659 civilians killed in Eastern Ghouta since February: UN

Wounded Syrian men are seated at a makeshift hospital in the rebel-held town of Douma, following air strikes by regime forces on the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on February 20, 2018. (AFP / Hamza Al-Ajweh)
Updated 05 March 2018
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659 civilians killed in Eastern Ghouta since February: UN

BEIRUT/GENEVA: Thousands of civilians have fled advances by Syrian regime forces in Eastern Ghouta in the last two days, a war monitor and a resident said, as Damascus makes rapid gains against the last major opposition enclave near the capital.
Regime forces need to advance just a few more kilometers further to split the enclave in two, said a commander in the alliance that backs President Bashar Assad who said on Sunday his forces must push on with their campaign.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces had seized around a quarter of Eastern Ghouta in a ground assault that began on Feb. 27, building on a ferocious air and artillery bombardment that has killed hundreds.
It said shelling and airstrikes have killed 659 people in Eastern Ghouta since Feb. 18, making the offensive one of the deadliest of the war, while opposition shelling of Damascus has killed 27.
A UN humanitarian official said 400,000 people in Eastern Ghouta were being subjected to unacceptable “collective punishment,” which is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
It says shelling and airstrikes have killed 659 people in eastern Ghouta since Feb. 18, making the offensive one of the deadliest of the war, while rebel shelling of Damascus has killed 27.
Orient TV, which supports the opposition, said advances by pro-Assad forces had triggered large-scale displacement.
On the international front, US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May said Russia and Syria were responsible for the “heart-breaking human suffering” in Eastern Ghouta.
The two leaders, during a phone call, “agreed it was a humanitarian catastrophe, and that the overwhelming responsibility for the heart-breaking human suffering lay with the Syrian regime and Russia, as the regime’s main backer,” the premier’s office said.
French President Emmanuel Macron called on his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani to put the “necessary pressure” on Syria’s regime to halt “indiscriminate” attacks on civilians.
Also in a phone call, Macron underscored the “particular responsiblity for Iran, because of its ties to the regime, regarding the implementation of the humanitarian truce” sought by the UN, his office said.
The UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, sounded the alarm over the increased violence.


Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

Updated 21 May 2019
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Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

  • Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Lebanon insists that the area lies within its economic zone and refuses to give up a single part of it

BEIRUT: Lebanon has hinted that progress is being made in efforts to resolve its maritime border dispute with Israel following the return of a US mediator from talks with Israeli officials.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield returned to Lebanon following talks in Israel where he outlined Lebanese demands regarding the disputed area and the mechanism to reach a settlement.

The US mediator has signaled a new push to resolve the dispute after meetings with both Lebanese and Israeli officials.

Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to begin offshore oil and gas production in the offshore Block 9 as it grapples with an economic crisis.

A source close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who met with Satterfield on Monday after his return to Lebanon, told Arab News that “there is progress in the efforts, but the discussion is not yet over.” He did not provide further details.

Sources close to the Lebanese presidency confirmed that Lebanon is counting on the US to help solve the demarcation dispute and would like to accelerate the process to allow exploration for oil and gas to begin in the disputed area.

Companies that will handle the exploration require stability in the area before they start working, the sources said.

Previous efforts by Satterfield to end the dispute failed in 2012 and again last year after Lebanon rejected a proposal by US diplomat Frederick Hoff that offered 65 percent of the disputed area to Lebanon and 35 percent to Israel. Lebanon insisted that the area lies within its economic zone and refused to give up a single part of it.

Satterfield has acknowledged Lebanon’s ownership of around 500 sq km of the disputed 850 sq km area.

Lebanon renewed its commitment to a mechanism for setting the negotiations in motion, including the formation of a tripartite committee with representatives of Lebanon, Israel and the UN, in addition to the participation of the US mediator. Beirut also repeated its refusal to negotiate directly with Israel.

Two months ago, Lebanon launched a marine environmental survey in blocks 4 and 9 in Lebanese waters to allow a consortium of French, Italian and Russian companies to begin oil and gas exploration in the area.