Syria army retakes key Homs rebel district

Updated 31 July 2013
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Syria army retakes key Homs rebel district

DAMASCUS: The Syrian regime on Monday said the army recaptured a rebel district of Homs, a key symbol of the country’s revolt, after a relentless one-month offensive.
Activists on the ground told AFP government troops now controlled 90 percent of Khaldiyeh neighborhood.
The takeover is the second military success for President Bashar Assad’s regime in Homs province in two months, after troops took over the former rebel bastion of Qusayr in June.
The full recapture of Homs, dubbed by rebels “the capital of the revolution,” would be a strategic win for the regime.
The city straddles a route linking Damascus to the Mediterranean coast and the Alawite hinterland of Assad’s minority community.
“The armed forces have restored security and stability across the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh,” one of the largest rebel bastions in the central city, state television said.
“Collapse of the terrorists’ ‘citadel’ in Khaldiyeh — we’re going from victory to victory,” the broadcaster crowed.
The army, backed by fighters from Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah militant group, launched the assault on Khaldiyeh a month ago bolstered by the capture in June, also with Hezbollah help, of the Homs province town of Qusayr.
Several neighborhoods in the Old City remain in rebel hands, but troops, who have a foothold in that part of town too, appear determined to dislodge them.
“The capture of Khaldiyeh will make it easier (for the army) to retake the Old City and other (rebel) districts like Qussur,” Homs-based activist Mahmud Al-Lowz told AFP via the Internet.
“If Homs city falls, the north of Syria will be cut off from the south,” he added.
An army officer, interview on state television, said regime forces hope to “cleanse the whole of Syria” after the Khaldiyeh victory.
“We cleansed the neighborhood of terrorists this morning,” said the unnamed officer. “We will continue to chase the terrorists from all other areas of Homs.”
“We dedicate this victory to Bashar Assad,” he added, standing next to a pile of rubble.
State television also showed a group of soldiers chanting “we sacrifice our soul and our blood for you, O Bashar.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce early morning battles preceded the recapture of Khaldiyeh, calling the fighting “the most violent since the offensive was launched.”
The neighborhood had endured near-daily air and artillery bombardments and a suffocating siege that prevented not only weapons but also food and medical supplies from being brought in.
“The (rebel) retreat is the result of the heavy air and artillery bombardment,” Homs-based activist Abu Rami told AFP by Internet, adding that the army now controls “90 percent” of Khaldiyeh.
“Khaldiyeh may have fallen, but Homs has not.
“We have lost this round, but we haven’t lost the war... We hold the international community and the Syrian opposition responsible for what is happening in Homs,” he said.
It is the most important military victory for the regime in Homs since the March 2012 capture of Baba Amr district, another symbol of the rebellion, following an offensive that killed hundreds.
As the army advanced in Khaldiyeh, warplanes struck the Bab Hud neighborhood of the Old City, just to the south, the Britain-based Observatory said.
The opposition National Coalition has dismissed the army’s advances in Khaldiyeh as “fictitious victories” and accused the regime of dumping “tons of bombs” on the area.
The army on Saturday seized the historic Khaled Bin Walid Mosque, which was a focal point of the uprising now in its third year.
Facing army advances in Homs, the rebels last week seized after months of fighting the key Khan Al-Assal bastion in the northern province of Aleppo, while making advances in the southern province of Daraa near the Jordan border.
As UN efforts to convene a Russian- and US-backed peace conference have faltered, Assad’s regime has pressed its offensives mainly around central Syria and Damascus.
The UN says the 28-month-old civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.


Media blitz as Palestinians oppose ‘Deal of the Century’

Updated 55 min 8 sec ago
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Media blitz as Palestinians oppose ‘Deal of the Century’

  • A number of Palestinian officials talked to a number of media outlets in an attempt to counter the US narrative

AMMAN: Palestinian officials, activists and the public at large stood unusually united on Tuesday in their opposition to the US-led, economic-based Israeli-Palestinian peace effort. They launched a wide-ranging public and media blitz in protest against the start of the two-day Peace to Prosperity economic workshop in Bahrain.

Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem told Arab News that watching Jared Kushner make his opening speech at the workshop about the so-called “Deal of the Century” reminded him of the financial machinations of Wall Street.

“I saw a salesman trying to push a particular product, talking about numbers and opportunities without the slightest interest in the fact that he was talking about our lives and our situation,” he said.

Milhem and other Palestinian officials talked to a number of media outlets in an attempt to counter the US narrative. President Mahmoud Abbas, who presides over a divided authority that is in perpetual financial crisis and depends on donor nations, invited members of the Foreign Press Association to his Ramallah headquarters. “We need the money and, really, we need assistance,” he told them. “But before everything, there is a political solution.”

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh appeared on the Christiane Amanpour program on CNN International and wrote a column for the Washington Post headlined “Palestinians want freedom not Trump administration bribes.”

After Kushner’s speech, political analyst Lamis Andoni said that Palestinians are being asked to accept that if the prison conditions under which they live are to improve, the occupation
will continue. The US proposal is designed to silence Palestinians by giving them enough to survive, while giving a minority the chance to get rich, he said. “It didn’t work before and will not work now,” he added.

Husam Zulmot, head of the Palestine mission in the UK and former head of the Washington DC mission, said: “Palestine is not for sale.” He described Kushner’s plan as “deceptive” and “disingenuous,” arguing that it does not address the core issue: the occupation.

In Nablus, the deputy head of Fatah, Mahmoud Aloul, issued a stern warning to Arab participants in the Bahrain workshop: “We tell our brothers that they have stabbed us in the back and your intervention in our cause has gone overboard and we will not allow that.” He qualified this by adding: “The US and Israel will continue to be our enemy but we will not consider you enemies; we will leave you to your own people and hope that your hibernation will not last long.”

The Palestinian Al Quds daily newspaper ran the front page headline “Opposition to the Deal of the Century hold protests throughout the homeland and the diaspora,” with a photo of the demonstrations in Ramallah covering the rest of the front page. It also published a two-page supplement quoting politicians from a number of movements, including Fatah and Hamas, along with analysts and pundits, all criticizing the Manama workshop.

Hani Elmasri, the head of the Masarat think tank in Ramallah. wrote an article in which he said that the “Trump deal will not succeed without a Palestinian cover, and will fail sooner or later, but while the plan has not succeed in liquidating Palestinian nationalism it has succeeded in stressing the facts of the occupation and made the possibility of a Palestinian struggle much more difficult. This means that it is not enough for Palestinians to reject this plan but they need to respond with a holistic strategy that must be political, economic and has to be a struggle by the people on all levels.”