Heavy clashes on edges of Syria's Ghouta despite ceasefire: Monitor

A civil Defence volunteer, known as the White Helmets, checks the site of a regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Saqba, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on February 23, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2018
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Heavy clashes on edges of Syria's Ghouta despite ceasefire: Monitor

DOUMA/BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces were engaged in heavy fighting with rebels in southern areas of opposition-held Eastern Ghouta on Sunday, a day after a UN call for a ceasefire, a monitor said.
The clashes on the edges of Eastern Ghouta killed at least 13 members of pro-regime forces and six fighters from the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"Violent clashes are taking place in the Al-Marj area, which is a frontline" of the rebel-held enclave near Damascus, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
"They are the most violent clashes to take place since the beginning of the month," he added.
Mohamed Alloush, a key figure in the Jaish al-Islam, tweeted that the rebels were "resisting" against bids by regime forces to enter the region.
According to the Observatory and a Syrian pro-regime newspaper, the clashes are aimed at paving the way for a ground offensive by government forces against Eastern Ghouta.
New regime strikes hit the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Sunday despite a UN Security Council demand for a ceasefire to end one of the most ferocious assaults of Syria's civil war.
After days of diplomatic wrangling, the Security Council on Saturday adopted a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria "without delay", to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations.
The main rebel groups in Eastern Ghouta, where more than 500 people have died since the bombing campaign was launched a week ago, welcomed the UN vote and said they would abide by a ceasefire.
Rocket and artillery fire also hit at least three parts of Eastern Ghouta, including Douma on Sunday, Abdel Rahman said.
A woman was killed in artillery fire on the town of Hammuriyeh, said Abdel Rahman, whose group uses a network of sources across Syria to monitor the country's conflict.
Abdel Rahman said there were also clashes in the south of Eastern Ghouta between regime forces and fighters from the Jaish al-Islam rebel group. Fighting in the area is frequent so it was not immediately clear if the clashes represented a change on the ground.
Eastern Ghouta, home to some 400,000 people, is surrounded by government-controlled territory and its residents are unwilling or unable to flee.
Iran, Syria to continue attacking "terrorists" in Damascus suburbs
Iran and Syria will continue attacks on Damascus suburbs held by "terrorists", but elsewhere respect the UN resolution across Syria to allow aid access and medical evacuation, the Iranian military chief of staff was quoted as saying on Sunday.
"We will adhere to the ceasefire resolution, Syria will also adhere. Parts of the suburbs of Damascus, which are held by the terrorists, are not covered by the ceasefire and clean-up (operations) will continue there," the semi-official news agency Tasnim quoted General Mohammad Baqeri as saying. 

Rebel groups welcome ceasefire
The two main rebel groups controlling the enclave -- Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman -- welcomed the Security Council demand, but vowed to fight back in case of renewed attacks.
Jaish al-Islam said it was "committed to protecting humanitarian convoys" but warned it would "immediately respond to any violation".
Faylaq al-Rahman said in a statement: "We confirm our full commitment to the (UN) resolution... Nevertheless, we reserve the right to defend the civilians of Eastern Ghouta in case of renewed attacks."
UN diplomats say Saturday's Security Council resolution was watered down to ensure it was not vetoed by Russia, which has provided diplomatic and military support to Assad's regime.
Language specifying that the ceasefire would start 72 hours after adoption was scrapped, replaced by "without delay," and the term "immediate" was dropped in reference to aid deliveries and evacuations.
In another concession, the ceasefire will not apply to operations against Dash or Al-Qaeda, along with "individuals, groups, undertakings and entities" associated with the terror groups.
Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate is present in Eastern Ghouta and Assad's regime routinely describes all of its opponents as "terrorists".
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who has described Eastern Ghouta under the bombardment as "hell on Earth," said the ceasefire must be "immediately" implemented.


Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process in Sudan. (Reuters)
Updated 24 July 2019
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Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

CHICAGO: US Special Envoy for Sudan Donald E. Booth on Tuesday said that leaders of the military government and the opposition in the African nation are moving toward a reconciliation, but added “there is a lot” that still needs to be done.
Booth, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in June, is charged with leading the US efforts to support a political solution to the current crisis that reflects the will of the Sudanese people.
Both sides in Sudan agreed a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new “Sovereign Council,” before constitutional changes can be made. Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.
“That political declaration really addresses the structure of a transitional government and not the entire structure,” Booth said. “(The July 17 agreement) has put off the question of the legislative council. It is a document that is the beginning of a process. We welcome the agreement on that but there are still a lot of negotiations to be conducted on what the Sudanese call their constitutional declaration.”
The envoy said he expects the Sovereign Council “will have to address what the functions of the different parts of the transitional government will be,” such as the roles and powers of “the sovereign council, the prime minister, the cabinet and, ultimately, the legislative cabinet. Who will lead that transitional government is still undecided.”
The crisis in Sudan came to a head in December 2018 when President Omar Al-Bashir imposed emergency austerity measures that prompted widespread public protests.
He was overthrown by the Sudanese military in April 2018 as a result of the unrest but the protests continued. Demonstrations in Khartoum turned violent on June 3 when 150 civilians were killed, sparking nationwide protests in which nearly a million people took part.
Booth said these protests had changed the dynamics in Sudan, forcing the military to negotiate with the people.
“The 3rd of June was a signal of the limits of people power,” he said. “But then there was the 30th of June, in which close to a million people took to the streets outside of Sudan and I think that demonstrated the limits of the military power over the people.”
Some have asked whether individuals might face prosecution for past human-rights violations, including Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Gen. Hemeti, who was appointed head of the ruling transitional military council in April after Al-Bashir was removed from power. Booth said this would be a decision for the new transitional government.
“One has to recognize that General Hemeti is a powerful figure currently in Sudan,” he said. “He has considerable forces loyal to him. He has significant economic assets as well. So, he has been a prominent member of this transitional military council. But he has been one of the chief negotiators for the forces of Freedom and Change.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Both sides in Sudan agreed on a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new ‘Sovereign Council,’ before constitutional changes can be made.

• Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.

• We will have to wait and see what type of agreement Sudanese will come up with, says US envoy.

“We will have to wait and see what type of agreement they will come up with…we don’t want to prejudge where the Sudanese will come out on that. It is their country and their decision on how they move forward. Our goal is to support the desire for a truly civilian-led transition.”
Booth noted that although sanctions on Sudan have been lifted, the designation of the nation as a state sponsor of terrorism remains in force. He also said he expects the pressures and restrictions on journalists covering Sudan’s transition to ease as progress continues toward redefining Sudan’s government.
“As you can see, there is still a lot that the Sudanese need to do,” said Booth. “But we fully support the desire of the Sudanese people to have a civilian-led transitional government that will tackle the issues of constitutional revision and organizing elections, free and fair democratic elections, at the end of the transitional period.”
He added that the US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process, including expanded religious freedoms, an end to the recruitment of children for military service, and improving Sudan’s economy.
“I think it is important we give the Sudanese space to negotiate with each other, and to continue to express our support to get to the civilian-led transition government that will be broadly supported by the Sudanese people,” said Booth.