Posts Tagged ‘Jordan’

Security situation at Najaf, Iraq deteriorates — Airlines suspend service — Protests over poor public services, unemployment, Iranian interference 

July 15, 2018

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Jordan’s state airline said on Sunday it had suspended four weekly flights to the Iraqi city of Najaf due to the “security situation at it’s airport, a company statement said.

Royal Jordanian said Najaf is the ninth destination in the region – from Mosul in Iraq to Aden and Sanaa in Yemen – to which it has suspended flights due to turmoil in recent years.

Najaf is among the cities in southern Iraq that have witnessed days of protests over poor services and against alleged official corruption.

Reuters

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Toby Chopra

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DUBAI (Reuters) – Flydubai has halted flights to the Iraqi city of Najaf “due to the disruption on the ground” at the airport until July 22, the Dubai state-owned airline said on Sunday.

Najaf airport was closed on Friday after protests there halted air traffic. Najaf is among the cities in southern Iraq that have witnessed days of protests over poor services and against alleged official corruption.

Flydubai, which operates a daily return flight from Dubai to Najaf, is monitoring the situation, an airline spokeswoman said.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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Iraqi protesters demanding services and jobs burn tires

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With Trump strategy unclear, U.S. allies turn to Moscow to secure their interests in Syria

July 15, 2018

As President Trump began a six-day trip to Europe, due to culminate Monday in a meeting with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, Putin was having some meetings of his own.

In Moscow on Wednesday, he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a frequent visitor, who said he wanted to talk to the Russian leader “without intermediaries.” Hours later, Putin sat down with Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran’s supreme leader.

The main subject of the meetings was Syria, also a top item on Trump’s agenda.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting Wednesday, July 11, at the Kremlin to discuss Syria.

“Of course I’m going to bring that up” with Putin, Trump said Friday during a stop in Britain. “I’m not going in with high expectations,” he said, “but we may come out with some surprising things.”

By Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick
The Washington Post

As Trump and Putin prepare to meet in Helsinki, both allies and adversaries in the Middle East are turning to Putin for reassurance and understanding of how such surprises might affect them. For Iran, which has partnered with Russia to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power and decimate his U.S.-backed opposition, keeping Moscow close is a no-brainer.

But for many of America’s allies in the region, who say they have little understanding of Trump’s long-term strategy in Syria, there is growing anxiety about what he is prepared to offer Putin in exchange for help in attaining what he says is his primary goal of expelling Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, shakes hands with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, stands at right, at Novo-Ograyovo outside in Moscow on July 12, 2018. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Among the possibilities raised by senior officials in a number of regional governments, some of which also concern administration officials, are that Trump will agree to a partial or complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria — as both Syria and Russia have demanded — or even to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and drop U.S. sanctions.

Trump signed Wednesday’s NATO communique declaring that it would never accept Russia’s “illegal and illegitimate” takeover of Crimea. If he breaks ranks, it would be his most direct slap yet at the alliance, at a moment when NATO unity already hangs in the balance.

Removing the 2,200-strong U.S. military contingent in Syria, however, is seen as a more realistic possibility. Trump’s suggestion earlier this year that the United States would withdraw troops from Syria “very soon,” widely interpreted to mean six months, continues to create confusion within the U.S. military as well as among Washington’s regional partners.

U.S. military officials see the changing dynamics in southwest Syria, as Assad strengthens his control over remaining rebel-held areas, as disconnected from their ongoing campaign against the Islamic State. But they also see the situation as a signal of Syria’s new reality — one in which Assad will remain in power, aided by Russia and Iran. Although the officials said Friday that they have seen no plans to begin to remove troops, they said they are bracing for such a decision.

Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others, according to senior Middle Eastern officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity of name and country to avoid publicly questioning Trump, agree that such a step would be disastrous, eliminating whatever leverage the United States still has to push for an acceptable outcome in Syria.

In the lead-up to the Trump-Putin summit, Russia has continued to defend Iran’s presence in Syria and demand complete U.S. withdrawal, charging that its military deployments are a sham.

