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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    A selection of photos from some of the biggest news that you might have missed this week.

    SEE ALSO: We spent a day with the people who fly and fix the F-35 — here's what they have to say about the most expensive weapons project in history

    Ukrainian artist Daria Marchenko gives comments to journalists near the artwork 'Honour' from the series 'Five Elements of War', created in cooperation with her colleague Daniel Green and made of bullet and shell cartridges from the frontline of a military conflict in eastern Ukraine, shoulder straps and other military items, at a studio in Kiev, Ukraine on September 26, 2016.



    Children play with water from a burst water pipe at a site hit yesterday by an air strike in Aleppo's rebel-controlled al-Mashad neighborhood, Syria.



    A Lebanese soldier carries his weapon as he stands on sandbags at an army post in the hills above the Lebanese town of Arsal, near the border with Syria.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    A wounded man is rushed into a hospital in Aleppo on September 28, 2016after he was hit by shrapnel from mortar shells

    Geneva (AFP) - Civilians under bombardment in Syria's rebel-held east Aleppo are facing "a level of savagery that no human should have to endure," the UN aid chief said Sunday.

    Stephen O'Brien, who heads the United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA), issued a fresh plea to ease the suffering of some 250,000 people besieged by a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive to retake the key city. 

    In a statement, O'Brien called for "urgent action to bring an end to their living hell."

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is battling to reclaim Aleppo, once the country's economic powerhouse. Diplomatic efforts to stem the bloodshed have failed. 

    "The healthcare system in eastern Aleppo is all but obliterated," O'Brien said, after the largest hospital in the rebel-controlled area was hit by barrel bombs on Saturday. 

    "Medical facilities are being hit one by one," he added. 

    AleppoO'Brien urged warring parties to at the very least allow medical evacuations for the hundreds of civilians in urgent need of care.

    The UN has said that water and food supplies in eastern Aleppo are running low, while efforts to bring in aid convoys through the Turkish border have been stalled by the fighting. 

    The UN had hoped it could restock east Aleppo during a ceasefire negotiated last month by the United States and Russia, but security conditions to allow those deliveries were not met and the ceasefire quickly collapsed. 

    With many basic medications now unavailable most supplies are running short, patients are being turned away from health centres and the need for evacuations is likely "to rise dramatically in the coming days," O'Brien said. 

    The battle for Aleppo has sparked some of the most brutal violence since the beginning in March 2011 of Syria's conflict, which has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced over half the population.

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    People inspect a damaged site after airstrikes on the rebel held Sheikh Fares neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 1, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

    Syrian government and allied forces advanced north of Aleppo, pressing their week-long offensive to take the insurgent-held part of the city after dozens of overnight air strikes hit the besieged eastern sector, state media and a monitor said on Sunday.

    The Syrian military, supported by Iran-backed militias and Russian air power, began their offensive to take control of the whole of the divided city of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire broke down last month.

    An initial air campaign by Syrian government and allied forces more than a week ago was later reinforced by a ground offensive seeking to establish control over the besieged insurgent-held eastern half of the city.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state television said the Syrian military and its allies advanced south from the Handarat refugee camp north of Aleppo city, which they took earlier this week, into the Shuqaif industrial area.

    Zakaria Malahifji, of the Aleppo-based rebel group Fastaqim, told Reuters there were clashes in this area on Sunday.

    The Observatory added that there was fierce fighting between rebels and government forces all along the front line which cuts the city in two.

    The relentless Russian and Syrian air campaign in east Aleppo has damaged hospitals and water supplies.

    East Aleppo came under siege in early July after its main supply route, the Castello Road, fell under government control.

    Russian airstrikes Aleppo Sept 20-22 2016

    Internationally brokered attempts to establish ceasefires to allow in United Nations humanitarian aid have failed, although other international and local aid groups have brought in limited supplies.

    The U.N's Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O'Brien, said he was "deeply alarmed by the ferocious pummeling of eastern Aleppo" and reiterated U.N. calls for a pause in fighting, medical evacuations and access for aid.

    "The health system is on the verge of total collapse with patients being turned away and no medicines available to treat even the most common ailments."

    "With clean water and food in very short supply, the number of people requiring urgent medical evacuations is likely to rise dramatically in the coming days," he said.

    On Saturday, the largest trauma and intensive care center in eastern Aleppo was badly damaged by air strikes and had to close. Two patients were killed.

    The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which partly supported the hospital, said the hospital had been hit seven times since July, with three attacks this week alone.

    Syriamap syria map aleppo sept 2016

    "The situation in Aleppo is beyond dire ... People are stuck under the rubble and we can't get to them because of the intensity of the shelling. We are pleading for help to stop the bombing," said Mohamed Abu Rajab, a SAMS nurse at the hospital.

    SAMS said only five hospitals remained operational in east Aleppo.

    The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by state media that the participation of Russia's air force in the conflict now in its sixth year had "tightened the noose on terrorist groups and reduced their ability to spread terror to other countries".

    The Syrian government refers to all groups fighting against it as terrorists.

     

    SEE ALSO: UN: Aleppo residents are facing 'a level of savagery that no human should have to endure'

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    NOW WATCH: Samsung now says it's too dangerous to even turn on your Galaxy Note 7


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    Yehya Maatouq holds his four-month-old daughter Wahida in Idlib, on October 1, 2016

    Idlib (Syria) (AFP) - The frail cries of four-month-old Wahida made the rescue worker who carried her out of the rubble in Syria's Idlib break down in sobs. The full story is one of tragedy.

    "I was in the shop when the airplane began carrying out air strikes," recalls 32-year-old father Yehya Maatouq almost matter-of-factly. 

    He was speaking to AFP on the destroyed rooftop of his home in the northwest city of Idlib, clearing away cement and debris from Thursday's fateful raid.

    "Right after the strike, I ran home and found our whole neighbourhood had been turned upside-down. I went into our house and didn't find anyone there." 

    Suddenly, Maatouq heard his wife's muffled voice from beneath the ruins of their second-storey home. 

    "I looked everywhere until I lifted up a rock and I found her face underneath. I began to dig around her -- thank God, she was awake and talking to me."

    Along with the White Helmets rescue force, Maatouq then frantically went in search of his two daughters, four-month-old Wahida and three-year-old Sinar. 

    "I began digging in the bedroom and I found my daughter (Wahida)'s hand. When I reached her, she just grabbed my finger."

    As the White Helmets pulled back the large pieces of cement that had buried Wahida, her exhausted father lifted her tiny body out. 

    "They took her to the hospital and thank God she was alive," Maatouq says.

