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.


Jordan approves new IMF-backed tax law after introducing changes

Updated 24 min 54 sec ago
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Jordan approves new IMF-backed tax law after introducing changes

AMMAN: Jordan’s lower house of parliament approved a new IMF-backed tax law on Sunday after introducing some changes in a move to help the cash-strapped economy move ahead with crucial fiscal reforms to ease record public debt.
A majority of deputies in the chamber approved a series of amendments in the 36-article bill that include raising family exemptions to mitigate any impact on middle class income earners.
The bill will still need to go to the upper house or senate for approval before it is enacted as law. It is expected to be effective early next year, officials said.
Earlier on Sunday, Jordan’s Prime Minister Omar al Razzaz said the Kingdom will pay a heavy price if parliament failed to approve new IMF-backed tax legislation.
Razzaz told deputies who were debating the legislation that failure to approve the bill would mean the Kingdom would have to pay even higher interest rates on its substantial foreign debt.
Razzaz said the law promotes social justice by targeting the wealthy and combats long-time corporate tax evaders, but opposition deputies argue it will hurt the already stagnant economy and diminish middle-class incomes.
“The individuals who will be affected are the top 12 percent income earners, it won’t affect middle and low income earners,” Razzaz told deputies.
The government sent the bill to parliament in September after withdrawing an earlier draft submitted by a previous government that triggered protests over the summer.
Earlier this year, Jordan increased a general sales tax and scrapped a subsidy on bread as part of a three-year fiscal plan agreed with the International Monetary Fund, which aims to cut public debt of $37 billion, equivalent to 95 percent of gross domestic product.
The debt is at least in part due to successive governments adopting an expansionist fiscal policy characterized by job creation in the bloated public sector, and by lavish subsidies for bread and other staple goods.
Rejection of the tax legislation would push even higher the cost of servicing over 1 billion dinars ($1.4 billion) of foreign debt due in 2019, raising the prospect of rating agencies downgrading Jordan’s credit ratings, Razzaz said.
“We will pay a heavy price if we don’t approve this law,” he said.
The government has also echoed IMF concerns that without these reforms public external debt will spiral.
Debt service would peak in 2019-2020 at about 6.5 percent of GDP with the Eurobonds that will be due.
The country’s economic growth has been hit in the last few years by high unemployment and regional conflict weighing on investor sentiment and as demand generated from Syrian refugee receded, according to the IMF.
Economists said Jordan’s ability to maintain a costly subsidy system and a large state bureaucracy was increasingly untenable in the absence of large foreign capital inflows or injections of foreign aid, which have dwindled as the Syrian crisis has gone on.