Archive for August 4th, 2018

Third hospital to open in liberated areas in northern Syria

April 16, 2018

The third hospital in areas liberated from Daesh and the PKK terrorist group-affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria will open next week in al-Bab as efforts to normalize life continue at full steam.

The inauguration ceremony will take place next week for the 500-bed hospital in al-Bab, which will be the largest medical institution in the area. “There will be seven operating rooms, four delivery rooms, 38 intensive care beds, 55 outpatient clinic beds and 27 emergency beds,” Undersecretary of Health Ministry Eyüp Gümü? told the Turkish Sabah daily yesterday.

The hospitals, which are run by the Turkish Health Ministry, are equipped with all the necessary equipment in case of an armed conflict. Gümü? said that there will be no need to transfer patients between hospitals except for complicated diseases after the new hospital goes into service.

Turkey’s first hospital opened in Jarablus in September 2016, after the town was liberated with the cross-border Operation Euphrates Shield. At the end of last year, the hospital added emergency room service and was expanded to 400 beds. Along with the two hospitals in al-Bab and Jarablus, another one also put into service in Afrin, which was liberated from the YPG on March 18 with Operation Olive Branch. The hospital had previously treated YPG terrorists, but after the liberation, explosives and mines were cleared and doctors and healthcare personnel were employed in the hospital.

Ankara launched Operation Euphrates Shield along with Free Syria Army (FSA) factions on Aug. 24 to secure Turkey’s southern border. The operation was completed in late March, and more than 2,000 square kilometers of northern Syria was liberated from Daesh, including Jarablus, al-Rai and al-Bab. Since then, Turkey geared up efforts to normalize life and create a war-free environment in the liberated areas to make refugees return with infrastructure, healthcare, security and education projects. With noticeable improvement in the socio-economic condition, al-Bab’s population more than doubled in a year.

Besides for health services, there has been also a rapid recovery in terms of infrastructure, security and social life in northern Syria, in the areas liberated by the Turkish and FSA forces. An administration was established with the participation of local people in the areas cleared of Daesh, including al-Rai, Jarablus, al-Bab and Azaz, through Operation Euphrates Shield, which was launched Aug. 2016 against Daesh and ended in March 2017. Moreover, local councils were established to administer the normalization process after the eviction of Daesh; regular security forces were formed, and these local councils managed projects on education, infrastructure and the economy.

Jarablus was more or less a ghost town with only around 2,000 inhabitants under Daesh rule, but after Operation Euphrates Shield, its population grew again amid a rebuilding process that Turkey actively supported. Thousands who took shelter in Turkey during the war returned. Both Ankara and nongovernmental organizations are also pursuing efforts to build new housing to accommodate the returning population. Schools in the town were also rebuilt and restored with Turkish assistance.

Source: Daily Sabah.


Syrians gather in capital in defiance after airstrikes

April 14, 2018

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Hundreds of Syrians gathered at landmark squares in the Syrian capital Saturday, honking their car horns, flashing victory signs and waving Syrian flags in scenes of defiance that followed unprecedented joint airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain.

A few hours earlier, before sunrise, loud explosions jolted Damascus and the sky turned orange as Syrian air defense units fired surface-to-air missiles in response to three waves of military strikes meant to punish President Bashar Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons.

Associated Press reporters saw smoke rising from east Damascus and what appeared to be a flame lighting up the sky. From a distance, U.S. missiles hitting suburbs of the capital sounded like thunder. Shortly after the one-hour attack ended, vehicles with loudspeakers roamed the streets of Damascus blaring nationalist songs.

“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Syria’s presidency tweeted after the airstrikes began. Immediately after the attack, hundreds of residents gathered in Damascus’ landmark Omayyad square, celebrating what they said was the army’s success in shooting down or derailing some of the missiles. Many waved Syrian, Russian and Iranian flags. Some clapped their hands and danced, others drove in convoys, honking their horns in defiance.

“We are not scared of America’s missiles. We humiliated their missiles,” said Mahmoud Ibrahim, half his body hanging outside his car window, waving a Syrian flag. The crowd then moved toward the nearby Damascus University where pro-government fighters danced, waving their automatic rifles over their heads.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Friday night that the three allies had launched military strikes to punish Assad for alleged chemical weapons use and to prevent him from doing it again. Trump said Washington is prepared to “sustain” pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons. A fact-finding team of inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog was in Damascus and had been expected to head to the town of Douma on Saturday, scene of the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed more than 40 people.