    Footage of the rescue posted by the White Helmets showed a volunteer holding up the tiny baby, her bright yellow outfit caked in dust, as he marches out of her destroyed home.

    A civil defence member carries an injured girl at a site hit by airstrikes in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

    The unidentified volunteer cradles Wahida in his arms as he sits through a rocky ambulance ride, weeping over her as she coughs and grasps at his collar. 

    "We've been working for two hours to get her out from under the rubble and thank God, it turns out she is alive," he says through his tears. 

    But back at Wahida's home, her father was left grieving over her older sister, Sinar, and his own mother -- both killed in the raid.

    "My second daughter, the wall had fallen on top of her. She was dead. I wish I had lost everything else but not lost her," he tells AFP, his voice breaking.  

    Maatouq, his wife, and Wahida moved in with relatives on the edge of Idlib while they try to repair their home. 

    Wahida has scratches and bruises across her forehead, but she sits calmly in her father's arms, her dark eyes looking up towards the sky. 

    Asked what he hopes for his future, Maatouq sighs.

    "It's up to God. We can't even handle what we've been through already," he says.

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    Dabiq 9

    ISTANBUL/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels backed by Turkey and a U.S.-led coalition are closing in on the Islamic State-held village of Dabiq, the site of an apocalyptic prophesy central to the militant group's ideology.

    Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups have been pushing southwards into Islamic State's territory in an operation backed by Turkey since Aug. 24, and have taken villages near Dabiq in recent days. A rebel leader said the plan was to reach Dabiq within 48 hours, but cautioned Islamic State had heavily mined the surrounding area, a sign of its importance to the group.

    Although Dabiq, a village in relatively flat countryside northeast of Aleppo, holds little strategic value, it is seen by Islamic State as the place where a final battle will take place between Muslims and infidels, heralding Doomsday.

    The group has named its online English-language magazine Dabiq and in April and May sent about 800 fighters there to defend it against advances by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday.

    "If matters proceed as planned, within 48 hours we will be in Dabiq," Ahmed Osman, commander of the Sultan Murad FSA group, said in a voice recording sent to Reuters.

    Dabiq map SyriaHowever, Islamic State has heavily mined the area, making progress around Turkman Bareh slower than in other areas, said Osman, adding that 15 deaths among insurgent ranks in the past 24 hours were caused by mines and mortar fire.

    The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State is actively supporting the rebels as they advance "to within a few kilometres of (its) weakening stronghold" of Dabiq, Brett McGurk, Washington's special envoy for the coalition, said in a Tweet.

    Islamic State has exploited the five-year-old Syrian civil war to seize swathes of territory.

    Rebel fighters of 'Al-Sultan Murad' brigade gather on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Shawa, which is controlled by Islamic State militants, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

    Washington believes taking Dabiq could strike at Islamic State morale as it prepares to fend off expected offensives against Iraq's Mosul and Syria's Raqqa, the largest cities held by the jihadists, officials from a coalition country said.

    Turkish warplanes hit Islamic State targets in the areas of Dabiq, Akhtarin and Turkman Bareh, destroying nine buildings including a command post, gun positions and an ammunition depot, a statement by Turkey's military said on Monday.

    The latest fighting marks an escalation since Turkish troops crossed the border into Syria on Aug. 24 to back opposition fighters battling Islamic State in an operation Ankara says is aimed at removing the border threat the jihadists pose.

    Nearly a dozen air strikes by the U.S.-backed coalition killed 13 militants, while the Turkish army said it also fired on Islamic State from inside Turkey after the jihadists used rockets to target its border town of Kilis.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Astronomers discovered a second ‘alien megastructure’ star that’s even stranger than the first one


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    evan mcmullin

    Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin has spent the better part of his political career advocating a more robust humanitarian response to the "industrial-scale killing" of Syria's civilians by their own government.

    That work, according to those who know him, was always largely behind the scenes — in the way you might expect a former undercover CIA agent who grew up in a religious Mormon family on a small farm in Washington state to pair ambition with subtlety.

    McMullin was instrumental in bringing a Syrian military defector, code-named Caesar, to the US in 2014 to share the photographs he took of the rampant torture in President Bashar Assad's prisons. Most recently, he helped draft a huge sanctions bill aimed at Assad and his inner circle.

    In March, he gave a TED Talk at London Business School denouncing the West's inaction in the face of mass atrocities. It was arguably his most visible appeal for greater action in Syria up until that point.

    Six months later, handpicked by Republican operatives to represent the Never Trump movement, McMullin has been given a much bigger stage than the one he stood on in London. But his unforeseen political visibility hasn't softened his calls for action, which he says come from "a deep passion that I have around the idea that all humans are created equal."

    "When I see anyone — whether they're Syrians, Americans, or anyone else — having their human rights so abused or taken from them by such a brutal dictator, it offends that passion," McMullin, who has been described as a "refreshingly enthusiastic and genuine,""realistic," and "principled" by anti-Trump conservatives, told Business Insider in an interview last week.

    He said Donald Trump's "self-centeredness is not just a problem, but a threat" to situations like Syria — situations he believes not only demand humanitarian intervention, but also pose a national security threat if left unchecked.

    "I believe he is cut from the same cloth not only as Putin, but as Bashar al-Assad and Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-un," said McMullin, who served as the chief policy director for the House Republican Conference until he started his presidential bid.

    'Syria is Barack Obama's Rwanda'

    It's not only Trump he chides: McMullin is one of the biggest critics of President Barack Obama's policy of nonintervention in Syria. He publicly supports a no-fly zone — or something resembling it — to stop the Russian-Syrian bombing campaigns that kill dozens, sometimes hundreds, of civilians on a daily basis.

    "I truly believe that Syria is Barack Obama's Rwanda," he said, referring to the 1994 genocide of 500,000 to 1 million Tutsi by Rwanda's Hutu government, and President Bill Clinton's decision not to intervene.

    "In all fairness to Obama, he is proud of his not being pulled in to Syria," McMullin said. "But I don't know that restraint when it comes to mass atrocities is so laudable."

    Aleppo

    Many now characterize the crisis in Syria as genocide, although it didn't begin as an ethnic or religious conflict. In March 2011, many were not even demanding regime change — protesters inspired by the Arab Spring took to the streets to demand basic democratic reforms, but were met instead with bullets by the Assad regime.

    When bullets weren't enough, the regime started using barrel bombs capable of leveling cities and killing hundreds at a time. The bombs still weren't enough to end the revolution. Then Russia intervened with its own warplanes. Those weren't enough either.

