Posts Tagged ‘Bashar al-Assad’

De Mistura: Dividing Syria is catastrophic to the entire region — He agrees with Putin…

March 20, 2018


Syrian pro-government forces enter the main square of Kfar Batna, southeastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on March 19, 2018. (AFP)
DUBAI: United Nations’ special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said Syria was heading toward a catastrophic division and could see the return of Daesh if a peaceful settlement was not found, Saudi state-news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported.
Speaking to an audience at the Institute of Graduate Studies in Geneva, De Mistura said: “The fact is that Syria’s long-term division, which we are witnessing at the moment in different areas of control, will be catastrophic, not only for Syria, but for the region as a whole.”
He explained that without a political solution that does not exclude anyone, Daesh will return to the sphere.
“This is division, this is in fact a country with areas under the influence of other countries … this cannot continue,” said de Mistura, holding a map of Syria with different colors representing the areas of control of the land, adding that “I think that ultimately Syria must remain united.”
He said neither the European Union nor the World Bank would fund the $352 billion reconstruction of Syria unless a political process involving a new UN-sponsored constitution was found.
He added that without this, any military victory would come at an irreplaceable cost.
De Mistura said there was no country that wanted to divide Syria, and that Russia and the United States shared a common interest in defeating Daesh and were in constant communication.


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Syria’s Assad visits troops in Eastern Ghouta

March 18, 2018


© HO / Syrian Presidency Facebook page / AFP | A handout picture released by the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on March 18, 2018, shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) talking with regime forces in Eastern Ghouta.


Latest update : 2018-03-18

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad met with soldiers in Eastern Ghouta on Sunday, the presidency said, in the leader’s first trip to the former rebel enclave outside Damascus in years.

Syria state television broadcast photos of the president dressed in a shirt and jacket surrounded by soldiers, some perched on a tank behind him, in an unspecified part of Eastern Ghouta.

Rebels have held out in Eastern Ghouta since 2012, but a regime assault in the last month has retaken more than 80 percent of the former opposition bastion, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor says.


Foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran Meet To Divide Up Syria: Criticize the U.S., UK and France for Wanting to Divide Up Syria

March 18, 2018

Al Jazeera

Foreign ministers’ meeting in Astana stressed Syria’s territorial integrity.

Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (C) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) hold joint press conference after the ninth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 16, 2018 [Anadolu]
Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (C) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) hold joint press conference after the ninth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 16, 2018 [Anadolu]

The foreign ministers of TurkeyRussia and Iran have met in the Kazakh capital Astana and issued a joint statement which emphasised the territorial integrity of Syria.

“Those who, in violation of all norms of international law, in violation of Resolution 2254, obviously seek to divide Syria, to replace the regime so that this important Middle Eastern country is replaced by small principalities, controlled by external players, certainly do not welcome what we are doing in Astana, we are trying to achieve in Astana,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a speech before the talks with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts in Astana.

In an interview with Kazah’s media, Lavrov added: “I do not think that we should even talk about a potential partition of Syria, but it is our duty to demand that these plans be immediately foiled, some bear it.”

“US, French, UK special forces are ‘on the ground’ in Syria. So it is not a ‘proxy war’ anymore, but direct engagement in the warfare.”

Next steps

From his side, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu “underlined the need to differ terrorists from civilians,” especially in places where civilians live densely.

“We are also against the going of all terrorists to Idlib [in northwestern Syria]. There, they constitute a threat to the people, opposition and to all of us,” Cavusoglu stressed.

Another summit will be held in Istanbul on April 4.

Astana talks were launched by Russia, Turkey and Iran in January 2017 with the aim of putting an end to the war in Syria, as well as coordinate the exchange of prisoners and the handover of the those killed in the war.

Syria: In the Ruins of a Dream


Syria: In the Ruins of a Dream



Times of Israel

Iran, Russia and Turkey hold Syria talks in Astana

Gathering of three outside powers with forces embroiled in Syria comes as thousands face hunger in regime forces’ siege in Damascus suburb of Ghouta

File: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrive for a joint press conference with the Russian and Iranian presidents at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 28, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Sergei Karpukhin)

File: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrive for a joint press conference with the Russian and Iranian presidents at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 28, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Sergei Karpukhin)

ASTANA, Kazakhstan — The foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Turkey were locked in talks on Syria in Kazakhstan Friday, almost a month after the Moscow- and Tehran-backed regime began pounding an opposition enclave just outside of Damascus.

The dire humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, is likely to be on the agenda as Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey convened in the Kazakh capital Astana Friday.

Speaking at the outset of the talks Friday Lavrov said that “millions of Syrians are looking in the direction of Astana” as the three power brokers work towards an end to the conflict.

The meeting is expected to lay the ground for a summit involving the presidents of the three countries in Istanbul on April 4.

At least 340,000 people have been killed since Syria’s brutal civil war started in 2011, with some measures counting an even higher death toll. It has since spiraled into a complex conflict involving multiple world powers.

