6 April 2020


Syrian, Russian jets bomb residential areas in eastern Ghouta

KONFRONTASI-Jets believed to be Syrian and Russian struck heavily crowded residential areas in a besieged rebel enclave near Damascus, killing at least 27 people and injuring dozens in the third week of a stepped-up assault, residents, aid workers and a war monitor said on Monday.

Civil defense workers said at least 17 were killed in the town of Hamoriya in an aerial strike on a marketplace and nearby residential area after over nearly 30 strikes in the past 24 hours that struck several towns in the densely populated rural area east of Damascus known as the Eastern Ghouta.

Four other civilians were killed in the town of Arbin, while the rest came from strikes on Misraba and Harasta, the civil defense workers said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, said the casualties on Sunday were the biggest daily death toll since the stepped-up strikes began 20 days ago. The monitor said nearly 200 civilians were killed in strikes and shelling, including many women and children, during that period.

The Eastern Ghouta has been besieged by army troops since 2013 in an attempt to force the rebel enclave to submission.

The government has in recent months tightened the siege in what residents and aid workers have said is a deliberate use of starvation as a weapon of war, a charge the government denies.

The United Nations says about 400,00 civilians besieged in the region face “complete catastrophe” because aid deliveries by the Syrian government were blocked and hundreds of people who need urgent medical evacuation have not been allowed outside the enclave.

Eastern Ghouta is the last remaining large swathe of rebel-held area around Damascus that has not reached an evacuation deal to surrender weapons in return for allowing fighters to go to other rebel-held areas farther north.

“They are targeting civilians ... a jet hit us there, no rebels or checkpoints,” Sadeq Ibrahim, a trader, said by phone in Hamoriya.

“May God take his revenge on the regime and Russia,” said Abdullah Khalil, another resident, who said he lost members of his family in the air strike on Arbin and was searching for survivors among the rubble.

Syrian army starts assault on last IS stronghold

KONFRONTASI-Syria’s army and its allies began an assault on the largest remaining stronghold of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq on Wednesday, Hezbollah-controlled media said, signaling the imminent fall of the militant group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

Islamic State has been all but destroyed over the past two years, remaining only in Albu Kamal in Syria, Rawa in Iraq, in a few neighboring villages and patches of desert, and some isolated pockets elsewhere.

At the height of its power in 2015, it ruled over an expanse of the two countries, eradicating their border, printing money, imposing draconian laws and plotting attacks across the world.

On Wednesday, the army and its allies surrounded Albu Kamal and started to enter it, the pro-Hezbollah al-Manar television said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, reported that Iraqi militias had crossed into Syria to join the assault, but they denied it.

Despite its losses, Islamic State still has a territorial presence in Libya and elsewhere, and many governments expect it to remain a threat even after it loses the caliphate it declared from Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.

It has already carried out a series of guerrilla operations in both Iraq and in Syria, and it has continued to inspire lone militants to attack civilian targets in the West.

In Syria, the end of major battle operations against Islamic State may only prefigure a new phase of the war, as the rival forces which have seized territory from the jihadists square off.

The Syrian army, alongside its Lebanese ally Hezbollah and other Shi‘ite militias, and backed by Iran and Russia, have seized swathes of central and eastern Syria in an advance against Islamic State this year.

Russian official media have in recent weeks reported a surge of strategic bombing and cruise missile strikes on Islamic State targets in eastern Syria as the army advanced.

A U.S.-backed coalition has supported a rival campaign in Syria by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias that have pushed Islamic State from much of the country’s north and east.

Assad says Syria war does not end in Deir al-Zor

KONFRONTASI-Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said the victories of the Syrian army and its allies against terrorist organizations do not end in Deir al-Zor province where Islamic State has its last significant stronghold, his office reported on Tuesday.

In a meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Assad said the war waged by his military and its allies also targets those seeking to “divide and weaken states”.[mr/reuters]

Islamic State guerrilla attacks point to its future strategy

KONRONTASI-Syrian and Iraqi forces closing in on the last scraps of Islamic State's caliphate straddling the remote border area between the two countries have already witnessed the jihadists' likely response.

While their comrades mounted last stands in their Syrian capital of Raqqa and the city of Hawija in Iraq, IS militants seized the Syrian town of al-Qaryatayn and launched its biggest attack for months in Ramadi late last month. That is the kind of guerrilla insurgency both countries foresee IS turning to.

