Syria rebels hand over arms in new deal with government

Syrian rebels and civilians prepare to be evacuated from the town of Yalda on the southern outskirts of Damascus on May 3 under a negotiated withdrawal. (AFP)
Updated 04 May 2018

Syria rebels hand over arms in new deal with government

BEIRUT: Syrian rebels on Friday were surrendering their heavy weapons for the second day after agreeing with the government a new deal to withdraw from central towns, a war monitor said.
Opposition fighters agreed with regime forces and their allies to a cease-fire deal earlier this week for the rebel towns of Talbisseh, Rastan, and Al-Houla, which fall in Syria’s central province of Homs.
“The fighters are handing over their heavy and intermediate weapons to Russian and regime forces for the second consecutive day,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
It included artillery and machine guns, said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Observatory.
“Once the handovers are finished, the rebels who want to leave will be evacuated out with civilians,” Abdel Rahman said.
The deal for the three rebel-controlled towns follows a similar pattern to other agreements recently reached across Syria, mostly around Damascus.
Rebels and civilians will be granted safe passage to the rebel-held town of Jarabulus, in Aleppo province, and the neighboring province of Idlib which largely escapes government control, according to state news agency SANA.
It said the deal also provided for the return of government institutions to the three towns and the reopening of a key highway.
That highway runs from the capital Damascus, through Homs, and onto second city Aleppo, in the north. Securing it has been a major target for the regime’s military operations.
The three towns were part of a “de-escalation zone” agreed one year ago by opposition supporter Turkey and regime allies Iran and Russia.
The total of four zones initially saw a reduction in shelling but violence has since escalated.
One of them, Eastern Ghouta, was recaptured last month by the Syrian government after a blistering two-month offensive that ended in forced evacuations of rebels and civilians there.
Jaish Al-Izza, one rebel faction present in the Homs area where a deal was reached, has said it rejects the agreement and pledged to remain deployed on its front lines.
It is the third such transfer deal for Homs province, after thousands were bused out in a pair of agreements for the city itself.

Israel announces plan to approve 2,500 new settler homes in West Bank

Updated 4 min 48 sec ago

Israel announces plan to approve 2,500 new settler homes in West Bank

JERUSALEM: Israel’s defense minister said on Thursday he plans to seek approval next week for the construction of some 2,500 new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Avigdor Lieberman, writing on Twitter, said a regional planning board would be asked to designate 1,400 of the housing units for immediate construction.

Settlements are one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014.

Palestinians want the West Bank for a future state, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Most countries consider settlements that Israel has built in territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war to be illegal.

Israel disputes that its settlements are illegal and says their future should be determined in peace talks with the Palestinians.

“We will promote building in all of Judea and Samaria, from the north to south, in small communities and in large ones,” Lieberman wrote, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.

There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials, who have long argued that Israeli settlements could deny them a viable and contiguous country.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are also home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians.