Syria’s air defence chief killed in attack

May 19, 2014 - 6:59:23 am
Syrian youth carrying pictures of President Bashar Al Assad during a rally in Teshrin stadium in Damascus, yesterday. Presidential election campaigns have begun on May 11 and would be halted 24 hours ahead of the elections scheduled to be held on June 3. 

Damascus: Syria’s air defence chief was killed during an offensive by President Bashar Al Assad’s forces against rebels east of Damascus, Islamist rebels and a monitoring group said.

They said General Hussein Ishaq died yesterday from wounds suffered on Saturday during the assault by Assad’s forces on the town of Mleiha which appears aimed at expanding the president’s control around the capital before a June 3 election.

The air defence forces which have a large base in Mleiha and are responsible for defending against air attacks, have played little part in the war with rebels who have no air power.

However, Ishaq is one of the most senior military officials to be killed in three years of conflict.

The last high-ranking casualty was Hilal Al Assad, a cousin of the president and regional head of the National Defence Force militia, who was killed two months ago in the Mediterranean province of Latakia. “We announce good news to the Islamic nation, of the killing of one of the leaders of unbelief, General Hussein Yaqoub Ishaq, head of the Air Defence Administration in Mleiha,” the Islamic Front said in a statement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, also reported Ishaq’s death in Mleiha, which is close to the road linking central Damascus to the international airport. Mleiha lies on the edge of the eastern Ghouta region - a mix of farmland and small towns which have formed a base for rebel fighters but which have been surrounded by Assad’s forces for more than a year.

The army, backed by Shia fighters from Iraq and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, has pushed back the rebels around Damascus and consolidated Assad’s grip over central Syria, including the Lebanese border the country’s third-largest city, Homs.

State media made no mention of Ishaq’s death but pro-Assad Internet sites said he was “martyred” in Mleiha.

North of Damascus, rebels killed 34 pro-Assad fighters when they attacked an army post near the town of Tel Malah in Hama province yesterday, the Observatory said.

Video footage released by the rebels showed the building - a school which they said the army had commandeered as a base - as well a captured armoured personnel carrier and a tank.

The area has changed hands several times during Syria’s protracted conflict, and the rebels said it was the third time they had taken control there.

The town of Tel Malah lies on a road linking two Christian towns in Hama province and is also close to several Alawite villages.

Assad’s family is from Syria’s Alawite minority, who mostly support the president, and many Christians also back him, fearing the increasingly radicalised Sunni Muslim rebels. The rebels who took over Tel Malah included fighters from the Nusra Front — Al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria — the Islamic Front.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, which erupted after Assad responded with force to protests against his rule three years ago.

After clawing back territory in the centre of the country Assad is now preparing for a presidential election which is widely expected to extend his 14-year rule for another seven-year term.


Court hears 30,000 ‘terror’ cases

DAMASCUS: A Syrian court has brought some 30,000 lawsuits over acts related to “terrorism” in the past two years, a pro-regime newspaper in the war-torn country said yesterday. Among those accused were around 300 citizens of Arab countries other than Syria, said Al Watan, which is close to the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

“Some 30,000 lawsuits are being heard by the court, including 300 cases (involving) Arab citizens,” the daily said, adding the charges were related to “carrying out terrorist acts”.

Since March 2011, the Assad regime has been fighting an uprising in which it accuses all of its opponents — ranging from non-violent activists to rebel fighters — of being “terrorists” backed mainly by the West, Turkey and the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Rights groups say tens of thousands of people in Syria are being arbitrarily held in jails where torture and ill-treatment are systematic. Among those charged with crimes of “terrorism” is journalist Mazen Darwish.

It was not clear from Al Watan’s report how many people were being accused in each lawsuit before the anti-terror court.

The daily quoted the court’s chief prosecutor, Ammar Bilal, as saying a law issued by Assad in July 2012 “allowed the public prosecutor to bring a case against anyone if there are any links between the person and crimes of terror”.

Bilal also said the court had released 1,500 people since the start of 2014. Among the charges that the court was dealing with were murder, financing “terrorism” and giving such attacks publicity.

Scores of media activists opposed to the Assad regime have been killed or jailed over the course of the Syrian conflict.

Bilal said the prosecution “plays the role of the plaintiff” in these cases, “given that it is the protector of society against these crimes”.AFP