Shells hit south Syria city for first time in three years

Syrian rebel fighters flash the victory gesture while riding in the back of a military truck during a military parade near the southern city of Daraa on June 7, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 19 June 2018
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Shells hit south Syria city for first time in three years

  • The Syrian Observatory said opposition forces fired shells into Sweida city
  • This was the first attack since 2015

BEIRUT: Rebel shellfire slammed into the southern Syrian city of Sweida on Tuesday for the first time in three years, a monitor said, as fresh regime reinforcements arrived in the area.
The government holds most of Sweida province, but rebels still control much of the nearby Daraa and Quneitra governorates.
On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said opposition forces fired shells into Sweida city, “which led to loud blasts but no casualties.”
“It is the first time since 2015 that the city has been subjected to shellfire,” said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
State news agency SANA also blamed rebels “spread out in the towns and villages in eastern parts of Daraa province” for firing shells on Sweida.
It also said one girl was killed and two people were wounded in opposition fire on government-held parts of Daraa city.
Sweida, whose residents are mostly from the Druze minority, has remained relatively insulated from seven years of war that ravaged the rest of the country.
But rebels hold a sliver of territory in western Sweida that borders their main bastion in the province of Daraa, and clashes and exchanges of fire have erupted in that area in recent days.
Syria’s government has set its sights on ousting rebels from the south and has been dispatching troops and equipment there for weeks.
Rebel commander Abu Hassan told AFP on Tuesday his units had seen the reinforcements and were on high alert.
“We are almost always mobilized. The joint operations room has upped its coordination to the highest level,” he said.
On Tuesday, the regime dropped new flyers on the rebel-held half of Daraa city, calling on residents to expel rebels, “like your brothers did in Eastern Ghouta and Qalamun,” referring to two areas near Damascus recently recaptured from the opposition.
Opposition fighters appeared to fear the regime would use Sweida’s civilian population as justification for the assault, and issued a message addressed to them on Tuesday.
“We call on our people in Sweida province not to serve as bait for the goals of the regime, sectarian militias from Iran, and Hezbollah, which are trying to occupy this land and divide its people,” they said in a statement.
But the government has also hinted a political settlement could be reached over the south’s fate.
“We have moved toward the south and we are giving the political process a chance,” Syrian President Bashar Assad said last week.
“If that doesn’t succeed, we have no other option but to liberate it by force.”
Assad has regained the upper hand since 2011, when protests erupted across the country demanding he step down.
Demonstrations then turned into an armed conflict that has killed more than 350,000 people, drawn in world powers, and given rise to militants like the Daesh group.
IS has been defeated across much of Syria but the militants hold a few positions in desert areas of Sweida, where it has clashed with government troops recently.
On Tuesday, eight regime forces were killed in clashes with Daesh in the area.


UN chief urges Israel, Palestinians to avoid ‘devastating conflict’

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 July 2018
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UN chief urges Israel, Palestinians to avoid ‘devastating conflict’

  • More than 130 Palestinians have died so far during violent protests
  • Diplomats at the UN said there had not yet been a call for an urgent Security Council meeting to find ways to lower tensions

UNITED NATIONS, United States: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Saturday on Israelis and Palestinians to avoid “another devastating conflict” after resurgent violence claimed five lives on Friday.
“I am gravely concerned over the dangerous escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel,” he said in a statement. “It is imperative that all sides urgently step back from the brink of another devastating conflict.”
The recent violence in Gaza marks the most serious escalation between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war.
Four Palestinians and an Israeli soldier died in clashes Friday. More than 130 Palestinians have died so far during violent protests, and the Red Cross says more than 13,000 have been wounded.
“I call on Hamas and other Palestinian militants to cease the launching of rockets and incendiary kites and provocations” along the fence separating Israel from Gaza, Guterres said.
“And Israel must exercise restraint to avoid further inflaming the situation.”
He encouraged all parties to work with the UN to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, saying that it endangered lives on both sides while aggravating the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.
Diplomats at the UN said there had not yet been a call for an urgent Security Council meeting to find ways to lower tensions. A regular monthly meeting on the Middle East is on the council’s agenda for Tuesday.
A cease-fire with Israel, announced by Hamas, was generally being respected on Saturday. Egypt had brokered a cease-fire a week earlier.