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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    isis flag

    The Islamic State beat back an assault on Wednesday by US-backed Syrian rebels who tried to retake a critical border crossing with Iraq.

    It wasn’t just a rare battlefield win for the militants: it also allowed them to get their hands on crates of American ammunition, US mortars, a Toyota Hilux pickup adapted to carry a heavy machine gun, and new body armor.

    ISIS publicized its war spoils in a video released Wednesday that also showed machine guns and M-16 rifles that most likely originated in the United States, as well as at least 2,000 rounds of ammunition that definitively came from American manufacturers, according to N.R. Jenzen-Jones, the director of specialist technical intelligence consultancy Armament Research Services, or ARES.

    Further evidence of the US-origin of this equipment appears in the form of a large moving box made by Unicorr, a Connecticut-based packaging company. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The two minute-long video ends with gruesome footage of an Islamic State fighter sawing the head off of a fighter from the so-called New Syrian Army, and placing the corpse on a stone fountain in a public square. Dozens of locals can be seen driving past the macabre display. Jenzen-Jones identified the trousers worn by the beheaded rebel as US tri-color desert camouflage, although these are commonly seen in the Middle East.

    ISIS technicals armored vehicles tel askuf

    The rare Islamic State victory comes as the group steadily loses ground to US-backed Kurdish and Arab forces around the city of Manbij in northern Syria, and while it attempts to regroup in Iraq after being chased out of Fallujah by Iraqi forces. Likewise, the New Syrian Army has suffered a series of body blows in recent months, including a cluster bomb assault by Russian warplanes on its garrison near al Tanf in early June, and a devastating ISIS suicide car bomb attack on the group’s headquarters in May.

    Col. Chris Garver, a spokesman for the US-backed coalition fighting the Islamic State, confirmed to Foreign Policy Wednesday that “the New Syrian Army suffered a setback.” Garver said that American advisors are still assessing the situation, and are aware of the videos of captured equipment, but did not confirm it was US gear.

    American warplanes backed up New Syrian Army forces as they fought for control of the town of al-Bukamal and a nearby airbase Wednesday, hitting ISIS with eight airstrikes, according to information provided by the US Central Command. The assault was meant to cut off the Islamic State’s most accessible resupply route between Iraq and Syria.

    Free Syrian Army

    “Considering the New Syrian Army’s relatively small size, the decision to launch even a shaping operation on al-Bukamal seems like extraordinary hubris,” said Charles Lister, an expert on Syrian rebel groups and fellow at the Middle East Institute.

    The New Syrian Army was initially formed some 18 months ago as part of the Pentagon’s wider $500 million effort to train and equip Syrian rebels to battle against the Islamic State. The Defense Department scuttled the program late last year after admitting that it had only trained“four or five” fighters.

    Lister said the New Syrian Army, whose size he estimates at no more than 150-200 fighters, likely receives more US assistance than any other anti-Islamic State force in Syria.

    According to the Amaq news agency, which is affiliated with ISIS, the terrorist group killed 40 New Syrian Army rebels and took 15 others hostage. The New Syrian Army reported only five or six of its fighters dead, and several wounded.

    Syria Iraq

    A rebel source reached by Reuters acknowledged the seriousness of the group’s defeat on Wednesday. “The news is not good. I can say our troops were trapped and suffered many casualties and several fighters were captured and even weapons were taken,” the source said.

    The town of al-Bukamal sits just a few miles from the strategic al-Qaim border crossing with Iraq and is a symbol of the Islamic State’s success in redrawing the modern borders of the Middle East. The town’s capture during the Islamic State’s blitz in 2014 effectively erased the Syrian-Iraqi border.

    “To think a force of at most 100 fighters was capable of capturing it seems bizarre — even with air support and Iraqi operations on the other side,” Lister said.

    SEE ALSO: Russia blasts senior UN officials for criticizing Syria's government

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    NOW WATCH: Female soldiers have created a 30-woman unit to fight ISIS in Iraq


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    Russia Syria_Mill

    The United States has proposed a new joint approach to the Syrian conflict that reportedly would increase cooperation between ongoing Russian and US military operations.

    The Washington Post reported on June 30 that the proposal, sent to Moscow earlier this week, calls for sharing targeting and bombing information to go after Al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, the Al-Nusra Front.

    It was not immediately clear if Moscow had responded to the proposal, which would amount to a dramatic shift for the Obama administration.

    Russian and US forces have been conducting parallel air campaigns in Syria, but Washington has accused Moscow of targeting moderate rebel groups in an effort to bolster the Syrian regime, a longtime ally.

    The proposal comes just a few weeks after Russian jets bombed US-backed rebel forces in Syria twice, even after being specifically warned not to by US officials.

    US officials have privately called that incident "very, very, very serious."

    SEE ALSO: The Hyperloop may be coming to Russia

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    Hungary refugees barbed wire fence border

    SZEGED, Hungary (Reuters) - A Hungarian court on Friday sentenced 10 migrants to between one and three years in jail for illegally crossing the border during a riot in September 2015, after Hungary built a razor wire fence to seal its frontier with Serbia.

    It was the first case to come to trial under a law passed days before the incident that made illegal border crossing as part of a rioting crowd punishable by between one and five years in prison.

