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Conflict Switzerland ‘extremely worried’ by assault in southwest Syria

Syrian displaced people near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, in Quneitra, Syria, on June 21, 2018

People forced to leave their homes due to the conflict in Deraa province stand next to belongings near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, in Quneitra, Syria, on June 21, 2018

(Reuters)

The fighting and humanitarian situations in Syria’s southwestern Deraa province, near the Jordanian border, as well as in the northern province of Idlib are alarming, Switzerland’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva warned on Tuesday. 

The same day, Syrian state media and a war monitor announced that the Syrian army had seized territory from rebels in the southwest of the country, marking the first major government advance in that area in years. The offensive has displaced tens of thousands of Syrians.

In a campaign to retake control of a strategic border crossing with Jordan, elite Syrian troops seized the towns of Busra al-Harir, the nearby Laja area and were now advancing further south. There are reports of government helicopters dropping barrel bombs on Deraa city.

Swiss ambassador Valentin Zellweger told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Switzerland was “extremely worried” by the situation in the southwest and in the rebel-held Idlib province, which borders Turkey and was hit by airstrikes earlier this month.

Zellweger denounced “violations of international law” in both regions and reminded parties of last February’s UN Security Council resolution calling for a 30-day truce.

Humanitarian response

At least 45,000 people have fled the fighting in the southwest, heading towards the border with Jordan, the UN said on Tuesday. It expects the number of displaced people to double as violence worsens. The UN says it has started to provide emergency aid for hundreds of thousands of people in need in the region inside Syria.

Zellweger also expressed concerns over “human rights abuses committed during sieges” in Syria’s conflict, now in its eights year. In April, Russian-backed government forces regained control of a rebel-held enclave east of Damascus in an important victory for President Bashar al-Assad.

Last week the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the Syrian government and rebel forces had both committed war crimes during the five-year government siege of the eastern Ghouta suburbs, as well as during a scaled-up offensive to retake the area from insurgents.

In a report published in Geneva last Wednesday, the panel criticised the "longest running siege in modern history," which affected some 265,000 people. The government siege ended in April, two months after pro-government forces launched a major offensive to capture the area, killing hundreds. 

SDA-ATS/sb

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