Daraa battle: Russia, Assad forces unleash heavy airstrikes as talks bog down

Daraa battle: Russia, Assad forces unleash heavy airstrikes as talks bog down
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Smoke rises above rebel-held areas of the city of Daraa, during reported airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on July 5, 2018. (AFP)
Daraa battle: Russia, Assad forces unleash heavy airstrikes as talks bog down
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Regime forces recently recaptured the village of Ghariyah ash Sharqiyah from the opposition in the province of Daraa. (AFP)
Updated 06 July 2018

Daraa battle: Russia, Assad forces unleash heavy airstrikes as talks bog down

Daraa battle: Russia, Assad forces unleash heavy airstrikes as talks bog down
  • The renewed assault follows the failure of Russian-brokered talks to end the offensive in Daraa, which has killed dozens.
  • Moscow behaving like colonial power, Syrian opposition spokesman tells Arab News

JEDDAH/BEIRUT: Waves of airstrikes rained down on southern Syria on Thursday as pro-regime forces unleashed their most intensive bombing campaign yet in a two-week offensive.
Giant clouds of smoke rose over fields, rooftops and industrial areas as Russian jets pounded the Daraa region with more than 600 attacks in 15 hours. Throughout the day, hundreds of missiles and crude barrel bombs struck opposition-held towns.
“From last night until now, Russian planes are pursuing a scorched-earth policy,” said Hussein Abazeed, spokesman for the joint opposition command for the south.
“The warplanes are bombing like crazy. We can’t even find a safe place to put the wounded.”
The renewed assault followed the failure on Wednesday of Russian-brokered talks to end the offensive in Daraa, which has killed dozens and forced tens of thousands from their homes.
Opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi blamed Russia for the failure of the talks and said Moscow was behaving “like a colonizing power.” 
“They come to the meeting with diktats — you do this, you do that, otherwise our Sukhois (fighter planes) are ready to destroy Daraa,” he told Arab News.
“The regime was sidelined completely in the negotiations because it doesn’t exist. The only party that exists is the Iranian and Hezbollah militias.” 
The UN Security Council will hold a closed-door emergency meeting on the offensive early on Friday, but world powers have been able to do little to halt the onslaught.
Al-Aridi said that the opposition did not expect much from the Security Council. “Everybody will express their anger about what’s happening, but all they care about is their own interests and scoring points off each other. Everybody knows what Russia is doing is a war crime. If the Security Council takes any decision, it should be a call for a cease-fire.”
Bahia Al-Mardini, a rights campaigner and founder of Syrian House, an organization that helps Syrians in the UK, told Arab News Russia was responsible for the failure of the talks “because it sets impossible conditions aimed at humiliating the Free Syrian Army. This includes handing over all of its weapons and equipment, so that its pro-democracy position is weakened.” 
She said: “I do not expect much from the Security Council, but I hope desperately that the bombing will be stopped, that civilian lives will be saved and a genuine political solution will be opened to preserve Syrians’ freedom and dignity.”

Jordan urged to open borders
Amid the onslaught, the UNHCR refugee agency urged Jordan to open its borders to Syrians who have fled the fighting. 
It said the total number of displaced now stood at more than 320,000, with 60,000 gathered at the border crossing with Jordan.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged Jordan to open its borders to Syrians who have fled the fighting, saying the total number of displaced now stood at more than 320,000, with 60,000 of them gathered at the border crossing with Jordan.
Assad aims to recapture the entire southwest including the frontiers with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan. The area is one of the last opposition strongholds in Syria after more than seven years of war.
With no sign of intervention yet by his foreign foes, regime forces seem set for another big victory in the war after crushing the last remaining opposition bastions near Damascus and Homs.
Pro-regime television footage showed giant clouds of smoke towering over fields, rooftops and a distant industrial area, accompanied by the sound of occasional explosions.
Jordanian mediation has brought Syrian opposition negotiators back to the table with Russian officers to discuss a final deal to end fighting and restore Syrian regime’s control of Daraa province, spokesman Ibrahim Al-Jabawi said.
He said the two sides were expected to hold talks on Thursday evening in the southern town of Busra Al-Sham. Four rounds of talks have been held there since Saturday, without reaching agreement.
Opposition officials say the main differences include whether the fighters surrender their weapons in one go or in phases, before handing over their areas to regime control under Russian military police supervision.
After four days of reduced bombardment, intense airstrikes resumed on Wednesday.
“The Russians have not stopped the bombardment,” Bashar Al-Zoubi, a prominent opposition leader in southern Syria, told Reuters in a text message from the Daraa area, the focus of the regime offensive.
“The regime is trying to advance and the clashes are continuing.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, monitoring the war through what it describes as many sources on the ground, said there had been 600 airstrikes in 15 hours, extending into Thursday’s early hours.
Pro-regime media said Assad’s forces had captured the town of Saida, some 10 km east of Daraa city. An opposition command center said on Twitter that the regime’s attempts to storm the town were being resisted after it was struck with “dozens of Russian air raids,” barrel bombs and rocket barrages. 
The two-week-old attack has taken a chunk of opposition territory northeast of Daraa city, where some fighters surrendered. The Observatory said 150 civilians have been killed.

