Tag Archive: Sacred Land of Syria


October 06, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — Al-Qaida-linked fighters on Friday attacked a key central Syrian village at the crossroads between areas under government control and those controlled by insurgent groups, opposition activists said.

In eastern Syria, meanwhile, 15 civilians, including children, were killed when a missile slammed into a government-held neighborhood in the city of Deir el-Zour on Thursday evening. The attack on the village of Abu Dali in central Hama province was led by al-Qaida-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee and also known as HTS. It came two weeks after insurgents attacked a nearby area where three Russian soldiers were wounded.

Earlier this week, Russia’s military claimed the leader of the al-Qaida-linked group was wounded in a Russian airstrike and had fallen into a coma. The military offered no evidence on the purported condition of Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

The al-Qaida-linked group subsequently denied al-Golani was hurt, insisting he is in excellent health and going about his duties as usual. Al-Qaida-linked fighters have been gaining more influence in the northwestern province of Idlib and northern parts of Hama province where they have launched attacks on rival militant groups, as well as areas controlled by the government.

The village of Abu Dali had been spared much of the violence and had functioned as a local business hub between rebel-run areas and those under President Bashar Assad’s forces. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said al-Qaida fighters captured several village tribesmen following the attack in the early hours of Friday. The HTS-linked Ibaa news agency did not mention the attack but said Russian warplanes were bombing areas the group controls in northern Syria.

Violence in eastern Syria has escalated significantly in recent weeks as Syrian troops with the help of Russian air cover are closing in on Mayadeen, a new Islamic State group stronghold after IS came under attacks in the cities of Raqqa and Deir el-Zour.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said troops are marching south from Deir el-Zour toward Mayadeen under the cover of airstrikes. The DeirEzzor 24 monitoring group said the missile in the airstrike on Thursday evening that killed 15 had hit near a school in the Qusour neighborhood. Three children and three women were among those killed, the group said Friday, blaming IS for the attack. The school and a nearby residential building were destroyed.

The Observatory also reported the incident, putting the number of civilians killed at 13. Both the Observatory and DeirEzzor 24 also reported that an airstrike hit the village of Mehkan, just south of Mayadeen, and said it killed several families.

Syrian troops have broken a nearly three-year siege on parts of Deir el-Zour last month and are fighting to liberate from IS remaining parts of the city. In Russia, the military said one of its helicopters had made an emergency landing in Syria, but its crew was unhurt.

According to the Defense Ministry, the Mi-28 helicopter gunship landed in Hama province on Friday due to a technical malfunction. The two crewmen were not injured and were flown back to base. The ministry said the helicopter was not fired upon.

The ministry’s statement followed a claim by IS-linked Aamaq news agency, which said that a Russian helicopter was downed south of Shiekh Hilal village in Hama. Also on Friday, the Russian military accused the United States of turning a blind eye and effectively providing cover to the Islamic State group’s operations in an area in Syria that is under U.S. control.

The Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said IS militants have used the area around the town of Tanf near Syria’s border with Jordan — where U.S. military instructors are also stationed — to launch attacks against the Syrian army.

The area has become a “black hole,” posing a threat to Syrian army’s offensive against the IS in eastern Der el-Zour province, he added. The Russian accusations likely reflect rising tensions as U.S.-backed Syrian forces and the Russian-backed Syrian army — both of which are battling IS — race for control of oil and gas-rich areas of eastern Syria.

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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OCT. 2, 2017

AMMAN: In a remote, destitute displacement camp along Syria’s southeastern border with Jordan, thousands of residents were finalizing preparations last week to return home to central Homs province, fed up after years of life in the desert.

The departing residents were headed back home from the Rukban camp to Qaryatayn, a small town 160km to the northwest, nestled deep within regime territory in rural Homs province.

Some people in the camp had already sent their spouses and children back to Qaryatayn in recent weeks as living conditions in Rukban deteriorated. Someday, they planned to rejoin their loved ones in the relative safety of regime-held central Homs.

But late Friday night, Islamic State forces reportedly launched a surprise offensive and captured Qaryatayn from the Syrian regime. Virtually all communications from the town went down. On Sunday, IS released a statement online claiming their forces held “full control” over the town. Syrian state media did not report the attack.