    Criticism of Obama's decision not to establish a no-fly zone or crater regime-controlled runways — indirectly grounding the warplanes — has gotten louder as the aerial bombardments have become more relentless, as the refugee crisis has worsened, and as Russia has grown more defiant.

    "America has a moral obligation to stand up against mass atrocities," McMullin said. "Our international allies need to step up, too — but America must lead. Not only on moral grounds, but because these things do have national security implications, and we're watching it play out. We have a leader now who I don't think fully understands that. Donald Trump doesn't understand the first piece of that."

    McMullin also faults Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee and former secretary of state, whose "tenure at the State Department was one in which she presided over our foreign policy when AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] reconstituted itself and ultimately became the terrorist army we now know as ISIS."

    "She also empowered Putin through the Russian reset, which I think was incredibly naive," he said.

    'We can't resettle our way out of this'

    For a presidential candidate, McMullin's compassion for the war's victims and his stated foreign policy positions are surprisingly consistent.

    Described as "interventionist" during a recent roundtable discussion with journalists, McMullin did not back away from the term. Instead, he replied, "If we are committed to the cause of liberty, we have to an obligation to lead."

    Still, he responds carefully when asked if he would take in more refugees than the 10,000 who have already been granted asylum by the Obama administration.

    "We need to do something about stopping the cause of the refugee problem," he said. "No matter how many we accept, we'll never take enough to solve the problem. We can't resettle our way out of this."

    Aleppo

    As a former volunteer refugee resettlement officer working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan, McMullin can say with relative authority that he doesn't believe the refugee crisis spawned by the war is being dealt with properly.

    He feels strongly — as do many foreign policy analysts and US Secretary of State John Kerry— that neither the war nor the refugee crisis it has created will be solved as long as Assad remains in power.

    "We cannot win the war against ISIS, and cannot resolve the refugee problem, without dealing with him," McMullin said, referring to Assad. He eventually says that as president he would want the US to continue taking in more refugees.

    "The hardest way to come into the US is as a refugee," he said. "ISIS wants us to deny them entry, because if we do, then we abandon our principles as a country and help [ISIS] fuel their narrative of 'Islam versus the West.'"

    The dig at Trump isn't subtle. The real-estate mogul infamously called for barring Muslim immigrants from entering the US "at least temporarily," before slightly walking back his comments and instead calling for barring those from "terror states."

    In McMullin's view, that kind of rhetoric amounts to doing the US's enemies' job for them.

    "Sometimes I feel like our adversaries understand better than we do where our power as a nation comes from, which is our principles and our values," McMullin said. "So they work to undermine that."

    SEE ALSO: Shimon Peres 2 years ago: I stopped Netanyahu from attacking Iran, and you can talk about it when I'm dead

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    Syria

    EIRUT, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Even entombing the hospital under solid rock tunnelled beneath a mountain was not enough to protect it from bombs dropped by Syria's government or its Russian allies, medical staff say.

    Opposition groups built the "central cave hospital" north of Hama to withstand bombardment, tunnelling into a mountain in northwestern Syria for more than a year to bury it below 17 metres of rock.

    To some degree it worked: when Russian or Syrian government warplanes bombed it in two waves of air strikes on Sunday, nobody inside the cave was seriously hurt.

    But massive bombs wrecked the emergency ward near the entrance, caved in interior ceilings, crumbled cement walls and destroyed generators, water tanks and medical equipment, knocking the underground hospital out of service.

    "The mountainous rock, praise God, did not collapse at all," hospital head Abdallah Darwish told Reuters from the area.

    Western countries including the United States say Syria's government and its Russian allies are guilty of war crimes for deliberately targeting civilians, aid deliveries and hospitals during a three week escalation of the civil war.

    Moscow and Damascus say they target only militants and deny that they have hit hospitals, although several have been hit during the latest bombing campaign, which began after a ceasefire collapsed in September.

    According to Darwish, two waves of strikes hit the hospital. The first attack caused a huge blast at the front entrance of the hospital before another big bomb fell nearby, causing staff to panic, Darwish said.

    Syria

    Since launching their latest intensified air campaign, the Russian and Syrian forces have been using much more powerful "bunker-buster" bombs, which residents of opposition-held areas say have the force to bring down entire buildings.

    At least one of the bombs dropped on the cave hospital appeared to be a bunker buster because of the force of the blast, said Ahmad al-Dbis, of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), a coalition of international aid agencies which funds hospitals in Syria including this one. Staff reported the blast caused "something like an earthquake", he said.

    Photos showed long cracks around the rocky, dome-shaped ceiling, and hospital rooms covered in the rubble of collapsing walls.

    "Nothing is safe anymore when these kinds of weapons are used," al-Dbis said.

    'On the ground and underground'

    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Monday that accusations that Moscow had struck hospitals were "groundless". He said militants were using civilians and "so-called hospitals" as human shields, setting up medical facilities in cities without correctly marking them.

    The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment about the specific incident.

    A Syrian military source reiterated government denials that hospitals have been targeted. However, the source said militants were being targeted wherever they were, "on the ground and underground".

    Since the ceasefire collapsed, fierce battles have been waged in the northern city of Aleppo, where pro-government forces are trying to capture the last major urban area under rebel control, and near Hama, where rebels have launched an advance of their own that threatens to approach the important government-held city.

    syriaThe cave hospital opened north of Hama in late 2015 after aid groups and other donors paid about half a million dollars to build and equip it. It is close to a frontline where clashes and heavy bombardment have occurred in recent days.

    "It was hit at the height of our work, at a time when there was the largest number of patients and wounded," al-Dbis said.

    All medical staff and patients were evacuated while equipment was put into storage for fear of another attack on the hospital, he said, describing it as the best fortified in all of rebel-held Syria.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring body based in Britain, reported heavy bombardment by government forces in the area, including the town of Kafr Zita and other towns on Sunday.

    Intensive care

    The Observatory said helicopters had dropped "barrel bombs" made from oil drums near the hospital the day before, and cited sources as saying they caused several people to choke - a sign of a gas attack. Rebels also said there had been a chlorine attack in the area.

    The government vehemently denies using chemical weapons, but a United Nations inquiry last month said the Syrian military had been responsible for poison gas attacks in the past.

    "The chlorine attack the night before had 30 victims, most of whom were treated at the cave," said Adham Sahloul, an advocacy officer at the Syrian American Medical Society, which funds most of the hospital's operating costs. "But they were out of the hospital by then."

    Doctors at the hospital perform more than 150 surgeries and treat at least 40 intensive care cases from rural areas near Hama every month, according to UOSSM.

