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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    A still image, taken from video footage and released by Russia's Defence Ministry on August 11, 2016, shows a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber dropping off bombs at an unknown location in Syria. Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia used Iran as a base from which to launch air strikes against Syrian militants for the first time on Tuesday, widening its air campaign in Syria and deepening its involvement in the Middle East.

    In a move underscoring Moscow's increasingly close ties with Tehran, long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers used Iran's Hamadan air base to strike a range of targets in Syria.

    It was the first time Russia has used the territory of another nation, apart from Syria itself, to launch such strikes since the Kremlin launched a bombing campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year.

    It was also thought to be the first time that Iran has allowed a foreign power to use its territory for military operations since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

    The Iranian deployment will boost Russia's image as a central player in the Middle East and allow the Russian air force to cut flight times and increase bombing payloads.

    russian airstrikesThe head of Iran's National Security Council was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying Tehran and Moscow were now sharing facilities to fight against terrorism, calling their cooperation strategic.

    Both countries back Assad, and Russia, after a delay, has supplied Iran with its S-300 missile air defense system, evidence of a growing partnership between the pair that has helped turn the tide in Syria's civil war and is testing U.S. influence in the Middle East.

    Relations between Tehran and Moscow have grown warmer since Iran reached agreement last year with global powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of U.N., EU and U.S. financial sanctions.

    President Vladimir Putin visited in November and the two countries regularly discuss military planning for Syria, where Iran has provided ground forces that work with local allies while Russia provides air power.

    Target: Aleppo

    The Russian Defence Ministry said its bombers had taken off on Tuesday from the Hamadan air base in north-west Iran. To reach Syria, they would have had to use the air space of another neighboring country, probably Iraq.

    The ministry said Tuesday's strikes had targeted Islamic State as well as militants previously known as the Nusra Front in the Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour provinces. It said its Iranian-based bombers had been escorted by fighter jets based at Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria's Latakia Province.

    "As a result of the strikes five large arms depots were destroyed ... a militant training camp ... three command and control points ... and a significant number of militants," the ministry said in a statement.

    The destroyed facilities had all been used to support militants in the Aleppo area, it said, where battle for control of the divided city, which had some 2 million people before the war, has intensified in recent weeks.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor, said heavy air strikes on Tuesday had hit many targets in and around Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, killing dozens.

    Strikes in the Tariq al-Bab and al-Sakhour districts of northeast Aleppo had killed around 20 people, while air raids in a corridor rebels opened this month into opposition-held eastern parts of the city had killed another nine, the observatory said.

    The Russian Defence Ministry says it takes great care to avoid civilian casualties in its air strikes.

    Aleppo Syria

    Zakaria Malahifi, political officer of an Aleppo-based rebel group, Fastaqim, said he could not confirm if the newly deployed Russian bombers were in use, but said air strikes on Aleppo had intensified in recent days.

    “It is much heavier,” he told Reuters. “There is no weapon they have not dropped on Aleppo – cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs, and so on.”

    Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war, is divided into rebel and government-held zones. The government aims to capture full control of it, which would be its biggest victory of the five year conflict.

    Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped in rebel areas, facing potential siege if the government closes off the corridor linking it with the outside.

    Russian media reported on Tuesday that Russia had also requested and received permission to use Iran and Iraq as a route to fire cruise missiles from its Caspian Sea fleet into Syria, as it has done in the past.

    Russia has built up its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean and the Caspian as part of what it says are planned military exercises.

    Russia's state-backed Rossiya 24 channel earlier on Tuesday broadcast uncaptioned images of at least three Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and a Russian military transport plane inside Iran.

    The channel said the Iranian deployment would allow the Russian air force to cut flight times by 60 percent. The Tupolev-22M3 bombers, which before Tuesday had conducted strikes on Syria from their home bases in southern Russia, were too large to be accommodated at Russia's own air base inside Syria, Russian media reported.

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    putin rouhani

    Russia has begun using an Iranian air base to launch airstrikes against rebel groups and militants inside Syria, the Russian defense ministry confirmed on Tuesday.

    It is the first time since Moscow intervened in the war on behalf of Syrian president Bashar Assad in last September that Russian warplanes have used a foreign nation as a base for their air operations, apart from the two air bases Russia established last year inside Syria.

    It is also apparently the first time since before the 1979 Iranian revolution that Tehran has allowed a foreign power to use its territory for military operations, Reuters reported.

    For many analysts, it's a sign that Russia has no plans to wind down its air campaign anytime soon. The use of Hamadan air base in northwest Iran, they say, is designed to facilitate more intense operations while demonstrating a strengthened Russian-Iranian axis aimed at further deterring US involvement in the region.

    "Basing out of Iran saves Russians hassle and fuel," Andrew Tabler, the Martin J. Gross fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute, told Business Insider on Tuesday. "But its more important politically in showing Russia on the side of the Iranians in the overall regional fight in Syria."

    Analysts seem to agree that Russia's use of the air base is more a political move than a dramatic change in military strategy.

    But they also note that the use of Hamadan will at least allow Russia to increase the tempo of its air campaign in Syria — perhaps not coincidentally, the use of Hamadan comes as pro-Assad forces suffer setbacks in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, where rebel forces are on the verge of breaking a monthlong government siege.

    Roughly 275,000 people remain in the rebel-held eastern half of the city.

    Men look for survivors under the rubble of a damaged building after an airstrike on Aleppo's rebel held Kadi Askar area, Syria July 8, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

    "Russia was already free to use Iranian airspace," Boris Zilberman, a Russia expert at the think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider on Tuesday.

    He continued:

    "Having bombers actually based in Iran now cuts down their flight time, giving the Russians ability to react faster to situations on the ground. The overall bombing campaign might increase a bit, but the bottom line is that Russia's new logistical foothold in Iran will certainly make their campaign deadlier."

    Jeff White, a military analyst and defense fellow at The Washington Institute, largely echoed that assessment.