For residents of Rukban who fled IS control of Qaryatayn two years ago, the recapture of the city came as “a shock.”

“Nobody was expecting IS to return,” Abu Ward, a 25-year-old Rukban resident who fled Qaryatayn with his family in 2015, told Syria Direct on Monday. “To be honest, it was a shock—I didn’t believe the news at first.”

Once a mixed town of Syrian Muslims and Christians reliant on agriculture and government jobs in Damascus, Qaryatayn first fell to the Islamic State in 2015. At the time, thousands of its roughly 14,000 residents fled south through Syria’s eastern desert to safety in Rukban.

Syrian regime forces recaptured Qaryatayn in 2016, but many residents who had already fled did not return for fear of arrest or forced military conscription at the hands of the authorities.

If confirmed, the capture of Qaryatayn is a rare victory for IS as the group’s forces suffer major losses in eastern Syria’s Raqqa and Deir e-Zor provinces, amid separate campaigns by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and the regime to eradicate the group from its remaining territory.

The surprise advance also comes amid clashes between regime and IS forces 160 kilometers northeast of Qaryatayn in Sukhnah, a key waystation for regime forces on the eastern Deir e-Zor front.

‘No communication’

Today, Qaryatayn natives still in Rukban tell Syria Direct they have “no communication” with their family members back home, as the reported IS hold over the city reaches its third day. For them, the town is a virtual black hole.

The Qaryatayn Media Center, a Facebook news page based outside of the town, posted online that it was able to contact reporters inside on Monday. According to the page, clashes between regime forces and IS continue in the town’s south as civilians shelter inside. “Hundreds” of residents were arrested and later released by IS following the capture of the town, QMC reported.

Among Rukban residents with family now trapped back home in Qaryatayn is Abu Saleem, a 33-year-old father of four. He sent his wife and children home to Qaryatayn last month, after he felt life had returned to normal in the regime-held town. Abu Saleem stayed behind in Rukban because he feared arrest and conscription by regime forces.

Abu Saleem’s wife and children were among hundreds of Rukban residents who returned to Qaryatayn since August, after key supply routes to the desert camp were cut off by battles in the surrounding desert.

From his location in Rukban, Abu Saleem kept in touch with his family daily via voice messages sent online. “[My wife] told me she was doing fine, that the city was safe,” he told Syria Direct on Monday. “She had just registered the kids in school.”

“But on Friday evening, she sent me a voice message. There was gunfire, and she said she couldn’t go outside the house, that IS had returned to the city. My children were crying nearby.”

Abu Saleem has heard nothing from his wife and children since Friday, he says, after communication with them “was cut off.”

“I’m afraid for my family,” he said from Rukban. “I’m afraid IS could commit massacres, or that regime warplanes could bomb the city, which could lead—God forbid—to the death of my family.”

Abu Saleem isn’t alone. Abu Ward, the 25-year-old Rukban resident, also told Syria Direct he had no communication with family members who had recently returned to Qaryatayn.

Abu Ward’s brothers, nieces and elderly parents all left Rukban for their hometown about a month and a half ago, hoping for a more stable life outside of the camp. He kept in touch with his family via landline, he said, “because when IS captured Qaryatayn for the first time, they cut off cell phone coverage.”

But the last time Abu Ward heard anything substantial from his family was Friday evening, during a phone call.

“At 11:30pm, the landline cut off,” he told Syria Direct on Monday. “At the time, they seemed to be doing well—there were no signs of IS. Everything seemed normal.”

He was able to reach his family members in Qaryatayn “briefly” again on Monday, Abu Ward said, “but the line cut out again.”

“I couldn’t figure out how they were doing—just that there is great panic among residents of the town.”

Mohammad Ahmad a-Darbas al-Khalidi, Rukban’s current local council director, estimates some 100 families—hundreds of people—have returned from the camp to Qaryatayn since August. At the time, deteriorating food and medical supplies, as well as series of regime advances eastward along the Syrian-Jordanian border spurred camp residents to flee back home.