The seemingly limited strikes with no apparent future strategy for how to deal with the wider civil war was a cause for celebration by Assad supporters but criticized by the Syrian opposition. Mohammad Alloush, spokesman for the Army of Islam rebel group, called the airstrikes a “farce” in a Twitter posting. Nasr al-Hariri, a senior opposition leader, said Syrians need a strategy that leads to a political solution to “save it from the brutality of the Syrian regime.”

A Syrian military statement said in all, 110 missiles were fired by the U.S., Britain and France and that most of them were shot down or derailed. Russia’s military said Syrian air defense units downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the U.S. and its allies.

The Syrian statement read by Brig. Gen. Ali Mayhoub said three civilians were wounded in one of the strikes on a military base in Homs, although the attack was aborted by derailing the incoming missile. He said another attack with “a number of missiles” targeting a scientific research center in Barzeh, near Damascus, destroyed a building and caused other material damage but no human losses. Mayhoub said the building housed an educational center and labs.

An Associated Press journalist arriving at the Center for Scientific Research on the northeaster edge of Damascus found it still smoking hours after it was hit. The three-story building appeared to be almost completely destroyed. Saeed Saeed, an official at the center, told journalists the facility was for the development of chemical and pharmaceutical industries, including the development of cancer medicines and serum.

The attack began at 4 a.m. (0100 GMT) with missiles hitting the eastern suburbs of Damascus, shaking the grounds from a distance. The sky looked orange over eastern Damascus, apparently as a result of fires. Air defense units fired surface-to-air missiles from different directions toward incoming missiles.

Syrian TV called the attacks a “blatant violation of international law and shows contempt for international legitimacy.” U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said there were no reports of U.S. losses during the initial airstrikes.

“Right now this is a one-time shot,” he said but did not rule out further attacks. He said the airstrikes were launched against several sites that helped provide Assad’s ability to create chemical weapons.

France’s foreign minister said the “chemical escalation” in Syria is not acceptable because it violated the rules of war and of humanity. Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters Saturday that the joint military operation in Syria is legitimate, limited and proportionate.

British Prime Minister Theresa May described the attack as neither “about intervening in a civil war” nor “about regime change” but a limited and targeted strike that “does not further escalate tensions in the region” and does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.

The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump’s second order to attack Syria; he authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad’s use of sarin gas against civilians.

Trump chastised Syria’s two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting “murderous dictators,” and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the attack on Syria was a “crime” and declared the leaders of the U.S., France and the U.K. “criminals,” according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency. The Iranian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the strikes and warned of unspecified consequences.

Russia’s U.S. embassy released a statement warning that the airstrikes will “not be left without consequences.” It said that “all responsibility” rests with Washington, London and Paris. The United Nations Security Council is set to meet later Saturday following Russia’s request.

The U.S. missile strike in April 2017 was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. That operation targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.

Friday’s strikes were aimed at further degrading Assad’s ability to carry out such attacks. Pentagon Gen. Joseph Dunford said besides the scientific research center, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs was also targeted that he said I believed to be the main site of Syrian sarin production equipment. A chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post, also west of Homs, were also targeted, he said.

Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Zeina Karam in Beirut, Angela Charlton in Paris, and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, contributed reporting.

European leaders, Canada back the airstrikes against Syria

April 14, 2018

Many European leaders and the prime minister of Canada voiced support and understanding Saturday for the U.S.-led air strikes against Syria, but warned against allowing the seven-year conflict to escalate.

“Canada stands with our friends in this necessary response and we condemn in strongest possible terms” the use of chemical weapons in Syria. – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It has always been Bulgaria’s position that no cause justifies the killing of innocent people, including children; that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime and the strike on Syrian targets was a response to a war crime.” Bulgarian government statement. Bulgaria currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

“Strikes by US, France and UK make it clear that Syrian regime together with Russia & Iran cannot continue this human tragedy, at least not without cost. The EU will stand with our allies on the side of justice.” – Tweet by European Council President Donald Tusk.

