Posts Tagged ‘Syrian opposition’

OPCW To Investigate Latest Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria “If Security is Adequate”

November 26, 2018

The world’s chemical watchdog said Monday it was reviewing security ahead of a possible probe into an alleged chemical attack in Syria’s regime-held city of Aleppo over the weekend.

© AFP/File | A Syrian woman receives treatment on November 24, 2018 at a hospital in Aleppo where the regime accused armed groups of carrying out a “toxic gas” attack

Damascus formally requested the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague investigate the alleged attack on Saturday which Syrian officials and rights groups said left scores of people struggling to breathe.

Hundreds of civilians were affected in the alleged poison gas attack in Aleppo. (AFP)

Both the Syrian regime and its ally Russia have blamed “terrorist groups” — a term which Damascus uses to mean both rebels and militants.

The alleged attack also prompted Russia to launch retaliatory air strikes into a planned buffer zone near the last major opposition stronghold of Idlib.

“The OPCW Secretariat has been monitoring the situation,” said director-general Fernando Arias.

A woman breathes through an oxygen mask after what Syrian state media said was a suspected gas attack in Aleppo [Sana/Reuters]
A woman breathes through an oxygen mask after what Syrian state media said was a suspected gas attack in Aleppo [Sana/Reuters]

It has contacted the UN’s security department “in order to assess the security situation on the ground for a possible deployment of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) to Syria,” the OPCW director-general said.

The body’s Secretariat implements the OPCW’s verification measures while the FFM, set up in 2014, investigates all allegations of chemical weapons use in war-torn Syria.

“The OPCW’s experts will continue to work independently to verify all allegations of the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria,” Arias told delegates at a nine-day conference to review the world body’s strategy for the next five years.

Syria again Monday blamed “armed terrorist groups” for launching a toxic gas attack which it said left around 100 Syrians hospitalized with breathing difficulties.

“It is believed that the agent used was chlorine,” said Bassam Al-Sabbagh, Syria’s permanent representative to the OPCW.

“We have discussed the potential of launching an investigation into this attack to find out what exactly happened in the city of Aleppo,” he told the delegates.

Russia said the shelling came from an area of the buffer zone controlled by the jihadist-dominated Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) alliance.

A rebel coalition has denied any involvement, but neither the HTS, nor the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras Al-Deen group present in the area have commented on Saturday’s alleged attack.

It was the latest accusation of a chemical attack in Syria’s grinding seven-year civil war, which has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions.

See also:

Dozens injured in toxic gas attack on Aleppo, Syria, reports say


Assad regime renews threat to attack Idlib after militants refuse to pull out

October 16, 2018

The Assad regime renewed its threat on Monday to launch an offensive in Idlib province in northwest Syria after militants defied a Russia-Turkey deal for them to pull out.

The fighters failed to meet the Oct. 15 deadline for them to withdraw from a planned buffer zone around Syria’s last opposition stronghold.

“Our armed forces are ready around Idlib to eradicate terrorism if the Idlib agreement is not implemented,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem said at a press conference in Damascus with the Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari.

A Syrian rebel-fighter from the National Liberation Front (NLF) walks in a street in the rebel-held al-Rashidin district of western Aleppo’s countryside near Idlib province on October 15, 2018. (AFP / Aaref Watad)

“Idlib, as any other province, has to return to Syrian sovereignty. We prefer to have it through peaceful means, through reconciliation, but if not there are other options.”

Al-Moualem said it was now up to Russia to judge whether the agreement, which averted a regime offensive last month, was being fulfilled. “We have to wait for the Russian reaction. Russia is monitoring and following the situation,” he said.

When Idlib was recaptured from the opposition, the regime would turn its attention to territory held by the Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the minister said. “After Idlib, our target is east of the Euphrates,” which must also return to Syrian sovereignty, he said.

Civilians in Idlib said they were concerned about an increase in violence if the Russian-Turkish accord collapsed. “We fear the deal’s sponsors will fail to implement all its points, and that the bombardment and battles will return,” one said.