    Nearly half the more than 1 million migrants, mostly fleeing conflict in the Middle East, who surged into Europe last year in the continent's biggest movement of people since World War Two passed through Hungary, often causing chaos at borders and along the main migration routes.

    Prosecutors for Csongrad county on Friday charged two Romanians with human trafficking and one of them with attempted murder and excessive cruelty for trying to smuggle at least 106 migrants from Hungary to Austria in a lorry last June.

    The unventilated truck was left abandoned in the summer heat, and the migrants only escaped by forcing open the doors. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has take a tough line against migration, and says the European Union risks seeing other migration-weary member states follow Britain to the exit unless it does the same.

    The mostly Syrian defendants convicted in Szeged, the capital of Csongrad, were part of a crowd that crossed into Hungary on Sept. 16 as hundreds of migrants forced open the border gate while police responded with water cannon and tear gas.

    "The court deems them to be a part of the rioting crowd as they took advantage of the lack of control to enter Hungary and the European Union," judge Janos Arany told the court in his reasoning.

    They were all due to be expelled after serving their terms, and barred from re-entering Hungary for several years.

    Pressure on the border has decreased since a deal in March between the European Union and Turkey to slow migration into Europe in exchange for financial assistance. However, a steady trickle of migrants still passes through Hungary, with the total number close to 20,000 this year.

    Those convicted included three handicapped people, one of whom was rolled across the border in a wheelbarrow by a helper. These three had their sentences suspended.

    Nine defendants received sentences of 12 or 14 months, meaning they could be released now or very shortly, having already been in jail for more than two-thirds of their sentences. One defendant received a three-year sentence because he issued instructions to the rioters through a loudspeaker.

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    john kerry

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a phone call on Saturday to discuss ways of resolving the conflict in Syria, Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

    "They discussed .... the possibility of a Russian-American cooperation in the fight against terrorist groups in Syria," the statement said.

    (Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Mark Potter)

    SEE ALSO: This is what ISIS' longest-held city looks like after years of occupation

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    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Russia's RIA new agency, in Damascus, Syria in this handout file picture provided by SANA on March 30, 2016.

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, fighting a civil war that has ruined the country economically and fragmented it regions, issued a decree to form a new cabinet on Sunday that kept key ministers in place.

    The cabinet comes after he appointed on June 22 a new government led by former electricity minister Emad Khamis, a member of Assad's Baath political party since 1977

    The lineup announced on state media keeps the key defense, foreign affairs and interior portfolios unchanged.

    Ex-central banker Adeeb Mayaleh, who has played a leading role in defending the local currency after its steep falls against the dollar, was appointed economy minister.

    The Syrian conflict has cost the country more than $200 billion in economic losses and damage to infrastructure, driving its GDP down to less than half its 2011 level.

    It has also caused the Syrian pound to lose more than 90 percent of its value despite concerted attempts to support it.

    Critics say Syrian governments do not wield much political power in a system dominated by the president and the powerful security forces.

    The Damascus-based government controls most of the war-torn country's major population centers in the west, with the exceptions of Idlib and the rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo, once Syria's biggest city.

    Kurdish forces control vast areas along the Turkish border, and Islamic State holds Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces in the east.

    SEE ALSO: This is what ISIS' longest-held city looks like after years of occupation

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    hezbollah

    Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah recently tackled the recent battles southwest of Aleppo, where the party reportedly suffered its worst losses since entering the conflict in Syria. Nasrallah admitted in a speechbroadcasted live on the group's Al-Manar TV on June 24 that 26 Hezbollah fighters had been killed since the beginning of June.

    This rare acknowledgment of the party’s death toll seems to be an attempt to downplay the recent spate of casualties suffered in fighting near Syria’s largest city. This tally was later confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who reported that “25 Hezbollah fighters were killed in southwest of Aleppo, which is the highest toll for Hezbollah fighters in a single battle since 2013.”

    Nasrallah later explained that the heavy losses came after the arrival of thousands of opposition fighters to the area via the Turkish border, who aim is to capture Aleppo and its surrounding countryside. However, several experts claim that the mounting Hezbollah casualties were mainly due to a lack of Russian air cover in the battle.

    Russia’s unilateral announcement of a two day ceasefire in Aleppo was actually one of the main factors that contributed to Hezbollah’s heavy losses. Russia's defense ministry stated that the goal of the ceasefire, which began on June 16, was to lower the level of violence and stabilize the situation in Aleppo.

    However, it was later claimed that Russia announced the ceasefire in Aleppo without consulting Damascus or Tehran and that the Russians intentionally deprived pro-Assad forces in Aleppo of air cover due to conflicting agendas among the allies. Mustafa al-Ahmed, a rebel fighter with Jaysh al-Fatah in Aleppo, believes that the absence of Russian airstrikes was the main reason behind Hezbollah’s losses.

    “Although the extensive use of mortar shelling and car bombs had contributed to a high number of casualties among Hezbollah’s fighters, the main reason was the absence of Russian air support to the Shiite militias backed by Iran,” Ahmed argued. Similarly, Hezbollah supporters reportedly blamed Russia for the mounting casualties and publicly criticized Moscow for not using its air force to protect the party’s fighters.