“We advised people against returning to Qaryatayn or other areas under regime control,” al-Khalidi told Syria Direct from the camp on Sunday.

Some 300 families were preparing to leave Qaryatayn just before news broke of the IS attack, he said. “They said that they preferred death to living in this camp.”

Today, Rukban resident Abu Saleem says all he feels is regret for sending his wife and young children home to Qaryatayn.

“My feelings are nearly killing me,” he said from inside encampment. “Regret for sending them by themselves, regret that I’m not with them, regret for being the one who made the decision for them to return.”

Source: Syria Direct.

Link: http://syriadirect.org/news/rare-islamic-state-victory-in-rural-homs-splits-displaced-families-apart/.

2017-09-20

RAQA – US-backed fighters have seized 90 percent of Raqa from the Islamic State group, a monitor said Wednesday, as they announced they were in the “final stages” of capturing the jihadists’ Syrian stronghold.

Under siege in the northern city for three months, IS is struggling to defend its one-time bastion under a barrage of air strikes by the US-led coalition battling the jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

“Because of the heavy coalition air strikes, IS withdrew from at least five key neighborhoods over the past 48 hours,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“This allowed the Syrian Democratic Forces to control 90 percent of the city.”

The SDF is an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces the coalition is backing in Syria with air strikes, equipment and advisers.

IS pulled out of the north of the city and abandoned its grain silos and mills, and was now confined to the city center, Abdel Rahman said.

The SDF said its forces had mounted a “surprise attack” on IS in the city’s north.

“We consider this the final stages of the Wrath of the Euphrates campaign, which is nearing its end,” the statement said.

IS seized Raqa in early 2014, transforming the city into the de facto Syrian capital of the “caliphate” it declared after taking control of large parts of Syria and Iraq.

It quickly became synonymous with the group’s most gruesome atrocities, including public beheadings, and IS is thought to have used the city to plan attacks abroad.

– ‘Not resist much longer’ –

The SDF spent months encircling the city before entering it in June and sealing off all access routes.

Abdel Rahman said the siege had worn down IS’s defensive capabilities.

“After hundreds of their fighters were killed in recent weeks, the remaining IS fighters will not be able to resist much longer in Raqa as their military equipment and basic necessities are dwindling,” he said.

Without food or medical equipment, IS was unable to treat its own wounded and had retreated to the city center, which it considered “the most secure,” he said.

But the battle for the 10 percent of the city still held by IS will likely be tough, as the jihadists had heavily mined the area, Abdel Rahman said.

IS has used mines, snipers, car bombs, and weaponised drones against the SDF offensive.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the fighting in recent months. Estimates of the number still inside the city range from fewer than 10,000 to as many as 25,000.

“We will continue the campaign until we achieve our aim,” Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, the SDF’s spokeswoman for the Raqa offensive, said.

Correspondents on Tuesday saw a military convoy of US-made vehicles, bulldozers, and arms being transported through northeastern Syria.

Syria’s conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against President Bashar al-Assad, but has since evolved into a complex, multi-front war.

More than 330,000 people have been killed and millions have been forced to flee their homes.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84948.

October 6, 2017

50 Jordanian companies and factories took part in a recruitment fair in the Zaatari refugee camp yesterday in an effort to help Syrian refugees find work.

The exhibition, organized by the Zaatari Employment Office in cooperation with UNHCR and the International Labor Organisation (ILO), is the first of its kind in the camp located in Mafraq, 85 kilometers northeast of Amman. It is being held nearly two months after the Jordanian Ministry of Labor began issuing work permits to refugees residing in refugee camps allowing them to work outside of the camps.

Statistics from the Ministry of Labor indicate that more than 7,000 Syrian refugees residing in the Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps were issued work permits.

Ahmed Orabi, owner of a Jordanian clothing factory, participated in the exhibition hoping to get skilled Syrian tailors and seamstresses. “The Syrians are skilled textile workers who have a good reputation in the field,” he explained, adding that there are about 35 refugees currently working at his factory.

