bashar al-Jaafari, but other invitees remain absent.
The reasons for these delays are complex, but the primary issue is a dispute over who should be allowed to represent the Syrian opposition and perhaps whether it is useful to think in terms of a single Syrian opposition at all. Opposition groups and individuals who participated in the December Riyadh meeting as well as Russian-backed individuals have been invited in various capacities, while so far Kurdish groups are excluded. And while no one expects any significant progress toward a resolution of the Syria conflict to emerge from the meetings, de Mistura is hard at work trying to establish Geneva III as a framework for conflict management and the mitigation of Syrians’ horrific suffering.

Ankara Cenevre pokerinde kazandı, ya sonra?- DW

Türkiye, PYD’nin Cenevre’de yapılacak toplantıya katılmasını bloke ederek diplomatik bir zafer kazansa da Suriye’de akan kanın durması için doğru adımı attığı tartışılır.
Uluslararası kamuoyu, Suriye’de altıncı yılına giren savaşta şu ana kadar kanı durdurmakta ve silahlı döngünün derinleşmesini engellemekte aciz kalsa da bir çıkış yolu bulabilmek için diplomatik arenada çabalamaktan vazgeçmiyor. Birleşmiş Milletler’ in öncülüğünde Cenevre’de yapılması planlanan, Suriye’nin kanlı sahnesine taraf olan aktörleri uzlaştırabilmek için yapılacak görüşme bu anlamda yeni bir ümit ışığı olarak gündemde. Bu kanlı döngünün içinde kendini belirginleştiren Suriye Devlet Başkanı Beşar Esad rejimi dışındaki temel aktörlerden ikisi ise toplantı dışında tutulmakta – Irak ve Şam İslam Devleti (IŞİD) ile Suriye Demokratik Birlik Partisi (PYD).

Syrian Turkmens cross to Turkey, fleeing advances of pro-Assad forces- Reuters

Hundreds of mostly Turkmen refugees fearing intensifying clashes between Syrian pro-government forces and the opposition in coastal Latakia province have fled to Turkey, footage from Reuters TV showed and Turkmen officials said on Friday.
Around 400 Turkmens left the Syrian village of Yamadi and crossed into Turkey via its Yayladagi border post, according to Izzet Sohta, a regional head of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, an umbrella group for Turkmens in Syria.
Groups of mainly women and children, including babies and the elderly, were brought over the border in buses, Reuters TV footage showed. Relief workers distributed food and water as they disembarked carrying luggage and blankets.

The influx has accelerated since last week, when Rabiya, a key rebel-held town in Latakia province, was captured by Syrian pro-government forces. The displacement occurred as U.N.-backed peace talks, the first for two years, began in Geneva despite a boycott by opposition groups.

Syria Talks Are Complicated by Competing Opposition Groups- The New York Times

The latest attempt to reach a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria was meant to include participation by armed opposition groups.

But their representatives had still not fully committed to the negotiations when the government delegation arrived in Geneva on Friday for talks with the United Nations mediator, Staffan de Mistura.

The main opposition bloc, the High Negotiations Committee, had refused to participate until government sieges of rebel-held towns were lifted and bombings, which continued on Friday, were halted. Still, its representatives flew to Geneva on Friday — not to negotiate, but to talk to Mr. de Mistura and press their humanitarian case to the public.

BM: Riyad destekli muhalefetle görüşmeler pazar günü başlayabilir- Sputnik News

BM Suriye Özel Temsilcisi Staffan De Mistura, Riyad destekli muhalefetle pazar günü görüşmelere başlayabileceklerini kaydetti. De Mistura, Ortadoğu medyasında çıkan, ‘Suriye Yüksek Müzakere Komitesi'nin görüşmelere katılma kararı aldığı' yönündeki haberler konusunda ise ‘kendisine resmi bir bilgilendirme gelmediğini' söyledi.