“Let me remind you that they talked about defeating ISIL at first, [and] declared the prevention of ISIL’s rebirth as their goal later,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told an Italian newspaper on Thursday, using an acronym for the Islamic State. Now, he said, the Americans “say [their] presence in Syria should continue to deter the hypothetical ‘Iranian influence.’ ”

President Vladimir Putin with the French leader Emmanuel Macron in St. Petersburg, Russia, in May.CreditPool photo by Dmitri Lovetsky. MAcron is meeting with Putin on Sunday, July 15, 2018.

“If our American colleagues are pursuing any course of action in Syria, it is too contradictory to be called a strategy,” Shoigu said.

U.S. regional allies share the objective of preventing Iran from establishing an unhindered corridor through Syria from Tehran to Beirut. But they worry that Trump may be too willing to accept guarantees that Putin has neither the desire nor ability to deliver.

Security officials in several countries in the region are skeptical that the Russians could force an Iranian withdrawal, even if they wanted to. “Assad owes everything to Iran, and he’s playing a game between the Russians and Iranians,” said one official in the region.

At the same time, another senior official from the region said, “the Russians play good chess. Putin wouldn’t make a move without thinking 10 moves ahead.”

Confused by apparently conflicting administration messages, and doubtful that the United States has a plan for achieving its own long-term goals in Syria, regional allies have reached out to Russia. “For years, there has been a growing disappointment with the U.S. posture in the region,” a third official said. “Countries are beginning to make their own calculations.”

Assad’s recent offensive in southwestern Syria, bordered by Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, is a case in point. The area had been largely peaceful since last summer, when Putin and Trump endorsed a cease-fire deal that froze Russian-backed Syrian government forces and U.S.-backed opposition fighters in place along a demarcation line patrolled by Russian police.

Late last month, however, Assad’s forces, aided by Russian airstrikes and Iranian-directed militias, began heading south from Damascus for an announced takeover of the area. As the offensive got underway, the administration publicly denounced Russia for violating the cease-fire agreement, even as it privately told regional allies that it would not oppose the move and messaged opposition forces that they would get no assistance and were better off giving up.

The administration apparently asked Russia for nothing in return. As refugees from ground attacks and Russian bombing fled to nearby borders, and humanitarian organizations warned of catastrophe, Israel and Jordan turned to Moscow to ensure that their interests would be protected.

For Jordan, whose foreign minister traveled there shortly after hearing the news from Washington, Russia came through. Early this week at the Naseeb border crossing into Jordan, where days earlier tens of thousands of refugees were crowded in dire conditions against the closed border, only several hundred remained under the watch of Syrian soldiers who had arrived with a small Russian-flagged convoy.

While the Russians kept a discreet presence at the border, their impact has been palpable, and Jordan, despite its not-so-secret support for the rebel groups in the past, welcomed the outcome. “Now, I believe that even within a week, most of the [rebel] groups will agree on terms, and some will be integrated back into their communities,” Brig. Gen. Khaled Massaid, the head of Jordan’s northern military district, said in an interview at his command center a few dozen yards from the crossing.

As Syria’s civil conflict has dragged on for years, Jordan’s economy has come under increasing strain, including the costs of coping with an estimated 1.3 million refugees. “The Naseeb border has reopened, and the regime is in charge again,” Massaid said. “It is better for Jordan if Syria is able to control its own border.”

While Israel, like the United States, continues to demand Iran’s complete withdrawal from Syria, its immediate concern is keeping the Iranians at least 50 miles or more away from its border. Netanyahu left Moscow last week — his third visit in recent months — with what the Israeli media reported was a deal with Russia, both to keep Iran and its militias away from the border area and to continue turning a blind eye to Israeli airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria — the latest of which occurred last week.

“It’s very clear that Russia and Israel are cooperating on Syria. The Saudis and Russia are cooperating,” said a senior international diplomat closely involved in the conflict, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and described those contacts as a “good thing” to the extent that they “helped cool things down.”

