SUN 20 - 1 - 2019
Jun 13, 2018
The Daily Star
Syria boosts air defenses near Golan: pro-regime commander
BEIRUT: The Syrian army has reinforced its anti-aircraft defenses near the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a commander in the regional alliance that backs President Bashar Assad said Tuesday.
Additional defenses are set to be deployed in the coming days, the commander told Reuters.
The stationing of the Russian-made Pantsir S1 weapon aims “to renew the air defense system against Israel in the first degree,” added the commander, a non-Syrian who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Syria’s multisided war has pivoted toward the southwest in recent weeks, risking escalation in an area that is of major concern to Israel, where the conflict has been contained since last year by an agreement underwritten by the United States and Russia.
Last month, Israel accused Damascus-allied Iranian forces of launching a rocket salvo across the frontier, triggering ferocious airstrikes into Syria against what Israel described as Iran-backed positions.
The Syrian government has separately been preparing an assault on rebels who hold territory at the border with Israel and Jordan. This led Washington last month to warn of “firm and appropriate measures” against any cease-fire violations.
The commander said preparations for the government offensive in the southwest were complete but government forces were now working to finish off a pocket of Daesh (ISIS) militants near the government-held town of Swaida.
Israel wants Iran-backed forces such as Hezbollah kept away from its frontier and removed from Syria more widely. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said last week the group would stay in Syria as long as Assad wanted it there.
Rebel forces in southwestern Syria have played down the prospects of a government offensive in the area, saying that the United States and Jordan are committed to upholding the “de-escalation” agreement with Russia.
But they have also prepared for the possibility of an attack.
A rebel commander in the southwest, Col. Nassim Abu Arra of the Youth of Sunna Forces, told Reuters that opposition forces had formed a joint military leadership Monday.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said this month that the government aimed to recapture insurgent areas in the southwest through a settlement in which fighters accept state rule or leave – the approach used by the state to win back other areas.
Separately, an air raid by the U.S.-led coalition on the village of Tal al-Shair in the northeastern province of Hassakeh killed at least 10 civilians including three children Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The coalition’s press office told AFP it was aware of the allegations but did not have records of carrying out strikes in the area.
Syrian state-run news agency SANA said 12 people died in the airstrike, all members of the same family. It is the latest in a series of raids on the area that have reportedly caused civilian casualties in past weeks.
Tal al-Shair lies in a small pocket still held by Daesh fighters near the Iraqi border in the south of Hassakeh, where a Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by the coalition has been battling the militants in recent days.
According to the Observatory, a coalition airstrike last week killed 11 civilians in the same Daesh-held area, and another 12 lost their lives in coalition raids on June 1.
The coalition told AFP it was carrying out an investigation into the June 1 allegation.
Earlier this month, it admitted to nine more civilian deaths, bringing to 892 the total number of civilians it acknowledges to have killed since it intervened in Iraq and Syria.
Monitors like the Observatory and Airwars say the toll is much higher.
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