Syrian “Four Town” Deconfliction Agreement Passes First Implementation Test

[SEE: The Pentagon, The Saudis, Qatar, Kidnappings and Bustards…All To Enable Open Sponsorship of Al-Nusrah Front]

 

Syria conflict: ‘Deal reached’ for four besieged towns

“Residents of Foah and Kefraya, two government-held towns in the north-west, would be bussed out.
In return, people in two rebel-held towns near Damascus, Madaya and Zabadani, will be given safe passage.”

Syria: Buses arrive to evacuate two rebel-besieged Shia towns

Some 6,000 residents from predominantly Shia towns of Foua and Kefraya will be evacuated to government-controlled areas.

The opposition has consistently maintained that such evacuation deals amount to forced demographic change [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]
The opposition has consistently maintained that such evacuation deals amount to forced demographic change [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

Dozens of buses on Wednesday entered two government loyalist towns under siege from rebels in the northwest province of Idlib, as part of a deal to evacuate residents to government-controlled areas, according to state news agency, SANA.

Some 6,000 people will leave, emptying out the mostly Shia towns of al-Foua and Kefraya, a commander in the regional alliance that backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the Reuters news agency.

“What are we going to do with our land and property? Oh, my hometown,” a 42-year-old who wished to remain anonymous told AFP news agency.

“I pray this will go well.”

Rebels from Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham – a group formerly linked to al-Qaeda – and Iran-backed forces agreed to the deal to evacuate people in return for the release of more than 1,500 civilians and rebels in state prisons, sources said on Tuesday.

A deal for the evacuation of residents from the two Shia towns was first reached in April 2017 but had only partially materialised with only a group of people evacuated to government-held areas.

Politics of evacuation

The April evacuation was halted after a blast killed 150 people, including 72 children.

Iran, which backs Assad against the mainly Sunni rebels and has expanded its military role in Syria, has long taken an interest in the fate of the Shia in the two towns.

In the past two years, thousands of people, mostly from rebel-held areas, have been forced to move to territories controlled by the rebels as part of evacuation deals.

The opposition has consistently maintained that such evacuation deals amount to forced demographic change and deliberate displacement of Sunni populations away from the country’s urban centres.

They accuse Tehran of attempting to change the demographics in areas close to Damascus with the goal of partitioning the country.

Another opposition source said the resumption of talks was aimed at deterring a potential military campaign by pro-government forces on the two towns.

Idlib is part of a de-escalation deal – signed by Iran, Russia and Turkey – that calls for the cessations of hostilities between rebel groups and government forces.

The agreement, which initially included Eastern Ghouta in the northern Damascus countryside and Deraa province in the south, has already been broken with government forces, backed by Russian air support, in control of much of the territory.

Sunni Terrorist Outfits In Syria/Iraq Cannabilize Themselves…Everybody Else Benefits

[Who Is Assassinating Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s Leaders?–November 2017]

Islamic State targets rival jihadists and Islamists in northern Syria

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State continues to operate throughout Syria, including in the northwestern province of Idlib. The group has claimed a series of plots targeting its jihadist and Islamist rivals in recent weeks. The attacks are centered in Idlib province, including its capital city, but have spilled over into the countryside and neighboring provinces as well.

The Islamic State’s propagandists have named the operations after Abu al-Baraa al-Saheli. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) executed al-Saheli after detaining and accusing him of orchestrating a coordinated assassination campaign against HTS and other actors.

HTS is the largest jihadist group in Idlib, which was seized in 2015. The ideologues hope to transform Idlib province into an emirate ruled under sharia. But HTS and its closest allies have suffered a string of setbacks and are relying on Turkey to save their proto-state from a possible invasion by the Assad regime, Russia and Iran. In addition, HTS has been fighting against its own longtime allies, including ideologically similar groups that are also opposed to the Assad government and the Islamic State.

The Islamic State’s clandestine apparatus has further complicated life for HTS and others.

On July 12, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s media team produced three images from an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Idlib city. The target was Sheikh Anas Ayrout, a longtime opposition figure and senior sharia official who has been part of the nascent governance efforts in northwestern Syria. A photo from the IED bombing can be seen below.

