Syrian forces target Daesh enclave as southwest assault widens

With critical help from Russia and Iran, Bashar Assad has recovered control of most of Syria from rebels seeking to topple him. (Reuters)
Updated 11 July 2018
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Syrian forces target Daesh enclave as southwest assault widens

  • The bombardment targeted the Yarmouk Basin area, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan
  • With critical help from Russia and Iran, Assad has recovered control of most of Syria from rebels

AMMAN/BEIRUT: The Syrian government widened its offensive to recover the southwest on Wednesday, extending it to an enclave held by Daesh-affiliated fighters as Russian warplanes targeted the area, a war monitor said.
The bombardment targeted the Yarmouk Basin area, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, and which is held by the Daesh-affiliated Khalid Ibn Al-Walid Army.
President Bashar Assad is seeking to recover the entire southwestern corner of Syria in an offensive that got underway last month and has so far recovered swathes of territory from rebels fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday’s air strikes marked the first Russian strikes on the Yarmouk basin area in the war. It also said FSA rebels were simultaneously battling the Daesh-affiliated militants.
Government helicopters had also dropped barrel bombs on the area — containers filled with explosive material, it said.
Assad has so far recovered swathes of Daraa province in the southwest from FSA rebels, many of whom have been forced into surrender agreements mediated by Russian officers. The United States, which once armed the southern FSA rebels, told them at the start of the attack not to expect its intervention.
The Syrian government earlier this week took control of a strategically vital strip of the border from FSA rebels in Daraa province, denying them any access to the Jordanian frontier that was once an opposition lifeline.
Rebels holed up in a besieged enclave of Daraa city are waiting to hear back from the Russians over demands tabled during a meeting on Tuesday, including safe passage to the rebel-held north for those who wish to leave, rebels said.
The Russians told opposition mediators at the meeting they would discuss the proposals with Damascus, an opposition official said in a voice message sent to the Daraa rebels and heard by Reuters.
The rebels had asked the Russians to block further ground advances by government forces toward their besieged enclave in Daraa city, which in 2011 was the scene of the first major anti-Assad protests that spiraled into the civil war.
With critical help from Russia and Iran, Assad has recovered control of most of Syria from rebels seeking to topple him and Daesh terrorists, though the north and a chunk of the east remain outside his grasp.


Palestinian pupils scrap school holidays to save village

Updated 42 min 46 sec ago
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Palestinian pupils scrap school holidays to save village

  • Israel says the Bedouin village was constructed illegally
  • The residents of the village point out that it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from Israeli authorities

KHAN AL-AHMAR, Palestinian Territories: Under the sun’s harsh glare, dozens of students sing the Palestinian national anthem — beginning a new school year early as part of efforts to keep their village from being demolished.
The students of Khan Al-Ahmar went back to their village school in the occupied West Bank on Monday, while Israeli authorities seek to evict them.
“We are starting the school year earlier because the Israelis want to destroy the school,” said Amani Ali, 11.
“So when they come to demolish it, we will be here.”
Israel says the Bedouin village, located in a strategic spot east of Jerusalem near Israeli settlements and on the road to the Dead Sea, was constructed illegally and is seeking to move its 191 residents elsewhere.
The residents of the village point out that it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from Israeli authorities in around 60 percent of the West Bank where they maintain full control.
On May 24, Israel’s supreme court allowed authorities to go ahead with demolition of the small hillside village that sits between a highway, the desert and two Israeli settlements.
Since then, two new court challenges have been filed on behalf of the village, temporarily suspending demolition plans, and the court plans to hold another hearing by August 15 at the latest, activists say.
European countries have rallied to support the villagers, calling for demolition plans to be canceled.
“The fact that the students are at the school can prevent the decision from being carried out because they are going to see that there are classes, life, people,” said Ghadir Darsya, who has taught in Khan Al-Ahmar for three years.
“No one knows what’s going to happen,” she added, while sorting books with her colleagues amid the sound of children’s voices from an adjacent playground.
The school was constructed in 2009 with the support of NGOs and the European Union. Largely built with tires, sand and mud, it serves 170 students from various Bedouin villages, according to the principal.
“There are about 50 families with many children. Where are they going to go?” said Darsya.
The rest of the village is made up of homes of metal sheets, cardboard and wood, as is common in such Bedouin communities.
“We are always afraid. I cannot sleep at night,” said Raya Jahalin, as her grandchildren played on a large carpet behind her that serves as a living room devoid of furniture.
“It is our land. I have lived here for 50 years. I was born here. My children were married here.”
The villagers say Khan Al-Ahmar has been located there since 1952.
It was established after Bedouins from the Jahalin tribe were, according to rights activists, expelled from the Negev desert in the south after the creation of Israel in 1948.
Israeli authorities now want to relocate them to an area near Abu Dis in the West Bank, but the villagers are refusing, saying that the site is near a dump and in an urban environment where their animals cannot graze.
For Eid Abu Khamis, a village spokesman, forced eviction of Bedouins throughout the area would put in peril the possibility of a future Palestinian state.
If they are replaced with Israeli settlers, Khamis and rights groups say the West Bank could be cut in two, dividing the half north of Jerusalem from the southern one.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem says around 180 communities are threatened with eviction in the West Bank.
B’Tselem spokesman Amit Gilutz says Israel has for decades pursued a policy of trying to evict Palestinians from the part of the West Bank where it exerts full control.
It has sought to avoid forced transfers, he said, but applies enough pressure on the villagers in hopes that they finally decide to leave on their own.