Russian strikes kill 14 civilians in eastern Syria: monitor

Smoke rises from buildings following a reported strike on a rebel-held area of the Jobar district, east of the Syrian capital on October 6, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 06 October 2017
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Russian strikes kill 14 civilians in eastern Syria: monitor

BEIRUT: Russian air strikes killed 14 people fleeing across a river on rafts in eastern Syria as renewed fighting across the country took an ever mounting toll on civilians, a monitor said Friday.
The strikes, the latest in a string of such incidents this week, targeted a group crossing the Euphrates near the jihadist-held town of Mayadeen, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“They were crossing the river on makeshift rafts in a village south of Mayadeen,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that three children were among those killed overnight.
Russia has in recent days intensified its air raids in support of Syrian regime forces battling jihadists across the country.
Abdel Rahman said the civilians were fleeing the village of Mahkan, south of Mayadeen, which lies about 420 kilometers (260 miles) east of Damascus and is one of the Daesh group’s main remaining bastions.
Mayadeen has been under Daesh control since 2014 when the group swept across swathes of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a “caliphate,” but regime forces have tightened the noose around the town.
The state news agency SANA said government forces advancing from desert areas northwest of Mayadeen had moved to within five kilometers (three miles) of the town.
In Deir Ezzor province, Daesh still controls Mayadeen, eastern neighborhoods of the city of Deir Ezzor further up the Euphrates Valley, the town of Albu Kamal downstream on the Iraqi border, and several other smaller towns.
Moscow has been carrying out relentless air strikes in support of its ally Damascus targeting both Daesh in Deir Ezzor province and rival jihadists led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate in Idlib province in the northwest.
The Daesh group, which once controlled a territory roughly the size of Britain, has seen its “caliphate” shrink steadily over the past two years and has lost all but a few of its main hubs in both Iraq and Syria.
A Kurdish-led alliance is currently fighting Daesh in Raqqa, the group’s biggest bastion since the recapture by Iraqi forces of Mosul in July.
The city, further up the Euphrates, was the de facto Syrian capital of Daesh’s now collapsing “state.”
On Wednesday, a Russian air strike killed 38 civilians trying to flee the fighting in Deir Ezzor province, according to the Observatory.
The Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.
The group has reported hundreds of civilians killed in operations against Daesh in Deir Ezzor and neighboring Raqqa province. On Tuesday, it said a US-led coalition strike in Raqqa killed at least 18 civilians.
Russia has not acknowledged any civilian deaths from its strikes since it intervened in Syria in 2015 and dismisses the Observatory’s reporting as biased.
On Thursday, the Red Cross said Syria was experiencing its worst levels of violence since the battle for second city Aleppo late last year.
“For the past two weeks, we have seen an increasingly worrying spike in military operations that correlates with high levels of civilian casualties,” Marianne Gasser, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Syria, said.


Thousands head home in Syria’s Idlib after deal, says monitor

Syrian children play in Morek, a town in the northern countryside of Hama province in neighboring Idlib province to the north, on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 14 min 53 sec ago
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Thousands head home in Syria’s Idlib after deal, says monitor

  • At a camp for the displaced in the town of Atme on the Turkish border on Tuesday, dozens of Syrians held up banners welcoming the agreement
  • As airstrikes intensified earlier this month, the looming threat of a Russian-backed assault had prompted tens of thousands of civilians to flee areas near the front line.

BEIRUT, MOSCOW: Thousands of residents of Syria’s last major opposition bastion Idlib headed home within 48 hours of the announcement of a deal to avoid a government offensive to retake it, a war monitor said on Wednesday.

As airstrikes intensified earlier this month, the looming threat of a Russian-backed assault had prompted tens of thousands of civilians to flee areas near the front line.

But the announcement of an agreement between Russia and opposition supporter Turkey to create a demilitarized buffer zone along the front line as the first step in a wider settlement prompted many to head home, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Around 7,000 people have returned to their towns and villages since the announcement of the deal on Monday, especially in the southeast of Idlib and the north of (neighboring) Hama,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

At a camp for the displaced in the town of Atme on the Turkish border on Tuesday, dozens of Syrians held up banners welcoming the agreement.

“We will return, God permitting,” said one.

“Thank you to our Turkish brothers,” said another, signed by the people of a town in the north of Hama province that had been bombarded in recent weeks.

One of the demonstrators, Marhaf Al-Jadou, said he was tired of running from the shelling and airstrikes.

“Enough of being displaced and sitting in tents. We want to return to our homes and our children to their schools,” he said.

The UN has given cautious backing to the Russian-Turkish agreement.

It “will allow for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and for the saving of civilian lives,” the UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Ali Al-Zaatari, said on Tuesday.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions more since it erupted with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

Around half of the three million residents of the rebel zone around Idlib have fled from other parts of Syria recaptured by government forces in previous offensives.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the military’s combat experience gained in Syria has helped develop new weapons systems.

Russia has waged a campaign in Syria since September 2015, helping turn the tide of war in favor of Assad. The Russian military has used the conflict to test its new jets, cruise missiles and other weapons in combat for the first time.

Speaking on Wednesday at a meeting focusing on military industries, Putin said that new Russian weapons excel their foreign equivalents.

Putin singled out the new Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Su-57 fighter jet, the S-500 air defense system and the Armata battle tank, which are set to enter service in the coming years.