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Russian strikes kill eight ‘fighters’ in Syria

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BEIRUT: Eight fighters died on Monday in Russian air strikes targeting a rebel base in Syria’s northwest, the last major bastion of armed opposition to President Bashar al Assad’s rule, a war monitor said.

Moscow’s intervention since 2015 has helped Damascus claw back much of the territory it had lost to rebel forces early in the 12-year civil war, and Russian forces have repeatedly struck the Idlib area.

Early on Monday, “Russian warplanes carried out air strikes on the western outskirts of Idlib city, targeting a military base belonging to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)… killing at least eight fighters,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Several other fighters were wounded in the strikes, with some in critical condition, said the Britain-based monitor which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.

Demonstrators take to the streets again over living conditions

Militant group HTS, led by Syria’s former Al Qaeda affiliate, controls swathes of Idlib province, as well as parts of the adjacent Latakia, Hama, and Aleppo provinces.

A correspondent said the militant group cordoned off the area after the strikes, which came shortly after midnight (2100 GMT on Sunday).

HTS regularly carries out deadly attacks on soldiers and pro-government forces.

On Monday, the Syrian defence ministry said its forces had downed “three drones laden with explosives” operated by “terrorist organisations”.

The Observatory said the army shot down three reconnaissance drones in Idlib and Hama provinces.

Days of rare protests

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets again on Monday in Syria’s southern city of Sweida, local media and an activist reported, as dire living conditions stoke discontent in regime-held areas.

Days of rare protests have erupted in the south after the government lifted fuel subsidies last week, dealing a blow to Syrians already struggling with the heavy toll that 12 years of war have exacted on the economy.

Local news outlet Suwayda24 posted videos showing hundreds of people gathered in the city on Monday, holding banners and chanting anti-government slogans including “freedom” and “long live Syria, down with Assad”.

“We’ve had enough, the Syrian people are suffocating,” one activist in Sweida said on condition of anonymity for security reasons, adding that hundreds had gathered to protest in the city.

Soaring inflation, the rising cost of living, instability and poverty have plagued the country, pushing desperate Syrians to take to the streets, the activist said.

Security forces have not cracked down on demonstrators so far, he noted.

“My only hope is that this movement will spread to other provinces and that our voices will be heard,” he said.

Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions since it broke out in 2011 following Assad’s repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests.

It spiralled into a deadly conflict that pulled in foreign powers and global militants.

Sunday saw a strike over deteriorating living conditions and price hikes across Sweida province — the heartland of the country’s Druze minority — which has been mostly spared the worst of the civil conflict.

One senior Druze religious leader has expressed support for demonstrators and chastised the government. Footage on Monday showed protesters carrying local Druze sheikhs on their shoulders.

In December, one protester and a policeman were killed when security forces cracked down on a demonstration in Sweida against deteriorating living conditions.

On Saturday, dozens demonstrated in southern Syria’s Daraa province, some raising the opposition flag and calling for Assad’s departure, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

An activist said there were further protests on Sunday evening in the province, the cradle of Syria’s uprising. Daraa returned to regime control in 2018 under a Russia-backed ceasefire deal and has since been wracked by violence and dire living conditions.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2023

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