In recent weeks focus has been on Eastern Ghouta. Nearly 1,260 civilians have been killed there, a fifth of them children, since the Syrian regime’s bombardment of the rebel enclave began on February 18.

UN chief Antonio Guterres has described the former rebel stronghold facing stark shortages of food and other basic goods as “hell on Earth.”

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are now believed to control over 70 percent of the enclave that saw nearly 20,000 civilians flee on Thursday alone according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Rebel-backer Turkey has called for an end to the siege in Eastern Ghouta but remains embroiled in its own offensive on the northern Syrian town of Afrin that is inhabited mostly by ethnic Kurds.

The United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is missing the Astana talks through illness, his office said Thursday, adding that deputy Ramzi Ramzi would take his place.

Kazakhstan has hosted multiple rounds of talks on Syria since January 2017 backed by the three power brokers, most of which involved delegations from the Syrian government and opposition.

A deal for four “de-escalation zones” thrashed out in Astana last year was credited with reducing government-rebel hostilities but was branded a failure by the United States in the wake of the assault on Eastern Ghouta.


Putin’s Russia Becomes Nation of Denials That Nobody Trusts

March 18, 2018

The next six years will show whether Moscow can continue its current policy of aggression

By Leonid Bershidsky
Published: 17:32 March 17, 2018

On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin will, with 100 per cent certainty, be “elected” to his fourth official term in power (there was also an unofficial one while placeholder President Dmitry Medvedev was in the Kremlin). Russia enters Putin’s next six years as President committed to a reckless gamble on the absence of any enforceable international rules.

Putin spent the last six years like a player in a shooter video game. He started out with a puny handgun — a Russian military exhausted by half-hearted attempts at reform and only promised modern equipment. He had a thick suit of armour, though: Plausible deniability. When he needed it, he could construct elaborate excuses for his actions cloaked in the language of international norms or conventions.

Throughout his latest term, Putin and his underlings have denied lots of things: That Russian troops took control of Crimea; that Russia intended to annex it; that Moscow fomented the uprising in Eastern Ukraine and backed it with troops and weapons; that the rebels or even Russian troops sent to aid them shot down a passenger airliner in July 2014; that ally Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian President, has used bombs and even chemical weapons against civilians; that Russia had anything to do with the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack in the United States, or with any freelance hacking, trolling and mercenary operations anywhere; that Russia poisoned a former double agent in the United Kingdom week before last with a military-grade nerve poison. It’s been hard to keep track of all the denials — even for Putin himself. During a recent interview with Megyn Kelly, he nodded at his press secretary Dmitri Peskov — the Kremlin’s denier-in chief — and said: “Sometimes he talks up such a storm that I watch it on TV and think, what is he talking about? Who instructed him to say this?”

That’s not to say all the denials are insincere. Whether it’s reports of Trump-Russia collusion or hacked elements of US infrastructure, Putin is right that the public, his and America’s, has the right to see the evidence; it shouldn’t blindly trust intelligence services.

By this stage of the game, however, the armour of deniability is largely gone, worn out from overuse. Putin doesn’t need it so much either; he no longer has a toy gun, but instead wields a modernised military tested in the biggest armed confrontations Russia has faced since Soviet times and fitted with 21st-century technology. Reluctant to change anything domestically and likely at a loss for what to do about the economy, Putin will continue his current game of aggression.

Even so, if Russia is accused of anything at all, its default mode is denial and stonewall. It will not cooperate in good faith with any investigation. Rather, it will try to throw the investigators off track, as it did repeatedly with the Dutch Safety Board’s inquiry into the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. That’s what the Kremlin is trying to do now in the spy poisoning case, too, pointing fingers at other countries that it says could have produced the chemical used in the attack.

It’s also clear by now that no amount of evidence will silence the denials; they can only be abandoned when Putin decides they’re no longer needed, as in the Crimea annexation, glorified in a 2015 state TV documentary starring Putin. The denials have turned into a ritual, and that, to put it mildly, doesn’t inspire trust, even when the evidence of wrongdoing is missing. The Kremlin only bothers to keep denying everything because many Russians choose to buy the line that Russia is the victim of a concerted western effort to paint it black. They want to believe it because otherwise they’d have to be ashamed of their country, and that’s intensely uncomfortable. And, while believing the denials, the same people can also take pride in the way Russia thumbs its nose at the West, grabs historic territory or metes out punishment to a traitor. It’s a psychological paradox made easier by low engagement and state TV’s mind-numbing cultivation of this impossible combination of pride and victimhood.

Putin knows fellow world leaders don’t believe anything he says. So the way official Russia communicates with the outside world today is largely non-verbal. Examples of this one-sided communication include crude videos of rockets flying towards the US, which Putin used in his state of the nation speech earlier this month, real-life air strikes and troop movements, and likely also cyberattacks and assassinations. Friday’s successful $4.5 billion (Dh16.55 billion) government bond sale is also a non-verbal signal, if of a different kind: It shows that, regardless of all the noise, Russia still has the most important kind of credibility — as an investment destination.