“The Americans,” the diplomat said, now consider “Syria . . . a Russian thing.”

But Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a strong proponent of keeping U.S. troops in Syria and a skeptic of Russia, tweeted a warning to Netanyahu. “To our friends in Israel,” he wrote, “be very careful making agreements with Russia re Syria that affect U.S. interests. I don’t trust Russia to police Iran or anyone else in Syria.”

Warrick reported from the Naseeb border crossing in Jordan. Missy Ryan in Washington contributed
to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/with-trump-strategy-unclear-us-allies-turn-to-moscow-to-secure-their-interests-in-syria/2018/07/14/0a2a3b34-8551-11e8-8f6c-46cb43e3f306_story.html?utm_term=.c0d2c32e48ea

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Air strikes, clashes hit IS pocket in south Syria: monitor

July 11, 2018

Russian air strikes and fierce clashes on Wednesday rocked a sliver of territory in southwestern Syria held by the Islamic State group, a war monitor said.

Much of the southern province of Radar had been quiet since Friday, when a ceasefire between rebels and Syria’s regime ended a nearly three-week government assault.

But a local branch of IS, known as Jaish Khaled bin Walid and based in a small area in Daraa’s western countryside, was not included in the deal.

© AFP | Syrian regime soldiers ride an infantry-fighting vehicle in western Daraa province on July 7, 2018

Early Wednesday, Russian warplanes began pounding the IS-controlled town of Saham al-Golan, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Russian air strikes hit Saham al-Golan this morning, as dozens of shells and artillery fire hit the town,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

In retaliation, IS launched an attack southwards on Heet, a rebel-held town that recently agreed to return to regime control.

The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources across Syria, gave no immediate death toll for Wednesday’s fighting.

“Daesh (IS) stormed Heet, detonated a car bomb and advanced there and are also intensely bombing the nearby village of Zaizun,” said Abdel Rahman.

IS claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a suicide car bombing in Zaizun that left 14 fighters dead.

The claim, distributed through an online messaging service, included the first apparent reference to the south as an official IS “province,” reflecting its plan to re-establish an Islamic “caliphate” despite its crushing military defeats in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

Wednesday’s clashes were raging less than ten kilometres (six miles) from the armistice line with the Israeli-occupied Golan, and just four kilometres from Jordan.

Anticipating an attack, thousands have fled the IS-held zone in recent days towards the Israeli-occupied Golan.

Around 200,000 displaced people have already sought refuge near the sealed armistice line, according to the United Nations.

The strategic location makes the south a prize for President Bashar al-Assad.

Backed by Russia, his troops began an offensive on Daraa province on June 19 that killed dozens of civilians and displaced more than 320,000 people.

That ended Friday, when Moscow brokered a deal for rebels to surrender weapons and hand over towns to regime troops.

The agreement also provides for safe passage for thousands of opposition fighters and civilians to rebel territory further north, although those transfers have not yet begun.

The regime now controls around 80 percent of Daraa province, while rebels hold around 15 percent, according to the Observatory.

The rebel pocket includes parts of western Daraa and the surrounded southern districts of its provincial capital.

AFP

Syrians ‘will never be safe under Assad’ — opposition

July 9, 2018

“We want justice, human rights, freedom and democracy and we will not give up until it is a reality for the next generation.”

“As long as there is a case for democracy there will be a Syrian opposition.”

Syrian government soldiers burn an opposition flag at the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in the southern province of Daraa on July 7, 2018. (AFP / Youssef Karwashan)

Syrians will never feel safe under the Assad regime, opposition leaders told Arab News on Sunday, as thousands returned to their homes after a cease-fire deal in the southern region of Daraa.

The regime offensive to retake Daraa from insurgents, which began on June 19, displaced about 330,000 people. Many headed to the border with Jordan, which refused to allow refugees to cross. Fighting ended on Friday under a Russian-mediated surrender deal.

