Regime forces advance in Syria’s battered Ghouta

A Syrian youth pulls a cart as he walks down a street past destroyed buildings in the rebel-held besieged town of Ayn Tarma in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on March 2, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 03 March 2018
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Regime forces advance in Syria’s battered Ghouta

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces have advanced inside Eastern Ghouta, a monitor said on Saturday, as fighting intensifies on the ground to retake the battered rebel enclave east of Damascus.
Russia-backed government forces on February 18 launched an assault of the besieged region, pounding the area with air strikes, killing more than 630 civilians.
On February 25, clashes on the ground between the armed opposition and regime forces intensified on the edges of the enclave, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
Since Thursday, regime forces have advanced inside the region, retaking an area in the enclave’s southeast, as well as another and two military bases in the south from main opposition group Jaish Al-Islam.
“Regime forces and their allies have intensified their attacks on rebel positions in the past 48 hours,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Government fighters are trying to advance inside Eastern Ghouta to cut off the main town of Douma and its surroundings in the north of the enclave, as well as isolate the southeastern area of Al-Marj, Abdel Rahman said.
The Observatory says “Russian advisers” are taking part in the battles alongside regime forces in Eastern Ghouta, backed by heavy air strikes and shelling.
Since February 25, 60 regime and allied fighters have been killed, while 34 rebels from Jaish Al-Islam have also died, it said.
Rebels today control only a third of the area they once held in Eastern Ghouta in 2012, as regime forces have gradually taken back territory from them.
Eastern Ghouta’s 400,000 residents have lived under regime siege since 2013, facing severe food and medicine shortages even before the latest offensive.
The ground offensive coincides with the start of a five-hour daily “humanitarian pause” announced by Russia and in force since Tuesday.
The bombardment has lessened but continued to claim lives since, and trucks loaded with desperately needed aid have remained unable to enter the enclave.
Moscow said it would provide safe passage to non-combatants wishing to leave the enclave during the pause, but no Syrian civilians have left since Tuesday, according to the Observatory.
The daily pause falls far short of a nationwide 30-day cease-fire demanded by the UN Security Council at the weekend.
More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions have fled their homes since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


Syria says new air defenses will make Israel think twice

Updated 33 min 32 sec ago
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Syria says new air defenses will make Israel think twice

  • Moscow announced on Monday it would deliver the advanced S-300 air defense system
  • Al-Meqdad said Damascus welcomed the delivery of the advanced S-300 system

DAMASCUS: A top Syrian official has said a new air defense system from ally Russia will force Israel to “think carefully” before carrying out any more air strikes in the country.
Moscow announced on Monday it would deliver the advanced S-300 air defense system, a week after the Syrian military downed a Russian plane by mistake following an Israeli air strike.
Russia has blamed the friendly fire on Israeli pilots using the larger Russian plane as “cover.”
Late Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Meqdad said Damascus welcomed the delivery of the advanced S-300 system promised to arrive within two weeks.
It replaces Syria’s existing Russian-built S-200 system, which dates back to the Soviet era, in a move that had been due to take place in 2013 but was held up by Russia at Israel’s request.
“I think that Israel, which is accustomed to carrying out many attacks under different pretexts, will have to think carefully about attacking Syria again,” Meqdad said.
In recent years, Israel has carried out repeated air strikes in war-torn Syria against Iranian targets and what is says are advanced arm deliveries to Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Iran and Hezbollah are allies of President Bashar Assad in the seven-year civil war.
“Let the Israelis try, we will defend ourselves as we always do,” the state SANA news agency quoted Meqdad as saying.
The downing of the Russian plane late Monday last week killed all 15 soldiers on board, after an Israeli plane targeted a military position in the northwestern province of Latakia.
The accident was the deadliest friendly fire between Syria and Russia since Moscow’s game-changing military intervention in the war in 2015.
More than 360,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the conflict erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.