In Damascus, a Mix of Resignation and Defiance as Israel Strikes

After years of a conflict that has killed thousands and displaced millions across the country, Syria’s capital is enjoying relative calm

Many in Damascus went on with their daily lives as Israeli launched a retaliatory attack against what it said were Iranian facilities.
Many in Damascus went on with their daily lives as Israeli launched a retaliatory attack against what it said were Iranian facilities. PHOTO:REUTERS

DAMASCUS, Syria—As warplanes roared across Syria’s sky, shoppers strolled in the capital’s markets and couples chatted in outdoor bars. The explosive thumps of the war nearby could be heard over a cover band performing an enthusiastic version of the 2014 pop hit “Happy.”

Ordinary Syrians in Damascus, a government stronghold, went on with their daily lives as Israel this week launched a large-scale retaliatory attack against what it called Iranian military assets in Syria—both defiant and resigned that the violence that has dragged on for seven years won’t end any time soon.

As the regime’s war against the rebels winds down, foreign powers including Iran and Israel are seeking to safeguard their interests, risking a wider war that could cause more damage to the country.

Many in Damascus appeared to support Iran and expressed hostility to Israel, but some described frustration at how foreign powers have joined a battleground that’s not their own.

“The entire world is contributing to the chaos,” said Abo Amin, a 60-year-old tailor. “They want to parcel up Syria and take our wealth, or oil and our gas.”

Damascus itself is enjoying relative calm as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in recent months escalated its offensive to secure the surrounding areas. Israel has watched with concern as regime backer Iran has deepened its presence, culminating in this week’s attacks, a rare direct confrontation in one of the longest rivalries in the region.

An image released on May 10 purportedly shows Syrian air defense systems intercepting Israeli missiles over Damascus's airspace.Images
An image released on May 10 purportedly shows Syrian air defense systems intercepting Israeli missiles over Damascus’s airspace.Images PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The Syrian government claimed its air defense had intercepted “a large number” of the Israeli missiles. Residents were united against what they say is Israeli hostility.

“We wanted to cheer and clap but it was late and we did not want to wake the neighbors up,” said Jalal, 50, who was standing on a balcony watching what appeared to be missile traces later in the night. “We are used to them striking us,” said Mr. Jalal, who declined to give his full name.

Relations between Syria and Israel have been tense since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, but have worsened in recent years after Israel launched dozens of strikes against alleged Iranian assets in the country.

Many even celebrated the Syrian government’s claim that its forces carried out a rocket attack on Israel, seeing it as a welcome response to Israeli aggression they said had gone unanswered for too long. The Syrian regime has sought to project strength, but its military forces have been drained and it relies heavily on Iran and Russia for support.

Iran’s government hasn’t responded to Israeli allegations that its forces had fired the rockets, but a member of its parliament, Mohammad-Javad Nobandegani, called the allegation “completely false.”

“We hit them back, and I am very proud of that,” said Abdallah, 18, who works at a clothing store in Damascus’s old city.

In Damascus, many locals jokingly deride Syria’s United Nations representative, Bashar Jaafari, for insisting that, “We reserve the right to reply,” to Israeli attacks on its soil without actually replying.

“Before this, there were so many attacks and no response,” said Mehiar Ali, a 31-year-old sculptor who grew up in Italy and recently returned to Damascus. “Of course I’m against violence. But let’s be honest, the approach so far hasn’t improved anything.”

Most people continued their daily lives as they have while government forces and Islamist militants fight in the nearby Yarmouk suburb. Warplanes traverse the sky daily, though the traffic intensified after the Israeli attacks.

Following the attacks, coffee shops were thick with shisha smoke and markets bustled with families shopping for the upcoming Ramadan holy month. Children raced on bicycles in the old city where most of the historic architecture remains intact.