Assad ascendant
For the president, the Daraa campaign holds out the prospect of reopening the Nassib crossing with Jordan, a vital trade artery. Once Daraa is captured, the campaign is expected to move into the Quneitra area closer to the Golan frontier.
Recovering the frontier with the Golan Heights is also important to Assad, reestablishing his status as a frontline leader in the conflict with Israel, which sent reinforcements to the Golan frontier on Sunday.
Pro-regime TV said Thursday’s bombardment had targeted the southern parts of Daraa, a city long split between rebels and the army, and the towns of Saida, Al-Nuaima, Um Al-Mayadan and Taiba.
Its correspondent said the troops  aimed to drive southwards through the area immediately east of Daraa city, where opposition territory narrows to a thin corridor along the Jordanian border.
This would split the territory in two.
The troops have been trying for days to reach the Jordanian border in the area immediately west of Daraa, but had not succeeded in attempts to storm an insurgent-held air base there, the opposition command center Twitter account said.
Fleeing civilians have mostly sought shelter along the frontiers with Israel and Jordan, which is already hosting some 650,000 Syrian refugees. Both countries have said they will not open their borders, but have distributed some supplies inside Syria.
Southwest Syria is a “de-escalation zone” agreed last year by Russia, Jordan and the US to reduce violence.
Near the start of the regime’s offensive, Washington indicated it would respond to violations of that deal, but it has not done so yet and rebels said it had told them to expect no American military help.
For the anti-Assad opposition, losing the southwest will reduce their territory to a region of the northwest bordering Turkey and a patch of desert in the east where US forces are stationed near the border with Iraq and Jordan.
Assad now controls most of Syria with help from his allies, though a large part of the north and east is in the hands of Kurdish-led militia backed by the US.

(With Reuters & AFP)


Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor

Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor
Updated 54 min 39 sec ago

Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor

Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor
  • The artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where Syrian regime and Kurdish forces are both deployed
  • A doctor, three hospital staff, three women and a child died at Al-Shifaa hospital

BEIRUT: Shelling of the rebel-held city of Afrin in northern Syria killed at least 16 people Saturday, many of them when a hospital was struck, a war monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a doctor, three hospital staff, three women and a child died at Al-Shifaa hospital in the city which is held by Turkish-backed rebels.
The artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where Syrian regime and Kurdish forces are both deployed, the Britain-based group said.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a statement denying any involvement in the shelling.


Egypt to launch two space research satellites in 2022

Egypt to launch two space research satellites in 2022
Updated 12 June 2021

Egypt to launch two space research satellites in 2022

Egypt to launch two space research satellites in 2022
  • Abdel Ghaffar said Egypt will launch a training and capacity-building program for 18 African researchers
  • The Egyptian Space Agency will distribute educational satellite sets among African countries

