Israel/Iran/Region – Israel fears an "Iranian crescent" may be forming in the Middle East because of Tehran's influence in Syria and its connections with regional Shiite groups, an intelligence official said on the 3 Apr 17. The comments from Chagai Tzuriel, director general of Israel's intelligence ministry, illustrate his country's growing concerns over its arch-foe Iran's involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Syria. Iran's support for Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which also backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, also concerns Israel, as does Tehran's influence in Iraq and its support for groups such as the Huthi rebels in Yemen. "I think that Israel believes that if Iran bases itself for the long run in Syria it will be a constant source of friction and tension with the Sunni majority in Syria, with the Sunni countries outside Syria, with Sunni minorities outside the region, with Israel," Tzuriel told foreign reporters. "And I think that may be only the tip of the iceberg," he added. "We're talking here about the creation of an Iranian crescent." Part of it, he said, involved worries that Iran could complete a "land bridge" through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean. Israel has sought to avoid being dragged into the six-year Syrian conflict, but has acknowledged carrying out strikes to stop advanced weapons deliveries to Hezbollah, with whom it fought a devastating war in 2006. Last month, in the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syria war began, Israeli warplanes struck several targets there, drawing retaliatory missile fire. Israel used its Arrow interceptor to destroy what was believed to have been a Russian-made SA 5 missile, and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syria's air defence systems "without the slightest hesitation" if it happened again. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held a series of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months on how to avoid accidental clashes in Syria. A "hotline" has been set up between the two countries, but Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz has said Moscow is not notified in advance of an Israeli strike. Russia backs Assad in Syria, but Israeli officials say they are confident they can continue to coordinate with Moscow despite their differing interests. 361 COMMENT: Following gas attack, Israel reassesses Syrian threat – http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/04/israel-syria-russia-bashar-al-assad-chemical-weapon-gas.html?utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=manual&utm_campaign=20170406&bt_ee=ucrlUAMKu7D0cpJwPVLwCI4hedg+1tdwCu/7ztnbb2x1vLjRaLlVQyZ3M6VwnuKv&bt_ts=1491498104747. In regards to the comment of a “Land-Bridge” from Iran through Iraq to Lebanon and Syria, 361 Security made comment in its 31 Aug 16 security report. COMMENT ENDS
Kuwait/United States/Da’esh – Suspected ISIS militants arrested in Kuwait and the Philippines were planning to carry out bombings against US military forces in Kuwait, the Gulf country's al-Rai newspaper reported on the 10 Apr 17. The suspects were also plotting a suicide attack on a hussainiya, or Shiite Muslim meeting hall, said al-Rai, which has close ties to the security services. Philippine security forces arrested a Kuwaiti and a Syrian for suspected links to Islamic State on the 25 Mar 17 three months after they arrived in Manila. Al-Rai said Kuwaiti security forces also arrested a Syrian chemistry teacher suspected of involvement with the plots. A spokesman for the US Embassy in Kuwait referred queries to Kuwaiti authorities. Kuwaiti security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kuwait, home to several US military bases, suffered its deadliest militant attack in decades when a Saudi suicide bomber blew himself up inside a packed Shiite mosque in June 2015, killing 27 people. ISIS claimed responsibility.
