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SYRIA: Al-Qaeda launches ‘do or die’ attempt to break siege of eastern Aleppo

As time runs out on Vladimir Putin’s offer for Jihadi fighters to quit eastern Aleppo peacefully, and as the Russian fleet approaches the Syrian coast, Al-Qaeda again launches despite heavy losses assault to break siege of eastern Aleppo.

Alexander Mercouris

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Having nursed their wounds following their defeat of a few days ago, the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis today attacked western Aleppo again.

As  is always the case with the fighting in Syria, it is difficult to get a clear picture of what is going on.  However this appears to be a major attack, with more Jihadis brought in from other fronts to replace the earlier losses, and with the Jihadis making their usual use of their now traditional tactic of hurling explosive laden trucks driven by suicide bombers at the Syrian army defenders (this tactic is actually of diminishing value since the Syrian troops have become practised at destroying these trucks before they reach their targets).

The attack – as with all the other Jihadi attacks on Aleppo – also involves shelling of the residential areas of western Aleppo, often with notoriously indiscriminate unguided rockets.  An RT team led by the intrepid Murat Gazdiev was caught in the crossfire.  Here is their report:

The Syrians, the Russians and the Iranians, have steadily upgraded the number of Jihadi fighters they say are involved in operations in western Aleppo.

Whereas just a few days ago their most commonly cited figure was 3,000 they have now raised it dramatically to 16,000, which would be by far the biggest concentration of Jihadi fighters during the whole war, exceeding even the number involved in the Jihadi offensive of last summer.

Regardless of the precise number of Jihadi fighters, their concentration on the western outskirts of Aleppo in the series of Jihadi offensives which have been taking place there since the summer is draining Jihadi strength elsewhere.

The result since the start of the summer is a series of rapid advances by the Syrian army elsewhere in western Syria, especially in Latakia province and near Damascus, as Jihadi fighters have been pulled away from these fronts to Aleppo. 

The scale of the fighting in Aleppo and Aleppo’s importance means that scant attention is given to the other battlefronts in western Syria.  The result is that the rapid collapse of Jihadi positions across much of western Syria which has been going on since early summer is going unreported.

There is now even speculation that because of the heavy losses in men and equipment and above all commanders the Jihadis are suffering outside Aleppo, the future defence of Idlib – where Al-Qaeda has its Syrian headquarters – is being compromised, making its eventual recapture by the Syrian army easier once eastern Aleppo has been finally recaptured. 

It is testament to the importance of Aleppo to the Jihadi cause that they seem incapable of giving up there but persist instead in reinforcing failure there despite their heavy losses and even as the evidence of the consequences of doing this mounts up all around them.

In the meantime and unsurprisingly the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo have rejected Putin’s demand that they leave eastern Aleppo on Friday.  Presumably they are still hoping that the latest Jihadi offensive will succeed in breaking the siege.  However given their fanaticism and their seeming determination to hold at any cost on to eastern Aleppo – which has now become so symbolic of their whole cause – I have to say that I don’t expect them to give up and leave eastern Aleppo even if or rather when the current Jihadi offensive fails, and even if the Turkish army and government tells them to do so.

As to the prospects of the latest Jihadi offensive, though there is as yet no information about its progress or lack thereof, I expect it eventually to fail – as the last two did – with any gains it makes proving ephemeral, just as was the case with the gains the Jihadi offensive made last summer.

Meanwhile Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov in comments on Thursday 3rd November 2016 placed the responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in eastern Aleppo firmly on the Western powers for their failure to put pressure on the Jihadis to leave eastern Aleppo. 

In the process Rybakov also confirmed that last minute talks between the Russian and Turkish militaries to achieve such a withdrawal are currently underway.  Here is what TASS reports him to have said:

“The work (on Aleppo) is in progress, the militaries are in contact (NB: this clearly refers to the ongoing talks between the Russian and Turkish militaries – AM), various options have been discussed over the last few days.  The most important thing is that Russia and the Syrian government have been taking all possible steps to alleviate the difficulties that the residents of Aleppo are facing.

You can see how reasonable and responsible the Russian military unit’s command has been while fulfilling the orders of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.  On November 4, a new humanitarian pause will be launched as Russian and Syrian warplanes haven’t been conducting any operations in this area for 17 days now.

I would like address those who continue bashing Moscow for what is going on in Syria and have been looking for new pretexts. I call on them to remove their ideological blinders, and after all acknowledge the truth that it is not in Russia’s hand to decide whether the humanitarian problem in eastern Aleppo will be solved. Pressure needs to be exerted on the terrorists and extremists who are actually preventing these problems from being solved.”

