Syr­ian govt raises flag over cra­dle of 2011 re­volt

Wanganui Chronicle - - Front Page - Syria

For the first time in more than seven years, the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment raised its flag yes­ter­day over Daraa, the first city to re­volt against Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad in 2011 and plunge the coun­try into its calami­tous civil war.

The dis­play is laden with sym­bol­ism as the gov­ern­ment moves to stamp out the last of the up­ris­ing against the 52-yearold As­sad who has ruled with an iron fist over Syria for 18 years. His fa­ther, Hafez As­sad, was pres­i­dent for three decades be­fore him.

Of­fi­cials ac­com­pa­nied by state me­dia crews hoisted the two-star flag over the rub­ble of the city’s main square, al­low­ing it to wave in sight of the shell of the Omari Mosque where protesters first gath­ered in demon­stra­tions de­mand­ing re­forms then As­sad’s ouster in the spring of 2011.

The mosque has since been de­stroyed in the gov­ern­ment’s bru­tal crack­down against the city, which ranged from al­leged tor­tur­ing of dis­si­dents to shelling the city with tanks and planes.

With con­trol over Daraa, gov­ern­ment forces can now fo­cus on clear­ing the last pock­ets of the op­po­si­tion and, sep­a­rately, the Is­lamic State group from the fron­tier at the Golan Heights, which Is­rael seized from Syria in a 1967 war.

The cor­ner of south­west Syria is an im­por­tant cor­ri­dor for trade be­tween Syria and Jor­dan, and on­ward to the oil-rich Gulf states. But most of the im­por­tant fight­ing against the re­volt has al­ready been con­cluded in shat­ter­ing bat­tles far­ther to the north for the main cities of Da­m­as­cus, Aleppo, and Homs, and ter­ri­to­ries in be­tween.

Some 400,000 peo­ple have been killed in seven years of war.

Protests in Daraa in 2011 against the gov­ern­ment’s mis­treat­ment of teenage de­tainees ig­nited a na­tional re­volt against decades of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule.

Ah­mad Masalmeh, a me­dia ac­tivist for­merly based in Daraa, said fight­ers in the city had ac­cepted an of­fer of amnesty from the gov­ern­ment, and let back in the state in­sti­tu­tions and sym­bols of As­sad’s rule.

Rebels re­fus­ing to ac­cept the deal will be ex­iled with their fam­i­lies to other rebel-held parts of the coun­try.

The agree­ment fol­lows a tem­plate im­posed by the gov­ern­ment and its Rus­sian and Ira­nian back­ers that has forced hun­dreds of thou­sands of Syr­i­ans, in­clud­ing me­dia ac­tivists, army de­fec­tors, and draft dodgers and their fam­ily mem­bers to give up their homes to lift the sieges against their cities.

Hu­man rights mon­i­tors say the ar­range­ments amount to a pro­gramme of po­lit­i­cal and de­mo­graphic engi­neer­ing in Syria to se­cure As­sad’s rule.

Gov­ern­ment forces launched an of­fen­sive to re­cap­ture south­west Syria and the ar­eas neigh­bour­ing Jor­dan and Is­rael on June 19. They sur­rounded Daraa’s rebel-held quar­ters on Tues­day. Dozens have been killed in the cam­paign, in­clud­ing 162 civil­ians, ac­cord­ing to Rami Ab­dur­rah­man, di­rec­tor of the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights — among them women and chil­dren.

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