Syria/Chemical Weapons Attack – On the 4 Apr 17 at least 58 people were killed and dozens wounded in a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town in north-western Syria. Khan Sheikhoun was thought to have been attacked by either Russian aircraft or by the Syrian government. Later that day reports of other aircraft attacks against local clinics emerged. It is believed that if the attack is genuine then it is possibly the worst attack in Syria since the six year old civil war began. Khan Sheikhoun is about 50km south of Idlib the attack occurred at approximately 0645 hrs local when many were sleeping. Medics who arrived at the scene after the attack found many people in the street choking. Other signs and symptoms of the chemical attack emerged such as fainting, vomiting and foaming at the mouth. The recent toll by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) was 58 people dead, including eleven children, with 160 others injured but this could change as more of the injured succumb to their injuries and the depth of the exposure to the chemical agent. Reports that sarin nerve agent was put forward as a possible cause of the chemical used but the SOHR were unable to state clearly which type of chemical agent was used. In past chemical attacks the use of chlorine and mustard agents were used. It was unsure what type of delivery method was used in this attack but aircraft is the most likely cause. Syria/Russia has in the past denied the use of any type of chemical attack stating that rebel forces were responsible. 361 COMMENT: In the past there was talk of a red line whereby chemical weapons were stored but never used if they were used then they would have crossed the red line and expect some sort of military action. However, in Syria this line has been crossed several times. Syria agreed to surrender its chemical arsenal after the 21 Aug 13 Ghouta chemical attack which was the worst attack since the Iran/Iraq war of Sep 80 to Aug 88. The Ghouta attack was supposed to be the ‘red-line’ that the former United States President Barak Obama stated in 2012 that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be that red-line and some sort of military action would be used. Syria stated that those types of weapons would not be used against internal fighting but reserved the right to use them against external forces. The Americans stated after the Ghouta attack that it would consider military action which prompted the Assad regime to begin surrendering its chemical arsenal in 2013. Since the surrender there have been numerous reports of chemical weapons being used to which Russia and Syria deny. No matter what excuses the two countries use they still continue to attack the Assad opposition with chemical weapons. It is not sure which agent was used in this latest attack as sarin and other nerve agents do not take long to work and as sarin is a nerve agent it is expressively designed to stop the nervous system working which results in spasms and eventually death. Those signs and symptoms are not stated in this latest attack only of choking, coughing and vomiting which would imply a choking agent. Syria has either given up its chemical arsenal as it said it would do, to which it may have done, or; it has started to develop other chemical weapons inside Syria. The other possibility is that Syria as being supplied with the chemical agent(s). Either way the country is firstly using chemical weapons; secondly they are getting the weapons from somewhere. After the American government backed down after the Ghouta attack when Syria gave up its weapons Assad and his allies have become more brazen. As mentioned, since the so-called surrender of chemical weapons, there have been numerous accounts of other attacks which strangely the Russians and the Syrians deny. But with the Obama administration now gone it will be interesting to hear what the new Trump administration has to say on the subject. Even the Syrians and the Russians have no idea so could this be a test of what the Americans are thinking now and how they would react? If they are goaded into military action they will have to think about what the repercussions are likely to be from either of the guilty parties. COMMENT ENDS
Syria/United States/Chemical Attack – US forces fired a barrage of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase on the 7 Apr 17 in response to what President Donald Trump called a "barbaric" chemical attack he blamed on the Damascus regime. The massive strike, the first direct US action against President Bashar al-Assad's government and Trump's biggest military decision since taking office, marked a dramatic escalation in American involvement in Syria's six-year civil war. It followed days in which images of dead children and victims suffering convulsions from the suspected sarin gas attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun shocked the world. Syria's regime has denied any use of chemical weapons and state media on the 7 Apr 17 described the US strike, which was reported to have pulverised the base and killed at least four servicemen, as an "act of aggression". Russia too denounced the US action, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying President Vladimir Putin considered it "aggression against a sovereign state" that would inflict "considerable damage" on US-Russia ties. The Syrian army said that six people were killed and serious damage caused by a US missile strike on the airbase. "At 0342 hrs local (0042 hrs GMT) the United States carried out a flagrant aggression with missiles against one of our airbases in the central region, killing six people and wounding a number of others, and causing significant damage," a spokesman said, reading from a statement on state television. He did not specify whether the casualties were civilian or military. Trump announced the strike in a brief televised address delivered hours after the UN Security Council failed to agree on a probe into the suspected chemical attack. Declaring it in America's "vital national security interest" to prevent the spread of chemical weapons, Trump accused Assad of a "very barbaric attack" in which "even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered." "Tonight