Orabi received dozens of requests for employment from the refugees which he will review. He told Alaraby Al-Jadeed:  ‘I am looking for workers with experience. It is not a problem if they have minimal experience, as they can be trained quickly.”

The Jordanian Labor Law applies to Syrian refugees in terms of working hours and minimum wages, while the factory, located in a city about 30 kilometers from the camp, provides transport.

Refugees also benefit from financial exemptions provided by the Jordanian Labor Ministry in order to encourage them to apply for work permits. The fee for a working permit is $14.

Jordan began granting work permits to Syrian refugees living outside the camps following the Supporting Syria and the Region conference held in London in February last year. This came after European countries promises to facilitate the entry of Jordanian exports into their countries, in exchange for granting 200,000 work permits to refugees.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171006-jordan-syrian-refugee-camp-holds-recruitment-fair/.

2017-02-13

MOSUL – Iraqi forces have thwarted an attempt by around 200 jihadist fighters to flee their bastion of Tal Afar towards Syria, west of the city of Mosul, a security spokesman said Monday.

Forces from the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), a paramilitary organisation dominated by Shiite militia groups, said the Islamic State group used tanks in their bid to break out of Tal Afar.

“The attack by the Daesh (IS) terrorist gangs started at around 7:00 pm (1600 GMT on Sunday), the fighting lasted around six hours,” their spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi said.

Hashed forces have been deployed in desert areas west of Mosul since federal forces launched a massive operation to retake the city from IS on October 17.

Their main goals are to retake Tal Afar, a Turkmen-majority city which is still held by IS, and to prevent the jihadists from being able to move men and equipment between Mosul and their strongholds in Syria.

“This was an attempt by Daesh to open a breach, flee to the Syria border and exfiltrate some leaders and fighters,” Assadi said.

He said that Hashed forces received support from army aviation helicopters when IS attacked them. He added that the fighting left around 50 IS members killed and 17 of their vehicles destroyed.

Assadi did not provide a casualty figure for the Hashed al-Shaabi following the attack, which took place around 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Tal Afar.

IS jihadists are confined to a corridor between Tal Afar and Mosul by tens of thousands of forces deployed on several fronts.

After retaking the eastern side of Mosul last month, Iraqi forces are preparing to launch an assault on the west bank of the city.

The early stages of the Mosul offensive saw IS move fighters between Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqa, its other major urban stronghold, but their supply lines have now been cut off.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81417.

2017-09-07

RAQA – The melancholy ballad sung by anti-jihadist fighter Nimer echoes through the makeshift outpost in Syria’s Raqa. But his sorrow has nothing to do with the surrounding battles: he misses his girlfriend.

His lilting rendition competes with the sound of artillery fire and US-led coalition air strikes targeting the Islamic State group in its one-time bastion.

But Nimer, 18, seems a world away from the battlefield when he speaks about his love.

“I like to play these songs on my mobile phone, and then sing them quietly to my love,” the young Syrian Democratic Forces fighter confides timidly.

He has not seen his girlfriend for a month and a half as he battles alongside his Kurdish and Arab comrades against IS.

Each time he has leave, he heads to his sister’s house outside the city and tries to see his beloved.

“I want to marry her, have children and build a life from scratch,” he says wistfully.

Around him, fellow fighters sit on purple cushions and smoke in silence, enjoying a respite from the offensive.

Their weapons are lined up along the wall next to them in the house, commandeered as an outpost.

Nimer hails from Raqa and lost his parents and brothers to the battles that have raged inside the city since June, when the SDF entered the IS stronghold after battling for months to encircle it.

“When we advance on the front, I revisit my memories in the midst of all the destruction. On each street we have memories together,” he says.

– ‘I did the impossible’ –

Sporting a light beard and digital camouflage, Nimer still recalls the extreme interpretation of Islam imposed by IS’s “religious police”, including a rigid separation between men and women.

“I couldn’t have photos or songs on my phone. I was afraid they would arrest me and accuse me of adultery. That was the way they thought,” Nimer says.

“I would risk my life just to see her. I did the impossible.”

Many of Raqa’s streets are now virtually unrecognizable, with building after building disfigured by the grinding battle to oust IS.

