Damascus fighting kills 18 pro-regime fighters as gov’t plans north Homs retake

Syrian government forces advance on the outskirts of Damascus’ southern Al-Qadam neighborhood as they continue their offensive to oust Daesh from Yarmuk, a Palestinian refugee camp in the southern district of the capital. (AFP)
Updated 24 April 2018

Damascus fighting kills 18 pro-regime fighters as gov’t plans north Homs retake

  • At least 18 pro-Syrian regime combatants have been killed fighting in southern Damascus against Daesh
  • The Syrian government plans to focus on recovering an opposition-held pocket in north Homs

BEIRUT: At least 18 pro-Syrian regime combatants have been killed in 24 hours of fighting in southern Damascus against Daesh, a monitor said Tuesday.
That brought to at least 52 the number of pro-government fighters killed in nearly a week of military operations against Yarmuk and adjacent Daesh-held neighborhoods, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
No confirmation of the casualties was available from Syrian officials, who do not usually disclose losses within army ranks.
The Britain-based Observatory said at least 35 militant fighters were also killed during the same period.
There are an estimated 1,000 Daesh fighters left inside the enclave in the capital’s southern neighborhoods, which include Yarmuk and the adjacent districts of Hajjar Al-Aswad and Qadam.
In Qadam on Tuesday, soldiers could be seen pushing a fresh advance, backed by Syrian government air strikes and artillery fire, during an organized press tour.
Columns of black smoke were snaking up from a monochrome sea of devastated buildings.
The salvos of shelling paused briefly, and the steady crack of machine gun fire took their place.
Barricades sealed off every street in Qadam, which was once a bustling stop on Syria’s train line but whose carriages are now abandoned and left in ruins.
From their perch in Yarmuk — which has a view of the presidential palace in Damascus — militants have fired rockets on the capital’s center.
According to state news agency SANA, five civilians were killed Tuesday when a mortar shell crashed into a market area.
The Observatory said the fighting on the ground was fierce, as Daesh attempted a desperate defense of one of its very last bastions in the country.
The Syrian government plans to recover an opposition-held pocket north of Homs city soon after it completes surrender deals with armed groups around the capital Damascus, a Syrian government minister said on Tuesday.
In recent days rebels in two other enclaves northeast of Damascus, Dumair and east Qalamoun, surrendered and agreed to be transferred by bus to opposition territory in northern Syria.
Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister responsible for national reconciliation, told Reuters in an interview the government would focus on recovering an opposition-held pocket north of the city of Homs after securing the areas around Damascus.
“The issue will not be a long time coming after the final resolution in Qalamoun,” Haidar said.
Haidar said the government had for a while been dropping leaflets and communicating with rebels in the opposition-held towns of Rastan, Talbiseh and Houla in northern Homs province.
“Today there is serious work in that area,” he said.
“Armed groups wait to feel the seriousness and determination of the state’s military action before they approach serious discussion of a reconciliation agreement.”
Haidar said such reconciliation deals are also on offer to rebels in southern Syria, where a de-escalation zone was agreed by the United States and Russia last year.
“The options are open: full reconciliation or military action where necessary.”
But he indicated that retaking areas around Damascus and Homs — the last rebel areas entirely besieged by the government — were the immediate priorities.
After the crumbling of its so-called “caliphate” including its main urban bastions in Syria’s north and east, Daesh is estimated to hold five percent of the country’s territory.
Daesh entrenched itself in large parts of Yarmuk in 2015 and has managed to stay on since then.
The Syrian army’s focus on Yarmuk, once the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, comes as part of its campaign to secure the capital.
It recently retook the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta, then reached a string of deals last week for the transfer to northern Syria of rebels who had been allowed to remain in villages near Damascus as part of 2016 reconciliation agreements.
A successful operation in Yarmuk, which is anticipated, would seal the regime’s reconquest of the capital, a major prize for a resurgent President Bashar Assad.
More than 350,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad broke out in 2011 and millions have been displaced.

