Turkey says Al-Bab almost taken, war monitor cites heavy toll

A man rests near a damaged house after an airstrike on Al-Yadouda village in Daraa Governorate, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2017
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Turkey says Al-Bab almost taken, war monitor cites heavy toll

ANKARA/BEIRUT: Turkey’s military said on Friday it was close to taking Syria’s Al-Bab from Daesh, but a war monitor said the terrorists still controlled 90 percent of the town itself and that shelling and airstrikes had killed dozens of civilians in recent days.
Al-Bab, a Daesh stronghold 30 km from the Turkish border, has been a prime target since Turkey launched an incursion last August to push the terrorists from its frontier and prevent gains by a Kurdish militia also fighting them.
Taking control of the town would deepen Turkish influence in an area of Syria where it has already effectively created a buffer zone and allow Turkish forces to press on toward Raqqa, Daesh’s de facto capital in Syria.
“The operation to gain complete control of the Al-Bab region has neared its end and the resistance of the Daesh terror group has largely been broken,” the Turkish military statement said.
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization that monitors the war using a network of contacts, said Turkey’s “Euphrates Shield” forces had not made much progress.
Daesh still controls 90 percent of Al-Bab town itself and Turkish shelling and airstrikes had killed 45 civilians, including 18 children, during the past 48 hours, the Observatory said.
Turkish officials have repeatedly said that the Al-Bab operation was taking longer than anticipated because of numbers of civilians still in the town and the care being taken not to harm them. It dropped leaflets on the town as long ago as December urging civilians to seek shelter.
Turkey believes a string of Daesh gun and bomb attacks, including a mass shooting at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve, were planned from Al-Bab and Raqqa, and has said clearing the town of militants is a national security priority.
The military statement came as US Marine Corps General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Dunford visited the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, used by the US-led coalition in the fight against Daesh.
Turkey is part of that coalition but relations with NATO ally Washington have been strained by US support for the Kurdish YPG militia in the fight against Daesh.
Turkey views the YPG as a hostile force and an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group that has waged an armed insurgency against the Turkish state for over three decades.
“It is time the US leadership made clear who they are cooperating with in their Syria policy,” a senior Turkish government official told Reuters, when asked about the possibility of US combat troops being deployed to Syria under President Donald Trump.
“US soldiers are present in Syrian territory, and we saw the results. They trained the PKK-YPG, which we call a terrorist organization, gave them weapons and supported terrorist groups.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the next target for the Turkish offensive should be Raqqa but that Arab forces, not the YPG, should be involved.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance dominated by the YPG, is in the middle of a multi-phased operation to encircle Raqqa, backed by airstrikes and special ground forces from the US-led coalition. 

 


Gaza teen dies of border protest wounds

Updated 9 min 57 sec ago
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Gaza teen dies of border protest wounds

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian shot by Israeli forces last month during protests on the Gaza border died of his wounds Monday, the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory said.
“Mohammed Ghassan Abu Daqqa died ... on Wednesday evening from his wounds, after he was shot by the Israeli occupation east of Khan Yunis on May 14,” it said in a statement, which did not give his age.
At least 33 Palestinians have been killed in clashes since mass protests broke out along the Gaza border on March 30.
No Israelis have been killed.
The protests peaked on May 14 when at least 62 Palestinians were killed as thousands approached the heavily guarded border fence on the same day the United States moved its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Israel says its use of live fire is necessary to defend its borders and stop infiltrations. It accuses Gaza’s rulers Hamas of seeking to use the protests as cover for attacks.