Pro-Assad airstrikes, rockets, and mortars on Ein Tarma, northeast of Damascus
The pro-Assad assault on opposition areas near Syria’s capital Damascus is continuing, despite Russia’s declaration of a de-escalation zone.
Videos this week have testified to the ongoing bombardment on Ein Tarma, northeast of Damascus, which the regime’s military and its allies have been trying to capture for month. Dozens of airstrikes and rockets and hundreds of mortars have reportedly been fired.
Two civilians were said to have been killed by artillery fire on Saturday.
The Assad regime has also resorted to the use of “toxic gas” attacks, probably chlorine, on both Ein Tarma and nearby Jobar.
Despite the intensity of the assault, rebels have so far repelled the regime efforts to advance. The Free Syrian Army said yesterday that it destroyed another T-72 tank and a vehicle with a Shilka weapons system.
Russia has declared a de-escalation zone for the East Ghouta region near Damascus, and has even said that it will deploy military police at checkpoints on the periphery. However, the boundaries of the zone have not been defined, leaving it unclear whether Ein Tarma and nearby locations are included.
Pro-Assad forces have taken most of the East Ghouta area since spring 2016, and they have forced capitulations of suburbs such as Barzeh and Qaboun with bombardment and sieges. However, they have struggled to break resistance in Ein Tarma and Jobar, the scene of regular battles since 2012.
The Regime’s 7 Chemical Attacks Near Damascus in July
Bellingcat summarizes evidence for claims of seven chemical attacks by the Assad regime near Damascus in July.
Five of the attacks were on Ein Tarma and Jobar amid the pro-Assad assaults, on July 1, 6, 13, 14, and 20. Two were elsewhere on East Ghouta, on July 11 and 14.
The attacks persisted despite international attention to the regime’s nerve agent attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria on April 4, killing at least 92 people and wounding almost 600. But, as Bellingcat notes:
recent allegations of chemical weapon use have escaped the public eye…and investigation by international bodies. If these allegations are true, then it appears the Syrian government is returning to business as usual.
Treatment of a victim on July 20:
Russia Presses US Over Idlib Resolution
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has pressed the US to support Moscow’s vision of a resolution for opposition-controlled Idlib Province in northwest Syria.
Speaking after a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tilleron in Manila on Sunday, Lavrov said “it will be difficult” to work out the details of a de-escalation zone. He said Moscow hopes for a compromise to ensure a cease-fire if countries, including the US, can get rebels to comply.
Despite the aspiration of the Assad regime and possibly Iran for the defeat of the opposition in Idlib, Russia has appeared willing to accept a de facto partition, at least in the short term. In early May, it declared four de-escalation zones across Syria, one of which covered Idlib Province and parts of neighboring Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia Provinces.
The Russian approach has found success in the reduction of US officials and commentators of all opposition in Idlib to “Al Qa’eda”. The label — based on the control of some areas in Idlib by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly linked to Al Qa’eda — may be used by Russia to justify attacks on rebel factions and opposition territory in which JFS and the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham are not a leading influence.