Syria army says it holds fifth of key desert territory

Displaced Syrians queue at a Kurdish controlled checkpoint between the opposition-held town of Azaz in northern Syria and the city of Afrin, along Syria's northern border with Turkey, as they attempt to cross on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 10 June 2017
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Syria army says it holds fifth of key desert territory

DAMASCUS: Syrian pro-government forces now hold more than a fifth of the country’s strategic desert, the army said Saturday, after reaching the eastern border with Iraq for the first time since 2015.
The desert, known as “Badiya,” extends over some 90,000 sq km from central Syria to the borders with Iraq and Jordan to the east and southeast.
Since 2015, much of the Badiya has been held by Daesh, but Syria’s army has been chipping away at it for months.
On Friday, they reached the country’s eastern frontier with Iraq for the first time in two years.
“In cooperation with our allies, our units have captured a large number of locations and strategic positions in the Badiya, amounting to an area of 20,000 square kilometers,” the general command of the army said on Saturday.
“This important achievement represents a strategic shift in the fight against terrorism and a launching pad to broaden military operations in the Badiya and along the borders with Iraq,” said the statement, distributed on state media.
The army had thus completed the “first phase” of its Badiya operations, the statement said.
State news agency SANA had reported on Friday that army units set up positions northeast of the Al-Tanaf garrison, currently used by the US-led coalition bombing Daesh, to train Syrian fighters to fight the militants.
The coalition has established a “de-confliction” zone extending 55 km from the garrison, in which pro-regime and allied Russian forces are not supposed to operate.
The US-led alliance has in recent weeks conducted three strikes against pro-regime forces it deemed to be threatening Al-Tanaf.
On Thursday, a US jet shot down a pro-regime combat drone that fired what turned out to be a dud bomb at US-led coalition forces close to Al-Tanaf.
Syria’s army on Saturday accused the coalition of carrying out the bombing raids in an attempt to slow the regime’s fight against Daesh.
“We once again warn of the dangers of repeated attacks by the so-called international coalition and its attempts to obstruct the advances of the Syrian army and its allies,” the command said.
Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against the rule of President Bashar Assad.
It has since evolved into a complex, multi-front war that has drawn in international powers and left more than 320,000 people dead.


Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

Nearly half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million have been uprooted from their homes. AP
Updated 4 min 29 sec ago
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Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

  • Regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside
  • In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces unleashed hundreds of missiles on an opposition-held area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, activists said, the latest phase in an offensive to clear southern Syria of insurgents.
The regime’s push came after it had secured control of most of Daraa province in an offensive that began in June. On Sunday, the first batch of armed fighters and their families left the city of Daraa, the provincial capital, in buses that would take them to the opposition-held Idlib province in the north.
Similar deals in other parts of Syria resulted in the evacuation of thousands of opposition fighters and civilians — evacuations that the UN and rights groups have decried as forced displacement.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday the success in driving the opposition out of Daraa embodies the will of his army and allied forces to “liberate all of Syrian territories” of “terrorism.”
In recent months and backed by Russian air force, the Syrian regime has restored control of over 60 percent of previously opposition-held territory across the country.
Assad spoke during a meeting on Sunday with visiting Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari. Assad’s office said the two agreed that the “elimination of terrorism in most of the Syrian territory has laid the most appropriate ground to reach results at the political level” that could put an end to Syria’s war.
Syria’s regime refers to all armed opposition groups as “terrorists” and accuses the West, Turkey, Israel and regional countries of supporting them.
The statement came a day before President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are to meet in Finland. Syria is expected to feature highly on the agenda. Russia is a major Assad ally.
In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control. Daraa, which lies on a highway linking Damascus with Jordan, was the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Since early Sunday, regime forces turned their missiles toward a stretch of land controlled by the armed opposition in northern Daraa and the countryside of adjacent Quneitra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside, about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, from the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Observatory said government forces advanced on Massharah, a village in Quneitra, and rebels fought back in intense clashes that killed several pro-government fighters. The pro-Syrian regime Central Military Media said a number of insurgents were killed in the clashes.
The Observatory reported airstrikes in Massharah, the first in over a year to hit the Quneitra countryside. It also reported airstrikes in a nearby village in northern Daraa, where regime forces have been trying to retake a key hill there after failing to reach a deal with the fighters. Capturing the hill would enable them to advance on militants in the area linked to Daesh.
Daraa activist Abou Mahmoud Hourani said an estimated 400 members of the armed opposition and their families will be evacuated out of Daraa.
Pro-regime TV Al-Ikhbariya said 10 buses carrying 407 people left for northern Syria.
The station said the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people was likely to be completed by Sunday.