Syria army raises flag in Daraa, cradle of revolt

The Syrian national flag rises in the midst of damaged buildings in Daraa-Al-Balad, an opposition-held part of the southern city of Daraa, on July 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 July 2018
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Syria army raises flag in Daraa, cradle of revolt

  • Daraa was where the uprising began that sparked Syria's seven-year war
  • The Damascus regime is bent on retaking the whole of Daraa province

AMMAN: Syria's army entered rebel-held parts of Daraa city on Thursday, state media said, raising the national flag in the cradle of the uprising that sparked the country's seven-year war.
"Syrian army units enter Daraa Al-Balad and raise the national flag in the main square," the official news agency SANA said of the centre of the southern city.
On Wednesday, state media said opposition fighters and the regime had reached a deal for rebels to hand over their heavy weapons in Daraa Al-Balad and other opposition-held parts of the city.
That deal come after a ceasefire announced last week stemmed nearly three weeks of regime bombardment on the symbolic wider province of the same name bordering Jordan.
The Damascus regime is bent on retaking the whole of Daraa province, including its symbolic capital where 2011 protests against President Bashar Assad are seen to have started the uprising that spiralled into civil war.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the regime forces entering Daraa Al-Balad on Thursday was merely "symbolic".
Measures to implement the so-called reconciliation deal for rebel-held parts of the city had not yet been implemented, it said.
"The rebels are still inside Daraa city," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said, but had not yet handed over their heavy weapons and there were no signs of any evacuations.
Under the deal, "those (rebels) who want to settle their status with the regime will hand over their heavy weapons, keep their light arms and remain in the city", he said.
"Those who refuse the deal will head out towards the north of Syria."
The reconciliation deal for Daraa city is the latest in a string of such agreements that have seen the regime retake large parts of the country since 2015.
They usually follow blistering military campaigns and sometimes stifling sieges that effectively force the rebels into surrendering.
Previous such deals have seen thousands of rebels bused up to areas still under opposition control in the north of the country.

The news comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) called on Thursday for access to 210,000 displaced people who have fled fighting in southern Syria and are in urgent need of medicines and health services, including some injured requiring evacuation.
With temperatures soaring to up to 45 degrees Celsius (113°F), at least 15 Syrians, including 12 children, have died in the past week due to dehydration and diseases linked to contaminated water, the UN health agency said in a statement.
Three out of four public hospitals and health centres in Deraa and Quneitra are closed or only partially functioning, it said. “We call on all parties to open the door to people in southern Syria and allow the safe delivery of medicines and medical items they need, and to grant severely injured patients safe passage to hospitals outside the area that can save their lives.”


Iraqi police arresting protesters in the south — activists

Updated 54 min 41 sec ago
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Iraqi police arresting protesters in the south — activists

  • The government rushed to contain the protests with promises of thousands of jobs, mainly in the oil sector
  • Basra is home to about 70 percent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces in the southern oil-rich province of Basra have started arresting protesters who took part in the week-long demonstrations there to demand more jobs and better services, activists said Monday.
Protests in the city of Basra, the provincial capital and Iraq’s second-largest city, are not unusual in scorching summer weather but they boiled over last Tuesday, when security forces opened fire, killing one person and wounding five.
Within days the rallies spread to other provinces. In some places, protesters broke into local government buildings and burned the offices of some political parties.
The government rushed to contain the protests with promises of thousands of jobs, mainly in the oil sector, and an urgent allocation of 3.5 trillion Iraqi dinars ($3 billion) for electricity and water projects. It blamed “infiltrators” for the damages.
The arrests started on Sunday night, with police chasing protesters down main roads and alleys following demonstrations in the city of Basra, and also in the countryside and around oil fields, two activists told The Associated Press.
The activists could not give a specific number for those arrested, saying only “hundreds.” They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. Officials were not immediately available to comment.
The activists said Internet was back on after a two-day shutdown, but a heavy deployment of security forces outside the local government building in Basra prevented protesters from gathering there Monday.
Police also closed off surrounding streets with barbed wire.
Meanwhile, authorities reopened the country’s second-busiest airport, in the city of Najaf, following a two-day shutdown after a mob broke into the facility on Friday, damaging the passenger terminal and vandalizing equipment.
Transportation Minister Kadhim Finjan Al-Hamai was at the Najaf airport to announce the reopening on the Iraqi state TV as an Iraqi Airways plane landed behind him. He said 18 local and international flights were to land on Monday.
The shutdown had caused “heavy losses” to the government, the airport and airline companies, he said without elaborating.
Kuwait Airways, the Royal Jordanian and Iran’s Aviation Authority suspended their flights to Najaf on Sunday, citing security concerns. The United Arab Emirates’ FlyDubai canceled Saturday’s flights to Najaf and said it was suspending its flights until July 22.
Iraq’s vital Um Qasr port on the Arabian Gulf, and two main border crossings — Safwan with Kuwait and Shalamcheh with Iran — were closed to both passengers and goods as protesters had blocked the main roads leading to the sites.
Basra is home to about 70 percent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels. It is located on the Arabian Gulf bordering Kuwait and Iran, and is Iraq’s only hub these days for all oil exports to the international market.