    The hospital provides all medical treatment without charge, and mainly serves people living in nearby towns who had already fled their homes in other parts of Syria. Some wounded rebels are also treated there, al-Dbis said.

    "I will not hide it, there's great fear among the hospital staff," Darwish, the hospital director, said. "But God willing, we will get back to work after the repairs. And when they stay deep inside the hospital, nothing will happen to them."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    A still image, taken from video footage and released by Russia's Defence Ministry on August 18, 2016, shows a Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber based at Iran's Hamadan air base dropping off bombs in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor. Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS TV

    Even entombing the hospital under solid rock tunneled beneath a mountain was not enough to protect it from bombs dropped by Syria's government or its Russian allies, medical staff say.

    Opposition groups built the "central cave hospital" north of Hama to withstand bombardment, tunneling into a mountain in northwestern Syria for more than a year to bury it below 17 meters of rock.

    To some degree it worked: when Russian or Syrian government warplanes bombed it in two waves of air strikes on Sunday, nobody inside the cave was seriously hurt.

    But massive bombs wrecked the emergency ward near the entrance, caved in interior ceilings, crumbled cement walls and destroyed generators, water tanks and medical equipment, knocking the underground hospital out of service.

    "The mountainous rock, praise God, did not collapse at all," hospital head Abdallah Darwish told Reuters from the area.

    Western countries including the United States say Syria's government and its Russian allies are guilty of war crimes for deliberately targeting civilians, aid deliveries and hospitals during a three week escalation of the civil war.

    Moscow and Damascus say they target only militants and deny that they have hit hospitals, although several have been hit during the latest bombing campaign, which began after a ceasefire collapsed in September.

    According to Darwish, two waves of strikes hit the hospital. The first attack caused a huge blast at the front entrance of the hospital before another big bomb fell nearby, causing staff to panic, Darwish said.

    Since launching their latest intensified air campaign, the Russian and Syrian forces have been using much more powerful "bunker-buster" bombs, which residents of opposition-held areas say have the force to bring down entire buildings.

    At least one of the bombs dropped on the cave hospital appeared to be a bunker buster because of the force of the blast, said Ahmad al-Dbis, of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), a coalition of international aid agencies which funds hospitals in Syria including this one. Staff reported the blast caused "something like an earthquake", he said.

    Syriamap syria map aleppo sept 2016

    Photos showed long cracks around the rocky, dome-shaped ceiling, and hospital rooms covered in the rubble of collapsing walls.

    "Nothing is safe anymore when these kinds of weapons are used," al-Dbis said.

    "On the ground and underground"

    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Monday that accusations that Moscow had struck hospitals were "groundless". He said militants were using civilians and "so-called hospitals" as human shields, setting up medical facilities in cities without correctly marking them.

    The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment about the specific incident.

    A Syrian military source reiterated government denials that hospitals have been targeted. However, the source said militants were being targeted wherever they were, "on the ground and underground".

    Since the ceasefire collapsed, fierce battles have been waged in the northern city of Aleppo, where pro-government forces are trying to capture the last major urban area under rebel control, and near Hama, where rebels have launched an advance of their own that threatens to approach the important government-held city.

    The cave hospital opened north of Hama in late 2015 after aid groups and other donors paid about half a million dollars to build and equip it. It is close to a frontline where clashes and heavy bombardment have occurred in recent days.

    "It was hit at the height of our work, at a time when there was the largest number of patients and wounded," al-Dbis said.

    All medical staff and patients were evacuated while equipment was put into storage for fear of another attack on the hospital, he said, describing it as the best fortified in all of rebel-held Syria.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring body based in Britain, reported heavy bombardment by government forces in the area, including the town of Kafr Zita and other towns on Sunday.

    Intensive care

    assad barrel bomb

    The Observatory said helicopters had dropped "barrel bombs" made from oil drums near the hospital the day before, and cited sources as saying they caused several people to choke - a sign of a gas attack. Rebels also said there had been a chlorine attack in the area.

    The government vehemently denies using chemical weapons, but a United Nations inquiry last month said the Syrian military had been responsible for poison gas attacks in the past.

    "The chlorine attack the night before had 30 victims, most of whom were treated at the cave," said Adham Sahloul, an advocacy officer at the Syrian American Medical Society, which funds most of the hospital's operating costs. "But they were out of the hospital by then."

    Doctors at the hospital perform more than 150 surgeries and treat at least 40 intensive care cases from rural areas near Hama every month, according to UOSSM.

    The hospital provides all medical treatment without charge, and mainly serves people living in nearby towns who had already fled their homes in other parts of Syria. Some wounded rebels are also treated there, al-Dbis said.

    "I will not hide it, there's great fear among the hospital staff," Darwish, the hospital director, said. "But God willing, we will get back to work after the repairs. And when they stay deep inside the hospital, nothing will happen to them."

    SEE ALSO: Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin: 'Syria is Obama's Rwanda'

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    m-1 predator drone

    Syria's militant Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly the Nusra Front, said on Monday that Egyptian cleric Abu al Faraj al Masri, a prominent member of the militant group, had been killed in a strike by the U.S.-led coalition.

    A statement posted to social media said Sheikh Abu al Faraj al Masri, whose real name is Shekih Ahmad Salamah Mabrouk, a member of the group's religious Shura council, had been killed in a strike in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.

    Jihadist sources had earlier said al-Masri was killed when an unidentified drone hit the vehicle in which he was traveling. A U.S defense official confirmed to Reuters a strike had targeted a prominent al Qaeda member on Monday but said Washington was still assessing its result.

    Since the U.S.-led coalition launched operations in Syria primarily against Islamic State militants, air strikes have also targeted Nusra Front figures, killing scores.

    Only last month, Abu Hajer al Homsi, the top commander of Jabhat Fateh al Sham, as the Nusra Front is now known, Abu Hajer al Homsi, was killed in an air strike in rural Aleppo province. Homsi's nom de guerre was Abu Omar Saraqeb.

    Masri, a 60-year-old cleric whose real name was Sheikh Ahmad Salamah Mabrouk, was one of the leading companions of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri during his presence in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, according to a jihadist rebel source.

    The source said that like other foreign jihadists, he came to Syria to join Nusra Front after being freed from Egyptian prison during the rule of President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist who was toppled by the military in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

    SEE ALSO: Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin: 'Syria is Obama's Rwanda'

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    John Kerry Sergei Lavrov

    The US has formally suspended its negotiations with Russia over the cease-fire in Syria amid the continued Russian aerial bombardment of Syria's largest city, Aleppo, State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed in a statement released Monday.

