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.


Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

Updated 23 May 2019
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Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

  • Israel reduced the fishing limit to 10 nautical miles
  • The countries agreed to 20 nautical miles in the Oslo accords of 1990s

JERUSALEM: Israel reduced the offshore fishing limits it imposes for vessels operating out of Gaza from Thursday after Palestinians floated balloons fitted with incendiaries over the border, officials said.
The cut came just two days after Israel restored the limits to those set in April ahead of an Israeli general election.
“A decision was taken this Wednesday evening to reduce the fishing zone off the Gaza Strip to 10 nautical miles until further notice,” said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.
“The decision was taken after the launch of incendiary balloons from Gaza toward Israel,” it added.
Palestinians in Gaza have frequently floated balloons fitted with firebombs over the border to damage Israeli property and have in the past succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland.
Israel banned fishing completely when two days of deadly violence erupted earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following a truce.
The 15-nautical-mile limit that had been restored on Tuesday was the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.
But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.
Israeli authorities have not said whether the 15-mile limit was one of the understandings reached as part of the May 6 cease-fire in Gaza but Israel media reported on Monday that it was.
The additional nautical miles are important to Gaza fishermen as they bring more valuable, deeper water species within reach.
Four Israeli civilians and 25 Palestinians, including at least nine militants, were killed in this month’s exchanges across the border.