Syrian army says it will conduct ops near Aleppo against ISIL
BEIRUTThe Syrian army signaled on Feb. 2 that it would press on with operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) northeast of Aleppo, near al-Bab, where Turkish forces along with Ankara-backed Syrian rebels have been clashing with the jihadists since December 2016.
Syrian government forces have rapidly driven ISIL back in the last two weeks, advancing to within 6 kilometers (4 miles) of the northern Syrian city of al-Bab that the jihadists are fighting to hold onto.
The army’s gains risk sparking a confrontation with Turkey, which has sent tanks and warplanes across the border to support Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters who are trying to seize al-Bab in a separate offensive called the Euphrates Shield operation.
Turkey’s offensive, launched last year, aims to drive both ISIL and Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) fighters away from its borders, as Ankara sees both groups as terrorist organizations and security threats.
Syria’s military general command said government forces and their allies had recaptured more than 30 towns and villages from ISIL, and a 16 km (10 mile) stretch of the highway that links Aleppo to al-Bab to the northeast.
“This achievement widens the secured areas around Aleppo city and is the starting point for [further] operations against Daesh [ISIL],” a military spokesman said in a statement broadcast on state TV, according to Reuters.
The military “confirms its commitment to ... protecting civilians and maintaining the unity of the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the statement added.
Syrian army’s move comes a few months after Syrian forces backed by Russia and Iran took control of the Aleppo city center.
51 ISIL militants ‘neutralized’
The Turkish military said on Feb. 2 that a total of 51 ISIL militants were killed, wounded or captured over the last 24 hours in northern Syria, as part of the Euphrates Shield operation.
The General Staff statement did not give a precise location for where the militants were “neutralized,” but FSA fighters backed by Turkish forces have been concentrating on taking the ISIL-held town of al-Bab, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Aleppo.
As part of the Euphrates Shield operation, the Turkish army hit 244 ISIL targets, including command facilities, defensive placements, shelters, vehicles and weapons over the past 24 hours.
On Feb. 2, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Russia, Turkey and Iran would discuss how a cease-fire in Syria, which entered into force on Dec. 30, 2016, is being implemented at a meeting in Astana on Feb. 6, two weeks after a peace talks meeting in the same venue.
Meanwhile, Syria’s main opposition body said it would be “unacceptable” for the United Nations to choose opposition delegates to the next round of peace talks in Geneva planned for Feb. 20, while they would not accept invitations to negotiations which did not lead to “transition of power to a transitional governing body.”
The U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has said the U.N. would choose the opposition’s representatives if they cannot agree on their delegation, “in order to make sure that it can be as inclusive as possible.”
“Mr. de Mistura’s talk of his intentions to form the opposition delegation himself is unacceptable,” the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC), the main opposition umbrella group, said on Twitter, citing its spokesman Salim al-Muslit.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Feb. 1 backed de Mistura’s plan.
“It is clear this is a possibility that might be used,” Guterres told reporters about the ultimatum.
He also said that the U.N. wanted upcoming talks in Geneva to be a success and this means focusing on core issues including a transitional government.
The U.N. chief told reporters that countries should concentrate all their efforts on the June 2012 communique approved by key nations in Geneva and a Security Council resolution adopted on Dec. 31 that again endorsed its roadmap to peace in the war-ravaged country.
The Geneva communique calls for a transitional government in Syria with full executive powers “on the basis of mutual consent” and outlines steps leading to the drafting of a new constitution and elections.