    "Deployment of the Tu-22M3 [warplanes] to Hamedan allows for shorter turn around times for Tu-22M3 missions, less wear and tear on the aircrew, less fuel costs, and increased weapons loads," White told Business Insider.

    For now, he said, the use of Hamadan will likely result in an incremental increase in Russian capabilities, "not a sea change."

    'A pretty big deal'

    The development comes amid negotiations between the US and Russia to further coordinate their respective air campaigns against al-Qaeda's former offshoot in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. Nusra severed ties with al-Qaeda earlier this month and changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, or JFS.

    It is still unclear how this plan will be affected by the newly fortified Russian-Iranian military alliance, which is expected to give Moscow more leverage and influence in the region as it is boosted by Tehran — a fellow Assad ally.

    "Increased activity on the Russians' part could lead to more issues deconflicting their air operations over Syria with the US', but that is probably manageable," White said.

    He continued:

    "More interesting to me is that this shows the extent of Russia-Iran cooperation in the Syria war. Whatever the alleged policy differences between the two countries, they are engaged in effective military cooperation in Syria. Hamedan appears in effect to be a Russian base ... I think that is a pretty big deal."

    russian airstrikes SyriaObama administration officials — who, according to the AP, were not aware of Russia's intentions to begin launching air strikes from Hamadan on Tuesday — might spin the development as the result of greater US-Russian collaboration in Syria, White added, which perhaps compelled the Iranians to take on a greater role in the anti-ISIS effort.

    Still, there is no evidence that Russia will use the base to intensify its air campaign solely against ISIS or JFS. The vast majority of Russian airstrikes over the past 11 months have targeted non-jihadist rebel groups in northwest Syria, many of whom are backed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the US.

    Russia's defense ministry said the first airstrikes launched from Hamadan on Tuesday had targeted ISIS and JFS in Aleppo, Idlib, and Deir al Zour provinces. But Russia has consistently used JFS' presence among non-jihadist rebel groups — which often coordinate with JFS against regime forces — as an excuse to target and eliminate any and all opposition to Assad.

    Indeed, JFS — as part of a military alliance of several rebel brigades known as Jaysh al Fateh, or the Army of Conquest — played a big role in helping non-jihadist Free Syrian Army fighters regain control over a significant portion of Aleppo last week.

    A long time coming?

    It appears that Russia has been preparing to use Hamadan as a base of operations since at least late last year.

    In November 2015, Russian jets were pictured in satellite images on the tarmac at the Iranian air base, revealing an emboldened Russo-Iranian alliance despite some Western predictions that the two countries had disparate objectives in the region.

    The planes were pictured there shortly after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in November, leading to tension between the former friends and necessitating a new, more reliable air corridor from Russia to Syria.

    "That corridor must transit Iranian airspace, given the rising tensions between Russia and Turkey," analysts at the American Enterprise Institute noted in December.

    "But the flights are long, and prudence requires the ability to set aircraft down on the way to or from their runs into what is, after all, a dangerous combat zone. Some sort of agreement for at least in extremis landing and maintenance operations in Iran is therefore necessary."

    That agreement seems like a logical extension of Russia's growing military presence in the region from August 2015 onward — in late September, as Russia was preparing to launch its first airstrikes in Syria, Russian, Syrian, and Iranian military advisers began building a coordination cell in Baghdad in an effort to bolster Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting ISIS in northern Iraq.

    Shortly thereafter, Russia said it would supply Iran with its S-300 missile air defense system — a promise Moscow recently made good on.

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    vacuum bomb syria

    Imagine taking a deep breath then submerging yourself in water.

    Then imagine having all of the oxygen forced instantaneously from your body. Try to inhale again.

    But instead of cold water filling your lungs, toxic, flammable particles start killing you from the inside out.

    Such suffering and death is distressing and inhumane. That is what is inflicted by a thermobaric bomb, sometimes called a “vacuum bomb”. They first appeared in modern form in the 1960s and have been refined ever since. Russia, the US, China, India and many others have them.

    Thermobaric bombs use different combinations of heat and pressure to produce different high explosive effects. An initial explosion produces a pressure wave powerful enough to flatten buildings or penetrate into cave or other structures. At the same time, the explosion will disperse highly flammable fuel particles around its vicinity.

    These, often aluminium-based, particles ignite a fraction of a second later and burn at very high temperatures. The two blasts combine for maximum effect. They use up all the oxygen in the surrounding air, creating a vacuum – hence “vacuum bomb”. The resulting vacuum can be powerful enough to rupture the lungs and eardrums of anyone nearby.

    The Syrian and Russian governments have both been accused of using thermobaric bombs against rebel forces. Compelling evidence supports the claims of devastating consequences for nearby civilians.

    It is brutally clear why Vladimir Putin and his ally Bashar al Assad might use these weapons. Thermobaric bombs are highly destructive with fearsome, direct physical effects. In opposition-held areas, civilians are just as likely to be affected as combatants. The indirect effects are also desirable from Syrian and Russian government perspectives. Local communities are terrorised into submission or displaced, joining the millions of refugees seeking sanctuary elsewhere.

    Grim strategy

    vacuum bomb syria

    The use of aerial bombing in this manner has a long history. What we see in Syria is just a new twist on an old theme.

    In the 1920s the air warfare theorist Giulio Douhet anticipated that aerial bombing would remove any distinction between soldiers and civilians. Entire populations would become the focus of bombing by explosives, incendiaries and even chemical weapons. The deliberate targeting of civilians would force them into submission. He predicted that the will to resist would evaporate, then people would demand that their leaders surrender.

    Paradoxically, Douhet put forward this idea for the strategic bombing of civilians, in part, as a moral argument. Short, aggressive air campaigns against civilians would force an early end to hostilities. Such outcomes would be preferable to the prolonged loss of life he witnessed in World War I.

    This approach should be rejected as barbaric in the 21st century.

    It is the principle that underpinned the carpet bombing of cities in World War II. Not to mention America’s use of the atom bomb against Japan.