The deal provides for a 15-20 km horseshoe-shaped buffer zone around opposition-held areas in Idlib and the neighboring provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.

The dominant militant force in the region is Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch. The group has signaled that it would abide by the terms of the deal, although it has not explicitly said so.

“We value the efforts of all those striving — at home and abroad — to protect the liberated area and prevent its invasion and the perpetration of massacres in it,” HTS said.

Elsewhere in Syria, the Assad regime on Monday reopened a vital border post with Jordan and a crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Two white jeeps crossed into Israeli-occupied territory during a low-key ceremony to mark the reopening of the Quneitra crossing in the Golan, four years after it was closed when Syrian opposition forces seized nearby territory.

In the south, and three years after it too was closed, a black metal border gate opened at the Nassib crossing into Jordan as police and customs officials stood nearby.

The Jordan crossing was previously a major trading route, while the remote Quneitra post is used primarily by a UN force that monitors a cease-fire line separating Israeli-occupied parts of the Golan Heights from Syria.

Syrian businessman Hisham Falyoun, who lives in Jordan with his wife and children, was the first person to cross the border in his black Mercedes SUV.

“I wanted to be the first person to cross to show everyone that Syria is safe, Syria is back,” said Falyoun, who was hoping to surprise his parents in Damascus.

Arab News

Erdoğan hosts Iranian FM Zarif in Ankara for talks on Syria

August 30, 2018

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the capital Ankara, according to the Presidency’s official website.

The two leaders met for nearly an hour of talks at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) headquarters.

Also present at the meeting was Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) welcomes Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) headquarters in Ankara on Aug. 29, 2018. (IHA Photo)

Speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting, Çavuşoğlu said bilateral issues and Syria would be discussed in the meeting.

Later, he said in a tweet: “We discussed topics on our bilateral and regional agenda, including developments in #Syria with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of #Iran.”

Turkey and Iran, along with Russia, are guarantor countries of a cease-fire in Syria in the Astana peace process.

The meeting comes as the Assad regime prepares an assault against Syrian opposition forces in northwestern Idlib province, which has been designated as a de-escalation zone by the three guarantor countries.

Al-Jubeir: Saudi Arabia to engage with Russia to support Syria political solution — “This abscess needs to be liquidated.

August 30, 2018

Saudi Arabia has stressed to Russia the need for a political solution to the Syria conflict, the foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Adel Al-Jubeir said they had held talks on a range of issues in the Middle East.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) speaks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir during their meeting in Moscow on Wednesday. (AFP)

Al-Jubeir said the Kingdom had highlighted the importance of implementing the UN Security Council resolution adopted in 2015 that called for a ceasefire and a political settlement in the country, where war has been raging for seven years.

He said there needed to be a political solution that “preserves Syria’s territorial integrity, security, and stability as well as the safety of citizens regardless of their religion or race.”

Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦


| FM @AdelAljubeir and Russia’s FM Sergey hold a joint press conference

Saudi Arabia, along with western and other Arab countries have backed the main rebel forces in Syria against President Bashar Assad. Russia, however, has been one of the biggest supporters of the regime, providing military support which enabled Al-Assad to gain the upper hand in the conflict.

Al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia would “cooperate with the Syrian opposition to close ranks regarding the future of Syria.”

“We will also engage with our brothers in Russia in supporting the political process,” Al-Jubeir added.

The meeting between the two ministers comes as the countries seek to improve economic and political ties.

Relations have witnessed a “quantum leap in the past three years in the fields of trade, security, counterterrorism and political coordination in the challenges facing the region and the world,” Al-Jubeir said

On the war in Yemen, he said Saudi Arabia had consulted with Russia and other friends on the situation and highlighted the importance of reaching a political solution.

He said Saudi Arabia believed the Iran nuclear deal with world powers, including Russia, was weak, “particularly with regard to the time period that prevents Iran from enriching uranium.”

He added that it did not include Iran’s support for terrorism and violation of UN resolutions on ballistic missiles.

