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Syria Today – Russian Strike on Idleb, Assad Decried After Arab Summit Speech

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.

Russia’s Aerospace Forces hit “illegal armed groups” in Idleb that were responsible for an artillery attack on Syrian government positions, Rear Admiral Vadium Kulit said. At the same time, Bashar al-Assad was criticized after he denounced the Israeli army’s actions in Gaza, with some activists calling his speech at the Arab and Islamic summit hypocritical.  

US conducts airstrikes against Iran-backed groups in Syria, retaliating for attacks on US troops

The Pentagon and U.S. officials say U.S. fighter aircraft conducted airstrikes on locations in eastern Syria involving Iranian-backed groups, likely causing casualties and destroying weapons stored at the two targets that were struck — a training facility and a safe house, AP reported.

A defence official said that the training facility also served as a weapons storage and that the safe house, located in the Bulbul district of Mayadin, functioned as a headquarters for Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-affiliated groups in the area. The official said Revolutionary Guard-related personnel were present at the time of the strikes and likely were hit, but the Pentagon had not confirmed whether they were killed.

The defence official spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to provide additional details of the strikes.

The U.S. has conducted three strikes over the last two weeks against Iranian-tied weapons depots in Syria to retaliate for the more than 50 rocket and drone attacks that militant groups have launched against U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, which have caused dozens of minor injuries among U.S. personnel. Many of the militant groups are operating under the umbrella of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq.

The militant groups began attacking the bases on Oct. 17 after a blast at a Gaza hospital killed hundreds of civilians and further enflamed regional tensions following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks inside Israel, where at least 1,200 civilians were killed, and Israel’s blistering military response, which has killed thousands of civilians trapped in Gaza.

In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes targeted sites near Abukama and Mayadin and were used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as Iran-backed militias.

‘Two sides of the same coin’: Activists decry Assad’s criticism of Israel

On Saturday, Bashar al-Assad, the head of the Syrian regime, gave a speech at the Arab-Islamic summit in Saudi Arabia. His call for an end to the war on Gaza sparked anger among activists in northwest Syria, who saw the denunciation of Israel as hypocritical.

Assad criticized the “vicious circle” of allowing Israel to commit massacres then being content with providing humanitarian aid instead of protection for the Palestinian people.

Bombing under the radar

Munira Baloch, a 34-year-old journalist, said she believes that Assad was able to remain at the head of his regime despite his crimes because he obtained the “green light” to do what he wanted against the Syrian people.

She told Al Jazeera that the regime’s pattern of using flimsy pretexts to justify bombing and crimes, which the world condones, continues to this day.

During October, Gaza wasn’t the only area being bombed. Rather, Idleb witnessed the most intense military escalation in three years. Hundreds of sites, including civilian ones, were targeted by aerial and artillery attacks, leaving dozens of people killed and wounded, and causing a new wave of displacement.

“The policy is the same in both countries of using intense bombing to displace opponents,” said Baloch. She lived in Rankous in the Damascus countryside before being forced into repeated displacement then settling in Idleb six years ago. “We [Gaza and northwestern Syria] are both densely populated areas under siege and continuous bombing.”

Baloch still remembers the months she endured a siege by regime forces while living with six families in a two-room house with no electricity, water, or heating: “We ran out of bread crumbs until we accepted the displacement agreement to Idleb,” she said.

During the past few weeks, there have been many scenes of Palestinians being displaced, on foot, from northern Gaza to the south.

That brought back painful memories for Ali al-Dalati, who was displaced with his family, in search of safety, about six years ago. In January 2017, the 26-year-old activist and his family walked eight kilometres (five miles) from the village of Bassemah – which was being bombed by regime forces with chemical weapons, incendiary phosphorus, and napalm – to the village of Deir Kanon in the Damascus countryside.

“I can’t forget,” he told Al Jazeera, about the scene of people gathering together to reach the safe zone, which “seemed like the Day of Judgment”.

During their displacement, those alongside him were targeted by snipers, similar to the Palestinians being targeted by Israel. Al-Dalati recalled that whoever was walking towards the safe zone could not approach any of the dead on the road. “My neighbour who came with us was killed, and then her son was killed because he tried to drag her body to bury it,” he said.