    Whatever qualms about fire-bombing civilians emerged after that war were later enshrined in international humanitarian law. They state that civilians should not be attacked. Also, the presence of fighters or soldiers within the civilian population “does not deprive the population of its civilian character”. However, those laws are ignored by Assad and Putin in Syria today.

    Civilian targets

    putin assad

    The UN Human Rights Council has been highly critical of numerous uses of lethal force in Syria. This includes the aerial bombardment by pro-government forces of areas beyond government control. It seems almost too obvious to state that the widespread killing of civilians by such methods is immoral. The weapons are indiscriminate and cannot distinguish between combatant and noncombatant. Their use against civilians is disproportionate to any threat those civilians pose to Assad’s rule. Further, the suffering and death they inflict is inhumane, by any measure. Worse, any claim that only fighters are being targeted in these bombings is dishonest and inaccurate.

    Part of Douhet’s prediction from almost a century ago is coming true before our eyes. The distinction between civilian areas and the battlefield has disappeared in places like Aleppo. The Syrian regime and its Russian allies have made sure of that. The failure of Douhet’s prediction is that civilian deaths are not bringing about the end of the fighting.

    The reality that Western powers must face is that these moral arguments are irrelevant to Assad and Putin. However, it would be foolish to pretend that there is not a certain harsh logic to their actions. Regime continuity and personal survival motivate Assad, while strategic self-interest motivates Putin.

    Until some form of brokered peace is achieved, with distasteful but necessary accommodations, the suffering will continue. Right now, the West is powerless to prevent these abhorrent Russian and Syrian tactics. We can only stand by while their vacuum bombs literally suck the life out of innocent civilians.

    Peter Lee, Reader in Politics and Ethics, University of Portsmouth

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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    isis flag

    Islamic State recruits who joined the group in Syria knew very little about Islam, according to documents found in a former Islamic State stronghold in Syria and provided to the Associated Press.

    After analyzing forms that applicants had to fill out, the AP, which got the documents from a Syrian opposition site called Zaman al-Wasl, reported that 70 percent of recruits were listed as having just "basic" knowledge of Shariah, or Quranic law.

    That was the lowest possible choice in the forms reviewed by the AP. Just 5 percent of the applicants were deemed to be advanced students of Islam.

    The documents and interviews by the AP show that several young men from France were lured by a recruiter named Mourad Fares, who went bar-hopping with them even though Islam forbids alcohol. Others, from Britain, had ordered "Islam for Dummies" from Amazon before making the trip to join the Islamic State in Syria.

    But ignorance of Islam was not considered a negative by IS recruiters. Quite the contrary; young men ignorant of the religion could be shaped into ruthless fighters, and lured with practices that included giving them sex slaves and telling them that raping the slaves was justified under Islam.

    ISIS Islamic State

    One of the applicants whose name was found among the documents in Syria was Karim Mohammad-Aggad, who went to Syria after being enticed by Fares, the bar-hopping recruiter who, he said, used "smooth talk" to convince him and his friends to join.

    Aggad went to Syria in 2013 and was arrested upon his return to France; his brother Foued was one of the killers in the November 2015 Bataclan massacre in Paris.

    "My religious beliefs had nothing to do with my departure," Aggad told a French court that sentenced him to nine years in prison. "Islam was used to trap me like a wolf."

    Patrick Skinner, a former CIA operative who spoke to the AP about the recruitment forms, agreed. "Religion," he said, "is an afterthought."

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    Russia Sukhoi Su 34 Jet

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian SU-34 bombers based at Iran's Hamadan air base on Wednesday carried out strikes on Islamic State targets inside Syria for a second day, the Interfax news agency quoted Russia's defense ministry as saying.

    The ministry was quoted as saying two command posts had been destroyed and more than 150 militants killed in the strikes.

    (Reporting by Alex Winning; Writing by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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    Russian Tu-22M

    On August 16, Russia launched the first airstrikes in Syria from Hamedan Air Base in Iran.

    The next day, they released video of it, which highlights important differences between Russian and US or US-led coalition airstrikes.

    The video shows a Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 strategic bomber flying high above the clouds and releasing a bunch of bombs over what Russia claims was Deir-ez-Zor, ISIS-held territory in eastern Syria. Though the footage may seem impressive at first glance, it shows there is still a lot to be desired from Russia as a modern military power.

    In the slides below, see the two styles of air strikes compared side by side.

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    Here is Russia's air strike from Iran, filmed on August 16.

    RAW Embed

    The footage is full color, likely shot from a helmet-mounted GoPro on the escort pilot. The footage is branded by RT, a TV station, for broadcast.

    All we see is the Tu-22s bomb bay open, and unguided, or "dumb" bombs, pour out. The pilot looks down as the bombs fall, but there is no way of seeing through the cloud cover.

    Dropping a large number of unguided bombs is known as "carpet bombing," a terribly inaccurate way to inflict lots of damage cheaply. Bombs dropped from these heights, if not guided, can drift and explode far from their intended targets. 

    Given the haphazard nature of this bombing, it is little surprise that Russian war planes have been linked to bombings of hospitals and refugee camps.

    In comparison, here is a US-led airstrike on a weapons storage facility in Raqqa, Syria, ISIS' capital there.

    RAW Embed

    Note that this footage is most likely filmed by a drone flying steadily and removed from the subject, there is not the production quality you'd pursue to broadcast this on TV as propaganda.

    When the bomb hits, it's a single projectile in a straight trajectory. That's because the US and US-led coalition airstrikes almost exclusively use precision-guided munitions. 

    You just don't see carpet bombing out of the coalition. This airstrike hits the intended target, and the secondary explosions seem to confirm that the building was storing weapons. 

    For context, here we see Iraqi helicopters gun footage as they savage a large convoy of ISIS vehicles.

    RAW Embed

    The Iraqis don't go to much trouble with video production either. They simply posted the gun camera footage after a successful strike

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Aleppo Syria

    It’s an oddity of human history that the worst atrocities committed by men against their fellow men (and women) repeat themselves. Everyone agrees that intentionally killing civilians is wrong, and nobody rushes to defend genocide. But war crimes and crimes against humanity keep happening.

