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.


Iraq lays cornerstone to rebuild iconic Mosul mosque

Updated 24 min 34 sec ago
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Iraq lays cornerstone to rebuild iconic Mosul mosque

  • More than a year after Daesh lost control of Mosul, the iconic mosque still lies in ruins
  • In June 2014, it became infamous as the site where Baghdadi declared Daeh’s “caliphate” just days after the extremists seized Mosul in a lightning assault

MOSUL: Iraqis on Sunday laid the cornerstone in rebuilding Mosul’s Al-Nuri mosque and leaning minaret, national emblems destroyed last year in the ferocious battle against Daesh.
The famed 12th century mosque and minaret, dubbed Al-Hadba or “the hunchback,” hosted Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s only public appearance as Daesh chief, when he declared a self-styled “caliphate” after the militants swept into Mosul in 2014.
The structures were ravaged three years later in the final, most brutal stages of the months-long fight to rid Iraq’s second city of Daesh.
On Sunday, dozens of government officials, religious figures, United Nations representatives and European ambassadors gathered in the large square in front of the battered mosque to see the foundation laid.
Abdullatif Al-Humaym, the head of Sunni Muslim endowments in Iraq, set down the stone in a simple ceremony.
It bore a black Arabic inscription: “This cornerstone for the rebuilding and restoration of the Al-Hadba minaret and the Great Al-Nuri Mosque was laid on December 16, 2018.”
More than a year after Daesh lost control of Mosul, the iconic mosque still lies in ruins. The stone gate leading up to its courtyard and the greenish dome now covered in graffiti are virtually the only parts still erect.
All that is left of the minaret is part of its rectangular base, the rest of it sheared off by fighting.
Abu Bakr Kenaan, head of Sunni Muslim endowments in Nineveh province, told AFP remnants of the minaret would be preserved, while other parts of the mosque would be built afresh, along with a museum about its history and adjacent homes.
The five-year project will be financed by a $50.4 million (44.6 million euro) donation from the United Arab Emirates.
The first year will focus on documenting and clearing the site, while the next four years will see the physical restoration, the UN’s heritage agency UNESCO has said.
The mosque’s destruction “was a moment of horror and despair,” said UNESCO Iraq representative Louise Haxthausen.
“Today as we lay the foundation stone of the Nuri mosque, we are starting a journey of physical reconstruction,” she told those gathered.
The mosque takes its name from Nureddin Al-Zinki, who ordered it built in 1172 after unifying Syria and parts of northern Iraq.
Its cylindrical minaret, which featured several levels of ornamental brickwork capped by a small white dome, started listing centuries ago.
It is featured on Iraq’s 10,000-dinar banknote and gave its name to countless restaurants, companies and even sports clubs.
But in June 2014, it became infamous as the site where Baghdadi declared Daesh’s “caliphate” just days after the militants seized Mosul in a lightning assault.
That capture prompted three years of ferocious fighting to wrest back Mosul and other Iraqi cities overrun by Daesh.
In June 2017, as Iraqi forces closed in on a shrinking Daesh-held pocket in Mosul’s Old City, the militants blew up both the Al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret.
Daesh itself blamed a US-led strike for the destruction.
When the rest of the Old City fell back under state control, Iraqi forces celebrated at the mosque, holding Daesh’s black flag upside down and tauntingly calling out, “Where is Baghdadi?“