Syria claims to have found two mass graves near Raqqa

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - THE NA­TIONAL

Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces have found mass graves con­tain­ing dozens of ISIL’s vic­tims in north-western Syria.

The graves were dis­cov­ered in Raqqa prov­ince, ISIL’s former strong­hold, but it was not clear when they had been dug. Ex­ca­va­tion was con­tin­u­ing, the gov­ern­ment said.

“We re­ceived in­for­ma­tion from some fam­i­lies re­port­ing the un­cov­er­ing of two mass graves near Al Wawi town,” a field com­man­der said.

More mass graves are ex­pected to be found as the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment’s forces re-es­tab­lish con­trol of ar­eas cap­tured from ISIL in re­cent months.

In neigh­bour­ing Iraq, where the gov­ern­ment de­clared vic­tory over ISIL this month, dozens of mass graves were un­cov­ered as the group re­treated.

With ISIL also largely de­feated in Syria, pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad’s forces have turned their at­ten­tion to rebels in the civil war that has lasted nearly seven years and left al­most half a mil­lion dead.

Fight­ing con­tin­ued across the coun­try yes­ter­day, par­tic­u­larly in Idlib, the north-western prov­ince that is the largest re­main­ing rebel strong­hold.

Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces backed by Rus­sian air sup­port launched a cam­paign to re­take the prov­ince nearly two weeks ago.

At the same time, hun­dreds of mil­i­tants be­long­ing to an Al Qaeda-af­fil­i­ated group were be­ing trans­ferred from the south-western side of Da­m­as­cus to Idlib un­der a deal reached with the gov­ern­ment.

Hun­dreds more fight­ers from Fatah Tahrir Al Sham, as well as thou­sands of civil­ians from ar­eas that had been un­der their con­trol, have al­ready been moved to Idlib this year un­der sim­i­lar deals.

Samer Allawi, an of­fi­cer of the Idlib rebel group Jaish Al Nasr, said that the trans­fers were in­tended to un­der­mine the role of rebel groups such as his that do not sub­scribe to an ex­trem­ist in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam.

“The ef­fect is re­strict­ing all those who call for free­dom and build­ing a demo­cratic state in the re­gion of Idlib, and then killing them with aerial bom­bard­ment and from the sea and land,” Mr Allawi said. “The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is silent about what is hap­pen­ing to the Syr­ian peo­ple.”

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said ne­go­ti­a­tions for a sim­i­lar trans­fer deal on the east­ern side of Da­m­as­cus had stalled as fight­ing in­ten­si­fied be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and mil­i­tants on Fri­day.

In the deal, rebel-held prison­ers would be handed over in ex­change for the re­moval of 29 crit­i­cally ill peo­ple.

The sub­urbs, known col­lec­tively as East­ern Ghouta, have been un­der siege by gov­ern­ment forces since 2013, and aid groups and the UN said hun­dreds more in the area are in need of treat­ment.

Reuters re­ported yes­ter­day that Rus­sian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin had sent a new year’s greet­ing to Mr Al As­sad in which he promised con­tin­ued sup­port for the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment.

Mr Putin stressed that Rus­sia would “con­tinue to ren­der ev­ery as­sis­tance to Syria in the pro­tec­tion of state sovereignty, unity and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity, in the pro­mo­tion of a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment process, as well as in ef­forts to re­store the na­tional econ­omy”.

Rus­sia, which has long-stand­ing mil­i­tary and eco­nomic ties to the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, be­gan pro­vid­ing air and ground sup­port to Mr Al As­sad’s forces in 2015. It an­nounced last week that it would re­tain a per­ma­nent mil­i­tary pres­ence in Syria af­ter the war ends.

The US also has a mil­i­tary pres­ence in Syria, with about 2,000 troops and pro­vid­ing air and ar­tillery sup­port to help the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, a mili­tia dom­i­nated by Syr­ian Kurds, re­take large parts of east­ern Syria from ISIL.

On Fri­day, the US de­fence sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis said he ex­pected to see a larger US civil­ian pres­ence in Syria, in­clud­ing con­trac­tors and diplo­mats.

“What we will be do­ing is shift­ing from what I would call an of­fen­sive, ter­rain-seiz­ing ap­proach to a sta­bil­is­ing ... you’ll see more US diplo­mats on the ground,” Mr Mat­tis said.

“The US is pre­pared to re­main in Syria un­til we are cer­tain that ISIL is de­feated, sta­bil­i­sa­tion ef­forts can be sus­tained and there is mean­ing­ful progress in the Geneva-based po­lit­i­cal process,” said Brett McGurk, US spe­cial en­voy to the global anti-ISIL coali­tion.

The UN has backed peace talks in Geneva, while Rus­sia has spon­sored its own in the Kazakh cap­i­tal of As­tana.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions have largely fal­tered so far be­cause of an im­passe over whether Mr Al As­sad would step down as part of a long-term peace plan.


Syr­ian forces un­cover a mass grave in the west of Raqqa prov­ince yes­ter­day

Mem­bers of the Syr­ian se­cu­rity forces re­move hu­man re­mains from the site of two mass graves in the vil­lage of Wawi, near the former ISIL strong­hold of Raqqa

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.