"It is expected that after the Daesh terrorist organisation's capacity to fight in the field is finished, its remnants will resort to this type of (guerrilla) operation. But for a certain period of time, not forever," said a Syrian military source, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

The continued ability for IS to mount attacks in areas where it was thought to have been eliminated will hinder efforts to stabilise regions when the fighting wanes.

In Iraq, where Islamic State originated, it has a proven record of falling back upon local networks from which it can rise anew when conditions allow. So far, it has not shown it has the same capacity in Syria, and it might find doing so more challenging there than in Iraq.

The sectarian divisions on which it thrives are less pronounced in Syria, and it faces competition there for jihadist loyalty from other powerful militant groups.

"Daesh is in essence an Iraqi organisation, it will survive to some extent in Iraq. Syrian members will dissolve in other Syrian Salafi jihadist groups," said Hisham Hashami, an adviser on Islamic State to the Iraqi government.

But in both countries it has shown it can exploit holes left by overstretched enemies to carry out spectacular attacks - the one in Syria's al-Qaryatayn most clearly - that spread panic and tie down opposing forces.

It has also proved able to carry out bombings and assassinations in areas controlled by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, U.S.-backed Kurdish militias and rival jihadist rebel groups, signalling an ability to survive underground.

A jihadist from a Syrian rebel faction opposed to Islamic State said the group had won enough support among young men to give it a latent capacity to revive.

"I believe that it is possible, given that its ideology has spread widely among the youths, that something new will emerge," the jihadist said, pointing to the highly effective propaganda machine deployed by Islamic State over the last three years.


Islamic State defeated in its Syrian capital Raqqa

KONFRONTASI-U.S.-backed militias said they had defeated Islamic State in its former capital Raqqa on Tuesday, raising their flags over the jihadist group’s last footholds in the city after a four-month battle.

The fighting was over but the alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias was clearing the stadium of mines and any remaining militants, said Rojda Felat, commander of the Raqqa campaign for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

A formal declaration of victory in Raqqa will soon be made, once the city has been cleared of mines and any possible Islamic State sleeper cells, said Talal Silo, the SDF spokesman.

The fall of Raqqa, where Islamic State staged euphoric parades after its string of lightning victories in 2014, is a potent symbol of the jihadist movement’s collapsing fortunes.

Islamic State has lost most of its territory in Syria and Iraq this year, including its most prized possession, Mosul. In Syria, it has been forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert.

The SDF, backed by a U.S.-led international alliance, has been fighting since June to take the city Islamic State used to plan attacks abroad.

Another Reuters witness said militia fighters celebrated in the streets, chanting slogans from their vehicles.

The fighters and commanders clasped their arms round each other, smiling, in a battle-scarred landscape of rubble and ruined buildings at a public square.

The flags in the stadium and others waved in the city streets were of the SDF, its strongest militia the Kurdish YPG, and the YPG’s female counterpart, the YPJ.

Fighters hauled down the black flag of Islamic State, the last still flying over the city, from the National Hospital near the stadium.

“We do still know there are still IEDs and booby traps in and amongst the areas that ISIS once held, so the SDF will continue to clear deliberately through areas,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the coalition.

In a sign that the four-month battle for Raqqa had been in its last stages, Dillon said there were no coalition air strikes there on Monday.

As Syria war tightens, U.S. and Russia military hotlines humming

KONFRONTASI-Even as tensions between the United States and Russia fester, there is one surprising place where their military-to-military contacts are quietly weathering the storm: Syria.

It has been four months since U.S. President Donald Trump ordered cruise missile strikes against a Syrian airfield after an alleged chemical weapons attack.

In June, the U.S. military shot down a Syrian fighter aircraft, the first U.S. downing of a manned jet since 1999, and also shot down two Iranian-made drones that threatened U.S.-led coalition forces.

All the while, U.S. and Russian military officials have been regularly communicating, U.S. officials told Reuters. Some of the contacts are helping draw a line on the map that separates U.S.- and Russian-backed forces waging parallel campaigns on Syria's shrinking battlefields.

There is also a telephone hotline linking the former Cold War foes' air operations centers. U.S. officials told Reuters that there now are about 10 to 12 calls a day on the hotline, helping keep U.S. and Russian warplanes apart as they support different fighters on the ground.

That is no small task, given the complexities of Syria's civil war. Moscow backs the Syrian government, which also is aided by Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah as it claws back territory from Syrian rebels and Islamic State fighters.

The U.S. military is backing a collection of Kurdish and Arab forces focusing their firepower against Islamic State, part of a strategy to collapse the group's self-declared "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq.