CAIRO: Egypt will launch two satellites next year, including NExSat-1, a lightweight vessel that will be used for remote sensing and scientific research, Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Egyptian minister of higher education and scientific research, announced on Saturday.
Space authorities will also launch EgyptSat 2, which weighs 330 kilograms and will use sensor applications to employ a photographic accuracy of two meters from space.
The minister revealed the plans at the European-African Space Forum being held in Lisbon, Portugal. Mohamed El-Koosy, head of the Egyptian Space Agency, was also present.
Abdel Ghaffar said that Egypt will also host the headquarters of the African Space Agency, which includes all 54 countries on the continent.
The Egyptian Space Agency will be equipped with the latest equipment and space technology, he added.
The African Space Agency will be an “essential accelerator” for cooperation with Europe, he said, adding that Egypt will “spare no effort” in promoting multilateral cooperation in space activity.
“All the facilities and infrastructure for space projects are available in Egypt, and we are ready to become a reliable partner,” Abdel Ghaffar said, adding that all support will be “provided to Africa to benefit from space technology and its applications.”
He called on the EU to discuss the establishment of the European-African Space Training Program in Egypt, adding that the Egyptian agency will provide full logistical support for the program, which can provide annual training courses and degrees for African students and researchers.
Abdel Ghaffar said that next month Egypt will also launch a training and capacity-building program for 18 African researchers in various space fields.
The Egyptian Space Agency will distribute educational satellite sets among African countries, which will provide researchers and students with experience and technical skills, enabling them to conduct further space research, he said.
“We aim to transform Egypt into a center for training, research and development in space activities, adopt and encourage African youth to explore new horizons in space science, prepare them for the transformation of the digital economy, develop and support emerging technologies, spread the use of satellite images to support activities, especially in the field of agriculture, and stimulate exploration and innovation and provide social and economic benefits to improve the lives of all Africans,” the minister said.


‘Intense’ Iran nuclear talks resume as Germany calls for rapid progress

‘Intense’ Iran nuclear talks resume as Germany calls for rapid progress
Updated 12 June 2021

‘Intense’ Iran nuclear talks resume as Germany calls for rapid progress

‘Intense’ Iran nuclear talks resume as Germany calls for rapid progress
  • Senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain planned to meet at a hotel in the Austrian capital
  • The United States is not formally part of meetings that launched in Vienna earlier this year

VIENNA: Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna on Saturday as the European Union said negotiations were “intense” and Germany called for rapid progress.
The sixth round of talks kicked off as usual with a meeting of remaining parties to the deal — Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union — in the basement of a luxury hotel.
The US delegation to the talks, known as the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is based in a hotel across the street as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings.
The talks’ chief coordinator, EU foreign policy official Enrique Mora, who is leading the shuttle diplomacy between Iran and the United States, has said he expects a deal in this round of talks. Other envoys, however, are more cautious, saying many difficult issues are yet to be resolved.
“We are making progress but the negotiations are intense and a number of issues (remain), including on how steps are to be implemented,” an EU spokesman said in a statement to reporters, adding that the aim was “to find ways to get very close to a final agreement in the coming days.”
The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, imposed strict limits on Iran’s nuclear activities designed to extend the time Tehran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to, to at least a year from two to three months.
Iran denies ever pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its aims are solely peaceful.
President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed economic sanctions lifted by the deal. Iran responded by breaching many of those limits, producing more enriched uranium than allowed and enriching to higher purity levels, recently to near weapons grade.
“Playing for time is in no-one’s interest,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who is not at the talks, told Reuters, urging all sides to show flexibility and pragmatism.
China’s top envoy said the main sticking point was US sanctions. “Our message to them (the United States) is that they should stop shilly-shallying by moving decisively to sanction-lifting,” China’s ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog, Wang Qun, told reporters.
On the steps Iran must take to return to compliance with the deal, Wang said: “To a great extent, the major issues have been worked out as a matter of principle, though I think there are some fixes (left).”


Egypt, Sudan connecting Khartoum with Cairo-Cape Town rail line

Egypt, Sudan connecting Khartoum with Cairo-Cape Town rail line
Updated 12 June 2021

Egypt, Sudan connecting Khartoum with Cairo-Cape Town rail line

Egypt, Sudan connecting Khartoum with Cairo-Cape Town rail line
  • El-Wazir said that Egypt has taken “huge steps” to boost connectivity in Africa through infrastructure
  • He said that the Egyptian government is constructing the Cairo-Cape Town railway line to connect Egypt with other African countries

