Aid group warns of crisis in Syrian opposition enclave

A photo taken on February 8, 2018 shows smoke plumes rising following a reported regime air strike in the rebel-held enclave of Jisreen in the Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Aid group warns of crisis in Syrian opposition enclave

BEIRUT: Relentless bombardment by the Syrian military of the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta is hampering vital relief operations, an international aid group warned on Friday.
The intensity of the airstrikes, which have killed more than 220 civilians in just four days, has made it extremely difficult for relief workers to assist the estimated 400,000 people who live in the enclave under siege, CARE International said. “Our partners are having a hard time moving around, so how can they reach vulnerable people?” the group’s communications director for Syria, Joelle Bassoul, asked.
A CARE-supported community center in the town of Douma was among the buildings hit, forcing those using it into underground shelters.
More than 4,000 families in Eastern Ghouta are living in basements and bunkers, according to Save the Children.
The enclave, just east of the capital, is supposed to be one of four “de-escalation zones” declared last year in a bid to reduce the bloodshed.
But Damascus has intensified its bombing of the district’s towns and is also conducting a major offensive in another of the zones — Idlib in the northwest.
UN aid officials appealed for a month-long humanitarian truce to allow aid to be delivered and the sick and wounded brought out for treatment. But on Thursday the Security Council failed to back the proposal which regime ally Moscow described as “not realistic.”
Bassoul warned that without a truce, the consequences for civilians would be disastrous. “If there is no cease-fire, if this is all left unheard, we cannot imagine the scale of the humanitarian disaster,” she said.


Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

Russian soldiers distribute aid in the central Syrian province of Homs. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

  • A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west
  • The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone

MOSCOW: The Russian Defense Ministry said it was coordinating efforts to help Syrian refugees return home and rebuild the country’s infrastructure destroyed by the civil war.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said in a conference call that included Russian and Syrian officials that work is underway to rebuild dozens of Syria’s power stations, schools and other vital institutions.
In Damascus, Syrian Public Administration Minister Hussein Makhlouf pledged the regime would protect refugee property rights and grant returning refugees a year’s deferral from military conscription.
“The Syrian government is working to simplify procedures for refugees who return, repair housing and try to create new jobs,” Makhlouf said, adding that the authorities were also working to streamline legislation to facilitate refugee returns.
He dismissed as hostile “propaganda” claims that some refugees were facing arrests on their return.
Makhlouf called on Western nations to drop their sanctions against Damascus, introduced early in the seven-year conflict, in order to help post-war restoration and encourage the return of the refugees.
Mizintsev said that over 1.2 million of internally displaced Syrians and about 300,000 refugees have returned in the past two and a half years.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin might take part in a summit with the leaders of Turkey and Iran at the beginning of September.
The three leaders met in April at a summit in Ankara where they discussed developments in Syria.
With help from its Russian ally, President Bashar Assad’s regime has expelled fighters from large parts of Syria’s south since June.
Israel has repeatedly pledged to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence along its border. A series of airstrikes that killed Iranians inside Syria have been attributed to Israel.
A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west.
The Russian army’s Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kuralenko told reporters on an organized press tour this week how “stability” had returned to the buffer zone.
Apart from “a few problems with Daesh” in its southern tip, the demilitarized zone was “entirely under control of Syrian military police,” Kuralenko said.
“Everything is ready” for the return of UN troops, he said, after the peacekeepers were forced to withdraw in 2014.
After retaking most of the two southern provinces adjacent to the buffer zone, regime forces last month raised their flag inside, above the key border crossing of Quneitra.
The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone, Kuralenko said, and plan to set up four more in the near future.
They are “willing to hand them over to the UN if it says it is ready to ensure the monitoring of the Golan alone,” he said.