Iraqi PMU forces, not Syrian regime, liberated Bukamal, says top monitor

Iraqi members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization units) are pictured in the city of al-Qaim, in Iraq's western Anbar province near the Syrian border as they fight against remnant pockets of Daesh group jihadists on November 3, 2017. (AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Iraqi PMU forces, not Syrian regime, liberated Bukamal, says top monitor

JEDDAH: Daesh has been expelled from the Syrian town of Bukamal, the last significant town the terror group still held in its disintegrating “caliphate,” a top monitor told Arab News on Thursday.
Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, widely known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), not the Syrian regime forces, had taken over the city.
The terrorists’ latest rout left them with only the dregs of a self-styled “state” that once spanned huge territory in Iraq and Syria, with surviving Daesh militants melting away into desert hideouts.
Anti-Daesh forces stormed into the town just across the border from Iraq on Wednesday and while fighting was initially reported as fierce, the outcome of one of Daesh’s last major battles was never in doubt.
Abdul Rahman termed the liberation of the city “the final scene of a movie on the destruction of Daesh in Syria.” The movie is coming to an end now, he added.
He said Daesh fighters do not have any arms now because they have lost many battles recently.
Asked about the future of US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Abdul Rahman said that 38 percent of the Syrian territory is with the Assad regime or the PMU, 32 percent with the SDF or the US, and the remaining is under Daesh.
The observatory head said the country will ultimately be united although it is currently divided between Russian-backed and US-supported forces.
He said the future of Syria lies with Moscow and Washington.
Asked how long he thinks the war will continue, Abdul Rahman said: “Only Allah knows.”
The Syrian regime’s army earier said their armed forces units, in cooperation with allied and auxiliary forces, liberated the town in Deir Ezzor province.
Abdel Rahman said that “Daesh withdrew to desert areas in eastern Deir Ezzor” province, where they are likely to encounter US-backed Kurdish-led fighters.
A senior Iraqi Army commander told AFP that his forces shot dead four Daesh members who had tried to cross into Iraq, where the group holds the small town of Rawa, near the border.
In a separate development, UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland told Reuters that the 400,000 civilians besieged in the Syrian enclave of Eastern Ghouta face “complete catastrophe” because aid deliveries are blocked and hundreds of people need urgent medical evacuation.


Syria’s Idlib spared attack, Turkey to send in more troops

Updated 18 min 35 sec ago
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Syria’s Idlib spared attack, Turkey to send in more troops

  • Damascus also welcomed the agreement but vowed to continue its efforts to recover “every inch” of Syria
  • The Idlib region and adjoining territory north of Aleppo represent the opposition’s last big foothold in Syria

ANKARA/AMMAN: Turkey will send more troops into Syria’s Idlib province after striking a deal with Russia that has averted a government offensive and delighted rebels who said it kept the area out of President Bashar Assad’s hands.
The deal unveiled on Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad’s most powerful ally, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will create a demilitarised zone from which “radical” rebels must withdraw by the middle of next month.
Damascus also welcomed the agreement but vowed to continue its efforts to recover “every inch” of Syria. Iran, Assad’s other main ally, said that “responsible diplomacy” had averted a war in Idlib “with a firm commitment to fight extremist terror.”
The agreement halted a threatened Syrian government offensive. The United Nations had warned such an attack would create a humanitarian catastrophe in the Idlib region, home to about 3 million people.
The Idlib region and adjoining territory north of Aleppo represent the opposition’s last big foothold in Syria. Assad has recovered most of the areas once held by the rebels, with decisive military support from Iran and Russia.
But his plans to recover the northwest have been complicated by Turkey’s role on the ground. It has soldiers at 12 locations in Idlib and supplies weapons to some of the rebels.
Erdogan had feared another exodus of refugees to join the 3.5 million already in Turkey, and warned against any attack.
In striking the deal, Russia appears — at least for now — to have put its ties with Turkey ahead of advancing the goal of bringing all Syria back under Assad’s rule.
That goal is also obstructed by the presence of US forces in the quarter of Syria east of the Euphrates that is held by an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, and at a base near the borders with Jordan and Iraq.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis played down any notion the Turkey-Russia agreement had resolved the situation in Idlib.
“Idlib is one of the most complex problems in a complex theater (of conflict) right now. So I’m quite sure it’s not all sorted,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
Analysts cautioned that implementation of the deal faced big challenges, notably how to separate extremists from other rebels — a goal Ankara has been struggling to achieve.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the “moderate opposition” would keep its weapons and the “region will be cleared of radicals.” Turkey would “make additional troop deployments” and its 12 observation posts would remain.
The deal was “very important for the political resolution in Syria.” “If this (Idlib) had been lost too, there would be no opposition anymore,” he said.
Mustafa Sejari, a Free Syria Army (FSA) official, said the deal “buries Assad’s dreams of imposing his full control over Syria.”
Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission, expressed hope a government offensive was now off the table for good.
The Syrian government, in a statement published by state media, said it welcomed any agreement that spared blood. It also said the deal had a specific time frame, which it did not detail.
“I see it as a test of the extent of Turkey’s ability to implement this decision,” Ali Abdul Karim, Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, said in an interview with Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed TV. “We do not trust Turkey ... but it’s useful for Turkey to be able to carry out this fight to rid these groups from their weapons.”
’Catastrophe averted’
Moscow said the deal “confirmed the ability of both Moscow and Ankara to compromise ... in the interests of the ultimate goal of a Syrian settlement by political and diplomatic means.”
“Is this merely a stay of execution? Or is it the beginning of a reprieve?” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock asked during a monthly meeting of the UN Security Council on Syria.
The demilitarised zone will be monitored by Russian and Turkish forces, the countries’ leaders said.
Neither Russia nor Turkey has explained how it plans to differentiate “radically minded” rebels from other anti-Assad groups. It was also not immediately clear how much of the city of Idlib fell within the zone.
Putin said the decision was to establish by Oct. 15 a demilitarised area 15 to 20 km (10-12 miles) deep along the contact line between rebel and government fighters.
Naji Abu Hufaiza, spokesman for the National Front for Liberation, said he did not have details of the agreement, but added that while he saw it as a success for Turkish diplomacy, his group did not trust Russia to uphold it.
Idlib is held by an array of rebels. The most powerful is Tahrir Al-Sham, an amalgamation of Islamist groups dominated by the former Nusra Front — an Al-Qaeda affiliate until 2016.
Other Islamists, and groups fighting as the Free Syrian Army banner, are now gathered with Turkish backing under the banner of the “National Front for Liberation.”
The area is also the last major haven for foreign extremists who came to Syria to fight the Alawite-led Assad government.
Putin said that, at Erdogan’s suggestion, by Oct. 10, all opposition heavy weapons, mortars, tanks, rocket systems would also be removed from the demilitarised zone.
Earlier this month, Putin publicly rebuffed a proposal from Erdogan for a truce when the two met along with Iran’s president at a summit in Tehran.