Syria’s Assad close to retaking Ghouta as some rebels prepare to quit

A member of the Syrian regime forces sits in an armed vehicle at the entrance of Harasta in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, on March 22, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2018

Syria’s Assad close to retaking Ghouta as some rebels prepare to quit

BEIRUT: The Syrian government moved closer to ending rebel resistance in eastern Ghouta as civilians streamed out of one of its besieged, bomb-battered towns on Thursday and insurgents prepared to surrender another.
The army assault on eastern Ghouta, an area of towns and farmland just outside Damascus, has been one of the most intense in Syria’s seven-year-old war, killing more than 1,500 people in a relentless bombardment with war planes, shells and rockets.
A Reuters witness said buses had driven into the town of Harasta and a Syrian military source said 600 to 700 fighters were expected to be among about 2,000 people leaving in them in the coming hours for opposition areas in northwestern Syria.
Hundreds of people including scores of fighters had already started boarding buses at an assembly point inside Harasta, the military source said. Between 18,000-20,000 people were expected to stay in Harasta under government rule, the source added.
Meanwhile, state television reported that more than 6,000 people had fled the larger rebel-held town of Douma since Wednesday, crossing over into government-held territory.
The Ahrar Al-Sham group’s decision to surrender Harsata leaves only Douma and another rebel pocket in eastern Ghouta that includes the towns of Jobar, Ein Terma, Arbin and Zamalka.
They are all that remain of the main insurgent stronghold near the Syrian capital Damascus, the biggest prize for President Bashar Assad in his fight against the rebels since the recapture of Aleppo in late 2016.
Rebels fired rockets from eastern Ghouta into Damascus on Thursday, killing two people, state media reported. Television showed burning projectile parts on streets and in parks.
Government air strikes had pummelled parts of eastern Ghouta on Thursday morning, striking Arbin and Zamalka and killing 19 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitoring group.

The deal to surrender Harasta is the first by eastern Ghouta rebels and began on Thursday with a prisoner swap. In an interview with state television, a Syrian soldier freed by rebels wept and thanked God and the army for his release.
The Reuters witness at the crossing with Harasta said the army had removed barriers from the old frontline lying across the road into the town to allow the buses to pass.
The Russian Defense Ministry website showed what it said was live footage from the Al-Wafideen crossing point from Douma into government areas. Over a period of several minutes, it showed dozens of people in small groups coming around a corner and trekking along the dirt road past armed soldiers.
Some bore bundles of their possessions, others carried small children or pushed prams. Behind were fields and trees. At one point in the road a man could be seen in a red shirt with the logo of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
Douma is the most populous area in eastern Ghouta, and for more than a week it has been entirely surrounded by the government. The Jaish Al-Islam rebel group that holds the town has said it is determined to fight on after a month-long government offensive that has taken 70 percent of the former opposition enclave in eastern Ghouta.
However, the Observatory said people leaving the area were doing so under an agreement between the group and the government’s closest ally Russia.

For the Harasta rebels, the journey to Idlib is one already well trodden by insurgents from other areas surrendered to Assad after prolonged sieges and intense bombardments of the kind used against eastern Ghouta over the past month.
The northwestern province is the biggest remaining area under rebel control in Syria and its population has been doubled by refugees fleeing other areas including many opposition supporters.
A military media unit run by Assad’s ally Hezbollah on Wednesday said some 1,500 fighters along with 6,000 family members would depart Harasta under the agreement with the government.
On Thursday the same Hezbollah media unit said the army and Ahrar Al-Sham had started to exchange prisoners as the Harasta deal got under way. 


Arab stand-up comedians star in new Netflix series

Updated 28 min 3 sec ago

Arab stand-up comedians star in new Netflix series

  • Comedians of the World will be the first of its kind to feature Arab comedians
  • Four comedians from the Middle East made the cut

DUBAI: Netflix has announced a new show that features stand-up comedians from the Arab world.

“Comedians of the World” – expected to debut on Jan. 1 – will be the first of its kind to feature Arab comedians, according to Netflix.

The series brought together 47 comedians from 13 regions around the world and was filmed in eight languages. Four comedians from the Middle East made the cut — Moayad Al-Nefaie and Ibraheem Al-Khairallah from Saudi Arabia, Adi Khalefa from Palestine and Rawsan Hallak from Jordan. Each of the talents will have a 30-minute stand-up special dedicated to them.

Adi Khalefa

“After 12 years of doing stand-up comedy, this was like a big reward for me and I hope this is just the first step,” Khalefa told Arab News.

From Nazareth — commonly known as “the Arab capital of Israel” — Khalefa has performed in multiple comedy festivals around the world and his latest show, “Billiat-Show” — inspired by his personal, social and political experiences — sold out more than eight times.

For Al-Khairallah, being part of a platform that showcases internationally acclaimed comedians such as US funnyman Dave Chappelle is an honor.

“I love Dave Chappelle so much, so when I go on Netflix and see a show I am featured in right next to a show of Dave Chapelle, I feel blessed,” he said.

Before stand-up comedy, Al-Khairallah worked in banking in Saudi Arabia and only took his act to the stage as a hobby.

Ibraheem Al-Khairallah

Meanwhile, Hallak said that she feels proud to represent Arab and hijab-wearing women in comedy.

“It’s not easy to be an Arab female comedian, but it sends a strong message, because generally speaking, we don’t have the confidence to put ourselves out there and share our thoughts and opinions, but so far the response from my audiences has been good,” she said.

Hallak explained that viewers should expect her material to be based on lighthearted subjects that affect women.

“I like to focus on stories and issues that involve women, such as the latest fashion trends,” she said.

Rawsan Hallak

Meanwhile, Khalefa said he likes to talk about his feelings and anything that he finds funny — but if viewers expect comedy with a moral message, it just isn’t his style.

“Mr. Bean, who is a comedic genius, makes comedy about nothing and he is extremely respected. So, it is not necessary to have a message in your stand-up. But I like to vary my style too, so whatever I find funny, really,” he said.

For the stand-up stars, the Netflix show has given them an opportunity to take their brand of comedy to a global audience.

“Netflix has so many viewers worldwide, taking us from a local level to an international one,” Hallak said.