Syrian opposition retakes territory captured in regime offensive

The push by anti-government fighters slowed an offensive launched two weeks ago by Assad regime troops, Iranian militias and Russian jets toward the Abu Zuhour air base, which has been held by the opposition since 2015. (Reuters)
Updated 14 January 2018
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Syrian opposition retakes territory captured in regime offensive

JEDDAH: A counterattack by Syrian opposition groups in northwest Idlib province has recaptured several villages, taken prisoners and liberated more than two-thirds of the territory captured by regime forces.
The push by factions including the radical Levant Liberation Committee slowed an offensive launched two weeks ago by Assad regime troops, Iranian militias and Russian jets toward the Abu Zuhour air base, which has been held by the opposition since 2015.
The regime offensive has displaced about 200,000 people, opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News on Saturday. “They are now refugees,” he said. “This is a disaster for them.”
Nevertheless, the morale of the anti-Assad forces was high, Al-Aridi said. He said the pretext for the regime offensive was “a few people classified as Al-Nusra, and the brutality perpetrated is horrible. The freedom fighters are just doing a good job and are liberating many of the villages captured by the regime.”
Al-Aridi described a recent meeting between an opposition delegation and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “very fruitful,” and said there was an understanding of the rebel view that the conflict should be resolved through UN-sponsored negotiations in Geneva.
Russia is sponsoring what it calls a Syrian national dialogue conference at the end of January in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. “There is no clear picture about the Sochi meeting and the viewpoints on it are quite similar,” Al-Aridi said. “Guterres is not encouraged toward the Sochi meeting.”
In Damascus, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, said he was “deeply worried” about civilians caught up in the violence in Idlib. He said he was also particularly concerned about the fate of the people of eastern Ghouta, the opposition-held rural suburb of Damascus where more than 400,000 have been trapped under regime siege since 2013.
Attacks on the area by Syrian and Russian forces in late October and early November 2017 killed eight children and damaged or destroyed four schools, according to a new report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“Syrian and Russian forces appear to view the lives of children in eastern Ghouta as utterly disposable,” said Bill Van Esveld, the group’s senior children’s rights researcher.
Meanwhile, the Russian military said it had eliminated a group of opposition fighters who killed two Russian servicemen and destroyed seven aircraft in a drone attack on Russia’s Hmeymin air base in Syria on New Year’s eve. The military tracked down the fighters with drones and other intelligence assets and struck them with artillery while they were boarding a minibus in Idlib. Russia also destroyed the drone assembly facility in Idlib, the Defense Ministry said.


UAE minister: Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time

Updated 29 min 28 sec ago
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UAE minister: Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time

  • Gargash, speaking to reporters in Dubai, estimated the number of Houthi fighters in Hodeidah at between 2,000 to 3,000
  • The UN envoy for Yemen carried a plan to halt fighting around the key aid port of Hodeidah where Houthi militia have been battling a regional coalition as he arrived Saturday in the militia-held capital Sanaa

DUBAI: The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthis for control of Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah will take a “calculated and gradual” approach to the battle, a senior United Arab Emirates official said on Monday.

The comments came after witnesses said eight villagers had been killed and 15 others wounded when Houthi militia shelled a village in the center of the country called Haglan Maris.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the military alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE was taking into consideration a “fragile humanitarian situation,” avoiding civilian casualties in addition to military calculations.

Gargash, speaking to reporters in Dubai, estimated the number of Houthi fighters in Hodeidah at between 2,000 to 3,000. He declined to reveal the size of coalition forces but said they had “numerical superiority.”

He said that the Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time.

Gargash added that the Hodeidah port is a “major artery” for weapons smuggling from Iran to the Houthis.

“The liberation of Hodeidah is a major step in freeing Sanaa,” the UAE minister said, adding that “the roads leading to the port are filled with mines.”

France is said to be helping the Arab coalition in demining the roads.

“We have opened the road from Hodeidah to Sanaa to allow the militias to flee without resistance,” Gargash said.

The UN envoy for Yemen carried a plan to halt fighting around the key aid port of Hodeidah where Houthi militia have been battling a regional coalition as he arrived Saturday in the militia-held capital Sanaa for emergency talks.

Martin Griffiths was expected to propose to militia leaders that they cede control of the Red Sea port to a UN-supervised committee and halt heavy clashes against advancing government troops backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

(With AFP, AP & Reuters)