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
0

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.


White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

King Abdullah of Jordan (L) and Jared Kushner. (AFP)
Updated 40 min 19 sec ago
0

White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

  • The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas
  • Jared Kushner’s team plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them

AMMAN: President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, kicked off a swing through the Middle East on Tuesday, meeting with Jordan’s king as part of a broader effort to lay the groundwork for an expected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Kushner and White House envoy Jason Greenblatt held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a key US ally.
A White House statement said the talks focused on US-Jordan cooperation, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the US efforts “to “facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
US officials have said their peace plan is near completion and could be released this summer. But it faces resistance from the Palestinians, who have cut off ties since Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the US Embassy in Israel to the holy city last month. The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, accuse the US of siding with Israel in the most sensitive issue of their decades-long conflict.
Kushner’s team also plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for an independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas militants seized control of the territory two years later.
The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas. The US, Israel and Western allies shun Hamas as a terrorist group. Details of the plan have not been released, but Palestinians fear they will get little more than a symbolic foothold in Jerusalem. They also fear that aid to Gaza will help strengthen Hamas’ control over the territory.
Jordan also has a stake in east Jerusalem, serving as the custodian of major Muslim and Christian shrines there. Jerusalem’s walled Old City, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967, is home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites.
Abdullah has also rejected Trump’s moves in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to relinquish any part of the city.
Netanyahu traveled to Amman on Monday for a surprise meeting with Abdullah, telling the king that Israel remains committed to the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Abdullah told Netanyahu that the fate of Jerusalem must be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and that a solution should be based on establishing a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on lands Israel captured in 1967.
Palestinian officials fear the Trump administration plan will leave them with a mini-state in the Gaza Strip, parts of the West Bank and a foothold in Jerusalem. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he will reject any plan being floated by the Trump team, arguing that the US has forfeited its role as mediator because of decisions seen as pro-Israel.