PHOTO: Demolished civil defense center from Thursday’s airstrikes on Deir as-Safir
Regime warplanes killed at least 33 people and wounded 60 in an opposition-held town near Syria’s capital Damascus on Thursday, violating the February 27 “cessation of hostilities”.
The 14 raids on Deir as-Safir, 12 km (7.5 miles) southeast of Damascus, reportedly includes strikes on a school, a mosque, and two civil defense buildings. Videos showed dead and injured children and victims being treated in a makeshift hospital, and a boy rescued from the rubble.
The deaths brought the toll to at least 37, with scores injured, in two days. On Wednesday, jet fighters and helicopters attacked in the al-Marj area, including the village of Bala, and the town of Bala. Among the dead was a White Helmets worker, killed minutes after the group filmed airstrikes and their rescue efforts.
The Syrian military has been trying to seize territory in al-Marj despite the ceasefire. Deir as-Safir and Douma are not on the frontline, although regime troops reportedly tried to infiltrate the latter on Wednesday.
The attacked areas also do not have any presence of Jabhat al-Nusra or Islamic State, groups excluded from the cessation of hostilities.
(Map: Syria Direct)
Violence has decreased across much of Syria since February 27; however, the Syrian military and its allies have continued aerial and ground attacks in several provinces. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported at least 512 military operations up to March 25, 468 of them by pro-Assad forces.
Men remove a body from a damaged house:
Frightened children after the school attack:
Rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra Attack Pro-Assad Forces South of Aleppo
Rebels and the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra have attacked foreign militia, Iranian units, and Syrian troops south of Aleppo city.
Pro-opposition correspondents report that the assault has already taken control of several hills near al-Eis and Khan Touman, surprising the pro-Assad forces. The regime lines were weakened because of the movement of troops to the offensive against the Islamic State in Palmyra in central Syria, according to the reports.
Claimed footage of a Jabhat al-Nusra vehicle-borne bomb:
— H e b a (@HKX07) April 1, 2016
Regime warplanes have responded with 14 airstrikes, according to the Eldorar website.
The rebels say the attack is a “counter-offensive” because the ceasefire was broken by regime airstrikes on civilian areas in Aleppo Province.
Enabled by Russian airstrikes, the Syrian military and foreign allies launched offensives in October, making limited gains in the areas near al-Eis and Khan Touman.
Pictures: Mass Protests Across Syria
For the fifth week in a row, there have been mass protests, with the slogan “The Revolution Continues” and “No to Federalism”, across Syria:
With the partial cessation of hostilities across Syria offering some security from aerial attacks, the demonstrations — offering echoes of the start of the uprising in 2011 — have been renewed in many areas of the country.
Opposition activists reported more than 20 demonstrations today in the Damascus suburbs and Homs, Idlib, and Aleppo Provinces.
There were even rallies in East Ghouta near Damascus, defying aerial attacks that killed at least 33 people on Thursday:
Kafranbel: “No Assad = No Terrorism”
Countering the Assad regime’s narrative about a fight against terrorism, the protesters of Kafranbel in northwest Syria claim the President’s departure is necessary for victory:
Signs of Withdrawal of Saudi Finance from Lebanon
There are further signs on Friday that Saudi Arabia, upset with Lebanon’s position on regional issues, is putting financial pressure on Beirut.
Last month, Riyadh suspended a $4 billion grant for purchases of military equipment. Officially, the Saudis expressed dissatisfaction with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s refusal to vote on an Arab League resolution condemning Iran, after the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was attacked by a crowd in January. However, analysts also saw the move as a challenge to Hezbollah and its involvement in the Syrian conflict.
A banker in Beirut said on Thursday that all money transfers from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon have been halted. Journalist Carol Malouf reports that the Saudi outlet Al Arabiya TV has suddenly closed its Beirut office, laying off 30 staff.
The Saudi steps come as former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is visiting Russia, including a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
Video: “Nothing to Eat Except Herbs” in Besieged Rastan
Residents of Rastan in northern Homs Province speak about the Syrian military’s siege that has cut off food and medicine to the opposition-held town:
Regime forces have completely encircled Rastan and nearby towns. Since January of this year, no aid has entered the city.
Earlier this week, UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien expressed “great concern” about the situation in Rastan.
A woman surrounded by children says in the video, “We can’t live like this. If help doesn’t come, that’s it…We’re finished.”
Amnesty: Turkey Forces 1000s of Syrians to Return
Amnesty International says Turkey has forced thousands of Syrians to return in the last two months.
Citing testimonies from Turkey’s southern border provinces, Amnesty said authorities have been rounding up and expelling groups of around 100 Syrian men, women and children almost daily since the middle of January.
Most appear to be unregistered refugees, though the rights group said it also documented cases of registered Syrians being returned when stopped while not carrying their papers.
In one case, three young children were forced back into Syria without their parents; another was the return of an eight-month pregnant woman.
Amnesty also said authorities have scaled back the registration of Syrian refugees, leaving them with no access to basic services.
Turkey hosts more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees, more than half of the total who have fled the country since 2011. Ankara agreed with the European Union this month to take back all refugees who cross to Greece in exchange for financial aid, faster visa-free travel for Turks, and the promise of accelerated talks on EU membership.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry denied Syrians were being sent back against their will: “None of the Syrians that have demanded protection from our country are being sent back to their country by force, in line with international and national law.”