Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

ISIS Besieged in Al-Bab, Disputes among Astana Sponsors | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A fighter from the Free Syrian Army plays with a dog at a checkpoint captured from ISIS group jihadis near the town of Qabasin, located northeast of the city of Al-Bab, some 30 km from Aleppo/ AFP

Ankara, Moscow – ISIS militants are now encircled in the city of al-Bab after Syrian regime forces advanced Monday in the north of Syria towards the south of the city while the Turkish army and Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions tightened the lose on the terrorist organization from the city’s three other sides.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that regime forces and allied militias cut off the last supply route of the stronghold of ISIS in the east, with Iraq.

The Observatory said that regime forces backed by Lebanese “Hezbollah” militants had made several advancements in the southeast of al-Bab on Sunday night, supported by Russian ground and air assault.

Meanwhile, states sponsoring the Astana meeting on Syria settlement failed to agree on a mechanism to monitor Syrian government and opposition compliance with a Dec. 30 truce brokered by Moscow and Ankara.

Asharq Al-Awsat learned from sources close to the Astana meeting that no final agreement was announced following the talks on Monday after disputes had emerged between the different delegations on implementing a mechanism that monitors the ceasefire in Syria and on specifying which areas were controlled by Fatah al-Sham (previously al-Nusra).

The sources added delegations would now consult with their capitals before returning to Astana to draft a final agreement on the Syrian settlement.

For its part, Moscow insists on the need to discuss the draft “constitution” it previously suggested for Syria to plan for the phase following the ceasefire. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ignored on Monday settlements implemented in the Geneva statement and Resolution 2254 by considering that in Syria, the next step should be to draft a new Syrian constitution.

In Turkey, Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar paid an inspection visit to troops in the southeastern provinces of Gaziantep and Kilis on the border with northern Syria.

Turkish forces predicted that the visit of the Turkish general to his military troops could be a sign that Ankara would escalate its Euphrates Shield operations to control al-Bab and oust ISIS militants before the arrival of Syrian regime forces that are now only 5 kilometers away from the city.

Also, on Monday, Turkish troops and FSA rebels, backed by Turkish air strikes, clashed with ISIS members in the town of Bazaa, the Observatory said.

In a related development, the Turkish military said in a statement that a total of 21 ISIS militants were “neutralized” in northern Syria as part of its ongoing Euphrates Shield operation.

Turkish jets destroyed 65 ISIS targets in al-Bab and Bzagah, including 59 buildings used by militants, the statement added.