    "This was not a decision that was taken lightly," the statement said.

    "The US spared no effort in negotiating and attempting to implement an arrangement with Russia aimed at reducing the violence, providing unhindered humanitarian access, and degrading terrorist organizations operating in Syria.

    "Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments," the statement continued. "Including its obligations under international humanitarian law and UNSCR 2254."

    UNSCR 2254 is the UN Security Council Resolution adopted in December 2015 calling for a cease-fire and political settlement in Syria.

    "Rather, Russia and the Syrian regime have chosen to pursue a military course, inconsistent with the Cessation of Hostilities, as demonstrated by their intensified attacks against civilian areas, targeting of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need," the statement said.

    Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the US is trying to shift blame onto Russia by suspending the talks, according to Reuters.

    State-sponsored Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that in response to the US move, Putin may order Russia's Duma to pass a bill that would allow Russia to maintain a military presence in Syria indefinitely.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands during a joint news conference following their meeting in Moscow, Russia, July 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    The formal suspension comes five days after US Secretary of State John Kerry first threatened to cut off the negotiations. 

    Kerry told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a phone call last week that the US was preparing to "suspend US-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria ... unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo" and restore a cease-fire.

    The State Department issued a statement about the call, saying "the secretary made clear the United States and its partners hold Russia responsible for this situation, including the use of incendiary and bunker buster bombs in an urban environment, a drastic escalation that puts civilians at great risk."

    Hundreds of people have died during the past week in the worst bombings on the rebel-held eastern half of Aleppo since the war began in 2011.

    Russian airstrikes Aleppo Sept 20-22 2016

    The bombings, which have also targeted rescue services in the city, punctuated the collapse of a fragile cease-fire brokered between the US and Russia earlier this month.

    On Friday, Lavrov told the BBC that the US  "still, in spite of many repeated promises and commitments... are not able or not willing to" separate the moderate opposition they support with former al Qaeda elements.

    "We have more and more reasons to believe that from the very beginning the plan was to spare Nusra and to keep it just in case for Plan B or stage two when it would be time to change the regime," Lavrov said.

    Deputy State Department spokesperson Mark Toner called the allegations "absurd."

    A man walks on the rubble of damaged buildings after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria. REUTERS/Abdalrhman IsmailThe now-suspended bilateral channel was part of a deal between the US and Russia to coordinate their military operations in Syria and share intelligence about terrorist positions. That deal had been jeopardized by the latest scorched-earth offensive on Aleppo, however, with American and Russian diplomats exchanging diplomatic jabs early last week.

    "What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism — it is barbarism," Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told member nations at a UN Security Council meeting last Sunday.

    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded by calling the language "unacceptable."

    A Joint Implementation Center was being set up in Jordan, where the US and Russia were set to coordinate their activities in Syria. But all personnel who had been dispatched to the center in anticipation of the US-Russia deal were going to be withdrawn.

    "To ensure the safety of our respective military personnel and enable the fight against Daesh, the US will continue to utilize the channel of communications established with Russia to de-conflict counterterrorism operations in Syria," Kirby said.

    The State Department's announcement came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium over the US's "unfriendly acts."

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    RTSNJXE

    The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's policy on refugee resettlement on Monday, at one point calling Pence's arguments "nightmare speculation."

    "The governor of Indiana believes, though without evidence, that some of these persons were sent to Syria by ISIS to engage in terrorism and now wish to infiltrate the United States in order to commit terrorist acts here," the decision by a panel of three judges reads.

    It continues: "No evidence of this belief has been presented, however; it is nightmare speculation."

    Gov. Pence, who is also the Republican vice presidential nominee, has been a vocal critic of President Obama's initiative to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, citing security concerns and the belief that ISIS operatives can sneak into the United States under the guise of refugees and commit terrorism on US soil.

    Pence's stance against refugee resettlement reached its apotheosis following the Paris terror attacks in November 2015.

    In light of the attacks, he announced that Indiana would not accept any incoming Syrian refugees and directed state agencies not to allocate federal funds towards refugee resettlement. His announcement came around the same time that his running mate and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigration into the US.

    Syrian refugees.

    Exodus Refugee Immigration, an organization that works with refugees to resettle them in the United States, sued Pence in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union on the grounds that Pence did not have the constitutional right to ban refugees from Indiana.

    In February, the court ruled in favor of Exodus and the ACLU, with Judge Tanya Walton Pratt noting that Pence's directive "in no way [furthered] the State's asserted interest in the safety of Indiana residents."

    Pence's administration appealed the decision, and a hearing was set for September 14 at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In its decision today, the court unanimously upheld the lower court's ruling, emphasizing the stringency of the refugee vetting process while acknowledging that "there can be no certainty that no terrorist will ever slip through the screen."

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    RTSP5ER

    BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Russia on Tuesday for its "irresponsible and profoundly ill-advised decision" to back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and said efforts to end the war in Syria must continue, in spite of the U.S. decision to break off talks with Moscow.

    "I want to be clear that we are not giving up on the Syrian people and we are not abandoning the pursuit of peace," Kerry said a speech in Brussels. "We will continue to pursue a meaningful, sustainable, enforceable cessation of hostilities throughout the country – and that includes the grounding of Syrian and Russian combat aircraft in designated areas."

    The United States broke off talks with Russia on Monday on implementing a ceasefire agreement in Syria, accusing Moscow of not living up to its commitments under the a 9 deal to halt fighting and ensure aid reached besieged communities.

    SEE ALSO: The next US president will have to avoid these 3 dangers in its frosty relations with Russia

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    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses governors during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, September 8, 2016. Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish authorities suspended nearly 13,000 police officers, detained dozens of air force officers and shut down a TV station on Tuesday, widening a state-ordered clampdown against perceived enemies in the wake of July's failed coup.

    The police headquarters said 12,801 officers, including 2,523 chiefs, had been suspended because of their suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the attempt to overthrow the government.

    Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, denies any link to the putsch which has shaken the country and led to the deaths of more than 240 people.

    The suspensions came hours after deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus announced that the cabinet had approved a 90-day extension to a state of emergency, renewing President Tayyip Erdogan's powers to govern by decree at least until January.

    The emergency measures, if approved by parliament, mean Erdogan can take decisions without oversight of the Constitutional Court, Turkey's highest legal body.

    As well as suspending around five percent of the entire police force, the authorities detained 33 air force officers in raids across the country, the private Dogan news agency reported, and the transmission of TV station IMC was cut following accusations of spreading "terrorist propaganda".

