Syrian Observatory: One third of Syria's Ghouta enclave taken by govt

A general view shows a Syrian air force Su-17 fighter plane flying over 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 05 March 2018
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Syrian Observatory: One third of Syria's Ghouta enclave taken by govt

BEIRUT:The Syrian army and its allies have captured more than a third of the rebel enclave in eastern Ghouta near Damascus since starting a ground offensive there a week ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday.
The Britain-based war monitor said more than 700 people have been killed in eastern Ghouta in the past two weeks, since the government and its allies began a massive bombardment of the area on Feb. 18 in preparation for the attack. 
Fresh air raids by the Syrian regime on the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta killed at least 14 civilians overnight, a monitor said Monday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said barrel bombs -- crude, improvised munitions that cause indiscriminate damage -- were used, including on the town of Hammuriyeh, where 10 people were killed.
The latest deaths brought to 709 the number of civilians killed since regime and allied Russian forces intensified their campaign against Eastern Ghouta in February.
According to Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Observatory, at least 166 of them were children.
The deadly raids, as well as other strikes and rocket fire elsewhere in Eastern Ghouta Monday, came as the battered enclave awaited a convoy of humanitarian aid from the United Nations.


Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

Updated 11 December 2018
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Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

  • Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry
  • Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites, organizers said

QASR AL-YAHUD, Palestinian Territories: Efforts to clear thousands of land mines and other ordnance around the site where many believe Jesus was baptized have reached a milestone and officials allowed a rare glimpse Sunday of abandoned churches there.

The church grounds around the site in the occupied West Bank have sat empty and decaying for around 50 years, though pilgrims have been able to visit a nearby restricted area at the traditional baptismal spot on the banks of the River Jordan.

Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry, de-mining charity Halo Trust and Israeli firm 4CI.

According to the ministry, the project covers around 1 square kilometer (250 acres) as well as some 3,000 mines and other explosive remnants.

It is expected to cost 20 million shekels ($5.3 million, €4.7 million).

The work began in March and would require another eight months to a year to complete, said Moshe Hilman of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites as well as a Franciscan chapel, organizers said.

Other grounds belonging to Russian, Syrian, Romanian and Coptic Orthodox churches are yet to be cleared.

The plan once complete is to return the plots to the various church denominations and allow visits. At the crumbling, brick-and-concrete Ethiopian monastery on Sunday, a fading fresco of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist could still be seen inside.

Signs hung on the walls with notifications that the location had been cleared of explosives.

A collection of pieces of mortars and other explosive remnants sat alongside a nearby roadside as a demonstration of some of what had been found.

“The Halo Trust has reached a pivotal point in our work to clear the baptism site of land mines and other remnants of war,” the charity’s CEO James Cowan said in a statement.

He added that “we have completed clearance of the Ethiopian, Greek and Franciscan churches.”

The majority of the mines were laid by Israeli forces after the country seized control of the West Bank in 1967 from Jordanian troops. Other unexploded ordnance from both Israel and Jordan has remained lodged in the ground, including around the churches, which were evacuated by Israel in the 1970s.

Israel’s control of the West Bank has never been recognized by the international community, which considers the land occupied Palestinian territory.