In Brief

Syria 'planning a new chemical attack', US claims

White House warns President Bashar al-Assad he will 'pay a heavy price' if strike goes ahead

Syria accuses Israel of bombing airport

13 January

Syrian armed forces have accused Israel of bombing the Mezzeh Military Sirport west of Damascus, which lies about three miles from President Bashar al-Assad's official residence.

"Several missiles were fired at the Mezzeh military base from an area near Lake Tiberias in northern Israel just after midnight on Friday," says ITV News, citing Syrian state TV and the Syrian army.

There were no immediate reports of casualties at the base, which Reuters describes as "a major facility for elite Republican Guards". 

The Syrian army warned Israel of the "repercussions of the flagrant attack" and said it would "amputate the arms" of the perpetrators of "terrorism".

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied any air strikes in Syria, but is believed to have "bombed weapons shipments intended for Lebanon's Hezbollah movement several times since Syria's civil war began in 2011", says the BBC.

The airport had been used by the Syrian Arab Army to fire rockets at former rebel-held areas in the suburbs of Damascus. Yesterday's strike came hours after a suicide bomb claimed the lives of at least seven people in a high-security area of the city.

The BBC reports that the suicide bomb attack occurred "in the Kafr Sousa neighbourhood where some of the country's key security installations are located".

Aleppo evacuations resume following attacks on buses

19 December

Convoys have resumed taking civilians and rebels out of eastern Aleppo, after attacks on buses forced authorities to suspend evacuations.

Another truce between government forces and rebel fighters, under which civilians and rebels alike were promised safe passage to rebel-held countryside in neighbouring Idlib province, broke down on Friday and evacuations were put on hold.

The bone of contention was the rebel-held towns of Kefraya and Foua, located between Aleppo and the convoys' destination in Idlib province.

The government insists that the evacuation convoys should also pick up civilians and Iranian-backed militia fighters there, but rebel groups claim Iran is behind the demands, accusing the country of undermining the uneasy truce between Assad and his adversaries.

A new deal, which includes the 4,000 people currently trapped in rebel-held towns as well as those fleeing government forces in east Aleppo, was agreed on Saturday.

However, evacuations had barely got underway when convoys were halted on Sunday following reports that buses were being set on fire as they approached Kefraya and Foua.

Finally, after hours of delays, around 350 people were able to leave on Sunday evening. A doctor who was part of a committee meeting the buses in rebel-held Khan al-Assal told The Guardian that the arrivals were in "a terrible state".

With temperatures plummeting and supplies of food and medicine running low, the situation for those still in east Aleppo is desperate. However, reports have suggested that some civilians are wary of being moved to yet another battleground.

"Idlib is widely expected to be the regime's next target, and the evacuations are effectively moving rebels to one containable zone," CNN reports.

Many also fear reprisals by the regime, whose forces have been linked to atrocities against civilians.Journalist and activist Zaina Erhaim writes in The Guardian that her fellow activists in Aleppo would "rather die than face capture by Assad's militias". Some families "are even burning their own homes, so they will not be taken by the regime", she writes.

What does the fall of Aleppo mean for Syria?

16 December

The battle for Aleppo is over. Russian officials have declared mission accomplished in their joint action with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the former rebel stronghold, while civilians and opposition fighters are being evacuated into the surrounding countryside under military escort.

Government forces now control the vast majority of territory in Syria. However, victory will be a far from simple affair, warn experts.

Randa Slim, from the Middle East Institute, says the war is "far from over", adding that the recapture of eastern Aleppo will make a peaceful end to the conflict more difficult.

"Until now, Assad has paid lip service to the idea of negotiations and political process to end the civil war in Syria," she told PBS Newshour. However, "now he's going to be definitely dead set against it", she says, as the victory will bolster his confidence and make him believe there's no need for concessions, "including transitioning out of power, which is one of the premise of the political negotiations started in Geneva".

Even if the remaining rebels were to lay down their arms tomorrow, Assad's troubles would be far from over, says Sky News's foreign affairs editor Sam Kiley. By embracing a lopsided alliance with Vladimir Putin's Russia as the price of victory, "Syria's president and the cabal that surrounds him are now entirely dependent on foreigners for their survival".

In addition, Kiley says, the so-called "government forces" are now largely a hodgepodge of "Hezbollah in south Lebanon, Iraqi Hezbollah, Shia fighters (often press ganged) from Iran alongside the Revolutionary Guards and even volunteers from Afghanistan". All have their own motives and goals and could pose a significant threat to the stability of the government's post-war regime.

The only way for Assad to cling on to power is to clean up his image enough to find some other international backers and the quickest way for him to do that is to make his next target the Islamic State's "capital", Raqqa, NBC says.

It adds: "Assad's desire to reenter the world community will more likely be achieved if he is seen to be actively fighting Isis."

US-backed Kurdish and Arab militias are currently leading the offensive to retake Raqqa and the surrounding area. If the Syrian army can play a visible role in this, says NBC, it would not only effectively destroy the jihadists' caliphate, but could secure Assad a valuable ally in US president-elect Donald Trump, who has put crushing IS at the heart of his foreign policy plans.

Syria: East Aleppo evacuation 'under way'

15 December

The evacuation of the final rebel-held enclaves of eastern Aleppo is now underway after both sides reached a ceasefire deal in the early hours of the morning.

Around 4,000 rebel fighters and civilians were originally due to leave yesterday, but the agreed truce collapsed before buses could leave, with an Iranian-backed Shia militia allied with the government apparently violating the ceasefire, The Guardian reports

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin were reportedly instrumental in putting pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to restore the ceasefire.

The Syrian regime claimed earlier that "all procedures were ready" for the evacuation of the remaining inhabitants, who they described as "rebels and their families".

Noureddine al-Zenki and Ahrar al-Sham, two of the rebel groups entrenched in eastern Aleppo, confirmed a new deal had been agreed in which evacuees "will be taken through government territory into countryside held by rebel groups" 40 miles from Aleppo, reports Sky News.

The first convoy, which contains only patients, medical staff and civilians, is now reportedly on the move. Al Jazeera reports that regime forces fired at the convoy of injured as it left the city, killing one person and injuring at least four more.

An independent journalist in east Aleppo told Al Jazeera the evacuation was still underway despite the attacks.

"There hasn't been fighting since the morning," Zouhir Al-Shimale said, adding that "hundreds of families" were waiting at the bus depots.

Future convoys of buses and trucks taking rebels and civilians out of the city will be escorted by regime soldiers and monitored by drones, the Russian defence ministry said, and the Syrian government was guaranteeing the safety of rebels and civilians alike.

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