    Just in my lifetime, genocides have occurred in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Burundi, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Iraq. And there have been too many ‘lesser’ war crimes committed during the same period to list.

    But whether it’s ‘legally’ genocide or ‘merely’ war crimes, tens of thousands — millions of people in total — have lost their lives needlessly to whirlwinds of irrational rage directed by one group against another, often unarmed, group. It keeps happening.

    War crimes are happening in Syria and Iraq right now.

    The most recent major ad hoc war crimes prosecution entity, the International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia (ICTY), provides an interesting compare-and-contrast model for considering what can (and cannot) be done in the case of Syria.

    As with Syria, there were multiple warring parties in the Yugoslavia conflict. In Yugoslavia, no external state actors overtly participated in the conflict, as Russia and Iran are today in Syria (a belated NATO bombing campaign on Serbian positions finally brought an end to hostilities in 1995). As in Syria, civilians in Yugoslavia were often used as proxies for inflicting damage on opposing forces — for example, the siege of Sarajevo lasted nearly four years. Unlike in Yugoslavia, however, the combatants in Syria are not all state or quasi-state actors; several are organized international terrorist groups.

    But perhaps the biggest difference between the two cases is that the ICTY was proposed almost as soon as the conflict in Yugoslavia began, in 1991. It was funded and formally set up soon thereafter. Meanwhile, Syria is fully six years into its civil war, and no serious plan to hold war criminals accountable for their actions appears to be on the horizon.

    Men and civil defence members look for survivors after an airstrike on a hospital in the town of Meles, western Idlib city in rebel-held Idlib province, Syria August 6, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

    A particularly galling and ironic part of this humanitarian negligence is that America’s current Ambassador to the United Nations is an academic who built her reputation documenting the United States’ failure to respond to previous genocides. Samantha Power began her career as a journalist covering the war in Yugoslavia, and later wrote a book, appropriately called A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, for which she received a Pulitzer Prize. She should understand the problem better than anybody, yet her tenure at the UN has been marked by feckless posturing and inaction. (Lee Smith at Tablet Magazine wrote a magisterial review of Power’s failures here.)

    It appears that Power is either unable to forge consensus for stronger action on Syria within the UN, or she is simply prevented from doing so by those higher up in the administration and is being told to sit on her hands. The latter may in fact be true; according to Jeffrey Goldberg writing in the Atlantic, President Obama once cut Power off abruptly during an NSC meeting, saying, “Samantha, enough, I’ve already read your book.” Regardless, she remains at the UN, failing at her life’s work. It’s frankly astonishing that she hasn’t resigned in protest.

    The UN’s own envoy to the country estimated in April that the total death toll in Syria so far is as many as 400,000 people. It’s not as if the international community is unaware of the scope of the problem.

    Sadly, one of the greatest impediments to addressing war crimes underway in Syria and Iraq is the United Nations itself, or rather its membership rules. Any comprehensive accounting of war crimes in Syria and Iraq would necessarily include a review of decisions taken by the governments of Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. But as a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia has a veto. And because Russia is squarely — even defiantly — on the side of the Damascus and Tehran, Moscow is likely to veto any attempt to set up an ICTY-like organization that could potentially examine the actions of nation-states in this conflict.

    ISIS Iraq Fighters

    But there should be hope for at least some type of response, even if only a partial one. It is a fact that the Islamic State (ISIS) has no constituency whatsoever in the UN. There is no party that would seriously argue against holding members of ISIS accountable for their innumerable murders of prisoners of war, non-combatants, and religious minorities, to say nothing of its intentional maiming of civilians and systematic sexual enslavement of women.

    So while consensus for addressing the actions of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and even the notorious Hezbollah will probably remain elusive for the foreseeable future, there should be nothing to prevent the UN from setting up an ad hoc tribunal to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the so-called Islamic State. Several groups, including the UN, are already actively documenting these atrocities, and would undoubtedly welcome action.

    What about the International Criminal Court? Couldn’t it prosecute war crimes in Syria? The short answer is: probably not. There are numerous problems with the ICC, not least of which is that neither Syria nor Iraq are parties to the ICC. Because of this, the court has essentially washed its hands of the issue, claiming lack of jurisdiction. In any case, the ICC has proved itself to be an impressively ineffective organization, spending more than a billion dollars during its 14 years of operation but securing only two convictions.

    An independent tribunal following the ICTY model is the most workable approach to addressing the problem in the short term. In fact, a House Resolution (H. Con. Res. 121, by Chris Smith, R-NJ) calling for the establishment of just such an ad hoc tribunal passed by an overwhelming majority in March of this year.

    But it never got a vote in the Senate. That’s a shame.

    An ad hoc tribunal would be a far cry from a full and just response to the violence happening every day in Syria, but it would be a start. At a minimum, it would send a strong message to terrorist groups everywhere: the fog of war will not keep us from documenting your crimes and holding you accountable for your actions.

    The author is a security consultant and former CIA operations officer who has worked extensively in the Balkans and the Middle East. His Twitter handle is @blogguero.

    This article was originally published on The Buckley Club and was republished here with the author's permission.

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    Every now and then, images that can’t be ignored emerge from places where suffering is all that seems to occupy a daily life.

    Today, it's Omran's turn. He's 5 and has just been pulled from the rubble of his home in the suburbs of Aleppo, Syria:

    oran Syria

    The video of that rescue is below. You need to watch it to get the true sense of how Omran is coping with the situation.

    He obviously had head wounds, but he came through treatment OK. Physically:

    (His name was later corrected by doctors to Omran.)

    Doctors don’t know what happened to his parents. Three other kids were rescued along with Omran.

    Aleppo is the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the civil war that has been tearing Syria apart for five years now.

    The city's western side is held by the government. The eastern side, where Omran lives, has been held by rebels but has been under siege since early July, subject to constant bombardment from Russian warplanes supporting President Bashar Assad under the guise of fighting terrorism.

