Regime forces take rebel-held towns of Sarkha and Maaloula as they seek to cut their supply lines across the border.
Last updated: 14 Apr 2014 10:48
President Bashar al-Assad's troops have captured a string of rebel strongholds on the border with Lebanon [AFP]
|Syrian government troops seized two towns, one of them an ancient Christian hamlet north of Damascus, as part of the military's relentless offensive along the rugged frontier with Lebanon, state media and activists said.|
Syria's state news agency said that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad captured Sarkha early on Monday before also quickly sweeping rebels out of the nearby town of Maaloula.
The Lebanese TV channel al-Mayadeen, which closely follows the Syrian conflict, briefly broadcast footage that it said was from inside Maaloula, a predominantly Christian village, showing a cluster of buildings set in hilly terrain.
"The army has taken full control of Maaloula and restored security and stability. Terrorism has been defeated in Qalamoun [the region where Maaloula is located]," AFP news agency quoted a security official as saying.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists on the ground, confirmed that both Sarkha and Maaloula had fallen to government forces.
The seizure of the towns comes a day after Syrian troops backed by fighters from Lebanon's Shia Muslim group Hezbollah captured the nearby town of Rankous.
The push is part of an offensive that government forces have been waging since November in the Qalamoun area along the border with Lebanon. Assad's troops have captured a string of rebel strongholds in region as they look to cut a vital opposition supply line across the frontier used to support rebels around the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Rebels seized Maaloula in early December, even as they were under fire from pro-Assad forces at the time. The rebels included fighters of the Nusra Front, who abducted 12 Greek Orthodox nuns from their convent during the fighting. The nuns were released unharmed in March in exchange for the Syrian government releasing dozens of Syrian women from prison.
At the time, the abduction added to fears that hard-line Sunni Muslim rebels were targeting Christians as the three-year Syrian conflict grows increasingly sectarian.
Syrian jets hit rebel bastions near Damascus
Fierce air assault reported near the capital even as President Assad declares war has turned in government's favour.
Last updated: 13 Apr 2014 17:14
Online footage showed highly destructive barrel bomb attacks on Daraya, southwest of Damascus [YouTube]
|Syrian jet fighters are reported to have launched a fierce offensive against a string of opposition strongholds, including Kafr Zita, a village north of Damascus that was recently hit by an alleged poisonous gas attack.|
Other towns on the edges of the capital, including Eastern Ghouta area, were also hit by the bombardment, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.
"Warplanes carried out two air strikes against areas of Douma" northeast of Damascus, the UK-based monitoring group said, adding that "at least five people including one child were killed and several others injured".
One of the strikes on Douma, an opposition stronghold since early in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, hit a crowded marketplace, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground.
Douma and other towns and villages in Eastern Ghouta have been under a Syrian army siege for a year.
Sunday's offensive came as Assad said that the three-year war tearing the country apart was turning in the government's favour, state television reported.
"This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army's achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting the country," the TV channel quoted Assad as saying.
State television and rebel forces traded accusations over the attack that reportedly caused "suffocation and poisoning" of residents. The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, said the attack hurt dozens of people.
The Syrian Observatory also reported air strikes against Hammuriyeh, east of Damascus, and highly destructive barrel bomb attacks on Daraya, an opposition bastion southwest of Damascus.
The air raids came as fighting raged on the edges of Daraya pitting rebels against the army, which for more than a year has waged a bitter campaign aimed at securing the capital.
Other air raids targeted Mleiha, also in Eastern Ghouta, while clashes pitted rebels and their Al-Nusra Front allies against the army and its Lebanese Shia ally Hezbollah, the Syrian Observatory said.
Mleiha has suffered heavy bombing for 10 consecutive days, as the army and Hezbollah attempt to break through rebel lines.
The Syrian Observatory said government forces on Sunday took control of areas on Mleiha's edges.
North of Damascus, the army overran a string of hills overlooking Rankus, a former opposition stronghold in the strategic Qalamun mountains that fell to the regime on Wednesday, said state television.
Against this backdrop, the state news agency SANA reported "the death of a young man and the wounding of 22 others" in a mortar attack launched by "terrorists" in central Damascus.
State media uses the government's term "terrorists" to refer to rebels fighting to topple Assad's regime.
Damascus comes under frequent mortar fire. Sunday's attack hit Beirut Street, located near the army command headquarters.
The Syrian Observatory said two people were killed in the attack.
More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria's war, and nearly half the population have been forced to flee their homes.
Syrian activists report new Assad poison attack
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News
Friday, 11 April 2014
Friday, 11 April 2014
A Syrian opposition news outlet claimed Friday the government troops attacked a Damascus suburb with poison gas and that residents were showing symptoms of shortness of breath.
The Shaam News Network identified the Damascus suburb of Harasta as the site of the poison gas attack and said that at least 100 residents were critical condition.
The opposition Syrian Coalition issued a statement condemning the alleged attack using “poison gas and highly concentrated pesticides.”
“Assad is dragging his feet over the elimination of the chemical weapons arsenal, missing a series of deadlines while at the same time spraying people with gas on a scale- he thinks- small enough to avoid world condemnation,” said Badr Jamous, Syrian Coalition Secretary General, in the statement.
“The international community has a moral duty to voice its rejection of this crime and indeed take immediate firm steps to restrain a regime that is prepared to use all kinds of conventional and unconventional weapons to cling to power,” Jamous added.
Responding to a question, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. was working with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to check on whether the Syrian government was abiding to the 2013 deal on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Members of the Syrian opposition have in recent months accused President Bashar Assad’s regime of using chemical arms in a number of attacks including in the two Damascus suburbs of Harasta and Jobar.
U.S. and British officials are reportedly investigating claims that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons in at least four attacks around Damascus between January and April.
The London Times Friday cited British officials as saying that they were “aware of multiple allegations” of poison gas attacks against opposition forces on the outskirts of the capital.
The Times reported that the regime this time may have been using "toxic industrial substances" to frighten rebels in a way that does not trigger a wide international outcry.
This week an Israeli defense official said Assad had used chemical weapons again around the capital at the end of March. The Times of Israel reported that "the nonlethal agents were used to incapacitate opposition fighters."
It cited the defense official as saying that one attack occurred on March 27 in the capital's Harasta neighborhood, and that "the effects of the chemicals lasted for several hours."
In December, a U.N. inquiry found that Sarin gas had likely been used in Jobar and another Damascus suburb called Ghouta. The Syrian opposition accused the Syrian government for the attacks but the regime denied the allegations.
Outrage over the Aug. 21 Ghouta attack, were hundreds of people were killed, sparked global outrage as well a U.S. threat of military strikes.
The strikes were dropped after Damascus vowed to destroy is chemical weapons stockpile, a process that is being supervised by the OPCW.
Any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would be in clear breach of the agreement it signed with the OPCW.