I call on all civilised nations to join us in seeking to end this slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types," Trump said. The missiles were fired from the USS Porter and the USS Ross, which belong to the US Navy's Sixth Fleet and are located in the eastern Mediterranean. The strike targeted radars, aircraft, air defence systems and other logistical components at the military base south of Homs in central Syria, from where Washington believes the 4 Apr 17 deadly strike was launched. Officials said measures had been put in place to avoid hitting sarin gas they said was stored at the airfield. "The airbase was almost completely destroyed, the runway, the fuel tanks and the air defences were all blown to pieces," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Britain-based monitoring group said at least four servicemen were killed, including an air commodore. The base was the second most important for Syria's air force, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said, after the Latakia airbase in Assad's coastal heartland where Russia also maintains extensive facilities. Homs governor Talal Barazi said there were several dead and wounded at the base and that large parts of it were on fire. "It will take some time to determine the extent of the damage," he said. "Of course we condemn this, all action targeting Syrian military bases is condemnable." Syrian state media confirmed the strike, with news agency SANA saying: "This American aggression follows the slanderous media campaign by some countries after what happened in Khan Sheikhun." Iran, another key Assad ally, also condemned the action. But Syria's opposition National Coalition hailed the strike and called for further US action against Assad's air force. "The Coalition welcomes the strike and urges Washington to neutralise Assad's ability to carry out air raids," spokesman Ahmad Ramadan said. "We hope for more strikes and that these are just the beginning." The strike came despite a warning from Russia of potential "negative consequences" if Washington carried out military action in Syria. Russian has insisted that the chemical weapons that caused the deaths in Khan Sheikhun had been stockpiled by "terrorists" on the ground and possibly released by a conventional strike. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused Russia, which props up the Assad regime and agreed to mothball Syrian chemical weapons in a 2013 deal, of being incompetent or complicit in permitting Assad's actions. Russian military officials in Syria were informed of the strike beforehand in order to avoid casualties that could prompt a broader crisis. The White House was quick to paint the decision as limited to deterring the use of chemical weapons, and not part of a broader military campaign to remove Assad by force. "The intent was to deter the regime from doing this again, and it is certainly our hope that this has had that effect," Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters. Tillerson said the attack should leave no one in any doubt that Trump is willing to act if any actor "crosses the line." It will send ripples around the world, from Pyongyang to Tehran, as nations and leaders take the measure of the novice but often bellicose president. The timing of the strike, during a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping, will give weight to Trump's threats to deal with North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes unilaterally if necessary. Allies rushed to support the US military action including Britain, Saudi Arabia and Israel. "In both word and action, President Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said. On the 5 Apr 17 Trump had decried the suspected attack, which killed at least 86 people, including 27 children, and wounded more than 500, as an "affront to humanity." "It crossed a lot of lines for me," Trump said, alluding to Barack Obama's failure to enforce his own "red line" on the use of chemical weapons in Syria four years ago. In 2013, Trump had urged then-president Obama not to intervene against Assad. The Khan Sheikhun incident appears to have marked a turning point for Trump, just days after his administration signalled it was no longer seeking the Syrian leader's departure from power. Tillerson called the 6 Apr 17 for "a political process that would lead to Assad leaving" and said his future role in the country was "uncertain." 361 COMMENT: Those who support Assad will condemn the attack. Trump and his allies have certainly shown the world that they intend to stand up for their beliefs. Questions should still be asked regarding where the chemical weapon came from as Assad had “supposed” to have surrendered the chemical weapon arsenal. He is either producing his own or is being supplied with them. Other points that must be observed is that Assad and his allies have constantly used barrel bombs on his own people killing scores of men, women and children. In the above report it also states that the Americans “avoided hitting sarin gas they said was stored at the airfield.” This gives indication that American intelligence knows that there are chemical weapons on the airfield and indeed it knows that Assad has the capability. There are numerous reports regarding the dropping of barrel bombs on hospitals and heavily built up areas. The question that has to be answered now is how are Assad’s allies going to react against the United States? COMMENT ENDS
