Syria

Mossad chief leads delegation to brief White House on Syria

Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen will lead an Israeli delegation of defense officials to brief the White House later this week on the security situation in Syria, the Haaretz daily reported Monday.

Cohen will be joined by Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi and the director of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau, Zohar Palti.

The group will meet with US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and other senior officials, the report said.

The sit-down was orchestrated by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

“Talks will focus on Israel’s security needs vis-a-vis Syria and Lebanon, and will not deal with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” a White House official told Haaretz.

The teams are expected to discuss the ceasefire agreement in southern Syria that was brokered by Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came out against the agreementannounced on July 7, saying that it does not sufficiently address Iranian military ambitions in the area.

The condemnation presented a rare case of the prime minister at odds with the US president. Netanyahu told journalists that the agreement perpetuates Iranian plans to set up a disruptive long-term presence on Israel’s northern border, something he has repeatedly vowed that the Jewish state won’t abide.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent presence in Syria. Israel has also carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of “game-changing” weapons bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.

Security officials have warned that Tehran may use the area of western Iraq and eastern Syria as a “land bridge” to transfer fighters and weaponry to Lebanon.

The ceasefire was the first initiative by the Trump administration in collaboration with Russia to bring some stability to war-torn Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during a support gathering by Likud party members and activists at the Tel Aviv Convention Center on August 9, 2017. (AFP/Jack GUEZ)

Apprehensions over Iranian designs in the region were stoked by recent movements of Shiite Muslim militias — loyal to Iran and fighting alongside Syrian government forces — toward Jordan’s border with Syria, and to another strategic area in the southeast, close to where the two countries meet Iraq.

The advances are part of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s push to regain territory from rebel groups, some backed by the West, in the southern Daraa province, and from Islamic State extremists in the southeast, near the triangle with Iraq.

But Syria’s neighbors suspect that Iran is pursuing a broader agenda, including carving out a land route through Syria that would create a territorial continuum from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon.

The ceasefire for southern Syria is meant to keep all forces pinned to their current positions, said Jordan’s government which participated in the talks. This would prevent further advances by forces under Iran’s command, including Hezbollah.

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Iran filling vacuum left by IS retreat in Syria, Iraq, Mossad chief warns

The head of the Mossad warned Sunday that as the Islamic State terrorist group is beaten back, Iran and its proxies are rushing in to take over its territory.

“The areas where Daesh [an Arabic term for IS] presence is decreasing, Iran is working to fill the void,” Mossad chief Yossi Cohen said during a security briefing to cabinet ministers on Sunday.

In late 2014, the terrorist group controlled approximately 100,000 square kilometers (38,610 square miles) of territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria, according to the US-based RAND Corporation think tank. (The group also controlled an additional 10,000 square kilometers in Nigeria, Libya, Afghanistan and Egypt.) It started losing ground in 2015 and currently controls less than half that area, or some 36,200 square kilometers (14,000 square miles), according to the IHS Conflict Monitor intelligence think tank.

Israeli security officials have warned that Tehran may use the area of western Iraq and eastern Syria as a “land bridge” connecting the Islamic Republic to Lebanon, through which it can move fighters and weaponry.

Cohen said Iran is also taking over territory for itself and its proxies in Lebanon and Yemen.

Iraqi Special Forces soldiers celebrate after reaching the bank of the Tigris river as their fight against Islamic State militants continues in parts of the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, Sunday, July 9, 2017. (AP/Felipe Dana)

The Mossad chief noted that in the two years since the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Tehran has not abandoned its desire to develop nuclear weapons, and that the agreement “only reinforced that trend and strengthened Iranian aggression in the region.”

The JCPOA came under considerable criticism in Israel for its failure to address Iran’s disruptive non-nuclear activities, and for what Israeli officials described as legitimizing the regime in Tehran and its activities in the region.

During his presentation to the ministers, Cohen said Iran was now enjoying economic growth and international contracts in the deal’s wake.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Cohen’s presentation by noting “that Israel is in no way beholden to international treaties signed by Iran,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The Prime Minister’s Office added that “Israel will continue to operate with determination and in a variety of ways in order to protect itself from those threats.”

