Families flee as Syria regime bombards southern city

The regime has ramped up its bombardment of the southern city of Daraa. Reuters
Updated 26 June 2018

Families flee as Syria regime bombards southern city

  • Government forces have for ramped up their bombardment of the wider province of the same name for nearly a week, as fears rise of a full-blown regime assault to retake the country’s south from rebels
  • The uptick in violence has killed at least 28 civilians in just under a week, the monitor said, with rescue teams struggling to reach affected areas due to the intensity of the bombing

BEIRUT: Regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs on Daraa city for the first time in nearly a year on Monday, a rebel and a war monitor said, extending an assault in southwest Syria that has driven thousands from their homes.
Along with the barrels crammed with explosives, the helicopters dropped leaflets saying the army was coming and urging people to “kick out the terrorists as your brothers did in Eastern Ghouta,” the sources said.
“My wife and I left with only the clothes on our backs, because the house was completely destroyed,” Mohammed Abu Qasim, 45, said. Heavy bombing had turned his village northeast of Daraa into “an unbearable hell.”
The region is politically sensitive because of its proximity to Israel and Jordan and because of a “de-escalation” deal there agreed between the US, Jordan and Syrian regime ally Russia.
Washington had warned Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian allies that violations of the cease-fire would prompt a response, but rebels said the US had told them not to expect any American military support.
A European diplomat said the violation of the de-escalation agreement by Russia and Syria was “deeply troubling.”
“No one is in any doubt about the likely military outcome from this uneven clash, but the consequences could be significant. It not only risks a significant humanitarian crisis, but is likely to destabilize further an already precarious situation. It also casts real doubt about Russia’s willingness to stand by its own commitments,” he said.
The fighting has displaced thousands of people and threatens to uproot many more from their homes, adding to the about 6.5 million people already internally displaced by Syria’s seven-year-old conflict.
After fleeing her home many times since the start of war, 30-year-old widow Um Mohammed has once again been forced to move with her three children, and is now sheltering in a school deeper inside rebel territory in southwest Syria.
“Each of us took only our clothes. Right now there’s bombardment everywhere,” she said.
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying Russian officials hoped to discuss southwest Syria with US National Security Adviser John Bolton soon, and separately with Jordan.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Twitter on Sunday his country, already hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, could not take in Syrians fleeing fighting in the southwest and demanded the de-escalation agreement be respected.
Assad has turned to the southwest after driving opposition forces from their last besieged enclaves in western Syria, including Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, earlier this year.
It is one of two major areas still held by rebel factions, along with Idlib province on the border with Turkey in the northwest. Daraa, the southwest’s largest city, was an early center of the uprising against Assad in 2011 and has been split into rebel and government sectors for years.
Recent fighting has focused on the town of Busra Al-Harir, half way along a narrow rebel salient stretching into regime areas northeast of Daraa. If taken, it would split that salient in half, putting the northern part under siege.
The pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper reported on Monday that the regime forces had advanced into Busra Al-Harir.
The UK-based war monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported fierce fighting inside the town between the army, along with allied militia, and insurgents.
But Abu Shaima, spokesman for a central operations room for rebels fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said the insurgents had foiled attempts to advance.
Abu Bakr Al-Hassan, spokesman for the FSA rebel group Jaish Al-Thawra, said Russian planes were carrying out heavy airstrikes to support the strong Busra Al-Harir offensive.
On Sunday, an airstrike hit a medical center in Busra Al-Harir, causing extensive damage but no casualties, said the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, a charity that works in opposition parts of Syria.
The bombardment has killed about 30 people since it began on June 19, the Observatory reported.
The Syrian military said it was committed to protecting civilians in the area.
Russia also said on Monday it had helped the army repel an insurgent attack in the southwest, killing 70 rebel fighters. Syrian state media reported that rebels shelled the nearby city of Sweida.

Lebanon bank deposits up 4% on year

Updated 15 November 2018

Lebanon bank deposits up 4% on year

BEIRUT: Bank deposits in Lebanon have risen by 4 percent on the year, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said on Thursday, and he maintained his economic growth outlook for 2018 at 2 percent.

In July Salameh had said he expected bank deposits to grow by more than 5 percent in 2018.

In October the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) halved their growth outlook to one percent for Lebanon, where public debt is about 150 percent of gross domestic product.

“Lebanese banks have succeeded in maintaining foreign exchange inflows into their sector supported by (the central bank),” Salmeh said in a televised speech at a Beirut economic conference.

With growth low and traditional sources of foreign exchange — tourism, real estate and foreign investment — undermined by years of regional tension, Lebanon increasingly relies on dollars expatriate Lebanese deposit in local banks.

The banks buy government debt, which finances the country’s eye-watering public debt and twin deficits.

The central bank also brings in dollars through complex financial operations with local banks to boost foreign currency reserves needed to defend the Lebanese pound’s peg to the dollar.

However, deposits have been growing at a slower rate since war broke out in neighboring Syria in 2011, and deposit growth rates are closely watched.