– Syria regime, allies recapture key air base near Damascus
– Free Syrian Army rebels deny Russian support
– Kerry calls for common ground with Russia on Syria
– Obama vows to hit ISIS harder, says commandos now in Syria
– US Defense Secretary seeks more Turkish help against ISIS
– Turkey says to take fight to Kurdish militants as violence flares
– Iraq demands ‘complete withdrawal’ of Turkish forces

Syria regime, allies recapture key air base near Damascus
Syrian troops recaptured a military airport and a nearby town east of Damascus on Monday, more than three years after they were overrun by rebel groups, a military source said. “The Syrian army has taken full control of the town of Marj al-Sultan and its airport in Eastern Ghouta,” the military source said. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), government forces were backed by fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah. They fully secured the airport on Monday afternoon but “are still working to secure the town,” where some rebels remain, said SOHR’s head Rami Abdel Rahman. Monday’s advance “will be a step towards tightening the siege around Eastern Ghouta … and reinforcing the Damascus international airport and the road that leads to it,” Abdel Rahman said. [AFP, 12/14/2015]

Free Syrian Army rebels deny Russian support
Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad in western Syria denied receiving any support from the Russian air force, rejecting comments by a top Russian general on Monday. The groups were responding to comments made by a senior Russian army general who said the Russian air force was conducting dozens of air strikes in Syria on a daily basis to support Free Syrian Army fighters who he said were fighting alongside government troops against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants. “Today our headquarters in Jabal Akrad were bombed by Russia. Yesterday our headquarters in rural northern Aleppo were destroyed. I have 10 wounded. This is Russian support,” said Hassan Haj Ali, head of a prominent FSA group who took part in a Syrian opposition meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia last week. “Putin and his generals are a bunch of liars,” said Haj Ali, who commands the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal group. Mohamed Rasheed, spokesman for Jaysh al-Nasr, another group represented at the opposition meeting in Riyadh, said, “This is totally untrue. On the contrary, the Russian warplanes are bombing our headquarters on a daily basis.” [Reuters, 12/15/2015]

Kerry calls for common ground with Russia on Syria
The United States and Russia need to find “common ground” to end Syria’s civil war and restore stability in eastern Ukraine, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday. Kerry praised Moscow for having been “a significant contributor to the progress that we have been able to make” on Syria and said the United States and Russia both believe ISIS must be eliminated. Assad’s future and his potential role in the political transition will be prime topics of Kerry’s conversations with Putin and Lavrov. [AP, 12/15/2015]

Obama vows to hit ISIS harder, says commandos now in Syria
President Barack Obama implicitly acknowledged that progress against ISIS has been too slow as the extremist group expands its reach with deadly attacks beyond the Middle East. He vowed Monday to accelerate the US-led military campaign in both Syria and Iraq, and revealed that a group of American special operations commandos has begun working with local fighters in Syria to “tighten the squeeze” on Raqqa, the extremists’ nominal capital. Speaking at the Pentagon after meeting with his National Security Council, Obama cited this – in addition to intensified bombing of the oil infrastructure in Syria that provides much of the ISIS’s revenue – as an example of aggressive new action. [AP, 12/15/2015]

US Defense Secretary seeks more Turkish help against ISIS
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter urged Turkey on Tuesday to do more to help destroy ISIS militants as he kicked off a tour of the Middle East that aims to drum up regional support for the military campaign. Speaking to reporters while traveling to the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, Carter said Ankara needed to better control its border with Syria, particularly a roughly 60-mile stretch believed to be used by ISIS for illicit trade and for shuttling foreign fighters back and forth. “Turkey has an enormous role to play,” said Carter, on his first trip to Incirlik as Defense Secretary. “We appreciate what they’re doing. We want them to do more.” That includes Turkish forces joining “in the air and the ground as appropriate,” Carter said. “The single most important contribution that their geography makes necessary is the control of their own border.” [Reuters, 12/15/2015]

Turkey says to take fight to Kurdish militants as violence flares
Turkey will take the fight to Kurdish militants in the southeast to prevent them from “spreading the fire” from neighboring Syria and Iraq into the country, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday, as violence flared up again. Following Monday’s confrontations between protesters and the police, clashes broke out early on Tuesday in Diyarbakir and a policeman was injured, security sources said. Abdulkadir Selvi, a columnist with the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper, sensed in Davutoglu’s recent comments that preparations were under way to step up anti-PKK operations. “This time, the emphasis in operations will be more on soldiers,” he said. “The prime minister has spoken quite decisively, saying all districts will be cleansed of terrorist elements, from street-to-street, house-to-house if necessary.” [Reuters, 12/15/2015]

Iraq demands ‘complete withdrawal’ of Turkish forces
On Tuesday, the Iraqi government demanded the “complete withdrawal” of Turkish forces from its territory, indicating that Ankara’s partial pullout the previous day was not enough. Turkish and Iraqi officials said Turkish forces and equipment were withdrawn from the camp early on Monday, but the trainers apparently remained, and Ankara has other military sites within northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. The cabinet “renewed its firm position on the necessity of a response from neighboring Turkey to the Iraqi demand for a complete withdrawal from Iraqi territory and respect for its national sovereignty,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office said in a statement. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday, “There has been a shifting of the (military) forces, and that Ankara did what was necessary to do from a military point of view.” Iraqi MP Salem al-Shabaki said Turkey had removed forces from the site near the northern city of Mosul, the main hub of ISIS in Iraq and that it seemed only trainers had remained. The trainers have been working with anti-ISIS forces at the site for some time and their presence had not previously been an issue. [AFP, 12/15/2015]

وتكبد فيها خسائر بشرية وعسكرية، تقريبا ثمانية وأربعين عنصرا في المحاولة الأولى و133 عنصرٍ في الثانية، بالإضافة لتضحيته بمكاسبه النفطية في الشرق