Air strikes kill seven civilians in southern Syria: monitor

Smoke following an explosion in Syria is seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights near the Israeli Syrian border July 16, 2018. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
Updated 17 July 2018
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Air strikes kill seven civilians in southern Syria: monitor

  • It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were carried out by the regime or its Russian ally
  • More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by Syria’s war since it started in 2011

BEIRUT: Air strikes on Tuesday killed seven civilians in a sensitive southwestern province of Syria bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a war monitor said.
The Damascus regime has been pounding Quneitra since Sunday in a bid to retake the southwestern province from rebels, after winning back most of the neighboring governorate of Daraa in less than a month.
“Six civilians including two women and three children were killed in air strikes near Ain Al-Tina” on Quneitra’s border with Daraa province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were carried out by the regime or its Russian ally, the Britain-based monitor said.
The monitor determines who carried out strikes based on the type of aircraft and munitions used, locations and flight patterns.
In the west of the adjacent province of Daraa, Russian air raids killed one civilian near the village of Al-Aliya, it said.
“Since Tuesday morning, heavy Russian air strikes and barrel bombs dropped by the regime have been targeting an area straddling Quneitra and Daraa,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a group led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, is present in that area, he said.
HTS extremists are not included in a cease-fire between regime and rebels in Daraa announced earlier this month, which has allowed the regime to retake control of more than 90 percent of the province.
President Bashar Assad’s regime has advanced in Daraa thanks to a deadly bombardment campaign since June 19, along with Russia-brokered deals between opposition fighters and the regime.
In Quneitra on Monday, rebels in at least five towns raised the national flag, seeking a similar agreement with the regime, Abdel Rahman said.
“Rebel factions in these towns have stopped fighting to avoid bombardment and destruction,” he said.
In two days since Sunday, at least 43 regime fighters have been killed in both Daraa and Quneitra, while 48 extremists and rebels have lost their lives, the Observatory said.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.


One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

Updated 18 October 2018
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One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

  • While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
  • ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’

RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.