CAIRO: Egypt is working with Sudan to connect the Cairo-Cape Town railway route to the Sudanese capital Khartoum, Kamel El-Wazir, Egypt’s transport minister, has said.
Speaking on Saturday at a forum for heads of African investment agencies in Sharm El-Sheikh, El-Wazir said that Egypt has taken “huge steps” to boost connectivity in Africa through infrastructure.
He said that the Egyptian government is constructing the Cairo-Cape Town railway line to connect Egypt with other African countries.
El-Wazir said that the Ministry of Transport is executing 360-kilometer rail lines inside Egyptian territory, in addition to a six-kilometer line across Nasser Lake to Wadi Halfa in Sudan.
The government is executing another line to connect the monorail stretching from Matrouh governorate with a special link to El-Saloum city, he said.
Egypt is also coordinating with the Libyan government to extend a railway line to the city of Benghazi, he said.
Efforts exerted to develop land transport networks, railways, as well as sea and land ports have improved Egypt’s rank in the Road Quality Index featured in the Ease of Doing Business’ latest report, El-Wazir said.
The report also underlined Egypt’s readiness to transfer its expertise in making smart roads to other African countries.
Dhieu Mathok Diing, South Sudanese minister of investment, said that his government hopes that South Sudan will be connected to Egypt via a railway line in two to three years after the Egypt-Sudan link is completed.
Diing said that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s announcement that he is committed to the African agenda for development, as well as Egypt’s launching of the Cairo-Cape Town railway line and the Investment Promotion conference are decisions that demonstrate Egypt’s keenness to develop African countries.
He said that South Sudan has “high hopes” for the Cairo-Cape Town railway line, adding that the areas which will be included in the project inside South Sudan have been developed.
Diing said: “Cooperation among Africa’s great economic powers like Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria with the rest of African countries makes us believe that we can achieve growth, development and African integration.”


Houthis fire 55 Iranian-made ballistic missiles at Marib since start of 2021: Yemen information minister

Houthis fire 55 Iranian-made ballistic missiles at Marib since start of 2021: Yemen information minister
Updated 12 June 2021

Houthis fire 55 Iranian-made ballistic missiles at Marib since start of 2021: Yemen information minister

Houthis fire 55 Iranian-made ballistic missiles at Marib since start of 2021: Yemen information minister
  • Al-Eryani says Houthi attacks resulted in 344 civilian casualties in Marib since start of the year
  • Saudi ambassador to Yemen says Kingdom and the Arab coalition are constantly working with the two parties to the Riyadh Agreement to complete its implementation

AMMAN: Yemen’s Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani criticized on Saturday the Houthi militia targeting of residential neighborhoods, displacement camps and civilians in Marib with more than 55 Iranian-made ballistic missiles since the start of the year.
He said that statistics confirm the militia, which is backed by Iran, has also launched 12 drones, three Katyusha rockets, six projectiles, and seven explosives from Jan. 1 to June 10.
Al-Eryani added that the statistics also recorded 344 civilian casualties during the same period from Houthi attacks on Marib governorate. 104 civilians, three women, and 15 children have been killed, while 180 civilians, 12 women, and 30 children have been wounded with varying severity of injuries due to the continuous shelling, he said in a series of tweets.
The Iran-baked Houthis launched a major offensive to capture the oil and gas-rich province from the internationally recognized government in February, sparking widespread condemnation as the province has been serving as a safe haven for tens of thousands of internally displaced peoeple who have been fleeing the fighting since the beginning of the conflict.
“The terrorist Houthi militia’s bombing of residential neighborhoods, civilian objects and displacement camps in the districts of Marib governorate, since the beginning of its massive military escalation, are systematic and deliberate killing of civilians, a violation of international laws and conventions, and amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Al-Eryani said.
He added that the international community, the UN and the permanent members of the Security Council are required to assume their legal and moral responsibilities, and to pressure the militia to stop the daily killing of civilians with revenge motives, in which women and children fall victim.
He also pressed the body to re-classify the Houthis as a terrorist organization and prosecute its leaders as war criminals.
Last Saturday, a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis killed at least 21 people, including a 5-year-old girl, and wounded dozens of others in the government-held city
The missile hit a gas station in the Rawdha neighborhood in central Marib, and shortly after the Iran-backed militia launched an explosive-laden drone which destroyed two ambulances that had rushed to the area to transfer the injured to hospitals.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen said the Kingdom and the Arab coalition are constantly working with the two parties to the Riyadh Agreement to complete its implementation.
“We are counting on everyone to put the interests of the Yemeni people above all else, and expedite the return of the Yemeni government to Aden to enable it to perform its duties to alleviate the suffering of the people and complete the implementation of all aspects of the agreement,” said Mohammed Al-Jaber.