Putin says he’d like to have a conversation with the West — on his own terms. Even that, however, requires a modicum of trust, and it’s hard to see how Putin can win it back. The revelation that he isn’t really looking for a partnership with the West, no matter how limited, is probably the most important takeaway from his third presidential term.

That makes the fourth one decisive, in a way. If Putin continues getting away with aggression of various kinds, if it turns out that whatever rules have existed since the Soviet Union’s collapse do not apply to a country as big and militarily powerful as Russia, if the economic damage to the Russian state and companies is as minimal as it has been in the last six years, and if non-western nations continue working constructively with Putin the way Turkey, Middle Eastern nations and China have been doing, Putin’s legacy will be assured. His successors will learn the lesson that thuggishness is no sin if you have the strength, or even just the appetite for risk, to back it up.

If, however, Putin is tripped up by the consequences of a risky move — for example, if Russia’s chemical weapons problem escalates and turns it into a pariah state — the succession battle may get interesting while Putin is still in power. Those who believe Russia can power through any attempts to isolate it will be up against more sensible technocrats. I wouldn’t like to bet on the outcome of that fight; in any case, Putin is taking a massive gamble with the nation’s future.

— Bloomberg

Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website

Thousands flee Ghouta after month-long Syrian bombardment — “All civilized nations must hold Iran and Russia accountable”

March 16, 2018

Eastern Ghouta had been the main rebel bastion on the outskirts of Damascus since 2012 and came under a devastating regime siege the following year. Above, residents escape through the corridor punched through by Syrian regime forces. (AFP)
ADRA, Syria: Thousands of civilians poured out of Eastern Ghouta on Thursday after a month-long bombardment brought the Syrian regime closer to recapturing the devastated rebel enclave outside Damascus.
Defying expectations and calls to step down, Syria’s President Bashar Assad was strengthening his grip on power as the conflict entered its eighth year.
His troops advanced in a ferocious assault on Ghouta, once the opposition’s main bastion on the outskirts of the capital.
A war monitor said regime forces now control 70 percent of the area, splitting the remaining rebel territory into three shrinking pockets.
After a fierce air and ground assault, regime forces on Thursday captured Hammuriyeh town, in an isolated southern part of Ghouta.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said rebels later launched a counter-attack and regained parts of the town, killing 14 regime fighters.
Elsewhere, however, it said the regime overran Al-Rihan town in an assault led by Russian officers and advisers.
The regime’s advance into Hammuriyeh had punched a corridor through the town into government-controlled territory.
Streams of women and children escaped through that corridor on Thursday, carrying plastic bags stuffed with clothes and pushing strollers piled high with suitcases and rugs.
They reached a regime checkpoint in Adra district, where ambulances and large green buses waited to take them to temporary shelters.
The Observatory said nearly 20,000 people fled the enclave in 24 hours before the flow stopped on Thursday evening.
It called the exodus “the largest displacement since the beginning of the assault on Ghouta.”
The United Nations said it was trying to determine how many people have left the enclave.
“The UN has not observed the evacuations, but is visiting collective shelters where some of the evacuees are arriving,” a UN spokesman said.
Eastern Ghouta had been the main rebel bastion on the outskirts of Damascus since 2012 and came under a devastating regime siege the following year.
That left the area’s roughly 400,000 residents struggling to secure food and hospitals crippled by shortages of medicine and equipment.
On Thursday, a joint convoy of food supplies for some 26,000 people entered Douma, the largest town in Ghouta and part of a separate rebel-controlled pocket.
“This is just a little of what these families need,” said the International Committee of the Red Cross, which delivered the aid alongside the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the UN.
ICRC President Peter Maurer went with the convoy, the first time he had accompanied such an operation.
Twenty-five trucks were delivering food parcels and flour bags to hunger-stricken Douma residents when mortar rounds hit nearby.
Aid workers scrambled for cover, an AFP correspondent said, but were able to resume deliveries shortly afterwards.
Thursday’s aid operation came after two consecutive days of medical evacuations from Douma, which saw dozens of civilians bussed out for treatment in Damascus.
Ghouta was in May 2017 designated a “de-escalation zone” — an area where violence is supposed to ease, paving the way for humanitarian assistance and a nationwide truce.
But since February 18, Russian-backed government troops have pressed a ferocious air and ground assault that has brought most of Ghouta under government control.
The Pentagon accused Russia of being “complicit” in atrocities.
US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, HR McMaster, said “all civilized nations must hold Iran and Russia accountable for their role in enabling atrocities and perpetuating human suffering in Syria.”
The remaining rebel-held areas have been cut off from each other, in what analyst Nawar Oliver said was part of a divide-and-conquer strategy.
“The summary is that the regime cut up Ghouta into three zones, to comfortably work on securing three different agreements,” said Oliver of the Turkey-based Omran Institute.
Assad is determined to retake Ghouta in order to secure the capital, which is regularly battered by rockets and mortars fired from the adjacent rebel enclave.
Dozens have been killed in rebel fire on Damascus in recent weeks, including one on Thursday, said state news agency SANA.
The assault on Ghouta has left nearly 1,250 civilians dead, around a fifth of them children.
The UN has made repeated demands for an immediate cease-fire in Eastern Ghouta, but they have gone unheeded.
For the past seven years, international efforts to bring an end to the violence raging across Syria have consistently failed.
The conflict has drawn in world powers, with Russia backing Assad and Turkey supporting an array of rebels in Syria’s north against the regime, jihadists, and Kurds.
On Friday the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran met in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana for a fresh round of talks.
Previous discussions in Astana last year paved the way for the de-escalation zones, which were credited with reducing government-rebel hostilities.
But the United States has branded the zones a failure in the wake of the assault on Eastern Ghouta.
In a separate front of the complex war, Ankara and allied Syrian factions on January 20 launched a sweeping ground and air assault against the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria.
The offensive has forced 30,000 civilians from Afrin city in the past 24 hours, the Observatory said.
The city is home to around 350,000 people and is defended by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Besieged enclave of Ghouta on brink of falling to Syrian regime