Initial reports indicate that Ayrout was injured, but survived the attack. Still, it is telling that the Islamic State could target such a high-profile individual. It does not appear that Ayrout was accidentally struck. Instead, Baghdadi’s men identified Ayrout’s car, tracked it and placed an IED along its route. A targeted attack of this kind requires a sophisticated network of cells deep inside the heart of HTS’s primary redoubt.

On July 13, the Islamic State released three more photos documenting the assassination of Abu Ahmed al-Sansawi in al-Dana, Idlib. According to reports on social media, al-Sansawi was a leader in the Sultan Murad Division, a rebel group that took part in Turkey’s operation in Afrin. Once again, the killing appears to have been a targeted assassination — not a haphazard drive-by shooting. One of the pictures released by the Islamic State can be seen below.

Two other images released yesterday show an improvised device explosion underneath a vehicle driven by “apostates” in the town of Sarmada.

Other images and statements produced between July 10 and July 13 include: pictures of a gunman attempting to assassinate two individuals riding on a motorcycle, three photos of another IED attack on rival insurgents, and a grisly photo of two men who were decapitated in Maarrat al-Nu’man. The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has also published a string of reports claiming that various HTS officials and members have been hunted in recent days.

Some of the images are recorded with cameras positioned close to the action, demonstrating that the self-declared caliphate’s men are operating well behind enemy lines.

HTS has attempted to combat this intrusion on its turf with a security campaign, detaining alleged Islamic State cells and sweeping various areas for IEDs. Like other jihadists opposed to Baghdadi’s caliphate project, HTS refers to the Islamic State’s men as “Kharijites,” a reference to an early Islamic sect that is most often identified with extremism.

Several photos from the HTS security campaign can be seen at the bottom of this article.

While the Islamic State campaign inside Idlib seems to be focused and intense, it is not new. Baghdadi’s representatives have repeatedly targeted HTS, as well as others in northern Syria. And HTS has failed to root out its rivals’ presence despite persistent efforts.

Since mid-2017, HTS has issued multiple reports claiming that various Islamic State cells had been detected and detained. Yet, more than one year later, Baghdadi’s cells continue to pose a problem.

In June 2017, Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al-Muhaysini survived an assassination attempt after attending Friday prayers at a mosque in Idlib. It wasn’t clear at the time which party was responsible, but some online jihadis claimed an Islamic State member was the culprit. Others within HTS have also opposed Muhaysini, a US-designated terrorist with links to al Qaeda. The Saudi cleric subsequently renounced his position in HTS.

In April, the Islamic State’s Damascus “province” released an 18-minute production titled, “So Will They Not Repent to Allah.” The entire video was an attempt to undermine the ideological legitimacy of HTS and al Qaeda.

In addition to the attacks in Idlib, the so-called caliphate has also fought HTS in Hama, the Yarmouk refugee camp outside of Damascus and elsewhere. Thus far, there is no sign that the Sunni jihadists are reconciling to fight their common enemies.

HTS’s photos from its security campaign targeting “Kharijites” (Islamic State cells) in Idlib province:

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

Trump Considers Allowing Putin To Grill Former US Amb. McFaul Over Russian Election Tampering

Trump may turn over former US ambassador to Putin

President Trump is considering turning over former US ambassador Michael McFaul to Moscow for questioning.

Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about McFaul and other Americans during their Helsinki summit and is mulling the decision with his national security team, according to the White House.

“There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

“And the president will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”

Putin mentioned Americans he’d like to question during a joint press conference with Putin after their private meeting.

“We would expect that the Americans would reciprocate,” Putin said when asked about the 12 Russian officials who were indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

” …and that they would question officials, including the officers of law enforcement and intelligence service of the United States, whom we believe are — who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia, and we have to — to request the presence of our law enforcement.”

McFaul responded to the Russian allegations by asking the White House to deny the “ridiculous” request.

“I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin,” McFaul tweeted.

“Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy US indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin.”