Assad retakes heart of Aleppo, rebels seize town near Iraq

Updated 27 August 2012
0

Assad retakes heart of Aleppo, rebels seize town near Iraq

AMMAN/BEIRUT: Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad wept into a restive town near Damascus on Thursday and recaptured the heart of Aleppo, while rebels advanced in a town along the Iraqi border, government officials and activists said.
Military artillery and helicopters attacked the Sunni Muslim town of Daraya in Damascus for 24 hours, killing 15 people and wounding 150, before soldiers moved in and raided houses, opposition sources said.
There was little resistance as Assad’s forces pushed toward the center of Daraya, on the southwest edge of Damascus. Armed rebels had apparently already left, activists in Damascus said.
“They are using mortar bombs to clear each sector. Then they enter it, while moving toward the center,” said Abu Zeid, an activist speaking by phone from an area near Daraya.
Other activists said the army was also bombarding parts of the town from Qasioun, a mountain overlooking Damascus, and from a Republican Guard barracks near a hilltop presidential palace.
“For about an hour we heard explosions and gunfire. It is not as bad as yesterday yet but tensions are really high,” opposition activist Samir Al-Shami told Reuters from Damascus.
Assad’s forces also raided the southeastern Kafr Souseh area early on Thursday and detained people, another activist said.
“Parts of Damascus look like Gaza, with the army deployed on the outside, setting up major checkpoints, but unable to get in,” said a Damascus resident and opposition activist who identified herself as Samara.
“Fear is everywhere,” Samara told AFP via Skype. “Most people in the violence-stricken areas are stuck in their homes.”
The army shelled the south Damascus district of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, scene of bitter fighting last month, as well as the town of Daraya, on the capital’s outskirts, for a second day in a row, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The situation in Daraya is tragic,” said Abu Kinan, an activist based in the suburb of sonme 200,000 people. “I am alive now, but they are shelling non-stop. Death is everywhere.”
At least 41 people were reported killed in Damascus on Wednesday alone after troops backed by combat helicopters and tanks attacked several areas in the southern belt where anti-regime sentiment is strong, the Observatory said.
It was some of the worst violence since the army claimed to have reclaimed most of the capital a month ago.
“Regime forces are carrying out summary executions and destroying the homes of their opponents in a bid to crush the revolt once and for all,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
The military had driven insurgents from most of the areas they seized in the capital after a bomb killed four top security officials on July 18, but rebels have crept back, regrouping without taking on the army in pitched battles.

Heart of Aleppo
In Aleppo, Assad's forces recaptured three Christian neighborhoods in the historic heart of the city from rebels, but fierce clashes continued in other areas, residents said.
Loyalists forces also battled rebels in Damascus, shelling districts and storming houses, after launching a ferocious assault to try to reinforce its hold on the capital, activists said.
Aleppo residents spoke of heavy exchanges in the heart of the city during the army’s offensive to recapture neighborhoods seized by the rebels at the weekend.
“We have had the worst two days of our lives,” said Sonia, the wife of a wealthy businessman in the northern city told AFP.
Aleppo residents spoke of heavy exchanges in the heart of the city during the army’s offensive to recapture neighborhoods seized by the rebels at the weekend.
“We have had the worst two days of our lives,” said Sonia, the wife of a wealthy businessman in the northern city told AFP.
“If our house weren’t built like a fortress, we’d all be dead. The entrance is very badly damaged.”
Rebels had seized control of three Christian quarters of the Old City of Aleppo during the weekend, including Jdeide and Telal, once frequented by tourists for their restaurants and handicraft shops.
The rebel Free Syrian Army had also seized the nearby neighborhood of Sulamaniyeh, most of whose inhabitants are Armenian Christians.
The neighborhood is home to some ancient monasteries and a cathedral of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
“Battles on Monday and Tuesday were very violent, and they lasted for many long hours before the army managed to expel the rebels,” a resident of the neighborhood told AFP by telephone.
“After cleansing the area, hundreds of residents of the districts of Telal and Sulamaniyeh took to the streets to celebrate and express their support for the army,” he added.
After the rebels’ expulsion, residents set up “popular committees” to prevent their return, another resident told AFP.
Communities like those in the heart of Aleppo are among those in which support for Assad’s government and suspicion of the rebels runs highest.