© AFP | A Jordanian soldier keeps watch along the border with Syria on July 2, 2018

Anders Pedersen, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Jordan, said on Sunday that only 150 to 200 Syrians remained near a key crossing point into Jordan, and “as far as we understand they are almost exclusively men.”

The cease-fire covered most of southern Syria but intense shelling and airstrikes on Sunday targeted the opposition-held village of Um Al-Mayadeen, just north of the Naseeb border crossing. Regime troops later captured the village after a battle with opposition fighters.

© AFP | With Russia’s help, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army battered Daraa province for over a week with air strikes, rocket fire and crude barrel bombs

“Despite the return of refugees to their homes, Syrians will never feel safe under the Assad regime’s rule and brutality,” Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News.

“At the same time, this is not a victory for the regime since it is participating in name only. After the Russians and the Iranian militias finished their work, you would see Syrian regime officers coming in front of television cameras. This is what happens.”

Aleppo's Great  Umayyad Mosque, pictured on July 22, 2017.

Although the main opposition groups in the eastern parts of Daraa province have agreed to hand over their weapons as part of the surrender, some have vowed to continue fighting, mostly in western parts of Daraa and the nearby Quneitra region on the front with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

“Those who have lost their families — and those parents whose children have been murdered by the regime — will not accept Assad and his regime’s existence, survival and power,” Bahia Mardini, a Syrian opposition activist and founder of Syrian House, which helps Syrians in the UK, told Arab News.

“Despite the lack of international desire for military action, as long as the regime clings on to power, I expect that military action will continue.”

“As long as there is terrorism and dictatorship, there will remain a Syrian opposition who seek democracy and human rights for the Syrian people. They will continue to find new mechanisms to work and succeed despite the difficulties.

“As long as there is a case for democracy there will be a Syrian opposition. We want justice, human rights, freedom and democracy and we will not give up until it is a reality for the next generation,” she said.

“An internationally backed democratic solution is so desperately important.”

“Military cells will remain in Syria, some of them dormant, and despite the international silence, they will renew their military action if there is no democratic process that satisfies the rebellious people and all the parties. That is why an internationally backed democratic solution is so desperately important.”

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1335481/middle-east

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“We have enough strength to rebuild the country. If we don’t have money – we will borrow from our friends, from Syrians living abroad,” Assad has said.

US to focus on reconstructing Gaza as Israel-Palestinian peace plan stalls — report

July 8, 2018

Officials tell Washington Post the Trump administration hopes that by helping with humanitarian crisis it will be harder for PA President Abbas to reject future initiatives

Palestinian children at home reading books by candle light due to electricity shortages in Gaza City, June 13, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

Palestinian children at home reading books by candle light due to electricity shortages in Gaza City, June 13, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

The Trump administration is reportedly focusing on improving humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and putting their so-far unveiled peace plan on a back burner after the Palestinian Authority rejected overtures from US President Donald Trump’s negotiation team.

A senior US official told the Washington Post that by helping to relieve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the US hopes that it will demonstrate a commitment to the well-being of Palestinians, making it harder for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to reject future initiatives from the United States.

“We definitely have a Gaza focus right now because the situation is the way it is, and we want to try to help,” the official told the newspaper. “But it’s not as though we think we need to fix Gaza first before we would air the peace plan.”

White House officials have been effectively blackballed by Ramallah, which was angered by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to move the US embassy there in May. The Gaza Strip is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, rivals to the Fatah-led Palestinian cabinet in the West Bank.

According to the paper, one proposal under discussion with Israel is for a solution to the electricity and water crises plaguing the coastal enclave.

A Palestinian youth walks towards the Gaza strip’s sole electricity plant, which provides a fifth of the embattled region’s power needs, after it stopped working at midnight the previous night due to lack of fuel as per local officials, on February 15, 2018. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

Gaza faces a lack of electricity, drinkable water, and food. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip which they say is designed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build fortifications or tunnels.