The U.S. and Israel are concerned about Iran exploiting the instability from Syria’s war to spread its influence, building up military capabilities that will help it confront Israel militarily. Some analysts and officials worry that President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the multilateral nuclear accord could be a potential trigger for more violent clashes in the Middle East.

“Iran is a friendly state that is helping us out along with Russia,” Abdallah said. “But if Israel and Iran want to fight, they shouldn’t do it on our land, but on their own.”

Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at sune.rasmussen@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ

Israel accuses Iran-backed forces of Golan Heights attack

The Israeli army has said Iranian-backed forces fired 20 rockets at their military forces in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights area. Syrian state media reported that Israeli planes targeted locations in Syria.

    
Israeli tanks in Golan Heights | Iran greift Golanhöhen an (picture-alliance/Xinhua News Agency)

The Israeli military on Thursday said Iranian forces in Syria had fired 20 rockets at Israeli front-line military positions in Golan Heights.

Israel’s military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said Iran’s Al Quds force fired the rockets at several Israeli bases, though he would not say how Israel determined the Iranian involvement.

The incoming attack triggered air raid sirens in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, which was captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day war and was annexed by Israel in 1981.

Residents spent the night in shelters, but schoolchildren went to class as normal the morning after.

Retaliation

The attack came one night after Syria accused Israel of striking one of its military bases south of Damascus, which the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said killed 15 people including eight Iranians.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said his country would not allow Iran to turn Syria into a “frontline base” against Israel, adding that none of the Iranian rockets struck inside Israeli-held territory, and they either fell short or were shot down.
Read more: Damascus residents reveal how Syria’s conflict has altered their lives

Watch video00:56

Israel’s 1967 Six-Day War

Israeli war planes target Syria

The incident follows an increase in tensions between Israel and Syria, where Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces have been helping Damascus to fight rebels in a seven-year-old conflict.

Conricus said Israel had retaliated for the attack on its outposts in the strategic Golan Heights plateau, which it partly occupies, without providing further details.

Read more: US-led strikes on Syria: A move with unpredictable consequences

The Syrian military was later quoted as saying its air defenses had confronted Israeli rocket fire on its territory, according to state media.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported that Israeli warplanes had targeted Syrian territories with rockets and that Syrian air defenses had responded.

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

SANA reported that the Israeli warplanes were shooting the rockets from inside the occupied Palestinian territories and targeting the City of Baath in Quneitra province, which was shelled shortly after midnight.

law/rc (AP, Reuters)

COURTESY: DW

Iranian forces fire rockets at Israeli military in first direct attack ever, Israel’s army says

Israeli tanks take position near the Syrian border in the Golan Heights on May 9, 2018. (Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images)
 May 9 at 9:54 PM 

 Confrontation between Israel and Iranian forces in Syria sharply escalated early Thursday morning as Israel said Iran launched a barrage of 20 missiles toward its positions in the Golan Heights.

Heavy military jet activity, explosions and air-defense fire could be heard throughout the night in the area. An Israeli military spokesman said the rockets were fired by Iran’s Quds Force, a special forces unit affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, marking the first time Iranian forces have ever fired directly on Israeli troops.

The Israeli military said several of the rockets had been intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system, and sparks could be seen as they broke up in the sky.

No one was injured on the Israeli side, the military said.

The Syrian state news agency, however, reported that it was Israel that had fired on targets near the town of Quneitra, located just east of the Golan Heights. Syrian air defenses had responded, it said. It later reported a “new wave” of attacks.

The Israeli miliary said it “views this event with great severity and remains prepared for a wide variety of scenarios.”

Air-raid sirens sounded in the Golan Heights shortly after midnight. In nearby Tiberias, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, explosions could be heard above the music of bars entertaining busloads of tourists. The explosions were followed by sporadic fire into the early morning hours.

With Syria’s civil war raging just across the border, Israeli residents of the Golan Heights have become used to the air-raid sirens and errant fire. But recent days have been different, and war jitters have spread across Israel.

