Syrian-Jordanian Meetings to Reopen Nasib Border Crossing

Damaged vehicles near the Syrian-Jordanian border at the Nasib crossing in southern Syria.

Amman- Jordanian-Syrian meetings have been taking place over the last few days to discuss the subject of reopening the Nasib Border Crossing, said sources in Jordan.

Consultations are being held away from media spectacles– results and arrangements will be made clearer next October, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Nasib Border Crossing is an international border crossing between Syria and Jordan. It is one of the busiest border crossings in Syria and is situated on the Damascus-Amman international highway.

Sources pointed out that reopening the crossing is a move representing common interest for both Jordanian and Syrian parties and that its resumption is clearly linked to border security implications.

Despite Amman being put under undeniable pressure, sources said Jordan refused to open the Nasib crossing when it was under the control of unofficial authorities.

For its part, Russia’s Defense Ministry urged armed Syrian opposition factions to reopen the border crossing point between Syria and Jordan.

“We ask the leaders of the armed opposition, the American and Jordanian sides and the head of the United Nations offices in the cities of Damascus and Amman to assist the Syrian government in resolving the issue of reopening the crossing of the customs share and part of the road,” said the Russian Centre for reconciliation of opposing sides in the Syrian Arab Republic.

The opening of the crossing will allow for increased trade between Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, especially between the governorates of Daraa, Sweida and Damascus.

Russia’s call came after a new meeting convened in the Jordanian capital of Amman, which included representatives from Syrian opposition factions, the local council in Daraa, and Jordanian officials.

The meeting was arranged in order to reach an agreement on Nasib’s reopening, but it failed in light of the conditions put forward by opposition factions and the Syrian regime.

Opposition factions demanded that all measures at the crossing be placed under its control (the southern front factions of the Free Syrian Army are active in the area) and that the Syrian regime establishes a second crossing point near the Nasib crossing, where the opposition does not intervene.

As for Damascus, it demanded the presence of its staff to conduct all the crossing operations as was the case before the Syrian revolution broke out.

Putin Depends on Analysis, Not Hope

Putin

The United States now aims to reduce Iranian influence in the Levant (Sham)- wrote former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford in an exclusive column to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. American media reports still say that Washington hopes Russia will compel Iran to evacuate its forces from Syria. One informed American journalist said this was an important part of the strategy the Americans explained to an Israeli military/intelligence delegation visiting Washington August 17.

Israeli Prime Minister Natanyahu took a military/intelligence delegation on August 23 to see Putin in Russia to convince Russia to use its influence to push Iranian forces out of Syria eventually. Natanyahu even threatened to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s palace if Iranian forces stay in Syria.

Moscow answered directly. On August 30 Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who is not famous for being subtle, told reporters that Israel should not attack Iranian forces in Syria. He also said that cooperation between Iran and Syria that does not violate international law is not subject to question

To make Russian policy extremely clear, the Russian ambassador in Tel Aviv on August 23 told Israeli television that while Russia would like all foreign forces out of Syria, including Iranian forces, but the priority “at this stage” is to support the Syrian Government and fight terrorists. The Russian ambassador to the United Nations on August 23 also said that Iran plays a “constructive role” in Syria.

Iran’s “constructive role,” in addition to helping Assad, is helping Russia reduce American influence in Syria and the Middle East. For seventy years Russia has resented the American encirclement of Russia with bases and alliances. Helping Washington reduce Iranian influence now is not consistent with the true Russian goal which is about decreasing American influence in the region.

Russia has a new airbase in Syria near Homs and an expanded naval base in Tartous. It has long-term agreements with Damascus to keep these bases. Moscow speaks with more authority about Syria, Libya and even perhaps mediation in the Gulf. Iranian-mobilized militias fighting for Assad indirectly helped Russia achieve this strategic advance.

Russia would have to risk its interests to confront Iran in Syria. Russia and Iran both compete and cooperate in regions like the Caucuses and Central Asia. What does it gain to increase Iranian hostility in those regions? And Russia is beginning to profit commercially from Iran. It has deals to build nuclear plants in Bushehr and develop an Iranian gasfield; it sells arms like missiles and helicopters to Iran and equipment for infrastructure such as railroads. Trade between Russia and Iran increased to almost $2 billion in 2016.

Russia will not, therefore, just turn around and confront Iran because Washington and Tel Aviv make a request without any sweet compensation. Lavrov on August 30 said that Russia sees no intention in the region to attack Israel now; for Russia, there is space to accommodate Iran in Syria. The Russians have sent a few military police to southwestern Syria to ensure respect for the ceasefire there and to keep “non-Syrian” fighters away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders. In July the Russians, Americans and Jordanians agreed in principle that non-Syrian forces should stay 20 miles back from the Jordanian border. In August, the Russians changed and suggested instead 10 miles, and in some locations only about 5 miles.

