x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Syrian military conducts large-scale exercises

Meanwhile, Syrian forces pound Aleppo and Deir Ezzor provinces as at least 35 people were killed across the country, the Syrian Observatory reported.

DAMASCUS // Syria’s military began large-scale exercises simulating defence against outside “aggression,” the state-run news agency said today – an apparent warning to other countries not to intervene in the country’s crisis.

The exercise began yesterday with naval forces in a scenario where they repelled an attack from the sea, and will include air and ground forces over the next few days, the Sana agency said. State TV broadcast footage of missiles being fired from launch vehicles and warships.

Some in the Syrian opposition have appealed to the West for foreign forces to step in to stop bloodshed that they say has left more than 14,000 dead since an uprising against President Bashar Al Assad began in March 2011.

So far, the West has shown little appetite to intervene.

Special UN envoy Kofi Annan acknowledged in an interview published yesterday that the international community’s efforts to find a political solution to the escalating violence in Syria have failed.

“The evidence shows that we have not succeeded,” he told the French daily Le Monde.

Annan, the special envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League, is the architect of the most prominent international plan to end the crisis in Syria.

His six-point plan was to begin with a ceasefire in mid-April between government forces and rebels seeking to topple Mr Assad.

But the truce never took hold, and now the almost 300 U.N. observers sent to monitor the ceasefire are confined to their hotels because of the escalating violence.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said that time is running out on Syrian peace hopes and warned that the Syrian state could collapse.

Speaking in Japan, Ms Clinton said Mr Annan’s acknowledgement that his peace plan is failing “should be a wake-up call for everyone”.

She said last month was the deadliest for the Syrian people in the 16-month revolt, but added that the opposition “is getting more effective in defence of themselves and going on the offensive against the Syrian military.”

Dawood Rajiha, the defence minister, attended the manoeuvres and praised the “exceptional performance” of the naval forces which showed “a high level of combat training and ability to defend Syria’s shores against any possible aggression.”

“The navy carried out the training successfully, repelling the hypothetical attack and striking at given targets with high precision,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Syrian forces pounded Aleppo and Deir Ezzor provinces as at least 35 people were killed across the country, among them 17 civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The regime forces, under the cover of heavy shelling, attempted to storm the rebel strongholds of Qusayr and Rastan in Homs.

"Fierce clashes took place before dawn between regime forces and rebels in the vicinity of Qusayr, accompanied by heavy shelling on Qusayr and neighbouring villages as the regime tried to regain control," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

In Rastan, "the army carried out shelling in an attempt to storm the city and clashed with fighters from the rebel combat battalions, forcing the government troops to retreat," he said.

Both towns are strongholds of the rebel Free Syrian Army.