Syria suicide blast kills 23 rebel fighters near Jordan border

BEIRUT — At least 23 rebel fighters were killed Friday and dozens more wounded in a suicide blast in southern Syria near the border with Jordan, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bomber detonated an explosive belt at a base used by Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) near the Nasib border crossing.

“Most of the 23 rebels killed were from Jaish al-Islam. Dozens were wounded, including 20 in critical condition,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but jihadists linked to the Islamic State group have attacked rebels in southern Syria.

The Nasib border crossing — known as Jaber on the Jordanian side — lies in Syria’s southern Daraa province and was captured by rebel groups in April 2015.

Smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, on June 14, 2017. (AFP/Mohamad Abazeed)

Syria’s uprising erupted in Daraa province in March 2011 with widespread protests calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.

It has since turned into an all-out war that has drawn in international powers and killed more than 330,000 people.

Under a plan hammered out in May between Russia, Turkey and Iran at peace talks in Kazakhstan, four “de-escalation zones” were to be established across swathes of Syria to ease fighting between regime and rebel forces.

Parts of southern Syria make up one zone. Another lies in the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, while a third is in the central province of Homs.

The fourth zone, in northwestern Idlib province, has yet to be implemented.

Turkey starts work on a huge new wall along its Iranian border to ‘halt the influx of militants’ and plans to do the same on its frontier with Iraq as a third 500-mile barrier with Syria nears completion

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4771294/Turkey-begins-building-border-wall-Iran.html?ito=social-facebook

 

  • Building work has started to create a 90-mile wall along Turkish border with Iran
  • The huge construction project is part of a move to bolster security in the area
  • Another phase will see a security wall built along the Turkish border with Iraq
  • A third wall, 566 miles long, is being built along the country’s frontier with Syria

Turkey has begun construction of a 90-mile wall along its frontier with Iran as part of moves to bolster the country’s security, it has emerged.

Pictures show huge concrete blocks being moved in to position along the border in Agri province in a bid to halt the infiltration of Kurdish militants and illegal smugglers.

The construction project will also eventually see a wall along parts of the Iraq border and comes as Turkey continues work on its 566-mile barrier along its frontier with Syria.

Turkey has begun construction of a 90-mile wall along its frontier with Iran as part of moves to bolster the country's security, it has emerged

Turkey has begun construction of a 90-mile wall along its frontier with Iran as part of moves to bolster the country’s security, it has emerged

The construction project will also eventually see a wall along parts of the Iraq border and comes as Turkey continues work on its 566-mile barrier along its frontier with Syria

The private Dogan news agency said the governor of Agri province, Suleyman Elban, inspected the construction of the security wall on Tuesday.

The Turkish authorities are constructing the 6ft wide and 9ft high barrier with portable seven-ton blocks, the report said.

Hurriyet said the first stage should be complete by October with a ‘security road’ for security workers to patrol the border.

The wall will stretch across the far North Eastern section of the border and will feature 15 doors with bulletproof glass.

Pictures show huge concrete blocks being moved in to position along the border in Agri province in a bid to halt the infiltration of Kurdish militants and illegal smugglers

Pictures show huge concrete blocks being moved in to position along the border in Agri province in a bid to halt the infiltration of Kurdish militants and illegal smugglers

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in January plans to build a wall along its borders with Iraq and Iran, similar to the one currently being erected along the 911-kilometer (566-mile) frontier with Syria.

Erdogan said Turkey aims to build along its entire border with Syria.

He added at the time: ‘We’ll do the same along the Iraqi border and in appropriate places along the Iranian border.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4771294/Turkey-begins-building-border-wall-Iran.html#ixzz4pO2yZsdS
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UN chief: Syria probe must continue despite prosecutor’s resignation

UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday said a UN commission probing war crimes in Syria should continue its work, despite the resignation of prosecutor Carla Del Ponte from the panel.

Del Ponte quit in protest at the lack of followup action from the UN Security Council to a dozen reports it has produced on serious human rights abuses and war crimes during the six-year conflict.

Guterres regrets Del Ponte’s decision to resign, but stresses the “importance of accountability for crimes against civilians during the conflict,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

“He supports the continued work of the commission as an important and integral part of the accountability process,” he added.

Del Ponte had been working on the commission since September 2012.

