February 23 – EAWORLDVIEW – Scott Lucas – Turkish-rebel force claims major victory with capture of al-Bab in Aleppo Province from Islamic State
A Turkish-rebel offensive has declared full control of the city of al-Bab, the Islamic State’s last major position in Aleppo Province in northwestern Syria.
Despite a proclamation of a ceasefire by Russia, Iran, and Turkey, pro-Assad forces have continued attacks and bombing, and rebels launched an assault inside Daraa city in southern Syria. The regime has continued to block aid to besieged areas, including this week’s attack upon and looting of a convoy trying to reach al-Wa’er, the last opposition district in Homs city.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Wednesday that he did not expect immediate progress. He said that Russia was expected to “silence their own skies in the areas touched by the ceasefire” and that countries close to the opposition were asked to urge them to lessen provocations.
“Am I expecting a breakthrough? No, I’m not expecting a breakthrough,” de Mistura told a news conference. “But I am expecting and determined for keeping a very pro-active momentum.”
The opposition-rebel delegation, again hoping to expose the regime’s lack of will for any resolution, called for face-to-face negotiations. Spokesman Salem al-Muslet said the group did not want another fruitless round of discussions:
We have experience with this regime. They’re not here to negotiate about a political transition, but they’re here to buy time and commit more crimes in Syria. There’s no trust in this regime.
MESOP NEWS SYRIA : NO ASSURANCES FÜR PYD/PKK IN MOSCOW – Russia May Have Sidelined PYD in Geneva Talks
Rudaw – 2017-02-22 – Despite the fact that several Kurdish representatives from the Syrian Kurdish opposition are to take part in the Geneva talks as part of the delegation of Saudi-backed High Negotiation Committee (HNC) on Thursday, it is not clear if the ruling Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria will have a seat on the table.Russia, which has maintained friendly ties with the PYD and has pushed hard to include the Kurds in the fourth round of Geneva talks, may have agreed to sideline the PYD as a concession to Turkey, Munzir Markhus, the spokesperson for the HNC told the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper on Tuesday.
By Hanin Ghaddar – PolicyWatch 2766 – February 22, 2017
Many Hezbollah fighters believe their Iranian supervisor in Syria views them as easily replaceable Arab cannon fodder, and the resultant tension is generating disillusionment about Tehran’s claims of pan-Shiite unity.
The deteriorating relations between Hezbollah and Syrian regime fighters are no longer secret. Lebanese social media platforms affiliated with Shiite supporters of Hezbollah are replete with mockery of the Syrian army’s incompetence, corruption, clumsiness, cowardice, and lack of resources. Bashar al-Assad’s forces are often blamed for causing Hezbollah losses or hampering operations against the rebels. While this trend has seemingly inflated egos among the group’s core supporters back home, it also suggests that political and military alliances are more complicated on the ground in Syria.
Relations between Hezbollah fighters and their commanders in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are similarly complicated, but much more problematic to discuss publicly. Hezbollah remains Iran’s most skilled militia, but anecdotal accounts indicate that it may no longer enjoy its privileged status with Tehran, at least in terms of how its forces are treated on the battlefield. The war in Syria has uncovered Iran’s true expansionist intentions, along with a Persian arrogance toward Arab Shiites that Hezbollah fighters are not used to.
To get a better sense of how the group’s members perceive these dynamics, this article draws on author interviews with a large number of Hezbollah fighters and commanders. Although there is no way to tell how representative their views are, the high level of agreement they express on certain issues is telling. In particular, they tend to blame IRGC-Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani for the deteriorating relations.
THE SOLEIMANI EFFECT
MESOP NEWS BACKGROUNDER : MEMRI February 21, 2017 – Special Dispatch – No. 6794
Based on statements by Syrian regime officials, chiefly President Bashar Al-Assad himself, and on articles in Syrian government and pro-government press, the regime’s attitude towards U.S. President Donald Trump is characterized by ambivalence. On the one hand, regime officials have thus far expressed cautious optimism regarding the future of relations between the countries out of a desire to maintain good ties with a U.S. administration they see as different from its predecessor and more in line with Russia regarding the Syrian crisis. On the other hand, articles in the official Syrian press did not hold back their criticism of President Trump, particularly after his call to establish safe zones for refugees in Syria.
This report will review the Syrian regime’s position on the Trump administration, as can be gleaned from statements by Assad and articles in the Syrian government and pro-government press:
Assad Welcomes Trump Statements On Combating Terrorism, Calls Syrian Safe-Zone Plan Unrealistic
Michael Dalder/Reuters 23 Febr 2017 – Sen. John McCain secretly traveled to northern Syria last weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. The senator’s visit was reportedly organized with help from the U.S. military and was predominantly an effort to allow McCain to speak with American officials and Kurdish fighters leading the charge to push ISIS militants out of Raqqa, the jihadist group’s stronghold. “Mr. McCain is believed to be the first U.S. lawmaker to travel to the Kurdish-controlled area of northeastern Syria since it became a hub for American special-operations forces who are aiding local forces in the fight against Islamic State,” the Journal noted. It is believed that McCain last visited Syria in 2013 when he met with the Free Syrian Army, another rebel group supported by the United States. www.mesop.de
Israel jets bombs Damascus suburb in Syria — The JPost m.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-C…
Geneva IV: Who is coming? What do they want? And will it matter? All you need to know about Syria’s new peace talks. irinnews.org/analysis/2017/… https://www.irinnews.org/analysis/2017/02/21/everything-you-need-know-about-latest-syria-peace-talks
MESOP FLASH : PKK/PYD – Kurdish Forces Reach Euphrates River East of Raqqa Amid Massive ISIS Collapse
By Chris Tomson Al-Masdar News – Posted 2017-02-22 00:10 GMT – Following the capture of 8 villages earlier in the day, the US-backed ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) swept through another five ISIS-held villages in a huge offensive that now has Kurdish forward units stationed at the northern bank of the Euphrates River in a region some 40 kilometers east of the provincial capital of Raqqa.
22 Febr 2017 – Rebels in northwest Syria say CIA-coordinated military aid has been frozen since last month. Rebel officials said the cut-off came amid clashes with the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. They said that no official explanation was given, although they believed the main objective was to prevent arms and cash being taken by JFS, known as Jabhat al-Nusra until it ended formal allegiance to Al Qa’eda in July 2016.Two US officials said the suspension was because of the JFS attacks. It includes salaries, training, ammunition, and guided anti-tank missiles, some of which was provided by Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.