Deaths mount in Eastern Ghouta as world fumbles for response

A witness in Douma said the early morning bombing on Friday was the most intense so far. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2018
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Deaths mount in Eastern Ghouta as world fumbles for response

BEIRUT: A new wave of bombs struck Syria’s Eastern Ghouta district unabated on Friday amid diplomatic scrambling to end one of the deadliest bombing campaigns of the seven-year civil war.
For a sixth straight day, warplanes flown by regime forces and their allies have pounded the densely populated enclave east of Damascus, the last opposition bastion near the capital.
The civilian casualties and devastation there are among the worst in Syria since the regime captured opposition-held parts of Aleppo in intense fighting in 2016.
At least 462 people have been killed and many hundreds injured, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says. The dead include at least 99 children. Syrian state media reported one person was killed and 58 injured from opposition shelling of sites in Damascus, including a hospital.
Syria’s regime, with its allies Russia, Iran and Shiite militias, has often used the tactic of pushing opposition fighters to surrender their strongholds after long sieges and military offensives.
Insurgents in Eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out an evacuation of fighters, their families and other civilians of the kind that ended rebellion in Aleppo and Homs after heavy bombardment in earlier years.
“We refuse categorically any initiative that includes getting the residents out of their homes and moving them elsewhere,” Ghouta opposition factions wrote in a letter to the Security Council on Friday.
Eastern Ghouta has 400,000 people spread over a larger area than other enclaves the regime has recaptured. Late on Thursday, government aircraft dropped leaflets urging civilians to depart and hand themselves over to the regime army, marking corridors through which they could leave safely.
Medical charities say jets have hit more than a dozen hospitals, making it nearly impossible to treat the wounded.
The observatory said regime warplanes and artillery hit Douma, Zamalka and other towns across the enclave in the early hours on Friday.
A witness in Douma who asked not to be identified said by telephone that the early morning bombing was the most intense so far. Another resident, in the town of Hamouriyeh, said the assault had continued “like the other days”.
“Whenever the bombing stops for some moments, the civil defense vehicles go out to the targeted places. They work to remove the debris from the road,” Bilal Abu Salah said.
The Civil Defense there said its rescuers rushed to help the wounded after strikes on Hamouriyeh and Saqba. The emergency service, which operates in opposition territory, says it has pulled hundreds of people from under rubble in recent days.
Damascus and Moscow say they only target militants. They have said their main aim is to stop opposition shelling of the capital, and have accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding residents as human shields.
Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman for the Jaish Al-Islam faction, said it had thwarted nine attacks by pro-regime militias trying to storm a front in the south-east of Ghouta.
The Security Council was expected late Friday to vote to demand a 30-day cease-fire in Syria.
The resolution being considered does not cover Daesh, Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra Front, which Moscow and Damascus say they have targeted in Eastern Ghouta.


Syrian fighters to support anti-Kurdish forces in northeast

A military vehicle is transported as part of a convoy on the outskirts of the city of Kilis, southeastern Turkey, close to the border with Syria, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (AP)
Updated 15 December 2018
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Syrian fighters to support anti-Kurdish forces in northeast

  • Turkey has already swept YPG fighters from Afrin and other areas west of the Euphrates in military campaigns over the past two years

ISTANBUL: Up to 15,000 Syrian fighters are ready to join a Turkish military offensive against US-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, but no date has been set for the operation, a spokesman for the main Turkish-backed Syrian opposition group said on Thursday.
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey would launch the offensive in a few days, targeting a border region east of the Euphrates River which is held by the YPG Kurdish militia.
The announcement prompted a sharp rebuke from the Pentagon, which said any unilateral military action into northeast Syria would be unacceptable.
The US has been supporting the YPG in the fight against Daesh insurgents since 2015. Following cross-border shelling from Turkey into Kurdish-controlled territory two months ago, US forces have set up three military observation posts near the border.
Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the state in southeastern Turkey for more than three decades.
On Thursday the Turkish military said one of its soldiers stationed in Syria’s Afrin region was killed by fire from YPG fighters, who were in the Tel Rifaat area. Both areas are west of the Euphrates in northern Syria.
Turkish forces returned fire, the military said. Turkey has already swept YPG fighters from Afrin and other areas west of the Euphrates in military campaigns over the past two years, but has not gone east of the river — partly to avoid direct confrontation with US forces.
But Erdogan’s patience with Washington over Syria — specifically a deal to clear the YPG from the town of Manbij, just west of the Euphrates — seems to have worn thin.
The spokesman for the National Army, a Turkish-backed opposition force aimed at unifying disparate factions in northwest Syria, said on Thursday that there was no set date for the operation, which would start from both Syrian and Turkish territory.
“The battle will be launched simultaneously from several fronts,” Maj. Youssef Hamoud told Reuters.
“It will be in Manbij and Tel Abyad and Ras Al-Ayn,” he said, referring to towns about 200 km apart near Syria’s northern border.
Hamoud said the operation from Turkey might begin a few days before the move from within Syria.
In a speech on Wednesday, Erdogan said that Turkey’s target “is never US soldiers.”
Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement that unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party would be of grave concern, “particularly as US personnel may be present or in the vicinity.”
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford spoke with the chief of Turkish General Staff Gen. Yasar Guler on Thursday.
“Dunford emphasized that the observation posts will continue to focus on and deter threats from Syria toward the Turkish southern border,” a US military statement said.
“In addition, he reiterated that the US remains committed to coordinating efforts with Turkey to bring stability to northeastern Syria,” it added.