Near the Iraqi border
In the eastern oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour, rebels waged fierce battles with regime troops in a town along the Iraqi border, capturing a string of security posts and the local police headquarters despite heavy government shelling and airstrikes by warplanes, activists said.
Iraqi officials said Syrian military planes crossed into Iraqi airspace on Thursday to carry out air strikes against the border town of Albu Kamal, which is held by rebel forces.
“Syrian combat aircraft crossed into Iraqi airspace at about 8:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) for about 15 minutes, and targeted Albu Kamal in Syrian territory,” a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi border guards said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Taking full control of Al-Bukamal, located in the eastern oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour and across the border from the Iraqi town of Qaim, would expand the rebel foothold along the frontier with Iraq. The border crossing point has been in rebel hands since last month, although government troops have remained in control of much of the town, activists say.
The opposition already controls a wide swath of territory along the border with Turkey in the north as well as pockets along the frontier with Jordan to the south and Lebanon to the west, which has proven key in ferrying people and material into and out of the country.
Rebels have been fighting troops for days in Al-Bukamal, but over the past few hours have taken over several checkpoints, the main police station and the local command of the Political Security Directorate, one of Syria’s powerful intelligence agencies, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He added that government troops are still control of the border crossing point leading to Iraq.
“There is an attempt to take full control Al-Bukamal,” Abdul-Rahman said.
The Local Coordination Committees activist group said warplanes bombed Al-Bukamal, but Abdul-Rahman said the jets were flying over the town and struck nearby areas, not the town itself.
Abu-Omar Al-Deery, an activist in the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour, said by telephone that there are “fierce battles” in Al-Bukamal and that “the Free Syrian Army is trying to liberate and clean the city.”
There was no immediate word on casualties.

No sign of violence ending
At least 60 were killed across Syria on Thursday, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The toll included 48 civilians. The British-based group said 129 civilians were among 200 people killed in Syria on Wednesday.
International diplomacy has failed to brake the conflict in Syria, which the United Nations says has cost more than 18,000 lives since a popular uprising erupted in March 2011.
The West stepped up the pressure on Assad’s government, with Britain joining the United States in warning it against using its chemical weapons in a conflict that shows no sign of ending after more than 17 months of bloodshed.
Washington is also ramping up its military presence in the region, dispatching a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to deal with “threats” from Iran and the turmoil in Syria.
On the other hand, Russia and China have repeatedly blocked Western efforts to ramp up pressure on Assad.
Outgoing UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has blamed splits in the UN Security Council for the failure of his peace mission.
Babacar Gaye, the head of UN monitors sent to observe an abortive cease-fire declared by Annan on April 12, was expected to leave Damascus on Thursday. The mission’s mandate has expired and was not renewed due to spiralling violence.
Annan’s successor, veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, was flying to New York for a week of consultations at the United Nations, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
For all Brahimi’s skills, it is not clear how he can succeed where Annan failed, given the deadlock among big powers and the intractable conflict in Syria, where Assad’s minority Alawite-based ruling system is pitted against mostly Sunni opponents.
The conflict in Syria, at the heart of a volatile Middle East, is already spilling over into its neighbors.
Sporadic clashes between Sunnis and Alawites erupted for a fourth day in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, breaching a truce agreed less than 24 hours earlier, after Sunni gunmen shot dead an Alawite man. Nine people were wounded in the fighting.
At least 13 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in Sunni-Alawite fighting in Lebanon this week that has been fueled by sectarian tensions in Syria.
Ankara has grown alarmed at apparent links between Kurdish militants fighting in southeastern Turkey and the conflict in Syria. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has accused Assad of backing Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters and says Turkey’s military might act to counter any threat from the PKK in Syria.
Turkish and US diplomats, intelligence and military officials held talks in Ankara on Thursday expected to include a possible buffer zone in Syria and steps to stop PKK militants in the border region from exploiting the chaos.

 


Human rights violations by Iran regime condemned by UN committee

Vahid Mazloumin appears in court for the first time on charges of manipulating the currency market. (Tasnim News Agency/Reuters)
Updated 58 min 48 sec ago
0

Human rights violations by Iran regime condemned by UN committee

  • The resolution “strongly urges” Iran to eliminate discrimination against women
  • It singles out violations including harassment, intimidation and persecution against religious minorities including Christians, Gonabadi Dervishes, Jews, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians and members of the Baha’i faith

NEW YORK: A UN committee on human rights has approved a resolution urging Iran to stop its widespread use of arbitrary detention and expressing serious concern at its “alarmingly high” use of the death penalty.

The General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee adopted the resolution by a vote of 85-30, with 68 abstentions. It is virtually certain to be approved by the 193-member world body next month.

The resolution “strongly urges” Iran to eliminate discrimination against women in law and practice and expresses “serious concern about ongoing severe limitations and restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.”

It singles out violations including harassment, intimidation and persecution against religious minorities including Christians, Gonabadi Dervishes, Jews, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians and members of the Baha’i faith — and urges the release of religious practitioners including Baha’i leaders.

Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi of Saudi Arabia said: “The Iranian people continue to suffer under a regime that does not respect human rights, that denies freedoms, that persecutes religious and racial minorities.” He called on Iran not “give shelter to terrorists.”

The resolution, sponsored by Canada, also calls on Iran to end “widespread and serious restrictions” including on freedom of assembly of political opponents, human rights defenders, labor leaders, environmentalists, academics, filmmakers, journalists, bloggers, social media users and others.