Amid turmoil, Lebanese Forces ministers quit coalition government

Updated 20 October 2019

Amid turmoil, Lebanese Forces ministers quit coalition government

  • The Lebanese Forces party has four ministers in the Hariri-led ruling coalition
  • Protesters in Beirut, Jounieh, Tripoli and Tyre demand that others remaining in power also quit

BEIRUT: Lebanon's "strong republic" bloc quit the coalition government on Saturday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets for a third day of protests against tax increases and alleged official corruption.
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese forces party, said his group was resigning from the government ahead of the 72-hour deadline that Prime Minister Saad Hariri gave to partners in power to help make his reform programs work.
Geagea's Christian party has four ministers in the coalition government, namely: Ghassan Hasbani, Kamil Abu Suleiman, Richard Qayomjian and May Chidiac.
"Since people have lost confidence in the political class, and since the people in the street represent all segments of society and because all components of the government does not want serious and actual reform, we were the first party to act with transparency and when discussing the 2020 budget, we demanded a basket of immediate reforms, but we did not feel the seriousness required," Geagea told a late night press conference that extended into the early hours of Sunday.
“We are now convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation,” said Geagea. “Therefore, the bloc decided to ask its ministers to resign from the government.”
He denied "any talk of an agreement with Prime Minister Hariri regarding the resignation of ministers."
Geagea's announcement was welcomed by the protesters, who are still sit in yards in Beirut, Jounieh, Tripoli and Tyre. They demanded the resignation of the remaining in power.

'Sweeping overhaul needed'
The protesters took to the streets despite calls for calm from politicians and dozens of arrests on Friday. Many waved billowing Lebanese flags and insisted the protests should remain peaceful and non-sectarian.
The demonstrators are demanding a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system, citing grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
They have blocked main roads and threatened to topple the country’s fragile coalition government.
Most Lebanese politicians have uncharacteristically admitted the demonstrations are spontaneous, rather than blaming outside influences.
Demonstrators in Beirut celebrated the news of the coalition party’s resignation, calling on other blocs to leave the government. In Tripoli, they let off fireworks.
“I am thinking maybe it’s better all the government resign,” said one protester, 24-year-old Ali. “I am thinking maybe it’s better to go to another election as people already woke up.”
The army on Saturday called on protesters to “express themselves peacefully without harming public and private property.”
Saturday evening, thousands were packed for a third straight night into the Riyadh Al-Solh Square in central Beirut, despite security forces having used tear gas and water cannons to disperse similar crowds a day before.

AI slams 'use of excessive force'
Amnesty International said the security forces’ reaction was excessive, pointing out that the vast majority of protesters were peaceful.
“The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering — in a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly,” it said.
Small groups of protesters have also damaged shop fronts and blocked roads by burning tires and other obstacles.
The Internal Security Forces said 70 arrests were made Friday on accusations of theft and arson.
But all of those held at the main police barracks were released Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said.
The demonstrations first erupted on Thursday, sparked by a proposed 20 US-cent tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
Such calls are the main method of communication for many Lebanese and, despite the government’s swift abandonment of the tax, the demonstrations quickly swelled into the largest in years.
Prime Minister Hariri has given his deeply divided coalition until Monday evening to give back a reform package aimed at shoring up the government’s finances and securing desperately needed economic assistance from donors.
He held a series of meetings Saturday regarding the situation, NNA said.
Hariri’s political rival, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, told protesters Saturday their “message was heard loudly.”
But he warned against demanding the resignation of the government — saying it could take a long time to form a new one and solve the crisis.
The current unity government has the backing of most Lebanese political parties, including Hezbollah.

Protesters attacked in Tyre
In the southern port city of Tyre, supporters of Shia politician and speaker of parliament Nabih Berri attacked protesters Saturday, a witness said, a day after demonstrators had accused him of corruption.
His Amal political party condemned the attack and called for an investigation.
More than a quarter of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Many of the country’s senior politicians came to prominence during the country’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.
The promised austerity moves are essential if Lebanon is to unlock $11 billion in economic assistance pledged by international donors last year.
Growth has plummeted in recent years, with political deadlock compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — more than 150 percent of gross domestic product — according to the finance ministry.

(With AFP)