Syrian flag raised in Quneitra on Syrian side of Golan Heights
GOLAN HEIGHTS/AMMAN (Reuters) - Pro-Assad forces raised the Syrian flag in the largely ruined city of Quneitra on Thursday, regained from surrendering rebels as the government tightens its hold on the Syrian sector of the Golan Heights, strategic territory bordering Israel and Jordan. A Reuters photographer saw uniformed men raise the Syrian national flag and the black, white, green and red flag of President Bashar al-Assad's Baath Party in the long-abandoned city. No weapons were immediately visible
GOLAN HEIGHTS/AMMAN (Reuters) - Pro-Assad forces raised the Syrian flag in the largely ruined city of Quneitra on Thursday, regained from surrendering rebels as the government tightens its hold on the Syrian sector of the Golan Heights, strategic territory bordering Israel and Jordan.
A Reuters photographer saw uniformed men raise the Syrian national flag and the black, white, green and red flag of President Bashar al-Assad's Baath Party in the long-abandoned city. No weapons were immediately visible.
The photographer was reporting from a vantage point on the Israeli-occupied western section of the Golan Heights that overlooks Quneitra town.
Forces supporting Assad, backed by a major Russian air campaign, have been pushing into Quneitra province after an offensive last month that routed rebels in adjoining Deraa province who were once backed by Washington, Jordan and Gulf states.
Pro-Assad forces began pushing last week towards the border area close to the demilitarised zone adjoining the Israeli-occupied area after rebels surrendered large parts of Quneitra province.
Under the terms of a 1974 U.N. armistice that demilitarised much of the Golan, Israel withdrew from the abandoned capital of Quneitra province which it had razed to the ground after capturing it in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The destroyed town had fallen into rebel hands in 2014.
Pro-Assad forces have raised the flag on several other towns along the frontier, including Rafid that overlooks a U.N. observation post.
A Russian-brokered deal allows the return of Syrian army brigades that existed before the conflict began in 2011 to where they were stationed near the demilitarised zone.
So far there have been no signs of significant deployment of Syrian army troops to former posts near the frontier, according to a regional intelligence source.
Israel says it is concerned that Assad may defy the U.N. armistice, or let his Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements deploy there.
There is a strong presence in parts of Quneitra of Iranian-backed militias, the intelligence source said, adding that they have taken a low profile to avoid antagonising Russia which had given pledges to Israel to curb their influence,
The Israeli government has signalled it would not impede the Syrian army presence in Quneitra as long as it kept away from the demilitarised zone. However, Israel said it will continue to escalate attacks along its frontier and elsewhere in Syria where it suspects Iranian-backed forces are stationed.
Mainstream rebels are completing a handover of weapons and in some instances negotiating with Russian officers about enlisting in army units that serve as local forces, opposition source say.
Several hundred mainly jihadist rebels from a former al Qaeda offshoot have rejected the deals and accepted safe passage to opposition held parts of northern Syria.
Rebels say army and pro-government militias have been spreading checkpoints in former rebel held-towns in Quneitra province that have accepted return of state rule
The army is still battling a local Islamic State affiliate around the Yarmouk Basin nearby where the army said on Thursday its ground forces had made significant progress after nearly 10 days of relentless Russian-led aerial bombing.
(Reporting by Ammar Awad; Writing by Maayan Lubell and Suleiman al Khalidi; Editing by Stephen Farrell, Kevin Liffey and David Stamp)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States
BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.