Government Targets ISIS Tunnels South of Damascus
The Syrian government on Tuesday targeted tunnels used by the so-called Islamic State south of the capital as part of a wider campaign to drive militants from the area, the Associated Press reported.
Syrian state TV said the government was targeting tunnels and trenches in the Hajar al-Aswad district and the nearby Yarmouk camp, both of which are controlled by ISIS militants.
An unidentified Syrian military officer also told reporters that government forces were trying to isolate militant positions in Hajar al-Aswad and Yarmouk from surrounding rebel areas, including the suburbs of Beit Sahem, Babila and Yalda.
The government’s latest push in southern Damascus is part of a wider effort to place the entire capital and its surrounding environs under the hold of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said 15 government loyalists and 19 ISIS fighters have been killed since the government stepped up attacks on the militant-held pocket south of Damascus last Thursday.
Syrian Government Eyeing Northern Homs After Securing Damascus Region: Minister
The Syrian government is looking to recapture territory in northern Homs after it consolidates complete control over areas around Damascus, a Syrian minister told Reuters in an interview published Tuesday.
Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister responsible for national reconciliation, said the government will zone in on the opposition-held towns of Rastan, Talbiseh and Houla in northern Homs province not long after it secures control over the Qalamoun region near Damascus.
He said the government had been dropping leaflets and communicating with rebels in northern Homs. “Today there is serious work in that area,” he said, suggesting that a reconciliation agreement was on the table.
“Armed groups wait to feel the seriousness and determination of the state’s military action before they approach serious discussion of a reconciliation agreement,” he told Reuters.
Commenting on rebel-held territory in southern Syria, parts of which are protected by a U.S.-backed de-escalation zone agreement, Haidar said a reconciliation deal is also being offered to rebels there. But he said that securing areas around Damascus and Homs was of greater priority to the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura on Tuesday warned of the humanitarian implications of a potential government offensive on Idlib province, the largest opposition stronghold in the country, Agence France-Presse reported.
“We were and are concerned on the humanitarian side by Idlib. Because Idlib is the big new challenge, 2.5 million people,” Mistura told a press conference. “We hope that this would be an occasion for making sure that Idlib does not become the new Aleppo, the new Eastern Ghouta, because the dimensions are completely different,” Mistura added.
Israel Warns of Confrontation in Syria if Russia Grants Assad a New Missile System
Israel on Tuesday threatened to attack Russian S-300 missile systems in Syria if they were used to fire at Israeli targets, AFP reported.
The comments by Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, come one day after Russia’s daily Kommersant newspaper said Russia might provide Syria with anti-aircraft missile systems in the near future. However, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow has not yet decided if it will deliver the missile system to Syria.
“What’s important to us is that the defensive weapons the Russians are giving Syria won’t be used against us,” Lieberman was quoted as saying.
“If they’re used against us, we’ll act against them.”
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