Assad’s regime steps up anti-Daesh push near Sweida

Assad’s regime steps up anti-Daesh push near Sweida
In this July 26, 2018 file photo, Syrian soldiers arrive to Syria's Quneitra border crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. (AP)
Updated 07 August 2018

Assad’s regime steps up anti-Daesh push near Sweida

Assad’s regime steps up anti-Daesh push near Sweida
  • HRW spoke to eight families in three displacement camps in northeastern Syria who said Kurdish militiamen and security forces had encouraged their children to enlist
  • The regime is to set up a committee to coordinate repatriating millions of Syrians who fled during the war

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces bombed late Sunday a desert area under the control of Daesh near the province of Sweida in southern Syria, a war monitor said.
“The bombing and fighting between the regime forces and Daesh have intensified during the evening and are continuing,” said Rami Abdel Rahmane, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The regime is advancing to the north and northeast of Sweida,” adjacent to the desert zone of the southern province, he told AFP.
This military operation would be “the start of a regime offensive to dislodge IS (Daesh) from this pocket” in the Badiya desert of Sweida, he said, adding that “a major military reinforcement (of regime troops) is massing” in the area.
The fighting comes as Russia failed in its negotiations to free some 30 civilian hostages of the Druze religious minority taken by Daesh last month.
The kidnappings followed a series of coordinated attacks on Sweida province which left more than 250 people dead.
On Sunday, the Observatory and news website Sweida24 announced that Daesh had decapitated one of the hostages, a 19-year-old male student.
This execution, the first since the abductions, came “after the failure of the negotiations with the regime forces,” according to the Observatory.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an Arab-Kurd alliance which fought against Daesh with the support of the US, indicated Sunday that it was ready to exchange with Daesh captured militants for the remaining Druze civilian hostages.
Meanwhile Daesh, which has not claimed responsibility for the execution or the kidnappings, has been pounded by multiple offensives in Syria and today controls less than three percent of the territory.
However, it continues to launch attacks like the bloody strike and kidnappings in Sweida.
Sources said on Sunday, the regime is to set up a committee to coordinate repatriating millions of Syrians who fled during the war. The regime “agreed to create a coordination body for the return of those displaced abroad to their cities and villages,” state news agency SANA said.
Separately, the SDF denied a Human Rights Watch report that it was recruiting children from displacement camps in the country’s northeast in violation of international law.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which forms the backbone of the SDF, has used child soldiers in the past, according to the UN, HRW and other rights groups.
In a report published Friday, the New York-based watchdog again accused the YPG of recruiting minors.
The SDF’s political arm vowed to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for “individual” cases.
“We are against the recruitment of children under any pretext,” said the Syrian Democratic Council.
“What was mentioned in HRW’s press release is only irresponsible individual abuse, which does not represent the overall method or strategy of the Syrian Democratic Council.”
It said it would study the “allegations,” return any child recruits to their families and “hold accountable those responsible for these abuses.”
International law prohibits non-state armed factions from recruiting anyone under the age of 18, and enlisting children under 15 is a war crime.
HRW spoke to eight families in three displacement camps in northeastern Syria who said Kurdish militiamen and security forces had encouraged their children to enlist.
The youngest among them was a 13-year-old girl.
“We are poor, so they told my daughter they would give her money and clothes,” her mother told HRW. She objected, but her daughter enlisted in the forces and had not been heard from for around a month.
A YPG-linked political administration runs much of northern Syria with a system that is autonomous from Damascus, complete with its own schools and tax system.
Kurdish authorities also enforce military conscription for those above 18 years of age in areas under their control.


Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
Updated 35 min 43 sec ago

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
  • With millions living in tents across country’s northwest, threat of COVID-19 is severe
  • $1.6m awarded by non-profit organization funded by UK, US, Canadian, Dutch governments

LONDON: Syria’s White Helmets, the civilian rescue group that recovers victims from rubble after airstrikes in the war-torn country, is now making personal protective equipment (PPE) to further its life-saving mission.
The civil defense service, which has worked to reduce the harm of indiscriminate shelling from the Assad regime, has received a $1.6 million award for the production of PPE from a non-profit organization funded by the UK, US, Canadian and Dutch governments.
Funds from the Humanitarian Grand Challenge group have led to the creation of a PPE-producing facility that has manufactured some 2 million masks.
It is also producing protective gowns and face shields — key equipment in the fight against COVID-19 — and handling the disposal of used PPE for northwest Syria’s population, who live in a precarious area that is predominantly out of the regime’s control. 
“The COVID-19 pandemic was the most difficult challenge the White Helmets faced in 2020,” said Munir Mustafa, its deputy general manager for humanitarian affairs.
“We witnessed the spread of the virus in north-western Syria among humanitarian workers and medical personnel, while the global pandemic made cross-borders logistics almost impossible.”
The White Helmets has enhanced community efforts to keep people safe from COVID-19 amid pressing security challenges.
“Our volunteers and fellow humanitarians, health care providers and other essential workers are safer now and can continue caring for Syrian civilians and responding to the pandemic,” Mustafa said.
The White Helmets, established in 2014, was originally formed for search-and-rescue efforts and to broaden the provision of first responders. It claims to have saved some 120,000 lives.
Its role has developed as challenges facing the Syrian people have grown. Violence in the country has demolished health care facilities, decimating communities and cutting off millions from crucial medical care. 
The bombing of civilian areas has forced many to flee to temporary refugee facilities that are often cramped and in poor condition.
With millions living in tents across the country’s northwest, the threat of COVID-19 is severe.
Around 500 cases of COVID-19 are being recorded per day in northwest Syria, but experts say the true number is much higher due to inadequate testing infrastructure.
The Humanitarian Grand Challenge said: “The White Helmets’ ability to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment inside Syria will not only protect those working in the overwhelmed health system, but reduce the spread of the virus among the most vulnerable.”