The 70-year-old Swiss national has also worked to uncover war crimes in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia.

This file photo taken on March 17, 2015, shows member of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Carla del Ponte, attending a press conference in Geneva. (AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini)

Established by the UN Human Rights Council, the commission is tasked with reporting on serious rights violations and war crimes in Syria, where more than 330,000 people been killed since the start of the war in March 2011.

The commission has repeatedly urged the Security Council to ask the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into war crimes in Syria.

A bid by the council in 2014 to refer Syria to the ICC was blocked by China and Russia, Syria’s ally.

“I cannot remain on this commission that does absolutely nothing,” Del Ponte told the Swiss newspaper Blick, accusing members of the Security Council “of not wanting to establish justice.”

“At first, there was good and bad — the opposition on the side of good and the government in the bad role,” she said.

Today, “everyone in Syria is on the bad side. The (Bashar) Assad government has perpetrated horrible crimes against humanity and used chemical weapons. And the opposition is now made up of extremists and terrorists.”

She added that she had never seen such crimes committed elsewhere, not in the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda.

Frustrated by the Security Council’s inaction on Syria, the UN General Assembly last year set up an international panel to help collect evidence to be used in future cases of war crimes prosecution.

Catherine Marchi-Uhel, a French judge who has tried international cases in Kosovo, Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia, is to begin work as the head of the new panel in Geneva on Tuesday.

Ex-war crimes prosecutor quits panel probing Syria abuses

GENEVA (AP) — Former war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte says she is resigning from the UN’s independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, decrying Security Council inaction to hold criminals accountable in the war-battered country where “everyone is bad.”

In comments published Sunday by the Swiss magazine Blick, Del Ponte expressed frustration about the commission and criticized President Bashar Assad’s government, the Syrian opposition and the international community overall.

“We have had absolutely no success,” she told Blick on the sidelines of the Locarno film festival Sunday. “For five years we’ve been running up against walls.”

Del Ponte, who gained fame as the prosecutor for the international war crimes tribunals that investigated atrocities in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, has repeatedly decried the Security Council’s refusal to appoint a similar court for Syria’s 6½-year-old civil war. Permanent member Russia, which can veto council actions, is a key backer of Assad’s government.

“I give up. The states in the Security Council don’t want justice,” Del Ponte said, adding that she planned to take part in the last meeting in September. “I can’t any longer be part of this commission which simply doesn’t do anything.”

Appointed in September 2012, Del Ponte was quoted by Blick as saying she now thinks she was put into the role “as an alibi.”

“I’ve written my letter of resignation already and will post it in the coming days,” she said.

She did not immediately respond to a text message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, walk along a damaged street in eastern Raqqa, Syria, July 14, 2017. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

In her comments to Blick, Del Ponte described Syria as a land without a future.

“Believe me, the terrible crimes committed in Syria I neither saw in Rwanda nor ex-Yugoslavia,” she said. “We thought the international community had learned from Rwanda. But no, it learned nothing.”

At first in Syria, “the opposition (members) were the good ones; the government were the bad ones,” she was quoted as saying.

But after six years, Del Ponte concluded: “In Syria, everyone is bad. The Assad government is committing terrible crimes against humanity and using chemical weapons. And the opposition, that is made up only of extremists and terrorists anymore.”

This frame grab from video provided on Tuesday April 4, 2017, by Qasioun News Agency, shows a Syrian man carrying a man on his back who has suffered from a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria (Qasioun News Agency, via AP)

The commission issued a statement saying it was aware since mid-June of Del Ponte’s plans to leave and insisted that its work “must continue” to help bring perpetrators in Syria to justice.

Del Ponte’s resignation shrinks the commission to two members after Thai professor and former human rights investigator Vitit Muntarbhorn left last year to become the first-ever UN independent expert investigating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The commission was set up in August 2011 by the Human Rights Council to investigate crimes in Syria, no matter who committed them. Since then, it has compiled thousands of interviews and keeps a list of suspected war criminals under lock and key at the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

Russia's deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov attends the emergency session of the United Nations Security Council at the UN on April 5, 2017 in New York, about the suspected deadly chemical attack that killed civilians, including children, in Syria. (AFP/Timothy Clary)

But Del Ponte said that as long as the Security Council didn’t put in place a special tribunal for war crimes in Syria, all commission reports were pointless.

