On Thursday in Munich, the US and Russia agreed to implement a ceasefire in Syria in a week's time. The Munich announcement follows the Assad regime’s Russian- and Iranian-backed offensive against Aleppo, causing tens of thousands of Syrians to flee to the Syrian-Turkish border. Backed by Russian airstrikes, Syrian forces along with Iranian, Hezbollah, and other Shiite fighters have nearly completely encircled Aleppo and cut off a major supply route connecting Aleppo city with the Turkish border. The attack on Aleppo had caused last week’s negotiations for a political solution to the conflict in Syria to falter, as rebels refused to negotiate until the Assad regime and Russia halted their sieges and airstrikes on civilian areas, a demand supported by a UN Security Council resolution signed by Russia.
US officials had hoped for an immediate ceasefire and are concerned that Russia will use the coming week to help Assad’s forces and Iranian-backed militias seize more territory. In an interview with AFP, Assad vowed he would regain control of the entire country. Both Syria and Russia have insisted that despite the eventual ceasefire, the fight against “terrorists” will continue. However, the Assad regime considers all opposition groups to be terrorists, while the Russians have been accused of failing to distinguish between moderate groups and ISIS, as their air strikes have hit predominantly non-extremist opposition groups. Syrian rebels expressed doubt that Russia would observe the ceasefire and called on the international community to enforce the agreement.
Russia’s air strikes and the battle in Aleppo have tilted the balance of power in Syria in favor of the Assad regime and the Iranian-Hezbollah axis. Analysts including President Barack Obama’s former Special Adviser for Transition in Syria, Frederic Hof, have criticized the administration for not taking action to protect civilians and the moderate opposition in the face of the Assad regime’s brutality. Hof has warned that Russia aims to neutralize “the armed nationalist opposition in order to create for the West… the horror of a binary choice between Bashar the Barrel Bomber and Baghdadi the False Caliph.” On Tuesday, former Middle East advisor to the Obama administration Dennis Ross reiterated his call for the creation of safe haven in Syria as a way to gain leverage against Russia and protect the civilian population.
Hamas, the Iran-backed terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, has prohibited a senior United Nations official from leaving Gaza, the Associated Press reported Thursday.A UN source told the AP that Mahmoud Daher, the head of the World Health Organization’s Gaza office, was barred from exiting the strip due to a newly-instituted bureaucratic rule. Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since it seized power in a violent coup in 2007, recently enforced a requirement that members of international organizations would have to obtain a exit permit from Hamas to leave Gaza. The UN had been exempt from this requirement, but that is apparently no longer the case. The AP characterized the new rule as an attempt by Hamas “to exert its influence on the UN.” UNRWA, the UN’s Palestinian relief agency, aids thousands of Gazans.
The International Committee of the Red Cross had to close its Gaza office earlier this week when protesters stormed the building.
Hamas has suffered a number of setbacks in recent weeks. Eleven Hamas militants have died in tunnel collapses in the past few months. The collapses have occurred as Hamas has expedited its construction of attack tunnels in anticipation of another war with Israel. Divisions in the ranks of the terrorist group’s leadership were exposed earlier this week, with the announcement of the execution of one of its commanders under murky circumstances.
Ties between Hamas and the Sinai-based franchise of ISIS were the focus of renewed attention after Israeli intelligence revealed that ISIS terrorists are traveling to Gaza for medical treatment. (via TheTower.org)