(bold italics added)

These comments clearly hint that unless the talks between the Russian and Turkish militaries succeed a final assault on the Jihadi held districts of eastern Aleppo will be launched probably either this weekend or as soon as the latest Jihadi assault has been repulsed.

Since I don’t expect the talks between the Russian and Turkish militaries to succeed – at least to the extent of getting the Jihadis to withdraw from eastern Aleppo – and since I don’t expect the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis in eastern Aleppo to agree to withdraw under any circumstances, I anticipate that the final assault on the Jihadi enclave will come shortly, perhaps as soon as this weekend.

It is surely not a coincidence that the Russian fleet – including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the nuclear powered missile battle cruiser Pyotr Veliky – are expected to reach their battle stations off the Syrian coast on Friday, at approximately the time when Putin’s offer to the Jihadis to leave Aleppo peacefully by way of the corridors provided to them comes to an end.

POSTSCRIPT: Since the above was written reports from Aleppo have appeared which speak of this latest Jihadi assault on the city having failed, with the assault being successfully repelled by the Syrian army, and with the Jihadis again suffering heavy losses.  These reports are for the moment very sketchy.  There is no definite confirmation and few details.  A further update will provided as soon as there is more news.

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Five Saudis Face Death Penalty Over Khashoggi Killing; Crown Prince Cleared

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime.”

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Via Zerohedge


Saudi Arabia public prosecutor Sheikh Shaalan al-Shaalan said on Thursday that the kingdom will seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 11 charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confirming suspicions that members of the murder squad purportedly sent to “interrogate” Khashoggi will now themselves face beheadings as the Saudi Royal Family closes ranks around the Crown Prince, per the FT.

As for Mohammed bin Salman who runs the day to day affairs of the world’s top oil exporter and is the de facto head of OPEC, the prosecutor said had “no knowledge” of the mission, effectively absolving him of any domestic suspicion, if not international.

The charges were handed down after the kingdom dismissed five senior intelligence officers and arrested 18 Saudi nationals in connection with Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi insider-turned-dissident journalist disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would have allowed him to marry his fiance. Khashoggi was a legal resident of Virginia.

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime,” according to CNN.

The prosecutor said that the former Saudi deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, ordered a mission to force Khashoggi to go back to Saudi Arabia and formed a team of 15 people.

They were divided into three groups, the Saudi Public Prosecutor said: a negotiation team, an intelligence team and a logistical team.

It was the head of the negotiating team who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, the prosecutor said.

The Saudis stuck by latest (ever changing) narrative that the Washington Post columnist was killed after a mission to abduct him went awry. The deputy chief of intelligence ordered that Khashoggi be brought back to the kingdom, Shaalan said. The team killed him after the talks failed and his body was handed to a “collaborator” in Turkey, he said.

Asked whether Saud al-Qahtanti, an aide to Prince Mohammed, had any role in the case, Shaalan said that a royal adviser had a coordinating role and had provided information. The former adviser was now under investigation, the prosecutor said, declining to reveal the names of any of those facing charges.

Al-Shaalan did reveal that a total of 21 suspects are now being held in connection with the case. Notably, the decision to charge the 5 comes after National Security Advisor John Bolton repudiated reports that a recording of Khashoggi’s murder made by Turkish authorities suggested that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was behind the murder plot.

But as long as OPEC+ is planning to do “whatever it takes” to boost oil prices, the US’s willingness to give the Saudis a pass could always be tested if crude prices again turn sharply higher.

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U.S. May Impose Sanctions Against Turkey Over S-400 “Threat” To F-35

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

The Duran

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Authored by Al Masdar News:


Turkish officials have repeatedly insisted that Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system poses no threat whatsoever to the NATO alliance. Last month, the Turkish defense ministry announced that delivery of S-400s to Turkey would begin in October 2019.

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform, and may impose sanctions against Ankara, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency has reported, citing a high-ranking source in Washington.

“I can’t say for certain whether sanctions will be imposed on Ankara over the S-400 contract, but the possibility is there. The US administration is not optimistic about this issue,” the source said.

While admitting that Turkey was a sovereign state and therefore had the right to make decisions on whom it buys its weapons from, the source stressed that from the perspective of these weapons’ integration with NATO systems, the S-400 was “problematic.”