The issue of accountability for war crimes in Syria has largely taken a back seat to diplomatic efforts to end the war in recent months.

The commission’s relevance has also come into question after the UN General Assembly, acting in the face of the Security Council inaction, voted in December to set up an investigative body to help document and prepare legal cases to possibly prosecute the most serious violations in Syria’s war that is estimated to have left at least 400,000 dead.

US SAYS ‘GRAVE’ CONSEQUENCES IF SYRIA’S AL-QAIDA DOMINATES IDLIB PROVINCE

 

AMMAN – The United States warned a takeover of rebel-held northwestern Idlib province by Syrian jihadists linked to a former al-Qaida affiliate would have grave consequences and make it difficult to dissuade Russia from renewing bombing that recently stopped.

In an online letter posted late on Wednesday, the top State Department official in charge of Syria policy, Michael Ratney, said the recent offensive by Hayat Tahrir al Sham, spearheaded by former al-Qaida offshoot Nusra Front, had cemented its grip on the province and put “the future of northern Syria in big danger.”

“The north of Syria witnessed one of its biggest tragedies,” said Ratney who was behind secret talks in Amman with Moscow over the ceasefire in southwest Syria announced by US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. It was the first such US-Russian effort under the Trump administration to end Syria’s civil war.

“In the event of the hegemony of Nusra Front on Idlib, it would be difficult for the United States to convince the international parties not to take the necessary military measures,” the top State Department diplomat said.

Mainly Islamist rebels swept through Idlib province in 2015, inflicting a string of defeats on the Syrian army until Russia stepped in to reverse the tide of the civil war in favor of President Bashar Assad.

Idlib province, the only Syrian province that is entirely under rebel control, has been a major target of Russian and Syrian aerial strikes that caused hundreds of civilians casualties.

The agricultural region had a respite since a Russian-Turkish brokered accord reached last May approved four de-escalation zones across Syria, among them one in Idlib province.

Many locals fear the jihadists’ hold on Idlib will again make the province a target of relentless attacks by Russian and Syrian forces and turn it into another devastated Aleppo or Mosul.

More than two million people live in Idlib, which has become an overcrowded refuge for many of the displaced, including rebel fighters and their families.

“JOLANI AND HIS GANG”

“Everyone should know that Jolani and his gang are the ones who bear responsibility for the grave consequences that will befall Idlib,” said Ratney, referring to former Nusra head Abu Mohammad al Jolani who effectively leads Hayat Tahrir al Sham.

In less than three days Jolani’s fighters overran their powerful rival, the more mainstream Ahrar al Sham group, seizing control of a strategic border strip with Turkey in some of the heaviest inter-rebel fighting since the start of the conflict.

An emboldened Hayat Tahrir al Sham has sought to allay fears it did not seek to dominate the whole province but suspicions run high among many in the region about their ultimate goals to monopolize power.

The jihadists have linked up with Western-backed Free Syria Army (FSA) groups who continue to maintain a foothold in several towns in the province. The south of the region is still in the hands of rival groups, including Ahrar al Sham but the jihadists have been trying to extend their control.

Ratney told rebel groups, who have been forced to work with the jihadists out of expediency or for self preservation, to steer away from the group before it was “too late.”

He said Washington would consider any organization in Idlib province that was a front for the militants a part of al-Qaida’s network.

The expanding influence of the former al-Qaida has triggered civilian protests across towns in the province with some calling for the group to leave towns and not interfere in how they are run.

Nusra and its leaders would remain a target of Washington even if they adopted new names in an attempt to deny Washington and other powers a pretext to attack them, the US official said.

The jihadist sweep across Idlib province has raised concerns that the closure of some crossing points on the border with Turkey could choke off the flow of aid and essential goods.

Washington remained committed to delivering aid in channels that avoided them falling into the hands of the hardline jihadists, Ratney said echoing similar concerns by NGO’s and aid bodies after their recent gains.

The main border crossing of Bab al Hawa with Turkey which the al-Qaida fighters threatened to take over has however been re-opened with a resumption of aid and goods to the province that has relieved many people.