March 16, 2018

About 15,000 people flee opposition area seven years since protests that led to war

Syrians leave eastern Ghouta
 Syrians leave eastern Ghouta for regime-held areas. Airstrikes have broken up the enclave. Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

The Syrian opposition enclave of Ghouta is on the brink of falling to regime forces, three weeks into a relentless air blitz and seven years to the day since the first stirrings of anti-regime protests, which went on to spark nationwide insurrection, then a devastating war.

Up to 15,000 people had fled from the town of Hamouriyah by nightfall on Thursday into regime-held areas, their exit aided by Syrian and Russian forces who had besieged them throughout much of the conflict, their defiance withering as another bloody anniversary was marked.

Airstrikes and ground assaults have split Ghouta into three areas. Those who remained in the enclave on the eastern edges of Damascus on Thursday were trying to secure guarantees of safety from Russian officials.

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Updated map:

The exodus was expected to continue through the night and for the rest of the week, marking the beginning of the end for the most important opposition stronghold in Syria, and allowing the Syrian regime and its allies to eventually claim control of most of the capital.

The probable fall of Ghouta has left the international community scrambling to come up with arrangements for how to feed and house the people it believes may still be in the area, possible as many as 400,000.

Syria has become a war of numbers, all of which make for numbing reading. Nearly two-thirds of its pre-war population are internally displaced or have fled into neighbouring countries. More than 500,000 people have been killed, more than 100,000 people remain under arrest or forcibly disappeared, most of them in government prisons, and a generation of children have faced what the UN describes as psychological ruin.

The death toll in Ghouta is thought to be above 1,500, with many victims still buried under rubble. Entire neighbourhoods have been flattened by bombing that has regularly been labelled indiscriminate and merciless.

Aid agencies had pleaded to be allowed to deliver food and medicine to populations that Syrian and Russian officials claimed were led by terrorist groups. The same militants were on Thursday attempting to broker terms of a civilian evacuation and their eventual departure.

A doctor from Ghouta said many local people remained unsure of what to do. Few appeared to trust guarantees of safe passage that were being offered by the same troops who had bombed them intensely since mid-February.

“As doctors, we will continue our work,” said a physician. “We are from this community. If they remain here, we will stay here. If they choose something else, we will reassess our choices.

“They are taking town after town and everything has been burned. It is systematic destruction that is meant to bring down the entire area on the heads of its residents. There is no place to flee to. People are scared of a slaughter.”

Like other Ghouta residents contacted by the Guardian, the doctor asked to remain anonymous, fearing retribution from regime officials if he decided to flee. A local journalist also declined to put his name to his words.

“Today, there are civilian movements that are demanding at the very least for the United Nations to guarantee the evacuation of these families,” he said.

“The thousands who left the central part of eastern Ghouta are doing so without any guarantees, to regime areas, and no UN organisation can oversee them. They are in areas controlled by the regime.”

Mahmoud Bwedany, a student, said: “What will happen … other than the violation of human rights and forced displacement, is they will take the military-age youth to the army and they’ll arrest whoever is on their wanted list. The scene makes you weep. We need someone to stand up to the regime and Russia.”

An opposition counterattack in Hamouriyah reclaimed some neighbourhoods on Thursday night. However, a sense of resignation hung over other parts of the enclave that had been central to the opposition’s stand against the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.

The protest movement that erupted on 15 March 2011 was underpinned by a class struggle, with the ranks of the original rebel groups largely comprised of the country’s working poor. Ghouta, 15 minutes’ drive from the presidential palace, had defied multiple attempts to retake it, as the rebel strongholds of Homs, Aleppo and Zabadani fell.