Lavrov said he had agreed on plans with Al-Jubeir for a visit of Vladimir Putin to Saudi Arabia.

The foreign ministers’ meeting comes amid speculation that Syrian forces backed by Russia and Iran are preparing for an offensive to retake one of the last rebel strongholds.

Lavrov called on the West not to stand in the way of an “anti-terror operation” in Idlib province.

Lavrov also said that there is “full political understanding” between Russia and Turkey, which supports the rebels, but they are currently in intense negotiations to ensure Idlib does not become a breaking point in their alliance.

“It is necessary to disassociate the so-called moderate opposition from terrorists and at the same time prepare an operation against them while minimising risks for the civilian population,” Lavrov said.

“This abscess needs to be liquidated.”

Arab news

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

Image result for syria, urban, destruction, photos

“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.

Syria rebels dig in for Daraa fight

April 25, 2018

Daraa, Syria: The city is split between rebels, who hold the southern Old City, and regime forces who control the modern districts and government posts to the north

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Opposition fighters at Daraa, Syria. Photo by AFP

  • Far away from geopolitical interests, civilians are worried about what the escalation could bring

DARAA: On a tense urban frontline in Syria’s Daraa, rebel Atallah Qutayfan has been steadily reinforcing his defensive post for weeks in anticipation of a looming assault by government troops.

The 25-year-old spends his days stacking sandbags to shore up his post overlooking a market in the southern city, and monitoring the amassing regime forces nearby.

“Their reconnaissance planes are constantly above the city. There are daily clashes and they try to infiltrate our positions, but we’ve stopped them,” says Qutayfan.

“Our commanders told us to be ready for an attack by regime forces — and we’re on high alert.”

As loyalist forces mop up the last pockets of resistance around the capital, President Bashar Assad appears to already have set his sights on his next target: Daraa.


A bombed-out street in Daraa. Photo by Reuters

The city is split between rebels, who hold the southern Old City, and regime forces who control the modern districts and government posts to the north.

Opposition forces still hold more than two-thirds of the surrounding 3,730-square-kilometer province which borders Jordan.

Seizing the border area could bring the regime both military and economic security, analysts have said.

And a victory in Daraa city would carry symbolic weight — it was the cradle of Syria’s seven-year uprising against Assad’s rule.

The resurgent regime just this month dealt rebels their biggest blow yet by recapturing Eastern Ghouta, the former opposition stronghold outside Damascus.

That freed up troops who had spent years bombing the Ghouta front.

“After Ghouta, the regime escalated its bombing against us with surface-to-surface missiles, machine-gun fire, mortars, tanks, and heavy artillery,” says rebel fighter Fahed Abu Hatem.

In response, Abu Hatem says, his forces reinforced their positions, dug trenches and erected fresh barricades.

Gritting his teeth, rebel field commander Ibrahim Musalima, 27, insists the extra measures are necessary.

“It’s not fear, it’s readiness,” says Musalima.

“We’re setting up lines of defense and attack, and upping our coordination with the Quneitra rebels to the west, all the way to the border with Suweida to the east.”

Quneitra is the province directly to Daraa’s west, and Suweida neighbors it to the east.

Sections of the three provinces make up a “de-escalation zone” agreed in May 2017 by rebel backer Turkey and regime allies Russia and Iran.

The US and Jordan have also backed the zone, announcing alongside Russia in July that a cessation of hostilities would begin in the southern sliver.

Despite the steadily increasing violence, Musalima says the south’s rebel factions had been “advised” by their foreign backers not to provoke the regime or its loyalist militias, and to preserve the de-escalation zone.

The subtle warning belies the region’s importance to rival actors in Syria’s complex war.

Assad is keen to recapture the strategic Nasib crossing with Jordan, which the regime lost to rebels in 2015 but whose recapture could generate desperately needed income from cross-border trade.

Meanwhile, the presence of Iran-backed militias in southern Syria, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has irked neighboring Israel.

Far away from these geopolitical interests, civilians are worried about what the escalation could bring.