    Russia bombing syria iran russia

    Exhaustion among Hezbollah fighters, who are spread over several fronts in Syria, may also have contributed to the recent spike in casualties. Ali al-Saadi, a field commander in the Iraqi Shiite militia Harakat al-Nujaba, which is active in Syria and Iraq, told Al-Quds al-Araby that Hezbollah has requested urgent reinforcement from Iraqi Popular Mobilization militias to support their fighters in Aleppo.

    Saadi linked this request to the increased inability of Hezbollah to fight effectively while its fighters are active in multiple operations across Syria. He added that the Russian government had informed its Syrian counterparts that airstrikes in support of Hezbollah near Aleppo would not be useful unless there were enough soldiers on the ground to secure areas taken from rebels.

    Although not having enough fighters may have contributed to Hezbollah’s losses, it is unlikely that this was the main reason behind the spike in casualties. Al-Akhbar’s editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin wrote on June 17 that Iran, Russia and Syria have agreed on an action plan for a large battle in Deir Ezzor province in which Hezbollah will play a central role.

    This claim, if true, refutes Saadi’s explanation and demonstrates that Hezbollah is willing and has the man power to expand their operations into new fronts in Syria.

    Syria map

    The most likely explanation behind the mass casualties is that Russia was not on board when the Syrian regime and Iran launched their Aleppo offensive. Nasrallah argued the fighting near Aleppo was necessary to “defend what remains of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.”

    However, it seems that Hezbollah was not able to convince Russia to fully support this battle. “Nasrallah’s latest speech exposed Iran’s failure to convince Moscow to fully join the fight to retake Aleppo and its countryside from the opposition,” wrote Mustafa Fahs, a former fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Interfax news agency also quoted Russia's ambassador to Syria saying that he did not expect the Syrian army to assault the city in the near future.

    Nevertheless, it seems that Iran had a plan to change Russia’s position, but the strategy backfired. “Iran was trying to drag Russia into Aleppo by starting the fight there alone and hoping that the developments on the ground would push the later to join. However, it seems that Hezbollah is the one who paid the heaviest price for Iran’s gamble,” said a Western diplomat based in Lebanon, who spoke under the condition of anonymity.

    “We had to be in Aleppo, and we will stay in Aleppo,” Hassan Nasrallah declared in the same speech. The Hezbollah leader even promised to increase their presence there as "retreat is not permissible." However, it seems that the party leader is ignoring the recent improvements in relations between Russia and Turkey, which may reduce Russia’s involvement in Aleppo and could in turn increase the party’s losses there.

    Haid Haid is a Syrian researcher who focuses on foreign and security policy, conflict resolution and Kurds and Islamist movements. He tweets@HaidHaid22 

    SEE ALSO: Watch US-led airstrikes demolish a major ISIS fighting position

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    syrian rebels

    BEIRUT (AP) — Some Syrian opposition groups have adopted methods of abuse similar to those employed by the government of President Bashar Assad, Amnesty International said in a new report Tuesday that documents a "chilling" wave of torture, abductions and summary killings in insurgent-controlled areas.

    The report is based on interviews with some 70 individuals living or working in the northern provinces of Idlib and parts of Aleppo, areas controlled by insurgents.

    The abuses were committed over four years by five armed groups, including some backed by the United States and other regional powers, and al-Qaida's branch in Syria, Amnesty said.

    "While some civilians in areas controlled by armed opposition groups may at first have welcomed an escape from brutal Syrian government rule, hopes that these armed groups would respect rights have faded as they have increasingly taken the law into their own hands and committed serious abuses," said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty's Middle East program.

    The report documents at least 24 abductions of activists, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as three children, two of whom remain missing as of last week.

    Amnesty also documented summary killings by gunfire, some in public, of pro-government fighters, which it said constitute war crimes. It called on international backers to cease arms transfers to groups implicated in abuse.

    Some people were abducted because of their criticism of the armed groups or simply for playing music. Media activists reported receiving threats for critical reporting. Some said they were suspended for hours from their wrists or were squeezed into a tire with their hands bound behind their backs and beaten, methods of torture also used by the Syrian government.

    One of the groups, Ahrar al-Sham, said in a letter that it would like to meet with Amnesty to clarify the issues. It did not respond to the allegations.

    SEE ALSO: Why Aleppo is Syria's fiercest battleground

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    Whomever America chooses in 2016, among his or her first orders of business will be to spend a lot of time getting briefed on where the US military is deployed.

    Servicemembers around the world are currently conducting airstrikes, raids, bilateral training missions, and other operations to help America and our allies. These six ongoing conflicts will certainly still be on the plate when the next president gets up to bat:

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    1. Iraq and Syria

    Few people need a primer on what is going on in Iraq and Syria. ISIS holds territory and is murdering thousands of people. America’s involvement against ISIS has been slowly growing. 

    We’ve also lost three service members there. Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler was killed while rescuing potential victims of an imminent massacre, Marine Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin was killed in a rocket attack while providing fire support for coalition fighters, and Navy SEAL Charles Keating was killed while rescuing other American advisors caught by an ISIS surprise attack.

    While the Obama administration has tried to keep America’s footprint on the ground relatively small, 300 troops in Syria and approximately 4,000 in Iraq, the Navy and Air Force have been busy conducting air strikes to support both American and coalition ground forces.



