Dozens dead in regime’s assault on Yarmouk camp: Monitor

A picture taken on April 22, 2018, shows a Syrian air force Mi 24 helicopter dropping bombs over the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, south of the Syrian capital Damascus, during regime strikes targeting Daesh in the camp. (Rami Al-Sayed/AFP)
Updated 24 April 2018

Dozens dead in regime’s assault on Yarmouk camp: Monitor

  • The Syrian army says it is targeting areas known to be held by Daesh
  • UNRWA, the UN agency that cares for Palestinians, said on Sunday that conditions in Yarmouk were hellish

BEIRUT: More than a dozen Syrian regime forces have been killed fighting Daesh in a devastated southern district of the capital Damascus, a monitoring group said on Monday.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad ramped up their ground operations and bombing raids against the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in southern Damascus last Thursday.

Since then, 15 pro-Assad fighters have been killed as well as 19 Daesh terrorists, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based war monitor said the assault has also left 12 civilians dead, including women and children.

"Regime forces are continuing to bomb the southern parts of the capital with rockets, artillery, air strikes and helicopters," the Observatory said.

Yarmouk was once a densely populated and thriving district of the capital, but it has been ravaged by violence since Syria's conflict broke out in 2011.

Syria's regime imposed a crippling siege on it in 2012, and fighting has also broken out among radical operatives. In 2015, Daesh overran most of Yarmuk, and other fighters and terrorists, including from Al-Qaeda's former affiliate, agreed to withdraw just a few weeks ago.

Simultaneously, the Syrian regime was recapturing the last opposition pockets in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that had been the opposition's main bastion near the capital.

Troops last week shifted their attention to Yarmouk, but humanitarian organizations have sounded the alarm. The UN's Palestinian refugee agency said the bombardment has put the last operating hospital in Yarmouk out of service and displaced most of the camp's 6,000 remaining civilians.

Syria’s chief opposition negotiator Nasr Hariri said the US cannot afford to leave Syria as it has yet to achieve any of its goals in the region, even though President Donald Trump said recently Washington would withdraw its troops.

“I personally think the US is not capable of withdrawing its fighters from Syria,” Hariri told Reuters.

Washington for years supported opposition forces militarily against Syrian President Bashar Assad, but ended its train-and-equip program last year after changing its focus to the fight against Daesh.

It helped an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias drive the terrorists from swathes of northern and eastern Syria last year, including the group’s Syrian capital of Raqqa, and has deployed about 2,000 US troops in the country.

Trump said this month he wanted to bring them home soon but later agreed they should stay a little longer after his advisers argued they were needed to stop Daesh re-emerging and to prevent Iran gaining a bigger foothold.

The US led limited airstrikes against the Syrian regime along with Britain and France on April 14 in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack, which Assad denies.

“Daesh is not finished,” Hariri said.

“If we don’t treat the reasons that birthed Daesh, then these would be temporary victories like shifting sands that disappear here and pop up somewhere else. And fighting Daesh is at the top of American priorities.”

The only way to end the Syrian crisis is by reaching a political solution that replaces Assad because he is only interested in military solutions, said Hariri. But there can only be a political solution if the US and Russia have serious resolve to reach one, he said.

“It needs an international consensus that begins with a US-Russian agreement,” he said.

Russia’s entry into the Syrian war in 2015 turned the tide in Assad’s favor, but Hariri said Moscow would struggle to restore the regime’s pre-war power.

“Russia will not be able to take military control of Syrian lands, and the Syrian situation is much more complex than expanding military influence or achieving military gains,” Hariri said.

“We know, and the Syrian people know, that when the US seriously wants to reach a political solution and put real weight against the table of negotiations, it can make a change,” he said.