    State-run Anadolu Agency said 37 people working in the Interior Ministry's headquarters had also been removed from their posts, although no explanation was given.

    Since July 15, Erdogan has taken unprecedented steps to rid state institutions of staff deemed disloyal or potential enemies. About 100,000 people in the military, civil service, police, judiciary and universities have been sacked or suspended from their jobs, and 32,000 have been arrested.

    The government says its aim is to rid institutions of links to Gulen, whose organization it calls a terrorist network. Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

    One of the police officers suspended on Tuesday, a 26-year-old man, committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in a park in the Mediterranean city of Mersin, Dogan reported. 

    afp turkey suspends more than 12000 police officers in coup probe statement

    Syria operations

    The relentless crackdown has caused consternation among Turkey's Western allies and human rights groups, who fear Erdogan is using the unsuccessful coup as a pretext to curtail any dissent, while at the same time intensifying his moves against suspected Kurdish militant sympathizers.

    In August, Turkish forces launched an offensive into northern Syria in support of rebels fighting against Islamic State, creating a security corridor along the Turkey-Syria border that also appears designed to push Kurdish militia away.

    Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned on Tuesday that the YPG Kurdish militia, which is backed by the United States, was filling a vacuum left by Islamic State and said Turkish forces were prepared to go after Kurdish fighters in the same way.

    "We know how to cleanse the PYD/YPG, just as we cleansed Daesh from Jarablus," he said, referring to Islamic State.

    Ankara fears Kurdish militants fighting for greater autonomy in Turkey could benefit from turmoil in the region.

    In a further sign of the government's desire to move rapidly to quell domestic opposition, Yildirim said the country's judicial process needed to be speeded up, especially when it came to prosecuting those accused of backing the coup.

    "One of the main goals is shortening the time it takes to prosecute people," he said at an economic conference. "We are starting this with the July 15 coup plotters. We are doing this quickly."

    While Turkey cracks down at home and expands its footprint in Syria, it also wants the United States to extradite Gulen so he can be prosecuted on charges that he masterminded the failed insurrection.

    On Sunday, Turkish counter-terrorism police detained Gulen's brother in Izmir, where he was staying at a relative's house. Several of Gulen's relatives, including a nephew, niece and cousins, have been arrested since July 15.

    While Erdogan's security clampdown may be bolstering his own authority, it has had economic repercussions, with credit ratings agencies downgrading the country's debt to "junk" and the lira weakening against the dollar.

    On Tuesday, Yildirim lowered the growth outlook for 2016, saying the economy was likely to expand 3.2 percent, well below an original 4.5 percent forecast, while inflation for the year is set to hit 7.5 percent.

     

    (Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

    SEE ALSO: The State Department just cut off its bilateral channels with Russia over Syria

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    People move an injured woman on a stretcher inside the Al Rahma hospital in the city of Qamishli in the Syrian province of Hasakeh on October 3, 2016

    A suicide bomber has struck a wedding in northeast Syria as the bride and groom were exchanging vows, killing 34 people and wounding dozens, the local Kurdish government said.

    The bomber blew himself up late Monday in the village of Tall Tawil in Hasakeh province where a Kurdish party official was getting married.

    The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group claimed the attack, saying that one of its fighters had fired on a gathering near Hasakeh city before blowing himself up, though it did not mention a wedding.

    Rows of seats in the hall that hosted the party were still covered in blood on Tuesday morning when an AFP photographer visited the scene.

    Broken tiles littered the floor and torn fabric hung from the ceiling. A thick layer of dust covered a sound mixer and keyboard.

    "As the bride and groom were exchanging their vows I saw a man wearing a thick black jacket pass beside me," a witness named Ahmad said.

    "I thought he looked strange and a few seconds later there was an enormous explosion.

    "People had fallen on the ground and I saw bodies torn to bits."

    Wedding photographer Walid Mohammad said he was taking pictures of the party when he felt a huge explosion.

    "I saw so many people die -- small kids, old people."

    The local Kurdish administration said 34 people had been killed and around 90 wounded, among them women and children.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitor that relies on a network of sources inside the country, gave a higher toll of 36 dead including 11 children.

    Both the groom and bride were safe, but the groom's father and brother were killed in the attack, a relative told AFP. 

    "The groom's wounds are light, and he and his new wife are staying at a relative's home. He doesn't want to see anyone," he said.

    "They are really shaken up by this."

    Mohamed Kassar, a wedding singer, struggled to hold back tears as he described the aftermath of the attack.

    "I'm still in shock. They were children and women," he said.

    At a local hospital, the injured crowded the halls, with a woman in a sparkly gold party dress gripping the rails of a staircase, her face pale.

    The groom, Zaradesht Mustafa Fatimi, hails from a prominent family deeply involved in the autonomous administration run by Kurdish factions in Syria's north.

    According to an official from the autonomous administration, Fatimi works for a local Kurdish party.

    The Observatory said he is also a member of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an Arab-Kurdish coalition battling IS in northern Syria.

    Hasakeh city is almost entirely held by Kurdish forces but Syria's regime still holds some districts.

    The city has often been hit by IS, which said the target of Monday's attack had been Kurdish fighters. 

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

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    kerry lavrov russia syria

    On Monday, the same day that the US and Russia suspended bilateral talks over the fate of Syria, Russia deployed its advanced SA-23 Gladiator missile defense system to Syria, US officials told Fox News.

    The SA-23 represents an interesting choice of deployment for Russia, as it fires two types of missiles, one that can counter any US cruise missile attack, and one that can counter intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

    As one US official put it sarcastically, “Nusra doesn’t have an air force do they?” referring to Jabhat al-Nusra (recently rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), an al-Qaeda linked group fighting against the Russian-aligned Assad regime in Syria.

    In fact, Nusra doesn't have an air force, neither does ISIS, nor do any of the myriad rebel or jihadist groups fighting against the Assad regime. None of them operate cruise missiles or intermediate-range ballistic missiles either. 

    operation inherent resolve coalition air forces isis

    Only the US and members of the US-led coalition have air forces and naval vessels capable of firing cruise missiles from the Mediterranean or ballistic missiles from intermediate ranges. The US openly considered the prospect of bombarding Syria with cruise missiles in 2013 when Assad crossed Obama's "red line" by using chemical weapons on his own people, though Obama ultimately declined to take this action. 

    Meanwhile, the international community has watched as Russian and Syrian warplanes bomb hospitals and UN aid envoys. Most recently, Russian, or Syrian warplanes with Russian support, have been linked to dropping bunker-busting bombs on hospitals built into caves specifically to avoid being targeted by airstrikes.

    sa-23 Antey 2500 SAM russian gladiator missile defense

    The move also coincides with Russia suspending an agreement with the US on disposing enough weapons-grade plutonium to make 17,000 nuclear weapons due to alleged "unfriendly acts" by the US towards Russia. 