Reuters was given rare access to the U.S. Air Force's hotline station, inside the Qatar-based Combined Air Operations Area, last week, including meeting two Russian linguists, both native speakers, who serve as the U.S. interface for conversations with Russian commanders.

While the conversations are not easy, contacts between the two sides have remained resilient, senior U.S. commanders said.

"The reality is we've worked through some very hard problems and, in general, we have found a way to maintain the deconfliction line (that separates U.S. and Russian areas of operation) and found a way to continue our mission," Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the top U.S. Air Force commander in the Middle East, said in an interview.

As both sides scramble to capture what is left of Islamic State's caliphate, the risk of accidental contacts is growing.

"We have to negotiate, and sometimes the phone calls are tense. Because for us, this is about protecting ourselves, our coalition partners and destroying the enemy," Harrigian said, without commenting on the volume of calls.

The risks of miscalculation came into full view in June, when the United States shot down a Syrian Su-22 jet that was preparing to fire on U.S.-backed forces on the ground.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said those were not the only aircraft in the area. As the incident unfolded, two Russian fighter jets looked on from above and a American F-22 stealth aircraft kept watch from an even higher altitude, they told Reuters.

After the incident, Moscow publicly warned it would consider any planes flying west of the Euphrates River to be targets. But the U.S. military kept flying in the area, and kept talking with Russia.

"The Russians have been nothing but professional, cordial and disciplined," Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the Iraq-based commander of the U.S.-led coalition, told Reuters.

Bom Bunuh Diri Gucang Tahrir Square Usai Libur Lebaran

KONFRONTASI-Bom bunuh diri mengguncang Tahrir Square, Damaskus, Syria, kemarin pagi (2/7).

Namun, jumlah korban jiwa masih simpang siur. Pemerintah Syria menyebut korban tewas hanya tujuh orang.

Namun, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) mengungkapkan bahwa korban meninggal mencapai 21 orang, sebagian besar warga sipil.

Belasan orang lainnya juga mengalami luka-luka.

Sebenarnya ada tiga pelaku bom bunuh diri yang masing-masing membawa mobil.

Petugas keamanan mendeteksi mereka saat mencoba memasuki Damaskus lewat jalan utama.

Dua pelaku berhasil diringkus dan kendaraan mereka diledakkan di luar kota. Namun, seorang pelaku lainnya lolos dan masuk ke Tahrir Square.

Pelaku terkepung, tapi dia bisa meledakkan diri. Di antara korban tewas, tujuh orang adalah pasukan keamanan.

'Jumlah korban jiwa berhasil diminimalkan karena serangan ini telah digagalkan,'' ujar Kepala Polisi Damaskus Mohamad Kheir Ismail saat diwawancarai stasiun televisi Al-Ikhbariya.

Meski begitu, ini adalah serangan bom bunuh diri terbesar di Damaskus sejak Maret lalu.

Sejauh ini belum ada pihak yang mengklaim bertanggung jawab.

Syria says U.S. chemical attack warning untrue, aims to justify new attack

KONFRONTASI-The Syrian government said a U.S. warning this week to Damascus not to carry out a new chemical weapons strike were baseless and a ploy to justify a new attack on the country, state television said.

State television quoted a foreign ministry source as saying Washington's allegations about an intended attack were not only misleading but also "devoid of any truth and not based on any facts."

US use of phosphorus endangers civilians in Iraq, Syria: HRW

KONFRONTASI - Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned that the use of white phosphorus by a US-led coalition purportedly fighting Daesh endangers the lives of civilians in Syria and Iraq regardless of the weapons’ means of delivery.

“No matter how white phosphorus is used, it poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm in crowded cities like [Syria’s] Raqqah and [Iraq’s] Mosul and any other areas with concentrations of civilians,” Steve Goose, the arms director at the HRW, said on Wednesday.

Ledakan Besar Guncang Kawasan Bandara Damaskus, Diduga Ulah Israel

KONFRONTASI-Ledakan besar terjadi di kawasan Bandara Internasional Damaskus yang kemudian diikuti jilatan api di tempat yang sama Kamis pagi buta waktu setempat, kata Observatorium HAM Suriah seperti dikutip Reuters.

Observatorium ini mengatakan penyebab ledakan belum diketahui pasti.

Namun saluran televisi Al-Manar yang pro-Hisbullah di Lebanon menyebutkan bahwa ledakan di tangki-tangki bahan bakar dan kompleks gudang dekat bandara Damaskus itu kemungkinan adalah ulah dari serangan udara Israel.