Suriye muhalefeti Cenevre'ye gidiyor- Al-Jazeera Turk

Riyad'da 4 gündür toplantı hâlinde olan ve Birleşmiş Milletler 'hava saldırılarını, kuşatmaları ve insani yardımlara engelleri durdurmayı' garanti etmezse Cenevre'ye katılmayacaklarını söyleyen Suriyeli muhalifler, BM'nin kendilerine güvence verdiğini ve Cenevre'deki Suriye görüşmelerine katılacaklarını açıkladı.
Ancak Cenevre'ye gelecek olan heyet, pazarlık için değil, BM'nin insani yardım,bombardımanın durması gibi konularda ne yapacağını görüşmeye geleceğini söyledi. Suriye Yüksek Müzâkere Heyeti, Suriye rejimi ile siyasi süreç görüşmelerinde ise yer almayacağını söyledi.
Heyet sözcüsü Munzer Makus, "Muhalefet duruşunu değiştirmedi. Cenevre'ye gideceğiz fakat rejim bizim insani taleplerimizi karşılamayı kabul etmedikçe görüşmelere katılmayacağız. Biz bu konuların ve siyasi geçiş sürecinin görüşmelerde konuşulacağına dair bugün garanti aldık. Bu taleplerin sahada gerçekleştiğini görmeden hiçbir şeyi kabul etmeyeceğiz" dedi.

Syrian rebel splits deepen after failed 'merger' with al Qaeda arm- Reuters

The leader of al Qaeda's Syrian wing tried unsuccessfully at a recent meeting to convince rival Islamist factions to merge into one unit, several insurgency sources have told Reuters.
Abu Mohamad al-Golani, head of the Nusra Front, even suggested he was willing to change the name of his group if the others, including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham organization, agreed to the deal, the sources said.
But he made clear that Nusra would not cut its ties with al Qaeda, and its allegiance would remain to Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over as leader after U.S. Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Much was riding on the outcome of the meeting, which the sources said took place about 10 days ago.
Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are the most powerful groups in northern Syria: when they briefly teamed up with other Islamists last year in an alliance called the Fatah Army, the rebels scored one of their biggest victories by seizing the city of Idlib.

Some rebels believed a merger would create a stronger rival to Islamic State and might attract much-needed military support and recognition from regional and international powers.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Full Throttle: From Aleppo to Daraa, Syrian Army Advances on Militants- Sputnik News

The Syrian Army and the National Defense Forces (NDF) have staged a spate of major military operations all across Syria over the past twenty-four hours, in which dozens of Daesh and Al-Nusra Front militants were killed and many more wounded, according to media reports.

In particular, militants' strongholds were destroyed in the key provinces of Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, Hama, Homs and Idlib.

In the city of Daraa, the Syrian troops obliterated the militants' fortifications, hideouts and vehicles in the neighborhoods of al-Mahatta and al-Balad, also striking the towns of Rakham and al-Karak in Daraa Province's northeast.

ABD'den muhaliflere: Cenevre tarihi fırsat, ön koşulsuz gelin- Al-Jazeera Turk

ABD Dışişleri Bakanlığ Sözcü Yardımcısı Toner, Suriye ile ilgili Cenevre görüşmelerinin barış için tarihi bir fırsat olduğunu belirtti ve muhaliflere, masaya ön koşulsuz gelmeleri çağrısında bulundu. Toner “Anladığımız kadarıyla PYD bu hafta yapılacak toplantıda olmayacak" açıklamasında da bulundu.

ABD Dışişleri Bakanlığı Sözcü Yardımcısı Mark Toner, günlük basın toplantısında, Cenevre'de 29 Ocak'ta başlayacak Suriye toplantılarına ilişkin konuştu. Bu toplantıların tarihi bir fırsat olduğunu söyleyen Sözcü şu ifadeleri kullandı:
"Muhalif grupların önünde Cenevre'ye giderek ateşkes, insani yardımların erişimi ve diğer güven arttırıcı önlemleri önermek için tarihi bir fırsat var. Toplantıya ön koşulsuz olarak katılmalılar."
"PYD'nin olmaması BM'nin tercihi"
Toner, PYD'nin davet edilmemesine ilişkin soruya şu yanıtı verdi:
“Kimin katılıp kimin katılmayacağı yönünde görüş ayrılıkları olduğunu biliyoruz. Ayrıca kimlerin katılacağı BM Suriye Özel Temsilcisi Staffan de Mistura'nın tercihi. Biz de Suriyeli muhaliflerin nasıl seçileceği yönündeki işlemleri destekliyoruz. Cenevre'deki toplantılara katılacak muhalif grupların listesi henüz açıklamadı. Ancak bizim anladığımız kadarıyla PYD bu hafta yapılacak toplantıda olmayacak."