On Wednesday, it had seemed like business as usual on the Golan, a plateau that rises dramatically behind the Sea of Galilee, captured from Syria by Israel in the 1967 war. Children went to school and wineries welcomed groups of tourists.

But Israel trucked in tanks and additional air defense batteries, and the military chief of staff touched down in a helicopter to tour the area to assess the army’s readiness.

On Tuesday, an airstrike attributed to Israel reportedly killed eight Iranian soldiers after Israel said it had detected unusual Iranian troop movements across the border and had intelligence about a possible attack from Syrian soil.

Iran had threatened to retaliate against Israel after an airstrike in April that killed seven Iranian soldiers at a base in Syria.

President Trump’s decision on Tuesday to pull the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran has given Tehran less reason to exercise caution in confronting Israel, analysts said.

“U.S. withdrawal has accelerated the escalation between Israel and Iran,” said Ofer Zalzberg, and analyst at International Crisis Group. “Iran faces less restraint in terms of the timing for a retaliation,” he said, adding that Iran probably had been waiting for the U.S. decision before formulating its next move.

While Trump was in Washington announcing the withdrawal, Golan residents were being told Tuesday to open up their bomb shelters — the first time the army has instructed them to do so during seven years of civil war in nearby Syria.

At Kibbutz Ein Zivan, a few miles from the Syrian border, David Spelman had pulled up a text on his phone sent from the regional council just minutes after Trump finished speaking. It instructed residents to be “watchful and prepared.”

A populace with a pioneering spirit, Golan residents seemed accustomed to being on the fringe, close to Israel’s enemies. The Golan Heights was officially annexed by Israel in 1981, but that action has not been internationally recognized.

“You have different level of worries, but people are pretty seasoned here,” said Spelman, a former regional council member who has lived on the kibbutz since it was established in 1968.

“There are certain points of time that you have to face things head on, and Netanyahu is doing it,” he said of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It’s a really tense time,” said one regional council official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss preparations. “We are telling the citizens to still have regular life; children are going to school. But our job and the army’s job and people involved in security, it’s 24 hours. It’s something a little more this time.”

At a winery on Ein Zivan, American tourists said Wednesday they were unaware that the U.S. government had told its employees to stay away from the Golan until the situation stabilizes.

“Seems like much ado about nothing,” one said after a tasting.

Amid warnings of a potential attack, some 62 percent of Israelis think a war is imminent, according to a poll commissioned Wednesday by Israel’s Hadashot news channel.

“Iran will retaliate through proxies, sooner or later, against Israeli military sites in the north,” Gary Samore, a former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, said at a security conference in Herzliya, Israel.

But he said that no side is interested in a full-scale conflict, and there is debate in Iran over how to proceed. He said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wants to avoid confrontation because he is trying to preserve the nuclear deal with world powers. But Iranian military commanders want to retaliate for the death of Iranian soldiers.

Rouhani said his government remains committed to a nuclear deal with Europe, Russia and China, despite the U.S. decision to withdraw, but is also ready to ramp up uranium enrichment if the agreement no longer produces benefits.

Netanyahu had been a leading advocate of a U.S. withdrawal, but his military chiefs had been more cautious. He met with Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday in Moscow. Russia, which is backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces alongside Iran, is seen as key in preventing ­Iranian-Israeli tensions from escalating.

Israel, determined not to let Iran expand its military presence in Syria, has struck over the border at least 100 times during the war, extending its targets from suspected arms convoys to Iranian-linked military bases.

“Iran is not fully inside. It has not yet succeeded in building what it wants to build there, and now is the time for Israel to push back,” said Chagai Tzuriel, director general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry.

Ruth Eglash in Herzliya, Israel, contributed to this report.

