Syrian regime reels as rebels score key wins

Updated 02 April 2015
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Syrian regime reels as rebels score key wins

BEIRTU: President Bashar Assad’s regime was reeling Thursday from a series of military setbacks after rebels seized a major provincial capital and a key border post in less than a week.
Experts said the losses were a reflection of the regime’s weariness after more than four years of civil war and increasing regional efforts to counter Iran’s backing for Assad.
The taking by rebels late Wednesday of the last Syrian border crossing with Jordan in regime hands and of provincial capital Idlib on Saturday have dealt major blows to the regime, experts said.
And Wednesday’s seizure of parts of a Palestinian refugee camp inside Damascus by the Islamic State group has shown the increasing reach of a jihadist force already in control of large parts of Syria.
“It’s indicative of a problem the regime has that has been increasingly obvious — it has a manpower shortage,” said Noah Bonsey, a Syria expert at the International Crisis Group.
“It has constraints on how much ground it can gain and how much it can hold outside of its core areas,” he said.
Rebels seized the border crossing with Jordan after heavy fighting on Wednesday, leaving the regime with no presence on a key frontier.
The loss was only the latest for the regime in the southern Daraa province, after rebels took the ancient town of Bosra Al-Sham last week and seized an important army base in January.
In northwestern Syria, meanwhile, the regime’s loss of Idlib to Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, made it the second provincial capital in rebel hands after IS-controlled Raqqa.
After heavy street fighting and regime air strikes that left at least 130 reported dead, Al-Nusra was able to consolidate its hold over a large area of Syria bordering Turkey by taking the city. Bonsey said the losses in Daraa and Idlib were part of “a larger pattern” of the regime being pushed out of areas where it cannot commit significant forces or count on backing from ally Tehran or the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement.
“The regime is increasingly dependent on Hezbollah, foreign fighters and non-Syrian militias facilitated by Iran to accomplish military objectives,” he said. “So in places where you see Hezbollah and Iran willing to invest significant resources, the regime is able to gain or keep some ground,” as it has done in areas southwest of Damascus, he said.
“But in places like Idlib, Hezbollah and Iran are not willing to invest with boots on the ground.”
But increasing support for rebels from allied countries is another key factor behind recent gains, experts said.


Three women, baby die after migrant boat sinks off Turkey

Updated 7 min 36 sec ago
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Three women, baby die after migrant boat sinks off Turkey

  • Turkish authorities rescued 11 people when the boat drowned
  • Almost one million refugees fled into the European Union through Turkey

ANKARA: Three women and a child drowned when a boat carrying migrants sank off the Turkish coast, the Turkish coast guard said on Tuesday.
Turkish authorities rescued 11 more people after the boat went down 1.7 nautical miles off the coast near Canakkale early Tuesday morning, the coast guard said in a statement.
State news agency Anadolu said the migrants were from Afghanistan and Iran.
Turkey, which has taken in nearly four million refugees from the Syrian war, is also an important route for illegal migrants trying to reach Europe.
Around a million people, mainly fleeing the conflict in Syria, crossed to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2015 after the onset of the bloc’s worst migration crisis since World War II.
Ankara struck a deal with the EU in 2016 to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, and agreed to take back those landing on Greek islands in exchange for incentives and financial aid.