Syria/Russia/United States/Chemical Attack Aftermath – Russia and the United States have traded barbs at an ill-tempered emergency session of the UN Security Council called by Moscow after the US army launched a barrage of cruise missiles against a Syrian government airbase it was reported on the 8 Apr 17. Syria's army said six people were killed in the early hours of Friday morning after the US fired nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat airbase, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack. Vladimir Safronkov, Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN, "strongly" condemned the US for what he called a "flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression". "The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious," he told the Security Council. For her part, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the missile strikes were "fully justified" and warned that Washington was ready to take further military action. "The United States took a very measured step last night," she told the council. "We are prepared to do more, but we hope it will not be necessary." Mounzer, deputy Syrian ambassador to the UN, called the US strike a "barbaric, flagrant act of aggression" that will embolden "terrorist groups" to use chemical weapons in the future. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 88 people, including 29 children, were killed in the suspected poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, which the US has blamed on Assad. Haley said the missile strikes destroyed the airfield from which the US believes the suspected chemical attack was launched. "The United States will no longer wait for Assad to use chemical weapons without any consequences," Haley said. "Those days are over." While threatening further strikes, the US envoy also said it was time to press on with a political solution to the six-year war. "Is it because US President Donald Trump wants to prove he is a resolute, decisive leader who is independent of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, or is this punitive attack part of a comprehensive effort aimed at leveraging American influence in Syria to lead to a diplomatic solution," he said. Haley also took a swipe at Russia for failing to rein in its ally, and said Moscow must reconsider its support for Assad. "The world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria. The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar al-Assad," she said. The US said 58 of the 59 cruise missiles fired at the Shayrat airfield hit their targets, dealing heavy damage to the base. But the Russian defence ministry downplayed the damage, claiming only 23 missiles landed on target. Satellite footage showed many of the runways were fully intact, as well as several untouched defence surface-to-air rocket launcher and radar systems. Less than 24 hours after the US strike, two Syrian jets took off from the targeted base and bombed nearby rebel targets, according to the Observatory, which monitors Syria's conflict via a network of contacts on the ground. Regardless of its damage, the attack - Trump's biggest military decision since taking office - marked a dramatic escalation in US involvement in Syria's war. It followed days of outrage over images of dead children and victims suffering convulsions from the suspected poison gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun. Homs Governor Talal Barazi said the US' direct strike on the Syrian military was a clear sign it was supporting "terrorists". 361 COMMENT: with all the bravado from Syria and Russia regarding the air-strike it is understandable that they state that most of the airfield was still intact and that most of the cruise missiles did not hit the target. But there is no real mention of civilian casualties or film footage where the missiles would have fallen along their target path. Another minor point to consider is that Russia is responsible for the air defence system that Syria has in place and there is no mention of any missiles being shot down. Lastly on the 7 Apr 17 Russia stated that, “Syrian air defences are to ‘strengthened.’ You would believe that the initial threat assessment would have taken into consideration a missile attack. COMMENT ENDS
Syria/Iran/United States – Iran has called on Syria to 'make Americans regret their attack' after Russia warned Donald Trump there will be a military response if the US strikes at Assad again. President Hassan Rouhani accused the US of not acting 'within international frameworks' before condemning America's surprise bombardment of a Syrian airbase. It comes after both Russian and Iranian forces warned Trump they would retaliate with military action if the US President launched more strikes against Bashar al-Assad's forces. Rouhani said: 'Americans have never acted within international frameworks, and one instance is the sanctions they impose against Iran, unreasonably considering themselves as the world's leader. 'The Syrian people and army must give a response (to the US) that makes Americans regret their attack.' Rouhani called his critics 'smoke machines, disseminating black smoke everywhere' and also criticised the United States for imposing sanctions on Iran. Last night, in an ominous threat raising the prospect of war, Iranian and Russian forces said the US President had crossed a 'red line' with his missile attack. 'From now on we will respond with force to any breach of red lines and America knows our ability to respond well,' the military chiefs said in a joint statement with militant group Hezbollah. The Russian Embassy in London suggested on the night of the 9 Apr 17 there could be 'real war' if Moscow is presented with an ultimatum over Syria. But UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will lead a push on the 10 Apr 17 for Russia to face tough new sanctions unless it withdraws its support for Assad. At a G7 meeting in Italy, Johnson will call for Moscow to be threatened with isolation from the international community and a raft of economic punishments. Johnson also insisted the US could carry out further strikes against the Syrian regime over use of chemical weapons. Russia was kicked out of the club of industrialized nations, formerly the G-8, after its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and assistance for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. But the prospect of being allowed back into the elite club is also expected to be held out as an incentive for cooperating. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the US will stand up to anyone who commits crimes against humanity. Speaking today, ahead of a Group of 7 meeting in Italy, Tillerson said: 'We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.' During a visit to a site of Nazi atrocities in Italy during World War II, Tillerson said Sant'Anna di Stazzema 'will serve as an inspiration to us all.' The Nazis killed more than 500 civilians in the village in 1944.