    The SA-23 system joins Russia's advanced S-400 missile defense battery to create a layered air defense zone.

    SEE ALSO: Egyptian al Qaeda leader killed by US drone strike in Idlib, Syria

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    Men drive a motorcycle near a damaged aid truck after an airstrike on the rebel held Urm al-Kubra town, western Aleppo city, Syria September 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

    Analysis of satellite imagery of a deadly attack on an aid convoy in Syria last month showed that it was an air strike, a U.N. expert said on Wednesday.

    Some 20 people were killed in the attack near Aleppo on the U.N. and Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy. The United States blamed Russian aircraft. Moscow denies the charge.

    "With our analysis we determined it was an air strike and I think multiple other sources have said that as well," Lars Bromley, research adviser at UNOSAT, told a Geneva news briefing.

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Friday that he would establish an internal U.N. board of inquiry to investigate the attack and urged all parties to fully cooperate.

    SEE ALSO: This is what Aleppo is

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    Turkish armoured personnel carriers drive towards the border in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 27, 2016.

    ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's army said it clashed with Islamic State over the border in Syria, leaving one soldier and 23 militants dead, as Ankara stepped up an operation to clear fighters from the war-torn zone.

    Three other Turkish soldiers were wounded in the encounter near the Syrian village of Ziyara over the past 24 hours, part of Ankara's "Euphrates Shield" offensive, the military added on Wednesday.

    Turkey's entry into Syria has raised fears of a further escalation in an increasingly regional conflict.

    But Ankara says its efforts to cleanse its border region of Islamic State militants are legitimate under international law as self-defense after months of rocket attacks and bombings in cities along the boundary.

    President Tayyip Erdogan has also made it clear that Turkish forces are in Syria to prevent the Syrian Kurdish militia, which is backed by the United States to fight Islamic State, from expanding areas under its control.

    Two Syrian rebel fighters backed by Turkey died in other clashes with Islamic State along the boundary, the Turkish military statement said. The Ankara-backed rebels had seized control of around 980 square km (378 square miles) of territory since Euphrates Shield began on Aug. 24, it added.

    Separately, U.S.-led coalition warplanes launched nine air strikes on Islamic State targets in northern Syria, killing five further militants, the military said in its daily summary of the Syrian operation.

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    Iran nuclear

    On October 18 of last year, the US, the European Union, China, Russia, and Iran adopted the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, ensuring that Iran's nuclear program would be peaceful for at least a decade and securing a signature foreign-policy achievement for the Obama administration.

    Credible reports indicate that Iran was weeks away from developing a nuclear warhead before the JCPOA took hold, but while nuclear proliferation may have been averted, other kinds of suffering have become frighteningly commonplace.

    According to Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East expert who is a vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the scope of the agreement focused too narrowly on nuclear developments and left glaring omissions that Iran has exploited.

    "The JCPOA did not address any of Iran's regional activities, aggressions, or efforts to destabilize the region," Schanzer said in an interview with Business Insider. "It was a crucial omission from the deal."

    As Iran backs the brutal Assad regime in Syria and the Houthi military uprising in Yemen, "What we're seeing now are the fruits of that omission," Schanzer said.

    These fruits include Iran testing ballistic missiles and funding and arming terrorist organizations like Hezbollah; the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps slaughtering thousands in Syria; and the destabilization of Yemen by the Shia-aligned Houthi rebels.

    There were "huge flaws in the deal in terms of Iran's regional behavior," Schanzer said.

    A malnourished boy lies on a bed outside his family's hut in al-Tuhaita district of the Red Sea province of Hodaida, Yemen September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

    Hell on earth in Yemen

    Yemen has now been entrenched in a brutal civil war for 19 months. The conflict has been exacerbated by two regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, pouring money and arms into the conflict.

    As each side jockeys for power and position in the region, the people of Yemen pay a heavy price.

    "We have an ongoing war where the Saudis have been bombing Yemen with impunity — many have been saying war crimes are taking place there," Schanzer said.

    According to the UN, 21 million people in Yemen — a country of 28 million — need some sort of humanitarian aide, and about half of the country is malnourished or food insecure.

    Shipping aid to Yemen has been problematic, as cranes at ports have been damaged from both fighting and intentional efforts to spite humanitarian efforts. Additionally, a recent missile attack on a United Arab Emirates navy transport vessel spells out potential trouble for shipping in the region, where the Saudi-led coalition has attempted to blockade the Houthi militia near the country's western coast.

    But this blockade hasn't been effective. Schanzer believes Iran has found a land route through neighboring Oman to supply Yemen, circumventing the blockade.

    Yemen map

    In Syria, Iran is similarly supporting President Bashar Assad's murderous regime with no regard for US-led efforts for peace or a cease-fire. Expanding its own influence in the region is Tehran's only goal, which it has been able to pursue under the JCPOA.

    Obama 'held hostage'

    "The calculus has been that the US won't challenge Iran on any issue," Schanzer said. "Ballistic missiles, slaughter in Syria, support for Houthis," none of these destabilizing actions have seemed to have gotten a rise out of the administration of US President Barack Obama, which Schanzer said seemed happy to back away as Iranian influence in the region had grown to rival that of the longtime US ally Saudi Arabia.

    In any case, even when Iranian vessels directly challenge US ships in the Persian Gulf, the US has not responded with anything harsher than strong words.

    "The US has continually backed down," Schanzer said. "The US is fearful of scuttling the nuclear deal. This is the bind that the Obama White House has found itself in, beholden to the Iranians out of fear."

    Pressure to keep the fragile JCPOA in place has "held hostage in many ways" the US while the war rages on in the Middle East, Schanzer said.

    barack obama sad frown

    Additionally, longtime US allies such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states feel slighted by the US's recent pivot toward mending fences with Iran.

    "The Saudis feel abandoned by US, so do Emiratis and other Gulf states," Schanzer said. The recent legislation allowing US citizens to sue Saudi Arabia over the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, further serves to create a "very angry Gulf bloc," Schanzer said.

    At the same time, Schanzer said, Iran is able to look powerful by openly defying the US and "establishing a status quo where they can continue to engage in regional aggression and not pay the price."

    How the US can keep Iran in check

    Shahab-3 missile Iran

    Despite being handcuffed to the JCPOA, the US does have a few possible ways to keep Iran in check.