It was first hit by airstrikes in late 2012, then devastated by a massive sarin attackin August 2013, which killed more than 1,300 people, and was linked by the UN, UK, US and France to the Syrian military.

Ghouta locals said they feared Syrian officials would wreak revenge on them if they were forced to cross into regime-controlled territory, and the impunity that has characterised the conflict would mean there would be no retribution for any forced disappearances.

Syrian children wait to be evacuated from eastern Ghouta
 Syrian children wait to be evacuated from eastern Ghouta. The UN said they have suffered psychological ruin. Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

All 11 attempts to sanction the Syrian government at the UN security council have been blocked by Russia and China. Plaintive demands by UN officials that civilian populations be spared from bombing have been routinely ignored and Syria’s health and education systems have been systematically targeted.

The US national security adviser, HR McMaster, blamed Russia and Iran for the deaths and said they should both pay a political and economic price for their support of the Assad regime.

McMaster said Russian bombers conducted more than 20 sorties a day against eastern Ghouta, while Moscow had impeded aid deliveries and international investigations into Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his people.

Speaking at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, McMaster claimed that over the past six years, Tehran had provided more than $16bn (£11.5bn) to the regime and transported foreign Shia militias and weapons to Syria.

“It is time to impose serious political and economic consequences on Moscow and Tehran,” said McMaster, whose position is widely believed to be under threat, in part because of his tough stance towards Russia.

The fall of Ghouta would leave Idlib province as the final major opposition stronghold in Syria. Home to more than 2.6 million people, at least 1 million of them displaced or forcibly transferred from elsewhere in the country, Idlib is a volatile mix of populations and militant groups.

Up to 15,000 extremists aligned to al-Qaida have held sway over much of the area for the past three years. However, they have been forced from many of their strongholds by attacks from opposition groups in recent weeks.

Ali Deeb, a Ghouta student, said: “We don’t want to go to Idlib. “We’re only just coming to terms with what is happening here. Somebody has to help us, surely.”

Syria civil war: Anti-Assad Rebels say, “We have paid a huge price in this war. When we have sacrificed so much, we cannot stop now.”

March 15, 2018

With new offensives in Afrin and Eastern Ghouta, 2018 has already witnessed one of the bloodiest chapters in a war that shows no signs of slowing down

By Bethan McKernan Beirut

The Independent

It was hard to foresee the scale of the war to come when protesters took to the streets of Damascus and Aleppo in a “Day of Rage” on 15 March 2011.

“Your turn, Doctor [Bashar al-Assad],” Arab Spring demonstrators chanted as they demanded the release of 15 teenagers arrested for daubing walls with anti-government graffiti.

Arrests and beatings did not deter them. They drew courage from the recent falls of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia in similar Arab Spring protests.

Scenes of devastation in Syria after deadly shelling and airstrikes in eastern Ghouta

After three days of the exceptionally rare demonstrations, the government had had enough. On 18 March, four protesters in Deraa – most reports say they were unarmed – were shot dead by security forces which opened fire on a crowd.

The killings provided the catalyst for a revolution which has morphed into a conflict unlike any other modern war, shaken the world’s faith in the power of the United Nations, and left many questioning the sanctity of international humanitarian law.

The full repercussions of the myriad proxy wars currently being fought in Syria are yet to be understood.

What is certain is that more than 500,000 people have been killed, half of Syria’s pre-war population has been forced to flee their homes, and an entire generation of Syrian children has never known anything other than war.

“Syrians’ faith in the UN is very low at this point,” says Hadi al-Bahra, a member of the Syrian Negotiation Commission and its negotiation delegation to the UN-led Geneva peace talks process, referring to the inability of the international community to implement a lasting ceasefire in the conflict.

Image result for Hadi al-Bahra, photos

Hadi al-Bahra

“If there are no consequences for military actions, the regime will push forward with committing crimes on a daily basis,” he says. “But the UN is the only option we have to work with.”

On the eve of the conflict’s seventh anniversary, the violence shows no sign of stopping.

On some fronts it is becoming even more complicated – and deadly. Syria now shows dangerous signs of descending into an entrenched state of warfare such as that suffered by Iraq and Afghanistan, subject to the whims of internal warlords and proxy powers.

The fall of the eastern rebel-held side of Aleppo, thanks to Russian airpower and Iran-backed ground forces, at the end of 2016 marked a turning point in Syria’s civil war, shifting the tide of the conflict in President Bashar al-Assad’s favour.

With Isis’s caliphate dismantled after the battle for Raqqa last year, the other long-standing front in the Syrian theatre also began to wind down.

And yet 2018 has seen one of the bloodiest chapters in the war yet.

In Eastern Ghouta, more than 1,000 people have been killed in a three-week-old offensive to retake the area.

The Damascus suburb has been besieged by government forces since 2012 and was also the scene of a sarin and chlorine gas attack in 2013, one of the worst chemical incidents in modern history.

