Syria regime retakes key town outside capital
BEIRUT – Agence France-Presse
Rebel fighters from the 'Alwiyat al-Furqan' group gather around a pick-up truck mounted with an anti-aircraft weapon near Kafr Nasej village, in Deraa Governorate, Syria May 19, 2016 - REUTERS photoSyrian troops backed by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah retook a key town and nine surrounding villages outside Damascus from rebels on May 19, a monitor said.
Pro-regime fighters used clashes between rival rebel factions Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman as an opportunity to retake the town of Deir al-Assafir, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
As rebels summoned their fighters from Deir al-Assafir to the frontline, regime forces launched “a violent attack and heavy air campaign resulting in them controlling the town” in the opposition bastion of Eastern Ghouta, the Observatory’s head said.
They were then able to “advance rapidly in the south of Eastern Ghouta after rebel fighters retreated after losing Deir al-Assafir, fearing they would be besieged,” Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Hundreds of families fled the area, which Islamist rebels had controlled since 2012.
In April fighting erupted opposing Jaish al-Islam against Faylaq al-Rahman and another rebel group, Jaish al-Fustat - both allied to al-Nusra Front, Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate.
Meanwhile, a series of airstrikes in a rebel-held central Syrian town on May 18 killed at least 12 people, including 10 children and two women who were taking cover in an underground shelter, activists said.
Homs-based activist Bebars Al-Talawy said at least eight air raids struck the town of Rastan, one of them hitting a house, destroying it while its residents were taking cover in the shelter.
The Observatory said the raid killed a whole family, including a man, his wife, two sons and four daughters, in addition to his two sisters and their four children. The Observatory said the number may rise because rescue work was still underway pulling people from the rubble.
The Local Coordination Committees said the air raid killed 12 people, also confirming that the family was hiding in the shelter.
On May 19, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura vowed to take the “last resort” option of airdrops and air lifts if there is no improvement in access to besieged areas in Syria by June 1, and did not rule out overriding the government’s objections.
He said without improved aid access and some restoration of Syria’s cessation of hostilities, the credibility of the next round of peace talks would be in question, but he would not abandon the talks, and was waiting for the right date.
U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition spokesman Col. Steve Warren Russia said that Russia has established an outpost in the vicinity of Syria’s Palmyra city.
“In Palmyra, they have appeared to have established some sort of forward operating base, giving them a foothold for a more enduring presence,” Warren told reporters via a video conference from Baghdad.
Warren said Russia is still building the base, noting it is too early to tell whether it will be there for long.
Russia has not really reduced its military power in the war-torn country since it began operations there late last year, according to the Warren.
“Their capabilities are largely the same, or almost identical, frankly,” he added.