09 Oct 15. Isis advances in Syria despite Russia air strikes. Isis has wrested control of new territory in the strategically vital north of Syria, as Russia continues air strikes detractors say have helped rather than hindered the jihadi terror group.
In one of their biggest breakthroughs in the region to date, Isis fighters have taken a string of townships around the northern belt of Aleppo, the country’s largest city, which has been fiercely contested by rival groups for years.
The intense fighting in the area also claimed the life of Iran’s most senior commander in Syria.
Local Syrian opposition groups and western military officials claim Isis has been able to make gains because moderate anti-government forces — with whom Isis is also at war — have had to focus their attention on defending themselves both from Russia and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
The past 48 hours have seen Russian cruise missiles and jets heavily bombard the moderate rebel-held territory around Aleppo — a campaign that has drawn widespread condemnation from Washington and its allies fighting Isis and again heightened tensions between Moscow and Nato.
Moscow says the strikes are targeted against the jihadis. But according to Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, the bombings have “facilitated” the gains by Isis.
“[They] are now around 7km away from the outskirts of the city. And close to the industrial zone,” he said.
Isis said its forces had overrun the Aleppo Infantry Academy — an important military base north-east of the city — on Thursday evening.
The loss of the area is particularly dangerous for moderate rebels — who include factions of the Free Syrian Army and the Islamist Jabhat al-Shamiya — holed up in Aleppo.
It puts Isis in striking distance of supply routes north to Turkey through the nearby towns of Tal Rifaat and Azaz. It also opens up a southern front for rebel forces defending the town of Marea to the north, a key staging post on the same supply line.
For Isis, further control of the area has particular resonance: the tiny town of Dabiq nearby features heavily in the group’s millenarian ideology — a hadith of the Prophet Mohammed predicts a fateful final battle between Muslims and “Romans” will occur there as a precursor to the Apocalypse.
However the fierce fighting in Aleppo also delivered a significant blow to the Assad regime and its allies, with the death of Hossein Hamedani, Iran’s top commander in the country.
Hamedani — a brigadier general of the Iranian revolutionary guard (IRGC) — was a linchpin in orchestrating the defence of the tottering regime earlier this year.
Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s top security official, vowed revenge for the death of a “capable strategist”. The killing, he said, would lead to the acceleration of Iran’s fight against Sunni extremists until their “thorough destruction”.
Hamedani was previously head of the IRGC’s Rassou Allah Corps, charged with defending Tehran — a position in which he was responsible for the crackdown on protesters of Iran’s fleeting “green” reform movement in 2009 and 2010.
Iranian media said he had been sent to Syria to advise the regime on the defence of the Sayyida Zaynab shrine, sacred to Shia Muslims, in Damascus — an official explanation cited for almost every senior IRGC commander’s death in the civil war so far.
Hamedani is the highest profile Iranian to be killed in Syria since the death ofGeneral Hassan Shateri in 2013. (Source: FT.com)
08 Oct 15. Arab coalition deploys Patriot to Yemen.AirKey Points:
• The Arab coalition has deployed two Patriot fire units to defend its base in Yemen’s Marib province
• The deployment corroborates claims that the base was hit by a ballistic missile on 4 September
The Arab coalition fighting to reinstall Yemen’s ousted president has deployed Patriot air-defence systems to defend its forward operating base in Marib province, satellite imagery from Airbus Defence a