Diplomats push as Syria battlefield shifts

Diplomats from a dozen countries, led by the United States and Russia, are struggling to make progress in Syria, even as fighting in the north sends tens of thousands fleeing and threatens a deepening humanitarian crisis.

See Full Article

Next month, Syria's civil war will reach the end of its fifth year, and its consequences continue to reach new and disastrous levels.

Below is an AP News Guide to the latest events:

WAS A CEASE-FIRE AGREEMENT REACHED?

No. The U.S. and Russia and other nations agreed to try to work for a less ambitious goal: a pause in fighting or "cessation of hostilities," within a week. And even that vague formula will be difficult to pull off.

Moscow and Washington disagree over which armed factions would be covered under the cessation. Russia says it and its ally, the Syrian government, will continue to hit "terrorists," by which they mean not just the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's branch, the Nusra Front, but also a number of rebel factions opposing President Bashar Assad and backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. So that would effectively mean fighting would continue on many fronts even if a cessation is declared.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at Moscow on Saturday, accusing it of "repeated aggression" in Syria and saying its warplanes were mainly targeting "legitimate opposition groups." Kerry insisted the conflict would not end without Assad's removal from power, a non-starter for the Syrian government and its allies.

ON THE BATTLEFIELD

Even as the diplomats debate in Europe, the shape of the battlefield is shifting rapidly. For two weeks, government forces have been on an offensive in the north, gaining ground in trying to encircle the rebel-held half of Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war. The campaign has been helped by heavy Russian airstrikes, along with fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah movement and members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

The fall of the rebel-held side of Aleppo would be the biggest blow to the opposition since the war began -- and rebels believe Russia wants the fighting to continue as long as possible to allow troops to encircle and besiege the city. They're almost there: After capturing a string of villages to the north, including Tamoura on Saturday, government forces are poised to target the rebels' last remaining supply route to Turkey.

At least 300,000 people remain in the eastern, rebel-held half of Aleppo and face being cut off from aid. Tens of thousands have been fleeing the violence, compounding the humanitarian crisis.

HUMANITARIAN AID

The nations gathered in Munich agreed to accelerate humanitarian aid to besieged Syrian communities beginning this week. More than 1 million Syrians are estimated to be in towns and districts that have been blockaded for weeks or months, either by government forces or the rebels.

It is not clear how much aid will make it through without a real stop in combat -- and each warring side must agree to open the way for the deliveries.

THE HUMAN COST

More than 250,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011. Large parts of cities like Aleppo and Homs and suburbs outside of Damascus have been blasted into concrete husks by years of bombardment.

Half of Syria's prewar population of 22 million has been driven from their homes by the war, and the numbers continue to swell. Some 6.6 million have fled to other parts of Syria, and more than 4.6 million have left the country, overwhelming its neighbours, especially Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

A half-million Syrians were among the 1 million refugees who flowed into Europe in 2015, the biggest migration seen on the continent since World War II. Thousands continue to make the dangerous sea journey to Greece, hoping to find new lives in Europe.

The crisis has enflamed tensions among European Union members and beyond. Turkish leaders this week accused the EU of hypocrisy for pressuring them to both take in more Syrians and block them from entering Europe. Turkey already hosts some 2.5 million Syrians and said it is reaching the end of its capacity to take more, but tens of thousands fleeing the Aleppo fighting are massed on its border seeking to enter.

A REGIONAL WAR

With diplomats struggling to halt the fighting even temporarily, chances for a negotiated peace seem further than ever. All those players -- directly or by proxy -- complicate those efforts and make it effectively a regional war.

Assad is backed by his top allies: Russia, which began airstrikes against rebels in September, and Iran, which has given Damascus weapons and money and has sent its Revolutionary Guard forces to bolster his overstretched military. Also helping are Hezbollah guerrillas and Iraqi Shiite militias, which have been indispensable for battlefield victories.

