Swaths of Syria out of regime hands despite Daraa victory

Syrians play outside the family tent at a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Jarablus, northern Syria. AP
Updated 15 July 2018

Swaths of Syria out of regime hands despite Daraa victory

  • Following Russia’s military intervention at the end of 2015, the regime secured a series of victories with additional support from its Iranian ally
  • Loyalist forces now control more than 60 percent of Syria, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor

BEIRUT/DAMASCUS: By ousting opposition groups from Daraa, the cradle of the Syrian uprising, Bashar Assad strengthened his grip on the country — but large swathes of territory remain beyond the regime’s control.
Syrian opposition fighters in Daraa were surrendering their heavy weapons to regime forces on Saturday, state media said, under a deal brokered by Russia.
It came a day after the regime and opposition began dismantling the dirt barriers that had divided the city for years, AFP’s correspondent said.
The agreement reached on Wednesday will see Daraa city fall back into regime control.
Negotiated by Moscow, it provides for the opposition to hand over heavy- and medium-duty weapons and to “reconcile” legally with the regime, according to state media.
Those who rejected the deal would be allowed safe passage out of the city.
The terms mirror a broader deal announced on July 6 for the entire province of Daraa, which would be implemented in three stages: The eastern countryside first, then the city, and finally the province’s west.
While the opposition groups have handed over weapons to regime forces in dozens of towns, no transfers of fighters or civilians to the opposition-held north have taken place yet.
The Daraa deals are the latest in a string of so-called “reconciliation” agreements that typically follow blistering military offensives.
After using the strategy to secure Damascus and other strategic parts of Syria since 2015, Assad turned his attention to the south.
Beginning on June 19, Syrian and Russian bombardment pounded opposition-controlled areas in Daraa and the neighboring province of Quneitra, ostensibly protected by an internationally agreed cease-fire.
The onslaught came to an end with the July 6 cease-fire.
Following Russia’s military intervention at the end of 2015, the regime secured a series of victories with additional support from its Iranian ally.
This year it secured the capital Damascus and its surroundings for the first time since 2012, before launching the offensive to take Daraa in the south of the country.
Loyalist forces now control more than 60 percent of Syria, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
Syria’s main cities — Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Daraa — known as “useful Syria,” are all in regime hands.
Regime-held territory accounts for 72 percent of the population, according to Fabrice Balanche, a political geographer specializing in Syria.
The northwestern province of Idlib, on the border with Turkey, is the main bastion of Syria’s insurgents.
In the north and northwest, Ankara-backed groups control the town of Al-Bab in Aleppo province and other areas near the Turkish border.
With their rebel allies, Turkish forces seized the town of Afrin in March, ousting Kurdish fighters who pledged an insurgency to retake it.
In the south, opposition groups remain in Quneitra province, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Overall, the insurgents control no more than 9 percent of the country, according to the Observatory.
In addition to the military defeats, groups have split geographically and have also broken up into smaller factions over the years of war.
The semi-autonomous Kurdish zone, established during the war, represents the largest part of Syria outside of regime control.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Arab coalition backed by the US, controls 27.4 percent of the country, Observatory figures show.
Within this are important oil fields in northeastern Syria.
The SDF has played a fundamental role in the fight against Daesh during the war.
With the backing of the anti-jihadist coalition led by Washington, last year the SDF drove Daesh out of Raqqa, which the group had declared its de-facto capital in Syria.
After mounting a lightning offensive across Iraq and Syria in 2014, proclaiming a cross-border “caliphate,” Daesh has seen its territory drastically reduced.
The terror outfit now holds just a few pockets in eastern Syria, along the Iraqi border and close to the Euphrates, and it is also present in some central desert areas such as Homs province.
Having once controlled nearly half of Syria, Daesh has seen its territory reduced to less than 3 percent of the country, the Observatory says.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.


Gulf countries announce measures to cut links with Iran as coronavirus cases rise in Middle East

Updated 10 min 6 sec ago

Gulf countries announce measures to cut links with Iran as coronavirus cases rise in Middle East

  • The UAE suspended all passenger and cargo flights to Iran
  • Kuwait has canceled celebrations for national holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday

DUBAI: Gulf countries announced new measures on Tuesday to cut links with Iran to prevent coronavirus spreading after the confirmation of 20 new cases, all of them people returning from the Islamic republic.

The UAE suspended all passenger and cargo flights to Iran after Kuwait and Bahrain announced the additional cases of COVID-19.

Over the past two days, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman have reported 29 cases of the novel coronavirus among people returning from pilgrimages to Iran, which is battling the deadliest outbreak outside China and where the death toll has reached 16.

Bahrain also announced 9 new cases, bringing the total number affected in the kingdom to 17 — including six Saudi women — after they returned from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah in the UAE.

The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority “suspended all passenger flights and cargo to and from Iran starting today and for one week,” a statement carried by the official WAM news agency said, adding that the ban could be extended.

Also on Tuesday, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed tweeted that the UAE was ready to provide all forms of support to help China combat the spread of the virus.

Shortly after, the Bahraini authorities said citizens were banned from traveling to Iran “until further notice.”

In neighboring Kuwait, three new cases were recorded among Kuwaiti men who had been under quarantine after returning from Iran.

Oman, which on Monday reported its first cases of coronavirus in two Omani women who had returned from Iran, reported an additional two cases.

Muscat was making arrangements to bring back its citizens from the Islamic republic, the foreign ministry said, a day after it suspended all flights to and from Iran.

Oman also announced that it will suspend the import and export of goods from Iran from Wednesday.

The three countries have large Shiite Muslim populations who frequently travel to Iran to visit holy shrines.

The UAE has already announced 13 coronavirus cases, all foreigners, including an Iranian couple who had traveled from Iran.

Kuwait has canceled celebrations for national holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday and also scrapped all sports events to counter the spread of the disease.