As tensions escalated:
The Kremlin mocked Britain for having 'no real influence on the course of international affairs' after Mr Johnson cancelled a planned trip to Moscow; UK's Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said Russia was responsible for 'every civilian death' in Assad's chemical weapons attack on his own people; America warned Moscow it faces a 'relationship of competition and potential conflict' unless it stops supporting Assad's 'murderous regime'; The White House told North Korea it should take US missile strikes against Syria as a warning that America is prepared to take military action against countries which break international agreements. A joint command centre of Russia, Iran and Islamist militant group Hezbollah warned America they would not allow further attacks on the Syrian regime. In a statement they said: 'What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well.' The phrasing appeared to be a mocking reference to Barack Obama's warning in 2012 that Assad should not cross a 'red line' by using chemical weapons. In a further sign of increasing tensions, the Russian Embassy in London responded with anger to claims the G7 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and America – could today agree to slap Putin with the threat of sanctions unless he pulls his troops out of Syria and ends his support for Assad. In a series of provocative tweets on its official account, the embassy suggested that if Russia were given an ultimatum, the outcome would be either, 'war of clowns, war of muses, a conventional war or a mix of the above'. It added: 'If G7 ultimatum to Russia brings us to real war, what is your trust in @realDonaldTrump as a wartime leader & @BorisJohnson as his lieutenant?' Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last night said the US had made a 'strategic mistake' by attacking Syria. He made clear he was not intimidated by claims the airstrike was a warning that America was willing to target other countries. Tehran has been a key backer of Assad in Syria's six-year civil war. 'The Islamic Republic of Iran will not leave the field in the face of threats. Former American officials created Da’esh and the current leaders are reinforcing it,' Khamenei said. Trump administration officials said on the 9 Apr 17 that it blamed Russian inaction for enabling the deadly poison gas attack against Syrian civilians last week. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Syria was able to execute the attack, which killed scores of people, because Moscow had failed to carry out a 2013 agreement to secure and destroy chemical weapons in the country. White House national security adviser HR McMaster said Syria's 'sponsors', Russia and Iran, were enabling Assad's 'campaign of mass murder against his own civilians'. He said the US would take further action in Syria if necessary. 'We're prepared to do more. The president will make whatever decision he thinks is in the best interests of the American people,' he told Fox News. Mr McMaster said Moscow was supporting 'a murderous regime' and its actions would dictate the future of US-Russian relations. 'Do they want it to be a relationship of competition and potential conflict,' he said. 'Or do they want it to be a relationship in which we can find areas of co-operation that are in our mutual interest?' 361 COMMENT: There appears to be a lot of accusations, talk and mimicry in the statements from Iran and Russia. Iran appears to have puffed its feathers up similar to a Peacock as it has Russia to hide behind. The rhetoric of Red line and retaliation will not waver the Americans but the two countries feel that they are in a position to reply to the American action. Russia has for some time, due to a lack of commitment from the previous Obama administration, attempted to destabilise the United States in The Region, now there is a new administration and it has acted. The chemical attack could have been a ploy to see how America would react, they now know. But the Russians and the Iranians have come out with a lot of talk about what they would do if it happened again. America has said that it might but has not committed themselves leaving Russia, Iran and Syria wondering if this attack was a one off. Russia and Iran do not like the Americans, and the G7, for interfering in their affairs especially after the G7 ousted Russia because of its annexation of the Ukraine. The Americans on the other hand do not like to see innocent civilians, women and children murdered in illegal chemical weapon attacks. It is possible that the American stance on targeting a Syrian target in the future is a warning to the Syrians and its allies that if use that type of weapon again you will be hurt. The opposition can do nothing except puff its feathers up and come out with comments best used on a playground. The new trump administration is correct regarding the chemical weapons; Syria was supposed to have handed the chemical weapons over and to destroy the facilities to make them. So where does the chemical agent sarin come from? Those who oppose Assad would not have the facilities to produce the agent so either Assad is now making his own, or, the Russians are supplying it. The Iranians have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention on the 13 Jan 93 and ratified on the 3 Nov 97. During the Iran/Iraq war where the Iranians suffered chemical attacks from Iraq, Iran did not agree with their use and Ayatollah Khomeini was twice approached to produce chemical weapons to retaliate which he turned down. Although there is no real knowledge that Iran has these types of weapons however, it does posses a huge commercial chemical industry which could be turned to produce chemical weapons; Iran has not declared any stockpiles under the treaties conditions. So where do the chemical weapons come from? No-one is asking the question. It is unlikely that the Iranians have supplied the weapon however; Israel has now decided to review the threat against them. It can never be completely ruled out that chemical weapons could be used in the future. Due to the attacks in Syria terrorist organisations will no doubt look at ways of manufacturing chemical weapons and using them similar to Da’esh. It would appear that with Iran and Russia behind this chemical attack they would be willing to assist a rogue country or organisation in the future. Sadly the red-line has been crossed and it will be the normal in the future. COMMENT ENDS
