After the fall of Aleppo, the next front of the Syrian civil war is the border town of Idlib

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From the International Business Times UK:

The Sunni-majority city, which counted around 165,000 people in 2010, was conquered by the anti-government rebels in March 2015. They then controlled “about 99% of Idlib province”, as reported by Al Jazeera, by early June 2015.

The fight against the rebels in Idlib present itself as a much tougher battle for the Assad regime and its allies. Raphaël Lefèvre, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, told IBTimes UK that Idlib is a much more united rebel front compared to Aleppo, which was split between the pro-government west and the rebel-held east.

“Idlib, both as a city and as a province, is to some degree more homogeneous both in its sectarian and political composition, being a hub for the mostly Sunni and Islamist-dominated rebel groups,” he said.

Due to its location, Idlib is also strategically-important hub for Turkey, another significant international player in the conflict, which opposes the Assad regime and backs Sunni rebels. As such, Lefèvre doubts that Turkey would avoid engaging directly. “Beyond local forces, the great powers present in Syria could definitely clash [in Idlib]”, he said.”

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Syrian opposition figure urges more Gulf Arab support after Aleppo

A man stands atop a damaged building as he takes pictures of ambulances and buses evacuating people and driving out of a rebel-held part of Aleppo

From Reuters:

“A senior Syrian opposition figure called on Thursday for an increase in Gulf Arab military support for armed rebels following the fall of the city of Aleppo to government forces this week.

The loss of the rebels’ last urban stronghold this week has dealt a devastating blow to efforts to oust President Bashar al-Assad, after nearly six years of a war that has claimed some 400,000 lives and left 11 million people homeless.

“The support has not changed,” said Asaad al-Zoubi, chief negotiator for the main opposition body, the High Negotiations Council, who is based in Saudi Arabia.

“I would like and I request for there to be an increase in support. The present situation requires additional support,” he told Reuters, citing a need for specialized weapons that the United States has blocked Gulf partners from delivering.

The fall of Aleppo has also handed a major victory to Iran, whom the rebels’ Gulf Arab backers see as their main foe in the battle for regional influence.”

Aleppo Evacuation Effort Restarts, and Assad Calls It History in the Making

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From The New York Times:

“Around 1,000 people were evacuated from the remaining rebel-held districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo on Thursday, part of a process that could become one of the greatest victories of the war for President Bashar al-Assad his allies and a major blow to his foes.

After new violence in Syria’s second-largest city stopped the evacuation on Wednesday and delayed it Thursday morning, long lines of government buses and ambulances crossed into the rebel-held enclave and returned with about 1,000 evacuees, according to Russia, which helped carry out the agreement, and the World Health Organization, which monitored it.

Mr. Assad hailed the evacuation in a video released by his office, comparing it to historical events like the birth of Christ, the revelation of the Quran, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the two world wars.”

UK troops sent to train anti-Isis rebels ‘have arrived in Syria’

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From The Guardian:

“The British defence secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, is to announce that UK forces have arrived in the Middle East to help train moderate Syrian rebels engaged in the fight against Islamic State. Fallon is hosting a conference in London of defence ministers from the 67-member US-led coalition against Isis, and the defence secretary is keen to talk up the British contribution.

The conference is being held to discuss the next phase of the campaign against Isis as the group is squeezed in its Syrian headquarters in Raqqa and in its Iraqi headquarters in Mosul.

At a similar conference in Paris in October, Fallon announced that the UK would send about 20 trainers to help Syrian moderates with basic infantry skills, frontline medical treatment and identification of hidden explosive devices. His announcement on Thursday confirmed of their arrival.

In a statement before today’s meeting the defence secretary said: “Daesh [the government’s name for Isis] is being taken on in eastern Mosul. Last week we opened up a second front around Raqqa. Daesh is losing ground, finance and fighters … In 2017, we must maintain momentum to deal these terrorists a decisive blow.”

A Hotline for Americans and Russians to Avoid Catastrophe in Syrian Skies

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From The New York Times:

“Not long after the government-held city of Palmyra in central Syria fell to Islamic State fighters, the United States and Russia both scrambled warplanes on Wednesday to attack militant targets there.