Israel Prepares for Possible Attack: Iron Dome Missile Defense Systems Deployed in North

Israeli officials believe airstrike on Syria has delayed expected Iranian attack on Israel – but hasn’t dented Iranians’ motivation to carry it out

 

An Iron Dome anti-missile system can be seen near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
An Iron Dome anti-missile system can be seen near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERThe Israeli army has prepared for possible rocket fire towards Israel with plans for a number of potential responses after a strike in Syria was attributed to Israel hours after U.S. President Donald Trumpannounced U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear accord with Iran.

To really understand the Middle East – subscribe to Haaretz

As part of its preparation, the Israel Defense Forces reinforced its aerial defense systems in the north and deployed additional Iron Dome batteries.

Israeli defense officials believe Tuesday’s airstrike on Syria has delayed an expected Iranian attack on Israel, but hasn’t dented the Iranians’ motivation to carry it out.

>> Syria blames Israel for strike near Damascus; 7 Iranians said killed ■ Israel’s preventative actions thwart Iran’s revenge from Syria – for now | Analysis

skip – Footage purportedly showing a strike south of Damascus attributed to Israel

Footage purportedly showing a strike south of Damascus attributed to Israel – דלג

The airstrike on Syria, which Israel hasn’t officially claimed responsibility for though it is widely seen as an Israeli operation, targeted Iranian missiles aimed at Israel.

On Wednesday, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior IDF officers toured the north to inspect the army’s preparations for the possible Iranian attack. While there, senior IDF officers briefed mayors on the situation and its expected ramifications for civilians living in the Golan Heights.

Syria said Tuesday that Israel carried out an attack on a military base south of Damascus, which was used by Iranian forces. According to reports, Israeli fighter jets entered Syrian airspace and struck Iranian missiles aimed at Israel.

>> >> Israel will bitterly regret Bibi’s bad bet on Putin | Opinion ■ Trump quits Iran deal: A career-defining moment for Netanyahu that may have a price | Analysis

skip – Israel on high alert amid Iran tensions, open bomb shelters near Syria border

Israel on high alert amid Iran tensions, open bomb shelters near Syria border – דלג

Israel on high alert amid Iran tensions, open bomb shelters near Syria border

The Israeli military said it identified what it called ‘unusual movements’ of Iranian forces in Syria, and believed those forces were preparing for an imminent retaliation against Israel.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Israeli military ordered communities in the Golan Heights, bordering Syria, to open public bomb shelters. Intelligence officers and other specialized forces have been called up, though reserve combat units have not been called up.

The IDF believes the Iranians’ deployment in Syria gives them only limited capabilities against Israel. Consequently, its assessment is that Iran will retaliate by firing short-range missiles or rockets at the Golan Heights.

According to this assessment, Iranians don’t actually want to kill Israeli civilians; Iran understands that killing civilians would provoke a harsher response than attacking Israeli soldiers.

A drop in the ocean

An Israeli soldier stands on a tank as another jumps off it near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Golan Heights, Israel May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
An Israeli soldier stands on a tank as another jumps off it near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Golan Heights, Israel May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

The IDF’s effort to prevent an Iranian strike isn’t necessarily for fear of military escalation in the Golan. Israeli intelligence assessments say that Iran plans a limited attack on a military target – a move that could avenge the humiliation of Israel’s strike on Syria’s T4 airbase last month without sparking a broader war.

A defense official told Haaretz that Israel’s main concern over the expected Iranian strike isn’t the limited, one-time launch of missiles at Israel, but a situation in which every Israeli strike in Syria is met with an Iranian strike on Israel.

“The situation today is one of who’s deterring the other more,” the official said. “Hitting missiles or other systems is a tactical measure, but the principal significance of these strikes is that we operate both before and after [any Iranian attack]; we won’t allow the rules in the region to be changed.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that, in the long term, Israel has limited ability to preserve its deterrence against Iran, determine the rules of the game and be the one to set red lines.

 “The strikes on the Iranian missiles in Syria are a drop in the ocean. Even the army understands that this won’t prevent missiles and other systems from arriving [in the area], and we’re seeing that happen,” he said.