    2. Libya

    Of course, ISIS operations aren’t limited to Iraq and Syria. Portions of Libya’s coastal areas are controlled by the terror organization. A few dozen US troops, most likely Special Forces soldiers or other operators, are deployed there to help the competing national governments fight further ISIS attacks.

    America has launched airstrikes there in the past to topple ISIS leaders, but that was put on hold. According to Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the current nominee to take over Africa Command, no more troops are currently needed in Libya but more airstrikes would be beneficial.



    3. Afghanistan

    While the US officially ended combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, approximately 9,800 troops are still deployed there. It’s an “advise and train” mission, but reports have surfaced of operators engaging in direct combat.

    The Taliban is still the greatest threat in Afghanistan and most coalition missions are aimed at them. ISIS has captured ground in the east of the country, though. America flies drone missions to kill local ISIS leaders while militias provide some muscle on the ground.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Joe Robinson isis flagJoe Robinson stood on the roof of a former school with Kurdish soldiers in the town of Sarrin, Syria, firing a Cold War-era AK-47 at Islamic State suicide bombers trying to breach the 12-foot perimeter walls around him.

    During the first three days of the siege, 23 suicide bombers attacked the school. The soldiers on guard hardly slept for 72 hours. They were on high alert and, besides, it was hard to relax with the pounding sound of coalition air strikes hitting targets all around.

    Robinson's job was to pick out suicide bombers who tried to blend in with civilian crowds as they ran towards the building.

    The former British army soldier turned labourer and landscape gardener spent a month in 2015 defending the tallest building in Sarrin — a strategic stronghold, which had been used as a Sharia court under ISIS control. Prisoners and sex slaves had slept there recently.

    The 22-year-old (now 23) from Accrington, Lancashire — who left the UK to fight ISIS after becoming disgusted with what he read about Islamic State — was a long way from home.

    He told Business Insider why he went, what he did there and how he got home again.

    Robinson was raised in a culture that taught its children that Islamic terrorism was the epitome of evil. We watched as the twin towers of the World Trade Centre collapsed on our TVs after school and on the day of the 7/7 London bombings, we feared for the lives of our friends and relatives.

    "The war on terror was always on the news," Robinson said. "I think it pulled a lot of people in to be honest with you. I think it drew a lot of people into the army."

    However, Robinson's desire to serve in the British army went even deeper. He had wanted to serve from a very young age.



    Soon after Robinson finished secondary school, aged 18, he enrolled in the army, becoming a member of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment.

    "I loved it," Robinson said. "When I joined I was just a young lad who didn't know what to do with my life. Then when I joined the military it gave me a bit of meaning, a bit of focus."

    Robinson's first tour took him to Afghanistan, where he helped close down a control base and trained local forces. Though he did not see much close combat, Robinson was happy to be making a difference in a war zone.

    After this tour, and a three-month spell in Kenya, Robinson returned to base. At this point, Robinson started to become frustrated with his career. He said: "We weren't really doing anything. We were just sitting around base. I got fed up."



    One day on a march, Robinson snapped his Achilles tendon, experiencing "absolute agony."

    Unable to walk and requiring three months of physio-therapy, the red-haired soldier was discharged from the British army.

    On recovery, Robinson began working various jobs in his home town. He tried landscape gardening, labouring, and even telesales.

    "I was doing a nine-to-five job, but it just didn't fit me," Robinson said. "I wasn't happy. I felt like there was something missing."

    At the pub one evening, Robinson got involved in a fight and ended up breaking a man's jaw in two places. In 2014, he was convicted for grievous bodily harm, given a suspended prison sentence, and ordered to serve 240 hours of community service.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    A Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter walks in the silos and mills of Manbij after the SDF took control of it, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian military has declared a 72-hour "regime of calm" covering all of Syria from 1 a.m. on Wednesday (1800 EDT Tuesday), a military source told Reuters, although fighting and air attacks have been reported since then.

    The military high command said in a statement that "a regime of calm will be implemented across all territory of the Syrian Arab Republic for a period of 72 hours from 1 a.m. on July 6 until 2400 on July 8, 2016".

    The Syrian government uses the term "regime of calm" to denote a temporary ceasefire.

    The truce covers the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday celebrated by Muslims to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. There was no indication that it had been agreed with any of the myriad groups opposing the government.

    Syrian rebel group Jaish al Islam said in a statement that, despite the announced truce, government and allied forces had attacked the town of Maydaa, in the Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus. Maydaa had been held by Jaish al Islam, which is part of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) representing the opposition at international peace talks.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that government and allied forces had taken almost complete control of Maydaa and that fighting continued. Syrian state media said the army and its allies had taken ground from "terrorists" in the area. The Syrian government describes all groups fighting against it as terrorists.

    doctors without borders hospital syria

    The Britain-based Observatory, which monitors the Syrian conflict, also said there had been rebel and government shelling in areas around the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, and air strikes had hit towns in the northern Aleppo countryside on Wednesday.

    Syrian media also reported army operations against Islamic State militants across the country on Wednesday.

    A ceasefire brokered by foreign powers in February to facilitate talks to end the five-year civil war has mostly unraveled in areas where it took effect in the west of the country.

