Syrian army drops barrel bombs in southwest for the first time in a year

Above, a fighter from the Free Syrian Army in the Yadouda area of Daraa. (Reuters)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Syrian army drops barrel bombs in southwest for the first time in a year

  • President Bashar Assad has sworn to recapture the area bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the army began ramping up an assault there this week
  • The Syrian government has denied using barrel bombs, containers filled with explosive material that are dropped from helicopters and which cannot be accurately aimed

BEIRUT: A war monitor reported Syrian military helicopters dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held areas of the southwest on Friday for the first time in a year, escalating an assault that has so far included artillery but only limited use of air power.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Syrian government helicopters had dropped more than 12 barrel bombs on rebel-held territory northeast of Daraa, causing damage but no deaths.

President Bashar Assad has sworn to recapture the area bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the army began ramping up an assault there this week.

The attack has been concentrated on the towns of Al-Harak and Busra Al-Harir, which would bisect a finger of rebel ground jutting northwards into land held by the Syrian government.

A big offensive risks a wider escalation, as the United States has warned Damascus it will respond to breaches of a “de-escalation” brokered by Washington and Assad’s Russian allies last year to contain the war in the southwest.

The region is also of strategic concern to Israel, which has struck Iran-backed militia allied to the army.

Those militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have played an important role in Assad’s seven-year war against the rebels, including since Russia entered the conflict in 2015.

The Russian ambassador to Lebanon was quoted on Friday in the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar as saying the Syrian military was recovering the southwest with help from Moscow.

“We say that the Syrian army now, with support from Russian forces, is recovering its land in the south and restoring the authority of the Syrian state,” it quoted him as saying in an interview.

“Israel has no justification to carry out any action that obstructs the fight against terrorism,” he added.

The Syrian government has denied using barrel bombs, containers filled with explosive material that are dropped from helicopters and which cannot be accurately aimed. However, United Nations investigators have extensively documented its use of them during the conflict.


Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

Updated 23 May 2019
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Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

  • Israel reduced the fishing limit to 10 nautical miles
  • The countries agreed to 20 nautical miles in the Oslo accords of 1990s

JERUSALEM: Israel reduced the offshore fishing limits it imposes for vessels operating out of Gaza from Thursday after Palestinians floated balloons fitted with incendiaries over the border, officials said.
The cut came just two days after Israel restored the limits to those set in April ahead of an Israeli general election.
“A decision was taken this Wednesday evening to reduce the fishing zone off the Gaza Strip to 10 nautical miles until further notice,” said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.
“The decision was taken after the launch of incendiary balloons from Gaza toward Israel,” it added.
Palestinians in Gaza have frequently floated balloons fitted with firebombs over the border to damage Israeli property and have in the past succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland.
Israel banned fishing completely when two days of deadly violence erupted earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following a truce.
The 15-nautical-mile limit that had been restored on Tuesday was the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.
But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.
Israeli authorities have not said whether the 15-mile limit was one of the understandings reached as part of the May 6 cease-fire in Gaza but Israel media reported on Monday that it was.
The additional nautical miles are important to Gaza fishermen as they bring more valuable, deeper water species within reach.
Four Israeli civilians and 25 Palestinians, including at least nine militants, were killed in this month’s exchanges across the border.