Syrian army pounds Palestinian camp; UN warns of dire conditions

A picture taken on April 22, 2018, shows smoke billowing from the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, south of the Syrian capital Damascus, during regime strikes targeting the Daesh group in the camp. (AFP / Rami al Sayed)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Syrian army pounds Palestinian camp; UN warns of dire conditions

AMMAN, Jordan: The Syrian army on Thursday intensified its bombardment of a besieged camp for Palestinian refugees and nearby rebel-held areas in southern Damascus, the last area near the capital outside government control.
Most civilians have long since fled the Yarmouk camp, once the largest in Syria for Palestinian refugees, but enough have stayed behind that the United Nations has called on the warring parties to spare civilians.
The Russian-backed Syrian army launched a major offensive last week to capture the south Damascus enclave that includes Yarmouk and neighboring areas, which have been held for years by rebel fighters and Daesh militants.
The Yarmouk campaign is part of a wider offensive to recapture remaining rebel areas that has shown no sign of letting up since Western countries launched air strikes on April 14 to punish the government for a suspected poison gas attack.
President Bashar Assad’s is now in by far his strongest position since the early months of the seven-year civil war.
Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency which runs camps for Palestinian refugees, warned of the “catastrophic consequences of the escalation” in the camp, which had “endured indescribable pain and suffering over years of conflict.”
State media showed footage of a ground assault led by tanks on the fringes of Hajjar Al-Aswad, which adjoins the sprawling Yarmouk camp. Aerial strikes and bombardment have relentlessly pounded residential areas for days.
The army said it had made advances and killed dozens of militants. Rebels in the area say however that there has been no significant push inside Hajjar Al-Aswad or the camp, despite hundreds of strikes.
At least 19 civilians have been killed and 150 injured since the campaign began, mostly women and elderly, according to Ayman Abu Hashem, a lawyer and former camp resident in touch with residents who have stayed. The sprawling camp was part of a densely populated, impoverished squatter belt only few kilometers away from the heart of the capital.
Two sources inside the camp said around 1,500 families remain there.
Christopher Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman, said the plight of remaining civilians had worsened: “Many are sleeping in the streets, begging for medicine. There is almost no water or electricity. Their suffering is unimaginable.”
The camp has been under siege by the army since rebels captured it in 2012. Most civilians fled when Daesh militants drove out comparatively secular rebels in 2015, but thousands remained behind, many of whom have fled this week.
At least 3,500 Palestinian refugees from the camp have in the last week taken shelter in the nearby town of Yalda, according to UNRWA and a resident who confirmed the figure.
Yalda is not controlled by Daesh fighters but by rebels who have long abandoned fighting under de facto cease-fire deals with the army. The government aims to push them to leave the area for northern Syria under an evacuation deal. 


El-Sisi confident Russian flights will resume ‘soon’ to Egyptian resort cities

Updated 19 min 53 sec ago
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El-Sisi confident Russian flights will resume ‘soon’ to Egyptian resort cities

  • “I am confident that given the positive spirit between the two countries, direct flights to other Egyptian cities will resume,” Sisi said
  • El-Sisi also hailed Egypt’s diplomatic relations with Russia, which have enjoyed a course of 75 years

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said Tuesday he is confident Russia will resume direct flights to Egyptian resorts as he discussed ways to bolster ties with Russian officials and lawmakers.

Addressing the Russian parliament’s upper house, El-Sisi said: “Our efforts to resume direct flights between Cairo and Moscow ended in success after the visit by President Putin to Egypt in December 2017.

“I am confident that given the positive spirit between the two countries, direct flights to other Egyptian cities will resume,” the Egyptian president said, emphasizing that restoring the flights was essential for Egypt’s tourism industry.

The highest number of tourists to Egypt annually used to come from Russia before Moscow suspended flights after a bomb planted by the Daesh group brought a Russian passenger plane down over Sinai in October 2015, killing all 224 people on board.

Earlier this year, flights between Moscow and Cairo resumed in April after Egyptian officials beefed up airport security.

El-Sisi also hailed Egypt’s diplomatic relations with Russia, which have enjoyed a course of 75 years.

“Russia was the first to help Egypt restore its occupied territories. Egypt also won’t forget Russia’s contribution in its battle for development, as it helped [Egypt] build the high dam and other megaprojects,” he said.

El-Sisi attended meetings in Moscow with top Russian lawmakers and Cabinet ministers, he then met over dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi later in the day.

The two leaders have developed a close personal rapport and sought to expand bilateral ties, which have strengthened considerably over the past few years.

El-Sisi is on his fourth trip to Russia since taking office in 2014, and Putin visited Egypt in 2015 and 2017.

Egypt has signed deals to buy billions of dollars’ worth of Russian weapons, including fighter jets and assault helicopters. When Putin visited Cairo last December, officials signed a deal for Russia to build a nuclear power plant in Dabaa.