This was exactly the kind of scenario the Pentagon feared after Moscow sent fighter jets and troops to Syria in the summer of 2015 to bail out the beleaguered government of President Bashar al-Assad: Russian and American fighters streaking toward each other in Syrian air space, raising the danger of a midair catastrophe.

But it is also why the two countries, despite their disputes over how to calm the Syrian civil war, as well as over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, last year set up a special hotline to help prevent disasters in the air.

And that is why Col. Daniel Manning was on the phone here early Wednesday with his Russian counterpart, who was at an air base in Latakia, Syria, for what has become a three-times-a-week call to head off, or “deconflict,” as the military says, any potential problems in the skies over Syria.”

Libya: UN sounds alarm over rape, torture of migrants

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From The New Arab:

“Migrants arriving in Libya are being subjected to torture, rape, enslavement and other violations, according to a United Nations report published Tuesday.

The international body called upon the North African nation to improve conditions for migrants in detention.

“The situation of migrants in Libya is a human rights crisis. The breakdown in the justice system has led to a state of impunity, in which armed groups, criminal gangs, smugglers and traffickers control the flow of migrants through the country,” the report said.

The report implicated government officials, armed groups and smugglers in perpetrating the abuses.”

Libya Restarts Operations at Key Western Oil Fields

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From The Wall Street Journal:

“Operations have restarted at two key oil fields and a connected pipeline in Western Libya that have been shut down for over two years, Libyan officials said, following an agreement with local tribes.

A pipeline that can transport over 400,000 barrels a day of oil from two connected fields has partly reopened, the officials said. If successful, the pipeline’s reopening could bring back more than 200,000 barrels a day of oil within days, one of the officials said.

The potential return to the market of hundreds of thousands of barrels of Libyan crude comes just as oil prices have rallied on the promise of production cuts by members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other major producers.”

Libya operation continues despite ISIS defeat

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From Marine Corps Times:

“U.S. forces remain at the ready to fight Islamic State militants in Libya, even after the fall of the terrorist group’s last remaining stronghold in Sirte and the apparent conclusion of U.S. airstrikes.

Since Aug. 1, the U.S. military has conducted hundreds of precision air strikes against ISIS to support the United Nations–backed Libyan Government of National Accord and their battle against the extremist group.

Yet despite the official declaration that ISIS’s hold on Sirte ended in early December, U.S. military officials say the campaign in Libya – known as Operation Odyssey Lightning – continues.

“Yes, it is still underway,” U.S. Africa Command spokeswoman Robyn Mack confirmed in an email Wednesday. “In coordination with the GNA, we are continuing to monitor Sirte and its environs and are providing support as necessary to enable the final clearance of the city.”

Ethiopian troop withdrawal from Somalia exposes peacekeeping problems

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From France24:

“Since October, Ethiopia has been withdrawing troops from Somalia. The redeployment highlights problems with the international community’s funding of military operations in Africa.

The Ethiopian troops had been assisting the internationally funded African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The draw-down could imperil Somalia’s chances of becoming a viable nation state.

Many assumed this redeployment was aimed at bolstering Ethiopia’s security forces in order to tackle the country’s ongoing six-month state of emergency. But the reasons are more complicated, revealing problems with internationally-funded peacekeeping and with AMISOM’s efforts in battling al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia.

Since the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) withdrew its forces, the Islamic insurgency of Al Shabaab has already retaken a number of towns across south and central Somalia.”

Bomb in Teashop Explodes in Somalia’s Capital, Killing 6

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From ABC News:

“A bomb hidden inside a teashop in Somalia’s capital exploded Thursday, killing four soldiers and two civilians, a Somali military official said. The attack followed a suicide car bomb that detonated in Mogadishu earlier in the day, killing the driver.

Military official Ahmed Ali said the soldiers were gathered at the teashop near a checkpoint when the blast, thought to be remotely controlled, occurred. Two other people were injured.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack. They come before Somalia holds a presidential election Dec. 28.

In the earlier blast, police said a suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle near a restaurant during a high-speed chase near the presidential palace, killing himself and injuring three others.

The blast occurred in a heavily guarded area where there are key government institutions, said Capt. Mohamed Hussein. The exact target was not clear, but Hussein said he believed the bomber was trying to ram his vehicle into a car carrying a senior police commander. The commander’s bodyguards were injured in the attack, he said.”