U.N. Says 'No Postponement' of Syria Talks, Main Opposition Group to Miss Start- Naharnet

The U.N.'s Syria envoy warned peace talks due to be held in Geneva must not fail, but members of the fractious opposition said they would miss the start on Friday.
Delegates from the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee said late Thursday that discussions in Riyadh over whether to attend the U.N.-brokered talks would continue the next day.
But organizers of the Geneva negotiations said no postponement was expected.
U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, in a video message to the Syrian people, said the talks could be their country's last chance for peace.
"Now we need to hear your voice to everyone who is coming to this conference, and saying this conference must be an opportunity not to be missed," the envoy said.
He said that after several stalled peace processes, the Geneva talks "cannot fail."
A spokeswoman for the U.N. talks, Khawla Mattar, told AFP there is "no postponement from our side."

Opinion: NATO's AWACS in Syria? Time to say 'yes'- DW

The United States wants NATO to provide aerial surveillance and coordination in Syria with its AWACS planes. DW's Max Hofmann presents five reasons why NATO should approve the US request.

Moscow calls to take into account interests of various Syrian political forces- TASS

MOSCOW, January 28. /TASS/. In the run-up to the Syrian settlement negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, Moscow calls for taking into account the interests of various Syrian political forces, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday after a meeting of Russian presidential special envoy for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov with a delegation of representatives of Syria’s social and political forces.

"The parties had an interested exchange of views on the situation in Syria and around it with the emphasis on finding as soon as possible a political solution to the Syrian crisis based on the development of the maximally broad inter-Syrian dialogue," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
"In the run-up to the negotiations in Geneva between representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition the need to take into account the interests of various Syrian political forces in a long-term settlement in Syria was specially emphasized", the ministry said.

US ambassador admits political solution is only way to resolve Syria crisis- TASS

MOSCOW, January 28. /TASS/. The Syrian crisis settlement is possible only through a political solution, US Ambassador to Russia John Tefft said on Thursday.
Commenting on the inter-Syrian talks that will bring together the Syrian government representatives and opposition on January 29 in Geneva, Tefft said "we know this is going to be difficult but we think that a political solution is the way forward, that there is no fundamental military solution possible in Syria."
"We are working together [with Russia] on Syria with regard to the International Syria Support Group," Tefft said.

Syria peace talks derailed as opposition stays away- Reuters

The Syrian opposition said it will not attend peace talks due to begin in Geneva on Friday, derailing the first attempt in two years to hold negotiations aimed at ending the five-year-long war.
An opposition council convening in Riyadh said its delegation would "certainly" not be in Geneva on Friday, saying it had not received convincing answers to its demands for goodwill steps including an end to air strikes and blockades.
The failure to get talks off the ground on time reflects the challenges facing peace-making as the conflict rages unabated on the ground.

The Syrian government is clawing back territory from rebels with military help from Iran and Russia. It has said it is ready to attend the negotiations, which U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura plans to hold in an indirect format.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Syrian Army Liberates 18 Towns, Villages in Northeast Latakia Province- Sputnik News

More than 18 towns and villages located in the northern countryside of Latakia province have been liberated by the Syrian Army and the country's National Defense Forces (NDF), media reports said.

The Syrian Army's General Command released a statement saying that  militants had been squeezed out of a number of strategic towns and villages, including al-Ghnaimiye, al-Qalai’e, Beit Sukkar, al-Ouainat, Khan al-Joz, Beit Riha, Bradon, al-Souda, al-Khadra, Reef Mekhtaro, al-Jamousiye, al-Saraya, al-Rayyana and al-Shakria.

