SDF fighters seize Syria citadel from Daesh

A tank of the Syrian Democratic Forces is seen on the outskirts of northern Aleppo in this picture taken October 22, 2016. SDF fighters seized the Jabar citadel in Raqqa on Friday from Daesh militants. (REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi)
Updated 06 January 2017
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SDF fighters seize Syria citadel from Daesh

BEIRUT, Lebanon: US-backed militias in Syria have captured an ancient citadel from Daesh) in a strategically significant advance against the jihadist group in its stronghold of Raqqa province, a spokesman said on Friday.
The Jabar citadel on the banks of Lake Assad was taken by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance on Thursday, militia spokesman Talal Silo said. It is located near a dam on the Euphrates River that the US-backed alliance also aims to capture in the current phase of its campaign.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, the Syrian government’s antiquities chief, told Reuters in Damascus the SDF’s capture of the castle represented a “victory for the Syrian people because liberating the citadel from Daesh is saving Syrian heritage.”
The SDF, which includes the powerful Kurdish YPG militia, is the main partner for the United States in the campaign it is leading against Islamic State in Syria. SDF forces are just a few kilometers (miles) from a major dam also held by Daesh.
Daesh is also being fought in separate campaigns by the Russian-backed Syrian army in Deir Al-Zor province and near the ancient town of Palmyra, which Daesh seized for a second time in December, and by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels in Aleppo province near the Syrian-Turkish border.
Silo said SDF advances had been slowed by thick fog that had allowed Daesh insurgents to use infiltration tactics to attack SDF positions, he said. The weather had now improved, he added in an interview over the Internet.
“The direction of our forces is toward the area of the dam at present,” Silo said.
The SDF launched a multi-stage operation in Raqqa province in November aimed ultimately at capturing the city from Daesh. The first phase gained territory to the north of the city and the current phase is targeting areas to the west of it.
(Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Kinda Makieh in Damascus)


Iraq: Yazidis to accept children of Daesh rape into community

Updated 23 min 20 sec ago
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Iraq: Yazidis to accept children of Daesh rape into community

  • Thousands of women and girls were forced into sexual slavery when the extremists attacked Yazidi communities in northwestern Iraq
  • The Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council issued a decree welcoming the survivors of slavery, and their children, into the Yazidi community

IRBIL, Iraq: The children of Yazidi women raped by Daesh men will be welcomed into the minority faith, a community leader said Thursday, allowing women taken as slaves by the militant group to return to Iraq from Syria.
Eido Baba Sheikh, son of the Yazidi spiritual leader Baba Sheikh, said the children of the formerly enslaved women will be treated as members of the faith, resolving one of the most difficult questions facing the community since the Daesh group’s 2014 campaign to try to exterminate the minority. Thousands of women and girls were forced into sexual slavery when the extremists attacked Yazidi communities in northwestern Iraq.
But the community shunned the women returning from captivity with children, a reflection of the deeply held Yazidi traditions to view outsiders with suspicion as a response to centuries of persecution.
US-backed Kurdish forces defeated the last fragments of the Daesh group’s self-styled “caliphate” in Syria in March, raising the possibility that thousands of missing Yazidi women and children might be found and reunited with their families.
Still, some 3,000 Yazidis are still missing. Many of the children enslaved by militants in 2014 were separated from their parents and given to Daesh families for rearing. Boys were pressed into the militants’ cub scouts, given military training, and indoctrinated in extremist ideology.
Officials at the Beit Yazidi foundation in Kurdish-administered northeast Syria said Yazidi women with children who could have returned to Iraq were choosing to stay in Syria, instead, in order not to be separated from their children.
Other women gave their young ones up for adoption to find acceptance among their community.
The Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council issued a decree welcoming the survivors of slavery, and their children, into the Yazidi community, on Wednesday.
Murad Ismael, a founder of the global Yazidi charity Yazda, said it will nevertheless take time for the community in Iraq to accept the mothers and their children, because of the stigma of rape.
“It will take a couple of years for the community to digest this fully,” he said.
He said many women and children will have to seek resettlement in other countries, some to escape the stigma of their situation, and to find psychosocial services to heal after the trauma of slavery.
The community sent two representatives to search for Yazidi women and children in the camps in northeast Syria, where tens of thousands of civilians who survived the Daesh caliphate are waiting to be returned to their places of origin, said Eido Baba Sheikh.
He said it is believed that there could be Yazidi children among foreign or Daesh families in the camps, a result of the sale of Yazidis under the caliphate. Complicating the search will be that many of the children may have never learned to identify as Yazidis, or to speak Kurmanji, the language of the community. Women and older children may have started to identify with their captors, as well, confounding search efforts.
And though the community will recognize the children of Yazidi survivors as Yazidis, they will still face legal difficulties in Iraq, said Eido Baba Sheikh. Under the country’s family laws, a child is registered under the nationality and religion of their father, and it is unclear whether Iraq will allow Yazidi survivors to register their children as Iraqi Yazidis when there are questions about the children’s patrimony.
Also on Thursday, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish regional government, asked for continued US support to allow Iraqis displaced by the war with IS to return to their homes, according to a State Department statement on a call between Barzani and Vice President Mike Pence.
Iraq’s Kurdish region hosts more than 1 million displaced people, including many of the 200,000 Yazidis forced to flee their homes when the Daesh militants attacked their communities in 2014.