    That truce was agreed with many opposition militias, but did not include the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front or Islamic State.

    Since then, the Syrian army and the Russian military, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have announced a number of temporary local truces in areas of intense fighting, for example in the city of Aleppo or near the capital Damascus.

    But air strikes and fighting have often continued in spite of the declarations.

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    kuznetsov

    Russia's state-run TASS news agency recently announced that Russia's sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will deploy to the Mediterranean from October 2016 to January 2017 to fly sorties against the enemies of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

    "The General Staff has prepared a plan for involvement of the deck aircraft in delivering strikes on terrorist groups in the Syrian Arab Republic, where the crews will practice taking off the carrier to deliver strikes on ground targets," the source told TASS.

    This deployment will mark only the fifth deployment of the Kuznetsov since it's launch in 1985. All previous deployments only lasted a few months were also in the Mediterranean.

    Additionally, the Kuznetsov only displaces about 55,000 tons and can support about 30 aircraft. It's ski-jump platform and lack of catapults mean that planes launched from the Kuznetsov have a reduced maximum takeoff weight, and can therefore carry less fuel and strike within shorter ranges, meaning the carrier will have to float closer to the shore.

    The Kuznetsov is further limited by mechanical issues and the fact that it has to be refueled every 45 days or so.

    In comparison, US aircraft carriers are nuclear powered and can stay at sea for extended periods. Currently the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is stationed in the Mediterranean in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led mission to destroy ISIS.

    USS Dwight D. Eisenhower

    "The aircraft carrier will come to the Mediterranean Sea roughly before end of January - early February, after that it will return home and in February-March it will undergo maintenance and modernization in Severodvinsk, supposedly at Sevmash," the source told TASS.

    The Russian media outlet reported that "about 15 fighters Su-33 and MiG-29K/KUB and more than ten helicopters Ka-52K, Ka-27 and Ka-31," would carry out strikes from the ship, while regular land-based operations from Hymemim Air Base in Syria continue. 

    SEE ALSO: Iraqi and US-led airstrikes decimated 2 ISIS convoys fleeing Fallujah

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    obama putin

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday that President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed in a phone call that both countries were ready to increase coordination of military action in Syria.

    Relations between Russia and the United States have been strained by disagreements over the conflict in Syria, where Moscow and Washington are backing opposing sides in the civil war.

    The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin had used the call to urge Obama to aid the separation of the "moderate" opposition in Syria from the Nusra Front and other "extremist" groups.

    It said the phone call took place on the initiative of Russia and that both sides had also stressed the importance of United Nations-brokered peace talks restarting.

    Aside from Syria, the Kremlin statement said Putin and Obama discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh and Ukraine conflicts.

    Putin reiterated the Minsk peace agreements on Ukraine must be fulfilled by Kiev and said Russia wanted a peace process over Nagorno-Karabakh to progress.

    There was no immediate comment from Washington on the Putin-Obama phone call.

    SEE ALSO: Obama and Putin had an 'intense conversation' and agreed to coordinate more on Syria

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    nusra

    Al Qaeda has thrived in Syria thanks to the continued political survival of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Washington's failure to adequately support the revolution's more moderate opposition groups, Syria expert Charles Lister wrote Wednesday.

    "The principal benefactor of Assad's survival is not Assad, nor Russia, Iran, Hezbollah or even ISIS — it is Al Qaeda," Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and author of "The Syrian Jihad," wrote in the Daily Beast.

    He continued: "Having spent the past five years embedding itself within broader revolutionary forces and strategically choosing to limit and very slowly reveal its extremist face, Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra is reaping the rewards of our failures to solve the Syrian crisis."

    A proposal for stepped-up coordination between the US and Russia against Nusra in Syria — which would involve enhanced information sharing about the group's positions — was confirmed on Wednesday in a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama.

    But the new initiative is more likely to enhance than hinder Nusra's momentum in Syria, where the group has "accepted more than 3,000 Syrians" in the country's Idlib and Aleppo provinces in the past five months.

    nusra

    Experts say any perceived coordination between the US and Russia is likely to increase the opposition's disenchantment with the West.

    Rebels have expressed concern that weakening Nusra would strengthen Assad. And in its campaign to eliminate Syria's "terrorists," Russia has primarily bombed moderate-opposition factions and civilian targets, including hospitals, schools, and bakeries.

    "The continuing mingling in places of the so-called moderate opposition" with Nusra is "complicating anti-terrorist action," the Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last month.

    Acquiescing to a central Russian request, the US reportedly has begun urging rebel groups to leave areas where Nusra is present so that Russian warplanes can target them without hitting the mainstream opposition. To that end, the US has demonstrated that it is more willing to work on the Kremlin's terms than on those of the rebels.

    Ultimately, many experts say, the opposition groups Russia has relentlessly targeted since late September 2015 are the only actors on the ground capable of challenging the influence Nusra is trying to cultivate among Syria's Sunni Arab population. Accommodating Moscow's demands in the war, then, is seen as a "slippery slope" that is more likely to serve Nusra's interests than those of the US.