Syrian opposition's Manna says no peace talks without Kurds- Reuters

The co-leader of the Syrian Democratic Council, Haytham Manna,
on Wednesday he would not take part in peace talks in Geneva unless two Kurdish leaders, Saleh Muslim and Ilham Ahmed, were also invited to participate.
"I'll go with my friends or not (at all). There is no compromise in this question," Manna told Reuters a day after the U.N. envoy to Syria, Staffan De Mistura, sent invitations to join the talks, without including the Kurdish leaders.
"We have one day and tomorrow perhaps also to negotiate all of these things with the Russians, the Americans and De Mistura's staff. We’ll see if they accept our opinion, our view to have really a strong and representative delegation, we are ready to go.”

Deciding who among Syria's fractured opposition should attend the talks has become the main stumbling block to the first attempt at a peace negotiation in two years. There is no sign of an end to the war pitting a range of rebel groups against President Bashar al-Assad's government after almost five years and more than 250,000 deaths.

Dialogue Session Does Not Tackle Presidency as Next Round Set for Feb. 17- Naharnet

A national dialogue session was held at Speaker Nabih Berri's Ain el-Tineh residence on Wednesday to address the latest developments in the country.
Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh revealed after the talks that the gatherers did not address the presidential deadlock.
Asked why by reporters, he replied: “Speaker Berri was the one steering discussions.”
He added that he is still running for the presidency, revealing that “his house is still open” to rival candidate Change and Reform bloc chief MP Michel Aoun.
Aoun was not present at the talks, but Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil represented him at the dialogue.
He left without making a statement.

ABD Dışişleri: PYD Cenevre'de olmayacak- Sputnik News

ABD Dışişleri Bakanlığı Sözcüsü Toner, Suriye'yle ilgili Cenevre görüşmelerine katılacak grupların listesinin henüz açıklanmadığını belirterek, "Kimlerin katılacağı De Mistura'nun tercihi. Bizim anladığımız kadarıyla PYD toplantıda olmayacak" dedi.

Russia special forces aiding Hezbollah in Latakia: report- NOW

BEIRUT – Russian special forces have backed Hezbollah and Syrian regime forces in their recent advances in the mountains north of Latakia, according to a Kuwaiti daily with close access to Moscow’s aerial campaign in the war-torn country.

“Special forces from the Russian army equipped with Howitzer artillery, supported by warplanes and backed by elite units from Lebanon’s Hezbollah… have been entering the fiercest of battles in the heights and towns of Latakia,” sources in the Damascus joint operations room of the “4+1” military coalition of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah told Al-Rai newspaper’s chief international correspondent, Elijah J. Magnier.

The sources said it was likely that “through intensive use of howitzer batteries and artillery, the Russian formations are inflicting much greater losses to personnel and infantry than the losses the Russian Air Force is inflicting.”

“This is allowing the attacking forces from the Syrian army and Hezbollah to advance from town to town and village to village without any notable confrontation.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Syrian Army captures strategic city of Sheikh Miskeen in northern Daraa- Al-Masdar News

As of 10:30 P.M. (Damascus Time) on Monday night, the Islamist rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jabhat Al-Nusra (Syrian Al-Qaeda group) have suffered their biggest defeat in southern Syria after the Syrian Arab Army’s 15th Brigade of the 5th Armored Division and their allies imposed full control over the strategic city of Sheikh Miskeen in the Dara’a Governorate’s northern countryside. 

The final battle for Sheikh Miskeen began at 8:30 A.M. (Damascus Time) when the Syrian Arab Army’s 15th Brigade – in close coordination with the National Defense Forces (NDF) and the 7th Mechanized Division – captured the Al-‘Umari Mosque in the city’s west district. 

This successful military operation was followed by the Syrian Armed Forces seizing the remaining neighborhoods in the Al-Diri District, where the Islamist rebels of Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army had resisted for several weeks after the pro-government forces captured the Battalion 82 headquarters and housing facility.