    Nothing gets in or out — not even water. The Aleppo city-council leader, Brita Haji Hasan, said it was only a matter of "two or three months" before people started dying of starvation.

    The attacking forces have hit electrical infrastructure and, recently, the last hospital:

    syria hospital

    Up to 250,000 people are thought to be holed up, and they are mostly citizens like Omran and his family.

    Lately, the aggression has stepped up, no doubt exacerbated by incidents such as the abuse allegedly dealt to the bodies of Russian crew members after their helicopter was shot down.

    This is just another day in Aleppo:

    syria digger 2

    Along with the inevitable result:

    syria kids 2

    "This is what hell feels like," Clarissa Ward, a CNN correspondent who has reported on wars for more than a decade, told the United Nations Security Council earlier this month.

    She said that in all her experience covering war, she had "never seen anything on the scale of Aleppo."

    "The shelling was relentless, there were snipers everywhere, and I just remember the feeling of exhaustion from being so petrified all the time," she said.


    For the quarter of a million citizens trapped inside, the only hope, it seems, is for the rest of the world to notice.

    Peace talks have all but collapsed mainly because of the inability to find the answer to a simple question: What happens to Assad, who claims he is fighting ISIS, after the war?

    A UN report in February detailed "massive and systematized" violence perpetrated by Assad against his own people and "shatters the notion that the regime is somehow a lesser evil" than the Islamic State.

    "The Assad regime staying in power is not the solution," Charles Lister, a fellow at the Middle East Institute, said recently. "It's not the solution for Syria, and it's certainly not the solution for defeating terrorism on Syrian territory."

    syria 1

    The Aleppo Media Centre, with its images of Omran above that instantly went viral around the globe in much the same manner as the young refugee whose body washed up on a Turkish beach in September last year, has hopefully put the spotlight back on the fact it is not just soldiers who die in wars.

    "They are not killing fighters,"Haji Hasan told The Guardian last month. "They are killing civilians."

    "And they are using everything: cluster bombs, barrel bombs, phosphorous bombs, and even new weapons we have not seen before."

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    Syrian government warplanes bombed Kurdish-held areas of the northeastern city of Hasaka on Thursday for the first time in the five-year-old civil war, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and a monitoring group said.

    People's Protection Units (YPG) spokesman Redur Xelil said the air strikes had hit Kurdish districts of the city, which is mostly controlled by Kurdish groups, and the positions of a Kurdish security force known as the Asayish.

    "There are martyrs and wounded," he told Reuters. The Syrian military could not immediately be reached for comment.

    The YPG controls wide areas of northeastern Syria, where Kurdish groups have established an autonomous government, exploiting the unraveling of central state authority over the country since the start of the conflict.

    The Syrian government still has footholds in the cities of Qamishli and Hasaka, both in Hasaka governorate, co-existing largely peacefully with YPG-held swathes of territory.

    The cause of this week's flare-up was unclear.

    Tensions erupted between pro-government forces and Kurdish groups in Hasaka on Tuesday, leading to the most significant violence between the sides since several days of fighting in Qamishli in April.

    Xelil said government forces were bombarding Kurdish districts of Hasaka with artillery, and there were fierce clashes in the city.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war using a network of activists, said warplanes had targeted Kurdish security forces' positions in the northwest and northeast of the Hasaka city.

    The Observatory also said clashes were taking place in a number of positions around Hasaka.

    Syria's complex, multi-sided war has created a patchwork of areas of control across the country, with parts controlled by the government, rebels, Kurdish forces and Islamic State.

    The YPG makes up a significant portion of the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish and Arab alliance that fights against Islamic State insurgents in Syria.

    Last week the SDF, backed by air strikes from the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition, said they had ousted Islamic State from the city of Manbij near the Turkish border after a two-month campaign.

    (Writing by Tom Perry and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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    US-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria continued throughout July as a part of Operation Inherent Resolve, with bombing runs taking place in northern Syria in the run up to the liberation of Manjib by Arab and Kurdish forces.

    The GIF below shows a July 21 airstrike on an ISIS fighting position near Manjib.

    Anti-ISIS forces liberated Manjib in mid-August, after a protracted fight in and around the town.

    According to an August report verified by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, ISIS had kidnapped fleeing residents of the town, using them as human shields as the terrorist group retreated from Manjib to Jarabulus in an effort to slow the advance of SDF soldiers.

    After Manjib's liberation, Syrians gathered in the streets to celebrate ISIS' retreat.

    Syria Manjib ISIS liberation

    See the full video of the airstrike below:

    SEE ALSO: A dangerous weapon from wars that are long over is still wreaking havoc around the world

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    Iran revolutionary guard hormuz

    Afghanistan's Hazara minority have a proud lineage, supposedly dating back to Genghis Khan, but a recent piece from Ramin Mostaghim and Nabih Bulos in the LA Times claims that they are fleeing persecution in Afghanistan only to be sent to fight, and often die, in Syria by Iran.

    Currently, Hazaras have face persecution as Shia Muslim minorities in a Sunni Muslim country. The Hazaras have equal rights under Afghanistan's 2004 constitution, but they were sold as slaves as recently as the 19th century, Al Jazeera reports, and their continued fleeing of Afghanistan in large numbers testifies to their continued persecution. 

    The LA Times piece reports that Hazaras entering Iran are given a choice: Go to jail, face deportation, or fight in the Fatemiyoun Division — an all-Afghan Shiite militia that backs Assad and seems to take on some of the dirty work Iranians in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard don't touch. 

    ethnolinguistic map of Afghanistan hazara

    “Iranians see the Hazara as cannon fodder,” a Sheik from Qom, told the LA Times.

    “If the Hazara are the Muslim Shiite brethren of Iranians, then why are they the least important people in the devastating civil war in Syria?”

    But some Hazaras see the fight in Syria as noble, protecting fellow Shia Muslims from Sunni persecution by the likes of ISIS and other militias. 