ROCKETS AND GUNFIRE TEST NEW RUSSIA-BACKED TRUCE NEAR SYRIA’S HOMS

 

BEIRUT – Warring sides exchanged rocket and gunfire north of the Syrian city of Homs overnight, hours after a Russia-backed truce took effect, a war monitor said on Friday, while heavy rocket fire also marred a similar deal east of the capital Damascus.

Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, said on Thursday its defense ministry and Syria’s opposition had agreed to set up a “de-escalation” zone in the rebel-held countryside north of government-held Homs.

After an initial few hours of calm, the rebels and government forces and their allies began to target each other’s territory. The monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory, said it had so far not received reports of any deaths.

The Russia-backed truce was similar to a de-escalation deal worked out in July for the besieged Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave east of Damascus.

Despite the deal and some reduction in violence, air strikes, rockets and exchanges of fire have continued to hit Eastern Ghouta.

The Syrian Observatory said since the Eastern Ghouta truce was declared on July 22 it had recorded at least 25 civilian deaths, including seven children, and dozens of injuries. Russia said it had deployed its military police in Eastern Ghouta in July to try to enforce the de-escalation zone.

Eastern Ghouta, the only major rebel-held area near the capital, has been blockaded by Syrian government forces since 2013. It has shrunk considerably in size over the past year as the Russia-backed Syrian army has taken control of other rebel-held areas around Damascus.

The Observatory said on Friday around 70 rockets had fallen in 24 hours on Eastern Ghouta in the heaviest bombing since the de-escalation zone was declared.

Several attempts at a lasting ceasefire in western Syria, where rebels have lost ground to government forces and their allies, have collapsed with both sides blaming the other for outbreaks of violence.

IS WASHINGTON CEDING SYRIA TO RUSSIAN INFLUENCE?

 

US President Donald Trump this week appeared to confirm a number of recent media reports suggesting that the US has scrapped the long-standing covert CIA program to provide weapons and training to Syria’s rebels.

There was much subsequent merrymaking regarding Trump’s supposed ‘revelation’ of the program via his preferred medium of Twitter. This commentary was not serious. The existence of the program, if not its details, has been an open ‘secret’ for a while.

Nevertheless, the decision to scrap the CIA program, now confirmed by General Raymond A. Thomas, head of US Special Operations Command, is a significant development.

So is the US exiting the Syrian stage, and ceding the area in its entirety as a zone of influence to Russia. What will this mean for Syria? Does it imply the eclipse in the entirety of anti-Assad forces and an overall victory for the dictator in the long civil war in Syria?

Observation of the available facts suggests that it isn’t that simple. The CIA program, dubbed ‘Timber Sycamore,’ was created in early 2013 and was intended to support ‘moderate’ units from among the Syrian Sunni rebels, at a time when Islamist and jihadi forces had already become entrenched and prevalent among them.

The first groups of fighters armed by Timber Sycamore began to appear in southern Syria in September 2013. Operating out of military operations centers in Jordan and Turkey, the program involved the vetting and training of Syrian rebels by US personnel, and from 2014, the provision of sophisticated weaponry.

The first reports, for example, of TOW anti-tank missiles in the hands of the rebels, appeared in April 2014. Media reports suggested the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the project, with Riyadh providing arms and money and the Americans responsible for training.

The precise extent of weaponry provided, the list of groups supported, the type of training offered, and the affiliations of the US personnel involved in the training remain classified. However, the impact of the program can be estimated from the results on the ground.

In northern Syria, US-supported groups never managed to dislodge the dominant Salafi-jihadi groups, supported by Qatar and Turkey, most importantly the Ahrar al-Sham group and the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra (subsequently renamed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, after formally ending its al-Qaida allegiance).

Instead, the US-supported groups became de facto partners with these organizations.

In southern Syria, where Salafi jihadi Islamism was weaker, the program has had a greater impact.

With US personnel responsible for training, mainly through the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, the US-supported forces (also supported by Jordan and Israel) have succeeded in largely preventing the Assad regime and its allies from reconquering Deraa and Quneitra provinces.

Parallel to the CIA program, the Pentagon has been running its own train-and-equip operation for the war against ISIS. This project, after some initial hiccups, has been notably successful and is slowly and relentlessly driving Islamic State back in its ‘capital’ city of Raqqa.

