Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ sees civilians buried under the rubble

Syrian children sit at a makeshift clinic following reported shelling by Syrian government forces, in the rebel-held town of Douma in Syria’s eastern Ghouta region, on Nov. 17, 2017. Shelling by the Syrian regime on the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, which has been besieged since 2013 and where humanitarian conditions are dire, killed at least 10 civilians, among them six children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The deaths were the result of the latest bout in an escalating cycle of tit-for-tat attacks between regime forces and the rebels holding the enclave on the Syrian capital’s eastern outskirts. (AFP/Hamza Al-Ajweh)
Updated 20 November 2017
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Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ sees civilians buried under the rubble

DOUMA, Syria: Entire families have been buried under the rubble in a rebel-held enclave near Syria’s capital, as government forces pursue a nearly week-long campaign against the area despite a de-escalation deal.
The violence aims to further weaken rebels in their last stronghold near Damascus, analysts said, as Russia, Iran and Turkey launch a diplomatic dash to resolve Syria’s grinding six-year conflict.
The three countries agreed earlier this year to establish de-escalation zones aimed at reducing hostilities in four battleground areas across Syria.
One such zone came into effect in Eastern Ghouta in July, but after months of relative calm, intense artillery fire and air strikes have pummelled the region for the past week.
Residents of the opposition stronghold have described living in utter terror.
“We’re forced to hide in parts of our home that aren’t suitable for living, like the bathroom and the kitchen,” said 28-year-old Majed.
“We even sleep there sometimes.”
The father of two lives in Douma, one of the largest towns in Eastern Ghouta and a regular target of regime raids.
Despite his wife’s efforts to create a normal life for their children, their four-year-old son has been left deeply scarred.
“When he hears the bombing, he runs to hide in the closet or behind the door, screaming, ‘The plane, the plane is attacking’,” Majed told AFP.
Since Tuesday, government bombardment of Eastern Ghouta has killed at least 80 civilians including 14 children, and wounded hundreds more, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In Douma on Sunday, an AFP journalist witnessed doctors rushing to treat wailing children lying on bloodstained hospital beds.
Their eyes wide with fear, children awaited life-saving care, many having had limbs pierced by shrapnel.
Nearby, two men mourned over the lifeless body of a child, wrapped in a red-and-white sheet on the floor.
An estimated 400,000 people live in Eastern Ghouta, where a four-year government siege has made food, medicine, and other basic necessities either unavailable or too expensive.
Regime forces began their bomb assault there last week, after hard-line rebel group Ahrar Al-Sham attacked a military base in the nearby town of Harasta.
Rebel rocket fire on Damascus has also killed at least 16 people since Thursday, the Observatory said.
“Regime forces used the rebel offensive on Harasta as a pretext to target all of Eastern Ghouta,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
He said government troops were trying to “turn the rebels’ popular base against them.”
The presidents of rebel backer Turkey and of regime allies Iran and Russia will meet in the city of Sochi on Wednesday to discuss reducing violence and boosting aid deliveries.
But analysts say the Eastern Ghouta hostilities have marred the de-escalation deal touted by the three countries.
Nawar Oliver of the Turkey-based Omran Center think tank said the Eastern Ghouta zone “is not over, but it’s hit a big obstacle.”
“Obviously, the de-escalation deal in the Ghouta isn’t going too well,” said Aron Lund, a fellow with The Century Foundation.
Syria’s government had long eyed Eastern Ghouta, viewing the enclave as “too close to the capital to be left like this,” he said.
Rebels had “little chance” of surviving the assault, said Lund.


In the rebel-held town of Madira on Sunday, volunteers from the White Helmets rescue force climbed through the rubble of a building after a recent air strike.
Flashlights in hand, they scrambled over concrete blocks and metal rods to try to find the bodies of the family that had been living there.
“They’re six people. We found three, and three are left,” one volunteer said.
One volunteer dug into the rubble with a wooden stick and uncovered a limb, which he placed carefully in a white bag.
“It’s a child’s leg,” his colleague said.
Another volunteer said the air strike had hit “a bomb shelter that residents were hiding in since the evening call to prayer.”
“There are a lot of body parts,” he added.
According to the Observatory, the six-member family — a man, his wife, and their four children — all died in the bombardment.
After regime shelling on Douma earlier that week, paramedic Firas Al-Kahhal said he had witnessed a haunting scene.
The 22-year-old was dispatched to the bombed-out home to search for any survivors.
“As soon as we entered I saw a baby girl, no more than eight months old, trying to crawl out of the rubble,” Kahhal told AFP.
The infant had suffered wounds to her head, but survived.
“What we saw was heartbreaking. She lived under shelling and terror. Her brain can’t even absorb what’s happening.”


Lebanon's Christian rivals shake hands after decades of hostility

Updated 26 min 47 sec ago
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Lebanon's Christian rivals shake hands after decades of hostility

  • Geagea and Frangieh have been foes since the early days of the 1975-1990 civil war

BEIRUT: Christian rivals from the Lebanese civil war, Samir Geagea and Suleiman Frangieh, shook hands with each other on Wednesday, marking a formal reconciliation to end more than four decades of enmity.
Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces (LF) political party, and Frangieh, head of the Marada party, have been foes since the early days of the 1975-1990 civil war.
The two parties had armed militias during the conflict that battled against each other. The war, which drew in regional powers, included fighting between the country’s main sects and rival factions within those sects.

The men, both Maronite Christians, met to reconcile at the seat of the sect’s Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai in Bkerki, north of Beirut. They shook hands with Rai and then with each other after several failed reconciliation attempts over the years.
Geagea has been accused of leading a raid in 1978 on the home of Frangieh’s father, Tony Franjieh, a rival Maronite Christian chieftain, who was killed with his wife, daughter and others. Geagea has said he was wounded before reaching Frangieh’s house, and did not take part himself.
This is the second rapprochement of recent years between civil war Maronite Christian rivals.
In January 2016 Geagea endorsed then presidential candidate Michel Aoun for the Lebanese presidency, ending his own rival candidacy for the position, which must be held by a Maronite Christian under Lebanon’s sectarian power sharing system.
Geagea and Aoun, who fought each other in the 1975-90 civil war, have been on opposite sides of the political divide since Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon in 2005.
President Aoun is a political ally of the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah, whereas Geagea is a staunch opponent of the group. Frangieh is a close ally of Syrian President and Hezbollah ally Bashar Assad.
Tony Frangieh, Suleiman’s son, said the reconciliation was a good thing for all Lebanese and was not connected to any presidential aims.
“We are looking forward to the future by achieving this reconciliation,” he told Lebanese broadcaster Al-Jadeed at the ceremony.