The situation has been exacerbated by an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the PA, which has cut the salaries it pays to workers in Gaza and imposed various sanctions, including cutting of payments for electricity supplies to Gaza.

The US State Department this year cut some $250 million from the budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA. Trump tweeted on the issue in January, seemingly angered by the Palestinians’ failure to embrace his policy for the Middle East.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” he tweeted. “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

A senior Israeli official told the paper that focusing on Gaza was a stop gap measure.

“It’s providing support to people in Gaza as a first stage,”  the official told the Washington Post. “They know the Palestinians are not willing to consider [the larger proposal], so they are starting to put more attention on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

However, Israel has said the humanitarian situation will not improve in Gaza until Hamas returns the bodies of two IDF soldiers and the two civilians captives it holds. It blames Hamas for the dire situation, charging the terror group with diverting millions in aid to purchase weapons, dig tunnels, manufacture rockets and train its military wing, instead of using it for the welfare of the people.

A tunnel reaching from Gaza into Israel, seen in a picture released by the IDF on April 18, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The Israeli official told the Washington Post that it remains unclear whether Hamas would agree to returning the Israelis in exchange for humanitarian aid.

In June, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, alleged that a reported effort by the US administration to raise over $500 million from Arab states for Gaza was designed to create further divisions between the West Bank and Gaza.

The US official denied to the Washington Post that the US is planning to create a Palestinian state in Gaza and thus sideline the Palestinian Authority.

“That’s ludicrous,” the official said. “We are not trying to do this. We think that the solution under a peace agreement would be a united Gaza and West Bank, under one Palestinian leadership

Proposals recently reported in Israeli and Arab media have indicated Israel is willing to take a number of steps to ease the humanitarian situation in Gaza. In June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is working to prevent a “humanitarian collapse” in Gaza and blamed the recent border violence on economic conditions in the Palestinian enclave.

Recent months have seen an uptick in violence at the border between Gaza and Israel, with weekly violent Palestinian protests, ongoing rocket attacks, and the new phenomenon of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border, sometimes at a rate of several dozen each day.

On a recent trip to the region, US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and senior White House official Jared Kushner met with leaders to discuss the Trump administration’s efforts to put forward an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan with allies in the region.

However they did not meet with Palestinian officials while on the trip. Ramallah has already rejected the nascent Trump peace proposal and cut off contacts with administration officials following the White House decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for the capital of their own future state and say the US move showed Washington is not an honest broker.

A June interview given by Kushner to the East Jerusalem-based Al Quds newspaper was seen as an attempt by the Trump administration to reach out to the Palestinian people, despite the official boycott.

“If President Abbas is willing to come back to the table, we are ready to engage; if he is not, we will likely air the plan publicly,” said Kushner.

“There have been countless mistakes and missed opportunities over the years, and you, the Palestinian people, have paid the price,” Kushner said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by the White House. “Don’t let your leadership reject a plan they haven’t even seen.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-to-focus-on-reconstructing-gaza-as-peace-plan-stalls-report/

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Rebels expected to hand heavy weapons to Assad as south Syria deal said reached

July 7, 2018

Syrian army to take over all observation points on Jordan border; fighters who reject agreement are to be evacuated to rebel-held Idlib

Smoke rises above rebel-held areas of the city of Daraa, during reported airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on July 5, 2018 (AFP PHOTO/Mohamad ABAZEED)

Smoke rises above rebel-held areas of the city of Daraa, during reported airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on July 5, 2018 (AFP PHOTO/Mohamad ABAZEED)

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian regime on Friday reached a ceasefire deal with rebels in the country’s south, the official SANA news agency said.

“An agreement has been reached between the Syrian government and the terrorist groups” that includes “the handover of heavy and medium weapons in all cities and towns,” it said.

The deal comes two weeks into a devastating Russian-backed government offensive on rebel-held areas of southern Syria close to Jordan and the Golan Heights.

Moscow, a key ally of the Damascus regime, has been brokering talks for the negotiated surrender.

