US-backed SDF captures major Syria gas field

A fighter from Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) sits in a military tank in Raqqa, Syria on September 16, 2017. (Reuters)
Updated 23 September 2017
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US-backed SDF captures major Syria gas field

BEIRUT: US-backed Syrian fighters captured on Saturday the country’s largest gas field — a pre-war gas treatment facility — from the Daesh militant group in an eastern province of Deir Ezzor that borders Iraq as they race with government forces to capture the energy-rich region, a senior official with the group and monitor said.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Deir Ezzor Military Council were able to take control of the Conoco plant in northern Deir Ezzor province after two days of clashes,” SDF spokesman Talal Sello said in a statement.
Nasser Hajj Mansour of the SDF said the Conoco gas field and plant came under full control of the group on Saturday morning after days of fighting with the extremists. He added that SDF fighters also captured the nearby Al-Izba gas field.
Another SDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Talal Sillo, said the fighting in the area left 65 Daesh fighters dead while more than 100 gunmen surrendered. He added that Daesh had been controlling Conoco since 2014.
Sillo said that SDF fighters marched toward the field from the nearby village of Khsham under the cover of airstrikes by the US-led coalition.
The SDF did not confirm that the gas field had been captured, saying only that its forces were “combing the plant and surrounding points.”
The advance in the resource-rich province was confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, which added that the militia had also captured the adjacent gas field.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war in Syria with activists on the ground, reported later that SDF fighters took full control of the field in the province of Deir Ezzor. It said Daesh fighters are launching a counteroffensive to retake the field.
SDF fighters have been marching on the east bank of the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor while Syrian troops are gaining in areas on the west bank of the river under the cover of Russian airstrikes. Earlier this week, Syrian troops crossed into parts of east bank but have concentrated their operations mostly on the west.
On Thursday, Russia warned against targeting its special forces in Deir Ezzor raising concerns over direct clashes between rival forces backed by Moscow and Washington fighting for the energy-wealthy region.
The warning was followed by an acknowledgement from the Pentagon of an unprecedented face-to-face meeting between Russian and American military leaders, which occurred inside or near Syria, to address the rising tensions.
Russia has been a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and joined the war two years ago tipping the balance of power in his favor.
Deir Ezzor is a province rich in oil and gas and both sides have been racing to reach the fields. The next main target will be Al-Omar oil field that is Syria’s largest and is also on the east bank of the Euphrates, and Syrian government forces are also speeding to capture it. Oil revenues are badly needed for future reconstruction of Syria that has been plagued by war since 2011.
The facility known as the Conoco plant had the largest capacity of any in Syria before the conflict erupted in 2011: 13 million cubic meters of natural gas per day, according to The Syria Report, an economic digest. It was constructed by a partnership of ConocoPhilips and Total, and came up to full capacity in 2002.
In 2005, it was handed over to the state-run Syrian Gas Company when Conoco withdrew from the country.
The plant and adjacent gas field were first captured by rebels in late 2012, a year into the uprising that began with anti-government protests in March 2011.
In 2014, the Islamic State group captured the facility and gas field as it rampaged across parts of Syria and Iraq, seizing large stretches of territory that it eventually declared its “caliphate”.
The US-backed SDF and its Deir Ezzor Military Council are battling IS on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river that slices diagonally across Deir Ezzor province.
Syria’s army, backed by Russian firepower, is carrying out a separate operation largely on the western bank of the river, including in the provincial capital Deir Ezzor city.
Deir Ezzor province, on Syria’s eastern border with Iraq, is rich with oil and gas fields that served as a key revenue stream for IS at the peak of its power.
Syria’s Kurds have captured key oil fields in the country in recent years, including in Rmeilan in Hasakeh, where they are refining crude.


Gaza field hospitals prepare for another day of bloodshed

Updated 19 April 2018
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Gaza field hospitals prepare for another day of bloodshed

  • At least 33 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the ‘Great March of Return’ began last month
  • Gaza suffers from a lack of medical facilities and supplies as a result of an 11-year land, sea and air blockade by Israeli forces

GAZA: A tent consisting of nine beds and some basic medical equipment is all that will serve as a field hospital in the Zeitoun area of Gaza when Palestinians gather at the Israeli border to take part in a mass protest against the occupation on Friday.

Eleven doctors and 12 nurses work at the facility during what has become a weekly ritual of defiance and bloodshed for the people of this besieged coastal enclave. With access to only rudimentary supplies, the staff must deal with injuries caused by live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas.

When Arab News visited the hospital southeast of Gaza City last week the sound of ambulances rushing back and forth was almost non-stop as the medics worked tirelessly amid the chaos. But no one expects any respite in the month ahead, with the protesters due to return every Friday until mid-May.

“In one hour we have received more than 30 injuries, about 26 of which are to the lower limbs and from live bullets,” said Khalil Siam, a doctor who works at the hospital from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Gaza’s “Great March of Return” began on March 30, when tens of thousands of protesters traveled in buses from across the strip to five locations along the Israeli border. 

The demonstration was timed to coincide with “Land Day,” an annual event when Palestinians remember the deaths of six Arab citizens killed by Israeli forces during demonstrations over land confiscations in northern Israel in 1976. It is due to continue until May 15, when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or catastrophe — the creation of
Israel.

On the first day of the protest at least 17 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,000 were injured as Israeli troops opened fire on the huge crowds, causing the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to call for “an independent and transparent investigation.”

Then on April 6 several more Palestinians were killed as protesters threw stones and set fire to piles of tires at the border, sending thick clouds of black smoke spiralling into the air.

A handful of field hospitals run by both volunteers and government doctors have been set up to deal with the constant stream of casualties each Friday, but they struggle to cope. Protesters critically wounded in the upper part of the body are rushed straight to Gaza’s main hospitals but staff here also find themselves increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the bloodshed.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, a total of 33 Palestinians have been killed and 4,300 have been injured between the start of the protests last month and April 14. Thirteen of the casualties have required amputations.

Even before the demonstrations began, Gaza suffered from a lack of medical facilities and supplies as a result of an 11-year land, sea and air blockade by Israeli forces and ongoing divisions between the two main Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, told Arab News that all hospitals were facing a situation of “severe attrition.”

“A large number of drugs and medical items have been drained from emergency departments, operating rooms and intensive care units due to the large number of casualties,” he said.

The Israeli government initially refused to allow injured protesters to be moved to the occupied West Bank until Israel’s High Court ruled unanimously on Monday that Yousef Al-Karnaz, a 19-year-old Palestinian, should be allowed to receive urgent medical care in Ramallah.

Al-Karnaz was shot and wounded by Israeli troops on March 30 but was not allowed to leave the strip. As a result, his left leg was amputated.

Ismail Al-Jadbah, director of the vascular department at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, told Arab News that the strip had enough doctors to cope with the casualties but lacked the necessary resources to give them the best possible care.

“In addition to a shortage of medicine, the large number of injured has put a great burden on us. Treating injuries in the right way, and in the right time, is very difficult,” he said.