09/06/2016, 18.13
SYRIA
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As government forces advance towards Aleppo, the city gets ready for the final battle

by Pierre Balanian

Syrian Regular forces, with the help of allies, continue to advance south of the city. Tunnels used by Islamic extremist groups to bring men and weapons have been neutralised. After ceasefire talks fail, fighting continues. Washington uses Kurds and Turks to protect its interests, waiting for the next president, whilst the Russians want to maximise their military successes.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) –Syrian regular forces continue to advance, with the support of their allies, south of Aleppo, where they have already retaken Talat Al Makale'e, Bardat, Zeyut and Al Mashrifa. Fighters of the so-called Al Fath Army, whose name is a throwback to the Omayyad invasions of the early Islamic expansion, have fled. Syrian troops yesterday also neutralised a series of underground tunnels dug by Islamic fighters and used for the passage of weapons, ammunition and men from the village of Madaya towards the plain of Zabani near Damascus.

Syrian state television reported that the national flag was waving on the rooftops of the Military Academy buildings south of Aleppo, following fierce fighting with the Al Fath Army (aka, terrorist Al Nusra Front). This is the second time since the beginning of summer that militias were cut off in the south from any access to Turkey where their logistical support, weapons, ammunition and multinational mercenaries come from.

The government troops’ victory in Aleppo has reshuffled the cards in the hands of the Syrian war players, especially President Barack Obama who went to the G20 summit certain of Turkish success in the north of the country. Obama called his meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, "constructive and fruitful," but it did not lead to a cease-fire, nor to US acceptance of Russian humanitarian aid to Aleppo. At a press conference, the two sides stated – using diplomatic finesse – that hey had entered into details, a task left to their respective foreign ministers, John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov.

Meanwhile, according to information reported to AsiaNews from Syrian Kurdish sources in Beirut, Saudi attempts to ingratiate themselves with Kurds in Hassakah with money and weapons so as to get them to fight the Syrian regime have failed. Disappointed by the Americans, the Kurds sent a delegation to the Russian military base in Humeyin, near Tartus on the Syrian coast, to discuss some deals and an alliance. At the centre of the negotiations is Hassakah, which is 80 per cent controlled by the Kurds, as some Armenian residents in the city said after they were contacted by AsiaNews.

Kurdish sources in Beirut are saying that US strategy is to hold back Syrian Kurds, with whom they share some interests, such as replacing the Turks in Syria with Kurds, to use in the fight against Russia in case Ankara “changes position". This could be the basis for a Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria, as a first step towards Syria’s partition, an idea opposed by Turks who sent their tanks into Syria on their own to abort any ‘Syrian Kurdistan’.

President Erdogan has always rejected this possibility, as President Obama noted in an interview with US magazine The Atlantic in which he criticised the US’s Turkish ally for this refusal. Erdogan, for his part, has always rejected the American request to invade Syria alone, demanding instead a joint NATO action.

Russia, which has sought to benefit from Turkey's disappointment following the failed coup by putting pressure on the US and drawing Ankara towards Eurasia, knows very well that to get Turkey out of NATO the country needs a charismatic, historical and courageous leader. None of this matches with Erdogan, even though he might like to appear as one. A possible alliance between Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia announced right after after the coup has never gone beyond superficial good intentions.

A deal on Syria before Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, on 12 September appears probable. This leaves Syria little hope to win the mother of all battles, that for Aleppo. In any event, the current confused US leadership will not lead to any substantial change. Middle East strategists agree that the ball will now go into the court of the next US administration after November’s presidential election, and everything suggests that it will more belligerent and aggressive than Obama’s.

What is clear, however, is that the Russians want to score as many wins before the new occupant of the White House moves in, whom the Saudis hope to be Hillary Clinton, who is expected to become more involved militarily in the region. Until the presidential elections, what is certain is that Washington is preparing to remain for a long time present militarily in northern Syria where there are two air bases at Rumeylan at Ain Al Arab.

Turkey is going for broke with its last card: a ground invasion that its allies would like to see, an obvious way to create a wedge between United States and the Kurds. Moscow, meanwhile, has opened its doors to Russian volunteers eager to fight in Syria for the glory of the country. Already a thousand new guerrillas have arrived in Tartus. According to well-informed sources, many of them have fought alongside the Syrians in the recent ground battle to the south of Aleppo. Having surrounded the pro-Turkish fighters in this part of the big city, the Syrian regime is now ready to reach Ramussah.

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