Syria regime advances against Daesh in south Damascus, state media says

Smoke billows at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus a during the Syrian army air strikes. Yarmouk and the surroundings are now Daesh’s largest urban redoubt in Syria or neighboring Iraq. (AFP)
Updated 27 April 2018

Syria regime advances against Daesh in south Damascus, state media says

DAMASCUS: Syrian regime forces on Friday advanced against Daesh group militants in the south of Damascus, state media said, after more than a week of bombardment on the area.
“Army units backed by the air force and artillery have advanced on numerous axes” in southern Damascus, including the district of Hajjar Al-Aswad, “after breaking through terrorist defenses,” state news agency SANA said.
The advance “inflicted great human and material losses” on the militants, it said.
Syrian state television said the army was advancing toward Route 30 in Hajjar Al-Aswad.
Regime forces have pounded southern districts of Damascus since April 19, after IS refused an evacuation deal for the region.
The areas under regime fire include the neighborhoods of Hajjar Al-Aswad and Qadam as well as the adjacent Palestinian camp of Yarmouk.
Daesh has held parts of Hajjar Al-Aswad and Yarmouk since 2015 and seized Qadam last month.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said pro-government forces took control of “buildings and streets in Hajjar Al-Aswad and Qadam after attacking the districts at dawn.”
Regime forces were locked in violent clashes with Daesh fighters on Friday morning, the Britain-based monitor said.
Heavy air strikes and shelling had targeted Yarmouk and the edges of Hajjar Al-Aswad and Qadam since the early morning.
At least 74 regime personnel and 59 IS fighters have been killed in eight days of fighting, the monitor said.
In that same period, at least 19 civilians have also been killed in regime bombardment of the area including in Yarmouk, it said.
Yarmouk and the surroundings are now Daesh’s largest urban redoubt in Syria or neighboring Iraq.
The militants have lost much of the territory they once controlled in both countries since they declared a cross-border caliphate there in 2014.
Yarmouk was once home to around 160,000 people, but today just a few hundred people remain, the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees has said.
President Bashar Assad’s regime set its sights on the south of the capital after reconquering a major rebel bastion east of Damascus earlier this month.
Eastern Ghouta fell after a blistering air and ground assault and Russia-backed evacuation deals that saw tens of thousands of people bussed out to northern Syria.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


France demands Iran release two of its citizens held since June

Updated 6 min 18 sec ago

France demands Iran release two of its citizens held since June

PARIS: France demanded on Wednesday that Iran immediately release two of its nationals who have been held in prison since June, a situation that is likely to complicate Paris’s efforts to defuse tensions between the United States and Tehran.
France’s foreign ministry confirmed that Roland Marchal, a senior researcher from Science-Po university, was being detained.
French officials and his family had sought to keep the information secret due to the current disputes in the region, fearing it could harm potential negotiations.
Marchal’s colleague, Franco-Iranian dual national Fariba Adelkhah, has been in prison in Iran since June.
“We want the Iranian authorities to show transparency in this dossier and act without delay to end the unacceptable situation,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a briefing.
She added that Marchal had received consular visits and had a lawyer. Iran has refused to offer the same for Adelkhah, citing her Iranian nationality, and has called France’s demands for her release an interference in its internal affairs.
Adelkhah and Marchal were arrested at a time when France and other European powers were caught up in an international standoff over Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States abandoned last year.
Marchal, an Africa expert, had sought to spend the Eid religious holiday with his colleague in Iran, but was arrested at Tehran airport upon his arrival, their university association said in a statement.
“Nothing justifies the arrest of Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal,” the statement said. “Their activities are strictly academic and have no links whatsoever to any intelligence service and (they) do not carry out any political activity in Iran.”
On Oct. 9 France issued a new advisory for Iran warning its nationals to postpone all travel plans, underscoring the risk posed by “the arbitrary arrest and detention practices of the Iranian security and intelligence services especially with regard to the contacts of foreign nationals with the population, notably for those in universities.”
President Emmanuel Macron sought in September to broker a meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump as he sought to defuse tensions between the two in recent months and convince Iran to comply with the nuclear deal. Those efforts faltered.
In another incident, Iran said on Monday agents of Revolutionary Guards had captured and returned to Iran a Paris-based journalist they suspect of fueling anti-government street unrest across Iran last year using social media.
Spokeswoman von der Muhll on Wednesday also confirmed Rouhollah Zam had been given political asylum in France, but had no details on the circumstances surrounding his arrest outside of France.
“We recall our commitment to the respect for the rule of law, including freedom of expression and the right of asylum, and strongly condemn the arrest of Mr.Zam,” she said.