The rebels get support from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The U.S. also backs some factions, but its efforts to train and arm an effective "moderate" rebel force have repeatedly floundered. Washington's emphasis has been more on fighting the Islamic State group, using an air campaign against the militants for more than a year in Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic State group has taken over a swath of Syria from the east up to the northwest, linked to its territory in neighbouring Iraq. But it has lost ground in both countries because of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition and advances by Kurdish fighters.

The diplomacy is caught between the interests of those players. Moscow appears determined to help push Assad toward victory, or at least an improved position. The U.S. is caught between its priority of fighting IS and its allies' priority of bringing down Assad. Few seem willing to bend.

Saudi Arabia has talked of sending ground troops into Syria, and on Saturday, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted by local media as saying Ankara and Riyadh may mount a joint ground operation against IS in Syria. Syria's government has warned that any foreign ground troops entering the country would return home in "coffins."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • One killed, five hurt in Highway 401 crash near Quebec border

    Canada News CTV News
    LANCASTER, Ont. - One person was killed and five others were injured following a crash involving six vehicles on Monday on Highway 401 in eastern Ontario. Ontario Provincial Police say two tractor-trailers and four passenger vehicles collided in the highway's westbound lanes near the Quebec border at about 2:30 p.m. Source
  • Alberta RCMP officers cleared in fatal shooting

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON - Alberta's police watchdog says two RCMP officers were justified when they shot and killed a man who was on a rampage with a stolen front-end loader and tried to use the massive machine to crush a police car with an officer inside against a tree. Source
  • North Korea issues fiery rhetoric over U.S.-South Korea drills

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of - North Korea's military on Tuesday greeted the start of annual U.S.-South Korean military drills with its standard fiery threats, vowing "merciless retaliation" for exercises Pyongyang claims are an invasion rehearsal. Source
  • Rate of illegal migrants slowing at Quebec border: federal officials

    Canada News CTV News
    Canada’s immigration minister says police are intercepting fewer refugee claimants illegally crossing into Quebec as officials intensify their efforts to curb misinformation encouraging migrants to head north. “We’re talking about an average of 140 people per day. Source
  • Bill Cosby hires Michael Jackson’s lawyer for sex assault retrial

    World News Toronto Sun
    PHILADELPHIA — Bill Cosby has hired Michael Jackson’s former lawyer to represent him at his November retrial on sexual-assault charges in Pennsylvania. Cosby’s spokesman announced Monday the 80-year-old comedian is bringing in Tom Mesereau to lead a retooled defence team. Source
  • 'We will win': Trump renews Afghanistan commitment

    World News Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON — Declaring the U.S. will win “in the end,” President Donald Trump vowed Monday night to keep American troops fighting in Afghanistan despite his earlier inclination to withdraw. But he insisted the U.S. would not offer “a blank check” after 16 years of war, and he pointedly declined to say whether or when more troops might be sent. Source
  • Aggressive bear follows 2-year-old girl into B.C. home

    Canada News CTV News
    A British Columbia mother says a black bear followed her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter up a staircase and through a patio doorway into their home on Saturday. Elery Froude of Gibsons, B.C., says she first was alerted to the presence of the bear inside her home around 5:30 p.m. Source
  • Search underway for missing U.S. sailors; Navy chief orders probe

    World News Toronto Sun
    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asia, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and five injured. Source
  • Louisiana mom says daughter's request for braids led her to confront racism

    World News CTV News
    A Louisiana mother said she had a revelation about racism after her white seven-year-old daughter asked for braids to look like her black friend. Brigette Diez Kerr initially hesitated, worried her daughter would be chastised at school for styling herself after her African-American classmate. Source
  • Trump vows to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan but won't reveal details

    World News CBC News
    Declaring the U.S. will win "in the end," U.S. President Donald Trump vowed Monday night to keep American troops fighting in Afghanistan despite his earlier inclination to withdraw them. But he insisted the U.S. would not offer "a blank cheque" after 16 years of war, and he pointedly declined to say whether or when more troops might be sent. Source