Syrian government declares capital fully under its control, Daesh ousted

Syrian government forces walk down a destroyed street in the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk on the southern outskirts of Damascus, after the Syrian army announced it was in complete control of the capital and its outskirts for the first time since 2012, following the ousting of the Daesh group from a last pocket of resistance. (AFP)
Updated 21 May 2018

Syrian government declares capital fully under its control, Daesh ousted

  • Syria's army is in complete control of the capital and its outskirts for the first time since 2012, after ousting Daesh from a last pocket of resistance
  • A small Daesh holdout remains in the south of the capital Damascus

BEIRUT: Syria’s military on Monday captured an enclave in southern Damascus from Daesh militants following a ruinous monthlong battle, bringing the entire capital and its far-flung suburbs under full government control for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.
The gains freed President Bashar Assad’s forces to move with allied militiamen on remaining rebel-held territory in the south near the border with Israel, as Syria’s chief ally Iran comes under growing pressure from the Trump administration to withdraw its troops from the country.
Iranian-backed militias, including the Lebanese group Hezbollah, have been instrumental in helping Assad’s over-stretched forces recapture huge areas around Damascus and in the country’s center and north, building a military presence that has alarmed Israel and its US ally, which is now looking to constrain Iran’s activities.
Iranian officials have vowed to stay on in Syria for as long as needed, setting the stage for a potential confrontation as Washington seeks to tighten the screws on Tehran following the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal brokered with Iran under President Barack Obama and world powers.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened Iran with the “strongest sanctions in history” if Tehran doesn’t change course. In his first major foreign policy speech since taking the post as the top US diplomat, he issued a list of demands that he said should be included in any new nuclear treaty with Iran, including that it “withdraw all forces” from Syria, halt support for Hezbollah and stop threatening Israel.
Iran and Russia have joined forces in Syria, providing crucial military support to Assad’s forces and giving them the upper hand in the civil war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Assad at a meeting last week that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops from Syria. Putin’s envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said Putin was referring to Iranian forces, among others.
Iran says it is in Syria at the behest of the Assad government and says it is fighting “terrorism” in the form of extremists, including Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters that no one can force Tehran to do anything it doesn’t want to do.
“Our presence in Syria has been based on a request by the Syrian government and Iran will continue its support as long as the Syrian government wants,” he said, speaking shortly before Pompeo made his remarks.
The recapture of Daesh-held pockets in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk and the nearby Hajjar Al-Aswad district in southern Damascus came after a massive bombing campaign that has all but decimated what was left of the residential area on the edge of the capital, once home to about 200,000 Palestinian refugees.
The camp has been deserted by most of its inhabitants following years of siege, and the few remaining residents fled to nearby areas in the last days of the bombardment.
The last push on the Yarmouk camp came after a group of civilians was evacuated overnight. State TV showed images of troops moving in, waving the Syrian flag and flashing victory signs atop wrecked buildings in the destroyed neighborhood. Some fired in the air in celebration.
The move boosts morale and security in Assad’s seat of power, putting it out of range of insurgents’ mortar fire and shells for the first time in nearly seven years.
With Iran’s help, Assad’s forces have been making steady gains since 2015, when Russian launched an air campaign on behalf of his forces. In December 2016, government forces captured rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo, in Assad’s biggest victory since the conflict began.
With a mix of military pressure and surrender deals brokered by Russia, thousands of opposition fighters capitulated and were evacuated in March and April from Damascus suburbs known as eastern Ghouta after a crushing government offensive.
Syrian troops and their allies are expected to turn their attention to opposition-held parts of southern Syria, including Daraa province, in a push that could bring allied Iranian forces even closer to the increasingly tense frontier with Israel. Idlib, in the north, remains a major rebel bastion, but government forces are expected to leave that confrontation to a later stage.
Israel has warned Iran and its proxies to stay away from the border and has carried out a series of airstrikes on Syrian air bases where it believes Iranian troops maintain a presence. Earlier this month, it launched a blistering bombardment of Iranian positions in Syria after an alleged Iranian rocket barrage toward its positions on the annexed Golan Heights.
Gen. Ali Mayhoub, a Syrian army spokesman, declared Damascus and its surroundings “completely secure” on Monday.
A war monitoring group said about 1,600 people, including hundreds of Daesh gunmen, left the area Saturday and Sunday, heading toward the desert in the east of the country following a deal with the government. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the month of fighting left scores of dead on both sides.
Syrian TV earlier quoted an unidentified Syrian military official as saying the two-day truce had been in place to evacuate women, children and the elderly Sunday night from Hajjar Al-Aswad. Syrian state media denied a deal was reached to evacuate the militants.
“The Daesh terrorist organization was wiped out in Hajjar Al-Aswad,” an unidentified Syrian soldier told state TV. “We will keep marching until we liberate all parts of Syria.”

Bahrain suspends visas for Qatari nationals

Updated 21 August 2018

Bahrain suspends visas for Qatari nationals

JEDDAH: Bahrain has suspended issuing entry visas to Qatari nationals as part of the dispute between between Arab countries and Doha.

Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt launched a boycott of Qatar in June last year, accusing the country of links to terrorism.

The quartet cut off diplomatic, transport and economic ties with Qatar some trvel restrictions were placed on nationals travelling between the countries. 

"The Ministry of Interior has announced the suspension of the issuance of entry visas for Qatari nationals,” the Bahrain News Agency reported.

Qatari students who study in Bahrain will be excluded, along with those with valid visas, the ministry said.

The statement said the decision was not taken because of Qatari nationals “who share brotherly ties with Bahrainis, but as result of irresponsible acts of Qatari authorities that do not consider the rights of neighbouring countries or the principles of the international law,” the ministry said.