Syria/Moderate Rebels – A new military alliance of rebel groups in northern Syria aims to consolidate military control over Idlib province, the western part of Aleppo province and parts of Latakia province, according to a Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander it was reported through the media on the 3 Apr 17. Two sources from FSA have confirmed that the new military operation room, under discussion, will be supported by the "Friends of Syria" - a coalition of the US, Turkey, Western European and Gulf states - which have supported the Northern Front's operations room, known by its Turkish acronym MOM. The commander said that the rebel forces will fight against the Syrian regime in northern Syria. He denied media reports that their goal would be to attack Hay'et Tahrir al-Sham, a Salafist alliance dominated by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS, formerly known as al-Nusra Front) which formally renounced its affiliation to al-Qaeda in 2016. The FSA commander confirmed that the funding and logistical support for rebel factions in northern Syria which the CIA froze in Feb 17 have been restored to a certain extent. Another FSA source said that Turkey and the US are still to decide what form the new rebel command will assume and added that pressure is exerted on other rebel factions to join it. He also said that in Jan 17 the CIA told FSA factions it was funding not to join the Moscow-sponsored Astana talks in which Turkey participated along with Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime. High-level US officials did not attend the talks. The FSA is a loose umbrella of what are seen as moderate rebel groups. Previous attempts to establish unified command failed as the FSA succumbed to factionalism and internal disagreements. Among the groups joining the new formation are Failaq al-Sham as well as FSA-affiliated Tajamo Fastaqim, Jaish al-Mujahideen and Jaish Idlib. Fadlallah Haji from Failaq al-Sham has been chosen as its leader. In Jan 17 a number of these groups, including Tajamo Fastaqim and Jaish al-Mujahideen, joined the ranks of the influential Islamist Ahrar al-Sham movement seeking its protection from attacks by JFS. While ِAhrar al-Sham has not yet clarified its position on the newly formed unified command, according to Syrian analyst Ahmad Aba Zeid, those factions will continue their association with the movement. Syrian analyst Mohamed al-Abdullah said that Ahrar al-Sham might be a key factor in the success of the unified command. "Ahrar al-Sham will be the factor making or breaking this unification. If Ahrar al-Sham refuses to join, I don't think this [unification attempt] will be successful. As we all know, Ahrar al-Sham is the main military force in the region," he said. Abdullah also explained that the rebel factions do not have much of a choice about joining the new operations room and that not doing so would mean a confrontation with the US. The move to unify rebel factions in northern Syria came just a few days after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Turkey. Earlier Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced the end of Turkey's Euphrates Shield operation in Syria, suggesting there might be future operations with Turkish involvement in Syria. According to Aba Zeid, it is possible that the new unified command is part of negotiations between the US and Turkey in which the participation of Turkish-backed Syrian forces the battle for Raqqa is also on the table. Ankara and Washington have disagreed on how to proceed with the anti-ISIL operation in Syria and specifically the capturing of Raqqa. Turkey has protested US support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their likely alliance for the battle for Raqqa. Ankara considers the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which dominates the SDF, a "terrorist" organisation and has argued that Kurdish domination of Raqqa would be problematic for the majority of Arab residents of the city. In Mar 17, US troops were deployed in Manbij, east of the territory controlled by Turkish forces and their FSA allies in northern Syria, in order to stop their progress eastward and prevent clashes with the SDF. Abdul Majeed Barakat, political adviser of FSA forces which were included in the Euphrates Shield operation said that Turkey had planned a unified rebel army under the name "Al Jaish Al Watani" or "Jaish Al Tahrir". That force was supposed to lead a second phase of Turkey's operations in Syria which was to focus on Idlib province. Barakat said that a number of meetings were held in Ankara between the Turkish authorities and rebel commanders to discuss the issue. According to the FSA commander, an agreement could not be reached on how to form an army out of all the factions that participated in the meetings and, therefore, the decision was made to have a unified command under the support of the MOM.