Now the Israelis, Americans and Jordanians hope that Russia will honor its word about compelling Iran to respect even the smaller separation distance and avoid the Syrian opposition-controlled zones. The small opposition-controlled zones, however, pose a dangerous question to Damascus: how can Baathist rule be one hundred percent legitimate if some freely elected councils manage local affairs and ignore Damascus? Assad and Iranian general Qassim Suleimani know how to wait patiently for tactical advantage.

The Russians have said that their military police are not fighting units so what will they do when Syrian and Iranian forces drive past them to attack the opposition towns in the southwestern “de-escalation zone”? Unless Russia’s air forces attack the Syrian and Iranian forces it cannot stop them.

It is important to note that Russia has never done this in the “de-escalation zone” violations in Aleppo in 2016 and in eastern Ghouta and northern Homs in 2017. It is especially important to remember that Russia always defends the principle that sovereign governments legally may take any military action inside their own borders.

Assad and Suleimani may ruin the Russian plan for decentralization and a fast peace deal in Syria. But when Putin faces the Iranian damage to this Russian plan for Syria, he will be thinking not just about Quneitra and Daraa and Ain Terma or local councils or international law, but also about Russian business and factories and workers, and Azerbaijan and Tajikistan and Kyrgzstan and also the constant rivalry with America. Putin will be analyzing, not hoping.

Truce in Syria’s Daraa between Washington, Moscow

Syria

Beirut, Baghdad, Moscow, London – A temporary truce was announced on Saturday between the Syrian regime and opposition forces in Daraa.

The announcement was made after intense talks between American and Russian officials in the Jordanian capital Amman.

At the same time, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces reached al-Walid crossing near al-Tanf military camp that is used by the US to train opposition forces.

The Syrian news agency SANA reported according to a regime forces statement that they had halted military operations in Daraa for 48 hours, starting Saturday afternoon, “to back the national reconciliation efforts”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights later confirmed the ceasefire, reporting that three hours of calm had passed since the announcement of the truce.

The quiet was interrupted however by intermittent shelling by the regime, it added.

An opposition commander refuted to Reuters however that the attacks had stopped.

He said that the opposition was not informed of the truce and the regime is still continuing its attacks.

A media source noted that the situation on the ground “is tipped in favor of the rebels and the ceasefire is like a victory for the factions that have persevered for weeks against the barbaric military machine of the regime and its militias.”

The truce announcement is tantamount to a “partial withdrawal by the regime so that it could save face before its supporters,” it added.

Washington hailed the ceasefire, calling on Damascus to commit to its pledges and urging the opposition to stop its attacks.

Meanwhile, the Israeli ambassador in Moscow, Harry Koren, revealed that Tel Aviv is carrying out contacts with Russia over setting up “de-escalation” zones in southwest Syria. The zones would include Daraa, which lies on the border with Jordan, and al-Quneitra, which lies adjacent to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Observatory said on Saturday that foreign special forces are fighting on the frontlines of the US-led international coalition against ISIS.

Some 400 American and French soldiers are taking part in the battle for the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, said activist Abou Mohammed al-Raqqawi.

ISIS Administered by 12-Member Committee Instead of Baghdadi

Beirut- ISIS has limited the role of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and sent a 12-member leadership council to the Syrian territories under the name of “negotiating committee” to practically lead the terrorist organization, informed Syrian sources said on Sunday.

“Lately, Baghdadi has only been ISIS’ image, while the actual leadership of the organization in Syria and Iraq is in the hands of a 12-member council that plans and orders everything related to the group,” the founder of the Euphrates Post, Ahmad al-Ramadan, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday.

Ramadan denied reports that Baghdadi had been killed in an air strike in Syria, asserting that the leader of ISIS “initially lives in Iraq.”

The founder of the Euphrates Post also said that the 12-member council has lately moved to Syria but issues decisions implementable in Syria and Iraq.

The latest development comes at a time when ISIS faces in its stronghold in Raqqa an attack from three fronts, led by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which already infiltrated from the east and west of the city and has lately opened a new front against the organization by attacking its linked Division 17 base in the north.

Meanwhile, a video released on the Internet showed on Sunday Syrian regime helicopters dropping barrel bombs on the city of Daraa and a Palestinian refugee camp in the southwest of the city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 170 missiles and barrel bombs had targeted Daraa on Sunday.

Currently, ISIS faces four battles in Syria, where the SDF and coalition forces attack the terrorist organization’s stronghold in Raqqa, while the Syrian regime and its allied militias face the group at three other fronts, in the countryside of Palmyra, the countryside of Damascus and in the eastern desert in the countryside of eastern Hama.