    However, this foreign venture for the ethnic group may be having dire consequences at home. The LA Times suggests an ISIS-claimed bombing in at a Hazara protest in Kabul was retribution for the Fatemiyoun Division's activities in Syria.

    Read the full piece from the LA Times here»

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    Pro-regime militias that have thrived amid the chaos of Syria's five-year civil war are becoming increasingly powerful and prone to warlordism as the state rapidly loses its ability to reign them in, defense analysts say.

    Tobias Schneider, a defense policy analyst, recently highlighted a particularly extreme case of Syria's evolving warlordism, which he claims is already too deep-rooted for the regime to try to reverse.

    The increasingly powerful clans have their roots in groups of armed gangs, known as shabiha, who reemerged as militias in 2011 as a tool of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime to brutally suppress dissent.

    If Schneider's case study of militiamen gone rogue is any indication, however, Assad's strategy of giving them free reign may now be coming back to haunt him.

    "Military intel and SAA (Syrian Arab Army) command have tried to reign in ... warlords with little success," Schneider wrote. As a result, "the situation is tense in Hama Governorate."

    "It's reached a point where the state is being swallowed whole by its clients," Schneider wrote. "Loyalist commanders openly defy Damascus without consequence."

    Syria Syrian Army Troops Soldiers Bashar Assad

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has characterized the militiamen as mercenaries. They have been accused of raping and murdering protesters and engaging in a "scorched earth campaign" on behalf of the Assad regime to quell opposition and strengthen the embattled president's hold on power.

    To that end, Assad initially allowed the militias to operate with impunity — presumably under the mistaken impression that the protest movement would be wiped out fairly quickly, rather than evolve into a five-year civil war that has left nearly 500,000 people dead.

    As Schneider points out, the regime is caught in a Catch-22 when it comes to reigning in the militias: Both the government and Syria's economy — what is left of it — rely largely on the armed gangs' smuggling and manpower.

    Notably, the militias are from all sects — they are not just Alawite, the branch of Islam practiced by the Assads, but Sunni as well. And none of them have any formal military rank, training, or authority.

    "They just enjoy camo[flouge]," Schneider wrote.

    In any case, he wrote, "There is no loyalist force left strong enough to rein these people in. We're moving towards 'War of the Camps' phase of this conflict ... [and] this is a problem of the regime's own making."

    In 2014, Vocativ tracked down some shabiha militiamen on Facebook, where they frequently posted photos of themselves flexing and posing with weapons.

    Tony Badran, a research fellow at the think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC, confirmed that Syria's warlordism goes well beyond one or two case studies.

    Incidents of warlordism — and even clashes between "regular" Syrian Arab Army forces and militias such as the National Defense Forces (or, depending on the locale, tribal militias, Kurdish Democratic Union Party militias, etc.) — are fairly common, Badran told Business Insider, and have been reported on in Arabic-language outlets.

    Last May, for example, reports emerged that the National Defense Force militia clashed with regime soldiers in Homs. In January 2016, the NDF apparently clashed with regime soldiers in Deir Ezzor. And one of the first reported clashes, in July 2013, took place roughly six miles southeast of Syria's capital, Damascus, in the city of Jaramana.

    Schneider provided another example:

    "When fighting raged at Harbinafsah (Hama) this February, local warlord Ahmed Ismail from Seghata suffered heavy losses. So he requested reinforcements from Fadi Qaribish, a commander in nearby Baarin (Hama). Fadi refused.

    "So the Syrian Arab Army and Ahmed's men subsequently attacked Baarin ... and were FOUGHT OFF! Fadi then established his own check points. Ahmed Ismail himself had previously lynched military intel officer Rifaat Hassan on the streets of Masyaf for investigating smuggling."

    Badran noted that not all of the incidents were on the same scale as the one in Hama. But they have become a more regular occurrence, Schneider said, as the political, social, and ethnic fragmentation of Syria's battered landscape deepens.

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    special forces YPG

    A few years ago, relatively early on in the war against ISIS, I was smuggled into Northern Syria along a PKK re-supply route.  Taking a small inflatable boat across the river which acted as the border between Syria and Iraq, my first stop in the Kurdish held areas of Syria (known as Rojava) was a military outpost called Derik.

    Situated on top of a mountain, Derik had not been a military base until the Kurdish YPG militia had captured it months prior.  Before that, Derik had been the site of a Chinese oil company installation.  Crawling out from the back of a Hilux pickup truck in the dead of night, the first thing I saw was the barracks for Chinese oil workers and a fleet of white pickup trucks that had belonged to the company.  Putting my head down in one of the prefabricated barracks rooms (not dissimilar to those utilized by American soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom) I awoke early the next morning to discover that the surrounding landscape was littered with oil wells.

    Of course, the war had interrupted Chinese oil drilling in Syria.  The oil pumps were frozen in place, collecting rust, and looking like ancient monoliths in a post-apocalyptic movie.  The largest joint Chinese-Syrian oil endeavor was undertaken by the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, however, I believe this particular oil facility had been owned by Sinochem, another Chinese oil company that had been helping to develop oil infrastructure in Syria.  Rojava, as it turns out, is one of those parts of the world where oil just bubbles up from the ground naturally in some places, causing big black splotches that damage paved roads.

    Suffice to say that it was a surreal moment, my first time in Syria, standing on what had been a Chinese oil base. Globalization has been stalled in this part of the world as barbaric hoards from ISIS have obliterated future economic development.  Ironically, the base was now occupied by Kurdish socialists, and pictures of their ideological leader Abdullah Ocelon were posted everywhere.  Now, the Chinese were one of the ancillary stakeholders in the conflict who were bleeding their chips away, losing oil fields to ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.

    syria oil fire

    From the Middle East, to Africa, to Southeast Asia, the People’s Republic of China has embarked on an ambitious plan to secure what is perhaps their most important national security imperative in the 21st Century: energy security.  The drilling, extraction, and transportation of energy resources to China must be secured in order for the government to ensure future growth and prosperity.  It is no coincidence that China has been taking over islands in the South China Sea and building military bases on them.  This is China’s backyard, and if a foreign power (America) were to cut off China’s sea lanes, the country would essentially be strangulated to death.  All of this is one facet of China’s larger 100-year plan.

