Syrian army bombards Yarmouk camp, war monitor says

Smoke rises from Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Damascus. Air strikes and shelling hit the Palestinian refugee camp and Al-Hajjar Al-Aswad area, part of a small enclave divided between warring militants and other rebels south of the capital. (Reuters)
Updated 20 April 2018
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Syrian army bombards Yarmouk camp, war monitor says

  • Syria and its ally Russia deny using chemical weapons in the assault on Douma
  • Conditions in the opposition-held pocket of northern Syria, where the displaced will go, are poor

BEIRUT: The Syrian army bombarded militants in the last area outside government control near Damascus overnight, as President Bashar Assad accelerated his push to retake remaining enclaves.
US, British and French air strikes on Saturday to punish Assad for suspected use of chemical weapons have done nothing to slow the advance of his forces, now in their strongest position since the early months of the seven-year-old war.
Air strikes and shelling hit the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp and Al-Hajjar Al-Aswad area, part of a small enclave divided between warring militants and other rebels south of the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.
Assad is accelerating his campaign to retake the remaining enclaves his forces encircle around Syria, which would leave rebels with only their two major strongholds in the northwest and southwest.
Western countries launched their first coordinated action against Assad on Saturday to punish him for a suspected gas attack they say killed scores of people during an advance that captured the town of Ghouta near the capital.
But the single volley of air strikes, hitting three targets far from any frontline, had no effect on the wider war which has killed 500,000 people and made more than half of Syrians homeless.
International inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) who arrived in Damascus nearly a week ago were still waiting early on Friday to visit the site of the suspected poison gas attack.
Syria and its ally Russia deny using chemical weapons in the assault on Douma. The Western countries say the Syrian government, which now controls the town, is keeping the inspectors out and may be tampering with evidence, both accusations Damascus and Moscow deny.
Rebels on Thursday began pulling out of Dumayr, an enclave northeast of Damascus, under a surrender deal with the government. Insurgents in another enclave nearby — Eastern Qalamoun — said they had also agreed to withdraw.
Thousands of civilians, including the fighters’ families, are expected to leave with them for northern Syria before the areas come back under Assad’s rule under deals similar to others carried out across the country as Syrian forces advance.
The UN has voiced concern that such “evacuations” involve the displacement of civilians under threat of reprisals or forced conscription, though the government denies that.
“The UN expects further displacements in the near future to northern Syria from other locations controlled by non-state armed groups where negotiations reportedly are happening,” the world body said in a humanitarian note.
Conditions in the opposition-held pocket of northern Syria where the displaced will go are poor.
After the army’s recovery of eastern Ghouta this month in a ferocious battle that began in February, the surrender Dumayr and Qalamoun would leave only the pocket in south Damascus outside government control in the area around the capital.
Yarmouk was the biggest camp for Palestinian refugees in Syria before the war. Although most residents have fled, up to 12,000 remain there and in the neighboring areas under militant or rebel control, said the UN agency that helps them.


Lions, other animals to be saved from Gaza zoo: welfare group

Updated 5 min 22 sec ago
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Lions, other animals to be saved from Gaza zoo: welfare group

  • The animals would be taken out of a zoo in the Palestinian enclave and relocated to sanctuaries in Jordan next week
  • Rafah Zoo in southern Gaza confirmed the agreement, saying they weren’t receiving any funds for the animals

GAZA CITY: Forty animals including five lions are to be rescued from squalid conditions in the Gaza Strip, an animal welfare group said Wednesday.
The animals would be taken out of a zoo in the Palestinian enclave and relocated to sanctuaries in Jordan next week, the Four Paws organization said.
Among the other animals to be taken out are a hyena, monkeys, wolves and porcupines, the organization said in a statement.
Rafah Zoo in southern Gaza confirmed the agreement, saying they weren’t receiving any funds for the animals and couldn’t provide proper care for them in the strip.
The zoo hit the headlines last month when the cash-strapped owner revealed he had declawed one of the lions there, so that customers could pay to play with her.
The organization condemned the declawing, with almost 150,000 people signing a petition against the treatment.
The animals would be treated and sedated, before being taken through Israel into Jordan, Four Paws said.
“For far too long, the animals of Rafah Zoo have had to live under unimaginably dreadful conditions,” said Four Paws veterinarian Amir Khalil.
“We are happy to finally put an end to this horror,” he said in the statement.
The animal welfare group has previously evacuated two other zoos in Gaza, where desperate poverty often leaves owners unable to assure adequate conditions.
Israel has imposed a crippling blockade on the Gaza Strip for more than a decade, measures it says are necessary to isolate the enclave’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
In 2016, Four Paws helped facilitate the transfer of the sole tiger in the Gaza Strip, eventually relocating it to South Africa.
The organization in 2017 rescued a lion and a bear from a zoo in Mosul in northern Iraq, a former stronghold of the Daesh group.