Syrian opposition fighters attack each other in besieged Damascus enclave

Clashes broke out in part of the densely populated rural area east of Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta. (AFP)
Updated 29 April 2017

Syrian opposition fighters attack each other in besieged Damascus enclave

BEIRUT: Fighting between opposition groups in the biggest insurgent stronghold near the Syrian capital Damascus entered a second day on Saturday, while regime forces pressed an offensive against the besieged enclave, a war monitor said.
The clashes broke out in part of the densely populated rural area east of Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta, which has been besieged by Syrian regime forces since 2013.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented the deaths of at least 38 fighters in the first 24 hours of fighting between opposition groups. It also reported civilian casualties.
Jaish Al-Islam is pitted against the Failaq Al-Rahman group and fighters from an alliance with links to Al-Qaeda, said opposition fighters, activists and the Observatory.
Fighting between the groups killed hundreds of people last April before a cease-fire was agreed in Qatar in May.
The rift was exploited by Syrian regime forces to capture parts of Eastern Ghouta, whose territory shrank by about a third in the second half of last year.
Jaish Al-Islam is one of the biggest Syrian opposition groups and has been the dominant faction in Eastern Ghouta. Its leader, Zahran Alloush, was killed in an airstrike in December 2015.
A Failaq Al-Rahman statement on Friday said Jaish Al-Islam attacked some of its positions and said the factional fighting was not in the interests of Eastern Ghouta or the Syrian revolution.
A statement by Jaish Al-Islam said its dispute was with the group called Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Committee), which had been obstructing Jaish Al-Islam members from going about their business.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham is an alliance of factions formed in January, whose members include Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, formerly Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front group.
Jaish Al-Islam said it shared the same goals as Failaq Al-Rahman and called on them to contain the crisis.
During the fighting, the regime and allied forces attacked the opposition-held district of Qaboun by land and air.


I won’t quit: Lebanese PM defiant as his critics blast financial chaos

Updated 54 min 58 sec ago

I won’t quit: Lebanese PM defiant as his critics blast financial chaos

  • University president and UN human rights chief join condemnation of ‘incompetent’ government

BEIRUT: Beleaguered Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Saturday defied a barrage of criticism to declare that his government alone ruled Lebanon and it was determined to implement reforms to resolve the financial crisis.

Diab dismissed as “fake news” reports that he was on the verge of resignation, and said: “Lebanon will not be under anyone’s control as long as I am in power.”

The prime minister spoke after UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned that Lebanon was enduring “the worst economic crisis in its history” and was “fast spiraling out of control.” 

She urged Diab’s government to initiate urgent reforms and respond to “the people’s essential needs, such as food, electricity, health, and education.”

Diab also faced harsh criticism from the American University of Beirut (AUB), where he was vice president and a professor before becoming prime minister.

BACKGROUND

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged the Lebanese government to initiate urgent reforms and respond to ‘the people’s essential needs, such as food, health and education.’

AUB president Fadlo Khuri said Diab’s government was the worst in Lebanon’s history in its understanding of higher education.

“I have not seen any shred of competence in this government since its formation six months ago,” said.

“The government owes the AUB $150 million in medical bills,” Khuri said, and he urged Diab to “at least discuss with us a payment timeline.”

Lebanon’s financial plight is illustrated by its currency, the lira, which has lost 80 percent of its value. 

The black market  dollar exchange rate on Saturday was 7,500, compared with the official rate of 1,507.

Bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund were suspended in a dispute over government debt, but Diab insisted on Saturday: “We have turned the page … and started discussing the basic reforms required and the program that the IMF and Lebanon will agree upon, which will restore confidence and open the door to many projects.”