Assad troops capture key town near Damascus

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Updated 26 April 2013
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Assad troops capture key town near Damascus

BEIRUT: After five weeks of battle, Syrian government troops captured a strategic town near Damascus, cutting an arms route for rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad’s regime, state media and activists said Thursday.
By taking the town of Otaybah, east of the capital, the army has dealt a major setback to opposition forces, who in the past months have made gains near the city they eventually hope to storm.
With fresh supplies of weapons from foreign backers, the rebels have recently seized military bases and towns south of the capital in the strategically important region between Damascus and the border with Jordan, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.
The regime has largely kept the rebels at bay in Damascus, although opposition fighters control several suburbs of the capital from which they have threatened the heart of the city, the seat of Assad’s power. Last month government troops launched a massive campaign to repel the rebel advances near the capital, deploying elite army units to the rebellious Damascus suburbs and pounding rebel positions with airstrikes.
The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said government troops regained control of Otaybah late Wednesday.
State-run SANA news agency said Thursday that the army has “restored complete control” over Otaybah. The official news services also said Assad’s troops “discovered a number of tunnels which were used by terrorists to move and transfer weapons and ammunitions.”
The regime and state media refer to rebels as terrorists and accuse them of being part of a foreign plot seeking to destroy Syria.
“It’s a huge victory for the regime, and a big blow to the opposition that is now in danger of losing other towns and villages around Damascus,” Abdul-Rahman said of the army’s campaign.
On Thursday, the army was already capitalizing on the territorial gains, pounding southern suburbs of Damascus including the long-contested Daraya with artillery and air strikes, according to the Observatory. The group relies on a network of activists on the ground that also reported fierce clashes between rebels and army troops to the east of the capital.
The army’s offensive to dislodge rebel fighters from neighborhoods ringing Damascus is part of the government’s broader campaign to secure central provinces of Hama and Homs, and areas along the Lebanese border. The region is of strategic value to Assad’s regime because it links Damascus with the coastal enclave that is the heartland of Syria’s Alawites and also home to the country’s two main seaports, Latakia and Tartus.
Otaybah is located on a road linking Damascus to its international airport, along which rebels have been transporting weapons and other supplies from neighboring Jordan. The capital’s surrounding towns and neighborhoods have been opposition strongholds during the 2-year-old conflict.
Losing control of the town will make the defense of rebel enclaves in southern suburbs such as Douma, Harasta and others very difficult, Abdul-Rahman said. The loss of the arms supply route is a major blow to opposition forces trying to overthrow Assad.
The Syrian conflict started with largely peaceful protests against Assad’s regime in March 2011 but eventually turned into a civil war.
The fighting has exacted a huge toll on the country, killing more than 70,000 people, laying waste to cities, towns and villages and forcing more than a million people to flee their homes and seek refuge abroad. Millions have also been displaced inside Syria.
International aid agencies have been pleading for funds to help refugees in neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon. They have also been asking the Syrian government to allow aid convoys into the country and facilitate access to the area inside cities and towns that have been affected by fighting.
The latest damage to the country’s rich cultural heritage came on Wednesday, when the minaret of the landmark 12th century Umayyad Mosque in the northern city of Aleppo was destroyed during fighting in the old walled city.


Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

A Syrian family rides with belongings on a tractor-drawn trailer as they flee from fighting in the southern Syrian province of Daraa on June 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

  • Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week
  • Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally

MOSCOW, BEIRUT: Thousands of people have fled opposition-held areas of southwestern Syria being targeted by regime bombardment, a war monitor said on Thursday, as Damascus steps up attacks on an area near the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 12,500 people had fled opposition-held areas of northeastern Daraa province in the past 48 hours.
The war has pivoted toward the southwest since the Syrian regime and its allies crushed the last remaining pockets of opposition-held territory near Damascus and the city of Homs.
Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally.
A major Syrian regime offensive in the area would risk an escalation of the seven-year-old war. The area is of strategic importance to Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Iranian influence in Syria.
Washington has warned it will take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to violations of the “de-escalation” deal.
Assad said earlier this month the regime, at Russia’s suggestion, was seeking to strike a deal in the southwest similar to agreements that have restored its control of other areas through withdrawals of opposition forces.
But he also said there had been no results yet and blamed “Israeli and American interference.” He said the territory would be recovered by force if necessary. Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week.

Russia ‘skeptical’ over UN report
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign minister on Thursday said he was “skeptical” about a UN report accusing the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghouta. The report published on Wednesday said forces loyal to the Syrian regime had deliberately starved civilians during the siege between February and April, among other crimes.
“We are in principle very skeptical toward the methods of this sort of work, whether it comes to war crimes or the use of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. When
questioned by journalists, Lavrov confirmed he had not seen the
report.

He said it was “based on data obtained through social networks, video that was filmed by witnesses,” rather than being put together on the ground.
The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the capital, ended in April when Damascus regained control of the rebel enclave.
As pro-government forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave, they used tactics that were “largely unlawful in nature,” the UN-commissioned report said.
The tactics, it said, “aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve.”
Russia has been involved in Syria’s civil war since September 2015. Its military support of the regime changed the course of the war, allowing government troops to retake more than half the country from rebels and the Daesh group.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.