Despite deal, Syrian forces fighting to finish rebels

1 / 2
Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad are deployed at al-Qadam area near Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Damascus, Syria, on April 29, 2018. (REUTERS/ Omar Sanadiki/File Photo)
2 / 2
The removal of Daesh from the area returns control of Damascus to Syrian regime forces. (File Photo: Reuters)
Updated 21 May 2018
0

Despite deal, Syrian forces fighting to finish rebels

  • Regime media denies report that insurgents are being evacuated.
  • The opposition has called it a policy of forced displacement amounting to demographic change to drive out Assad’s opponents.

BEIRUT:  A war monitor said buses evacuated Daesh fighters from an enclave south of Damascus on Sunday in a withdrawal deal, though state media denied the report and said the Syrian forces were fighting to finish off the insurgents.

A cease-fire between Syrian regime forces and Daesh militants has held for 24 hours amid reports that some of the fighters have been allowed to leave, the monitor said.

The official state news agency and government officials deny reaching a deal to allow the militants to evacuate Yarmouk and adjacent areas. State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said government forces plan to drive the militants from their remaining strongholds in the area.

It said a new plan is underway to storm Daesh-held areas in Hajar Al-Aswad, near Yarmouk. An Al-Ikhbariya reporter in the area said the coming hours will be “decisive” for restoring government control over Hajar Al-Aswad, but did not mention Yarmouk.

The recovery of the enclave south of Damascus will mark another milestone in Bashar Assad’s war effort, crushing the last besieged rebel enclave in western Syria.

Swathes of territory at the borders with Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, however, remain outside state control.

Regime forces and their allies have been battling to recover the enclave south of Damascus since defeating rebels in eastern Ghouta, also near the capital, in April.

The area is centered around the Al-Hajjar Al-Aswad district and the adjoining Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk.

In a live broadcast, a reporter with Syrian state TV said the regime’s army operations in the Hajjar Al-Aswad area were nearing their end and insurgent lines were collapsing as columns of smoke rose from the area behind him.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier said buses had entered the enclave after midnight to take out fighters and their families. 

They had left toward the Syrian Badia, a sparsely populated expanse of territory east of the capital that extends to the border with Jordan and Iraq, it said.

Daesh militants had torched their offices in the Yarmouk enclave, the Observatory said.

Negotiated withdrawals have been a common feature of the Syrian war in recent years as the government, aided by the Russian military and Iran-backed forces, has steadily clawed back territory.

The rebels have mostly been given safe passage to northwestern Syria. In the last two months alone, the UN says 110,000 people have been evacuated to northwestern Syria and opposition-held areas north of Aleppo.

The opposition has called it a policy of forced displacement amounting to demographic change to drive out Assad’s opponents. The Syrian government has said nobody is forced to leave and those who stay must accept state rule.

While Assad has vowed to win back “every inch” of Syria, the map of the conflict suggests a more complicated time ahead from now on.

The US military is in much of the east and northeast, which is controlled by Kurdish groups that want autonomy from Damascus. It has used force to defend the territory from pro-Assad forces.

Turkey has sent forces into the northwest to counter those same Kurdish groups, carving out a buffer zone where anti-Assad opposition fighters have regrouped.

In the southwest, where fighters hold territory at the Israeli and Jordanian border, Assad faces the risk of conflict with Israel, which wants his Iranian-backed allies kept well away from the frontier and has mounted air strikes in Syria.

Damascus residents said the situation was calm, with no warplanes flying overhead Sunday. 

Daesh has been driven from virtually all the territory it once controlled in Syria and neighboring Iraq, but is still present in remote areas along the border.

Yarmouk began as a refugee camp for Palestinians who fled or were expelled from what is now Israel during the 1948 war. On the eve of Syria’s civil war it was a built-up residential area home to tens of thousands of Palestinians and Syrians.

Al-Watan, a pro-government newspaper, said the militants are believed to have surrendered. The Observatory said Daesh militants began burning their posts in Yarmouk and adjacent areas. Residents reported smoke was billowing over the area.

Assad’s forces launched an offensive against the militants in southern Damascus a month ago. The offensive has brought more than 70 percent of the camp under government control. The capture of the southern neighborhoods would bring the entire capital under government control for the first time since the war began in 2011.

Yarmouk began as a refugee camp for Palestinians who fled or were expelled from what is now Israel during the 1948 war. On the eve of Syria’s civil war it was a built-up residential area home to tens of thousands of Palestinians and Syrians.


OIC body urges Muslim countries to promote culture of reading

Updated 32 min 14 sec ago
0

OIC body urges Muslim countries to promote culture of reading

  • Critical shortage of ‘reading rates’ and ‘lack of access to books’ deplored
  • ISESCO calls on Muslim countries to support publishing industry

RABAT, Morocco: Muslim countries must do more to promote books and reading, the Saudi Press Agency reported one of the world’s largest Islamic organizations as saying.

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), which was founded by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation 40 years ago, called on Muslim countries to improve the publishing industry, provide copyright protection, and preserve manuscripts by digitizing them so that current and future generations could benefit from them.

It made the comments ahead of World Book and Copyright Day, a UN event celebrated on April 23. 

ISESCO said that knowledge and science in Muslim communities soared when printing was discovered, adding that paper books would remain a pillar of culture and a driver for development because civilization was founded on the discovery of writing.

“The media through which knowledge and sciences were transferred have varied with the advent of the information and communications technology revolution,” ISESCO said. “The world now has digital as well as paper books and, in spite of this great leap achieved by humanity to disseminate knowledge and sciences, there is a critical shortage of reading rates, and a large segment of people lack access to books and intermediate technologies. In addition, certain categories of people, such as the visually impaired, do not benefit from a large number of publications.”

The ISESCO statement mentioned statistics that showed an increase in the proportion of published books compared with previous years, which were characterized by a decline in the sector. ISESCO said the functions of paper and digital books were evenly divided.

But the popularity of books and reading could not hide the difficulties and risks facing the written word, it added. Manuscripts faced destruction and theft in some areas of armed conflict and this phenomenon threatened Islamic culture and history, said ISESCO.

The body said that technology could be used to combat book piracy through practical measures such as standardizing legislation, closing legal loopholes and raising awareness about the dangers of piracy.

ISESCO called on member states to give attention to books and reading as well as people with special needs to help them access books.

 

Environment protection

Separately, ISESCO and the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection (PME) had a meeting on Friday in Rabat, Morocco, to discuss the Saudi Arabia Award for Environmental Management in the Islamic World (KSAAEM).

The meeting, held at ISESCO headquarters, was presided over by PME President Khalil bin Musleh Al-Thaqafi and ISESCO Director General, Abdul Aziz Othman Al-Twaijri.

The meeting hailed the support of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the efforts of the PME and ISESCO in the field of environmental protection in the Islamic world, including raising awareness about the importance of protecting the environment and encouraging scientific research through KSAAEM.

The two sides highlighted their coordination, consultation and cooperation to achieve common goals. Mohammed Hussein Al-Qahtani, PME’s director general of media and public relations, commended the efforts made in this area and the results, and said there was a need to develop the award’s media plan to expand its outreach.

Dr. Abdelamajid Tribak, from ISESCO’s Directorate of Science and Technology, gave a presentation on the activities of KSAAEM’s General Secretariat.

He said the number of nominees had risen this year compared to the previous year, with 200 entrants from 40 Islamic and non-Islamic countries.