“What has occurred in Syria in recent days goes far beyond the constant violation of cease fires. The response to these atrocities is legitimate and proportionate.” – Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

“The people martyred by chemicals is a certain amount but the people martyred by conventional weapons is much, much more.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed support for the airstrikes but added that more must be done to hold the Syrian regime accountable for the hundreds of thousands it has killed using conventional weapons.

“We support the fact that our U.S., UK and French allies took on responsibility in this way as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. The military strike was necessary and appropriate in order to preserve the effectiveness of the international ban on the use of chemical weapons and to warn the Syrian regime against further violations.” – German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“This was a limited and targeted action to strike the capacity of building or diffusing chemical arms. It cannot and should not be the start of an escalation.” – Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni.

“The international community has the responsibility to identify and hold accountable those responsible of any attack with chemical weapons. This was not the first time that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against civilians but it must be the last.” – European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

“Belgium strongly condemns all use of chemical weapons which are a blatant violation of international law. Belgium therefore understands the military action in Syria of our American, French and British partners who have targeted identified production facilities.” – Belgian government statement.

Local council established in northwestern Syria’s Afrin

April 12, 2018

A local council, which includes Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen civilian representatives, was established Thursday in northwestern Syria’s Afrin, a new step to help get life back to normal after the PKK-affiliate terrorists, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), were eliminated from the province in Operation Olive Branch.

According to Anadolu Agency (AA) reporters on the ground, the city’s opinion leaders have voted and formed a temporary local council in the center of Afrin. The interim council was formed to help provide local services and has a total of 20 members.

Out of the 20 members, 11 are Kurdish and eight are Arabs, while one member represents Turkmens.

Being from Afrin and living in the city were set as requirements for becoming a member of the council.

Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear the PKK-affiliated YPG and Daesh terrorist groups from Afrin in northwestern Syria amid growing threats from the region. The liberation of Afrin, which had been a major hideout for the YPG and the PKK since 2012, was announced on March 18 after the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fully cleared the town of terrorist elements. Since then, efforts to return life back to normal have accelerated to enable the safe return of locals.

Zuheyr Haydar, a Kurdish representative, was elected president of the council.

Six seats of the eight-member executive board so far have been allocated to Zakarya Mohammad, Jasim al-Sifari, Ahmet Haj Hasan, Abdurrahman Najjar, Horu Osman and Muhammad Sheikh Rashit.

“We would like to thank Turkey for providing us with this opportunity. We will serve the people of Afrin by using the Euphrates Shield [region] and Olive Branch region as examples,” Haydar told AA.

Haydar called on all people of Afrin to return to their homes.

“We can hold a more democratic election if all the people of Afrin come back. We will manage it ourselves, not others from Qandil [where the PKK has established headquarters in northern Iraq] or other places,” he said.

Haydar said the local council was founded under the supervision of the Syrian Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which was founded in Doha, Qatar in 2012, stating that it will be connected to the local council of Aleppo.

He said the local council is in favor of the territorial integrity of the country. The deputy head of the coalition, Abdulrahman Mustafa, who was in Afrin during the elections, said Turkey is working to prevent the division of Syria. “Our priority with Turkey is the same. The local council will begin its services in health and education soon. We will endeavor to bring back those who fled the terrorists in Afrin,” he said.

Ankara said life in Afrin would return to normal as soon as possible. Recently, a local council of 30 members was established at the Afrin Liberation Congress, which convened in Turkey’s southern city of Gaziantep with the participation of more than 100 people.

The congress made several decisions in an effort to rebuild Afrin and enable the return of displaced people. The congress announced that control of Afrin should be given to the people of Afrin and the election of local council members should be held regularly and monitored by nongovernmental organizations. It also said the public needs to be disarmed and all segments of society should be respected. According to the final declaration, local security forces will be formed and composed of people who are not members of any party.

Source: Daily Sabah.


Syrian army declares victory as rebels vacate most of Ghouta

March 31, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian army declared victory in eastern Ghouta Saturday after opposition fighters evacuated from most of the area near the capital except for the town of Douma where negotiations are still underway for rebels there to leave or face an all-out government offensive.

The government has given rebels in Douma — the area’s largest town and stronghold of the powerful Army of Islam rebel group — an ultimatum to agree on leaving by late Saturday. Some pro-government new websites reported that the army is massing troops around Douma, adding that the ultimatum may be extended until Sunday.