In recent months, however, Mr Assad’s government has tightened the siege, leaving its estimated 400,000 civilians struggling with dwindling food and medical supplies. At the same time, it has stepped up the military campaign.

The violence unleashed in the area since a new wave of Russian-backed bombing began on 18 February has been unprecedented. Activists on the ground report the use of illegal barrel bombs and chlorine gas – claims the Syrian army has repeatedly denied.

The rebels – among them a small number of al-Qaeda-linked militants – are now facing a ground assault that has retaken more than half the area and are facing the prospect of bussed evacuations to the last rebel stronghold of Idlib in the north-west.

“I don’t want to leave Eastern Ghouta. My children grew up here, it’s my home, this is the place they know,” says American citizen Deana Lynn, who has been trapped in Ghouta for several years.

“I think people in general, they don’t want to leave or become displaced. What would they do in Idlib? They would have to look for a home or they’d have to leave for Turkey or Europe.

“We hope it won’t happen to us… I just hope we’ll be safe.”

Turkey opened a new front in the already messy conflict in January, invading the Kurdish-held canton of Afrin in the north-west.

Scores of civilians have been killed during Ankara’s curiously named Operation Olive Branch, designed to oust Kurdish YPG fighters it sees as the Syrian extension of its own outlawed PKK movement.

The US state department, rudderless and understaffed in the Trump administration, has not yet been able to balance the conflicting interests of the YPG, its ground allies against Isis, and its Nato ally Turkey.

“[Russia’s repeated vetoes on action] has caused real damage to the Security Council’s reputation,” a European diplomat says on the condition of anonymity.

Last month Russia agreed to a ceasefire in Ghouta – a rare unanimous UN decision on Syria. But the cessation in hostilities has largely gone ignored.

“It’s even more damaging for the Security Council to agree something and then not to see it executed than it is to see it deadlocked,” says the diplomat.

“The risk is that the Security Council looks impotent and irrelevant, and other countries start to operate outside of the Security Council. It looks like you don’t need it anymore, that it doesn’t matter.”

In diplomatic circles, once-strident calls that “Assad must go” are no longer very loud.

Despite round after round of failed peace talks in Geneva, the UN is adamant a diplomatic solution to the crisis must be agreed, even as Russian and Iranian intervention on the battlefield has once again put a military victory within the Assad government’s reach.

The Syrian government was not receptive to Russian diplomatic efforts during a separate peace process in Astana and Sochi in 2017 and January this year.

The European diplomat says the international community is now hopeful Russia, wishing to limit reputational damage, can be pressured to bring Mr Assad to the negotiating table – but others are not so optimistic.

“Russia does not have enough leverage on the regime to change anything,” says Hadi al-Bahra.

“Iran’s militias are the ones that have really propped up Assad, and they are the main financiers of the regime. They have advanced billions of dollars in lines of credit to the government. They are the ones more in control.”

The beginning of the end of the war is still at least five years away, Mr Bahra says. Even if serious attempts at reconciliation and reconstruction are made, Syria has undergone vast demographic changes in the last seven years, with entire communities emptied out of neighbourhoods and bussed elsewhere at the end of battles.

Boris Johnson suggests the UK could strike Syria in response to Assad’s attack on eastern Ghouta

The fate of hundreds of thousands of people detained or disappeared in Mr Assad’s prisons is another painful issue that could well derail any fledgling attempts at dialogue.

At this point in the conflict, the opposition has no choice but to keep going, Mr Bahra says.

“We have paid a huge price in this war. When we have sacrificed so much, we cannot stop now.”

United Nations: U.S. Amb. Nikki Haley Blasts Russia for Use of Chemical Weapons, Destabilizing Behaviour

March 14, 2018

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, on Wednesday blamed Russia for the recent concern on chemical weapons use in Syria and the nerve agent attack in the UK on former Russian spy Sergei V. Skripal and his daughter.

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FILE photo — Nikki Haley

From The Drive

This latest downturn in the Russian government’s relations with the United States and other Western countries began with the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the British city of Salisbury on March 4, 2018. Authorities in the United Kingdom subsequently said that they had a high level of confidence that the Kremlin, or third parties acting directly on its behalf, were responsible for the attempted murders. More than 20 other individuals suffered ill effects, as well, in what the U.K. government has called a “brazen and reckless” attack and military chemical weapons defense teams had to help secure and decontaminate various sites. At the time of writing, both Skripals remain in critical condition.

Spy games in the United Kingdom

“Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May told members of the country’s parliament in a public address on March 12, 2018. “Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

Skripal, who had previously been a member of the Russian military’s Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, went to prison in 2006 on charges of espionage. The U.K. government requested he be included in a 2010 multi-national spy swap in exchange for a group of Russian agents that the United States had arrested, seeming to confirm his conviction for working as a double agent for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6.

Today, Haley’s remarks included criticism of Russia’s role in supposedly eliminating chemical weapons in Syria. Haley said Russian failed in its mission to assist Syria in the destruction of its chemical weapons, lied to the international community, protected Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and used its UN veto six times to protect the Syrian regime.

