Syria fighting worst since Aleppo battle: ICRC

Children play inside a refugee camp on Wednesday in Ain Issa, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 05 October 2017
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Syria fighting worst since Aleppo battle: ICRC

GENEVA: War-ravaged Syria is experiencing its worst levels of violence since the battle for Aleppo late last year, the Red Cross said Thursday, warning that the onslaught was causing “intolerable levels of suffering.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) voiced alarm at reports of hundreds of civilian deaths across several regions of Syria, and the recent destruction of numerous hospitals and schools.
“For the past two weeks, we have seen an increasingly worrying spike in military operations that correlates with high levels of civilian casualties,” head of ICRC’s delegation in Syria, Marianne Gasser, said in a statement.
Violence has surged not only in places like Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, where brutal battles are underway to oust Daesh, but also in many so called de-escalation areas, like Idlib, rural Hama and Eastern Ghouta.
The de-escalation zones, agreed upon during talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, contributed to a clear reduction in violence in recent months.
But Gasser warned that “the return to violence is once again bringing intolerable levels of suffering to wide areas of the country, while at the same time decreasing access for humanitarian agencies.”
“Taken together, these are the worst levels of violence since the battle for Aleppo in 2016,” ICRC said.
It pointed out that some camps around Raqqa and Deir Ezzor were receiving more than 1,000 civilians every single day, as men, women, children flee the bombings and battles.
“Humanitarian organizations are struggling to provide water, food and basic hygiene to new arrivals,” ICRC warned.
And in the past 10 days alone, as many as 10 hospitals had been damaged across Syria, “cutting hundreds of thousands of people from access to even the most basic health care,” it said.
Robert Mardini, who heads ICRC’s Near and Middle East operations, stressed that “military operations must not disregard the fate of civilians and of the vital infrastructure on which their survival depends.”
“Winning by any means is not only unlawful, but also unacceptable when it comes at such human cost,” he said, urging all sides fighting in Syria to “show restraint, and to abide by the basic tenets of International humanitarian law.”
Also on Thursday, Russia said its airstrikes in Syria had destroyed a huge underground arms depot belonging to the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a terrorist alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.
“Russian aviation destroyed the largest buried arsenal of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham near Abu Duhur,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, referring to a town in the northwestern Idlib province.
The munitions depot was hidden underground and contained “more than a thousand tons of weaponry,” he said in statement.
Russia said its aviation destroyed the depot using high power artillery, specially designed to destroy underground targets.
The strikes also killed “49 fighters, including seven leaders of the Al-Nusra Front’s eastern sector.”
Al-Nusra Front was Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria until mid-2016 when it broke off ties, before going on to found a new extremist alliance called Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, which now controls large swathes of Idlib province.
The statement repeated Russia’s claim on Wednesday to have seriously injured Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham’s leader Abu Mohamed Al-Jolani, saying he was “in a coma” and that this had “thrown the terrorists of the whole Idlib province into disarray.”
The terror alliance on Wednesday denied Russia’s claim, saying that Jolani was in “good health.”
Russia said on Wednesday it had killed 12 leaders of the terrorist coalition including Jolani’s security chief.
The Syrian regime and Russia have carried out heavy airstrikes on Idlib province after a Sept. 18 terrorist attack on its military police deployed in neighboring Hama province.


First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2018
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First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

  • Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
  • Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year

BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.

Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.

“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.