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.


Book promoting national dialogue in conflict-hit countries published

Launch of the Arabic version of ‘National Dialogue Handbook- A Guide for Practitioners’ in Beirut. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 44 min 21 sec ago
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Book promoting national dialogue in conflict-hit countries published

  • The Berghof Foundation initiated Lebanese national dialogue efforts in 2007
  • The aim of the guide is to “provide solid guidance and practical support to those who explore national dialogue

BEIRUT: Two European peace-building institutes have jointly published an Arabic-language manual aimed at promoting national dialogue in countries plagued by war and extremism.

The Berghof Foundation, a not-for-profit peace-building organization that initiated Lebanese national dialogue efforts in 2007 and embarked on similar initiatives in Yemen and Sudan, collaborated with Swiss research institute Swisspeace to publish the guide.

Firas Khairallah, Berghof representative in Beirut, told Arab News that the aim of the guide is to “provide solid guidance and practical support to those who explore national dialogue as a means to transcend political obstacles or scenarios of divisive conflict or turbulent transition.”

At a recent meeting held in Lebanon, Germany’s ambassador to Lebanon, Georg Birgelen, stressed that “anything is better than war.”

“As German, we know war all too well,” he told politicians and officials at a recent meeting held by the foundation. “This is why avoiding conflict is key to German policy-making.”

Swiss ambassador to Lebanon, Monika Schmuts Kirgoz, said: “National dialogue and consensus-building are the subjects of the hour in the Middle East”, adding that “courage is needed to advance dialogue and reach agreements.”

“National dialogues provide an effective way to overcome internal faults and to rebuild relations between state and institutions,” said one official from the foundation. “Where national dialogue succeeds, social contracts are born.”

While peace-building initiatives hang in the balance in Lebanon, Berghof Foundation and Swisspeace officials concurred that Tunisia proved the most successful model for national dialogue in the region.

“The dialogue was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Tunisia,” said Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Ouided Bouchamaoui, who founded the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet.

“We forced all parties to participate in the dialogue and held 1,700 hours worth of dialogue and one-on-one talks. We received many threats and faced problems with state actors, but we always reverted to dialogue. We set a new constitution and held elections. Our mission ended in 2014. We now have elected institutions.”

Bouchamaoui added: “The experience was successful thanks to a strong civil society and high education levels, which make Tunisians think 100 times before resorting to violence. Still, economic challenges are mounting.”

In Jordan, where extremist rhetoric among youth facing soaring unemployment rates has become rampant in recent years, the foundation instigated dialogue to strengthen the culture of tolerance.

Musa Al-Maaitah, Jordan’s political affairs minister and founder of the Jordanian Social Democratic Party, said that democracy essentially boils down to the right to disagree.

“Our problem is that we want to take without giving,” he said. “Political parties always think that they have the truth, but the fact is that no one has one absolute form of truth.”

In Libya, matters were not so simple and talks fell through. 

“The Libyans elected a constituent assembly for the first time in 40 years and they were happy, but the Libyan people wanted a UN-sponsored dialogue,” said Tariq Mitri, the former head of the UN Support Mission in Libya. “They thought the UN held the carrot and the stick.”

He pointed out that one of the problems in Libya was trying to root out the other side under the slogan “no democracy for the enemies of the nation.” 

“Armed groups have strong sway over political parties,” he said. “This is why it was difficult getting them on one table.”

In Lebanon, meanwhile, efforts hang between success and failure.

“The dialogue broke down in Lebanon after failure to implement the constitution,” said former President Michel Suleiman. 

“Civil society must be included in dialogue. What we lack is the implementation of a social contract in accordance with a constitution. The only way out is limit weapons supply to the state, revisit agreements with Syria and form a committee to abolish sectarianism.”

Former Prime Minister Fuad Siniora concurred. “Domination, marginalization, external and internal interventions, provocation, assassinations, intimidation, blackmail, populism and all sorts of other forms of sabotage rampantly increased between 2006 and 2018,” he said.

As former Minister Yassine Jaber put it: “We need to agree on the rule of law because implementation of the law is not a point of view.”