Rebels begin leaving new area outside Damascus: state media

A Syrian rebel fighter evacuated from the town of Dumayr, east of the capital Damascus, holds his son while sitting in a bus upon arriving in the city of Azaz in the northern countryside of Aleppo on April 20, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 21 April 2018
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Rebels begin leaving new area outside Damascus: state media

DAMASCUS: Rebels started leaving a new area outside the Syrian capital Saturday, state media said, after a new deal was reached between opposition fighters and the Russia-backed regime.
The agreement for the East Qalamun area is the latest in a string of deals that have seen rebels and civilians bussed out of former opposition strongholds near Damascus.
"Buses carrying terrorists and their families start exiting Al-Ruhayba", a town in East Qalamun some 60 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of Damascus, state news agency SANA said, using its usual term for rebels.
State television said 3,200 fighters and their relatives were expected to leave Al-Ruhayba, as well as the nearby towns of Al-Nasiriya and Jayrud on Saturday.
It showed images of buses moving in what it said was Al-Ruhayba, most with their curtains drawn.
SANA late Friday said an agreement had been reached for fighters to leave Al-Ruhayba, Jayrud and Al-Nasiriya starting Saturday.
They would be transferred to the rebel-held northern town of Jarabulus in Aleppo province and to the neighbouring province of Idlib, where hardline rebels have their strongest grip on power.
The regime is pushing to secure the capital after it announced its full reconquest last week of what was the last major rebel bastion outside Damascus.
Eastern Ghouta was emptied of rebels after a nearly two-month deadly assault on the enclave and several Russia-brokered deals that saw tens of thousands of people transported on buses to Syria's north.
Earlier this week, a deal was inked that saw around 5,000 people including 1,500 fighters exit Dumayr, a town just to the south of Al-Ruhayba.
The regime has simultaneously turned its sights on the southern districts of the capital where Daesh has a presence.
Regime forces have bombarded the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern edge of Damascus in recent days in a bid to dislodge Daesh fighters.
Syria's conflict has killed 350,000 people and displaced millions more since it broke out in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


US Treasury imposes sanctions on Iranian network supporting child soldiers

Updated 45 min 19 sec ago
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US Treasury imposes sanctions on Iranian network supporting child soldiers

WASHINGTON: The US Treasury announced new sanctions against Iran's Bank Mellat and Mehr Eqtesad Bank on Tuesday.

The Treasury also announced sanctions against Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company, Esfehan's Mobarakeh Steel Company, as well as other firms.

According to the Tresury, the group make up a multibillion-dollar financial network that supports an Iranian paramilitary force that recruits and trains child soldiers for the country's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The Bonyad Taavon Basij network supports a volunteer paramilitary group, the Basij Resistance Force, which works with the IRGC, the Treasury said in a statement.

Both Basij groups were targeted by the new sanctions.

"This vast network provides financial infrastructure to the Basij's efforts to recruit, train, and indoctrinate child soldiers who are coerced into combat under the IRGC's direction," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The Basij is involved in violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses within Iran, the statement said. It recruits and trains fighters for the IRGC-Quds Force, including Iranian children as young as 12, who then deploy to Syria to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad regime, it said.

The designations highlight that "this Iranian regime is not a normal government," a senior administration official said. "Normal governments don't have revolutionary arms that support revolution and wreak havoc with their neighbors. They don't recruit indoctrinate and use child soldiers."

The sanctions were imposed on Bank Mellat, Mehr Eqtesad Bank, Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Co and five other investment firms, the Treasury said.

The sanctions also target Iran Tractor Manufacturing Co, the Middle East's largest tractor manufacturer, and Esfahan's Mobarakeh Steel Co, the largest steelmaker in the Middle East and North Africa region, Treasury said.