1,000 Daesh militants killed in Mosul, says Iraq

An Iraqi military helicopter lands on a highway that links to Mosul, near Bartella town east of Mosul, Iraq, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 29 November 2016
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1,000 Daesh militants killed in Mosul, says Iraq

BARTELLA, Iraq: Iraqi special forces battling to clear Daesh from eastern Mosul have killed nearly 1,000 militants but fighting has slowed as troops face a mobile enemy hidden among thousands of civilians in the city, a top commander said.

Six weeks into a major offensive, Iraqi forces have captured nearly half of eastern Mosul, moving from district to district against militant snipers, suicide attackers and car bombs.
Elite Iraqi troops, known as the “Golden Division,” are the only brigades to have entered Mosul from the east, with Iraqi army, federal police and Kurdish Peshmerga units surrounding the city to the north and south. Shiite militias are trying to complete the encirclement from the west.
The US-trained Counter Terrorism Service unit breached Daesh’s defenses at the end of October, but has been slowed by the militants’ mobile tactics and concern over civilian casualties preventing the use of tanks and heavy armor.
Maj. Gen. Abdul Ghani Al-Asadi, one of the commanders of the special forces, said troops had adapted their tactics, surrounding one district at a time to cut off the militants’ supplies and protect civilians.
“Progress was faster at the start. The reason is we were operating before in areas without residents,” Asadi told Reuters in Bartella, on Mosul’s outskirts.
“We have arrived in populated districts. So how do we protect civilians? We have sealed off district after district.”
He said around 990 militants had been killed in fighting in the east so far. He would not say how many casualties there were among government special forces.
“We have made changes to plans, partly due to the changing nature of the enemy ... Daesh is not based in one location, but moving from here to there,” he said.
“Tanks don’t work here, artillery is not effective. Planes from the coalition force and the air force are restricted because of the civilians.”

Thousands displaced
The Iraqi government has asked civilians in Mosul to stay at home during the offensive, as humanitarian organizations say they cannot cope with an influx of hundred of thousands of people displaced from the city.
More than one million people are believed to remain in the city, the largest in northern Iraq. Defeating Daesh in Mosul, Daesh’s last major bastion in Iraq, is seen as vital to destroying the group.
But commanders have said the battle could take months. Dozens of districts must be taken in the east before attacking forces reach the Tigris River which splits Mosul into east and west.

US air strikes have taken out four of the five river bridges used by the militants.
Maj. Gen. Najm Al-Jubbouri, one of the army’s top commanders, told Reuters that the western part of the city could be the more dangerous.
To the south, Iraqi army brigades are now advancing slowly on the remaining Daesh-held villages before reaching the city limits. To the west, the mostly Iranian-backed Shiite militias known as Popular Mobilization have cut off the highway to Syria, but they have yet to close in on the city.
“The force left in front of us is small, unable to stop our advance. Their spirit is broken,” Asadi said.
“We have killed more than 992 fighters on our front plus more wounded ... Their supplies and communications to the outside world are cut. They stage fewer suicide bombings.”
Iraqi military estimates initially put the number of insurgents in Mosul at 5,000 to 6,000, facing a 100,000-strong coalition force. But Asadi said the figure for the Daesh presence may have been too high.
Iraqi authorities have not released estimates of civilian casualties but the United Nations says growing numbers of injured, both civilians and military, are overwhelming aid groups.


In Jerusalem’s Old City, conflict means buyer and seller beware

Updated 18 min 28 sec ago
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In Jerusalem’s Old City, conflict means buyer and seller beware

  • ‘Can we be held accountable for something that was sold over two years ago?’
  • The land conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is also a battle over Jerusalem and its Old City

JERUSALEM: In an alley in Jerusalem’s Old City, a three-story building has become a symbol of Palestinian fears they are losing precious ground in the historic area.
Adeeb Joudeh Al-Husseini says he did nothing wrong, but even his status as a member of one of Jerusalem’s most prominent Palestinian families did not shield him from the blowback.
The 55-year-old was accused of being behind the sale of the Mamluk-style building in the Old City’s Muslim quarter to Israeli settlers — something most Palestinians consider treason.
“Can we be held accountable for something that was sold over two years ago?” he asks as he sits at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.
Joudeh, as his family is known, is one of the keepers of the keys of the church and has faced calls to relinquish that role over the sale.
He proudly brandishes the long, arrow-shaped key — which the Muslim family says it has handed down from father to son since the 13th century — as proof of his innocence.
Joudeh says he sold the property to another Palestinian in 2016 for $2.5 million and cannot be held responsible if it was passed on to settlers, who moved there in late 2018.
But the building he once owned is not the only one triggering Palestinian concerns.
The land conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is also a battle over Jerusalem and its Old City, home to sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Israel took over mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
It now considers the entire city its capital, citing the Jewish historical and biblical connection there.
The Palestinians see east Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, as the capital of their future state.
They consider each property sale to Israeli settlers there as another blow to their cause.
Some 320,000 Palestinians live in east Jerusalem, while the Israeli settler population there has now grown to 210,000.
Israel bars the Palestinian Authority from operating in Jerusalem, but it seeks to maintain influence, however limited.
Such sales can in theory carry the death penalty under PA law.
In one high-profile case in recent weeks, an American-Palestinian man, Issam Akel, was sentenced to life in prison by a PA court in the occupied West Bank over a property sale in the Old City.
Akel’s lawyer, Oday Nawfel, said he was simply trying to help another Palestinian family sort out inheritance issues with the building, down the street from the one Joudeh sold.
Akel’s case has drawn criticism from David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, who has been a supporter of settlements and has called for Akel’s release.
It also led to calls in Israel for authorities there to act.
Following Akel’s arrest, Israel detained the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem a number of times over suspicions of involvement in the affair.
Another 32 Palestinians were arrested by Israeli forces on similar grounds that they were supporting the PA in the matter, but eventually all were released.
Akel was reported to have been released this past week on condition he leaves for the US, though neither his lawyer nor the US embassy confirmed the deal.
In a separate case in November, the highest Muslim authority in Jerusalem, Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, refused to allow a Palestinian killed in a car accident to be buried in a Muslim cemetery over suspicions he had once sold property to Jews.
Israeli settler groups push to make deals happen as part of their efforts to increase the Jewish population in east Jerusalem, sometimes offering exorbitant sums to pressure owners to sell.
The groups use a variety of means such as middlemen or shell companies, anti-settlement activists say.
“These are not open, transparent transactions,” said Yudith Oppenheimer, who heads Ir Amim, an Israeli anti-settlement NGO focused on Jerusalem.
Daniel Luria of Ateret Cohanim, which works to increase the Jewish population of east Jerusalem, defended its actions.
“Everyone should be able to buy and sell” in areas under Israeli sovereignty, said Luria.
Joudeh displays documents that he says show the PA validated the sale of his home to another Palestinian.
He says the buyer “betrayed me, betrayed the Palestinian Authority and Palestine.”
The Palestinian who in 2016 bought the house, Khaled Al-Atari, refused to speak with AFP citing an ongoing investigation on the Palestinian side.
Regardless of who was responsible, neighbors fear more such sales are ahead.