Syrians flee govt advances in eastern Ghouta: Orient TV

Smoke billows following Syrian government bombardments on the besieged rebel-held town of Hamouria in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on March 3, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2018
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Syrians flee govt advances in eastern Ghouta: Orient TV

BEIRUT: Hundreds of people are fleeing advances by Syrian government forces in eastern Ghouta, a war monitor and a resident said on Sunday, as Damascus presses an offensive to crush the last major rebel stronghold near the capital.
Government forces are thrusting into the besieged rebel enclave from its eastern edge in an apparent bid to split it in two - a pattern of attack used repeatedly by Damascus and its allies in the war entering its eighth year.
Orient TV, which supports the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, said advances by pro-Assad forces had triggered large-scale displacement. People were seeking shelter in areas closer to the centre of the eastern Ghouta, said the resident, who estimated thousands were on the move.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organisation which reports on the war, estimated that between 300 to 400 families had fled, adding that government bombardment was focused on the town of Mesraba.
Damascus, backed by Russia and Iran, has been waging one of the deadliest offensives of the war in eastern Ghouta, killing hundreds of people in a fierce air and artillery bombardment over the last two weeks.
The UN Security Council demanded a 30-day countrywide ceasefire a week ago, but this has failed to take effect.
No permission for convoy
Russia has instead called for daily, five-hour humanitarian ceasefires to allow for aid deliveries and evacuations of civilians and wounded. No aid has been delivered however, and the US State Department has called the Russian plan a “joke”.
The Russian military said militants in eastern Ghouta had imposed a curfew in areas under their control to prevent civilians from leaving through a humanitarian corridor during the truce, Interfax news agency reported. Rebel officials have consistently denied stopping civilians from leaving.
A UN official in Syria told Reuters a humanitarian convoy carrying life-saving supplies from UN and other aid agencies would not enter eastern Ghouta as had been planned on Sunday, citing a lack of permission.
Western diplomats said that the Syrian government had not given the final clearances needed for safe access.
The convoy of some 40 trucks had been due to go to Douma in the government-besieged enclave near Damascus, where some 400,000 people need food, medical and other supplies, the UN says. Only one small convoy with supplies for 7,200 people has been allowed to Ghouta so far this year, in mid-February.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, drew a parallel with rebel-held eastern Aleppo where no aid convoys were allowed to enter in late 2016 before it fell to government forces: “Similar to the lack of approval to get aid into East Aleppo - lots of talk and no action.”


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.