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AMMAN, June 24, 2018 (Reuters) - Russian jets struck an opposition held town in southwest Syria on Sunday, opposition sources said, in the first air cover provided by Moscow to an expanding Syrian army offensive to recapture the strategic area bordering Jordan and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.

Two tracking centers that monitor military aircraft movements recorded at least twenty strikes on Busra al Harir, northeast of Deraa, a city in Syria, two sources told Reuters.

“We have tracked a sortie of 5 Russian jets that performed 25 raids,” said one source saying the war jets had set off from Russia’s Hmeimim air base in the western coastal province of Latakia in Syria.

Syrian government forces had so far made heavy use of artillery and rockets in the current assault, and Russian warplanes that were critical to the recovery of other rebel-held areas had not been deployed until now.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sworn to recapture the sensitive strategic area and the army began ramping up its assault there last week, threatening a “de-escalation” zone agreed by the United States and Russia last year.

Throwing in Russia’s full military weight in the campaign to regain southern Syria will weaken the ability of mainstream Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups to withstand relentless bombing on civilian areas that forced their compatriots in other areas to submit to surrender deals.

Opposition hopes had been raised after Washington warned Assad and his Russian allies that violations of the zone would have “serious repercussions” and pledged “firm and appropriate measures”.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said earlier on Friday that the Syrian military escalation “unambiguously violates” the de-escalation arrangement.

“Russia will ultimately bear responsibility for any further escalations in ‎Syria,” Haley said in a statement.

Rebels in southern Syria have received support, including arms from Assad’s foreign foes during the seven-year-long war .

But analysts believe the aid has dropped after U.S. President Donald Trump decided last year to shut down a military aid program run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Unless an agreement is reached between Moscow and Washington over the fate of southern Syria, a big offensive risks an escalation that could draw the United States deeper into the war.

Southwest Syria is of strategic concern to U.S.-allied Israel, which this year has stepped up attacks on Iran-backed militia allied to Assad.

U.S ally Jordan which had long said the zone had brought relative calm on its northern border announced it was engaged in intensive diplomacy with Washington and Moscow to preserve the zone and prevent a wider confrontation.

“We stress the importance of respecting the agreement and we are working to prevent the explosion of the situation,” Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a tweet on Friday.

BEIRUT, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - Local security forces in Syria's northern city of Raqa announced a two-day curfew starting on Sunday in response to intelligence on potential attacks by the Islamic State group.

IS was kicked out of its former bastion Raqa in October by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which then stood up police units to hold the city.

On Sunday, the Raqa Internal Security Forces said it had received "information that terrorist groups working on behalf of Daesh (IS)... have entered Raqa city to carry out attacks against stability and security".

It therefore decided to put in place "a state of emergency and a curfew in Raqa city starting at 5:00am (02:00 GMT) on Sunday June 24, 2018, until 5:00am on Tuesday."

IS lost its de facto Syrian capital of Raqa after four months of ferocious fighting and bombing by the SDF and the US-led coalition that left the city in ruins.

The SDF has since whittled down IS territory elsewhere in Syria's north and east to just a handful of isolated pockets.

But in the meantime, security incidents around Raqa have been on the rise in recent weeks.

On Friday, IS claimed its first attack in Raqa province since being ousted, announcing through a propaganda media channel that it had detonated a roadside bomb northeast of the city.

An SDF fighter was also killed on June 15 at a checkpoint north of Raqa, in what the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said was an IS attack.

The group did not claim responsibility for that incident.

And earlier this month, five police officers linked to the SDF were killed in a roadside blast during a routine patrol in Raqa city, though no one claimed that attack either.

DAMASCUS, June 23, 2018 (MENA) - Terrorist organizations, positioned in Daraa eastern countryside, fired on Saturday morning mortar shells on the village of Harran in Sweida western countryside, SANA news agency reported.

SANA reporter in Sweida said three 120-mm mortar shells fired by terrorists in Busr al Harir and its surroundings in Daraa eastern countryside, fell in Harran village in the western countryside, causing huge material damage to two houses.

No casualties were reported, it said.

On Friday, terrorist organizations positioned in the villages of al Lajat in Daraa eastern countryside fired five mortar shells on the village of Dama in Sweida northwestern countryside, causing material damage to some houses.

DAMASCUS, June 23, 2018 (MENA) - Syrian army troops on Saturday continued to target hotbeds of the terrorist organizations in the area of al Lajat in Daraa eastern countryside, within the framework of the war against terrorism.

Over the last few hours, army units engaged in violent clashes with terrorists in the direction of the villages of al-Shoumra, al-Moudawara and al-Alali in the area of al-Lajat in Daraa eastern countryside, the Syrian news agency SANA reported.

It added that army units managed to kill many terrorists and destroy their equipment, thanks to concentrated strikes against their positions.

BEIRUT, June 22, 2018 (MENA) - Lebanese House of Representative Speaker Nabih Berri said that talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel tackled a number of issues of mutual interest.

This came as Berri received Merkel in Ain al Tinah on Friday. "Besides relations binding Lebanon and Germany, the European country has a large and key Lebanese community," the speaker noted.

During the meeting, Merkel stressed boosting Germany's contribution to conference in support of Lebanon development and reforms, sources at Ain al Tinah said.

Hariri said his talks with Merkel tackled the support provided by Germany to carry out several development projects in Lebanon in a way that helps improve living conditions, provide job opportunities and implement the country's national framework in education and technical training.

This framework was introduced by Beirut in cooperation with the International Labor Organization and the UNICEF.

Hariri said the Lebanese government’s stance on the Syrian refugees is firm and clear, calling for their safe return to homeland.

On that score, the Lebanese prime minister-designate said it is Lebanon’s duty to receive the Syrian refugees and provide the best living conditions for them.

Lebanon seeks to gain money from the international community not only in light of this issue, but to boost the country’s economy as well, he stressed.

Separately, Hariri said the political powers in Lebanon agree on the necessity of maintaining internal stability amid the current state of instability that prevails in the Arab region.

 

MOSCOW, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Russia said Friday that the US and its allies have relied on fabricated evidence to accuse the Syrian government of launching chemical attacks against civilians.

Russia's foreign and defense ministries also charged the international chemical weapons watchdog with failing to objectively investigate the alleged chemical attacks and with being subject to political control.

Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the chief of the Russian military's radiation, chemical and biological protection unit, said investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had failed to visit the sites of alleged use of sarin and chlorine, and trusted evidence produced by activists, which he described as rigged. Syria has rejected the accusations of chemical attacks.

"The US, Britain, France and their allies have misled international community ... relying on fabrications to accuse Syria of violating the chemical weapons ban with Russian assistance," Kirillov said at a briefing.

Kirillov alleged that the White Helmets first responders working in rebel-controlled areas had doctored samples and used explosive devices to make craters that looked like those left by bombs. In the images presented by activists, they worked at the site of the alleged use of sarin without protective gear, which would have been impossible if the nerve agent had indeed been used there, he added.

 

 

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