Fighters who reject the agreement will be evacuated with their families to the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, it added.

The deal also provides for government forces to take over “all observation posts along the Syrian-Jordanian border”, it said, hours after the regime regained control of the vital Nassib border crossing with Jordan.

The assault has pushed more than 320,000 people to flee, but SANA said the deal would see them return to their homes.

Rebel spokesman Hussein Abazeed told AFP that “the deal was the best we could achieve to save the lives of our fighters.”

It came after the collapse of a previous round of talks on Wednesday ushered in a day-long volley of air strikes, barrel bombs and missiles that ultimately pressured rebels to return to the table.

The talks resumed at around midday on Friday in the town of Busra al-Sham, freshly recaptured by government troops.

Moscow, which intervened militarily in Syria in 2015, has employed a carrot-and-stick strategy of intense bombardment alongside talks that has allowed the regime to recapture significant territory.

Under such deals, rebels hand over heavy weapons, local police take control of the area and government institutions resume working there.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/syria-government-rebels-reach-deal-on-south/

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Syria regime takes control of Naseeb border crossing, a key passage

July 6, 2018
Syrian government forces reached a vital border crossing with Jordan on Friday, state media reported. The capture of Naseeb border crossing comes as another victory for President Assad.
© Mohamad Abazeed / AFP | Smoke rises above rebel-held areas east of the city of Daraa during reported airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on July 5, 2018.

State news agency SANA said the capture of the Naseeb border crossing happened Friday afternoon after a deal was reached between rebels and Russian mediators to end fighting in southern Syria. Syrian government forces raisend the national flag there, for the first time in years.

Earlier on Friday, rebels said they reached an agreement with Russian mediators in the southern province of Deraa and surrender the Naseeb crossing point. The agreement was reached following an intense aerial campaign by government forces and Russian allies, and the capture of new areas along the border.

Ibrahim Jabawi, spokesman for the rebels’ joint operations room, said they have reached an agreement with the Russians in which insurgents will begin to hand over some of their heavy weapons in return for a government pullout from several villages.

Jabawi added that Russian military police would deploy along the border with Jordan, including the Naseeb border crossing, and that rebels opposed to the deal will be evacuated to rebel-held regions in northern Syria.

The capture of the Naseeb border crossing is another victory for President Bashar Assad’s forces, who have regained control of most of the area’s key cities from insurgents in recent years with the help of Russia and Iran.

Rebels seized control of the crossing in 2015, cutting a major lifeline for Syrian exports and disrupting a major trade route between Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and oil-rich gulf counties.

Syrian government forces launched a wide offensive on June 19 to retake Daraa and the nearby Quneitra region that borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The attack has displaced some 330,000 people and left dozens dead.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 159 civilians have been killed since the offensive began two weeks ago, including 33 children.

Nabaa Media, an opposition activist collective, said the latest government assault on the area killed several people including a woman and her four children in a rebel-held village in Daraa. The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, said in a statement Friday it received “horrific reports” of an entire family including four children being killed.

Earlier on Friday, the government-controlled Central Military Media said government forces now control most of the towns and villages on the eastern side of southern Daraa province.

(AP)

Syrian rebel says pro-Assad forces to leave towns in deal brokered by Russia

July 6, 2018

A Syrian rebel spokesman said a Russian-mediated ceasefire agreement in eastern parts of Deraa province includes a withdrawal of government militias from several towns in the south.

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Ibrahim Jabawi, the spokesman, said local forces overseen by Russia would take charge of the area.

Jabawi earlier said rebels had agreed on a phased handover of their weapons and the deployment of Russian military police in the area near the Jordanian border as part of the deal.

Reuters

Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean

Syrian rebels to Russians for new talks — Russia accused of “scorched earth policy”

July 6, 2018

Rebels in Syria’s battered south were expected to meet with Russian negotiators on Friday after a ferocious 24-hour bombing blitz pushed them to agree to resume talks.