    'Adverse consequences galore'

    Nusra's rise has boxed Washington into a chicken-and-egg dilemma: To coordinate with Russia against Nusra would be to legitimize Assad's rule, fuel Al Qaeda's narrative, and ensure the continuation of the war. To spare Nusra and increase support for the opposition, on the other hand, would infuriate the regime and its allies and lead them to double down on the battlefield.

    Emile Hokayem, a Middle East expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said on Twitter that Obama's proposal to coordinate with the Russians was likely to have "adverse consequences galore."

    "Obama resisted entanglement in Syria only to embrace entanglement w/ Russia there, probably making everything worse. Do Kerry and the geniuses at the White House realize that coordinated bombing of Nusra under current circumstances will actually benefit Nusra?" he wrote, referring to Secretary of State John Kerry.

    Al Qaeda Nusra Front

    Some members of the Syrian opposition, however, believe Obama has prioritized US national security — which he believes requires weakening Nusra in the short term — over the longer-term effect it may have on Syria's revolution.

    "The US has info that Nusra is trying to do something against US national interests … somewhere in the world, and they are taking it very seriously," a Syrian opposition member told Al-Monitor on Tuesday. "And accordingly, they offered to Russia to work with them on that issue, to weaken and defeat Nusra, with the condition that Russia and the regime should respect the cessation and allow food and material to come into Syria."

    putin obama

    Experts have scoffed at the administration's hope that it can get concessions for Syrian rebels and civilians, such as more pressure on the regime to stop bombing civilian targets and to ground its air force, by agreeing to share intelligence with Moscow.

    That is especially difficult, they say, given the US' utter lack of leverage in Syria and its demonstrated unwillingness to hold Russia or the regime accountable for their repeated attacks on civilian targets and rebel groups backed by the West.

    "Russia has positioned itself militarily to guarantee that any unilateral US military action against the regime seriously risks at least a great power shooting match over Syria, if not an apocalyptic nuclear war," journalist Sam Heller wrote in War On The Rocks late last month.

    Heller added: "America is currently unwilling to test Russia and directly press the regime militarily, leaving it to Russia to ensure its allies' compliance with the cessation of hostilities and deliver their buy-in for a political settlement."

    assad putin

    Analysts are divided over how wedded Moscow really is to an Assad regime in Syria. Some say the Russians don't care as much as the Iranians about keeping Assad in power, as long as the war is settled on the Kremlin's terms. Others, however, contend that the idea that Russia would work with the Syrian government to keep state institutions intact while transitioning Assad out betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how Syria works.

    "There is no regime without Assad, so if the Obama administration ever believed the Russians and the Iranians when they said they would try to transition Assad out, they were living in a fantasy," Middle East expert Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider last October. "If you take Assad out, the whole system collapses."

    For the US to propose a working relationship with Russia, then, is ultimately bound to entrench Assad, whose continued survival gives Nusra a revolutionary purpose with which rebels and civilians can identify.

    "By proclaiming itself specifically as a revolutionary movement fundamentally opposed to the Assad regime, Al Qaeda has sealed its future in part to that of Bashar al-Assad," Lister wrote in a briefing for the Middle East Institute in March, just after Assad and his allies recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State. "Should one remain, the other will invariably survive also."

    SEE ALSO: The State Department's Syria revolt could have an important effect in the Middle East

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    Syria's education system has taken a huge hit in the civil war that has dragged on for more than five years.

    Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country, but those who remain are struggling to maintain a semblance of normalcy in their daily lives. Many schools have been decimated by airstrikes, and teachers living in ISIS territory are targets of attacks if they refuse to conform to the terrorists' curriculum.

    And yet those who remain in Syria have found some ways around the danger and destruction of the war. Syrians have established makeshift schools in caves, trailers, and abandoned poultry farms to educate children living in areas not supported by the government.

    Reuters has striking photos that show what it's like to go to school as a child in Syria.

    SEE ALSO: ‘Sometimes the gun is taller than the kid’: How ISIS uses schools to indoctrinate children

    Some schools have been moved to caves for safety reasons. Underground spaces are safer from airstrikes because they're more difficult to detect.



    This underground cave can accommodate about 120 students divided into two shifts. But it's not ideal — it floods when it rains and children have difficulty seeing in the dark.



    The entrance is just a hole in the ground with steps.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Screen Shot 2016 07 07 at 12.35.21 PM

    The Institute for the Study of War has produced nearly 60 maps on Russian airstrikes in Syria since they first began on September 30, 2015. 

    The first map appeared less than 24 hours after the Russians began strikes and they continue today as do the strikes despite a declared "cessation of hostilities" and an alleged Russian withdrawal.

    These maps helped show the world that Russia's claims of striking "terrorists" were clearly not accurate as they repeatedly attacked mainstream opposition groups, particularly those working with the West. 

    When intentionally false maps were produced by the Russian Ministry of Defense to show where they claimed strikes were occurring -- and that they were striking ISIS -- ISW's maps and analysis showed these claims to be untrue.

    To view the entire collection of maps, please visit Institute for the Study of War.

    SEE ALSO: These maps show the progression of ISIS control in Iraq and Syria







    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    adiff-lineup

    The Syrian civil war — now entering its fifth year — forced over one million migrants to seek asylum in Europe in 2015, and the refugees' clandestine trips across the Mediterranean claimed over 3,700 lives last year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

    Those who do make it are left stateless, homeless and exposed to the elements while applying for asylum.