    Schanzer said the US could impose new sanctions over Iran's support for the Houthis or testing of ballistic missiles. It could also establish a stronger military presence in the region to deter Iran or make it face the US military directly.

    "The question is: Will they take those measures — will they push back?" Schanzer said.

    But with one month left until the US presidential election, and just about three months left in Obama's presidency, we're unlikely to see any assertions from the US.

    "We will see in November," Schanzer said. "Will the next president take seriously this idea that all other sanctions are on the table and that the US needs to enforce in the areas not expressed in the deal?"

    SEE ALSO: Watch an Iran-backed militia's missile strike that prompted US destroyers to head to Yemen

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    Iraq Syria ISIS Fighters

    BEIRUT – ISIS has conducted a security crackdown in Al-Boukamal after local officials in the jihadist group fled the eastern Syrian town near the border with Iraq, according to opposition media.

    All4Syria reported Tuesday that ISIS launched a “wide-scale campaign of arrests” after the Wali (leader) and top health official in Al-Boukamal deserted the jihadist group last month and fled to an unknown destination.

    ISIS arrested a number of Hisbah religious police members as well as other security officers on charges of “facilitating the dissident leaders' escape” the pro-rebel rebel outlet added.

    The report explained further that the arrests were authorized by the Islamic Court judge in Al-Boukamal, an Egyptian national, due to the top security posts in the city remaining vacant amid the recent shake-ups.

    ISIS earlier detained its most prominent security official in Al-Boukamal, Abu al-Haytham, on suspicions of helping the city’s Wali, Mohammad al-Murshid, escape a little over a week ago, according to activists speakingto the pro-opposition Smart News Agency.

    An anti-ISIS activist group, Deir Ezzor 24, for its part, said on October 2 that the extremist organization “arrested a number of security personnel” after Murshid, a Saudi national, fled for whereabouts unknown.

    On September 27, the group claimed that Murshid stole an estimated $800,000 funds and left the town with his family and bodyguards.

    His desertion came days after Abu Anas al-Iraqi, the head of ISIS health services in its Wilayat Furat (Euphrates Province), also fled Al-Boukamal.

    NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated Arabic-language material. 

    SEE ALSO: The Iran deal has Obama 'held hostage' while the Middle East descends into chaos

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    Syria barrel bomb

    US officials fear that the fall of Syria's largest city to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could undermine Washington's counterterrorism goals in the country, The Washington Post's Josh Rogin reported on Tuesday.

    The scorched-earth government offensive on Aleppo, which has killed hundreds of civilians and opposition fighters in the city's rebel-held east over the past two weeks, has spawned an "increased mood in support of kinetic actions against the regime," a senior administration official told Rogin.

    "The CIA and the Joint Staff have said that the fall of Aleppo would undermine America’s counterterrorism goals in Syria," the official added.

    That is apparently a major reason officials from the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a deputies committee meeting at the White House last week, floated plans to launch limited airstrikes against regime positions, Rogin reported.

    The plans were reminiscent of those proposed by administration officials in 2013 after Assad regime forces allegedly carried out attacks using chemical weapons that killed more than 1,200 people in a Damascus suburb, in doing so crossing President Barack Obama's now-infamous "red line."

    aleppo

    Significantly, however, the rationale underlying those plans now seems to have shifted from a humanitarian obligation to a national-security imperative.

    "What many in Congress opposed [in 2013] was granting a reluctant president authority to conduct what Secretary of State John Kerry promised would be 'unbelievably small' airstrikes in the absence of a broader strategy to achieve US national interests in Syria," US Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, wrote in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

    "The US needs that broader strategy now," McCain added, noting that allowing the war to continue down this path will "erode" US credibility with its security partners in the Middle East and provide ISIS "fertile ground to radicalize Muslims."

    "While the U.S.-led coalition is making progress in the fight against Islamic State, we cannot forget this terrorist organization is a symptom of the Syrian civil war," McCain wrote. "The future of that conflict will have significant strategic impact on US national security."

    A new 'realization'

    Jeff White, a military expert at The Washington Institute and former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said this kind of language "does sound like a shift."

    "It is maybe more of a recognition or realization that the Syrian war is deeply connected to the US' counter-ISIS and counter-terrorism efforts," White told Business Insider in an email Tuesday. "The US has tried to keep these [efforts] separate, and it's not working."

    Many analysts agree that the fate of Syria's extremist groups is closely tied to that of Assad. As Assad and Russia bomb with impunity, hardline Islamist groups such as former Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham could win over more moderate rebels who feel abandoned by the West. And terror groups like the Islamic State could win over those who want revenge.

    nusra"The prospective fall of Aleppo to Assad, featuring as it does Russian and Assad regime carpet bombing of civilians, would be a gift of incalculable value to ISIS," Fred Hof, director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and former special advisor for transition in Syria at the State Department, told Business Insider on Tuesday.

    "Assad and Putin are both iconic figures in the ISIS drive to recruit among Sunni Muslims in Syria and around the world," he added.

    He said he didn't know, however, whether the officials discussing airstrikes against Assad are just engaging in "mere disembodied analysis"— or if they were actually preparing to advise Obama to "exact a price of mass murderers and give opposition forces what they need to mount a defense."

    Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether Assad, having conquered Aleppo and solidly in control over "useful Syria"— namely, western Syria from Damascus, the capital, up through the city of Homs and over to Tartus on the Mediterranean coast — would even be a reliable partner in the fight against ISIS, which is mostly present in the country's east and has been largely spared by Russian and Syrian airstrikes.

    Rebel fighters carry their weapons in northern Aleppo countryside, Syria September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil AshawiIn any case, calls for a dramatic shift in US strategy are becoming more urgent as a win for the regime and its allies in Aleppo becomes more likely every day. But any concerted effort by the administration to end the bombardments remains elusive. 

    Obama barely mentioned the warin his final addressto the UN General Assembly late last month, reiterating his long-held belief that "there is no ultimate military victory to be won." And hehas resisted callsfrom both sides of the aisle to levy sanctions on the Assad regime and its supporters.

    Most agree that the US' decision to suspend negotiations with Russia over Syria on Monday did not go far enough, especially given Moscow's determination to finish the siege of Aleppo and consolidate Assad's power before the next American president takes office. 

    “The seizure of Aleppo would be a fait accompli for the next American president," Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute, told The New York Times on Wednesday. 

    He added: "The war would go on and the Islamic State would still occupy parts of the country. But the regime would retain the north-south spine of the country.”

    SEE ALSO: More than just 'sound and fury': Anger over Russian 'war crimes' in Syria is reaching a tipping point

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