In the distance, a US-led coalition air strike sends up a vast bloom of grey and white dust and rubble, and fighters nearby let off volleys of gunfire.

Yasser Ahmed discreetly moves away from his fellow fighters so he can speak freely about his two-year girlfriend, whom he hasn’t seen for ten days.

“Under IS, it was like a prison,” says Ahmed, 20, also from Raqa city.

“I couldn’t see my beloved. We only talked by landline because we were afraid that IS’s people would see us. We were scared all the time,” adds Ahmed.

The top buttons of Ahmed’s shirt are open to reveal a small gold chain hanging around his neck, a present from his love.

“She always tries to persuade me not to return to the front, but I tell her I must liberate my city from IS so we can live in security,” adds Ahmed, his skin tanned a deep brown.

“Love is the most beautiful thing we have. During the war, we lost a lot. We don’t want to lose love as well.”

– Broken heart –

Abu Shalash, another fighter from Raqa, is battling the jihadists to heal a broken heart.

His lover’s parents forced her to break up with him and marry her cousin.

“I went crazy, and I joined the fighting to forget my pain,” says the 19-year-old.

He and his ex-girlfriend dated covertly under IS in their native Raqa, but she now lives in Ain Issa, a town further north.

“I left my city, I hated my life. When I passed in front of the house, I would remember the memories we created together,” he says.

From time to time, Abu Shalash looks at the ground in exasperation, pausing to take a deep breath before resuming.

“During our last Valentine’s Day, we celebrated in secret,” he says.

“I brought her a red teddy bear and a cake with our initials on it. We always met at night, so IS wouldn’t see us.”

Despite everything, Abu Shalash hasn’t lost hope that he might find love again.

“Life under IS was torture. I want the battles to end, and for us to live our love freely,” he says.

“I want Raqa to become a city for all the lovers who were deprived of their love by IS.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84723.

2017-09-06

DAMASCUS – Millions of Syrians have fled their country’s war as refugees, but for tens of thousands of people escaping conflict elsewhere, Syria is also a place of refuge.

Among them is Zahraa Abdi, who fled her native Somalia in 2012 and lives in a small room with her three children in northern Damascus.

“In Syria, death is organised, you can escape it. But in Somalia, it strikes randomly, at any time or place, there’s no escape,” she said, her hair wrapped in a turquoise headscarf.

The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR estimates some 55,000 refugees from war-torn countries in the Middle East and beyond are currently living in Syria, which has been ravaged by conflict since March 2011.

It provides them with various forms of assistance, though many also work to supplement the aid.

The largest refugee contingent, numbering around 31,000, are Iraqis who crossed the border into Syria to flee their country’s many years of violence.

But the UN also counts some 1,500 Afghan refugees, and 1,500 more from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia.

Abdi, 47, chose to come to Syria because she could enter without a visa, and she was desperate to find safety for her family.

She fled her home in a suburb of the Somali capital Mogadishu after her 10-year-old daughter was raped and murdered.

“In Syria, there is bombing, but there are also regions were you can take refuge. In Somalia, the armed men enter homes and kill the inhabitants,” said Abdi, dressed in a black robe embellished with rhinestones.

“I don’t want anything for myself, I just want safety for my children.”

Somalia has been engulfed in violence for most of the past 25 years, and waves of Somalis have fled abroad searching for safety.

But conflict also caught up with Abdi in Syria.

In 2012, she was living in the town of Al-Tal, held then by opposition forces and subject to sporadic government blockade and regular clashes.

She spent two years there before escaping to the relative safety of nearby Damascus.

– ‘Syria is part of me’ –

While Abdi moved to Syria in the early part of the conflict, most refugees sought safety in the country long before it was consumed by war.

In a modest church packed to capacity in a Damascus suburb, 45-year-old Faten sings hymns in Arabic and English.

A Chaldean Christian from Iraq, she and her family fled to Syria in 2007 after receiving death threats related to her sister’s job at a cafeteria serving US forces.

Graffiti was scrawled on the walls of their home accusing them of “treason,” and shots were fired at the house.

