US backed group says it can capture Syrian city of Raqqa

Syrian Democratic Forces(SDF) fighters ride a military vehicle north of Raqqa city, Syria. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 March 2017
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US backed group says it can capture Syrian city of Raqqa

BEIRUT: US-backed Syrian militias said on Thursday they have enough forces to capture the city of Raqqa from Daesh with support from the US-led coalition, underlining their opposition to any Turkish role in the attack.
Raqqa is Daesh main base of operations in Syria and the US-backed campaign to capture it has been boosted with the arrival of a Marines artillery unit.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes the Kurdish YPG militia and Arab groups, have in recent days cut the road from the Raqqa to Daesh stronghold in Deir Al-Zor province — the last main road out of the city.
Deeply worried by the YPG’s influence, Ankara is pressing Washington to take part in the final assault on Raqqa.
The SDF says it ruled out any Turkish role during meetings with US officials last month, though Turkey said on Thursday no decision had been made yet and the US-led coalition said a possible Turkish role remained a point of discussion.
“The number of our forces is now increasing, particularly from among the people of the area, and we have enough strength to liberate Raqqa with support from the coalition forces,” Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, an SDF spokeswoman, said.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish government.
An SDF spokesman told Reuters on Thursday he expected the forces to reach the outskirts of the city within a few weeks. Its forces began the operation to encircle Raqqa in November. “We have information that the enemy is moving part of its leadership outside the city, as it is also digging tunnels under the ground. We expect they will fortify the city and the terrorist group will depend on street warfare,” Ahmed said.
The SDF and YPG have been the main partners for Washington in its campaign against Daesh in Syria. The US-led coalition has been providing air support and deployed special forces in Syria to help in the campaign against Daesh.


Palestinians say they weren’t consulted about US-led economic conference

Updated 25 min 32 sec ago
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Palestinians say they weren’t consulted about US-led economic conference

  • Palestinians boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
  • Washington said the conference will unveil part of Trump’s peace deal
RAMALLAH: The Palestinians have not been consulted about a US-led conference in Bahrain next month designed to encourage international investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday.
Washington announced the conference on Sunday, describing it as the unveiling of the first part of President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
The Palestinians, who have boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017, have shown little interest in discussing the plan.
“The cabinet wasn’t consulted about the reported workshop, neither over the content, nor the outcome nor timing,” Shtayyeh told Palestinian ministers in the presence of reporters.
He did not immediately say whether Palestinians would attend the June 25-26 event in Manama, which US officials have predicted will include representatives and business executives from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as well as some finance ministers.
Shtayyeh reiterated Palestinians’ core demands for a two-state peace deal with Israel, which include gaining full control of the occupied West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza, as well as East Jerusalem. Israel calls Jerusalem its indivisible capital and said it might declare sovereignty in its West Bank settlements.
The Trump administration has said its still-secret peace plan would require compromise by both sides. Since being shunned by the Palestinians, it has cut back on US aid for them, contributing to economic hardship in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The financial crisis the Palestinian Authority is living through today is a result of the financial war that is being launched against us in order to win political concessions,” Shtayyeh told the cabinet. “We do not submit to blackmail and we don’t trade our political rights for money.”