Battle for source
30 December in Syria, the ceasefire between government forces and private armed opposition groups (ceasefire does not apply to banned in Russia LIH and “Dzhabhat EN Nusra”). Over the past week and a half fighting between the truce agreed to by the parties is not completely stopped, and moved to southern parts of the country. If in December the Syrian army managed to complete the liberation of Aleppo and to stop the advance of Islamists near Palmyra, since the beginning of January, the center of military attention has shifted to the suburbs of Damascus, where some areas controlled by the armed opposition. Main clashes are taking place in the area of Wadi Barada, 10 km to the West of Damascus, halfway to the Lebanese border.
The fighting began the evening of 29 December, when the rebels captured there is a gas station and blew up an army excavator, built military fortifications. In response, the government army launched a ground offensive with the support of air strikes — despite the fact that this happened a few hours before the onset of the regime of silence. According to the analytical center Omran Dirasat, the main rebel forces in Wadi Barad consist of groups of “Ahrar al-sham” and “Jaish al-Islam”, the two largest opposition groups involved in the ceasefire agreement. From the Pro-government troops are the main fighting force is the Lebanese movement “Hezbollah”, which is not formally involved in the truce, but supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The strategic importance of the region of Wadi Barada is under rebel control there is a town of ain al-Fijeh — through it runs the river Barada, supplying Damascus and the surrounding area with drinking water. During the fighting the waterworks here were destroyed, and each of the parties to shift to another the responsibility.
In the end, on 6 January the Syrian army approached ‘ Ayn al-Figachu, and then began the long negotiations on the admission of Syrian engineers to Barad. In conversation with the French media January 9, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad described the situation in Wadi Barad attempt by “terrorists” to take hostage the 5 million inhabitants of Damascus and the surrounding area. As announced on 5 January, the UN for humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, the fact of violation of water supply is a war crime regardless of whether it was a consequence of military action or sabotage.
That the armistice agreement is reached, it became known on December 29, when the President of Russia Vladimir Putin announced the signing of an agreement between the Syrian government and the largest groups of “moderate opposition”. Following this, the Ministry of defence has published a list of these organizations, and defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the training of the truce were made by Russia together with Turkey.
Along with the announcement of a ceasefire, Russia for the second time in a year reported partial curtailment of military operations in Syria. The reduction of troops started on 6 January, the first theater of hostilities left the aircraft-carrying cruiser “Admiral Kuznetsov”, which was part of the group of the Navy in the Mediterranean sea two months.
Over the past year, this was the third attempt to introduce a national truce in Syria and the first, when the guarantors of the agreement are not Russia and the United States, Russia and Turkey. This allowed to connect to the Pro-Turkish dialogue-minded group that controls substantial territory in the North-West of Syria. Are not parties to the agreement, the terrorists of the “Islamic state”, “Jabhat EN-Nusra” and the men “of the Democratic forces of Syria” (SDF, a coalition of Kurdish and Syrian opposition brigades leading the offensive on ISIS in Northern parts of the country).
However, on the morning of 30 December, a few hours after the introduction of silence regime, Reuters reported, citing observers in Idlib province in Northwest Syria, continued fighting between the army and rebels. The next day, the armed opposition threatened to withdraw from the agreement if the battle will continue. On January 3, a part of the groups refused to participate in the preparation of the peace conference, without departing from the truce.
Since the inception of the armistice is a situation in which the cease-fire are more interested in Moscow and Damascus, rather than the armed opposition, emphasizes the Director of the Center for analysis of middle East conflicts of the Institute of USA and Canada Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Shumilin. Bashar al-Assad intends to use a military victory in Aleppo, to create a strong negotiating position, and Moscow — as a chance to gradually withdraw from the Syrian conflict, the expert believes. While Shumilin assumes that the political process may be tied to wait the reaction of the new American authorities on what is happening in Syria. On the one hand, all the opposition groups are beginning to question the ceasefire, interest in, Assad gives hope for the achievement of the result, the analyst believes.
Talks in late January
Peace conference, which was now in jeopardy, should the plan be held in the capital of Kazakhstan Astana in late January. The meeting is intended to run on the basis of the declared ceasefire, the political process to end decades of civil war. Despite the ongoing fighting between the signatories of the armistice, on 6 January the UN special envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura said that the talks in Astana between the Assad government and the opposition is not cancelled and is scheduled for January 23 — three days after commencing work in the new US Republican administration.
“At the talks in Astana, we are ready to discuss anything <…> We are open, no restrictions. But who will be on the other side of the table, is still unknown. If this is the “real” Syrian opposition I mean the people of Syria, but not Saudi Arabia, France and the UK, then we can discuss the problems of Syria. The desirability, even the success of the conference will depend on this,” commented the French media upcoming talks Assad himself.
Just before going to press Assad received a delegation of French politicians led by MP from center-right party “the Republicans” Thierry Mariani, who is one of the closest associates of françois Fillon, leader of the presidential race before the April elections in France. Mariani is known for his Pro-Russian views, in July 2015 he was the first Western politicians to visit Crimea after its accession to Russia.
A day earlier, according to the Syrian news Agency SANA, a French delegation visited Aleppo, where almost became a victim of a terrorist attack. Daily, said the Assad in Syria, violations of the declared cease-fire. However, the visits of Western politicians, according to the President, still in dire need of: only way to tell the “detached from reality” the European authorities about the “real situation” in Syria.
Raqqa in the future
In an interview with French reporters Assad assured that his plans, as the head of state, to “liberate every inch” of Syrian land, which includes the capture of the city of raqqa, the “capital” of ISIS. However, according to the President, to the list of pressing military purposes raqqa is not yet included.
At the moment, offensive in Raqqa lead the Syrian-Kurdish SDF. Last week they repelled the Islamists several villages West of the city. Farther to the West of its “operation Shield of the Euphrates” hold the Turkish forces. However, the months-long siege by ISIS militants occupied city of al-Bab has not been a success for Ankara.
On the background of the armistice in Syria again began the attack by Iraqi troops in Mosul — the “capital” of the Islamists in Iraq. In the night of January 7 the government army for the first time in three years of fighting ISIS took one of the bridges across the Tigris river in the outskirts of Mosul. Currently the Iraqi police protects terrorists from the remaining parts of the city on the East coast.
In mid-December offensive of the anti-terrorist coalition in Mosul has slowed down. Politico linked this to the rise of losses in the elite units of the Iraqi special forces (the main strike force operations), which allegedly has already reached 50% of the personnel. However, in early January, the offensive of the coalition forces resumed.