Same killers

Talal al-Loush, a 61-year-old activist who was displaced from Homs to Idleb nine years ago, told Al Jazeera that he could not listen to Bashar al-Assad’s entire speech because he felt “nauseous”. He was astonished that the man responsible for the killing and arresting of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions would speak on behalf of Gaza.

“The killers are the same, but the one that pulls the trigger is different,” al-Loush said, recalling the crimes he witnessed in Homs between 2012 and 2013, when regime forces and allied Iranian and Shiite militias committed horrific massacres and forced civilians into displacement, similar to Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Russian and U.S. air strikes attack targets in Syria

Russia’s Aerospace Forces hit “illegal armed groups” in Idleb that were responsible for an artillery attack on Syrian government positions, Rear Admiral Vadium Kulit said, according to a report from state news agency Interfax late on Sunday.

The positions of Syrian government troops were struck seven times in the previous 24 hours, the Russian official said.

The Syrian army has blamed rebels for attacks on government-held areas in Idleb and Aleppo provinces. Syria denies indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas under rebel control.

However, opposition officials say both Moscow and Damascus are taking advantage of the world’s focus on the war in Gaza to escalate attacks in the densely populated region.

After 12 years of civil war, Idlebx is Syria’s last rebel-held territory, with more than three million inhabitants there refusing to live under the authoritarian rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, more than half a million people have been killed.

‘Attacks must stop’

Kulit also repeated frequent Russian claims that the US-led coalition had breached Syrian airspace, saying numerous jet and drone flights were not coordinated with the Russian side.

The United States carried out two air strikes against Iran-aligned groups in Syria, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed on Monday.

Syria’s Bashar Assad Must Go

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published an article entitled, “Syria’s Bashar Assad Must Go”, which delves into the complex dynamics and regional implications surrounding the Syrian conflict, emphasizing the argument that Bashar Assad’s regime should be removed from power. 

The article highlights how Syria has become heavily reliant on Iran and its proxy groups for its survival since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. It points out that Syria’s enemies have rallied around the goal of overthrowing the Alawite-led minority regime led by Bashar Assad and replacing it with a Sunni-led government.

In exchange for support from Iran, Syria has allowed its territory to be used as a corridor for Iran to transfer military equipment to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This includes the use of Syrian airports, defense facilities, Mediterranean ports, and territory to serve Hezbollah’s interests. The article also mentions how Iranian-backed Shiite militias have been deployed along the Syrian-Lebanese border in the Golan Heights.

The article underscores Iran’s significant efforts to enhance Hezbollah’s military capabilities, ranging from medium and long-range missiles, reconnaissance drones, attack drones, anti-tank guided missiles, and other weaponry. As a result, Hezbollah has transformed into a formidable military force in the Middle East.

Israel has taken steps to counter the flow of Iranian weaponry to Hezbollah, conducting numerous airstrikes in Syrian territory to disrupt and destroy these weapon shipments. However, despite these efforts, Israel has only succeeded in blocking a small fraction of the weapons destined for Hezbollah. This has allowed Hezbollah to develop a growing deterrence against Israel.

In recent times, Hezbollah has demonstrated increased audacity and has claimed diplomatic victories against Israel since its withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. Hezbollah, under Iranian guidance, has been coordinating with Palestinian terrorist groups and other factions to create a united front against Israel, stretching from Lebanon and Syria to Iraq, Gaza, Judea, Samaria, and Yemen.

While Syria has not openly declared its support for Hamas or Hezbollah, it has facilitated the movement of Iraqi Shiite militias to Lebanon and allowed the strengthening of its deployment against Israel in the Golan Heights. Syria has also fired missiles into Israeli territory and engaged in shelling American outposts in eastern Syria.

The article suggests that, given the current regional dynamics and security challenges, Israel should focus its efforts on Syria rather than engaging in an all-out war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. It argues that there is no moral justification for the continued existence of the Assad regime, which has been responsible for massive civilian casualties and displacements.

The fall of Bashar Assad’s regime, the article suggests, would have significant consequences for the axis of evil led by Iran. It could compel Iran and Hezbollah to prioritize saving Assad over their confrontations with Israel. This shift could also impact the situation in Gaza, where Hamas may find itself isolated and facing Israeli pressure.

In summary, the article advocates for the removal of Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria as a strategic move to address the security challenges posed by Iran and Hezbollah in the region, emphasizing the potential ripple effects on the broader geopolitical landscape.

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