US-backed force advances in fight for Daesh-held Raqqa

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) female fighters gather at the eastern outskirts of Raqqa city, Syria June 7, 2017. Picture taken June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said
Updated 09 June 2017
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US-backed force advances in fight for Daesh-held Raqqa

Beirut: US-backed Syrian fighters Friday seized part of a district on the western edge of the Daesh group’s Raqqa bastion and battled to advance inside the city’s east, a monitor said.
The Kurdish-Arab alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) broke into Raqqa city for the first time earlier this week, months after they launched an operation to capture the jihadist stronghold.
They are backed by the US-led coalition which carried out heavy air strikes on Raqqa and its surroundings overnight and into Friday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said SDF fighters took parts of the suburb of Jazra just west of Raqqa’s city limits on Friday.
The monitor said heavy clashes were continuing in other parts of the neighborhood, where at least 15 civilians were killed on Thursday night in the air strikes that hit an Internet cafe.
The casualties in Jazra were among 23 civilians killed in over two dozen US-led coalition strikes on and near Raqqa on Thursday night, the Observatory said.
SDF spokesman Talal Sello said fighters were advancing on several fronts on Friday.
“The SDF has control of Al-Meshleb district (inside eastern Raqqa) and is clearing it of mines and explosives at the moment,” he told AFP.
He said SDF forces had also advanced on the northern front outside the city.
Al-Meshleb was the first neighborhood in Raqqa city entered by SDF fighters.
They are expected to progress from the district into neighboring Al-Senaa, and the Observatory said some of the overnight strikes targeted area between the two districts.
Daesh fighters have been fighting back against the advancing forces with snipers as well as drones armed with explosives, according to the SDF.
They have also reportedly dug defensive trenches and tunnels to try to slow the SDF advance.
“Hundreds” of US military personnel are taking part in the Raqqa offensive, according to the Pentagon, which said Thursday it believed up to 2,500 Daesh fighters were still holed up in Raqqa.
Captured by the jihadists in 2014, Raqqa has become synonymous with Daesh atrocities including beheadings and public displays of bodies, and also emerged as a hub for planning attacks abroad.
An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under Daesh rule in Raqqa, including 80,000 displaced from other parts of Syria.
But thousands have fled in recent months, and the UN humanitarian office estimates about 160,000 people remain in the city.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF warned Friday that “an estimated 40,000 children remain trapped in dangerous conditions in Raqqa city.”
“Many are caught in the crossfire,” said UNICEF regional director Geert Cappelaere.
“Children are deprived of the most basic and life-saving necessities,” he added, urging safe passage for those who want to leave the city.
Tens of thousands of people have fled Raqqa and the surrounding area since the SDF launched its Operation Wrath of the Euphrates to capture the Daesh bastion last November.
Many have described harrowing journeys as they fled Raqqa city, with Daesh fighters targeting them as they tried to escape.
Elsewhere in Syria, a US warplane shot down a pro-regime drone on Thursday night near the Jordanian border in the latest incident in escalating tensions in the country’s south.
The US-led coalition said the drone was downed after it fired at coalition forces near the Al-Tanaf garrison, where anti-Daesh Syrian rebels are being trained.
The shooting down came after another incident earlier Thursday in which coalition forces struck “technical vehicles” advancing toward Al-Tanaf.
It was the third time the coalition has struck pro-regime forces near Al-Tanaf in less than a month.
Syria’s government is eager to deploy forces in the area and head off any dispatch of foreign-trained Syrian rebels to fight Daesh in the country’s eastern Deir Ezzor province.


Syria's Kurds hand three Russian orphans to Moscow

Updated 25 March 2019
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Syria's Kurds hand three Russian orphans to Moscow

  • Three Russian orphans were handed to a delegation from Moscow who will transfer them back home

QAMISHLI: The Kurdish administration in northeast Syria said Monday it handed over three Russian orphans to a delegation from Moscow who will transfer them back home.
Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar said the children, aged five to seven, are being sent back at the request of Russia.
He told AFP their parents had been affiliated with the Daesh group, although it was not immediately clear how or when they arrived in Syria.
A member of the Russian government delegation said the siblings are from the country's North Caucasus region. The majority-Muslim southern territory is home to most of the Russians that joined Daesh.
Nelly Kouskova said the children were orphaned nearly one year ago, without providing details.
Their aunt back in Russia had asked authorities to help bring them home, Kouskova told a press conference.
Since the death of their parents the children have been living in the Al-Hol camp, a Kurdish-run shelter designed to accomodate 20,000 people.
But due to the mass exodus of people fleeing the battle to oust Daesh from its final strip of territory -- over which Kurdish-led forces claimed victory on Saturday -- the numbers have swelled to 70,000.
More than 9,000 foreigners, including over 6,500 children, are being held in the overcrowded camp, the Kurdish administration said on Monday.
Syria's Kurds have repeatedly called for the repatriation of foreign Daesh suspects and their relatives.
But the home countries of suspected Daesh members are reluctant to take them back, due to potential security risks and the likely public backlash.
Russia, however, can be seen as a pioneer in systematically returning children of suspected jihadists home.
Last month, 27 children aged four to 13 were flown from Iraq to the Moscow region. That followed the repatriation from Iraq of 30 children in late December.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in late 2017 called the drive to return the children "a very honourable and correct deed" and promised to help.
Some other foreign governments have also taken steps to bring the children of militants home.
France has repatriated five orphaned children of French militants' from camps in northeast Syria, the government said on March 15, in the first such transfer.
Belgium has said it will help the repatriation of children younger than 10, as long as the link with one Belgian parent is proven.