Syria regime advances against Daesh in south Damascus, state media says

Smoke billows at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus a during the Syrian army air strikes. Yarmouk and the surroundings are now Daesh’s largest urban redoubt in Syria or neighboring Iraq. (AFP)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Syria regime advances against Daesh in south Damascus, state media says

DAMASCUS: Syrian regime forces on Friday advanced against Daesh group militants in the south of Damascus, state media said, after more than a week of bombardment on the area.
“Army units backed by the air force and artillery have advanced on numerous axes” in southern Damascus, including the district of Hajjar Al-Aswad, “after breaking through terrorist defenses,” state news agency SANA said.
The advance “inflicted great human and material losses” on the militants, it said.
Syrian state television said the army was advancing toward Route 30 in Hajjar Al-Aswad.
Regime forces have pounded southern districts of Damascus since April 19, after IS refused an evacuation deal for the region.
The areas under regime fire include the neighborhoods of Hajjar Al-Aswad and Qadam as well as the adjacent Palestinian camp of Yarmouk.
Daesh has held parts of Hajjar Al-Aswad and Yarmouk since 2015 and seized Qadam last month.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said pro-government forces took control of “buildings and streets in Hajjar Al-Aswad and Qadam after attacking the districts at dawn.”
Regime forces were locked in violent clashes with Daesh fighters on Friday morning, the Britain-based monitor said.
Heavy air strikes and shelling had targeted Yarmouk and the edges of Hajjar Al-Aswad and Qadam since the early morning.
At least 74 regime personnel and 59 IS fighters have been killed in eight days of fighting, the monitor said.
In that same period, at least 19 civilians have also been killed in regime bombardment of the area including in Yarmouk, it said.
Yarmouk and the surroundings are now Daesh’s largest urban redoubt in Syria or neighboring Iraq.
The militants have lost much of the territory they once controlled in both countries since they declared a cross-border caliphate there in 2014.
Yarmouk was once home to around 160,000 people, but today just a few hundred people remain, the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees has said.
President Bashar Assad’s regime set its sights on the south of the capital after reconquering a major rebel bastion east of Damascus earlier this month.
Eastern Ghouta fell after a blistering air and ground assault and Russia-backed evacuation deals that saw tens of thousands of people bussed out to northern Syria.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


Catholic priest stabbed live on TV at Canada's biggest church

Updated 1 min 40 sec ago
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Catholic priest stabbed live on TV at Canada's biggest church

  • The priest was celebrating mass at Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory when a tall man approached and stabbed him
  • Security guards and other churchgoers quickly restrained the suspect and was arrested by police

MONTREAL: A Canadian Catholic priest was stabbed in front of dozens of stunned worshippers as he was celebrating mass Friday morning at Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory.
Montreal police said a 911 call was placed at around 8:40 a.m. local time. When officers arrived at the landmark church, a male suspect was already detained by security guards.
Philip Barrett, who was sitting near the front of the church, said he saw a tall man, who appeared to be a Caucasian in his 30s, rise from a pew and quickly walk to attack Rev. Claude Grou, the Oratory’s rector.
“He walked over behind the altar and he seemed to strike the priest’s body,” Barrett said. “I think the priest fell down at that time. I do remember the priest was moving away from the man but it happened so quickly there was almost no time to react.”
The service was live-streamed on a Catholic channel. Video shows a tall man in a dark jacket and white baseball cap rounding the altar and charging at Grou as he thrusts his right arm toward the priest. Grou runs backward a few steps before the assailant pushes him into a banner.
As screams are heard in the background, a group of people run forward, surrounding and blocking the suspect.

Barrett said people quickly restrained the suspect, who did not struggle. He said the suspect didn’t speak or call out during the attack.
There was no other information immediately available about why the priest may have been attacked.
Police spokeswoman Caroline Chevrefils says the victim suffered minor injuries to his upper body and was taken to the hospital.
The suspect was to be questioned by police Friday morning.
Barrett said Grou crumpled to the ground after the attack, but he appeared to be conscious and alert about 15 minutes later when paramedics wheeled him to an ambulance.
He said members of the congregation immediately began praying.
“We’re reassured, because when he left the oratory he was conscious and could talk, which we see as a good sign,” said Celine Barbeau, a spokeswoman for the church.
St. Joseph’s Oratory is among Canada’s largest churches, and pilgrims from all over the world are drawn to its domed roof and stunning architecture.
Barrett said that he, like the rest of the roughly 60 people present, was shocked that an attack would happen in a place he has come to see as a haven.
“I really find it’s a welcoming place,” he said. “I just hope that as a result of this, I mean, I can imagine they’re going to need more security, but I hope they can still keep that welcoming spirit.”