Syria Deeply: The ‘bloodiest days’ in Eastern Ghouta, and U.S.-led coalition clashes with pro-government forces in Deir Ezzor

Syria Deeply
Feb. 9th, 2018
This Week in Syria.
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Coalition targets pro-Assad forces: The U.S.-led coalition said it thwarted an “unprovoked attack” by pro-government fighters on a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) base in Deir Ezzor province after midnight Wednesday. An unidentified U.S. official told CNN that some 500 pro-government forces were involved in the offensive on the SDF base, located 5 miles (8km) east of a “deconfliction” line in the Khusham region, east of the Euphrates River.

Pro-government forces “were likely seeking to seize oil fields in Khusham that had been a major source of revenue for Daesh from 2014 to 2017,” the unidentified U.S. official told CNN, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

The U.S. said at least 100 pro-government fighters were killed in the attack. Syrian state media said only “dozens” were killed and wounded by the strikes. An unidentified commander fighting in the military alliance supporting President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters that seven members of the pro-government forces were killed and 27 injured. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at more than 20. No U.S. troops and only one SDF fighter were injured in the confrontation.

It was not immediately clear whether the force comprised mostly Syrian troops or Iranian-backed militias.

Syrian state media said that “popular” fighting units were behind the attack, suggesting that it was not orchestrated by Syrian troops. An unidentified Hezbollah official told the Associated Press that pro-Assad forces known as the Popular Committees, as well as the Syrian National Defense Forces, came under attack by coalition forces.

Syria’s foreign ministry sent a letter to the United Nations on Thursday, calling the attack a “war crime” and demanding that the international community “condemn this massacre and hold the coalition responsible for it,” according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, Washington tried to ease tensions on Thursday, with Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White saying in a news briefing that the U.S. was not “looking for a conflict with the regime.” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the attacks were defensive and limited in nature, also dismissing claims that the U.S. was stumbling into a broader conflict in Syria, Reuters said.

Hundreds killed in East Ghouta: Syrian government attacks killed more than 228 people in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus since Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday, according to Agence France-Presse.

At least 80 people were killed in airstrikes on Tuesday alone, making it “the highest civilian toll in Syria in nearly nine months, and one of the bloodiest days for Eastern Ghouta in several years,” SOHR director Rami Abdulrahman told AFP.

The besieged suburbs, which are designated as a so-called de-escalation zone by Russia, Turkey and Iran are home to some 400,000 people who are trapped with almost no access to food and medicine.

“There is a misperception that the de-escalation areas have resulted in peace and stability. If anything, these have been serious escalation areas,” U.N.’s assistant secretary-general and humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Panos Moumtzis said, according to the the Guardian.

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