Pro-Assad forces moving from Aleppo Province towards SDF-held areas of Raqqa Province
Hezbollah’s media outlet claims that pro-Assad forces have made a significant advance in northern Syria, setting up a possible confrontation with the US-supported, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
The outlet of Hezbollah, a leading element in the pro-Assad military, said the offensive has moved from eastern Aleppo Province into Raqqa Province, where the SDF has been pushing back the Islamic State and is now attacking ISIS’s central position in the city of Raqqa.
The immediate achievement of a 20-mile move to the south, capturing seven villages, was to reach the road from Ithriya to SDF-held Tabqa and secure a supply route to regime-held Aleppo from ISIS attacks. The route can also be used for a drive into Raqqa Province.
The pro-Assad forces, which also include Iranian-led foreign militia, are also poised to retake al-Rusafa oil field, one of the many taken by ISIS since 2014 to put pressure on the Assad regime over energy supplies.
The pro-Assad forces and SDF, created in late 2015 and led by the Kurdish militia YPG, have largely avoided conflict. However, the advance of both groups against a weakening ISIS has raised the prospect of a fight for territory, as the YPG and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) pursue an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan and the Assad regime tries to block partition or even a federal Syria.
On Monday, Russia tipped off a shift in its line through its outlet Sputnik. The website continued a developing attack on the SDF as “terrorists” just like the Islamic State. It accused the Kurdish-led force of working with ISIS, even as the SDF advanced inside Raqqa city to reach the walls of the Old City.
UN: “Staggering” Loss of Life from US Airstrikes Near Raqqa
A UN commission has reported large numbers of civilians slain by US airstrikes near the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s central position in Syria, as the Americans support the offensive by the Kurdish-led SDF.
Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said:
We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced….
The imperative to fight terrorism must not, however, be undertaken at the expense of civilians who unwillingly find themselves living in areas where ISIL [the Islamic State] is present.
The committee, drawing from testimony of survivors and witnesses, said at least 300 people have been killed by the aerial attacks near and in Raqqa since March.
The US has only acknowledged 484 civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since June 2014.
The tracking group Airwars puts the number at more than 3,800.
Beyond Raqqa, Pinheiro said violence continues almost unabated across Syria, despite the Russian-led declaration of “de-escalation zones”: “Whether it be the unrestrained use of airstrikes against residential neighborhoods, attacks against doctors and hospitals, or the use of suicide bombers that deliberately target civilians, fighting remains brutal in purpose and reprehensible in method.”
Pinheiro said only one de-escalation zone, in northern Idlib Province and western Aleppo Province in northwest Syria, had seen a “discernible reduction” in violence — although local activists say that pro-Assad forces are continuing attacks even in those areas.
The official said, “The United Nations has only been permitted one humanitarian delivery in 2017.”
The Assad regime has effectively maintained sieges on opposition areas by denying permission for UN convoys to bring in aid.
TOP PHOTO: Claimed image of pro-Assad forces in northern Syria (Mikhail Voskresenskiy/Sputnik)
At Least 8 Killed in Pro-Assad Bombing of Shelter in Daraa Province
At least eight people have been killed in pro-Assad bombing of a shelter in Daraa Province, amid the escalation of bombardment by the regime and its allies.
The former school in Tafas was struck on Wednesday.
As pro-Assad forces have tried to check a rebel advance in Daraa city and then launch a counter-offensive, they have stepped up bombing, shelling, and rocketing throughout the province in southern Syria.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) June 14, 2017
US Deploys Advanced Rocket System for 1st Time
The US military has moved a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System from Jordan into eastern Syria for the first time, providing more protection for the Free Syrian Army base at Tanf near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders.
The US has declared a 55-km (34-mile) exclusion zone around Tanf, where US special forces are present, to deter a pro-Assad offensive. On three occasions, US warplanes have bombed convoys that included Hezbollah fighters and Iranian-supported Iraqi militia.
HIMARS is a truck-mounted system which can fire missiles as far as 300 km (185 miles). It has also been deployed in northern Syria in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces against the Islamic State, as well as in Iraq.
The possibility of a confrontation between pro-Assad forces and the US-backed FSA has risen this spring with advances by both sides against a retreating ISIS. While the US has restrained the FSA from any attack on pro-Assad units, Washington is concerned about the establishment of a ground route for Iranian weapons supplies into Syria.