The army statement came shortly after another group of opposition fighters and their relatives left southern and western parts of eastern Ghouta Saturday afternoon, bringing President Bashar Assad’s forces a step closer to eliminating threats from insurgents groups nearby.

State TV said 38 buses left the towns of Zamalka, Ein Tarma, Arbeen and Jobar taking more than 1,700 rebels and civilians to the northwestern rebel-held province of Idlib. The channel said troops entered the towns and raised the national flag in Arbeen’s main square.

“The importance of this victory lies in restoring security and stability to the city of Damascus and its surrounding areas after the suffering of its civilians from the crimes of terrorists over several years,” said the army statement, read on TV by Brig. Gen. Ali Mayhoub.

Government forces taking back most of eastern Ghouta reopens a major network of roads and highways that link Damascus with other parts of the country that have been closed since 2012 when rebels captured eastern suburbs of the capital.

The army statement vowed “to wipe out terrorism and bring back stability and security to all parts of Syria.” A crushing government offensive under the cover of Russian airstrikes that began on Feb. 18 has forced opposition fighters in most of eastern Ghouta to agree to evacuate and head to Idlib province.

“Arbeen, Zamalka, Jobar and Ein Tarma in eastern Ghouta are free of terrorists,” shouted a correspondent for state-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV channel from Arbeen. State news agency SANA said 38,000 fighters and civilians have already headed to Idlib over the past two weeks marking one of the largest displacements since Syria’s conflict began seven years ago. More than 100,000 others headed to government-controlled areas over the past weeks.

Before the last wave of violence began in eastern Ghouta last month, the U.N. had estimated that some 393,000 people were living in the area under a tight government siege. Tens of thousands of rebels and civilians have been relocated to Idlib over the past years from different parts of Syria making it one of the most inhabited regions in the country.

The top U.N. official in Syria, Ali Al-Za’tari, told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV in an interview aired Saturday that “Idlib cannot take more people.” The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a vehicle carrying evacuees from eastern Ghouta had a road accident in the government-held village of Nahr al-Bared leaving five fighters and three civilians dead. It said the bus had left eastern Ghouta Friday night.

The departure Saturday from southern and western parts of eastern Ghouta comes as negotiations are still ongoing between Russian mediators and officials from the Army of Islam to evacuate Douma, but no deal has been reached so far with the rebel group which insists on staying in the town.

Army of Islam officials did not respond to requests for comment by The Associated Press. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Observatory, said negotiations are now suggesting that thousands of Army of Islam members and their relatives could head to the northern town of Jarablous that is controlled by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

The Observatory also reported that Syrian troops have been massing troops around Douma in case negotiations collapse.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.

Jaish al-Islam rebels refuse to leave Ghouta


BEIRUT – Jaish al-Islam, the last rebel faction in control of territory in eastern Ghouta, said on Sunday it would not withdraw to other opposition-held parts of Syria as other rebel groups have done under deals negotiated with Syrian government ally Russia.

After a month-long ground and air offensive and deals under which rebel fighters agreed to be transported to northern Syria, pro-Syrian government forces have taken control of most of what had been the last major rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus.

Only the town of Douma, the most populous part of eastern Ghouta, remains under rebel control.

Jaish al-Islam is currently negotiating with Russia over the future of the area and the people in it.

“Today the negotiations taking place … are to stay in Ghouta and not to leave it,” Jaish al-Islam’s military spokesman Hamza Birqdar told Istanbul-based Syrian radio station Radio al-Kul via Skype from eastern Ghouta.

Birqdar accused the Syrian government of trying to change the demographic balance of the eastern Ghouta by forcing out locals and replacing them with its allies.

He said in the negotiations with Russia Jaish al-Islam is asking for guarantees that what remains of the local population will not be forced out.

Both Ahrar al-Sham and Failq al-Rahman, two other rebel groups formerly in charge of pockets of the eastern Ghouta, have accepted deals under which they withdraw to opposition-held Idlib in northwest Syria.

Moscow and Damascus say the Ghouta campaign is necessary to halt deadly rebel shelling of the capital.

Source: Middle East Online.