Moscow, a key ally of the Damascus regime, has been brokering talks for the negotiated surrender of rebels in areas of southern Syria bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The negotiations collapsed on Wednesday, with rebels blaming Russia, ushering in a day-long volley of air strikes, barrel bombs, and missiles that ultimately pressured rebels to return to the table.

“The rebel delegation is on its way to the meeting,” Hussein Abazeed, spokesman for the south’s joint rebel command, told AFP.

He accused Russia of pursuing a “scorched earth policy” to force rebels back into negotiations.

The joint command said on Thursday it would be willing to hold “a new round of negotiations” if a halt to hostilities was immediately put into place.

© AFP | Smoke rises above rebel-held areas of the city of Daraa during reported air strikes by Syrian regime forces on July 5, 2018

As rebels made their announcement, bombardment died down across swathes of the south, according to an AFP correspondent on the outskirts of Daraa city and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

By Friday morning, intermittent strikes and barrel bombs were hitting Daraa province’s eastern countryside but overall the raids were less intense than the previous day.

After securing areas around the capital this year, President Bashar al-Assad last month turned to the south, launching a bombing campaign on rebel areas on June 19.

Moscow, which intervened militarily in Syria in 2015, simultaneously began brokering talks, employing a carrot-and-stick strategy that has allowed the regime to recapture significant territory.

– Aiming at border post –

Under such deals, rebels hand over heavy weapons, local police take control of the area and government institutions resume working there.

More than 30 rebel towns have agreed to fall back under regime control through these agreements, doubling the government’s hold on Daraa province to around two-thirds.

On Thursday, regime forces made sweeping advances on the border with Jordan, seizing their first security post there in more than three years, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Rebels then handed over some 275 square kilometres (105 square miles) of border territory without a fight, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

But rebels still hold Daraa’s western countryside, the southern half of the divided provincial capital, and the prized Nassib border crossing.

The Observatory said regime forces had moved closer to Nassib on Friday.

“After the town of Al-Mutaaiyah agreed to the regime taking over, government forces are now four kilometres east of the crossing,” Abdel Rahman said.

Syria’s cash-strapped government hopes to recapture Nassib so that it can reopen trade with Jordan to the south.

Daraa is considered the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Assad that triggered Syria’s war.

Rebel territory in the south was included in a ceasefire brokered last year by Russia, the United States, and Jordan, but that has done little to stem violence.

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council convened in an urgent closed-door meeting to discuss the south, but Russia blocked the council from adopting a statement.

More than 150 civilians have been killed since the start of the offensive, according to the Observatory.

The offensive has pushed more than 320,000 people to flee, according to the UN, many to the closed border with Jordan or west near the Israeli-occupied Golan.

AFP

Syrian forces close to seizing Jordan border crossing: pro-Damascus commander

July 6, 2018

Government forces in south Syria are advancing along the Jordanian border and will soon reach a rebel-held border crossing with Jordan, a pro-Damascus commander said on Friday.

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Syrian-Jordanian border at the Nasib crossing in Deraa province, Syria

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces had reached the Jordanian frontier in Deraa province on Thursday for the first time since 2015, part of a major offensive to recover the entire southwest from insurgents.

The commander in the regional alliance that backs Damascus told Reuters the government forces had arrived at the frontier after seizing a string of villages. “Within a short period of time, they will reach the (Nassib) crossing,” the non-Syrian commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The offensive has swept into swathes of insurgent territory in Deraa province, helped by heavy Russian air strikes.

The U.N. refugee agency has urged Jordan to open its borders to Syrians fleeing their homes. It says the fighting has uprooted more than 320,000 people, with 60,000 gathered at the Jordan border crossing and thousands more at the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan heights.

The Norwegian Refugee Council says it is the largest displacement since the start of the seven-year war.

The Observatory said an armed group that had controlled some border villages had handed over control to the advancing government forces without putting up resistance.

Reporting by Laila Bassam and Ellen Francis, Editing by Alison Williams, Tom Perry, William Maclean

Reuters