11 pro-regime forces dead in Syria air base blasts: monitor

Explosions were heard near Hama airport in Syria on Friday May 18, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 May 2018

11 pro-regime forces dead in Syria air base blasts: monitor

  • The Hama air base is used by government warplanes that carry out airstrikes on central and northern Syria.

BEIRUT: At least 11 pro-government fighters were killed as explosions ripped through weapons and fuel depots Friday at a regime military air base in central Syria, a monitor said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blasts in Hama province were likely due to a “technical problem.”
“The explosions struck several regime depots of weapons and fuel at Hama military airport,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
“They were probably caused by a technical problem,” he said.
Eleven regime forces were killed, including members of allied militias, and dozens more wounded or still unaccounted for, Abdel Rahman said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the deaths included Syrian government troops and allied militiamen.
Official Syrian state media also reported massive explosions heard near the Hama air base but did not provide any details.
The Hama air base is used by government warplanes that carry out airstrikes on central and northern Syria.
Tensions are high in Syria after several Israeli bombing raids in recent weeks on regime positions, as well as on military instillations reportedly used by government ally Iran.
The latest wave came in the early hours of May 10, when Israel carried out dozens of raids against what it said were “Iranian” targets in Syria.
It has repeatedly threatened to act if Iran developed an entrenched military presence in southern Syria, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
More than 350,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests that have since spiraled into a brutal war.


Lebanese protests swell as cabinet to hold key meeting

Updated 54 min 49 sec ago

Lebanese protests swell as cabinet to hold key meeting

  • Hundreds of thousands of people from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides rallied on Sunday
  • The protests have grown steadily since public anger first spilled onto the streets Thursday

BEIRUT: Lebanese protesters were expected to return to the streets for a fifth day Monday, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri holding a cabinet meeting to try to calm the unprecedented demonstrations.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides rallied against corruption and the entire political class Sunday, the largest such demonstrations in the country for years.
Early Monday morning protesters began to block main roads and prevent employees going to work, while calls on social media urged people to boycott work.
Banks, universities and schools closed their doors Monday, with Hariri expected to offer reforms in a bid to stem the anger.
“It’s a day of destiny for us. All our hard work and efforts in previous days and years were to get us to this moment,” said Roni Al-Asaad, a 32-year-old activist in central Beirut.
“If they could have implemented these reforms before, why haven’t they? And why should we believe them today?”
At the nerve center of the demonstrations near the country’s houses of government in central Beirut, volunteers were once again collecting rubbish from the streets, many wearing face masks and plastic gloves.
The protests have grown steadily since public anger first spilled onto the streets Thursday evening in response to a proposed tax on calls via WhatsApp and other messaging services.
While the government quickly dropped that plan, the leaderless protests morphed into demands for a sweeping overhaul of the political system, with grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
Hariri had given his coalition partners three days to support reforms he said were crucial to get the economy back on track.
On Sunday evening a cabinet official said that the parties had agreed.
The cabinet will hold a meeting chaired by President Michel Aoun at 10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) to discuss the reforms.
Demonstrators said Hariri’s proposals would not be enough, with demands for the entire political class to resign.
“All of them are warlords,” said Patrick Chakar, 20. “We waited 30 years or more for them to change and they didn’t.”
More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives below the poverty line, the World Bank says, while the political class has remained relatively unchanged since the end of a devastating 15-year civil war in 1990.
Lebanon ranked 138 out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2018 corruption index, and residents suffer chronic electricity and water shortages.
Lebanese media hailed the demonstrations.
Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Shiite Muslim militant party Hezbollah, published a picture of protesters carrying a giant flag on its front page with a commentary on “Test Day: Power or People?”
The French-language newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour said “The hour of truth has arrived,” while the English-language The Daily Star said: “Lebanon’s only paths: reform or abyss.”