US-backed Syrian force declare victory over Daesh in Raqqa

In this Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017 photo, fighters from the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, hold a celebration in Paradise Square in Raqqa, Syria. (AP Photo/Gabriel Chaim)
Updated 20 October 2017
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US-backed Syrian force declare victory over Daesh in Raqqa

BEIRUT: A US-backed Syrian force declared victory over Daesh in its former “capital” of Raqqa on Friday, declaring the northern Syrian city free of any extremist presence.
At a press conference held inside the city Friday, the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces formally handed over administration of the devastated northern city to a council made up of local officials and tribal leaders.
In a highly symbolic move, the press conference was held inside the city’s sports stadium which Daesh militants had turned into an arms depot and a huge prison where they incarcerated and tortured their opponents.
“Our victory is one against terrorism, and the liberation of Raqqa marks the latest chapter in the fight against terrorists in Syria,” said Talal Sillo, a spokesman and senior SDF commander.
Standing before a backdrop of shattered buildings, Sillo urged the international community and aid organizations to assist with the city’s reconstruction.
Associated Press drone footage from Raqqa showed the extent of devastation caused by weeks of fighting between Kurdish-led forces and Daesh and thousands of bombs dropped by the US-led coalition.
Footage from Thursday shows the bombed-out shells of buildings and heaps of concrete slabs lay piled on streets littered with destroyed cars. Entire neighborhoods are seen turned to rubble, with little sign of civilian life.
The video showed entire blocks in the city as uninhabitable with knocked-out walls and blown-out windows and doors, while some buildings had several stories turned to piles of debris. The stadium that was used as an arms depot and prison by the extremists appears to have suffered less damage compared with surrounding buildings.
“We call upon all countries and peace-loving forces and all humanitarian organizations to participate in rebuilding the city and villages around it and help in removing the scars of war that were inflicted by the (Daesh) group,” Sillo said.
Sillo said 655 local and international fighters lost their lives during the four-month battle for Raqqa.
Long before the ground offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces began in Raqqa in early June, warplanes pounded the city for months.
The US-backed Kurdish-led SDF announced Tuesday they have driven Daesh militants out of the city after weeks of fighting.
The fall of Raqqa marks a major defeat for Daesh, which has seen its territories steadily shrink since last year. Daesh took over Raqqa, located on the Euphrates River, in January 2014, and transformed it into the epicenter of its brutal rule.


US fires warning shots to stop Iran navy vessel in Gulf

An Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps boat heading toward the USS Thunderbolt in the Gulf. (AFP)
Updated 26 July 2017
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US fires warning shots to stop Iran navy vessel in Gulf

JEDDAH: A US Navy ship fired warning shots when an Iranian vessel in the Gulf came within 150 yards (137 meters) of it on Tuesday, in the first such incident since President Donald Trump took office, US officials said.
The last major incident was earlier in January, though a US vessel fired a flare in March when a US Navy ship was forced to change course after multiple fast-attack vessels from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) came too close.
In a statement to Reuters, US Naval Forces Central Command said the patrol craft, named USS Thunderbolt, fired the warning shots in front of the Iranian vessel after it ignored radio calls, flares and the ship’s whistle.
The Iranian vessel was from IRGC, the statement said, adding that it stopped its unsafe approach after the warning shots were fired.
A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the Iranian boat was armed but that the weapons were unmanned.
The USS Thunderbolt was accompanied by a number of other vessels, including those from the US Coast Guard.
Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst told Arab News that the Iranian objective is to take control of the strategic waterways in the Gulf.
“We saw multiple acts from the IRGC against the US Navy under the Obama administration. The difference now is that under Trump, the US Navy seems to have been authorized to push back harder against IRGC naval threats,” said Shahbandar.
The Iranian navy issued a statement on Tuesday noting that an American “battleship” moved toward one of its patrol boats in international waters in the northern Gulf and fired two shots in the air, according to Sepah News, the official news site of the IRGC.
In its annual Country Reports on Terrorism, the US State Department this week said Iran was the world’s “foremost” state sponsor of terrorism in 2016, a dubious distinction the country has held for many years.
It said Tehran was firm in its backing of proxies that have destabilized Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The report added that Iran continued to recruit in Afghanistan and Pakistan for Shiite militia members to fight in Syria and Iraq, and Iranian support for Hezbollah was unchanged.
Tehran used a unit of the IRGC, the Quds Force, “to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations and create instability in the Middle East,” the report said.