Activists: Hours before cease-fire, 37 killed in Syrian town

A woman runs after an airstrike in Idlib, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 23 March 2018
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Activists: Hours before cease-fire, 37 killed in Syrian town

BEIRUT: Syrian rescuers and a war monitoring group say 37 people were killed in airstrikes in a town in the eastern Ghouta region near the capital, Damascus, just hours before a cease-fire went into effect after midnight.
The rebel group Faylaq al-Rahman, one of at least three operating in the sprawling region, says intense government attacks targeted the area it controls on Thursday.
Rescuers, known as White Helmets, say the casualties were from an airstrike that hit an underground shelter in the town of Arbeen.
Rebel spokesman Wael Oweilan said Friday negotiations with Russia will follow to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the area.
A similar deal with another rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, led to the evacuation of hundreds of fighters and civilians from Harasta, an eastern Ghouta town.
Meanwhile, hundreds of fighters evacuated by the Syrian regime from their Eastern Ghouta bastion arrived in rebel-held Idlib province on Friday, a monitor said.
Buses carrying the fighters and their families entered the northwestern province after their evacuation from the rebel-held town of Harasta in Eastern Ghouta on Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
An AFP reporter at a camp for the displaced in the Maaret al-Ikhwan area in the north of Idlib province saw some of the evacuees arrive.
Families entered the camp but the fighters were not allowed in, he said.
Before dawn, some 400 fighters and hundreds of civilians on buses and ambulances had stopped in the town of Qalat al-Madiq in Hama province to the south, the Observatory said.
Among them was a man who had died of his injuries on the way, said the monitor, which relies on a wide network sources inside Syria for its information.
The AFP reporter saw hundreds of people on buses draw into Qalat al-Madiq, where rebel fighters and members of the Red Crescent and of the White Helmets civil defence organisation were waiting.
The evacuation from Harasta comes after pro-regime forces launched a blistering air and ground offensive on Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel bastion near Damascus, on February 18.
The assault has retaken 80 percent of the enclave, the Observatory says, and divided what remains into three shrinking pockets, each controlled by a different rebel group.
The evacuation of rebels from Harasta could empty the smallest of these pockets and pile pressure on those controlling the two other to accept similar deals.
Eastern Ghouta is within mortar range of central Damascus, and the evacuation deal could be a major first step in the regime's efforts towards securing the capital.
The one-month offensive on Eastern Ghouta has killed more than 1,500 civilians, the Observatory says, and caused tens of thousands to flee into government-held areas.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since it broke out in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


US-led coalition destroys Syrian mosque used as Daesh command center

Smoke billows after bombings in the Deir Ezzor province, near Hajin, eastern Syria, on December 15, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 25 min ago
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US-led coalition destroys Syrian mosque used as Daesh command center

  • Daesh lost nearly all the territory it once held in Syria last year in separate offensives by the US-backed SDF on the one hand, and the Russian-backed Syrian army on the other

WASHINGTON: The US-led coalition in Syria destroyed on Saturday a mosque in the town of Hajjin which had been used as a Daesh command and control center, the US military said.
Hajjin is the last big town that the Daesh holds in its remaining enclave east of the Euphrates River. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, spearheaded by the Kurdish militia, have battled to eliminate the militants there for several months.
The US coalition said that 16 heavily armed Daesh fighters were using the mosque as a base to attack. “This strike killed these terrorists who presented an imminent threat, and eliminated another deadly Daesh operational capability from the battlefield,” the US military said in a statement.
Lilwa Al-Abdallah, spokeswoman for the offensive in eastern Deir Ezzor province, said on Friday that the coalition would soon re-take Hajjin.
Daesh lost nearly all the territory it once held in Syria last year in separate offensives by the US-backed SDF on the one hand, and the Russian-backed Syrian army on the other.