Al-Qaeda-linked fighters launch new attack in central Syria

Smoke rises from buildings following an airstrike on an opposition-held area of the Jobar district, east of Damascus on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 07 October 2017

Al-Qaeda-linked fighters launch new attack in central Syria

BEIRUT: Al-Qaeda-linked fighters on Friday attacked a key central Syrian village at the crossroads between areas under regime control and those controlled by insurgents, activists said. In eastern Syria, meanwhile, regime forces reportedly entered a town that is one of Daesh’s biggest strongholds.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian regime forces and allied militiamen entered western parts of Mayadeen, including the town’s wheat silos compound and the sheep market.
The regime-controlled Syrian Central Military Media earlier said that troops were marching south from Deir Ezzor toward Mayadeen, under the cover of airstrikes.
If the report proves true and Syrian troops indeed entered Mayadeen, it would mark another blow for the extremist group, which has lost wide areas of Iraq and Syria in its self-declared caliphate over the past year.
Omar Abou Leila, from the monitoring group DeirEzzor 24, said he could not confirm or deny the report, though he added that it was possible, given the regime forces’ days-long advance.
Airstrikes on Mayadeen and nearby areas over the past days have killed and wounded scores of people, including 15 civilians — women and children among them — who were killed when a missile slammed into a regime-held neighborhood in the city of Deir Ezzor on Thursday evening.
The attack on the village of Abu Dali in central Hama province was led by Al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee and also known as HTS. It came two weeks after insurgents attacked a nearby area where three Russian soldiers were wounded.
Earlier this week, Russia’s military claimed the leader of the group was wounded in a Russian airstrike and had fallen into a coma. The military offered no evidence on the purported condition of Abu Mohammed Al-Golani.
The group subsequently denied Al-Golani was hurt, insisting he is in excellent health and going about his duties as usual. The group’s fighters have been gaining more influence in the northwestern province of Idlib and northern parts of Hama, where they have launched attacks on rival militant groups, as well as areas controlled by the government.
Abu Dali had been spared much of the violence and had functioned as a local business hub between opposition-run areas and those under President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The observatory said Al-Qaeda fighters captured several areas in the village on Friday. The HTS-linked Ibaa news agency did not mention the attack but said Russian warplanes were bombing areas the group controls in northern Syria.
Violence in eastern Syria has escalated significantly in recent weeks as Syrian troops with the help of Russian air cover have been closing in on Mayadeen.
The DeirEzzor24 monitoring group said the missile in the Thursday evening airstrike that killed 15 hit near a school in the Qusour neighborhood. Three children and three women were among those killed, the group said Friday, blaming Daesh for the attack. The school and a nearby residential building were destroyed.
The Russian military has accused the US of turning a blind eye and effectively providing cover to Daesh operations in an area in Syria that is under US control.
The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that Daesh militants have used the area around the town of Tanf near Syria’s border with Jordan — where US military instructors are also stationed — to launch attacks against the Syrian Army.
He said the area has become a “black hole,” posing a threat to the Syrian regime army’s offensive against Daesh in eastern Deir Ezzor province.
Separately, the Russian military said one of its helicopters had made an emergency landing in Syria but that its crew was unhurt.
According to the Defense Ministry, the Mi-28 helicopter gunship landed in Hama province on Friday due to a technical malfunction. The two crewmen were not injured and were flown back to base. The ministry said the helicopter was not fired upon.
The ministry’s statement followed a claim by Daesh-linked Aamaq news agency, which said the group had downed a Russian helicopter south of Shiekh Hilal village in Hama.

Libya recovers five bodies, picks up 185 migrants

A total of 900 migrants have been intercepted or rescued by the Libyan navy since Wednesday. (AFP/File)
Updated 23 June 2018

Libya recovers five bodies, picks up 185 migrants

  • The bodies were recovered from an inflatable boat packed with migrants that got into trouble
  • Two coast guard patrols carried out different operations on Friday, picking up 91 migrants in one group and 94 in the second

Tripoli: Libyan coast guards have recovered the bodies of five migrants and picked up 185 survivors off its western coast, a spokesman said on Saturday.

The migrants, who were rescued about 24 km off the town of Qarabulli, were trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in two boats, the Libyan navy said Saturday. Those who lost their lives were from Sudan, Nigeria, Chad and Egypt.

The bodies were recovered from an inflatable boat packed with migrants that got into trouble, the coast guard spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters.

A day earlier, three children and nine women were among 94 migrants rescued on Friday when their inflatable dinghy sank 12 nautical miles from Garabulli, east of the capital Tripoli.

“The migrants are from different sub-Saharan countries including three children and nine women,” he said.

Two coast guard patrols carried out different operations on Friday, picking up 91 migrants in one group and 94 in the second, Qassem said.

A total of 900 migrants have been intercepted or rescued by the Libyan navy since Wednesday as departures pick up due to favorable weather.

Usually in such cases the migrants are taken to detention centers pending repatriation.

Libya’s western coast is the main departure point for migrants fleeing wars and poverty and trying to reach Europe, although the number of crossings has sharply dropped since last July due to a more active coast guard presence with support from the EU.

Libya descended into chaos following the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with many armed groups and two administrations vying for power.

Most migrants try to head across the Mediterranean toward Italy, hoping they will be picked up by ships run by aid groups and taken there, although many drown before they are rescued.

Earlier this month, Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister, Matteo Salvini, vowed to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving one ship stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will try on Sunday to persuade other EU leaders to agree on a common policy on migrants, although her chances of winning support from all 28 member states are deemed slim.