Deadly clashes, car blast in northwest Syria leave 84 dead

Syrian regime forces hold a position during clashes with militants in Syria’s Hama governorate on June 9, 2019. (AFP file photo)
Updated 11 July 2019
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Deadly clashes, car blast in northwest Syria leave 84 dead

  • 71 killed in fighting between regime forces and opposition fighters; 13 die in Afrin blast

BEIRUT, ANKARA: Regime forces and allied Syrian fighters were locked in clashes on Thursday on the edge of an opposition bastion in northwest Syria after an opposition-led advance that killed 71 fighters overnight, a monitor said.

Russian and regime aircraft have ramped up their deadly bombardment of the Idlib region — administered by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) — since late April, despite a months-old international truce deal.

Clashes have also raged on the edges of the region, including in the north of Hama province.

Late Wednesday, HTS and allied opposition fighters took control of Hamameyat village and hilltop, in clashes that killed 41 regime troops and 30 opposition fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“The fighting is ongoing as regime planes and artillery pound the area,” the head of the Britain-based monitor Rami Abdel Rahman said on Thursday morning.

HTS spokesman Abu Khaled Al-Shami said the militant and opposition fighters attacked after dark, taking control of the “heavily fortified” hill from forces loyal to Syria’s Bashar Assad.

Naji Mustafa, a spokesman for the allied National Liberation Front fighters’ grouping, said: “The hill is very strategic because it overlooks ... supply routes to enemy forces.”

Russian airstrikes killed one civilian in the town of Latmaneh and opposition artillery fire took the life of one woman in the regime-held area of Karnaz, the Observatory said.

A September deal between Russia and opposition backer Turkey was supposed to avert a massive regime offensive on Idlib, but it was never fully implemented and HTS took full administrative control in January.

More than 560 civilians have been killed in regime and Russian airstrikes on northwest Syria since the end of April, according to the Observatory.

Opposition fire during the same period has killed more than 40 civilians in adjacent regime-held areas, it has said.

Blast kills 13

In another development, a car bomb exploded on Thursday at the entrance to a northern Syrian town controlled by Turkish forces and allied Syrian fighters, killing at least 13 people including eight civilians and wounding 35, a war monitor said.

Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies took control of Afrin from Kurdish forces in March last year after a two-month air and ground offensive.

“The car bomb exploded near the checkpoint at the entrance to the town where vehicles were gathering to be checked,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Those killed also included four fighters and an unknown person, the Observatory said.

“Among the victims, at least six are originally from Eastern Ghouta,” a former opposition stronghold outside Damascus retaken by the regime last year, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

There was no immediate claim for the blast, which is the latest deadly explosion to rock the city.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the bomb in a fuel truck exploded in Afrin, igniting a fire and causing considerable damage to the surrounding area.

Afrin operation

Turkey and allied Syrian fighters took control of Afrin last year in a military operation that expelled local Kurdish fighters and displaced thousands of Kurdish residents. Ankara considers the Kurdish fighters who were in control of Afrin terrorists. Since then, there have been a series of attacks on Turkish targets in the area.

Turkey supports the Syrian opposition in the war against Assad but has joined with Russia to secure and monitor local cease-fires. Turkish troops have also crossed into Syria in recent years to battle Kurdish fighters and Daesh militants operating along the border, setting up bases in the area.

The civil war that has raged for eight years has killed more than 450,000 people and uprooted more than half of Syria’s population. The Syrian regime has regained control of more than 60 percent of the territory once in the hands of armed groups and militants.

In northwestern Syria, where the fighters have their last stronghold and where nearly 3 million civilians live, regime forces have been pushing their way in to at least restore their access to a strategic highway in the area. Despite a Turkey and Russia-backed cease-fire, fighting has raged since late April, displacing hundreds of thousands and killing hundreds.

On Thursday, the White Helmets said at least five people were killed in air raids on residential areas in the town of Jisr Al-Shughur, southwest of Idlib. The Observatory put the death toll at three, with eight injured.

The regime troops are fighting to regain control of a village they lost to the opposition earlier this week.


Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in Jerusalem area

Smoke rises from a Palestinian building after it was blown up by Israeli forces in the village of Sur Baher which sits on either side of the Israeli barrier in East Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 22, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 July 2019
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Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in Jerusalem area

  • Dozens of Israeli police and military began sealing off at least four multi-story buildings in the Sur Baher area south of Jerusalem early Monday
  • Palestinians accuse Israel of using security as a pretext to force them out of the area

JERUSALEM: Israeli work crews on Monday began demolishing dozens of Palestinian homes on the outskirts of an east Jerusalem neighborhood, in one of the largest operations of its kind in years.
The demolitions capped a years-long legal battle over the buildings, constructed near the invisible line straddling the city and the occupied West Bank. Israel says the buildings were erected too close to its West Bank separation barrier. Residents say the buildings are on West Bank land, and the Palestinian Authority gave them construction permits.
In the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for the demolitions, Israeli work crews moved into the neighborhood overnight. Massive construction vehicles smashed through the roofs of several buildings, and large excavators were digging through the rubble.
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security, said the Supreme Court ruled the illegal construction “constitutes a severe security threat and can provide cover to suicide bombers and other terrorists hiding among civilian population.”
He said that those who built houses along the separation barrier “took the law into their own hands.”
According to the United Nations, some 20 people already living in the buildings were being displaced, while 350 owners of properties that were under construction or not yet inhabited were also affected.
In a joint statement, senior UN humanitarian officials in the region expressed “sadness” over the demolitions and warned that many other homes could face “the same fate.”
“Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law,” they said.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, head of the civil affairs department of the Palestinians Authority, called Monday’s demolition a “crime” and demanded international intervention.
In Gaza, the territory’s Hamas rulers called for intensifying “resistance” to “the Zionist settlement project.”
“The increase in the occupation’s crimes against the residents of the holy city is a result of total American support,” said Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the militant group.
Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war. The international community considers both areas to be occupied territory, and the Palestinians seek them as parts of a future independent state.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem and considers it part of its capital — a step that is not internationally recognized. But the competing claims to the territory have created myriad legal complexities.
Israel built its separation barrier in the early 2000s in a move it says was needed to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching Israel from the West Bank. The Palestinians say the structure is an illegal land grab because it juts into the West Bank in many places.
Sur Baher is one of those places. In negotiations with residents, Israel built the route of the structure in Sur Baher inside the West Bank to prevent dividing the village and disrupting life, according to court documents.
Residents, claiming it is impossible to get Israeli building permits in east Jerusalem, began building the apartment buildings in the West Bank part of the village with permission from the Palestinian Authority.
Early this decade, the Israeli military ordered the construction to stop, saying it could not permit high-rise buildings so close to the separation barrier.
Israel’s Supreme Court this month rejected residents’ final appeal, clearing the way for the demolitions.
According to Ir Amim, an Israeli advocacy group that promotes equality and coexistence in the city, Israel has stepped up demolitions of unauthorized Palestinian properties in east Jerusalem.
It said Israel demolished some 63 housing units in the first half of this year, compared to 37 during the same period last year. Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem say it is nearly impossible to get a building permit from Israeli authorities.