Russian strikes kill 45 Syrian rebels: monitor

Smoke rises in the background as Syrian Democratic Forces fighters stand near rubble of a destroyed building, north of Raqqa, Syria, November 7, 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 24 September 2017
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Russian strikes kill 45 Syrian rebels: monitor

BEIRUT: Russian air strikes have killed 45 members of a rebel group in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said Sunday.
It was unclear why the strikes, which took place Saturday, targeted members of the Faylaq Al-Sham rebel group, which has taken part in peace talks supervised by Moscow in the Kazakh capital Astana.
The strikes hit the group in the province of Idlib, which is part of a so-called “de-confliction” zone agreed in a deal between Syrian regime allies Russia and Iran, and rebel backer Turkey.
The Observatory initially reported a lower toll, but said the figure had risen as bodies were recovered after the strike on one of the rebel group’s headquarters on the outskirts of the village of Tal Mardikh.
Faylaq Al-Sham is an Islamist rebel group considered close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
It has fought against the former Al-Qaeda affiliate that now effectively controls nearly all of Idlib after chasing its former rebel allies from their positions in fighting this summer.
A spokesman for Faylaq Al-Sham confirmed the group’s headquarters had been targeted, despite their participation in the last round of talks in Astana.
“Our participation in Astana does not in any way mean that Russia is a friendly or neutral country,” Idriss Al-Raed told AFP.
“The Russian bombing is not surprising, since its policy since its intervention in Syria is based on criminality and killing,” he added.
Russia began an intervention in Syria in support of ally President Bashar Assad in 2015, and has helped the regime win back large parts of the country.
Moscow also helped broker a deal for four truce zones, one of which includes Idlib province, in an agreement with Iran and Turkey inked in May.
The deal excludes jihadists, but is intended to otherwise halt fighting in the agreed areas.
The three other zones are around the capital Damascus, in southern Syria and in the center of the country.
More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.


Syrian army drops barrel bombs in southwest — rights monitor

Updated 5 min 37 sec ago
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Syrian army drops barrel bombs in southwest — rights monitor

  • President Bashar Assad has sworn to recapture the area bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the army began ramping up an assault there this week
  • The Syrian government has denied using barrel bombs, containers filled with explosive material that are dropped from helicopters and which cannot be accurately aimed

BEIRUT: A war monitor reported Syrian military helicopters dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held areas of the southwest on Friday for the first time in a year, escalating an assault that has so far included artillery but only limited use of air power.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Syrian government helicopters had dropped more than 12 barrel bombs on rebel-held territory northeast of Daraa, causing damage but no deaths.

President Bashar Assad has sworn to recapture the area bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the army began ramping up an assault there this week.

The attack has been concentrated on the towns of Al-Harak and Busra Al-Harir, which would bisect a finger of rebel ground jutting northwards into land held by the Syrian government.

A big offensive risks a wider escalation, as the United States has warned Damascus it will respond to breaches of a “de-escalation” brokered by Washington and Assad’s Russian allies last year to contain the war in the southwest.

The region is also of strategic concern to Israel, which has struck Iran-backed militia allied to the army.

Those militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have played an important role in Assad’s seven-year war against the rebels, including since Russia entered the conflict in 2015.

The Russian ambassador to Lebanon was quoted on Friday in the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar as saying the Syrian military was recovering the southwest with help from Moscow.

“We say that the Syrian army now, with support from Russian forces, is recovering its land in the south and restoring the authority of the Syrian state,” it quoted him as saying in an interview.

“Israel has no justification to carry out any action that obstructs the fight against terrorism,” he added.

The Syrian government has denied using barrel bombs, containers filled with explosive material that are dropped from helicopters and which cannot be accurately aimed. However, United Nations investigators have extensively documented its use of them during the conflict.