Turkey-backed forces seize Syria's Al-Bab center from Daesh

Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters take position during their advance in the city of Al-Bab, 30 km from the Syrian city of Aleppo. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2017

Turkey-backed forces seize Syria's Al-Bab center from Daesh

ISTANBUL/BEIRUT: Turkish-backed fighters have seized the center of Al-Bab town from Daesh, Turkish state media and the opposition said on Thursday, dealing a blow to the terrorist group in northern Syria.
Turkey launched its “Operation Euphrates Shield” in August in an effort to push Daesh from its border and stop the advance of a Syrian Kurdish militia.
Taking control of Al-Bab would deepen Turkish influence in an area of Syria where it has effectively created a buffer zone and would allow the Ankara-backed forces to press on toward Raqqa, Daesh’s de facto capital in Syria.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters, a loose coalition of Syrian Arabs and Turkmen, have been attacking Al-Bab since December, aided by Turkish warplanes, tanks and special forces.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, citing its correspondent in Al-Bab, said the fighters had seized control of the town center and were now clearing mines and explosive devices laid by the terrorists. Some 1,900 square km in northern Syria has now been cleared of militant groups, it said.
A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said later on Thursday that Euphrates Shield forces had taken full control of Al-Bab and of two neighboring towns, Qabasin and Al-Bezah.
“We had reached the city center yesterday but there was a suicide attack so we had to withdraw a little bit. And today we attacked again. I can say that 85-90 percent of the city is under control,” a fighter from the Sultan Murad Brigade who is in Al-Bab told Reuters by telephone.
“They have dug tunnels all under Bab and those who have remained are all suicide bombers. The whole of the city is mined. I can say that every meter is mined.”
Another fighter with an FSA group contacted via a social networking site said there was “complete calm” in Al-Bab. The fighter said he was speaking from the city center.
Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik told Anadolu the rebels had entered the town center and that most of the town itself was now under their control.
Meanwhile, the UN’s Syria envoy called on the country’s rival sides to accept the “historical” responsibility of seeking to end the six-year conflict, while accepting “miracles” were unlikely at peace talks starting Thursday in Geneva.
Staffan de Mistura said regime and opposition negotiators, gathered for a fourth round of UN-sponsored talks, had a duty to lead Syria out of its bloody “nightmare.”
“This is... our solemn responsibility... a historical responsibility not to condemn the future generations of Syrian children to long years of bitter and bloody conflict,” he said.
“The Syrian people desperately want an end to this conflict and you all know it... they are awaiting for a relief from... suffering and dream of a new road out of this nightmare,” he added.
De Mistura said he would hold bilateral meetings on Friday to work out the procedure of the round of talks and to create a work plan.
After the opening ceremony in which the Syrian delegations sat opposite each other, de Mistura told reporters that it would be his dream to bring two delegations together for direct talks, but there was still work to be done.

EU ‘considering sanctions on Iran’

An Iranian diplomat was arrested in July along with two people accused of plotting to blow up a rally of opposition activists. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 November 2018

EU ‘considering sanctions on Iran’

  • The ministers said technical work could now start on an EU-wide asset freeze on two Iranians and the Iranian intelligence service
  • In March, Britain, France and Germany proposed to sanction Iran over its development of ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war

BRUSSELS: EU foreign ministers have endorsed a French government decision to sanction Iranian nationals accused of a bomb plot in France, potentially allowing the measures to take effect across the bloc, three diplomats said.

The ministers said technical work could now start on an EU-wide asset freeze on two Iranians and the Iranian intelligence service over a failed plot to carry out a bomb attack at a rally near Paris organized by an exiled Iranian opposition group.

Denmark, which in October said it suspected an Iranian government intelligence service had tried to carry out an assassination plot on its soil, also pushed for support for similar EU-wide sanctions once its investigation is complete, the diplomats told Reuters.

Though largely symbolic, the EU’s readiness to target Iranians marks a shift after months of division within the bloc over how to punish Iranians accused of destabilizing activities in Europe and the Middle East.

In an effort to balance their Iran policy, ministers also discussed setting up a special mechanism to trade with Iran that would be under EU, not national, law. They believe this formula could shield individual member states from being hit by US sanctions that have been reimposed on trade with Iran after Washington’s pullout from the nuclear deal.

In March, Britain, France and Germany proposed to sanction Iran over its development of ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, but the initiative failed to gather sufficient support across the EU to take effect.

The EU move came as British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited Iran on Monday for talks about the conflict in Yemen and freeing UK nationals held in Iranian jails.

Hunt met his counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, and they discussed plans to keep trade flowing in spite of renewed US sanctions, according to Iranian media.

But Hunt was particularly focused on the conflict in Yemen, where Iran is accused of supplying weapons to Houthi militias.