    When it comes to the ISIS plague in the Middle East, China wisely retreated from the conflict and declined to get involved.  This is also indicative of China’s national style.  They prefer to “fight with a borrowed sword.”  Let Russia and Western powers get bogged down in another senseless war in the Middle East while China plays the long game.  At this stage, that last thing the Chinese government wants is to reveal their hand through outright military aggression.  Such actions could trigger a conventional military conflict with the West, something they are not quite ready for.

    And yet, a lot has changed in Syria since I visited the haphazard YPG bases in Rojava a couple years back. America has seemingly backed away from open overtures of regime change, Russia has militarily backed the Assad government, and Iran has also played a proxy role in keeping the Syrian government afloat.  The alignment of interests by those nations antagonistic to the United States, such as Iran and Russia, has unsurprisingly appealed to the likes of China as well.

    china military

    In mid-August, Reuters reported on Chinese military assistance to Syria, quoting from Chinese state run news network Xinhua:

    Guan Youfei, director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China’s Central Military Commission, met Syrian Defence Minister Fahad Jassim al-Freij in Damascus, China’s Xinhua state news agency said.

    Guan said China had consistently played a positive role in pushing for a political resolution in Syria.

    “China and Syria’s militaries have a traditionally friendly relationship, and China’s military is willing to keep strengthening exchanges and cooperation with Syria’s military,” the news agency paraphrased Guan as saying.

    Both also talked about personnel training and “reached a consensus” on the Chinese military providing humanitarian aid, Xinhua added, without elaborating.

    Guan also met a Russian general in Damascus, the news agency said, without giving details.

    Now that the battlefield in Syria has matured, and great powers like Russia and America have solidified policy decisions, not to mention taking on all the risks, the Chinese are again willing to dip their toes in the water.  For the PRC, it is important to get their foot in the door before the ISIS conflict reaches its end game in order to regain access to important oil fields.

    Based on the open source reporting on meetings between Syrian, Russian, and Chinese officials, we also have to wonder what personnel and assets China will be deploying to Syria and what other agendas might be at play. Rojava, the site of some of the previously mentioned Chinese oil fields is currently where around 300 American Special Operations soldiers are stationed.  From combat outposts, these Americans are conducting their own train, advise, and assist mission in Syria alongside the Kurds.

    What the future holds in this region is anything but certain.

    SEE ALSO: Everyone needs to see this heartbreaking video of a little boy in Aleppo who's already seen enough of this world

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    Two Singaporeans who the government says intended to travel to Syria to fight for Islamic State have been detained under a colonial-era law that allows suspects to be held without trial.

    Singapore has been on heightened vigilance since Indonesian police arrested a group of men they believed were plotting a rocket attack on the wealthy city-state with the help of a Syrian-based Islamic State militant.

    A major financial centre and the most westernised society in Southeast Asia, multi-ethnic Singapore is increasingly seen as a target for radicalised religious militants, authorities say.

    Rosli bin Hamzah, a 50-year-old car washer, and Mohamed Omar bin Mahadi, a 33-year-old waste truck driver, received two-year detention orders this month, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.

    Both had been radicalised, the ministry said, adding they were prepared to die as martyrs in Syria.

    Singapore, which has not suffered a militant attack in decades, deploys extensive surveillance and is largely seen as one of the safest countries in the world. But some critics say security comes with a cost to civil liberties.

    The Internal Security Act, under which the two were held, has been criticised by rights groups for allowing detention without trial.

    Authorities have detained or repatriated dozens of people in the past year, most of them migrant Bangladeshi workers, for suspected links to militant fund-raising or other "terrorism-related activities".

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    Syria cartoon

    Editor's Note: This story contains images that may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.

    As Syria's civil war drags on into its fifth year, families are faced with an impossible choice — stay and brave the bombs and artillery raining down on Syria's cities, or leave and take the chance on a dangerous journey to Europe.

    It's hard to say which is safer when both could easily lead to death.

    Images of Syrian children caught in the middle of this conflict have illustrated this point particularly powerfully.

    First, late last year, a photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach shocked the world at the height of the refugee crisis. Kurdi drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean and escape the war in Syria.

    aylan kurdi europe refugee migrant crisis

    Then, this week, a photo and video of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh being pulled from the rubble of his home near Aleppo went viral. The boy's home had been hit by an airstrike carried out by either the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or Russia, which is backing the regime.

    A still image taken on August 18, 2016 from a video posted on social media said to be shot in Aleppo on August 17, 2016, shows a boy with bloodied face sitting in an ambulance, after an airstrike, Syria. Social Media

    Political cartoonist Khalid Albaih contrasted the two images in his illustration, which he gave Business Insider permission to republish.

    "My inspiration came from the fact that I consider myself as a refugee," Albaih, who now lives in Qatar but was born in Romania while his father was based there as a Sudanese diplomat, told Business Insider via email. "[M]y children are within the same age and could also be in the same situation."

    Nearly half a million people have died in the Syrian civil war, and nearly 5 million have fled.

    The conflict started with a rebel uprising against Assad, widely regarded as a dictator, who has been accused of relentlessly bombing his own people in an effort to hang onto power.

    Terrorist groups are now also in the mix in Syria — ISIS holds territory in some parts of the country, and Al Qaeda-linked jihadists have become a major player on the battlefield.

    Analysts contend that the bloodshed will continue for as long as Assad remains in power. The US has called for him to step down, but has stopped short of intervening to depose him.

    Civilians, including children, have been caught in the crossfire — those who remain in their homes face daily bombings and airstrikes, and those who attempt to flee face the daunting task of obtaining asylum in another country.

    Albaih does not seem optimistic about the situation changing anytime soon.