At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive regional trade

This picture taken from the Jordanian Mafraq governate on October 15, 2018, shows Jordanian policemen checking cars at the Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria (Nassib crossing on the Syrian side) on the day of its reopening. The main border crossing between Jordan and war-torn Syria reopened on October 15 after a three year closure, an AFP photographer reported. (AFP)
Updated 24 min 6 sec ago

At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive regional trade

  • Lebanese businessmen are delighted, as they can now reach other countries in the region by sending lorries through Syria and its southern border crossing
  • Assad’s forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels and jihadists

BEIRUT: By reopening a key land crossing with Jordan this month, the Syrian regime is inching toward a return to trade with the wider region as it looks to boost its war-ravaged economy.
The government of President Bashar Assad took back control of the Nassib border post in July from rebels as part of a military offensive that reclaimed swathes of the south of the country.
Syria’s international trade has plummeted during the seven-year civil war, and its foreign reserves have been almost depleted.
The reopening of Nassib after a three-year hiatus, on October 15, is a political victory for the Damascus regime, said Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group.
It is “a step toward reintegrating with Syria’s surroundings economically and recapturing the country’s traditional role as a conduit for regional trade,” he said.
The Nassib crossing reopens a direct land route between Syria and Jordan, but also a passage via its southern neighbor to Iraq to the east, and the Gulf to the south.
“For the Syrian government, reopening Nassib is a step toward normalization with Jordan and the broader region, and a blow to US-led attempts to isolate Damascus,” Heller said.
International pressure and numerous rounds of peace talks have failed to stem the fighting in Syria, and seven years in the regime has gained the military upper hand in the conflict.
Assad’s forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels and jihadists.

Syria faces a mammoth task to revive its battered economy.
The country’s exports plummeted by more than 90 percent in the first four years of the conflict alone, from $7.9 billion to $631 million, according to a World Bank report last year.
The Syria Report, an economic weekly, said Nassib’s reopening would reconnect Syria with an “important market” in the Gulf.
But, it warned, “it is unlikely Syrian exports will recover anywhere close to the 2011 levels in the short and medium terms because the country’s production capacity has been largely destroyed.”
For now, at least, Nassib’s reopening is good news for Syrian tradesmen forced into costlier, lengthier maritime shipping since 2015.
Among them, Syrian businessman Farouk Joud was looking forward to being able to finally import goods from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates via land.
Before 2015, “it would take maximum three days for us to receive goods, but via the sea it takes a whole month,” he told AFP.
Importing goods until recently has involved a circuitous maritime route from the Jordanian port of Aqaba via the Suez Canal, and up to a regime-held port in the northwest of the country.
“It costs twice as much as land transport via Nassib,” Joud said.
Syrian parliament member Hadi Sharaf was equally enthusiastic about fresh opportunities for Syrian exports.
“Exporting (fruit and) vegetables will have a positive economic impact, especially for much-demanded citrus fruit to Iraq,” he told AFP.
Before Syria’s war broke out in 2011, neighboring Iraq was the first destination of Syria’s non-oil exports.

The parliamentarian also hoped the revived trade route on Syria’s southern border would swell state coffers with much-needed dollars.
Before the conflict, the Nassib crossing raked in $2 million in customs fees, Sharaf said.
Last month, Syria’s Prime Minister Imad Khamis said fees at Nassib for a four-ton truck had been increased from $10 to $62.
Syria’s foreign reserves have been almost depleted due to the drop in oil exports, loss of tourism revenues and sanctions, the World Bank says.
And the local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value since the start of the war.
Lebanese businessmen are also delighted, as they can now reach other countries in the region by sending lorries through Syria and its southern border crossing.
Lebanon’s farmers “used to export more than 70 percent of their produce to Arab countries via this strategic crossing,” said Bechara Al-Asmar, head of Lebanon’s labor union.
Despite recent victories, Damascus still controls only half of the 19 crossings along Syria’s lengthy borders with Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.
Damascus and Baghdad have said the Albukamal crossing with Iraq in eastern Syria will open soon, but did not give a specific date.
Beyond trade, there is even hope that the Nassib crossing reopening might bring some tourists back to Syria.
A Jordanian travel agency recently posted on Facebook that it was organizing daily trips to the Syrian capital by “safe and air-conditioned” bus from Monday.
“Who among us doesn’t miss the good old days in Syria?” it said.