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Tuesday, May 16

Uh oh. U.S. sounds hopping mad about de-escalation zones in Syria

May 15, from the Daily Mail: "Assad's murder machine: Syria has executed thousands of prisoners - mostly civilians opposed to the government - and burned the dead bodies in a giant crematorium, US administration claims."

The gist of these latest accusations against Assad:

Look at these photos from a commercial satellite. Do you know what these photos mean? They mean Assad is every day hanging scores of innocent prisoners by the neck until dead then to hide the evidence trucking the corpses to what sure looks to us from the satellite photos like a crematorium. 

(What is the difference, I wonder, between a Russian military satellite's eyesight and that of a commercial satellite and for that matter the American military's eyes in the sky? I got interested in satellite eyesight when I noted that only a Russian satellite was able to see Islamic State oil truck convoys driving from Raqqa in Syria to Turkey's side of the border.)

Moving along, last week America's 45th president informed TIME magazine that Assad had stored poison gas "all over the place." The revelation could explain why the 59 U.S. airstrikes, launched against a Syrian military airbase in alleged retaliation for a chemical attack against Syrian civilians, didn't raise toxic clouds of gas. Assad had most probably stored the poison gas in rabbit warrens all over Syria instead of the military facility.

So what does it all mean? For starters I think it means a weapons expert named Theodore Postol and a neuropharmacologist named Denis O'Brien ('Those aren't the symptoms of sarin poisoning you idiots') raised so many questions about the Khan Sheikhoun incident that governments wanting Assad gone are now hesitant to encourage terrorist groups to launch more chemical attacks to frame him. In that case the governments would have to focus on making other charges against Assad.

Secondly I think it means -- from the Daily Mail report above:
[Stuart Jones, acting US assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs] also said on Monday [May 15] that the United States should not wholeheartedly believe a deal to set up 'de-escalation zones' brokered by Russia during ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital Astana last week.
The deal was reached with support from Iran and Turkey during ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana earlier this month. Jones attended the talks.

"In light of the failures of the past ceasefire agreements, we have reason to be skeptical," he said.

Jones said Assad's government had carried out air strikes, chemical attacks, extrajudicial killings, starvation, and other measures to target civilians and its opponents.

He criticized Russia and Iran for maintaining their support for Assad despite those tactics.
"These atrocities have been carried out seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran," Jones said.

"The [Assad] regime must stop all attacks on civilian and opposition forces. And Russia must bear responsibility to ensure regime compliance."
He did not say what measures America might take if Russia does not change its stance.
As to the present status of the plan for de-escalation zones -- 
ASTANA, May 16. /TASS/. Guarantors of Syria ceasefire - Russia, Turkey and Iran - are actively working on implementing a memorandum on creating de-escalation zones in Syria, including on drawing up a map and establishing checkpoints, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said on Tuesday.
"Currently, countries-guarantors and all parties concerned are working on implementing the memorandum on setting up the so-called de-escalation zones.
The recent working meetings between Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Beijing with the senior leadership of Russia and the Turkish Republic showed that the sides are actively working on various aspects of fulfilling this memorandum," Abdrakhmanov said on the sidelines of a government meeting. This effort mostly involves military experts, he said.
"This concerns designating the de-escalation zones geographically, on the map, and also establishing observation points and checkpoints along these zones," Abdrakhmanov said.
A particular task for the sides will be to agree on who will control the de-escalation zones and will be on duty at the checkpoints.
On May 4, Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to set up four de-escalation zones in Syria. Under a memorandum signed at the talks in Kazakhstan’s Astana, these four zones include the Idlib province and some parts of neighboring provinces (Aleppo, Latakia and Hama), an area north of Homs, Damascus’s suburb Eastern Ghouta, and a number of provinces in southern Syria - Daraa and Al-Quneitra. 
In those areas, combat operations, including flights by military aircraft, are outlawed starting from May 6. 
The memorandum was concluded for six months and can be extended automatically [Pundita note: and to eventually include all of Syria].
In other words the de-escalation plan is moving ahead without the approval of the United States, United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia. From the statements of Mr Jones this doesn't seem to be going over well with the American government, and probably not with other governments that have invested so much in using terrorist groups to fight the Syrian government.   

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