Assad regime accused of ‘apocalypse’ as forces tighten noose around opposition enclave in Ghouta

Syrian child Hossam Hawari, 8, is treated from a shrapnel wound at a makeshift clinic in Kafr Batna following Syrian regime airstrikes on opposition-held areas in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Assad regime accused of ‘apocalypse’ as forces tighten noose around opposition enclave in Ghouta

DOUMA: Syria’s regime sent reinforcements to Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday, tightening the noose around the shrinking opposition enclave.
The blistering onslaught has prompted outrage against the regime, with the UN’s human rights chief saying the government was orchestrating an “apocalypse” in Syria.
The Russia-backed Syrian regime forces and allied militia launched an offensive on Feb. 18 to retake the last opposition bastion near Damascus.
They have since taken more than 40 percent of the enclave, waging a devastating bombing campaign that has killed more than 800 civilians.
Heavy airstrikes battered several key towns in the zone on Wednesday, as the Syrian regime dispatched hundreds of pro-regime militiamen to the front.
“At least 700 Afghan, Palestinian, and Syrian loyalist militiamen came from Aleppo and were sent late on Tuesday to Ghouta,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Britain-based war monitor said the reinforcements were deployed to two main battlefronts on the western side of the enclave, including the town of Harasta.
Regime troops on Wednesday were within firing range of the key towns of Misraba and Beit Sawa, and had taken up positions at the edges of Jisreen and Hammuriyeh.
Three civilians including one child were killed in heavy airstrikes on Jisreen on Wednesday, the Observatory said.
That brought the toll in more than two weeks of bombing to 810 civilians, including 179 children.
Syria’s state television on Wednesday morning showed a live broadcast of farmland adjacent to Misraba, with columns of smoke emerging from the town’s skyline.
The bombardment has continued despite a one-month cease-fire demanded by the UN Security Council more than a week ago.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein said the Syrian regime and its foreign allies were already planning their next “apocalypse.”
“This month, it is Eastern Ghouta which is, in the words of the secretary-general, hell on earth; next month or the month after, it will be somewhere else where people face an apocalypse — an apocalypse intended, planned and executed by individuals within the government, apparently with the full backing of some of their foreign supporters,” said Hussein.
Eastern Ghouta’s roughly 400,000 residents have lived under government siege since 2013, facing severe shortages of food and medicines even before the latest offensive began.
Forty-six aid trucks entered the area on Monday for the first time since the offensive, but had to cut short their deliveries and leave due to heavy bombardment.
Nearly half of the food aid could not be delivered and Syrian authorities removed some medical and health supplies from the trucks, the UN said.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all warring sides to allow aid trucks to return for a planned second delivery to the enclave's main town of Douma on Thursday.
Meanwhile, also on Wednesday Syrian refugees and German politicians condemned a visit to Damascus by members of an anti-immigrant party, saying their depictions of life in the city as “normal” were especially offensive when Ghouta was being bombarded.
Seven members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) are currently on a “fact-finding” trip to Syria, which the party wants classified as a safe-country of origin. This would make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers from Germany.
Syrians in Germany have been particularly angered by posts on the Facebook page of Christian Blex, a regional AfD lawmaker, who wrote that Syrian President Bashar Assad wanted the 600,000 Syrians who have sought refuge in Germany to return.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman slammed the visit.
“Those who flatter this regime disqualify themselves,” Steffen Seibert told a regular news conference. “The Syrian regime shows every day how inhumanly it treats its own people.”
A spokesman for the AfD said the visit was private and did not represent the AfD’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag lower house, though it included some Bundestag deputies.


White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

King Abdullah of Jordan (L) and Jared Kushner. (AFP)
Updated 39 min 11 sec ago
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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.