Umm Mohammad Al-Baghdadi, a 45-year-old nurse in a field clinic in Daraa, describes a constant stream of wounded from shelling and bombing.

“We can’t say we’re not scared of more escalation. After the end of Ghouta, of course the regime is going to go for any area that opposes it,” she says.

“It wants to snuff out the uprising generally, and in Daraa especially.”

Around 30,000 people live in rebel-held parts of Daraa city, according to the local opposition-run council.

Its head Mohammad Abdulmajid Al-Musalima, 38, says residents struggle to cope with severe shortages of water and electricity, and widespread destruction.

“Women and children will bear the brunt of any military escalation, because they’re the main pressure point used by the regime against opposition groups,” says Musalima.

Rebels and local opposition officials alike insist Daraa’s fate will not resemble Ghouta’s, where a five-year siege had worn down rival rebel groups.

“We’re saying to the regime: Daraa is not Ghouta. The armed opposition here is holding it together,” says Mohammad Al-Masri, 60, a member of the local council.

“Here, the front lines are holding on. Our popular base and the rebels are in agreement: Daraa is our city, and we will stand firm in it,” says Masri.


See also:

The Young Men Who Started Syria’s Revolution Speak About Daraa, Where It All Began

Saudi Arabia ready to send troops to Syria — Hopes for a Saudi-backed Islamic military coalition

April 18, 2018

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United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir (Arab News photo)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is ready, willing and able to deploy troops in support of any US-led effort to stabilize Syria, Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir reaffirmed on Tuesday.

“We are in discussions with the US, and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, about sending forces into Syria,” Al-Jubeir said.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that US President Donald Trump’s administration was seeking to assemble an Arab force, including troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to help restore stability in Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s offer of help was “not new,” Al-Jubeir said at a press conference in Riyadh with UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres. “We made a proposal to the Obama administration that if the US were to send forces … then Saudi Arabia would consider along with other countries sending forces as part of this contingent.”

Riyadh has suggested that it could help counter-terrorism operations in some other theaters of conflict as part of a wider Muslim alliance. For example, a Saudi-backed Islamic military coalition will provide logistical, intelligence and training to a new West African counter-terrorism force, Al-Jubeir said in December.

Guterres told Arab News there was no military solution to the Syrian conflict. “It is crucial that Syrians find a solution, free of foreign domination,” he said.

On the issue of Palestine, Guterres said there should be a strong mutual commitment to a two-state solution. “There is no Plan B. We need to make sure that Palestinians have that right as well as the Israelis, and the two must live in stability.”

Commenting on the Yemen situation, Al-Jubeir said: “A political solution in Yemen is up to Houthis who have turned Yemen into a base for Iran. This is not a war desired by the Kingdom, but it was imposed on it. The only solution in Yemen is a political one. The reason for not reaching a resolution is the stubbornness of the Houthis because of Iran’s support.

“The Houthis have launched 119 Iranian missiles toward Saudi Arabia. The Houthis are using young children on their missions, laying siege to villages and not allowing aid to come in. They sell this aid to finance their war. Everything they are doing is terrorism.”

Meanwhile international investigators finally entered the Damascus suburb of Douma on Tuesday after days of delay and warnings by Western powers that crucial evidence related to a chemical gas attack had probably been removed.

More than 40 people died in the attack on April 7, and Western powers have blamed the Assad regime. In response, the US, France and Britain launched missile strikes on Saturday targeting the regime’s chemical weapons facilities.

The regime “would try its best to destroy any evidence that might show its involvement in the attack,” Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the Syrian opposition, told Arab News.

“Immediately after the attack, we saw on television Russian soldiers and officers visiting the site. I don’t think the Russians would be happy if any evidence were found, especially when they called it fabrication in the UN Security Council. So they have a fundamental interest in destroying any sort of evidence.”

Missile strikes against the sources of the chemical weapons were not enough, he said. “Syrians are being killed not only by chemical weapons. They are being killed by phosphoric bombs, by rockets and airstrikes, and by displacement.”