Ghouta residents relieved to arrive in Idlib after weeks of terror

David Enders

March 25, 2018

A new round of evacuations from Syria’s Eastern Ghouta took place on Sunday, with approximately 900 people bused to the northern, rebel-dominated Idlib province.

But Syria’s Idlib is also a war zone. Fighting has displaced nearly half a million people there since December alone, and more than a million live in camps. Aerial bombardment by the Syrian and Russian air forces is a daily occurrence, and rebel groups frequently battle one another as they vie for resources and territory.

Yet as he surveyed his family’s new home on Saturday – a tent in a refugee camp designed to hold about 1,500 people – Samir Mahfouz, a doctor from the eastern suburbs of Damascus, expressed a sense of relief.

“These are big camps. They are fit for the big numbers of the arrivals. There are good services. There are organizations that offer food and water. They are helping the people. Things are ok,” he said.

It is a grim measure of Syria’s civil war, now in its eighth year, that Idlib is a respite.

Mr Mahfouz was among the thousands of Syrians bused in the last two days to Idlib from a group of besieged suburbs of Damascus, collectively referred to as Eastern Ghouta. The area had been under siege by government forces for four years before they launched an intensified campaign to retake it in February, killing at least 1,600 people in the process and reducing neighborhoods to rubble.

“For the last 45 days, most of the people were living in basements in miserable conditions. Food, water and means of life were all scarce,” said Mr Mahfouz, who left the neighborhood of Harasta on Friday on a bus bound for Maarat Al Ikhwan, a town about 20 kilometers north of Idlib city, the provincial seat of Idlib.

About 4,500 fighters and civilians were driven from Harasta to Idlib on Friday, and the first 980 of an additional 7,000 people scheduled to be moved to Idlib from other parts of Ghouta began leaving on Sunday.

Hundreds of thousands of people have now been subjected to similar transfers across Syria in the last two years, which the UN and other international organizations have called “forced displacement.”

The alternative to leaving, Mr Mahfouz and others said, is to risk arrest by the government.

Former evacuees from other parts of Syria told The National that some young men they left behind were conscripted into the government’s army, while others have not been heard from since.

“Those who left from Harasta to the regime-held areas were put in detention camps. The regime put them there in order to have the chance to separate the young men from the rest. The youth are still detained until now while women and children were released,” Mr Mahfouz said.

The camp where Mr Mahfouz is now staying is designed to be a waypoint for evacuees until they can find more permanent housing.

“People are still unsure what their destiny will look like,” Mr Mahfouz said.

“We arrived only today and we don’t know what to do,” said Abu Murad, a farmer from Harasta who had left behind the land he owned and also found himself in Maarat Al Ikhwan on Saturday.

“I used to plant tomatoes, cucumber, wheat and barley. I am thinking of finding a job here now. I have six children. The oldest is 12 years old; the youngest is seven month,” he said. “Death in Harasta would have been better than coming here.”

Abu Murad said that when he and his family boarded a bus, the only thing he knew for certain was that he was leaving Harasta.

“We were not given choices and were surprised to find ourselves in Idlib. When we were still in Harasta, we heard that people will be taken to Jarablus,” he said, referring to a city further east, in Aleppo province, that is under control of Turkish-backed rebel groups. “We were surprised that they brought us to Idlib. Now we are here in the camp.”

“There are many organizations who did their best helping us here. May God reward them for that. But the situation is difficult here,” he said.

Mr Mahfouz and others said people were still attempting to reach Turkey, despite reports the Turkish military has been using lethal force to prevent refugees from entering and deporting Syrians already in southern Turkey to Idlib.

Aid groups estimate Idlib city itself has swelled from its prewar population of around 200,000 to nearly five times that many.

“Idlib can no longer receive more refugees, especially in the city. The number of displaced people has increased in a very strange way and the camps are very full. The people of the camps want to return without being able to do so. Life is very difficult and tragic,”

It is widely accepted in Idlib that as the last Syrian province largely under rebel control, it will eventually be targeted in the same way Ghouta and other places have been. Complicating the problem is the widespread presence of fighters from Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, Al Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria. HTS has largely been left out of negotiations and ceasefires rebels have brokered with the government.

“People believe that if the presence of (HTS) in the province of Idlib will continue, our destiny will be like the fate of the rest of the cities,” said Abu Hammam, a local aid worker in Idlib.

Source: The National.