Thursday, May 24, 2018

Syrian revolt simmers outside capital

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian rebels ignited a new front Friday outside the capital, Damascus, in the first significant fighting there since regime forces swept over the suburbs weeks ago. The clashes highlight the shifting nature of Syria's conflict, with rebels lying in wait to rise up when the regime turns its guns elsewhere.

The return of violence to the Damascus suburbs raises questions about how long troops can control areas before they re-erupt. Though government forces have shown they can crush armed fighters, the regime has appeared unable to conduct major offensives in more than one place at once.

That points to the likelihood that a conflict that is now a year old and is estimated to have killed more than 8,000 could grind on.

Diplomatic efforts have so far brought no result, but U.N. envoy Kofi Annan told the Security Council in a briefing Friday that he was determined to continue his mission and would return to Damascus. Talks last week between Annan and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus saw no progress in attempts to cobble together peace talks between the two sides. Assad and much of the opposition spurned Annan's appeal for talks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow and Beijing were pressing Assad to cooperate and that other countries should do the same with the opposition, which he accused of stonewalling the U.N. mission.

Syria's Foreign Ministry said in a letter sent to the U.N. Security Council on Friday that Damascus will continue its crackdown. But the ministry also said it will cooperate with Annan.

As the battles continue on the ground, Syria's diplomatic isolation has grown. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain announced they will close their embassies in Syria, months after they withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said. Turkey urged its citizens in Syria to return home Friday, saying some consular services will be halted in Damascus next week.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said his country is considering creating a buffer zone inside Syria to help protect people fleeing.

In a further attempt to cut off Assad's regime, Washington told the Iraqi government that Iran may be ferrying weapons to its ally Syria with cargo flights over Iraq.

The United States asked Baghdad to take steps to cut off its airspace to any such flights.

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