Haley said the Russian had been engaging in destabilizing behaviour.


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Above: Children in eastern Ghouta, Syria, get medical assistance after suffering the symptoms associated with chemical weapons use.


Investigators set up a tarpaulin sheet on Wednesday at the London home of Nikolai Glushkov, a Russian exile who was close to Boris Berezovsky, once a leading Putin opponent. The police said that they had no reason to believe the death of Mr. Glushkov was suspicious. CreditChris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Syria regime pursues Eastern Ghouta offensive despite calls to halt — “Russia can stop the bloodbath.” — “Who are these war criminals?”

March 13, 2018
© Hasan Mohamed, AFP | A Syrian boy pulls a cart with items collected amidst debris of destroyed buildings in Douma, in the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus on March 12, 2018.


Latest update : 2018-03-13

Syria’s regime pressed its relentless offensive on Eastern Ghouta Monday as diplomats at the United Nations pushed for new efforts to end the “bloodbath” in the rebel enclave.

Pounding two towns with new bombardment, government troops advanced in several areas of the besieged enclave, as a monitor reported more than 350,000 now dead in Syria’s seven-year civil war.

On another front in the conflict, hundreds were seen fleeing a Turkish-led advance in the northern area of Afrin, where a Kurdish-majority city is also under threat of being besieged.

Syria’s civil conflict enters its eighth year this week with fighting in several areas, but the assault on Eastern Ghouta has been one of the most ferocious of the war.

Since February 18, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have retaken nearly 60 percent of the enclave, whittling down rebel territory to three isolated pockets.

Backed by Russia, the advance has battered Eastern Ghouta with air strikes, artillery and rocket fire, raising widespread international concern and prompting urgent calls for a ceasefire.

France’s envoy to the United Nations, Francois Delattre, on Monday urged Moscow to put pressure on its ally to halt the offensive, saying: “Russia can stop the bloodbath.”

The United States also presented a new draft resolution to the UN Security Council demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta.

Image result for Putin with Assad, 2018

Syria and Russia are already celebrating their “win”.

US presents new UN draft

US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council that a ceasefire resolution it adopted two weeks ago had failed and that the new resolution “provides no room for evasion”.

Pro-regime forces advanced again in Ghouta on Monday, heavily bombing two rebel-controlled towns closest to the capital, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Air strikes and rocket fire slammed into the towns of Harasta and Arbin, the Britain-based monitor said, as the regime used the recently recaptured town of Medeira nearby as a launching pad for a ground assault.

In Harasta at least four civilians were killed in air strikes, the Observatory said.

Syrian state media also reported a government advance in Ghouta, saying the town of Efteris to the south had been seized.

The other two areas still in rebel hands are Douma, the region’s biggest town in the north of the enclave, and the zone around Hammuriyeh and other towns to the south.

An AFP correspondent in Douma said the morning was relatively quiet, allowing civilians to venture out of bomb shelters to check on the destruction in their homes or gather food.

Residents were seen queueing at a butcher shop, whose owner had slaughtered a calf that he could fatten up no further because there was nothing left to feed it.

Syria’s conflict broke out in March 2011 with peaceful protests against Assad, but a regime crackdown paved the way for a fully-fledged war.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, left, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia met in Sochi, Russia, on last November 20. Credit Pool photo by Mikhail Klimentyev

At least 353,935 people have died since, including more than 106,000 civilians, the Observatory said on Monday, providing a new overall death toll for the conflict.

More than 19,800 children are among the dead, it said.

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Putin embraces assad in Russia, November 22, 2017

In the Ghouta offensive alone, at least 1,162 civilians have been killed, including 241 children, the Observatory said.

More than 35 civilians have also been killed in rebel fire on government-controlled zones in Damascus and its outskirts since the start of the Ghouta offensive, it says. Rebel mortar and rocket fire killed two civilians on Monday, according to state news agency SANA.

Even before the offensive began, rebel-held parts of Ghouta were facing a crippling government siege that made food and medicine hard to access.

Hundreds flee Afrin

Syrian troops have used siege tactics on several areas around the capital, sealing off rebel-held territory and pressing a military operation before securing an evacuation deal.

Syria’s government was on Monday pursuing separate negotiation tracks over the three rebel-held pockets of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Observatory and sources involved.

The talks, in some cases involving Russian officials, were focused on local truces or potential evacuation deals for rebels and civilians.

Opposition forces have repeatedly denied holding talks with the regime and on Monday tensions erupted in the town of Kafr Batna, with rebels there reportedly shooting dead a civilian taking part in a protest calling for a deal.

Since the conflict broke out seven years ago, an array of world powers have become involved, including Turkey.

For weeks, Ankara and allied Syrian rebels have pursued an offensive against Afrin, a Kurdish-controlled region of northwest Syria.

Hundreds of residents were seen fleeing the city of Afrin on Monday, with the Observatory reporting more than 2,000 arriving in an area controlled by pro-regime forces.