    To help those refugees, Angela Luna, a 22-year-old fashion design student at Parsons, designed a clothing line that combines runway-style fashion with the utilitarianism commonly found in hiking and survival gear. The clothes are durable and waterproof, and most pieces are designed to have multiple functions — many can turn into tents, sleeping bags or flotation devices.

    Luna hopes to use the revenue earned from selling the line to fund donations of the clothes to asylum-seekers. She told Tech Insider in an email that her clothing company, called Adiff, is in talks with the International Rescue Committee about how to distribute the items to refugees.

    Take a look at some of the pieces below. 

    One of the pieces is a waterproof cape. But note the straps and zipper on the back...



    The cape can also fold to become a backpack for easy transport.



    Luna designed each piece to be unisex, weatherproof, and waterproof.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    colvin

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - The family of American journalist Marie Colvin, who died in Syria in 2012, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in a U.S. court, accusing the Syrian government of deliberately killing her.

    Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs in 2012 while reporting on the Syrian conflict, now in its sixth year.

    The lawsuit, filed in Washington on Saturday and seen by Reuters, said Syrian officials deliberately targeted rockets against a makeshift broadcast studio where Colvin and other reporters were living and working.

    The suit alleged the attack was part of a plan orchestrated at the highest levels of the Syrian government to silence local and international media "as part of its effort to crush political opposition".

    The lawsuit included as evidence a copy of an August 2011 fax which it alleges was sent from Syria's National Security Bureau instructing security bodies to launch military and intelligence campaigns against "those who tarnish the image of Syria in foreign media and international organisations".

    "This case is about carrying on Marie’s work," plaintiff Cathleen Colvin, Marie Colvin's sister, said. 

    colvin

    "We are seeking truth and justice not just for her, but for thousands of innocent Syrians tortured or killed under the Assad dictatorship," she said in a statement released by U.S. human rights group the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) which filed the case for the Colvin family.

    Advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said it supported the lawsuit.

    The group's secretary-general, Christophe Deloire, said Reporters Without Borders "hopes these efforts will help to expose the truth, namely that these journalists were deliberately targeted and killed because they were providing information about the Syrian army's crimes against civilians."

    A murder and attempted murder investigation was launched in France in 2012 into the death of Ochlik and wounding of another journalist, Edith Bouvier, in the same attack.

    Reporters Without Borders, as an interested party in the case, said it will submit the Colvin family's U.S. lawsuit to the judge in charge of the French investigation on Monday.

    Colvin and Ochlik were both prize-winning reporters of wars in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere. The Britain-based Colvin, who lost an eye while working in Sri Lanka in 2001, was working for the Sunday Times at the time of her death.

    The Syrian Foreign Ministry, to whom the lawsuit was addressed, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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    Russian Mi-35M chopper

    On July 9, a Russian Mi-35M helicopter was shot down by Daesh east of Palmyra, the Russian MoD reported.

    The gunship was flying a mission in support of the loyalist forces along with an Mi-24P Hind when it was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed into the ground killing the two crew members.

    According to the latest reports, Daesh and rebels have grown their anti-aircraft capabilities by means of SAM (Surface to Air Missile) systems and MANPADS.

    The Syrian regime has lost several aircraft due to anti-aircraft weaponry since the beginning of the uprising.

    SEE ALSO: US announces 560 more troops to Iraq

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    nato e-3 awacs

    NATO is sending its most sophisticated radar aircraft to help coordinate the campaign of airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the alliance decided at its summit meeting in Warsaw, Poland.

    Sending the E-3 airborne radars, commonly known as AWACS — an acronym for "Airborne Warning and Control System"— to Turkey has also an added benefit, one that the alliance hasn't talked about but will be easily feasible for the aircraft's powerful radar: Keeping an eye on the Russian warplanes operating inside Syria.

    Some of the 16 Boeing E-3s which NATO usually operates from Geilenkirchen, in Germany, will be flying in Turkish and international airspace, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference at the end of the summit. It isn't clear yet whether the planes will be deployed to a Turkish base or will fly from Germany. 

    "We will provide AWACS support and the plan is to have them to flying over international airspace and Turkey and that will allow us to look into airspace in Iraq and Syria," Stoltenberg said, as reported by the AFP news agency. 

    The radar mounted on the back of the airplanes, housed inside a giant rotating disc, has the ability to see and follow other aircraft at a distance of up to 400 km or 250 miles, according to its maker Northrop Grumman. That gives NATO the ability to see air traffic over all of Syria. 

    An E-3 flying in Turkey just north of the Syrian border can see planes clear to the Iraqi border, including the entire area of the Islamic State's so-called caliphate. Another one over international waters off Lebanon can cover the rest of the country, including Damascus and the southern border with Jordan. 

    The official statement published at the end of the summit says that "we have agreed in principle to enhance the Alliance's contribution to the efforts of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL by providing direct NATO AWACS support to increase the coalition's situational awareness." 

