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.


Russia, Iran, Turkey seeking deal on new Syria constitution body

Updated 39 min 44 sec ago
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Russia, Iran, Turkey seeking deal on new Syria constitution body

  • Foreign ministers near agreement on the composition of a Syrian constitutional committee
  • UN Special Envoy has tried since January to clinch agreement on the identity of 150 members

GENEVA: Russia, Iran and Turkey are nearing agreement on the composition of a Syria committee that could pave the way for the drafting of a new constitution and for elections after a devastating civil war, diplomats said on Tuesday.
The foreign ministers of the three nations, who support opposing sides in Syria’s nearly eight-year-old conflict, began talks in Geneva to seal their joint proposal and seek the United Nations’ blessing for it, they added.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, asked on arrival whether he expected to reach an agreement with counterparts Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey, told reporters: “I hope so.”
Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria who steps down on Dec. 31, has tried since January to clinch agreement on the identity of 150 members of a new constitutional committee to revitalize a stalled peace process.
President Bashar Assad’s government and the opposition fighting to topple him have each submitted a list of 50 names. But Russia, Iran and Turkey have haggled over the final 50 members from civil society and “independent” backgrounds, diplomats say.
“The three countries are coming with a proposal for the third list, which has been the heart of the problem,” one diplomat following the negotiations closely told Reuters.
Turkey and other nations would consider working with Assad if he won a democratic election, Cavusoglu said on Sunday.
Turkey supports rebels who control part of northwest Syria. A year ago, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan described Assad as a terrorist and said it was impossible for Syrian peacemaking efforts to continue with him.
Assad, whose forces have reclaimed most of Syria with Russian and Iranian support apart from Idlib, a northwestern province, has clung to power throughout the conflict and is widely seen as being loath to yield power after it ends.
The Damascus government has previously brushed off UN-led efforts to set up a constitutional committee.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem, in comments reported by state media on Monday, said it was “early to talk about” the constitutional committee starting work. He blamed attempts at “interference” by Western states for the hold-up in its formation, in addituon to “obstacles” laid by Turkey.
Syrian authorities have only ever signalled a readiness for “amendments” to the existing constitution and also said these must be put to a referendum.
De Mistura said at the weekend that the constitutional committee could be a starting point for political progress.
“It does touch, for instance, on presidential powers, it could and should be touching on how elections are done, on division of power, in other words a big issue,” he said.