Hundreds more were on the road, it said, after Turkish forces and their allies on Saturday arrived to within less than two kilometres (one mile) of the city, sparking fears it could be besieged.


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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in Sochi, Russia, on November 22, 2017

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Putin, right, greets Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Yuri Kadobnov AP

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Putin already celebrated his “win” in Syria

Eastern Ghouta: Mattis warns Syria over ‘weaponised gas’

March 11, 2018

BBC News

Shelling in DoumaImage copyrightAFP/GETTY
Image captionThe Syrian army says it has completely surrounded the town of Douma, which has been under heavy bombardment

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has warned Syria it would be “very unwise” to use poison gas in Eastern Ghouta amid reports of chlorine attacks.

Mr Mattis did not say President Trump would take military action, but the US struck Syria last April after a suspected gas attack in northern Syria.

Fierce fighting is continuing and the Syrian army says it has surrounded a major town in the rebel-held enclave.

More than 1,000 civilians have been reported killed in recent weeks.

White Helmets claimed that volunteer Bilal Bayram was among the victims who was suffocated [Courtesy: White Helmets]

FILE Photo: White Helmets claimed that volunteer Bilal Bayram was among the victims who was suffocated by some kind of chemical gas in Eastern Ghouta in February 2018 [Courtesy: White Helmets]

The Syrian military has been accused of targeting civilians, but it says it is trying to liberate the region – the last major opposition stronghold near the capital Damscus – from those it terms terrorists.

What did Mr Mattis say?

Mr Mattis said Mr Trump had “full political manoeuvre room” to respond to chlorine use.

Rescue workers and activists in Eastern Ghouta say the Syrian government has used chlorine during its assault, but the government denies this.

Mr Mattis did not say he had conclusive evidence gas had been used, but added: “It would be very unwise for them to use weaponised gas. And I think President Trump made that very clear early in his administration.

He was referring to the US cruise missile strike on a Syrian government air base after more than 80 people were killed in a sarin gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Last October a UN report said the Syrian government had been behind the attack.

Mr Mattis also criticised Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which had agreed to oversee the destruction of Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles under a 2013 deal.

“Either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad. There’s an awful lot of reports about chlorine gas use or about symptoms that could be resulting from chlorine gas,” he said.

What’s happening on the ground?

The Syrian army says it has completely surrounded the town of Douma and cut the remaining rebel-held area into two, according to a statement made by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, which is fighting on the side of the Syrian government.

But a spokesman for one of the main rebel groups earlier told Reuters that neither Douma nor the western town of Harasta had been cut off. That followed reports that the Syrian army had captured the central town of Misraba, which is on a road linking Douma and Harasta.

The BBC’s Arab Affairs editor Sebastian Usher says the army’s strategy is to divide the enclave into isolated sections and so cut off rebel support and supply networks.

Some of the fiercest fighting has been on the eastern edge of the area still under rebel control – the stronghold of one of the two main rebel groups, Faylaq al-Rahman, which is part of the Free Syrian Army.

Some reports say local leaders have been negotiating an evacuation deal for one of the towns, but Faylaq al-Rahman has denied this, vowing to fight on.

A map showing Eastern Ghouta, Syria

What is the situation for civilians?

Civilians have been sheltering in basements amid continuing government strikes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told the BBC that some residents were going weeks without seeing sunlight because they were too frightened to go out.

“They go out only whenever they want to bring some food for their children,” said ICRC spokeswoman Ingy Sedky.

“And this is when they basically lose their life because it’s becoming very, very dangerous to stay outside basements.”

Bombardment of the town of Kafr Batna in the south of Eastern GhoutaImage copyrightAFP/GETTY
Image captionContinuing air strikes are forcing residents to stay in basements

On Friday a UN convoy was able to successfully deliver aid to Eastern Ghouta, after previous deliveries were halted by shelling.

Some 400,000 people are still thought to live in the area, seven years into Syria’s civil war. It has been besieged by government forces since 2013.

Who are the rebels?

The rebels in Eastern Ghouta are not one cohesive group. They encompass multiple factions, including jihadists, and in-fighting between them has led to past losses of ground to the Syrian government.

The two largest groups are Jaish al-Islam and its rival Faylaq al-Rahman. The latter has in the past fought alongside HTS.

A short guide to the Syrian civil war

Eastern Ghouta is so close to Damascus that it is possible for rebels to fire mortars into the heart of the capital, which has led to scores of civilian deaths.

The Syrian government is desperate to regain the territory, and has said its attempts to recapture it can be attributed directly due to the HTS presence there. HTS was excluded from a ceasefire agreed at the UN that has yet to come into effect.

The group is an alliance of factions led by the Nusra Front, which sprang from al-Qaeda.

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Above: Iranian foreign minister Zarif shares some fun with his co-equal from Russia Mr. Lavrov.

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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in Sochi, Russia, on November 22, 2017