Iran has several allies in Syria that it could use to carry out a strike against Israel. First, Hezbollah troops are still present in Syria, though in smaller numbers than at the peak of the Syrian civil war. These troops are stationed in the foothills of Mount Hermon. The IDF’s working assumption is that any arms in Hezbollah’s possession are arms Iran can use against Israel. Hezbollah’s forces in Syria don’t have long-range ballistic missiles, but they do have short- and medium-range rockets and missiles, which, because of their location close to the border, can reach much of Israel.

There are also Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite militias in Syria comprising tens of thousands of fighters, mainly from Afghanistan. For Iran, they serve as cannon fodder. But they take their orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force.

Iran's ballistic missiles.

Finally, Iran has its own fighters in Syria. What most concerns Israel are the senior Revolutionary Guards air force officers, who serve as advisors to the Iranian-sponsored forces in Syria and are the guiding force behind Iran’s military entrenchment in the country. They are the ones responsible for carrying out any Iranian strike on Israel.

The IDF believes Israel’s level of intelligence about Iran’s operations in Syria has surprised Iran. Israel has a fairly clear picture of what Iran is doing there, which is how Israel, apparently, obtained advanced warning of Iran’s preparations for a strike on Israel on Tuesday.

But Iran’s difficulties in carrying out a rocket or missile strike on Israel are liable to lead it to try a different tactic, such as getting its militias in Syria to start a violent incident near the border fence, IDF officers said. The army is therefore preparing for anything from a missile strike – possibly on IDF forces near the fence – to an infiltration of armed fighters across the fence with the goal of penetrating an IDF base. Its preparations for these possibilities have included altering the routine of soldiers near the fence and changing the staffing levels in nonessential military facilities in the vicinity

In Syria, Iran recruits Afghan teenagers to fight its war

Foreign fighters are being sucked into the Syrian conflict. And many, who are sent to the frontline, are barely out of their teens. DW’s Naomi Conrad met one of them.

    
A Shiite fighter in Hatita (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J.al-Helo)

When the Revolutionary Guard offered Mahdi a choice — fight in Syria or be shipped to the border with Afghanistan, rife with Taliban fighters — it seemed a no-brainer: It was 2014 and Mahdi, a teenager who’d never finished school and had fled from Kabul to Iran hoping to find a better life, had never heard of Syria, let alone of the brutal war that had been raging there for over three years.

“I was afraid to die and so I chose Syria”, he told DW. Returning to war-torn Afghanistan wasn’t an option. And, he added, the money was almost too good to be true: $700 (€585) a month, a fortune for Mahdi who was working as a tailor in an Iranian factory and who was picked up by the Iranian police in a crackdown on undocumented Afghan migrants.

In 2014, Iran was stepping up its support for President Bashar Assad. And that included sending more ground troops, many of them Afghan migrants like Mahdi.

He was being held with dozens of other Afghans in the police station and, as far as he recalls, they all opted to fight in Syria.

In the end, he said ruefully, “that wasn’t a very good decision.”

A young Afghan fighter in Damascus (Privat)Mahdi is still haunted by the memories of war and death

Mahdi, a young, slight Afghan man with carefully coiffed short hair, who now shares a flat in Berlin with a fellow Afghan, speaks of war and death in the detached way of those who have seen too much to process. He admitted that he tries to keep the memories at bay by cutting himself, over and over again. But that, he said, doesn’t always work.

HRW: Children as young as 14 recruited to fight in Syria

Mahdi is one of many thousands of undocumented Afghans in Iran, many of them Shiite Hazara, recruited by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps to fight alongside Assad’s forces in the Syrian war to defend Shia sacred sites in Syria. Others are lured by a steady salary and legal residence in the country, important incentives for refugees who live in fear of being deported at any moment. Many, like Mahdi, are coerced to fight in the Fatemiyoun division, a group made up entirely of Afghan fighters, mostly from the Hazara Shiite minority, which has long faced violence and persecution in the region.