Syria/Iran/Hezbollah – Allies of Damascus have threatened reprisals against any party that carries out "aggression" against Syria, two days after US missile strikes hit a Syrian airbase. "The aggression against Syria oversteps all red lines. We will react firmly to any aggression against Syria and to any infringement of red lines, whoever carries them out," said a statement on the 9 Apr 17 from the Syria-based joint operations room for government backers Russia, Iran and allied forces including Lebanon's Hezbollah. "The United States knows very well our ability to react," said the statement published on the website of Al-Watan, a daily newspaper close to the regime. The statement also accused the US of acting before any investigation into the suspected chemical attack was conducted and did not wait for any UN approval. "We, as Syria's allies, will increase our military support toward Syria and support its people in many other ways," the statement said. "We condemn any attack targeting civilians and also condemn what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, even if we are convinced it was a premeditated act by certain countries and organisations to serve as a pretext to attack Syria," Sunday's statement added.
Syria/Bus Bombing – A suicide car bombing killed at least 24 people on the 15 Apr 17 in an attack near buses for Syrians evacuated from two besieged government-held towns, a monitor said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack in Rashidin, west of Aleppo, targeted residents evacuated from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya under a deal reached between the regime and rebels. "The suicide bomber was driving a van supposedly carrying aid supplies and detonated near the buses," the Observatory said. It warned that the death toll was likely to rise given the "several dozen wounded" at the blast site. State television said the car bombing had been carried out by "terrorist groups", a term the regime applies to all armed opposition groups. The attack took place as thousands of evacuees from the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya waited to continue their journey to regime-controlled Aleppo, the coastal province of Latakia, or Damascus. They were headed for regime or rebel-held areas via government-held second city Aleppo. Thousands of evacuees from Fuaa and Kafraya were stuck on the road in Rashidin when the bomb went off, as the hard-won deal ran into trouble. The evacuees were left stranded as differences emerged over the number of loyalist fighters leaving, a rebel source said, refusing to elaborate as "negotiations are under way." Around 2,220 evacuees from two rebel-held towns, Madaya and Zabadani, were similarly blocked at a transit point in government-held territory. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the convoys were blocked because of rebel complaints that the evacuations from government-held Fuaa and Kefraya had breached the terms of the deal brokered by Iran and Qatar late last month. The deal had stipulated that in the first stage 8,000 people, including 2,000 loyalist fighters, leave the two towns but in the event just 5,000, including 1,300 fighters left, the Britain-based monitoring group said. The deal to evacuate the towns is the latest in a string of such agreements through Syria's six-year civil war. They have often proved controversial and there have been similar hitches in the past. They have been touted by the government as the best way to end the fighting but rebels say they are forced out by siege and bombardment. The Observatory said 2,200 people from Zabadani and Madaya had left, among them 400 rebels. Madaya resident Amjad al-Maleh, speaking from a departing bus, said that rebels among the evacuees had been allowed to keep light weapons. More than 30,000 people are expected to be evacuated under the deal, which began on Wednesday with an exchange of prisoners. All 16,000 residents of Fuaa and Kafraya are expected to leave, heading to Aleppo, the coastal province of Latakia, or Damascus. Civilians from Madaya and Zabadani will reportedly be allowed to remain if they choose. Those who opt to leave will head to rebel-held territory in Idlib. The four towns are party to a longstanding agreement reached in 2015 that requires aid deliveries and evacuations to be carried out simultaneously. But access has been limited, with food and medical shortages causing malnutrition, illness and even death among besieged residents.
Yemen/al-Qaeda – Al-Qaeda on the 31 Mar 17 claimed responsibility for a recent deadly attack on a government building in southern Yemen, which involved a suicide bombing. Al-Qaeda's Ansar al-Shariah arm in a statement identified the suicide bomber as Abu Amer al-Hadrami, saying he had rammed his explosives-laden car into the gate of the local government building in the provincial capital of Lahj on the 27 Mar 17. Officials said at the time that six soldiers and four civilians were killed in the bombing and an ensuing gun attack by jihadists. Security forces killed the assailants, including three who were wearing explosive belts. The online Al Qaeda statement acknowledged the death of three militants "who controlled the building for three hours" before being killed, in addition to Hadrami. The statement said the attack was carried out "to avenge martyrs" killed in raids by security forces, and those "tortured to death in prisons." It did not refer to the many US air strikes which have targeted members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in southern Yemeni towns in recent months. At least 25 suspected AQAP members have been killed in the air strikes. AQAP has exploited a power vacuum created by the war between the government and Huthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa and number of major cities along the Red Sea coast. The United States regards AQAP as the jihadist network's most dangerous branch.