Libyans collect 105 bodies after migrant boat sinks

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Updated 29 August 2015
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Libyans collect 105 bodies after migrant boat sinks

ZUWARA, Libya: Libya recovered 105 bodies after a boat packed with migrants sank in the Mediterranean Sea and said almost 100 more people were missing and feared dead.
The vessel sank on Thursday after leaving Zuwara, a major launchpad for smugglers shipping migrants to Italy by exploiting a security vacuum in Libya where rival governments are fighting for control four years after the ousting of Muammar Qaddafi.
Lacking navy ships, Libyan officials were searching for survivors with fishing boats and inflatables provided by locals. About 198 people had been rescued by noon, officials said.
“The boat was in a bad condition and people died with us,” said Ayman Talaal, a Syrian survivor, standing next to his daughter. “We have been forced into this route. It’s now called the grave of the Mediterranean Sea.”
Local officials and residents were putting bodies into red bags on a beach littered with shoes, trousers and other personal items from drowned migrants. A blue inflatable brought in more bodies.
“We, the Red Crescent, work with nothing. Some fishermen help us with a boat,” said Ibrahim Al-Attoushi, an official at the Red Crescent in Zuwara. “We only have one ambulance car.”
Lawless Libya has turned into a major transit route for migrants fleeing conflict and poverty to make it to Europe. Cross-border smuggler networks exploit the country’s chaos to bring Syrians into Libya via Egypt or nationals of sub-Saharan countries via Niger, Sudan and Chad.
The migrants pay thousands of dollars for the land and sea passage with smugglers often beating and torturing them to press for more money for the final leg of the trip by sea in unseaworthy vessels, rights groups say.

No cooperation
Libyan officials brought 147 survivors to a detention facility for illegal migrants in Sabratha, west of Tripoli, a Libyan security official said, asking not to be named.
“We have not received a request for help,” said a spokesman for the Italian coast guard, which has been coordinating rescue operations with the European Union off the Libyan coast.
About 100 angry Zuwara residents took to the town’s main square on Thursday when news of the sinking spread, demanding that authorities stop human traffickers, witnesses said.
Libya has asked the European Union for help to train and equip its navy which was largely destroyed during the uprising in 2011 that toppled Qaddafi.
But all training and cooperation was frozen in 2014 as the European Union boycotted a self-declared government controlling western Libya, which seized the capital Tripoli a year ago by expelling the official premier to the east.
Western and most Arab powers only deal with the eastern-based government, which has no control of western Libya from were boats are launched due to its proximity to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
The United Nations has been hosting peace talks between the two administrations to form a unity government but a Tripoli based rival parliament, riddled with divisions, refused to sign a preliminary agreement last month.
The number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe has passed 300,000 this year, up from 219,000 in the whole of 2014, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.
More than 2,500 people have died making the crossing this year, not including those feared drowned off Libya in the last 24 hours, it said. That compares with 3,500 who died or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2014.
Libya has been struggling to cope with the influx of migrants, putting them in overcrowded makeshift detention facilities such as schools or military barracks where they live in poor conditions lacking medical care.

(Reporting by Hani Amara and Ahmed Elumami)


Daesh defends final pocket of dying ‘caliphate’ in Syria

Updated 18 February 2019
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Daesh defends final pocket of dying ‘caliphate’ in Syria

  • Diehard extremist fighters are now trapped in a patch of territory of less than half a square kilometer in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border
  • Thousands of people have streamed out of the so-called ‘Baghouz pocket’ in recent weeks, but no civilians have made it out in the last three days

OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria: Extremists defending their last dreg of territory in Syria have no choice but to surrender, a Kurdish-led force said on Monday, ahead of a victory declaration expected within days.

The warning by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) comes as EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the repatriation of European nationals in Syria, which Germany said would be “extremely difficult” to do.

Diehard extremist fighters are now trapped in their last patch of territory of less than half a square kilometer in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.

The SDF are moving cautiously on the extremist holdout, saying Daesh is increasingly using civilians as “human shields” to block the advance.

“The clashes are sporadic and very limited,” SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali told AFP on Monday.

“So far there have been no significant changes on the ground,” he said, adding that coalition warplanes have reduced air strikes on Daesh positions over the past two days.

The SDF “are still working on trying to get civilians out,” the spokesman said.

Thousands of people have streamed out of the so-called “Baghouz pocket” in recent weeks, but no civilians have made it out in the last three days.

An informed source told AFP that holdout Daesh fighters are seeking safe passage to the extremist-held city of Idlib in northwestern Syria.

“They want to take the remaining civilians with them as human shields. But the SDF are not willing to discuss this option,” said the source who asked not to be named.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the SDF have turned down the request.

AFP could not confirm this with an SDF official, but a commander with the alliance said that Daesh has no leverage to negotiate.

“They are besieged in a very tight area and they have no other choice but to surrender,” said the SDF commander, who asked not to be named.

The group declared a “caliphate” across large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, which at its height spanned an area the size of United Kingdom.

Successive offensives in both countries have since shattered the proto-state, but the extremist group still retains a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert and has claimed deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

After years of fighting Daesh, the Kurdish-led SDF hold hundreds of foreign suspected Daesh fighters, as well as related women and children.

Syria’s Kurds have long urged their home countries to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.

The issue has taken on greater urgency, however, amid fears of a security vacuum since US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement in December that American troops would withdraw.

The subject is to be raised on Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers called to discuss among other issues “the situation in Syria, in particular the recent developments on the ground,” according to an agenda for the talks.

The meeting comes after Trump on Sunday called on his European allies to take back their citizens who are being held by the Kurds in Syria.

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 Daesh fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a tweet.

His appeal sparked a reaction from Berlin, Paris, and Brussels.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that it would be “extremely difficult” to organize the repatriation of European nationals from Syria.

A return could only be possible if “we can guarantee that these people can be immediately sent here to appear in court and that they will be detained,” he said.

Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen stressed the difficulties however of putting the ex-fighters on trial.

“We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible,” she said.

French junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said Sunday that, if suspected extremists return, “they will all be tried, and incarcerated.”

In Belgium, justice minister Koen Geens called for a collective “European solution.”

Meanwhile, a top Kurdish official called on Europe not to abandon Syrian Kurds.

European powers “have a political and moral responsibility” to the Kurds, Aldar Khalil told AFP in an interview in Paris late Sunday.

The Kurds would seek the protection of Syrian President Bashar Assad if failed by Europe and the United States, he said.