The source also characterized the deployment of S-400s in areas where US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters are set to fly as “a threat,” without elaborating.

Emphasizing that negotiations between Washington and Ankara on the issue were “continuing,” the source said that there were also “positive tendencies” in negotiations between the two countries on the procurement of the Patriot system, Washington’s closest analogue to the S-400 in terms of capabilities.

Designed to stop enemy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles at ranges of up to 400 km and altitudes of up to 30 km, the S-400 is currently the most advanced mobile air defense system in Russia’s arsenal. Russia and India signed a ruble-denominated contract on the delivery of five regiments of S-400s worth $5 billion late last month.

Last week, the Saudi Ambassador to Russia said that talks on the sale of the system to his country were ongoing. In addition to Russia, S-400s are presently operated by Belarus and China, with Beijing expecting another delivery of S-400s by 2020.

Washington has already slapped China with sanctions over its purchase of S-400s and Su-35 combat aircraft in September. India, however, has voiced confidence that it would not be hit with similar restrictions, which the US Treasury has pursued under the 2017 Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

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OPEC Plus: Putin’s move to control energy market with Saudi partnership (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 150.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss OPEC Plus and the growing partnership between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which aims to reshape the energy market, and cement Russia’s leadership role in global oil and gas supply.

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Russia and Saudi Arabia’s ‘long-term relationship’ WILL survive

The Express UK reports that Russia and Saudi Arabia’s ‘long-term relationship’ will not only survive, but grow, regardless of geopolitical turmoil and internal Saudi scandal…as the energy interests between both nations bind them together.

Ties between Saudi Arabia and Vladimir Putin’s Russia have a “long-term relationship” which is strategically beneficial to both of them, and which underlines their position as the world’s most influential oil producers, alongside the United States, an industry expert has said.

Following concerns about too much oil flooding the market, Saudi Arabia on Sunday performed an abrupt u-turn by deciding to reduce production by half a million barrels a day from December.

This put the Middle Eastern country at odds with Russia, which said it was no clear whether the market would be oversupplied next year, with market analysts predicting the country’s oil producing companies likely to BOOST proaction by 300,000 barrels per day.

But IHS Markit vice chairman Daniel Yergin said the decision was unlikely to jeopardise the relationship between the two allies.

The Saudis have faced significant international criticism in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Speaking to CNBC, Mr Yergin made it clear that Moscow and Riyadh would continue to be closely aligned irrespective of external factors.

He explained: “I think it’s intended to be a long-term relationship and it started off about oil prices but you see it taking on other dimensions, for instance, Saudi investment in Russian LNG (liquefied natural gas) and Russian investment in Saudi Arabia.

“I think this is a strategic relationship because it’s useful to both countries.”

Saudi Arabia and Russia are close, especially as a result of their pact in late 2016, along with other OPEC and non-OPEC producers, to curb output by 1.8 million barrels per day in order to prevent prices dropping too far – but oil markets have changed since then, largely as a result.

The US criticised OPEC, which Saudi Arabia is the nominal leader of, after prices rose.

Markets have fluctuated in recent weeks as a result of fears over a possible drop in supply, as a result of US sanctions on Iran, and an oversupply, as a result of increased production by Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, which have seen prices fall by about 20 percent since early October.

Saudi Arabia has pumped 10.7 million barrels per day in October, while the figure for Russiaand the US was 11.4 million barrels in each case.

Mr Yergin said: “It’s the big three, it’s Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, this is a different configuration in the oil market than the traditional OPEC-non-OPEC one and so the world is having to adjust.”

BP Group Chief Executive Bob Dudley told CNBC: “The OPEC-plus agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC producers including Russia and coalition is a lot stronger than people speculate.

“I think Russia doesn’t have the ability to turn on and off big fields which can happen in the Middle East.

“But I fully expect there to be coordination to try to keep the oil price within a certain fairway.”

Markets rallied by two percent on Monday off the back of the , which it justified by citing uncertain global oil growth and associated oil demand next year.

It also suggested  granted on US sanctions imposed on Iran which have been granted to several countries including China and Japan was a reason not to fear a decline in supply.

Also talking to CNBC, Russia’s Oil Minister Alexander Novak indicated a difference of opinion between Russia and the Saudis, saying it was too soon to cut production, highlighting a lot of volatility in the oil market.

He added: “If such a decision is necessary for the market and all the countries are in agreement, I think that Russia will undoubtedly play a part in this.

“But it’s early to talk about this now, we need to look at this question very carefully.”

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