Assad troops battle rebels near airports, Golan

Updated 16 February 2013
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Assad troops battle rebels near airports, Golan

BEIRUT: Clashes erupted at dawn on Saturday around Aleppo airport and a nearby airbase, as Syrian troops bombarded the Golan cease-fire zone bordering Israel in response to rebel attacks, a watchdog said.
The rebel fighters “clashed with government troops in the vicinity of Aleppo international airport and Nayrab military airbase on Saturday morning as shelling was heard in the area,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The insurgents are pressing for more gains in the northern province of Aleppo after seizing Al-Jarrah military airport and a military complex tasked with securing the international airport this week.
They see the capture of the airports as a way of seizing large amounts of ammunition and to put out of action warplanes used by the regime to bombard rebel-held areas.
The latest violence in the area comes after more than 150 combattants from both sides were killed in the battle for Base 80, the now rebel-held military complex that was tasked with protecting the strategic airports.
Also on Saturday, fighting erupted in the Golan Heights as rebels overran a military police checkpoint at Khan Arnabeh, a town just beyond the outer cease-fire line along the demilitarised zone bordering Israel, said the Observatory.
The rebels captured weapons and a tank after seizing the checkpoint, and blew up the tank when regime forces began to retaliate.
The army shelled Khan Arnabeh and the nearby village of Jubata Al-Khashab, located inside the cease-fire zone.
The Golan has been tense since the outbreak two years ago of the anti-regime uprising in Syria that has turned into a bloody insurgency, at times spilling over with mortar and gunfire into the Israeli-held zone.
Regime forces meanwhile killed a key commander of the jihadist Al-Nusra Front on Friday night, also losing seven of their own men when they attacked his safehouse near the rebel-held city of Shadadeh, said the Observatory.
The Al-Nusra Front seized Shadadeh on Thursday after three days of fierce fighting and car bomb attacks that left more than 100 troops dead.
The clashes come a day after 170 people — 39 civilians, 53 soldiers and 78 rebels — were killed nationwide, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, medics and lawyers on the ground for its reports.


Daesh ‘caliphate’ on brink of defeat in Syria as Trump urges Europe to do more

Updated 27 min 27 sec ago
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Daesh ‘caliphate’ on brink of defeat in Syria as Trump urges Europe to do more

  • “The Caliphate is ready to fall,” he said in a Tweet
  • US-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture Daesh’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates

NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria: US-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture Daesh’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates, the battle commander said on Saturday, bringing its self-declared caliphate to the brink of total defeat as US President Donald Trump spoke of “100 percent victory”.
Jiya Furat said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had cornered the remaining militants in a neighborhood of Baghouz village near the Iraqi border, under fire from all sides.
“In the coming few days, in a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Daesh.
He was speaking after said on Friday there would be “great announcements” about Syria over the next 24 hours.
Trump on Saturday said the caliphate was “ready to fall and that the United States was asking European allies to take back more than 800 Daesh fighters captured in Syria and put them on trial.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” he said in a Tweet. “The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them...
“....The US does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go. We do so much, and spend so much - Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!”
Trump has sworn to pull US forces from Syria after Daesh’s territorial defeat, raising questions over the fate of Washington’s Kurdish allies and Turkish involvement in northeast Syria.
As the SDF advanced under heavy US airstrikes in recent days, a stream of civilians fled the few square miles of hamlets and farmland that remain within Daesh’s ‘caliphate’, along with defeated jihadists trying to escape unnoticed.
Though Daesh fighters still hold out in a pocket of central Syria’s remote desert, and have gone underground as sleeper cells in Iraqi cities, able to launch new attacks, their territorial rule is, for now, almost over.
It ends a project launched from the great mediaeval mosque of Mosul in northern Iraq in 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seized advantage of regional chaos to proclaim himself caliph, suzerain over all Muslim people and land.
He set up a governing system with courts, a currency and flag that at its height stretched from northwest Syria almost to Baghdad, encompassing some two million inhabitants.
Human shields
But its reign of terror over minorities and other perceived enemies, marked by massacres, sexual slavery and the beheading of hostages, drew a forceful international military response that pushed it steadily back from 2015.
Most of the fighters left in Baghouz are foreigners, the SDF has said, among the thousands drawn by Baghdadi’s promise of a new jihadist utopia straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border and expunging national borders.
All that remains, said Furat, is an encircled pocket some 700 meters square. “Thousands of civilians are still trapped there as human shields,” he said.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the SDF had taken control of all of Baghouz after the jihadists there surrendered. SDF officials denied this.
Spokesman Mustafa Bali said the SDF had caught several militants trying to flee among the civilians. Others had handed themselves over.
Their fate, and that of their families, has befuddled foreign governments, with few ready to repatriate citizens who pledged allegiance to a group sworn to their destruction, but who might be hard to legally prosecute. The SDF does not want to hold them indefinitely.
The fate of Baghdadi is also a mystery. He has led the group since 2010, when it was still an underground al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq.
Still a threat
Its capacity then for strategic retreats in hard times, followed by rebounds when circumstances changed, has prompted numerous warnings that Daesh’s defeat has not ended the threat it poses to the region.
Daesh suffered crippling defeats in 2017, when Iraq recaptured Mosul, the SDF seized its Syrian capital of Raqqa, and the Damascus government pushed it east to the Euphrates.
But in Iraq it has switched to guerrilla hit-and-run tactics, aimed at undermining the Baghdad government. It has also claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in swathes of northeast Syria held by the SDF, including one last month that killed four Americans.
That attack came soon after Trump pledged to pull out, saying Daesh was already defeated, rattling allies and prompting defense secretary Jim Mattis to resign.
Turkey, which regards the SDF’s strongest component, the Kurdish YPG, as terrorists, has threatened to march deeper into northern Syria to drive it back.
On Friday US Army General Joseph Votel, who oversees US forces in the Middle East as head of Central Command, said the end of the territorial caliphate would lead to a more dispersed, harder-to-detect network of fighters waging guerrilla warfare.
That should require continued help from Washington, he said.