“When they set fire to the house, we knew it was the end, that we had to go,” she said, her curly hair pulled up in a pony tail above her lightly made-up face.

“My brother and sister and I left without anything. We were barefoot so we wouldn’t make any noise when we were running away,” she said.

She sought refuge at All Saints Church in the Jaramana suburb of Damascus, where she met Alex Amazia, a refugee from Sudan who would become her husband.

Amazia arrived in Syria in 1999, fleeing Sudan’s civil war.

Twelve years later, South Sudan announced its independence and he found himself the citizen of a new country, but one Syria’s government does not recognize.

He is unable to renew his Sudanese papers, or to obtain South Sudanese ones in Syria, and so lives without documentation.

But he said the violence that has surged in South Sudan makes life in Syria a better option regardless.

“Despite all the difficult circumstances we have lived through in Syria, the situation in South Sudan remains appalling, and doesn’t compare to here,” he insisted.

He has spent 18 years in Syria now, missing the funerals of his father and brother.

“Syria has become part of me, I am Syrian,” he said.

Alex and Faten married in 2014 and he looks after the church, which is attended by a flock that includes dozens of refugees, mostly from South Sudan and Iraq.

Faten feels the conflict she fled in Iraq has caught up with her across the border in Syria.

“We feel that we are stuck with the curse of war,” she said.

– ‘Weary of war’ –

Roqaya Omar, 60, also found herself caught up in the Syrian conflict, after fleeing Somalia a decade ago.

In 2012, she was living in the town of Harna near Damascus, which was a frontline in the fighting.

“We lived all the experiences of war like any Syrian,” she said.

“We were besieged and we heard the sound of battle and shelling,” she added.

“But I didn’t feel the same fear as I did in Somalia, where anyone can be killed with knives and slaughtered.”

She was able to flee Harna and move with her 26-year-old son Mohamed into Damascus.

“I’m weary of war,” she said, stroking her son’s face tenderly.

“I want to spend the rest of my life with my son in any country in the world… any country where there is no war.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84697.

2017-09-05

DAMASCUS – Syria’s army broke a years-long Islamic State group siege on the government enclave of Deir Ezzor city on Tuesday as it battles to expel the jihadists from a key stronghold.

The jihadist group has already lost more than half of its nearby bastion of Raqa to US-backed forces, and the loss of Deir Ezzor city and the surrounding oil-rich province of the same name would leave it with only a handful of isolated outposts.

Syria’s army and allied fighters, backed by Russian air support, have been advancing towards Deir Ezzor on several fronts in recent weeks, and on Tuesday arrived inside the Brigade 137 base on its western edge.

“The Syrian Arab Army this afternoon broke the siege on Deir Ezzor city after its advancing forces arrived from the western province to Brigade 137,” state news agency SANA said.

“This great achievement is a strategic shift in the war on terror and confirms the ability of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies,” the army command said.

A local journalist said a minesweeper moved ahead of troops as they arrived at the base.

As they reached the soldiers who have been besieged inside the base and adjacent parts of the city, the troops embraced and shouted patriotic slogans.

Others fired in the air and flashed victory signs, as Syrian and Russian warplanes flew overhead.

Civilians gathered on either side of the road connecting the base to neighborhoods of the city to welcome the arriving troops.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad congratulated troops in a call to commanders at the base, his office said.

“Today you stood side-by-side with your comrades who came to your rescue and fought the hardest battles to break the siege on the city,” he said.

A source in the Deir Ezzor governorate said trucks loaded with food and medicine were expected to arrive inside the besieged city from Aleppo by this evening.

Government forces and tens of thousands of civilians in the city have been trapped under IS siege for over two years, facing food and medical shortages.

Early this year, the government-held parts of the city were cut in two by an IS offensive.

The army’s advance Tuesday breaks the siege on the northern part of the city, but a southern section, which includes a key military airport, remains surrounded, with the army now 15 kilometers (nine miles) away.

Around 100,000 people are believed to be inside government-held areas of Deir Ezzor, with perhaps 10,000 more in parts of the city held by IS.

Earlier Tuesday, the national flag was raised throughout government-held areas of the city in anticipation of celebrations upon the arrival of government soldiers.

