Syrian army pushes into Quneitra province: State TV, rebels

Under pressure, rebels have agreed to hand over Quneitra and the buffer to government forces, an opposition negotiator and a monitoring group told AFP on July 19. (File Photo: Youssef Karwashan/AFP)
Updated 21 July 2018
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Syrian army pushes into Quneitra province: State TV, rebels

  • The offensive has restored Syrian government control over a swathe of the southwest, strategic territory at the borders with Jordan and Israel
  • More than 2,500 people, among them fighters from extremist groups who have rejected the deal, left on Friday headed to opposition areas in northern Syria

AMMAN: The Syrian army and its allies made advances in the southwest that bring it closer to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights border, state television and rebels said on Saturday.
The army, backed by a Russian air campaign, has been pushing into the edges of Quneitra province following an offensive last month that routed rebels in adjoining Daraa province who were once backed by Washington, Jordan and Gulf states.
The offensive has restored Syrian government control over a swathe of the southwest, strategic territory at the borders with Jordan and Israel.
The capture of a string of villages in a zone extending between the two southwestern provinces, announced by the army on Saturday, comes as a second group of rebels and their relatives are expected to evacuate to northern Syria later in the day.
A deal negotiated by Russian officers with rebels in the Quneitra area last week allows safe passage to rebels opposed to a return to state rule, while offering others who decide to stay Russian guarantees against army encroachments in their own localities, rebels say.
It also allows the return of Syrian army brigades that existed before the 2011 conflict back to where they were stationed near a 1974 demilitarized zone with Israel on the Golan frontier.
More than 2,500 people, among them fighters from extremist groups who have rejected the deal, left on Friday headed to opposition areas in northern Syria.
Other phases of the agreement, which includes the handover of weapons and the entry of Russian military police in some villages, were expected to be implemented in coming days, a rebel source said
Tens of thousands of people have been sheltering at the frontier since the Russian and Syrian aerial bombing campaign that the opposition called a scorched earth policy began one month ago.
Russia has been exerting pressure on the Syrian army to facilitate the return of many of the displaced and has also lobbied the United Nations to send regular convoys of aid to ease the humanitarian crisis triggered by the offensive, UN officials said.
A senior Western diplomatic source said Moscow, which has reached understandings with Israel and Jordan that made it possible to move with the offensive, was keen to stabilize the border area to prove that its Syria intervention sought a political settlement to the seven-year-old conflict.


Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019
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Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

  • “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations”

BAGHDAD: Moqtada Al-Sadr, the powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric, on Monday threatened to withdraw his support for the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi if the prime minister fails to finalize the formation of his Cabinet within 10 days.
Al-Sadr is one of the most influential clerics in the country, with millions of followers, a large armed faction and a parliamentary bloc. He is the official sponsor of the Reform Alliance, the second-largest parliamentary coalition, which is overseeing the formation of the government following the national parliamentary elections in May last year. The removal of his support for Abdul Mahdi’s government might take the form of an announcement that he no longer has confidence in the Parliament, or the organization of mass demonstrations.
Abdul Mahdi, who became prime minister in October, formed his government with the support of Reform and the pro-Iranian Construction coalition. The latter is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions. However, disputes between the two alliances over some of the candidates erupted at the last minute, as a result of which four ministries remain vacant: Interior, defense, education and justice.

Monday’s statement, which was signed by Al-Sadr and described as his “last call,” was addressed to his Saeiroon parliamentary bloc, the leaders of all political blocs, and Abdul Mahdi. It was issued in response to criticism on social on Monday because of the vote by members of the parliamentary blocs, including Al-Sadr’s MPs, the day before to grant all the privileges enjoyed by the former MPs to the deputies who ruled out by the Federal Supreme Court due to the error of counting their votes.
“All the political blocs must authorize the prime minister to complete his ministerial Cabinet within 10 days…and he (Abdul Mahdi) must choose (the ministers) according to the standards of integrity, efficiency and specialization, or I will not support him,” Al-Sadr’s statement read.

His position is the latest in a series of events that have put pressure on Abdul Mahdi in recent weeks. These include efforts by some political blocs, including Saeiroon, to dismiss a number of ministers under the pretext of failure to improve services and inability to combat the financial and administrative corruption that is rampant in their departments.
While most political leaders believe that reaching a political agreement on candidates to fill the vacant ministries within 10 days “will be very difficult” and predict “this may be the end of the government of Abdul Mahdi,” some believe that Al-Sadr’s goal is to pile more pressure on Abdul Mahdi as a way to obtain certain concessions.

“Saeiroon is still negotiating with the prime minister and the other political partners to obtain some key government posts that its rivals are looking to get, and Abdul Mahdi refused to give them to the Saeiroon candidates, so this could be a part of this,” said a prominent Shiite negotiator who asked not to be named. “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations."