Syria agency reports shells kill 3 in Damascus

BEIRUT:The Latest on developments in Syria  Syria’s state news agency says at least three people have been killed in shelling from rebel areas on parts of the old city of Damascus, the capital.

The SANA news agency reported the shelling Tuesday also left eight civilians injured. It blamed the attack targeting Bab Touma in the old city on armed groups in a region adjacent to the capital. The Syrian government has kept up a relentless airstrike and shelling campaign against the rebel-held region, eastern Ghouta, for weeks. It has escalated its attacks in recent days, and activists reported that nearly 40 people were killed in the region Tuesday.

Eastern Ghouta, home to about 400,000 people, is also reeling under a siege that has prevented aid from getting in and medical evacuation

Syrian rescuers and activists say the death toll from airstrikes and shelling by government and Russian forces of an opposition-held area near Damascus has climbed to at least 38.

Rescue workers are scrambling to keep up with the onslaught as artillery and airstrikes pound eastern Ghouta for a second straight day on Tuesday. The Syrian Civil Defense, known also as the White Helmets, recorded at least 38 killed in 8 towns in the area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 47 were killed in 10 towns, including 10 children. The tally is likely to rise as the attacks continue.

The Observatory says Tuesday’s death toll is the highest in the last 45 days. Nearly 200 people have been wounded in the strikes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on the United Sates to withdraw its troops from the Syrian town of Manbij, renewing a threat to expand its military operation in Syria to the region that is held by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Addressing legislators from his ruling party on Tuesday, Erdogan said Manbij was a predominantly Arab town and that Turkey would return the territory to its “real owners.”

Turkey launched a cross-border offensive into the northwestern enclave of Afrin to drive out Syrian Kurdish militia and has also vowed to clear Manbij of the Kurdish fighters, which make up the backbone of a force that fought the Islamic State group in Syria. The United States has a military presence in Manbij.

Ties between Turkey and the United States are tense over the group which Turkey regards as a national security threat because of its links to outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

“Why are you staying there (in Manbij)? Leave,” Erdogan said. “We will come to return the lands to their real owners.”

A Turkish official says U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to visit Turkey next week, amid growing tensions between the two NATO allies over Syria.

Turkey’s military has launched a military offensive to drive Syrian Kurdish militia out of the enclave of Afrin and has threatened to extend its operation farther east into the region of Manbij, where the United States has a military presence.

That threat raises the possibility of a confrontation between the allies, who are already at odds over U.S. backing to Syrian Kurdish fighters. Turkey regards the group as terrorists, while the U.S. considers the group its strongest partner in the fight against State the Islamic group in Syria.

The official would not provide further details on the planned visit. He spoke on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, in line with government rules.

Turkish media reports said meanwhile that U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster would also visit.

Syrian rescuers and activists say at least three people were killed, including a child, when rockets from a Kurdish enclave hit a camp for displaced people near the Turkish border.

The Syrian Civil Defense says the shelling in Atmeh wounded another 14 people, mostly women and children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the shells were lobbed from the neighboring Afrin enclave, where Turkish troops are battling Syrian Kurdish fighters.

The Kurdish militia in control of the enclave has put up stiff resistance to the advancing Turkish forces, and has fired rockets at Turkish border towns.

Ahmed al-Hamoud, an activist who arrived in the area after the rockets landed, says the projectiles damaged tents and caused civilians to flee.

Russian officials say they have repatriated the body of a fighter pilot whose jet was shot down over a rebel-held area in northern Syria.

Roman Filipov, the pilot of the Su-25 jet, died after he engaged in a gun battle with militants on the ground and blew himself up with a hand grenade.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Tuesday its military intelligence, with the help of Turkey, has repatriated the pilot’s body from Syria’s Idlib province and that Filipov would be laid to rest in southern Russia on Thursday.

The Russian military said earlier on Tuesday that they had asked Turkey to help recover the debris of the plane in order to establish the type of weapons that were used to shoot down the je

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of the Kurdish-controlled Syrian enclave under attack from Turkey to protest the offensive, now in its third week.

Rezan Hiddo, a local official, said hundreds of buses carrying Syrians from the country’s northeast and some members of the Yazidi minority from Iraq reached Afrin early Tuesday.

He says they came to show support for Afrin and to protest what he said were Turkey’s plans to change the demographics of the predominantly Kurdish enclave, replacing the local population with Arab and Islamist loyalists to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Hiddo says the protesters came from eastern Syria and passed through Syrian government-controlled areas where they were searched to ensure no armed people were among them.

Turkey launched its assault on Afrin on Jan.20. It says it wants to push the Kurdish militia in control of the enclave away from its borders. Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents fighting inside Turkey.

A U.N.-mandated investigator says his team is probing reports that bombs allegedly containing weaponized chlorine have been used on two recent occasions in Syria.

Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, says the commission has received multiple reports, which it is now investigating, of attacks in the town of Saraqeb, in Idlib province, and Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus.

In a statement, Pinheiro expressed deep concern over the escalating violence in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta which has killed scores of people and struck at least three hospitals in the past few days.

Categories: Top story,Warzone

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