Some residents had begun greeting each other with “Good morning of victory.”

The army still faces a potentially difficult battle to break the siege on the south of the city and free its remaining neighborhoods, and the surrounding province, from IS.

But for the government, its success would be “one of the most symbolic victories in its six-year war,” wrote Syria analyst Aron Lund in a recent analysis.

– ‘Spiral of defeats’ –

“The reopening of the Deir Ezzor road is a strategic disaster for IS, which is now at its weakest since 2014 and seems unable to break out of an accelerating spiral of defeats,” he added.

IS has lost over half its other Syrian stronghold, the city of Raqa, to an offensive by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

And in neighboring Iraq, it has lost 90 percent of the territory it once held, including the city of Mosul.

Inside Deir Ezzor, residents have faced years of privation, with food becoming scare or unaffordable, and medicine and healthcare unavailable.

The government has continued to fly in limited supplies by helicopter, and the UN last year began airdropping humanitarian aid to the city.

Syria’s army began its offensive to reach the city in earnest last month, and has advanced on multiple fronts, including from the neighboring Raqa province to the west and central Homs province to the south.

It has been supported by Russia’s military, which began an intervention in support of the government in 2015.

The Syrian army’s breaking of the years-long siege of Deir Ezzor city is a “very important strategic victory,” the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

“Commander-in-chief Vladimir Putin has congratulated the Russian military command (in Syria) as well as the command of the Syrian government troops with this very important strategic victory over the terrorists with the aim of freeing Syria from ISIL,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

Earlier Tuesday a Russian warship in the Mediterranean fired cruise missiles at IS fighters near the town of Al-Shula to aid the Syrian army, the Russian defense ministry said.

“As a result of these strikes there was damage to the infrastructure, underground communications, weapon stockpiles of the terrorists, and this allowed the armed contingents of government forces… to rapidly advance, break through IS defenses and unblock the city (of Deir Ezzor),” Peskov said.

Putin has also “sent a telegram to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad” praising the victory, he added.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests which were violently suppressed, leading the country into a vicious and complex civil war.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84687.

2017-08-25

LONDON – At least 34 Syrian soldiers and allied fighters have been killed in an Islamic State counterattack in the east of Raqa province, rolling back regime gains, a monitor said Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the jihadist group had recaptured large swathes of territory from government forces in the fighting on Thursday.

Syria’s army is seeking to advance through Raqa province to reach neighboring Deir Ezzor, where jihadists have besieged government forces and civilians in the provincial capital since 2015.

Earlier this month, government troops and allied fighters arrived at the outskirts of Madan, the last IS-held town in the eastern Raqa province countryside before Deir Ezzor.

But in Thursday’s counterattack, IS “made major progress and… expanded the area under its control along the southern bank of the Euphrates,” the Observatory said.

“IS has managed to push regime forces back 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the western outskirts of Madan,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The Syria army operation in the area, backed by air support from ally Russia, is separate from the battle for provincial capital Raqa city.

The effort to oust IS from the city, once the jihadist group’s Syrian stronghold, is being led by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

The SDF has captured just under 60 percent of Raqa city since it entered in June after months of fighting to encircle it.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84537.

Tuesday 22 August

Civilians fleeing the Islamic State (IS) group’s two remaining Syrian strongholds face “horrific conditions” in dozens of poorly equipped camps on the outskirts of Syrian cities.

Many of these camps lack clean water, food and healthcare. Some are run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, according to camp residents. The SDF denies it runs the camps, despite them being in territory under its control.

The fighting in areas where US-backed forces continue to battle IS militants has forced tens of thousands of Syrians from their homes into dozens of camps in Hasakeh and Raqqa provinces.

Many find themselves trapped in terrible conditions.

“Living in an actual prison would have been easier than living in one of these camps,” said Ahmed, who fled his home in Deir Ezzor along with his parents and five brothers and moved to al-Sad camp, also known as Arisha.

Arisha is located in the southern suburbs of Hasakeh and is considered one of the biggest IDP camps housing about 6,000 people.

“We are like prisoners in the camp, not even allowed to leave,” added Ahmed.

