x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UN observers enter Syrian town of Haffah after 8 days of fighting

The visit came hours after a suicide bomber detonated a van packed with explosives in a Damascus suburb, wounding 14 people and damaging one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines.

A photo released by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian soldiers inspecting the site of a car bomb in the Sayyida Zeinab suburb of Damascus yesterday.
A photo released by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian soldiers inspecting the site of a car bomb in the Sayyida Zeinab suburb of Damascus yesterday.

DAMASCUS // A team of United Nations observers entered the Syrian town of Haffah yesterday, after government troops overran the area and seized the territory back from rebels following battles that raged for eight days.

The visit came hours after a suicide bomber detonated a van packed with explosives in a Damascus suburb, wounding 14 people and damaging one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines, according to the state-run news agency and witnesses.

Sausan Ghosheh, a spokeswoman for the observers, confirmed monitors had entered Haffah. Witnesses travelling with the team described scenes of destruction, including burnt-out state buildings and a corpse in a street.

Observers had been trying to get into the town in Latakia province for a week. The mountain enclave was the scene of intense clashes between government forces and rebels holed up inside.

On Tuesday, an angry crowd hurled rocks and sticks at the UN mission's vehicles near Haffah, forcing them to turn back.

On Wednesday, authorities said they had "cleansed" the area of "armed terrorist groups" and urged UN observers "to check what terrorist groups have done."

Observers stopped by torched buildings belonging to the ruling Baath party's local branch as well as the burnt courthouse, post office and other government institutions, according to the witnesses.

UN observers have reported a steep rise in violence and a dangerous shift in tactics by both sides in Syria in recent weeks.

Car bombs and suicide bombings have become increasingly common as the uprising becomes increasingly militarised.