US weighs next moves as Assad resupplies

Europe fearful that escalation in fighting will bring surge in migrants.

By
April 25, 2016 02:14
2 minute read.
Russia Syria

Russia releases footage of airstrikes in Syria. (photo credit: screenshot)

 ATHENS – The United States is expressing concern over an apparent military buildup by Russia and Iran in Syria in support of embattled regime of Bashar Assad, despite the UN’s insistence that his truce with Syria’s rebellion remains intact.

Moscow announced in March that its military operations in the war were largely over.

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But US defense and intelligence agencies are now monitoring Russian ground units on the move in Syria’s northeast, an increase in bombings in and around the strategically significant city of Aleppo, and an uptick in weapons shipments to regime gates in Damascus and Latakia.

Fearful Russia is preparing for, if not instigating, a complete collapse of a two-month old cessation of hostilities, the Obama administration is considering fresh options that will keep the Syrian opposition militarily viable in the field and the diplomatic efforts to end the war alive in Switzerland.

Such a plan may include direct training of Syria’s rebel groups and arming them with heavier weaponry. Obama also says he hopes to apply new pressures on Russia and Iran to convince them to genuinely negotiate in Geneva.

But “that’s difficult,” Obama said in an interview with the BBC while in London over the weekend. He did not provide further details.

The president’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said on Sunday that the US has been concerned about reports of Russia moving material into Syria. “We believe that President [Vladimir] Putin is certainly on the record and went public with his statement that Russia would be removing military personnel and presence in Syria.”

The UN’s special envoy to the crisis, Staffan de Mistura, will continue negotiations toward a political transition in Syria through the beginning of the week. But an increase in air raids forced the opposition’s formal representation at the Geneva talks, known as the High Negotiations Committee, to walk away last week “indefinitely.”

De Mistura notes that neither party has announced any intention to formally withdraw from the ceasefire.

Practically speaking, however, the quiet that Syrians had enjoyed over the last several weeks in unkempt parks and war-torn streets has now shattered – particularly in Aleppo, where aggressive bombing has resumed and where tens of thousands remain besieged without food.

The escalation in fighting has some in Europe fearing another wave of refugees, as the warm months arrive and more and more Syrians seek to flee while they still can, before the war restarts in earnest.

In Greece, the government and non-profit organizations are preparing for a difficult summer, hardly comforted by a controversial EU deal brokered on Greece’s behalf with Turkey that allows the state to return unregistered Syrian refugees to Turkish camps in exchange for registered ones.

Balkan nations have closed their borders to Greece in an effort to shut the flow of migrants north. But dozens continue seeking a path – new sea routes, gaps in barbed wire fencing – toward Europe’s richer states and the prospect of freedom.

Those states, particularly Sweden and Germany, have welcomed more refugees than any point since World War II. But EU nations are in agreement that the flow is unsustainable.


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