The Aleppo ceasefire, such as it was, is over:
Mortar fire from regime forces struck the al-Mashhad neighborhood of eastern Aleppo on Saturday evening as a three-day Russian-backed ceasefire came to an end at 7 p.m. (noon ET), according to the activist Aleppo Media Center.
The Russian Defense Ministry had called for the ceasefire — termed a “humanitarian pause” — so rebels, civilians and medical cases could evacuate Aleppo during daylight hours without fear of being struck by bombs.
But it appears few, if any, actually left the besieged city.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is ostensibly neutral but has an anti-regime outlook (which you could argue is because it sympathizes with the rebels or because the regime has been the bigger human rights violator, depending on your point of view), says it can’t verify that anybody left the city via one of the open evacuation corridors. Syrian state TV says this is because the rebels shelled those corridors to keep people from using them. The UN was unable to implement any kind of plan to conduct medical evacuations due to lack of security.
So, back to normal I guess. At this point there’s not much more to say than that.
As for the Mosul operation, yesterday I said the biggest development there was ISIS’s diversionary attack on Kirkuk. The Iraqi government has been insisting that Kurkuk is back under control, but independent reporting suggests the fighting there is still going on. Nearly 100 people have been killed so far in the attack, about half of them ISIS attackers. Not counted in that number are the 17 civilians killed in an airstrike of some kind on the town of Daquq, immediately south of Kirkuk, on Friday. Russia is saying that two US coalition aircraft carried out the bombing, which struck a funeral procession that the coalition may have mistaken for a column of ISIS soldiers. US officials are reportedly denying this, but it’s hard to figure who else would have been dropping ordinance in the vicinity of Kirkuk yesterday.
Elsewhere, ISIS fighters have also apparently set a sulfur plant near Mosul on fire, resulting in over 1000 people being treated for respiratory problems. The combination of the chemical attack and the assault on Kirkuk has forced some Iraqi units, particularly Kurds (who were redeployed to Kirkuk), off the front lines of the advance toward Mosul. In that sense it’s Mission Accomplished for ISIS, but this is at most a speed bump for the overall operation. The Iraqi army was able to move into Hamdaniyah, a district about 12 miles southeast of Mosul, so the assault is still progressing despite these setbacks. Of potentially greater concern is the looming conflict between Turkey and Iraq, after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi bucked what Ash Carter said yesterday and told Ankara that its troops would not be taking part in the Mosul offensive unless requested by Baghdad. Ankara is unlikely to take Abadi’s decision in stride.
Of much greater concern than all of this is this report that ISIS has begun executing civilians en masse inside Mosul. ISIS is expected to use civilians as human shields, but this suggests that supplies in the city may already be running low or that ISIS has determined that it’s better to kill the civilians than to have them consuming resources that could otherwise go to the group’s own fighters. This is both another reminder of the frightening humanitarian crisis this operation will entail and a call for the operation to be sped up, even though that’s probably a bad idea from a military perspective. The Kirkuk attack, which may have involved ISIS attackers shuffling through a gap in the Iraqi line, shows the danger of moving too fast. The execution of these civilians inside Mosul shows the danger of not moving fast enough.
The 72 hour ceasefire that went into effect on Thursday came to an end at midnight Yemeni time, but the UN is reportedly lobbying both sides of the conflict pretty hard for a 72 hour extension. So far there’s been no indication of an extension, but it seems like there’s at least a possibility of one.
While the ceasefire has reportedly been violated multiple times on both sides, it does seem that the fighting has lessened during the ceasefire, and crucially the Saudi air campaign has definitely eased up. The UN has been able to use the lull to bring some humanitarian aid into the country, and certainly every little bit helps. But the hope would obviously be that this 72 hours turns into another 72 hours, then another, then maybe a week, and pretty soon not fighting becomes the normal state of affairs (inertia is a powerful thing, and you’d rather it be on the side of “not fighting” than the opposite), and maybe some actual peace talks can get going.