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.


Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

Updated 49 min 42 sec ago
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Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

  • More than 27,000 people died and 1.8 million displaced since the start of Boko Haram conflict in 2009
  • Malkohi residents say they will support President Muhammadu Buhari because he helped curtail the extremists’ power

MALKOHI, Nigeria: Idriss Abdullahi was once a successful businessman and a husband to four wives, until the day he fled his home when Boko Haram insurgents advanced across northeastern Nigeria.
Five years on he lives beside dull farmland in a tented camp in Malkohi village, near the Adamawa state capital Yola, and tries to make a living selling firewood.
But the earnings are so meager he has had to divorce one of his wives.
“Even an animal lives better than me,” he told AFP in the camp he shares with 2,800 of his neighbors from the Borno state town of Gwoza, which the insurgents sacked in 2014.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the Boko Haram conflict began in 2009 and some 1.8 million others are still displaced.
President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 on a pledge to end the insurgency, which at its peak saw the extremists control an area the size of Belgium.
In Abdullahi’s hometown, the wild-eyed leader of the extremists, Abubakar Shekau, declared an Islamic caliphate.
An offensive involving Nigerian troops and foreign mercenaries pushed them back. But in recent months there have been signs of resurgence.
Despite that, residents of Malkohi say they’re ready to support Buhari at Saturday’s rescheduled vote — even if they can’t return to Gwoza to do so.
“It’s not that we actually love him,” Abdullahi said of the president. “It’s that he saved our lives from Boko Haram.”
Shortly after taking office, Buhari declared Boko Haram “technically defeated,” apparently fulfilling the promise that was seen as a key to his victory.
But in February last year, the group seized 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, in an echo of the 2014 abduction of more than 200 from Chibok that brought world attention to the conflict.
Malkohi itself hasn’t been spared; the group in 2015 bombed a government-organized camp across the road from the informal settlement where the former Gwoza residents stay.
An Islamic State-allied faction has in recent months overrun military bases, seizing equipment and weapons, and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee for their lives.
Nigeria’s election commission has been forced to set up special measures for them to vote: in Borno, some 400,000 displaced people will vote at 10 centers.
Several others have been created in Adamawa.
The main opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has seized on the insecurity and claimed Buhari has failed in his core duty of keeping Nigerians safe.
But from their homes in Adamawa — Abubakar’s home state — Malkohi residents say they feel more forgotten than under attack.
“Up to now, hospitals have not been provided. Before, [aid groups] gave us drugs, but now we don’t receive any,” said Fanta Ali, a housewife at the camp.
The Malkohi camp today is made up of rows of shacks separated by dirt paths, on which barefoot children and turkeys strut.
The makeshift homes are constructed from tarpaulin donated by aid agencies who also built a water tower for the settlement.
Many Malkohi residents were prosperous in Gwoza but without money to start businesses they now rely on manual labor to get by.
“Seriously, I’m suffering,” said Abdulrahman Hassen, once a merchant and chair of a professional association who now farms for a living.
Returning to Gwoza, where Boko Haram remains strong, is still a distant prospect. Helping people go home will be on the next president’s to-do list.
The displaced say they’re made to feel like outsiders in Adamawa, and local residents call them thieves for farming the land around the camp.
Gwoza was badly damaged when it was retaken in 2015, and cellphone reception is so weak residents climb trees to get a signal, said Yunussa Takda, a youth leader in Malkohi.
Meanwhile, the town’s outlying villages are still unsafe.
“Under Buhari, we’ve seen that a lot of our villages that have been taken by Boko Haram haven’t been recovered,” he said. “Maybe if he’s given a second chance, we can go home.”
Umaru Ibrahim Bakare lost track of his pregnant wife and then three-year-old daughter in the chaos of Boko Haram’s initial attack on the town, and has been looking for them ever since.
He made an unsuccessful trip to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, aiming to find his family.
He remains hopeful after the Red Cross connected a friend with three children he’d lost when fleeing Boko Haram.
“We must vote Muhammadu Buhari to finish what he’s started and defeat the insurgency,” he said.