Friday , November 24 2017

‘War in Syria kills over 330,000’ – Shells hit Russian embassy in Damascus

Smoke billows following an airstrike on the western frontline of Raqqa on July 15, during an offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, to retake the city from Islamic State (IS) group fighters. The US-backed coalition has captured around 30 percent of Raqqa city since it entered the IS bastion in June after a month-long operation to capture territory in the surrounding province. (AFP)

BEIRUT, July 16, (Agencies): More than 330,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since it started six years ago, around a third of them civilians, a monitor said on Sunday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it has documented the deaths of 331,765 people across Syria since the conflict erupted in mid-March 2011 with anti-government protests. Included in the overall death toll are 99,617 civilians, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that the figures were for the period between March 15, 2011 and July 15, 2017.

A total of 18,243 children and 11,427 women were among the civilians killed, the Observatory said. The figures were the latest provided by the Observatory since March when it said 320,000 people, including 96,000 civilians, had been killed. In its latest report, the Observatory said a total of 116,774 members of the regime forces or regime supporters have been killed in Syria since the conflict began.

Of those, it said 61,808 were soldiers and 1,408 were members of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, an Iran-backed regime ally. Also killed in Syria since the conflict erupted were 57,000 rebels, including from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an Arab-Kurdish alliance. In addition, more than 58,000 jihadists, namely from the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate, were killed, said the Observatory, noting that the figure also includes foreign extremists.

The conflict broke out with peaceful antigovernment protests but quickly turned into a fully fledged war involving a multitude of local, regional and foreign powers. The brutal conflict has destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and displaced millions of people, more than half of Syria’s population.

Meanwhile, shells hit the Syrian capital of Damascus Sunday wounding seven while two of the projectiles hit the Russian embassy and a nearby area causing material damage, state media said.

State news agency SANA said two shells were fired at the Russian embassy, one hitting the compound while the other fell nearby. SANA said the shelling of other parts of the city wounded seven people. Syrian rebels in the suburbs of the capital have previously struck the Russian embassy.

The shelling came as government forces have been pounding rebel-held areas near Damascus for days. Moscow is a strong supporter of President Bashar Assad and has been involved in Syria’s civil war since September 2015.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the civil war, now in its seventh year, has killed some 475,000 people including 99,617 civilians in addition to tens of thousands of troops, opposition fighters and extremists, as well as pro-government gunmen. The group, which tracks the civil war through a network of on-the-ground activists, says it has documented 331,765 deaths by name while the rest have not been identified.

The attack in Damascus came hours after a bomb exploded near a hospital in the rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib, wounding five people. The Syrian Civil Defense group, more popularly known as the White Helmets, said the wounded included two children.

The Observatory said five were wounded including children. Elsewhere in Syria, SANA reported two mines planted by members of the Islamic State group killed three people riding two motorcycles near the central village of Um Harteen.

It added that another blast hit a bus in the southern province of Sweida, wounding seven people. The Syrian army backed by heavy Russian air strikes seized a string of oil wells in southwest Raqqa province on Saturday, as retreating Islamic State militants battle to defend their remaining territory in the country. State-owned Ikhbariyah television quoted a military source as saying the army had taken control of Wahab, al Fahd, Dbaysan, al-Qseer, Abu al Qatat and Abu Qatash oil fields and several other villages in the desert area that lies in the southwest of Raqqa province.

The seized oil fields lie south of the town of Rasafa and its oil wells, which the army took last month from the militants in their first major territorial gains inside the province. The army and Iranian-backed militias have in the last few months been advancing east of Aleppo city and seizing swathes of territory west of the Euphrates River that militants have pulled out of to defend their de facto capital of Raqqa, where they are now battling US-backed troops inside the city.

The latest gains tighten the army’s grip on a bulge of territory stretching from eastern Hama province to eastern Homs and the edge of Raqqa and Deir Zor provinces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.

The monitor said the Russian air force intensified its strikes on several targets and towns held by the militants in the area including Uqairbat, a target of Russian cruise missiles fired from warships in the Mediterranean at the end of May. The army’s next goal is to retake the town of Sukhna, a gateway to the eastern province of Deir Zor that borders Iraq and likely to be the militants’ last major bastion in Syria if Raqqa falls.

The army and its Iranian-backed allies have also announced in the last few days steady gains in the desert northeast of the ancient city of Palmyra with their capture of the Hail gas field that brought them almost 18 kms south of Sukhna. Heavy fighting has however continued in the last 48 hours near Hail and the nearby Arak gas field that the Syrian army took last month, both the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and jihadist websites said.

The army and Iranian-backed militias have been engaged in a campaign since May to fill the void left by the retreat of militants in areas they once controlled in the vast eastern Syrian desert that stretches all the way from central Syria to the south eastern border with Iraq and Jordan. In the southeastern desert, heavy fighting continued between the army and its Iranian backed allies on one side and the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels in the rugged eastern countryside of the city of Sweida in southern Syria.

The army said it had captured most of these areas that are also near the border with Jordan, while the rebels said they had inflicted losses on Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group and Iraqi Shi’ite militias. Clashes have broken out in northwestern Syria between two of the most powerful insurgent groups there raising fears of widespread violence in the rebel-held province of Idlib, the groups and an opposition monitor said Saturday.

The fighting between the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham and the al- Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee — that is also known as HTS, are the first serious acts of violence since both sides reached a truce in February. Wider clashes between the two former allies could affect their fight against President Bashar Assad’s forces who have been gaining ground over the past year under the cover of Russian airstrikes.

Idlib has taken on greater significance in Syria’s civil war as opposition fighters and militants head, or are driven, there from the country’s central and northern regions. Bordering Turkey, Idlib has welcomed thousands of insurgents who left the country’s largest city of Aleppo when it fell to Assad’s forces in December in the government’s biggest victory since the crisis began in March 2011. Hundreds of others also headed to Idlib this year from suburbs of the capital Damascus and the central city of Homs as part of population transfer deals with the government.

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