Bombings kill 20 in Syria as peace talks invitations go out- AP

Multiple bombings struck a government-run checkpoint in the central Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday, killing at least 20 people and wounding over a hundred amid intense political jockeying ahead of U.N.-backed peace talks scheduled to begin in Geneva on Friday.
The office of the U.N. envoy for Syria said it sent out invitations for the talks, but with just three days to go, the opposition is still undecided about whether it will attend. One opposition official suggested the Saudi-backed opposition delegation may boycott the talks.
Khawla Mattar, a spokeswoman for Staffan de Mistura, told The Associated Press in Geneva that the envoy would not make public the numbers and identities of the invitees until his office gets "feedback from the invited parties" — a sign of the delicacy of his task.
The talks are meant to start a political process to end the conflict that began in 2011 as a largely peaceful uprising against Assad's rule but escalated into an all-out war after a harsh state crackdown. The plan calls for cease-fires in parallel to the talks, a new constitution and elections in a year and a half.

Tide turns in Syrian war with capture of key town- Al-Jazeera

The Syrian army has captured a key southern town from rebel forces after weeks of fierce fighting, state media and activists say.
The fall of Sheikh Maskin on Monday means that government forces will strengthen their hold on Deraa province, while cutting off rebel factions from key supply lines.
Deraa, the scene of the earliest protests against the Syrian government in 2011, contains routes crucial to both the Syrian army and rebel fighters.
"The town is very important for both sides. They have both fought fiercely. Now, by taking it, the regime has cut off the rebels links between eastern and western Deraa," said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks violence in the country through a wide network of local sources.
"The destruction in the town is huge."

Report: Syria's al-Nusra 'more dangerous' than ISIS- CNN

Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, is a greater threat to the United States in the long term than is ISIS, making the United States' current single-minded focus on the latter group misguided, a new report is charging.

Al-Nusra is "much more dangerous to the U.S. than the ISIS model in the long run," according to the authors of a report labeling both groups "existential" threats. The report was released last week by the Institute for the Study of War and American Enterprise Institute.

Lavrov: Assad never asked Russia for political asylum- TASS

MOSCOW, January 26. /TASS/. Syrian President Bashar Assad has not asked Russia for political asylum, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow on Tuesday. 

"Nobody has asked us for political asylum. 

No offers of the sort have been made," Lavrov said. He also dismissed media rumors the former chief of the General Staff’s intelligence directorate GRU, Igor Sergun, had allegedly asked Assad to step down.

Syrian Opposition Puts Off Decision on Peace Talks- Naharnet

A major Syrian opposition group Wednesday postponed a decision on joining peace talks in Switzerland, as wrangling over who will go threatens to derail the biggest push yet to resolve the war.
The Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee -- formed last month in an effort to unite Syria's fractious political and armed opposition -- met in Riyadh for a second day on whether to accept a U.N. invitation to the Geneva talks.
Salem al-Meslet, a Committee spokesman, said the group cannot make a decision until it has received a response from U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.
The Committee insists it must be the sole opposition delegation at the talks and wants "clarifications" after the United Nations issued invitations to other regime opponents.
"Whether we say 'yes' or 'no' depends on the reply of De Mistura," which could come overnight, Meslet told AFP and Al-Arabiya television.

Jumblat Applauds 'Iran's Democracy,' Wonders if it Will Allow Lebanese Elections to Be Held- Naharnet

Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat expressed on Wednesday “admiration with the democracy in Iran,” citing the recent exclusion of the grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, from contesting elections next month.
The MP said via Twitter: “Given its 'democratic' record, perhaps Iran does not want the election of any MPs Henri Helou, Suleiman Franjieh, or Michel Aoun as president.”
“It is strange that Khomeini's son is unwanted, but this is democracy in its highest form in the Islamic Republic,” he added sarcastically.
“At this rate, what is the authority that chooses – pardon, I mean elects - the president in Lebanon?” wondered the MP.
Perhaps it does not want to elect any of the Lebanese candidates, he noted, “but this is also a democratic choice based on the Iranian way.”
Hassan Khomeini, a 43-year-old cleric with close ties to reformists, was not verified as having sufficient religious competence by the Guardian Council, his son Ahmad said on his Instagram account, despite "testimony from dozens of religious authorities".