The Latest: Monitor says Syria seizes half of eastern Ghouta
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on Syria’s civil war (all times local):
A Syria war monitor says that Syrian government troops and allied militias have seized half of the territory held by rebels in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Wednesday that troops have effectively split the besieged enclave in two halves after seizing the town of Beit Sawa and surround farmland and reaching the outskirts of Madeira and Hammouriyeh.
By slicing the territory in two halves — a southern and northern part — the Syrian government succeeds in further squeezing rebels and tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside.
The Syrian troops are backed in their massive air and ground assault on eastern Ghouta by Russian air cover. Around 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in eastern Ghouta.
Sweden’s U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog is demanding immediate implementation of the U.N. resolution that his country sponsored with Kuwait demanding a cease-fire throughout Syria, calling the effort so far “totally and completely inadequate.”
He told reporters Wednesday before heading into a closed Security Council meeting to discuss the failure of the cease-fire resolution adopted unanimously on Feb. 24 that “we see minimal signs from the Syrian authorities to implement the resolution.”
He said Sweden is particularly appalled by “the continued indiscriminate attacks, including airstrikes,” in the rebel-held Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta, and demands an immediate halt.
At the least, Skoog said, Sweden wants the government to immediate sign letters allowing another aid convoy to go to eastern Ghouta “preferably tomorrow.”
The U.N. Security Council is meeting behind closed doors to discuss the failure of the cease-fire it demanded throughout Syria on Feb. 24.
Council members are especially concerned about the continued bombing of the eastern Damascus suburbs and inability to deliver aid to all in need and evacuate the wounded and critically ill.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre, who called Wednesday’s meeting with Britain, pointed to Syrian government interference with a U.N. convoy it authorized to deliver aid to a town in eastern Ghouta. He said it was “completely unacceptable” and another example of the “extreme cynicism of the Syrian regime.”
Delattre said “France is mobilized at the highest level to pressure all those who have leverage on the Syrian regime.”
The U.N. human rights chief has denounced as “frankly ridiculous” claims by Syria’s government that it’s doing all it can to protect civilians as its forces lead “indiscriminate, brutal attacks” in eastern Ghouta.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said Syria’s war has entered a “new phase of horror” in Syria — notably in the eastern Ghouta region east of Damascus, rebel-held Idlib province in the northwest, and around northern Afrin, where he said a Turkish offensive is threatening many civilians.
The rights chief, delivering his annual report to the Human Rights Council, was referring Wednesday in part to a Syrian government-led offensive on eastern Ghouta that began Feb. 18.
Shelling killed dozens of people over the last day as President Bashar Assad’s government, supported by the Russian military, pressed on with the assault.
Syrian state media says government forces have advanced against rebels in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus and will try to divide the besieged enclave in two.
SANA news agency says troops are on the outskirts of Misraba, a rebel-held town in the heart of the enclave. The state-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV station on Wednesday broadcast live shots from the region, showing dense columns of smoke rising above the town as rockets could be heard flying overhead.
Russia’s military announced Monday it was offering safe passage for rebels and their families out of eastern Ghouta, where some 400,000 people have been trapped under a relentless government campaign of shelling and airstrikes.
A rebel spokesman dismissed the offer on Tuesday, saying it was “psychological warfare.”
At least 800 civilians have been killed since Feb. 18, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has urged all parties to abide by a 30-day cease-fire ordered by the Security Council on Feb. 24 to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians in desperate need.
The Russian military says a general was among 39 people killed in the crash of a Russian military transport plane in Syria.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the An-26 twin-engine turboprop crashed Tuesday while preparing to land at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, killing all 33 passengers and six crew on board. It later said a general was among those killed, and Russian media identified him as Maj. Gen. Vladimir Yeremeyev.
The ministry said late Tuesday that the plane was flying from the Kweires air base near Aleppo in northern Syria to Hemeimeem, which serves as the main hub for the Russian campaign in Syria. It said the plane did not come under fire and that the crash was likely caused by a technical failure.
Turkey is calling on the United States to prevent U.S.-backed Kurdish forces from sending fighters deployed against the Islamic State group to shore up Kurdish forces battling a Turkish offensive in an enclave in northwest Syria.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said Wednesday that Turkey wants the United States to “step in and prevent” the redeployment.
A spokesman for Arab militias within the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said Tuesday that as many as 1,700 fighters would be redeployed.
Turkey sent troops into the Afrin enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers to be terrorists.
U.S. officials have warned that Turkey’s offensive could undermine the fight against the IS.
Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, rejected that, saying the aim was to clear Syria of all terror groups.