Assad Allies Threaten to Hit US Forces in Syria

Beirut- Allies of Syrian regime head Bashar al-Assad and Iran on Wednesday released vociferous statements, threatening to target US military bases in Syria.

The anger comes following an attack staged by US forces against pro-regime fighters near the Tanf border crossing in southeastern Syria.

The statement from the “allies of Syria” said attacks on US forces could be carried out with “different missile and military systems, in the light of the deployment of American forces in the region”.

The threats mark an escalation of tensions between the US and the Syrian regime and its backers over control of Syria’s southeastern frontier with Iraq, where Washington has been training Syrian rebels at a base inside Syrian territory as part of its campaign against the terror group ISIS.

It said that the silence of “the allies of Syria” thus far was “an exercise in self-restraint” to allow for “other solutions”.

“This will not last if America goes further, and crosses the red lines,” it added.

In an apparent message to show the capabilities of Damascus-backer Iran, Hezbollah aired what it said was footage taken undetected by an Iranian unmanned aircraft of a US drone flying over southeastern Syria.

The area is seen as crucial to Assad’s Iranian allies and could open an overland supply route from Tehran to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – the “Shi’ite crescent” of Iranian influence that is a major concern to US-allies in the region.

Battlefield developments taking place in the Yarmouk area, situated in rural western Daraa region, showed that international efforts are completely invested in dislodging extremists and ISIS terrorists based in southern Syria and clear their presence near the Jordanian border.

A statement published by ISIS revealed that warplanes of the US-led international coalition bombarded the ISIS headquarters in Yarmouk, killing four elite leaders and 12 other members.

Furthermore, information indicated that the coalition air strikes targeted the building of the group’s self-styled legal court, located in al-Shagara town, west of Daraa city.

Daraa Threatened with the ‘Aleppo Scenario’

Daraa

Beirut – The Syrian regime launched in the past two days more than 500 airstrikes on Daraa, threatening the southern city with a scenario similar to the one witnessed in Aleppo.

“About 500 raids were carried out by the regime forces and their loyal militiamen on the city of Daraa since Saturday,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented on Monday.

The monitoring group also said the regime’s warplanes and helicopters launched 52 raids on Daraa, 145 ground-to-ground missiles, 110 barrels bombs and at least 190 artillery and rocket shells, which left casualties and injuries and massive damage to the properties of the citizens.

Activists said that the Syrian regime and “Hezbollah’s” militias that control the city were currently increasing the number of raids to be able to completely control the city. They will later force the remaining towns and villages to ink reconciliation deals and force the displacement of the residents to the north of Syria.

Meanwhile, opposition forces announced on Monday that 10 “Hezbollah” members were killed in the Daraa battles, while the Observatory reported that at least 14 members were killed when a missile hit one of their headquarters.

Opposition journalist in Daraa, Abdul-Hamid Naseer told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The regime and Shi’ite militias want at this stage to cut off the road to rebels and to stop their advancement to new areas.”

Also on Monday, the Free Syrian Army-linked group, Lions of the East Army, also known as Jaysh Usud al-Sharqiya, shot down a Syrian regime fighter jet near the capital Damascus.

The group said the pilot was killed after the Russian-made MIG-21 plane crashed in Tel Dakwa, some 50 kilometers east of Damascus.

Syrian Regime Heads South to Recapture Dara’a

Dara'a

Beirut – The Syrian regime has pushed military reinforcements to the southern front ahead of a strategic battle aimed at cementing its presence in the areas it controls in the city of Dara’a.

Opposition sources in the south told Asharq Al-Awsat that its forces are getting prepared for the battle, noting that the opposition has made progress and recently targeted regime reinforcements headed to Dara’a.

Sources added that the battle with the regime will not be easy despite the intense airstrikes.

The regime reinforcements started hours after the visit of Maher Assad to Dara’a along with officers from the fourth armored division.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Director Rami Abdel Rahman said that the Syrian regime longs to put an end to the depletion of its forces on the contact lines in the city.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat however that the reinforcements and military preparations are insufficient for a wide operation in the south.

Although the huge reinforcements hint that the battle will not be limited to regaining Manshiya district, estimates show that seizing Dara’a has become a major regime concern.

Southern front spokesman Issam al-Rayes told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Manshiya district has become a nightmare for the regime that wants to restore it along with other regions in the city.”

He pointed out that the continuous airstrikes and bombardment that were launched two weeks ago have intensified in recent days, a sign that the battle is imminent.

Regime Forces, Iranian Militias Mobilize in Syrian ‘South Triangle’

Regime Forces, Iranian Militias Mobilize in Syrian ‘South Triangle’- Daraa

Beirut-The Syrian regime has called for reinforcements from its forces and an Iranian militia to the axes of the “Triangle of Death” that links Daraa to Quneitra and Damascus in preparation for a broad attack on areas under control of the opposition, trying to regain what it had lost during the latest battles.