In a statement on 14 August, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Syrian civilians in Arisha as well as in dozens of other poorly equipped informal camps face “terrible, terrible conditions”.

“There is one camp called Arisha in Hasakeh governorate. The camp itself used to be an oil refinery, so you see children playing in toxic waste, drinking and bathing in contaminated water,” ICRC spokesperson Ingy Sedky said.

According to Ahmed, six people died in Arisha recently due to rising temperatures and the lack of medical care.

“The ambulance comes to the camp every day because the women and elderly keep falling ill due to the heat, lack of hygiene and an abundance of insects, snakes, and scorpions.”

About 70,000 people are living in such camps, which are often in hard-to-reach locations, complicating aid provision, according to the ICRC.

‘Death Camps’

Mohamed Hassan, a Syrian activist heading the “Death Camps” Campaign, an online initiative launched last week to raise awareness about the conditions in Syrian IDP camps, said that civilians were facing deadly conditions in eight informal camps on the outskirts of Hasakeh and Raqqa, and which are run by the SDF.

“Many Syrians leaving their homes are transferred by SDF members to SDF-run camps which lack any source of water or medical facilities,” Hassan told MEE.

Residents of the eight camps – Rajm Salibi, Arisha, Alhoul and Mabouka in the suburbs of Hasakeh, Ain Eissa and Karama in the suburbs of Raqqa, and Ruwaishid and Rukban near the Iraqi border – reported poor conditions, and said that vital resources, such as medical facilities and food, are lacking, reported the campaigners.

Many well-known Syrian activists, including Lina al-Shamy and others, have joined the Twitter campaign to raise awareness about the issue.

In its report, the ICRC documented that tents at these camps tend to be placed in the middle of the desert, with snakes and scorpions posing a daily threat to the residents. Many of the camps are poorly equipped, lacking basic medical equipment and access to clean water, according to ICRC spokesperson Sedky.

“Most of the camps don’t have doctors on site. They don’t even have bandages, even the simplest things are not available. As a result, the camps’ inhabitants are at risk of chronic diseases,” Sedky said at the time.

Other camps lacked even the most basic items, including tents, with new arrivals sleeping in the open for up to 10 days while waiting for shelter.

The ICRC also reported that around 50 percent of camp residents are children, with intense heat and overcrowding making the conditions even worse.

“At the same time, the sheer number of people arriving every day is adding to the catastrophe,” he added saying that there were about 18,000 people dispersed across the eight camps, all of which lack basic services.

According to ICRC, IDP camps in Syria are cramped with some housing anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 people. And as the fighting has continued, the numbers within the camps have been increasing, the Red Cross said in a statement earlier this month.

Hassan told MEE that one camp was established along the frontlines between the SDF and IS and have therefore been sites where civilians died due to the fighting.

“IS attacked the IDPs in the Rajm Salabi camp last month while it was fighting with SDF and this led to 37 people being killed inside the camp,” said Hassan.

According to the campaign organizers, Rajm Salabi, located in the suburbs of Hasakeh, is run by the SDF and houses about 400 families, most of whom fled their homes in Deir Ezzor.

But SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali told MEE that his forces did not manage any camps across Syria and are “solely preoccupied with fighting IS”.

‘Living in a prison’

After fleeing the violence around his home in Deir Ezzor, Mohamed, 22, was taken by a member of the SDF to the Karama camp in the suburbs of Raqqa and interrogated for hours before being left without a tent.

“We arrived at the camp to find nothing but sand. The women and children were taken to a tent but all the men were left to sit and sleep in the open with nothing to shade us from the heat of the desert,” Mohamed told MEE.

“After that, each one of us was searched and questioned by members of SDF to make sure we weren’t affiliated with IS,” he added.

According to Mohamed, when he tried to leave the camp, members of the SDF would not let him go without paying an extortionate amount of money.

“The SDF wouldn’t let anyone out of the camp unless they were ill or willing to pay a huge sum of money,” said Mohamed.

“For a young man like me, they wanted a huge amount.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/syrian-refugees-forced-flee-death-camps-705837072.