The beginnings of success for the Pentagon program, however, coincide with the commencement of US cooperation not with the Sunni Arab rebels, but rather with the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units).

This unlikely partnership, which began in October 2014, enabled the US to work with a ready-made coherent force on the ground, rather than to try to help establish and shape one. Subsequently, the Defense Department program has surrounded this Kurdish core with a variety of additional Arab forces, creating the multi-ethnic force which is now known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

This program has in addition offered training and support to rebel forces in southeast Syria wishing to fight Islamic State. At present, two Arab rebel militias, Maghawir al-Thawra and Shohada al-Quartayn, are receiving training and aid from the US and allied (reportedly British and Norwegian) forces in the desert of southeast Syria.

This train-and-equip program is not being wrapped up. That is, the US is not pulling out of involvement in Syria in toto. Rather, a particular project is being terminated.

So where is this likely to have an impact? For obvious reasons, in the area east of the Euphrates, where the Pentagon train-and-equip program is the relevant project, the termination of Timber Sycamore will have no impact at all.

It will also have little noticeable effect on the remaining rebel enclaves in northwest Syria.

There, the US-supported groups are largely irrelevant. The growing force in Idleb Province is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which just this week drove the rival Ahrar al-Sham from 31 villages and consolidated its control in Idleb City, the last major urban center in the hands of the rebellion.

The area where the end of Timber Sycamore may have the largest impact is in southwest Syria, in the region adjoining the Golan Heights and the border with Jordan.

Here the decision to end the program seems to follow from the cease-fire concluded on July 7, and the subsequent deployment of Russian ‘military police’ (i.e. re-designated Russian soldiers) to enforce the ‘de-escalation.’ Israel has benefited from the previously existing balance of forces in the southwest, which provided a rebel presence as a kind of buffer against the advance of the regime and its Iranian, Hezbollah and Shia militia allies.

The ending of Timber Sycamore and the de-escalation agreement might tip this balance.

However, this is not a certainty even in the southwest. Firstly, it is possible that the vacuum left by the faltering CIA program may be replaced by another US channel of support, sufficient to prevent rebel collapse in the southwest.

Secondly, Israeli, Jordanian and Gulf support for the rebels may continue to play a similar role.

Thus, the impact of the demise of the ill-fated ‘Timber Sycamore’ project may be somewhat less than might be immediately apparent. The main question facing Syria today is whether the regime (which really means Iran, Hezbollah and allied militias) will continue to expand its area of control under the cover of Russian support and in the face of confusion and lack of strategic clarity from other forces.

The end of the covert CIA program of support for the rebels removes one of the less consequential barriers to this, without making it inevitable.

Russia says forces deployed to police Syria safe zones

MOSCOW — Russia has deployed military police to monitor two safe zones being established in Syria, the defense ministry in Moscow said Monday.

Senior commander Sergei Rudskoi said Russian forces had set up checkpoints and observation posts around a zone in the south-west and in another one covering Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

The two areas are part of a broader Moscow-backed plan to create four “de-escalation zones” in rebel-held parts of Syria.

The announcement marks the first deployment of foreign troops to bolster the safe zones as Moscow seeks to pacify Syria after its military intervention swung the six-year conflict in favor of President Bashar Assad.

Rudskoi said Russian personnel on July 21 and 22 established two checkpoints and 10 observation posts along the boundaries dividing rebel forces and government troops in the southern zone.

Earlier this month Russia, the United States and Jordan struck a deal to fix the boundaries of this zone and impose a ceasefire in the area.

Moscow has also informed Israel of its deployment and that the nearest Russian position is 13 kilometers from the demarcation line between Israeli and Syrian troops in the Golan Heights, Rudskoi said.

Under a second deal Moscow said it struck with “moderate” rebels over the weekend in Egypt, Russian forces on Monday also set up two checkpoints and four observation posts in the area covering conflict-ravaged Eastern Ghouta, he added.

The Syrian army on Saturday announced a halt in fighting for parts of Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held region on the outskirts of the capital, but a London-based monitor said regime war planes still carried out raids.

Assad’s forces have surrounded the Eastern Ghouta region for more than four years, and regime forces have regularly targeted the area.