Syrian TV: Pro-Syrian government forces to enter Syria’s Afrin “within hours”

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters fire from the town of Salwah, less than 10 kilometres from the Syria-Turkey border, towards Kurdish forces from the People's Protection Units (YPG) in the Afrin region. (AFP)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Syrian TV: Pro-Syrian government forces to enter Syria’s Afrin “within hours”

BEIRUT: Militias allied to the Syrian government will enter the Afrin region within hours, Syrian media reported on Monday, after a Kurdish official said a deal had been struck it to help Kurdish forces to end a Turkish offensive there.
Turkey said in response that it would welcome any move by Damascus into Afrin to get rid of the YPG Kurdish militia, but that if Syrian troops were entering to protect the Kurdish fighters, then the Turkish assault would go on.
Turkey began its operation last month with allied Syrian rebel groups to drive out the YPG, which Ankara regards as a terrorist group linked to an insurgency at home and sees as a security threat to its border.
That offensive further complicated the web of rivalries and alliances in northern Syria among Kurdish forces, the Syrian government, rebel factions, Turkey, Iran, the United States and Russia.
But on Sunday, a senior Syrian Kurdish official said Kurdish forces and the Syrian government had reached a deal for the Syrian army to enter Afrin, and that it could be implemented within two days.
All dealings between the Syrian government and the Kurds, which each hold more territory than any other side in Syria, are closely watched because they could prove pivotal for the future course of the war.
While President Bashar al-Assad's government and the YPG espouse different visions for Syria's future and their forces have clashed at times, they have mostly avoided direct conflict.
"Popular forces will arrive in Afrin in the next few hours to support the steadfastness of its people in confronting the aggression," state news agency SANA reported, citing its correspondent in Aleppo, 35 km (22 miles) from Afrin.
Strains
Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish-led autonomous administration that runs swathes of northern Syria, told Reuters that Syrian army troops would deploy along some border positions under the deal between the Kurds and the government.
The deal was only on military aspects and any political or other agreements would have to wait for further negotiations between Damascus and the Kurdish administration, he said.
There was some opposition to the deal that could stand in its way, he added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday: "If the regime is entering there to cleanse the PKK and PYD, then there are no problems". The PKK is the Kurdish group mounting an insurgency in Turkey. The PYD is an influential Syrian Kurdish political party.
But, speaking at news conference in Jordan, he added: "If it comes in to defend the YPG, then nothing and nobody can stop us or Turkish soldiers."
The Afrin offensive has put strains on the complex ties between the warring sides in northern Syria and their external supporters.
Turkey's NATO ally the United States has armed the YPG as part of an alliance it backs in Syria against Islamic State, causing widespread anger in Ankara.
But while Washington has a military presence in the much larger swathes of Syria that the YPG and its allies control further east, it has not given support to the YPG in Afrin.
This month the United States said it had killed hundreds of pro-government troops in strikes in eastern Syria because they were attacking the alliance of militias of which the YPG is a major part.
Neither the Syrian military nor Syrian Kurdish officials were immediately available for comment on Monday.


Long after guns fall silent, Mosul residents suffer hearing loss

Updated 1 min 40 sec ago
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Long after guns fall silent, Mosul residents suffer hearing loss

  • Blasts in conflict zones can propel debris into the human ear and rupture the eardrum, which transmits sound further into the cochlea
  • In Mosul, civilians were exposed to repeated loud blasts that sent between 15 and 20 a day to hospitals complaining of hearing loss

MOSUL, Iraq: For months, Alia Ali endured the din of fighting in Iraq’s second city Mosul. Then a missile slammed into her home, killing her husband and her hearing.
The 59-year-old lost her sense of sound in the final phase of the ferocious battle between government forces and militants of the Daesh group, not long before the guns fell silent in July 2017.
For nearly nine months, air strikes, mortar rounds and car bombs pummeled the city relentlessly, and thousands of residents still suffer hearing problems ranging from tinnitus to profound deafness.
“I lost my sense of hearing two years ago,” Ali recalled.
“A warplane hit our neighborhood in the fight for the western half of the city and my husband died of very bad burns,” she told AFP.
Ali spent two years piecing her life back together, but could not afford to get specialized care for her diminished hearing.
“We lost our home and all our possessions — we didn’t have money to go to private clinics,” she said.
Blasts in conflict zones can propel debris into the human ear and rupture the eardrum, which transmits sound further into the cochlea.
Nerves in the cochlea, which sends sound on to the brain to be processed, can also be destroyed by explosions.
Mines have noise levels approaching 170 decibels — twice the loudness needed to cause permanent damage to ears.

In Mosul, civilians were exposed to repeated loud blasts that sent between 15 and 20 a day to hospitals complaining of hearing loss.
“They were bleeding from their ears because of the shelling, but they had nothing to stop the flow,” according to hearing specialist Mohammad Saleh.
“Some never recovered because their nerve cells were torn by the loud sounds.”
Mosul’s health infrastructure was ravaged by Daesh’s reign and subsequent fighting, with the 6,000 hospital beds available before the militant takeover reduced to just 1,000.
With help from outside charities, hospitals are slowly reopening wing by wing.
At Jumhuriya hospital in west Mosul, a specialized hearing impairment center opened its doors less than a year ago with backing from Iraq’s Dary Humanitarian Organization.
The waiting room is packed with people, young and old, waiting to get long-delayed hearing tests to see how badly the blasts have damaged their ears.
“My hearing deteriorated after three mortars hit my house in west Mosul,” 65-year-old Fathi Hussein yelled.
He can only respond to questions that are virtually screamed, and answers them at the same volume.
“I put off treatment because I’m poor. I don’t have the money for consultations or medicine,” he said.
Since the center opened less than a year ago, it has treated several thousand patients, according to specialist Mohammad Said.
“We have distributed 2,000 hearing aids so far. More complex cases get sent to hospitals in Baghdad for treatment, including cochlear implants which aren’t available here yet,” Said told AFP.
He expects there are thousands more cases that have yet to visit the Jumhuriya center.
“Some patients went to private clinics, others went elsewhere in Iraq or even left the country and still others have received no treatment at all,” he said.

For younger patients, partial deafness means more than just shouting to be heard — it can affect schooling.
“In kids especially, hearing loss can damage speaking ability,” Said said.
“It’s extremely important because it means the hearing aids we distribute aren’t enough, and these children are in need of treatments and speaking rehabilitation that we don’t offer here.”
Five-year-old Mohannad may not remember much of life under bombardment in Mosul, but it will likely mar his education for years to come.
He suffers both hearing and speech impediments from the fighting that were long left untreated.
“I didn’t notice how weak his hearing was until weeks after Mosul was liberated,” his mother told AFP.
She said she was now desperate to get free treatment for Mohannad in time for him to finally enrol in classes this autumn.
“I want to go to school like our neighbor’s son, Ahmad,” Mohannad mumbled with difficulty.