Humaira Ayoubi, an Afghan parliament member from Farah province that shares a border with Iran, said the recruitment in Iran was happening “publicly and fearlessly.” It is widely known in Afghanistan that Iran was targeting poor Hazaras, but no one wanted to talk about it, she told DW.

Iranians are also recruiting in Afghanistan itself, DW has learnt: Several Fatemiyoun veterans and Afghans who say they were approached by recruiters, independently of each other pointed to an unofficial recruiting center in western Kabul, where most residents are Hazara. The center, according to at least four people that DW spoke to, constantly changes its location.

Watch video03:48

Up close: the US fight against ‘Islamic State’

“They target poor Afghan Hazara Shiites in Iran and also in Afghanistan and send them to Syria. In return, the fighters receive money, protection and in some cases a chance to meet the Iranian leaders in person,” Ayoubi said.

According to a report published by Human Rights Watch last year, children as young as 14 are serving in the Fatemiyoun division. “Under international law, recruiting children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities is a war crime”, as the authors of the report contend.

Mahdi, too, was underage, 14, maybe 15, he can’t be sure. His mother died when he was born and his father, an addict, abandoned him early, so he doesn’t know his exact date of birth.

But, he told DW, “the Revolutionary Guards knew I wasn’t 18.”

Many teenage recruits

Mahdi says he was trained for a month in Iran and then sent to Damascus with a group of other Afghan recruits, many of them underage.

Soon, they were shuttled from one frontline to the next: Maliha, Deraa, Hamra — the names of battles in a war that meant little to him, other than a blur of memories of exploding bombs, fighting road to road, and house to house and the hope that he, too, would just die, “so it would all go away.”

Today, when he recalls his time in Syria, he methodically rubs his hands across his temples, as the headache creeps up on him, as it does whenever he delves into his time in Syria.

Watch video12:00

Children of War: Life after Aleppo

After nine months, it all came to a sudden, excruciating end: The rocket that killed his best friend Abbas, smashed his face and legs. After he was patched up in Syria, he was airlifted to a hospital in Teheran, which, he says, was full of wounded Afghan fighters.

When he was released, he withdrew his salary, almost $7,000, and paid a smuggler to take him to Europe.

He didn’t know much about Europe, he admits, and even less about Germany. All he had was a vague notion that it was a safe place, where people weren’t forced to fight in wars.

He was desperate to go.

Read moreCan foreign ‘Islamic State’ fighters’ kids return to Europe?

“I was young and not so smart”

A group of Syrian fighters (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Voskresenskiy)Fatemiyoun unit fighters in Syria

Outside his flat, a group of women and children clutching plastic bags were waiting in line in front a local food bank run by the church in central Berlin that’s providing Mahdi and another Afghan family a place to stay. The laughter of a group of children in an adjoining nursery wafted up through the open window of the spacious, but scarcely furnished flat. From here, the Syrian war seemed impossibly far away.

But Mahdi’s arms, crisscrossed with countless scars that merge into an intricate design of gnarled tissue, tell a different story: that of the nightmares that creep up on, of his best friend being blown to pieces in front of his eyes, of the constant terror of the life in the war zone, when each day might prove to be the last, like it was for at least six of his closest friends.

Now, he is waiting for the German authorities to decide his fate. Mahdi’s chances of asylum, though, appear to be slim, as Germany has deemed parts of Afghanistan as “safe” and has stepped up deportations of Afghans.

Read more: Mass deportation of rejected Afghan asylum seekers from Germany imminent: report

Looking back, does he think he made the right decision when the Revolutionary Guard presented him with the two options? Mahdi shrugs: Maybe fighting in Syria was a mistake.

But: “I was young and not so smart.”

Masood Saifullah contributed to this report.

