Russian soldiers among 35 pro-Assad fighters killed in Daesh attack

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A military vehicle carrying members of the Russian Military Police is parked on the highway extending from Harasta in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus to the northern part of Syria, after it reopened to traffic on May 15, 2018. (AFP / LOUAI BESHARA)
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Russian soldiers standing guard in a central street in Syria's eastern city of Deir Ezzor, as locals pass by. (AFP)
Updated 28 May 2018
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Russian soldiers among 35 pro-Assad fighters killed in Daesh attack

  • This was one of the deadliest attacks of Daesh, which now only holds tiny pockets of Syria, mainly in the vast desert stretching to its eastern border.
  • A steadfast ally of Bashar Assad, Moscow has helped his army recapture swathes of territory since 2015 by providing airstrikes and ground troops.

BEIRUT: Russian fighters were among dozens of pro-regime forces killed in eastern Syria this week in a deadly wave of attacks by Daesh militants, Moscow and a monitor said on Sunday.

After its collapse last year, Daesh now only holds tiny pockets of Syria, mainly in the vast desert stretching to its eastern border.

This week, the militants ramped up their hit-and-run attacks on regime positions there, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

The deadliest was on Wednesday, when Daesh targeted a group of Syrian and allied Russian fighters near the town of Mayadeen in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

“There were 35 pro-government forces killed, including at least nine Russians. Some of those Russian nationals were government troops, but not all of them,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The remaining 26 were all Syrian forces, he told AFP.

A steadfast ally of Bashar Assad, Moscow has helped his army recapture swathes of territory since 2015 by providing airstrikes and ground troops.

There are also widespread reports of private Russian mercenaries on the ground.

Moscow’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday four of its servicemen were killed in clashes in Deir Ezzor.

Two were military advisers supporting Syrian artillery operations and died immediately, and another two died of their wounds in a Russian-operated military hospital in Syria. Three others were wounded.

Russia did not specify when, where, or whether Daesh was involved, but it appeared to be the same incident as the Daesh attack reported near Mayadeen.

The militant group itself claimed it attacked regime forces in eastern Syria on Wednesday.

The assault was the largest in series of Daesh guerilla raids on regime positions this week.

On Tuesday, 26 regime forces were killed in a surprise Daesh attack in desert areas of the neighboring province of Homs, according to the Observatory.

And a pair of Daesh assaults between Saturday night and Sunday morning killed at least 11 pro-regime forces in Deir Ezzor.

“The latest attack brings to 76 the number of Syrian troops and allied Iranian and Russian forces killed since the escalation,” Abdel Rahman said Sunday.

He said the uptick came the day after the last Daesh fighters were bussed out of southern parts of Syria’s capital Damascus, including the ravaged Palestinian camp of Yarmuk, in a negotiated withdrawal.

Many headed toward the Badiya, the stretch of Syrian desert extending from Homs province through Deir Ezzor to the eastern border with Iraq.

The Observatory said the evacuated fighters were actively involved in the recent attacks.

Daesh “is trying to take the initiative and show it can still threaten the regime and its allies despite the losses it suffered in other areas,” said Abdel Rahman.

Government positions in the Badiya make for an easy target: They are few and far between, so reinforcements take a long time to arrive.

Russian-backed Syrian troops hold the western half of Deir Ezzor province, which is divided diagonally by the Euphrates River. US-backed fighters hold the east bank.

The river is meant to serve as a de-confliction line to prevent the two sides from clashing as they pursue separate assaults against Daesh.

A Syrian military source based in the east told AFP that Assad’s troops had cleared large parts of territory from Daesh, which was now lashing out.

“Daesh wants to hinder the army’s combing operations in the Badiya by waging these intermittent attacks,” said the source.

It confirmed Russian military advisers were present during Wednesday’s attack and were among those killed.

Russia’s government officially acknowledges that 92 soldiers have been killed in Syria, although some estimate the number is even higher.

The highest casualties were in March, when a transport plane crashed at Hmeimim air base where Moscow’s airforce is based, killing all 39 people on board.

On Sunday, a local Russian newspaper in the Siberian city of Chita reported on the funerals of four soldiers it said were killed in Syria on May 23.

The international group Conflict Intelligence Team said up to six Russian soldiers could have been killed in the attack, quoting social media reports of a funeral for a Russian soldier that took place in the Western Russian city of Smolensk this week.


Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

Syrian children are pictured at a refugee camp in the village of Mhammara in the northern Lebanese Akkar region on March 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 53 min 23 sec ago
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Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

  • UN official stresses ‘urgent need to ensure’ their ‘safe, voluntary and dignified return’
  • Some 215,000 Syrian students are currently enrolled in Lebanon's schools 

BEIRUT: Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about reports that Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon face torture and murder.

This coincides with a debate in Lebanon about whether Syrian refugees should return without waiting for a political solution to the conflict in their country. 

UN Special Coordinator Jan Kubis stressed after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday the “urgent need to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian refugees home, according to international humanitarian norms.” 

Kubis added: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible. Another very important message was also to support the host communities here in Lebanon.”

Mireille Girard, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Monday said: “The reconstruction process in Syria may not be enough to attract refugees to return. We are working to identify the reasons that will help them to return.”

She added: “The arrival of aid to the refugees is an element of trust that helps them to return. Their dignity and peaceful living must be ensured.”

Social Affairs Minister Richard Kouyoumdjian said the Lebanese General Security “issued lists containing the names of refugees wishing to return to their homes, but the Syrian regime accepted only about 20 percent of them.”

He added: “The solution is to call on the international community to put pressure on Russia, so that Moscow can exert pressure on (Syrian President) Bashar Assad’s regime to show goodwill and invite Syrian refugees to return to their land without conditions, procedures, obstacles and laws that steal property and land from them.”

Lebanese Education Minister Akram Chehayeb said: “The problem is not reconstruction and infrastructure, nor the economic and social situation. The main obstacle is the climate of fear and injustice in Syria.”

He added: “There are 215,000 Syrian students enrolled in public education in Lebanon, 60,000 in private education, and there are informal education programs for those who have not yet attended school to accommodate all children under the age of 18.” 

Chehayeb said: “As long as the displacement crisis continues, and as long as the (Assad) regime’s decision to prevent the (refugees’) return stands … work must continue to absorb the children of displaced Syrians who are outside education to protect Lebanon today and Syria in the future.”