30 regime forces killed fighting Daesh in Syria capital: monitor

A file photo of smoke rising from buildings during regime strikes on the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk and the neighboring Al-Hajjar Al-Aswad district, in southern Damascus, on May 1, 2018. (Rami Al-Sayed/AFP)
Updated 07 May 2018
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30 regime forces killed fighting Daesh in Syria capital: monitor

  • Nearly 50 civilians are estimated to have been killed since the fighting began in April
  • Scores of regime fighters are among the casualties

BEIRUT: More than 30 Syrian government troops have been killed in a southern district of the capital in a fierce counter-offensive by Daesh fighters, a monitor said Monday.
Regime forces are seeking to end Daesh’s years-long foothold in the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk and neighboring district of Hajjar Al-Aswad, both in southern Damascus.
Last week, troops managed to sever a route linking the two areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said, but Daesh launched a fightback at the weekend and successfully reopened it.
“Their hit-and-run operations have continued since then, killing a total of 31 regime forces, mostly in ambushes,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory.
“The regime has since been advancing slowly, taking some positions and buildings, but there hasn’t been any strategic advance since Saturday,” he told AFP.
Regime troops control 60 percent of Hajjar Al-Aswad, while Daesh still holds more than 80 percent of Yarmuk.
Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad were pounding both districts with air strikes and shelling on Monday, Abdel Rahman said.
Since the start of the offensive in mid-April, more than 150 regime forces have been killed, as well as 120 Daesh fighters, the Observatory said.
Another 47 civilians also died in the fighting.
Yarmuk was once a thriving Palestinian camp that was home to around 160,000 people but only a few hundred are expected to still remain.
Syria’s government besieged the camp in 2012, and Daesh overran large swathes of it three years later.
Assad set his sights on the capital’s south after reconquering a major rebel bastion east of Damascus earlier this month.


The scent of soap making returns to Aleppo

Syrian businessman Ali Shami arranges olive soap bars in a factory on the outskirts of Aleppo. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 21 sec ago
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The scent of soap making returns to Aleppo

  • Shami carried out limited renovations — just enough to produce more than half of his pre-war output of around 800 tons a year

ALEPPO: After years of war, the scent of laurel oil once again wafts from a small soap workshop in Aleppo, signaling the revival of a landmark trade in the battered northern city.
Surrounding soap workshops in the Al-Nayrab district still lie in ruins, badly damaged in the four-year battle for the former opposition stronghold. But for Ali Shami, hanging up his apron was not an option.
“I never stopped making soap throughout the war — even if it was just a little,” says the 44-year-old, who fled his home city during the fighting.
“But this workshop is special,” he tells AFP. “It was here that I started more than 30 years ago.”
Shami reopened his soap workshop last month after shutting it down in 2012, when Syria’s second city became a main front in the eight-year-long conflict.
The scars of war are still visible on the building, its walls punctured with holes caused by shelling. Rushes of wind gust through the gaps.
Shami carried out limited renovations — just enough to produce more than half of his pre-war output of around 800 tons a year.
He installed a new metal door and refurbished the main rooms where the soap mixture is heated and then poured out to dry.
He watches as five workers stir a thick mixture of olive and laurel oil in a large vat.
Beside them, another five workers slice cooled and hardened green paste into cubes and stack them in staggered racks.
Shami says he was able to resume operations quickly because Aleppo soap is handmade.
Its production “relies on manual labor, a successful mixture, the passion of Aleppo’s residents, and their love of the profession,” he says.
After closing down in 2012, Shami tried to continue his work in other major Syrian cities. “My existence is tied to the existence” of soap, he says.
He moved to the capital, Damascus, and the regime-held coastal city of Tartous, but Shami says the soap was not as good.
“Aleppo’s climate is very suitable for soap production and the people of Aleppo know the secret of the trade and how to endure the hardship of the many stages of its production,” he says.
Shami, who inherited the soap business from his father and grandfather, boasts about the superior qualities of Aleppo soap, the oldest of its kind in the world.
“Aleppo soap distinguishes itself from other soaps around the world as it is made almost entirely of olive oil,” he says.
“European soap, on the other hand, includes animal fats, while soaps made in Asia are mixed with vegetal oils but not olive oil,” he says.
The Aleppo region is well-known for its olive oil and sweet bay oil, or laurel.
Shami says the Aleppo soap industry was hit hard by the fierce clashes that rocked his home city, before ending in late 2016 when the army took back opposition districts with Russian military support.
While conditions are less dangerous today, soap producers still grapple with shortages of raw material and skilled labor, he says.
“We are struggling with the aftermath of the battles,” he says.
Dozens of soap producers are still waiting to complete renovations before reopening their workshops. Hisham Gebeily is one of them.
His soap-making center in the Old City of Aleppo, named after the family, has survived for generations, dating back to the 18th century.
The three-story stone workshop covers a space of around 9,000 square meters, and is considered among the largest in the city.
But the 50-year-old man was forced to close it in 2012.
The structure still stands, although damaged by the fighting: Parts of it have been charred by shelling and wooden beams supporting the roof are starting to fall apart.
“Before the conflict, the city of Aleppo housed around 100 soap factories,” he says.