France: Raqqa fall not end of battle against Daesh

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters ride atop military vehicles as they celebrate victory in Raqqa, Syria, in this October 17, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 October 2017
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France: Raqqa fall not end of battle against Daesh

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that France’s military would continue its fight against Daesh in Syria, but that the fall of the militant group’s bastion in Raqqa needed to lead to an inclusive political system to restore stability.
“The battle against Islamic State (Daesh) did not end with the fall of Raqqa and France will maintain its military effort as long as necessary,” Macron’s office said in a statement. “The challenges of stabilization and reconstruction will not be less than those of the military campaign.”
In a declaration formally announcing Raqqa’s liberation from Daesh after four months of battles, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Friday that Raqqa would be part of a decentralized federal Syria.
France has supplied weapons to the SDF, has special forces operating in the region and has been one of core countries bombing militants as part of the US-led coalition.
The statement also said it was vital that governance in Raqqa respected all communities.
“This principle should apply first and foremost to the city of Raqqa, under conditions that will enable the restoration of normal living conditions, the return of the displaced and refugee populations, and the sustainable return of peace and stability,” the statement said.
The fight against Daesh has taken place amid a wider, multisided civil war between the government of President Bashar Assad, who is backed by Iran and Russia, and an array of opposition groups supported by other powers.
“Syria must finally find a way out of the civil war, which has fueled terrorism since the suppression of the democratic movement by the Bashar Assad regime. A negotiated political transition is more necessary than ever,” the statement said.
Turkey said on Friday that a huge banner of jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan unfurled in central Raqqa by US-backed Kurdish forces would further harm already fraught relations between Ankara and Washington.
The banner of Ocalan was raised on Thursday at a ceremony to mark Raqqa’s capture from Daesh in a campaign spearheaded by Kurdish Syrian YPG fighters, with military support from the US.
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of Ocalan’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s southeast and is designated a terrorist organization by the US, EU and Turkey.
Ankara says that weapons supplied to fighters in Syria have ended up in PKK hands, threatening Turkish security.
“I wonder what more evidence the US needs to accept that the ... YPG is a terrorist organization,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters as he left a mosque in Istanbul.
“Displaying a photograph of the PKK terrorist leader damages US-Turkey relations very seriously. With this move, the US is not only cooperating with terrorists, but they are endangering the future of Syria.”
The banner of Ocalan was raised on Thursday by an all-female Kurdish militia. Kurdish YPG commanders and fighters were also shown chanting “Long Live Apo!,” as Ocalan is known by his followers, in a video of celebrations distributed by the YPG press office.
President Tayyip Erdogan echoed Yildirim’s condemnation.
“How can the US explain the poster of Ocalan in Raqqa? Is this the way they are cooperating with us in the struggle against terror?” he said. “You are not standing by us against terrorism. You wouldn’t allow this if you were.”
Ocalan has been in jail in Turkey since 1999 on a treason conviction. He negotiated a truce from his prison cell, but the cease-fire broke down two years ago and thousands have died in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey in renewed violence since then.
The banner incident comes amid a diplomatic spat between Ankara and Washington over the detention of a Turkish employee of the US Consulate in Istanbul that has seen the two countries suspend visa services for each other’s citizens. The US praised local Syrian forces for the “milestone” victory, but warned the war against the terrorists is far from over.
“The liberation of Raqqa is a critical milestone in the global fight against ISIS (Daesh),” the State Department said in a statement congratulating the SDF and other forces.
But the “loss of Raqqa does not mean our fight against ISIS is over,” it added.
“The global coalition will continue to draw on all elements of national power — military, intelligence, diplomacy, economic, law enforcement, and the strength of our communities until all Syrians have been liberated from ISIS brutality and we can ensure that it can no longer export its terror around the world.”
The US-led coalition of nations that has been providing air support and training to local ground forces also sent congratulations.
“We are still fighting the remnants of (Daesh) in Iraq and Syria, and will continue to facilitate humanitarian efforts assisting citizens adversely affected by a brutal occupation, who face a long battle to gain their freedom,” Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, who heads the coalition, said in a statement.
“A tough fight still lies ahead.”


Israel quiet on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria

Updated 19 June 2018
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Israel quiet on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria

  • The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria
  • Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

JERUSALEM: Israel declined to comment on Tuesday on a weekend air strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria after its US ally implicated it in the attack.
The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria.
Fighters of Iraq’s Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force, mainly composed of Iran-trained Shiite militia, have played a major role in the war against the Sunni extremists of the Daesh group in Syria as well as Iraq.
But their presence has sparked confrontations with both Washington, which has been supporting a Kurdish-led alliance that controls other parts of eastern Syria, and Israel, which fears Iranian-inspired attacks on its forces in the occupied Golan Heights.
Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
But US officials denied any involvement and instead pointed the finger at Israel.
“We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike,” one US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli military declined to be drawn on the US claims. “We are not commenting on foreign reports,” a spokeswoman said.
The military has carried out previous strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, but most have been significantly closer to Israel or the Israeli-occupied Golan.
Last month, Israel launched a large-scale attack on what it said were Iranian targets in Syria, raising fears of a major confrontation.
Those strikes followed a barrage of rockets that Israel said was fired toward its forces in the occupied Golan by Iran from Syria.
Even before that, Israel had been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged them.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Netanyahu reiterated his position that “Iran needs to withdraw from all of Syria.”
“We will take action — and are already taking action — against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria,” the prime minister said.
“We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.”
Israeli seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
Iran has been a close ally of the Syrian regime for some four decades and, with Russia, has been a key supporter in the civil war that broke out in 2011.