The world seemed reluctant to call the regime a pariah and an outlaw, and finish the job, Al-Aridi said. “They are also denying the Syrian people any means to defend themselves.”

Arab News

Putin’s support for Assad paints Russia into a dangerous corner

April 16, 2018

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Insouciance after allied strikes fails to mask vulnerable position

Kathrin Hille in Moscow

After the chemical weapons facilities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime were hit by more than 100 missiles fired by the US and its allies, it was left to Russian politicians to respond on the Syrian president’s behalf.
“President al-Assad is in absolute positive spirits. He is in a good mood,” Natalia Komarova, governor of the Russian region of Khanty-Mansiysk, told Russian newswires after a meeting with Mr Assad in Damascus on Sunday, the day after the attacks.Dmitry Sablin, a Russian lawmaker who led the delegation to the Syrian capital, added that Mr Assad had agreed to visit Ms Komarova’s region and that last year his children had been on holiday to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

On Russian television, this show of insouciance served to underline Moscow’s claim that the western missile strikes had not achieved anything. But, to outside observers, the unwavering support for Mr Assad has pushed Russia into an increasingly dangerous corner.

“They cast themselves as the protector of Syria’s sovereignty, the fighters against western schemes to push for regime change and partition that country, but they risk becoming partners with Assad in being international outlaws,” said a diplomat from a European country whose government is usually seen as Russia-friendly. “They are beginning to look like a pariah state, and more and more they are behaving like one,” he added.

Donald Trump orders precision strikes against Syria

Since the alleged chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7 which killed more than 70 people, Moscow has fiercely hit back at accusations against the Syrian military, and even denied that chemical weapons were used at all.

Those denials were the latest in a series of Russian steps to block the extension of a 2013 inspection regime for Syrian chemical weapons and shield Mr Assad from international pressure.

[Putin] has waded in so deep now that he has become Assad’s hostage

European diplomat

This staunch support for a dictator whom almost all countries in the region except for Iran view as an obstacle to a political solution to the Syrian war has frustrated many diplomats working on efforts for a peace process.
Now Moscow’s position appears set to create immense new risks for Russia both economic and political: The US said it was preparing further sanctions against Russia over its support for Syria, little more than a week after Washington triggered a sell-off in Russian markets with punitive measures that pushed the country’s largest aluminium maker to the brink of collapse.Meanwhile, the US has pledged not to pull its troops from Syria until its goals there are accomplished, while Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has sharply warned against further strikes.

It’s no longer about reason, it’s about guts, who has the stronger will. They might bluff — but we will all die …But maybe then, when they look into the abyss, like after the Cuban missile crisis, they’ll say gosh, and change the momentum

Russian experts said that although Moscow and Washington avoided a direct military clash in Syria at the weekend, their hardened positions on the Assad regime and its use of chemical weapons has pushed them into the most dangerous stand-off since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

“It’s no longer about reason, it’s about guts, who has the stronger will. They might bluff – but we will all die,” said Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Relations Council, a state-backed think-tank. “But maybe then, when they look into the abyss, like after the Cuban missile crisis, they’ll say gosh, and change the momentum.”

And yet, observers in Moscow believe Mr Putin may well keep up his support for Mr Assad.

“He has waded in so deep now that he has become Assad’s hostage,” said a European diplomat.

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Mr Putin’s plan for Syria was a swift transition from armed conflict to economic rehabilitation and reconstruction. Despite the fact that three different initiatives for negotiating a political transition have failed to produce progress, Moscow continues to believe it can force a political transition accompanied by Russia, Iran and Turkey in which Syrian opposition groups would be forced to acquiesce to elections in which Mr Assad would once again run and win.

“That remains the only reasonable option because the US-led coalition is bent on dismembering the country,” said a Russian former ambassador involved in Moscow’s talks with Syrian opposition groups.

“Russia’s military tactics were driven by the idea that saving the Assad regime from complete collapse was the only way to prevent Syria from going the way of Libya and Iraq,” Nikolay Kozhanov, an expert on Russia’s Middle East policy, wrote in a recent paper.

