Germany urges Russia, Iran to end regime strikes on Damascus suburb

A man carries an injured boy as he walks on rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged town of Hamouriyeh.(AP)
Updated 22 February 2018
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Germany urges Russia, Iran to end regime strikes on Damascus suburb

BEIRUT: New airstrikes and shelling of the besieged, rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital killed at least 60 people and wounded dozens more on Wednesday, a rescue organization and a monitoring group said, adding to a staggering casualty toll that has overwhelmed paramedics and doctors in the past few days.
Syrian government forces and Russian aircraft have shown no signs of letting up their indiscriminate aerial and artillery assault on eastern Ghouta since they stepped up strikes late Sunday.
The situation in Eastern Ghouta is "very sadning" the UN Secretary General Antonio Guteres said while opening a Security Council session to discuss UN Charter and maintenance of international peace & security. The UN chief urged all parties for an immediate halt to fighting in what he described 'hell on Earth' Syria enclave. 
The International Committee of the Red Cross asked Wednesday for access to Eastern Ghouta near Syria's capital where a regime aerial campaign has killed over 300 civilians and wounded 1,400 others this week. "The fighting appears likely to cause much more suffering in the days and weeks ahead, and our teams need to be allowed to enter Eastern Ghouta to aid the wounded," said Marianne Gasser, ICRC's head of delegation in Syria. The worsening situation for the Syrians besieged in Damascus suburb led Germany to urge Russia and Iran to push the Syrian regime to end the deadly airstrikes on rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, noting that the two had pledged to be guarantors of peace in Syria.
"One has to ask where is Russia, where is Iran, which had pledged in Astana to guarantee a ceasefire also in Eastern Ghouta," said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, referring to peace talks in the Kazakh capital.
At least 260 people have been killed since Sunday night, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, including 10 in a wave of strikes on the town of Kafr Batna on Wednesday.
The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, said government forces targeted the town with airstrikes, artillery fire, and barrel bombs — crude, explosives-filled oil drums dropped from helicopters at high altitudes. It reported that several other people were wounded.
The locally-run Ghouta Media Center reported strikes on Kafr Batna and other towns in the region outside Damascus.
“We are really alarmed by the information we’re receiving from civilian areas and the very high number of casualties. You cannot continue business as usual,” said Panos Moumtzis, the UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria.
“Ghouta is a 10-mile drive from the hospitals in Damascus and its heartbreaking to think of children, women, and elderly who are in need, unable to be evacuated, and in a situation of fear, hiding in basements and not being able to go out,” he told The Associated Press by phone from Amman, Jordan.
The Russian military is supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and was instrumental to the all-out assault on the eastern half of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, in late 2016 to eject rebels from their enclave there.
Tens of thousands of civilians ended up fleeing their homes. Many have been unable to return. Hundreds more were killed in indiscriminate shelling and bombardment. A subsequent UN investigation charged that the campaign amounted to forced displacement of a population and rose to the level of a war crime.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this week eastern Aleppo could serve as a model for eastern Ghouta.
Pro-government forces have been amassing since the weekend on the perimeter of the rebel-held region, a collection of towns and farmland that once provided grain and fruit to Damascus, before nearly seven years of warfare turned it into a landscape of havoc and despair.
At least 400,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, sparked by a violent crackdown on popular demonstrations against Assad in 2011.


Turkey says it will not let the US hold it back in Syria

Updated 17 December 2018
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Turkey says it will not let the US hold it back in Syria

  • Turkey said it would launch a new operation within days against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia
  • Relations between the two NATO allies have long been strained by Syria policy

ISTANBUL: Turkey pledged on Monday to press ahead with plans to target a Kurdish militia in northern Syria, brushing off what it said were American efforts to stymie Turkish military operations east of the Euphrates.
President Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Turkey would launch a new operation within days against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The Pentagon expressed grave concern and said unilateral military action there by any party would be “unacceptable.”
Relations between the two NATO allies have long been strained by Syria policy. The United States has backed the YPG against Daesh fighters. Ankara, however, sees the YPG as terrorists tied to PKK militants who have fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey for 34 years.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Washington had tried to hold Turkey back during two operations in Syria in the last two years against Daesh and the YPG, which controls swathes of Syria’s northern border region.
“The United States thought it could deter us with the men it has nurtured,” he said during a visit to Pakistan, state-owned news agency Anadolu reported. “Now, they will try to hold us back east of the Euphrates. Turkey did not, and will not, allow that.”
Turkey has not yet launched an operation east of the Euphrates but has kept up regular air strikes against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants based in Iraq’s mountains.
Baghdad summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq on Friday after Ankara said it killed eight PKK fighters. But Turkish warplanes have since carried out further strikes.
On Monday, Turkey’s defense ministry said air strikes on Sunday targeted northern Iraq’s Gara and Hakurk areas and “neutralized” seven militants preparing to attack Turkish bases.
Erdogan has said Turkish forces will enter the Syrian town of Manbij, west of the Euphrates, if the United States does not remove YPG fighters there and will also target the eastern side, where the YPG controls an area stretching more than 400 km (250 miles) along the border toward Iraq.
On Sunday he vowed again to maintain attacks on militants.
“We are always in the heads of the terrorists. We are burying them in the ditches they dig. We will continue to bury them,” he said in a rally in Istanbul.
“Terrorists will cease to be an affliction for my nation,” he said. “Together with God’s permission we are making those who attack our homeland and borders pay the price.”
The United States has set up observation posts on the Syrian border, saying they will deter security threats against Turkey coming from Syria. It has warned Turkey against a new incursion.