    In practical terms, this means that the alliance's radar aircraft will act as flying controllers, telling coalition pilots what's going on in the sky around them and helping coordinate and execute their missions. They will also be able to tell them if Russian or Syrian warplanes are in the vicinity, helping avoid incidents like last November's, when a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber that had, Turkey says, strayed into Turkish airspace. That was the first time since the 1950s that NATO downed a Russian, or Soviet, airplane, and helped sour relations between the alliance and Russia, currently at their lowest point since the Cold War. 

    "This support is planned to start in the autumn, pending national approval procedures, and the NATO Military Authorities are now developing the details," the statement says, adding one important caveat: "This contribution to the Global Coalition does not make NATO a member of this coalition."

    An AWACS aircraft is seen on the tarmac during a visit of new NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg of Norway (not pictured) at Lask air base October 6, 2014. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

    Some members of the 28-nation alliance — notably the US, UK and France — are conducting airstrikes against Islamic State ground targets in Syria and Iraq, and others are providing logistics or other support. But NATO itself is not formally engaged in the conflict, nor does it plan to be. 

    The E-3 jets that will conduct the missions are the only aircraft that the alliance owns under its own name, in fact. The Boeing planes, derived from the 707 passenger jet, are a modernized version of the E-3A model that entered service in the 1970s. They are flown by multinational crews provided by all member states.

    The NATO E-3s have been to war before, for example helping coordinate coalition flights during the 1990s air campaigns over the former Yugoslavia. So have their counterparts in the US Air Force and with France, the UK and Saudi Arabia, the only other nations that operate the highly sophisticated aircraft. 

    NATO also announced at the Warsaw summit that it's looking for a replacement for its AWACS, which are "a critical part of NATO's command and control capabilities," the summit statement said, adding that the 16 planes "will continue to be modernized and extended in service until 2035." By then, the alliance's E-3s will have had 50 years in service. NATO hasn't decided yet on a replacement.

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    iraqi forces fallujah isis

    A British-trained navy officer who joined Islamic State has turned supergrass after being arrested by Kuwaiti authorities, becoming one of the most senior figures to hand over intelligence on the terrorist group.

    Kuwait-born Ali Omar Mohammad Alosaimi, 27, was picked up on the Iraq-Syria border on July 4, according to officials. 

    Alosaimi, who had three years of merchant navy officers' training at South Tyneside College’s Marine School - one of the UK’s most prestigious maritime colleges - left his home in South Shields for Syria in April 2014.

    Alosaimi, who has since married a Syrian woman with whom he has a child, is now cooperating with Kuwaiti authorities, who said he has confessed to playing a senior role within Isil.

    Mugshots of suspected Islamic State jihadists arrested by Kuwaiti authorities earlier this month. Ali Alosaimi (top right) is among those detainedCredit: Kuwaiti government handout

    He said he was put in charge of oil fields in Islamic State-held territory around Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital in northeast Syria, where he managed exports. He said the group's leaders had chosen him for his proficiency in English, expert engineering knowledge and previous experience at a state-owned Kuwaiti oil company. 

    Isil seized control of the Syrian government’s most lucrative fields after capturing vast swathes of the east of the country in the summer of 2014. It appointed some of its most skilled foreign jihadists to run the oil business - the group's biggest money-maker. 

    Alosaimi, who used the nom de guerre Abu Turab al-Kuwaiti, revealed to interrogators how Isil smuggles oil and sells it in black market to regional buyers as well as international traders at a lower price to undercut the competition. He also handed over names of individuals involved in the trade.

    He said he had a “good relationship” with President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which bought oil from the Islamist group, and claimed to have attended meetings with senior Syrian officials as well as Iranian intelligence officers. 

    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Russia's RIA new agency, in Damascus, Syria in this handout file picture provided by SANA on March 30, 2016.  REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters/Files

    Kuwait, a US ally, has passed the information on to the international coalition fighting Isil.

    Alosaimi is one of only a very small number of captured senior Isil figures that has provided intelligence on the group and will likely prove crucial in the coalition's targeting of its oil trade. 

    Oil is the largest source of funding for Isil, which is thought to still make as much as $30million (£23m) a month from sales despite frequent aerial attacks by the coalition. 

    Alosaimi’s testimony also provides some of the most concrete evidence yet of the deals cut between the Assad regime and its enemy Isil.

    According to his uncle, Ali was radicalised after his younger brother Abdullah was killed in battle in Iraq in late 2013. “He seemed a changed man after his brother’s death,” he said. “He grew a beard and did not talk to anyone like he used to. He used to call his family every fortnight but he visited at the end of 2013 and that was the last we heard from him.”

    A few months later he travelled to Syria. His name appears on leaked Isil "entrance forms" seen by the Telegraph, in which he described himself as a “navy officer in Britain.”

    Kyle Orton, a Middle East analyst at the Henry Jackson Society think tank, said it was unusual for Western fighters to be made privy to such high-level information, and that the intelligence was a coup for the coalition.

    “The capture of Alosaimi provides a valuable source of information in the war against the Islamic State,” he said. “Such information is unfortunately rare, as under the coalition's current policy of airstrikes, there is no mechanisms for the gathering of information from inside the jihadist networks.”

    This article was written by Josie Ensor from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. 

    SEE ALSO: ISIS' global suicide-bombing campaign is only just beginning

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