Syrian government troops capture 14 villages from rebels

Syrian government troops capture 14 villages from rebels
Smoke rises above Arbin in eastern Ghouta following air strikes. (AFP)
Updated 08 January 2018

Syrian government troops capture 14 villages from rebels

Syrian government troops capture 14 villages from rebels

BEIRUT: Syrian government forces captured 14 villages on Monday as they advanced on the largest rebel-held enclave in the country’s north amid a wave of airstrikes.
Syrian government forces and their allies have been on the offensive since late October in Hama and Idlib provinces, capturing nearly 100 villages from insurgent groups, including the Al-Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committee. The offensive intensified on Christmas Day after reinforcements were brought in from other parts of Syria.
The main aim of the troops is to reach the rebel-held Abu Zuhour air base and secure the road linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest. Rebels captured Abu Zuhour in 2015 after a three-year siege.
The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said the newly captured villages, include Freija, Jahman, Dawoudiyeh and Jub Al-Qasab, bring the troops closer to the air base.
The SCMM and the opposition’s Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that 14 villages have been captured over the past hours.
Russia’s Defense Ministry meanwhile said its air base and naval station in western Syria came under at least 13 attempted attacks by drones since Saturday. The ministry said three of the armed drones landed outside the base and others detonated when they crashed, while seven drones were shot down. The ministry said there was no damage to the bases.
The Observatory said the attacks were carried out by an Islamist rebel faction that operates in rural Latakia province, southwest of Idlib, and which had targeted the air base a number of times since Dec. 31.
The offensive in the southern parts of Idlib province comes amid intense airstrikes and shelling that have killed 21 people since Sunday, according to the Observatory.
Clashes also erupted Monday near the Damascus suburb of Harasta, after government forces reached troops trapped for more than a week in a military base surrounded by insurgents.
State media said the Syrian army broke through rebel lines Sunday to reach soldiers trapped at the Murakabat vehicle base near Harasta, in the eastern Ghouta suburbs.
Rebels surrounded the base late last month, trapping an unknown number of soldiers inside. The rebels say they have taken numerous soldiers hostage. The Observatory says 159 rebels and government soldiers have been killed in fighting over the base since Dec. 29.
In the northwestern city of Idlib, meanwhile, paramedics said the death toll from a massive car bombing the previous evening has risen to at least 25. Nearly 100 people were wounded. The Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, said four children and 11 women were among those killed.
The Observatory on Monday said 27 civilians were killed in the attack, including 14 children. The Observatory added that the attack also killed at least 15 insurgents.
The Sunday night bombing targeted the office of Ajnad Al-Koukaz, a militant group consisting of foreign fighters mostly from the Caucuses and Russia, according to activists. Idlib is the capital of a province by the same name that is controlled by insurgent factions, including an Al-Qaeda-linked group.


US designates Bahrain, UAE ‘major security partners’

US designates Bahrain, UAE ‘major security partners’
Updated 17 January 2021

US designates Bahrain, UAE ‘major security partners’

US designates Bahrain, UAE ‘major security partners’
  • Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and hostssome 5,000 American troops
  • UAE hosts 3,500 US troops and its Jebel Ali port is the busiest port of call for American warships outside of the US

DUBAI: The US called Bahrain and the UAE “major security partners” early on Saturday, a previously unheard of designation for the two countries home to major American military operations.
A White House statement tied the designation to Bahrain and the UAE normalizing ties to Israel, saying it “reflects their extraordinary courage, determination and leadership.” It also noted the two countries long have taken part in US military exercises.
It’s unclear what the designation means for Bahrain and the UAE.
Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, while the UAE’s Jebel Ali port is the busiest port of call for American warships outside of the US. Bahrain hosts some 5,000 American troops, while the UAE hosts 3,500, many at Al-Dhafra Air Base.
Already, the US uses the designation of “major non-NATO ally” to describe its relationship with Kuwait, which hosts the forward command of US Army Central. That designation grants a country special financial and military considerations for nations not part of NATO. Bahrain also is a non-NATO ally.
The US military’s Central Command and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The 5th Fleet referred queries to the State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House designation comes in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump forged close ties to Gulf Arab countries during his time in office in part over his hard-line stance on Iran.
That’s sparked a series of escalating incidents between the countries after Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
It also comes after Bahrain and the UAE joined Egypt and Saudi Arabia in beginning to resolve a yearslong boycott of Qatar, that houses Al-Udeid Air Base.