COURTESY: DW

City beneath city: RT films massive network of militant-built tunnels under Syria’s Douma (VIDEO)

The Syrian military has been combing through a vast network of tunnels built by jihadists in Douma, not far from Damascus. RT Arabic filmed vehicles easily fitting in the passages and asked locals how the militants treated them.

Located 15 meters deep under the surface, the massive tunnels are supported by metal pillars and are paneled with some sort of liner plates, creating a subway look. They stretch for kilometers under the town, located in the area of eastern Ghouta, forming an entire city beneath the city.

To complete the set, the tunnels are equipped with electricity, parking lots and workshops. They are so big that a minivan could easily move through them, as seen in the footage. The military discovered that the tunnels were specifically used to stockpile machinery and vehicles.

The militants forced the locals to build the tunnels for them by starving the people, who refused to work, Douma residents told RT. “They starved us, they harassed us,” one man said, adding that the extremists also made captives and civilians work on the tunnels. “They [the militants] would not feed those, who refused to work,” he said.

READ MORE: Moscow slams western media ‘disinformation campaign’ about OPCW experts being denied entry to Douma

The Russian military said they found a chemical laboratory operated by militants in central Douma soon after the city’s liberation. The facility, located in the basement of a residential building, had some sophisticated equipment, including an industrial chemical reactor, which the military said was used by the jihadists to create toxic agents. Vast stockpiles of various chemicals were also found in the laboratory.

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Courtesy: RT

G7 to study Russia’s ‘malign behavior’

The G7 is to more closely examine Russia’s attempts to sow “doubt and confusion” abroad, Britain’s foreign secretary has said. The announcement was made on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting in Canada.

Canada - G7 foreign ministers stand for a photo in Toronto (picture-alliance/dpa/XinHua/Zou Zheng)

The Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries have agreed to set up a working group to study Russia’s “malign behavior,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Monday.

G7 foreign ministers made the agreement, which has come amid heightened tensions with Russia over Syria and Ukraine, during a two-day meeting in Canada ahead of a G7 leaders’ summit in June.

Read more: G7 not planning swift return for Russia

What Johnson said:

  • Johnson said: “What we decided yesterday was that we were going to set up a G7 group that would look at Russian malign behavior in all its manifestations – whether it’s cyber warfare, whether it’s disinformation, assassination attempts, whatever it happens to be and collectively try to call it out.”
  • “Russia is so unbelievably clever at kind of sowing doubt and confusion and spreading all this fake news and trying to muddy the waters.”
  • “We think there’s a role for the G7 in just trying to provide some clarity.”

Read more: G7 gives Africa the cold shoulder

Canada - G7 meeting in Toronto - German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks to reporters (Imago/photothek/T. Trutschel)German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters: “There will be no political solution in Syria without Russia”

From G8 to G7: The current G7 countries decided in 2014 to expel Russia from what was at the time called the G8 after Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine. Current members include: The US, UK, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and Japan.

Russia’s transgressions: G7 countries have in recent years criticized Moscow’s foreign policy, including its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, its intervention in the Syrian civil war and its cyber attacks on the US and European countries.

US sends deputy: The US was represented at the G7 meeting in Canada by Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan. Mike Pompeo, who has been nominated to be the next US Secretary of State, could not attend because he still needs to be confirmed by the US Senate.

Watch video00:36

G7 to Russia: Help end war in Syria

Iran factor: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on the sidelines of the meeting that Germany and France would push Trump to stay in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the next few weeks. The deal’s future is uncertain after US President Donald Trump set May 12 as a deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the agreement or reapply US sanctions on Iran.

What happens next? Government leaders including US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are set to meet for a two-day summit on June 8-9 in the eastern Canadian town of Charlevoix.

Read more: France’s Emmanuel Macron urges Donald Trump not to ditch Iran deal

Watch video01:17

G7 spotlight on Africa

amp/rt (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

COURTESY: DW

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