    "My cartoon of Alan went viral as well but the situation is still the same," Albaih said. "[C]hildren are the biggest victims of the grownups' world."

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    ISIS human shield

    Images released by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed rebel group, reveal the latest tactic from Islamic State militants as they start losing territory.

    Realizing that the SDF was gaining momentum after 10-weeks of intense fighting in Manbij, a major ISIS-held city, ISIS militants began their retreat to Jarabulus, a city on the Turkish border.

    However, even their retreat appeared to be gutlessly motivated: after confiscating the vehicles belonging to the city's residents, they forced at least one out of the 2,000 kidnapped civilians into each of them as they fled — preventing SDF and US-led coalition forces from targeting the convoy with airstrikes for fear of harming the "human shield."

    So far, it seems that ISIS forces had good reason to flee from Manbij: except for the few sleeper cells that remained, coalition forces announced last Friday that the city had been liberated from ISIS control.

    Here's what ISIS' retreat looked like:

    ISIS human shield

    ISIS human shield

    SEE ALSO: ISIS has kidnapped 2,000 civilians to use as 'human shields'

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    ISIS human shield

    There's no question that ISIS forces are losing ground in territories in Syria and Iraq— after making so many enemies from several countries and across numerous ethnic lines, the group might have bit off more than it could chew.

    Forces seem to be losing territory so fast that they resorted to tactics such as kidnapping civilians to form a "human shield" during hasty retreats.

    Images taken of abandoned ISIS strongholds in Syria and Iraq suggest that the trove of valuable intelligence materials left behind, such as ordnance components, could be analyzed by experts to thwart ISIS in the future.

    Here's what its safe houses in Syria and Iraq looked like:

    SEE ALSO: This is what ISIS' 'human shield' looked like during their retreat

    A billboard with Quranic verses in the historic city of Palmyra, Syria.

    An ISIS flag hangs on the wall of an abandoned building in Tell Hamis, Syria, after the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, took control of the area from ISIS militants.

    Tripods and a projector inside an ancient hammam, or steam bath, that was used by ISIS as a media center in Manbij, Syria.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Editor's note: The images and video in this article may be upsetting to some readers.

    A powerful image of a wounded Syrian boy sitting in an ambulance, covered in blood and dust after an air strike in Aleppo on Wednesday, August 17, has captured the attention of people across the globe.

    The image was taken from a video released by the Aleppo Media Center, which shows rescuers carrying the five-year-old boy into the ambulance. The boy is in such a daze, he doesn't appear to realize that he is wounded until he puts his hand to his head, and sees the blood on his hand.

    The boy has since been identified as Omran Daqneesh, from the Qaterji neighborhood of Aleppo, The Guardian reports. He was joined in the ambulance by two other children.

    Wounded Syrian boy AleppoThe picture is a powerful reminder of the true cost of war. As such, it almost immediately went viral, bringing up emotions for people all over the world.

    People of different ethnicities, faiths, nationalities and political beliefs have been reacting to the image online. Regardless of their thoughts about the civil war waging in Syria, there seems to be a general consensus: This image is absolutely heartbreaking.

    It also got the attention of celebrities such as model Chrissy Teigen, who tweeted to her 2.42 million followers that she was too upset about the image to care about the Ryan Lochte scandal.

    The photo was also turned into a haunting cartoon from artist @khalidalbaih linking Omran Daqneesh and Aylan Kurdi, theSyrian three-year-old who washed up dead on a beach in Turkey in 2015.

    Watch the video below.

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    While Syria is embroiled in a violent civil war, millions of civilians have been displaced, injured, and killed in the crossfire. 

    But perhaps the most staggering costs of the war have been borne by Syria's children. 

    8.4 million Syrian children, or approximately 80% of all Syrian children, have been affected by the war.

    Children, like 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, have become the face of the nation's struggle. But Daqneesh is far from the only Syrian child affected.



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    The plight of Syrian children resurfaced on Thursday when photos emerged of Omran Daqneesh, a five-year-old Syrian boy who was bloodied and injured after being pulled out of rubble when his neighborhood was hit by an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria on August 17.

    8.4 million children, or more than 80 percent of Syria's child population, have been affected by the war, either within Syrian borders or as refugees.

    Source: UNICEF

    As of 2016, of the 13.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian support, 6 million are children. Their access to vital services, like food, healthcare, counseling, and education has been decimated as a result of the war.

    Source: UNOCHA

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Wounded Syrian boy Aleppo

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - The older brother of a Syrian boy whose image, dazed and bloodied after an air strike, shocked people around the world, has died in Aleppo from wounds sustained in the same incident, a war monitor, a local council official and a witness said.

    Ali Daqneesh, 10, was wounded in Wednesday's air strike, according to U.K.-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and a witness who was present at the time of the death along with the boys' father.

    "He was martyred while in hospital as a result of the same bombardment that their house was subjected to," said Besher Hawi, the spokesman for the local council of Aleppo.

    He had internal bleeding and organ damage, doctors told the witness.

    His younger brother, five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, was pictured in the back of an ambulance after being pulled from the rubble, with an expression of incomprehension on his dust- and blood-caked face.

    The video and pictures were widely circulated online and in the media, refocusing public opinion on Syria's five-year-old civil war and the plight of civilians, particularly in Aleppo.

    Russian and Syrian warplanes have intensified their air strikes on the rebel-held east of the city since insurgents made an advance last month, breaking an effective siege.

    Fighting and air strikes in and around Aleppo have killed 448 civilians so far this month, the Observatory said.

    Rebels, supported by the United States, Turkey and Gulf Arab nations, have been fighting since 2011 to oust President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by Russia and Iran. Russia began air strikes last September.

    On Friday, the World Food Programme described the situation in besieged areas as "nightmarish" amid growing international concern over the humanitarian cost of the war in Syria.

    Russia on Thursday said it supported the idea of weekly 48-hour ceasefires to allow humanitarian aid to enter besieged parts of Aleppo, a plan the rebels also cautiously welcomed.

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