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
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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.


Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

Updated 18 February 2019
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Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

  • ‘We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible’
  • The minister noted that there is ‘no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship’

BERLIN: Germany vowed Monday to prosecute German Daesh fighters but warned that it would be “extremely difficult” to organize the repatriation of European nationals from Syria, after US President Donald Trump called on allies to take back alleged militants.
Syria’s US-backed Kurdish forces, which are battling Daesh group militants in their last redoubt in eastern Syria, hold hundreds of suspected foreign Daesh fighters and the calls for their reluctant home countries to take them back have grown in urgency.
“We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible,” Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told Bild daily.
Underlining the difficulties however of putting the ex-fighters on trial, the minister noted that there is “no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship.”
President Bashar “Assad cannot be our counterpart, the Syrian-democratic forces are not a unity government,” she added, stressing that proof and witness statements needed to be secured in Syria if the militants are to be put on trial.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said separately that a return could only be possible if “we can guarantee that these people can be immediately sent here to appear in court and that they will be detained.”
For this, “we need judicial information, and this is not yet the case,” Maas told ARD television late Sunday. Under such conditions a repatriation would be “extremely difficult to achieve.”
Berlin wants to “consult with France and Britain ... over how to proceed,” he said.
The subject is to be raised on Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers called to discuss among other issues “the situation in Syria, in particular the recent developments on the ground,” according to an agenda for the talks.
Trump on Sunday called on his European allies to take back alleged militants captured in Syria.
Daesh imposed a self-declared caliphate across parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq from 2014, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch of less than half a square kilometer near the Iraqi border.
After years of fighting Daesh, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for the group, as well as their wives and children.
Syria’s Kurds have repeatedly called for their countries of origin to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 Daesh fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a tweet.
After initial reluctance, Paris appears ready to consider the return of its nationals.
In Belgium, Justice Minister Koen Geens called for a “European solution” on Sunday, calling for “calm reflection and looking at what would be the least security risks.”