Meanwhile, armed opposition factions announced their preparations to face any advance by the regime forces on these axes, and the escalation on the fighting fronts reached the northern and eastern Hama rural areas, which were the target of dozens of raids.

The “Southern Front” factions in the Syrian Free Army has announced in a statement its readiness for an anticipated military operation by the regime in the ‘Triangle of Death.’

Activists from the opposition in Daraa outskirts said the regime has sent “huge military reinforcements to the front including tanks and dozens of Lebanese Hezbollah militants in conjunction with aerial and artillery bombings over several Syrian towns and villages.

For its part, the opposition Shaam News Network revealed that a large number of military ranks, armored personnel, carriers, and soldiers went to Daraa as part of a plan to reoccupy the Manshiyya neighborhood, which was taken over by the opponents a few days ago.

The network stressed that all the militants are from Shiite militias, who were done with controlling Aleppo and have moved forward to the South to carry on another battle.

“The large military crowds of Assad and Shiite militias seek control over Manshiyya neighborhood and would even go further to take over Daraa al-Balad,” a military opposition leader in Daraa said.

The Southern front is part of an agreement signed in the Astana meetings to reduce the tension and make this area safe under the Russian-Turkish-Iranian agreement.

Syria Regime Says ISIS ‘Minister of War’ killed

Syrian forces said on Wednesday they had killed ISIS’ “minister of war” among other senior figures in the terrorist organization in operations in northern Syria.

A Syrian source cited by regime media identified the war minister as Abu Musab al-Masri, without saying exactly when or where he was killed.

He was named among 13 senior ISIS figures killed in Syrian operations east of the city of Aleppo.

A previous ISIS minister of war, Abu Omar al-Shishani, died last year. The Pentagon said Shishani was likely to have been killed in a US air strike in Syria.

The jihadist group confirmed his death in July but said he had died fighting in the Iraqi city of Shirqat south of Mosul.

ISIS faces separate campaigns in northern Syria by the Russian-backed Syrian regime forces, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and Turkey-backed rebels fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner.

Baghdad-based ISIS expert Hisham al-Hashimi said the death of Masri, if confirmed, would be a “significant blow to the terrorist group ahead of the battle of Raqqa”. He said al-Masri was the fourth most senior figure in the organisation.

Also Wednesday, Syrian regime forces carried out a series of airstrikes on the southern city of Daraa that has been declared a safe zone under a recent Russia-sponsored deal, opposition activists and an independent monitor said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces carried out at least 12 airstrikes and dropped at least nine barrel bombs on rebel-held parts of Daraa as intense clashes with fighters, including members of Levant Liberation Committee, continued in the city’s Manshiyeh neighborhood.

The monitoring group added that at least two rockets were launched by regime forces in the area.

ISIS Advances in Western Daraa, Syria Moving Closer to Rebel Stronghold in Nawa

Caption:A bombed-out street in Daraa

Beirut-Terror group ISIS tightened its grip over swathes of land in rural western Daraa, Syria, recording a sizable advance against rebel-held areas. The progress comes ten days after an ISIS-staged counterattack in south Syria.

Last week, ISIS’ offshoot ‘Jaysh Khaled bin Walid’ launched an offensive to expand their pocket in southwestern Daraa– this assault would prove successful, as they seized several points from rebel forces.

Even though rebel factions affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) considered the ISIS advance to walk hand in hand with regime support it receives, many doubts are stirred by Israel’s off idleness shown towards hardliners drawing near to its borders at the Golan Heights.

Great suspicions are drawn from ISIS extremists managing to procure sophisticated weapons and their supply source.

Field sources confirmed that Jaysh Khaled bin Walid had registered a sweeping advance in western Daraa seizing control over a number of towns, villages and strategic hilltops.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that in the last 24 hours fierce on and off clashes pitted rebels against ISIS hardliners in Daraa western countryside. Accounts of heavy artillery and rocket activity were registered on behalf of both sides.

Jaysh Khaled bin Walid militants had taken control over the hilltop of Tal Al-Jamou.

Ongoing fighting between the two sides over the course of ten days claimed 163 lives of militants, rebels and civilians the observatory added.

Fighting draws closer to the rebel-held Nawa, a Daraa city which is considered the rebel’s key southern stronghold, the observatory added.

The ISIS attack against FSA sites proves positive ties existing between the terror group and regime forces, a cooperation stretching from the south up to the north, FSA official Abu Ahmed al Asimi told Asharq Al Awsat.

“Fighting off the regime cost us 90 lives both of militants and civilians, and over 120 lives in western Daraa,” Asimi added.

Jaysh Khaled bin Walid is formed by a merger of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, the Islamic Muthanna Movement, and the Army of Jihad, all affiliated with ISIS.