Syrian regime kills 200 civilians; 100 pro-Assad men die in strikes

Children in Eastern Ghouta have been hit hard. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Syrian regime kills 200 civilians; 100 pro-Assad men die in strikes

JEDDAH: Four days of Syrian regime raids on Eastern Ghouta have killed more than 200 civilians, a war monitor said on Thursday, as the Syrian opposition denounced the “atrocities.”
Regime troops have since Monday waged an intense air campaign against Eastern Ghouta, the only significant opposition pocket near the capital Damascus.
Bombardment on Thursday alone killed 58 civilians, including 15 children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The deadliest strikes hit a market in the town of Erbin, killing 21 civilians, including nine children.
“These are the worst four days that Eastern Ghouta has ever gone through,” said Hamza, a doctor at the local Erbin clinic who was treating wounded patients.
“From 2011 until now, there has never been the level of bombardment we’ve seen in the last 96 hours.”
The opposition condemned the air raids. “As long as Iranian militias and Hezbollah are there, Syria won’t see peace,” opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News.
Hezbollah has killed Syrians and worked “brutally” to keep the regime in power, he said.
Also on Thursday, the US-led coalition said it killed at least 100 pro-regime fighters to fend off an attack on its allies in eastern Syria, in one of its deadliest confrontations yet with forces backing Damascus.
The initial attack was carried out by pro-regime forces on key oil and gas installations in parts of Deir Ezzor province controlled by US-backed Kurdish forces.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the ultimate US goal in Syria was not to fight Daesh but to seize economic assets, the Interfax news agency reported.
Al-Aridi said: “The Russians are working on finding all sorts of excuses to cover up the failure of the political process and their efforts to sideline any political process.”
The Russians are also trying to mask the savagery being inflicted in Eastern Ghouta, he added.
Turkish presidential sources on Thursday said Ankara, Moscow and Tehran will meet in Istanbul to discuss the Syrian crisis. Though the date is not fixed yet, the meeting is expected to take place this month. 
In parallel, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met on Wednesday in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani.


New Iraqi coalition ‘in three days’

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, left, meets with Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr in Baghdad early Sunday. Al-Sadr, whose coalition won the largest number of seats in Iraq's parliamentary elections, says the next government will be "inclusive." (Iraqi government via AP)
Updated 21 May 2018
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New Iraqi coalition ‘in three days’

  • The Sairoon alliance led by the powerful Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr won the May 12 election with 54 parliamentary seats.
  • While Al-Sadr can not become prime minister, he is playing a key role in the talks.

BAGHDAD: Iraqi political forces have made “remarkable” progress in talks to form the largest parliamentary bloc in preparation for a new government, politicians involved in the negotiations told Arab News.

The Sairoon alliance led by the powerful Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr won the May 12 election with 54 parliamentary seats.

Talks aimed at forming a new government started immediately after the official results were announced late on Friday.

The parliamentary alliance is expected to be announced in the next few days, and while Al-Sadr can not become prime minister, he is playing a key role in the talks.

Dhiyaa Al-Assadi, the head of Sadrist Parliamentary bloc, told Arab News they have initial agreements with several key political players including the current prime minister Haider Al-Abadi and his Al-Nassir coalition and the prominent Shiite cleric Ammar Al-Hakim and his list Al-Hikma.

He added they also have basic agreements with Vice President Ayad Allawi and his Al-Wattiniya alliance along with several Kurdish parties.

“The post of prime minister is not our main goal,” Al-Assadi said. “Our goal is to make the required reforms and correct the mistakes that dominated the political process since 2003.”

Shiite politicians involved in the talks said the nucleus of the alliance is Sairoon and Hikma and negotiations are underway with Al-Abadi and the pro-Iranian Al-Fattah list to join.

“The details are supposed to be settled soon and the coalition supposed to be announced within 72 hours,” Hikma spokesman Mohammed Al-Maiyahi told Arab News. 

The talks have focussed on deciding the form of the next government, its principles and program, sources involved said. 

Abandoning the power sharing government, which has been adopted by political parties since 2003, is the most prominent issue agreed by the negotiators.

“We have agreed to form a national majority government. A government that represents all of Iraq's contents (Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds) but does not include all the winning parliamentary blocs,” a senior Shiite politician told Arab News.

Rejecting foreign intervention in Iraqi affairs, writing a clear government program and pledging to implement it according to certain time limits, are also principles agreed between negotiators.

They decided not to nominate anyone for a ministerial position considered to have failed in previous posts or who has been involved in corruption. 

“The government program is initial and the nominated prime minister has to be committed to its details and its time limits,” the politician said. 

“He (the nominated PM) would be fired after a year, if he fails to meet the items of the government program and its time limits.”

The victory by Sairoon, an alliance of candidates from various affiliations, came amid low voter turnout with many Iraqis jaded by corruption and the lack of progress under recent governments.

Al-Fattah, which is headed by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most prominent paramilitary groups, won 47 seats and came second. Al-Nassir came third with 44 seats, but its leader, Prime Minister Al-Abadi is still in a strong position to keep his job.

The negotiations need to form an alliance that consists of no less than 166 seats - half of the total in parliament plus one.