Financial Times (FT)
Latest strike called “soft option”

Syria says ready to start rebel talks after alleged gas attack — Message is clear: We’ll snuff you out

April 8, 2018


BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Syrian government said it would start negotiations on Sunday with the rebel group Jaish al-Islam, hours after dozens of people were reportedly killed in a suspected chemical attack on the enclave the group controls outside Damascus.

There was no immediate comment from Jaish al-Islam, which said the government carried out the chemical attack in the town of Douma. At least 49 people were killed, according to a medical relief organisation and Douma’s civil defence rescue service.

Damascus has denied mounting any such attack and said the rebels in Douma, who are massively outgunned and completely encircled, were collapsing and spreading false news.

“Jaish al-Islam terrorists have requested negotiations with the Syrian state, which will start the talks within two hours from now (local time),” state TV cited an official source as saying on Sunday morning.

The U.S. State Department said reports of mass casualties from the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma were “horrifying” and would, if confirmed, “demand an immediate response by the international community”.

In a joint statement, the Syrian American Medical Society, the relief organisation, and Douma’s civil defence service said medical centres had received more than 500 cases of people suffering breathing difficulties in Douma on Saturday evening, frothing from the mouth and smelling of chlorine.

One of the victims was dead on arrival, and six died later, it said. Civil defence volunteers reported more than 42 cases of people dead at their homes showing the same symptoms, it said.

Reuters could not verify the reports. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 people had died of suffocation but could not say if chemical weapons had been used.

President Bashar al-Assad has won back control of nearly all of eastern Ghouta in a Russian-backed military campaign that began in February, leaving just Douma in rebel hands. After a lull of a few days, government forces began bombarding Douma again on Friday.

The offensive in Ghouta has been one of the deadliest of the seven-year-long war, killing more than 1,600 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian rescuers, medics say gas attack near capital kills 40

April 8, 2018

The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said Sunday that a poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near the capital has killed at least 40 people, allegations denied by the Syrian government.

The alleged attack in the town of Douma occurred late Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce.

The reports could not be independently verified.

Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, reported the attack, saying entire families were found suffocated in their homes and shelters. It reported a death toll from suffocation of more than 40, saying the victims showed signs of gas poisoning including pupil dilation and foaming at the mouth. In a statement, however, it reported a smell resembling chlorine, which would not explain the described symptoms, usually associated with sarin gas.

It said around 500 people were treated for suffocation and other symptoms, adding that most medical facilities and ambulances were put out of service because of the shelling.

The Syrian American Medical Society, a relief organization, said 41 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 80 people were killed in Douma on Saturday, including around 40 who died from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside.

Videos posted online by the White Helmets purportedly showed victims, including toddlers in diapers, breathing through oxygen masks at makeshift hospitals.

The Syrian government, in a statement posted on the state-run news agency SANA, strongly denied the allegations. It said the claims were “fabrications” by the Army of Islam rebel group, calling it a “failed attempt” to impede government advances.

“The army, which is advancing rapidly and with determination, does not need to use any kind of chemical agents,” the statement said.

Syrian government forces resumed their offensive on rebel-held Douma on Friday afternoon after a 10-day truce collapsed over disagreement regarding the evacuation of Army of Islam fighters. Violence resumed days after hundreds of opposition fighters and their relatives left Douma toward rebel-held areas in northern Syria. Douma is the last rebel stronghold in eastern Ghouta.

The alleged gas attack in Douma comes almost exactly a year after a chemical attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people. That attack prompted the U.S. to launch several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. President Donald Trump said the attack was meant to deter further Syrian use of illegal weapons.

The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, denied any involvement in the alleged gas attack.

Douma is in the suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta. A chemical attack in eastern Ghouta in 2013 that was widely blamed on government forces killed hundreds of people, prompting the U.S. to threaten military action before later backing down.

Syria denies ever using chemical weapons during the seven-year civil war, and says it eliminated its chemical arsenal under a 2013 agreement brokered by the U.S. and Russia after the attack in eastern Ghouta.

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