‘Ugly crime’: 7 White Helmet members gunned down in Syria

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Members of the Syrian civil defense volunteers — known as the White Helmets — bury their comrades on Saturday. (AFP)
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The White Helmets paramedic group members on a rescue mission in Aleppo. (File photo by The white Helmets Twitter account @SyriaCivilDef)
Updated 13 August 2017
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‘Ugly crime’: 7 White Helmet members gunned down in Syria

BEIRUT: Gunmen early Saturday stormed an office of a Syrian paramedic group that is active in opposition-controlled areas, killing seven of its members and stealing two vehicles and other equipment in a northwestern region, the group and opposition activists said, while a suicide attack south of the country killed at least 23 rebels.
The Syrian Civil Defense group, more popularly known as the White Helmets, said in a statement that the attack happened in the early hours in the town of Sarmin.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the rare attack but it came amid tension in the area. Sarmin is in Idlib province, which witnessed clashes recently between Al-Qaeda-linked fighters and members of the ultraconservative Ahrar Al-Sham group that ended with Al-Qaeda fighters capturing much of the region.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, and also known as HTS — said over the past weeks that its members have discovered sleepers cells of the Daesh group who were planning an attack. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate, which used by to be known as the Nusra Front, has fought deadly battles with Daesh over the past years.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven were killed after being shot in the head, adding that the killings were discovered when volunteers from the White Helmets arrived to start a shift and found the bodies of their colleagues.
“Until now it is mostly likely a crime. It might also be an attack aimed to harm the image of the Nusra Front and to show that Idlib is not safe,” said Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Observatory.
An opposition activist based in Idlib who has been providing The Associated Press with information about the province for years said the attackers used pistols equipped with silencers, adding that people living nearby did not notice anything unusual.
The activist, who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals, said Daesh sleeper cells have been discovered in Sarmin. He added that most likely members of Daesh carried out the attack to show that Idlib is not safe.
The activist said the HTS-linked Judicial Committee is investigating the case.
Sarmin used to be a stronghold of the Jund Al-Aqsa extremist group that clashed with Al-Qaeda last year before many of its members were allowed to head to areas controlled by Daesh, whom they are fighting now.
The Syrian first-responders have been known to risk their lives to save people from the civil war, now in its sixth year. The White Helmets group was widely considered likely to win last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Elsewhere in Syria, a suicide attacker blew himself inside a training camp for the Army of Islam rebel group in the southern town of Naseeb, near the border with Jordan, killing more than 20 fighters.
The Observatory said Saturday that the Friday night blast killed 23 and wounded 20, some of whom were in critical condition.
Ahmad Al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist based in the southern province of Daraa, said about 80 Army of Islam members were having dinner inside a tent when the suicide attacker walked in and blew himself up. He said 30 were killed, 20 were wounded and six are still missing.
No one claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing but Daesh has previously claimed such attacks.


Renewed US-led airstrikes pound Daesh holdouts

Updated 23 March 2019
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Renewed US-led airstrikes pound Daesh holdouts

  • According to SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel, hundreds of Daesh fighters, including some women, still remain on the outskirts of the encampment
SOUSA, SYRIA: US-led warplanes bombed the north bank of the Euphrates River in eastern Syria on Friday to flush out holdout militants from the last sliver of their crumbling “caliphate.”
Friday’s bombardment ended two days of relative calm on the front line in the remote village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had paused its advance while it combed a makeshift militant encampment, which it overran on Tuesday.
An SDF official said warplanes of the US-led coalition resumed strikes on suspected militant positions before dawn on Friday.
Top SDF commander Jia Furat said his forces were engaging with the Daesh fighters on several fronts while the coalition warplanes provided air support.
The coalition said the “operation to complete the liberation of Baghouz is ongoing.”
“It remains a hard fight, and Daesh is showing that they intend to keep fighting for as long as possible,” it said. The SDF launched what it called its “final assault” against the rebels’ last redoubt in the village of Baghouz on Feb. 9.
Finally on Tuesday, they cornered diehard fighters into a few acres of farmland along the Euphrates River, after forcing them out of their rag-tag encampment of tents and battered vehicles.
The six-month-old operation to wipe out the last vestige of Daesh’s once-sprawling proto-state is close to reaching its inevitable outcome, but the SDF has said a declaration of victory will be made only after they have completed flushing out the last tunnels and hideouts.
According to SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel, hundreds of Daesh fighters, including some women, still remain on the outskirts of the encampment. They are hiding along the bank of the Euphrates River as well as at the base of a hill overlooking Baghouz, he told AFP.
“In around one or two days, we will conclude military operations if there are no surprise developments,” he said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Daesh holdouts were hiding in underground tunnels and caves in Baghouz.
SDF official Jiaker Amed said several militants want to surrender but are being prevented from doing so by other fighters.
“We are trying our best to wrap up the operation without fighting, but some of them are refusing to surrender,” he said.
More than 66,000 people, mostly civilians, have quit the last Daesh redoubt since Jan. 9, according to the SDF.
They comprise 5,000 militants and 24,000 of their relatives as well as 37,000 other civilians.
The thousands who have streamed out have been housed in cramped camps and prisons run by Kurdish forces further north.
On Wednesday night, around 2,000 women and children from Baghouz arrived at the largest camp, Al-Hol, which is struggling to cope with the influx of tens of thousands of people, many in poor health.
Since December, at least 138 people, mostly children, have died en route to Al-Hol or shortly after arrival, according to the International Rescue Committee.
Daesh declared a “caliphate” in June 2014 after seizing a vast swathe of territory larger than Britain straddling Iraq and Syria.
The loss of the Baghouz enclave would signal the demise of the “caliphate” in Syria, after its defeat in Iraq in 2017.
But Daesh has already begun its transformation into a guerilla organization, and still carries out deadly hit-and-run attacks from desert or mountain hideouts.
In a video released on Daesh’s social media channels on Thursday, militants vowed to continue to carry out attacks.
“To those who think our caliphate has ended, we say not only has it not ended, but it is here to stay,” said one fighter.
He urged Daesh supporters to conduct attacks in the West against the enemies of the “caliphate.”
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted following the repression of anti-regime protests in 2011.