Government forces bombarded rebel districts near Damascus yesterday in a sustained counterattack to stem rebel gains around Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s power base.
The fighting around Damascus has led foreign airlines to suspend flights and prompted the UN and EU to reduce their presence in the capital, adding to a sense that the fight is closing in.
The army fightback came a day after a foreign ministry spokesman was reported to have defected in a potentially embarrassing blow to the government.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 200 people were killed across Syria on Monday, more than 60 of them around Damascus. Al-Assad’s forces bombarded districts to the southeast of the capital yesterday, near the international airport, and in the rebel bastion of Daraya to the southwest.
The mainly Sunni Muslim rebel forces have made advances in recent weeks, seizing military bases, including some close to Damascus, from forces loyal to al-Assad, who is from Syria’s Alawite minority linked to Shiite Islam.
Faced with creeping rebel gains across the north and east of the country, and the growing challenge around the capital, al-Assad has increasingly resorted to air strikes against the insurgents.
Amid talk that troops had also moved chemical weapons, US President Barack Obama again warned al-Assad against using them.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said on Monday it would never use chemical weapons against Syrians. The statement was issued by an unnamed ministry source after the disappearance of spokesman Jihad Makdissi.
A diplomat in the Middle East said Makdissi had left the country and defected, while the British-based observatory said it had information that he flew from Beirut to London on Monday afternoon.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said US concerns about Syria’s intentions regarding the use of chemical weapons were increasing, prompting Washington to make contingency plans.
“The world is watching,” Obama said.
“The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable, and if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons there will be consequences and you will be held accountable,” he said.
‘HERO OF THE ERA’: President Tsai Ing-wen expressed deep sadness at Lee’s passing, and told the government to assist his family with all their needs Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) passed away at 7:24pm yesterday at Taipei Veterans General Hospital. He was 97 years old. The hospital stated the cause of death as septic shock and multiple organ failure. Lee had been hospitalized there since February, when he choked on a mouthful of milk at home. He was later diagnosed with pulmonary infiltrates and aspiration pneumonia. The hospital said that Lee had been treated with antibiotics, but that his health had not improved, as his advanced age and diabetes had inhibited his immune system and led to recurring infections. During his hospitalization, Lee underwent daily kidney dialysis, which removed
‘WEAK POSITIVE’: The man arrived in Taiwan in May and was quarantined for two weeks, Chen Shih-chung said, adding that he might be infected a long time ago The government is considering tightening mask-wearing rules again in light of a potential domestic COVID-19 infection, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said yesterday. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) confirmed seven new COVID-19 cases, six of which are imported. The other case involves a Belgian engineer who entered Taiwan on May 3 and remained in quarantine until May 17, said Chen, who heads the CECC. Although the source of infection has yet to be identified, the case could end the nation’s record of not having any domestic cases in the previous 110 days. The Belgian, in his 20s, is a technician
RECEIVING TREATMENT: President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President William Lai and Premier Su Tseng-chang visited former president Lee Teng-hui yesterday morning Taipei Veterans General Hospital yesterday rebutted speculation that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had died a day earlier, saying that he was weak, but receiving treatment. The hospital said the 97-year-old Lee was not in good condition and needed ongoing care, adding that if there are any changes in his condition, it would make those public. The comments came after rumors emerged online on Tuesday that Lee had died after being hospitalized since early February. Soon after the unsubstantiated rumors emerged, reporters started flocking to the hospital seeking confirmation. Lee was admitted to Taipei Veterans General Hospital on Feb. 8 after choking while drinking
THAI CASE UPDATE: Twenty-nine close contacts of the worker have been tested with two types of tests, including 18 dorm mates, with 28 negative results so far Five imported cases of COVID-19, four from the Philippines and one from Hong Kong, were reported yesterday, bringing the total confirmed cases in Taiwan to 467, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday. The four returning from the Philippines were on the same flight, and the local health department has identified 15 people who had direct contact with them — including 10 passengers in the two rows in front or behind them, who have been put under 14-day home isolation, and five crew members, who will practice 14-day self-health management, said Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang