Daesh in desperate attempt to save Albu Kamal, last Syrian bastion

Iraqi forces are seen on November 4, 2017 in the centre of the city of al-Qaim, in Iraq's western Anbar province near the Syrian border after retaking it from Daesh group a day earlier. (AFP)
Updated 11 November 2017
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Daesh in desperate attempt to save Albu Kamal, last Syrian bastion

BEIRUT: Daesh terrorists conducted a blistering counterattack on Albu Kamal in eastern Syria Friday in a desperate bid to cling to the last urban bastion of their imploding “caliphate.”
The terrorists punched back into the town they had lost a day earlier and swiftly retook several northern neighborhoods, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
“IS (Daesh) started counterattacking on Thursday night and retook more than 40 percent of the town of Albu Kamal,” Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, told AFP.
Albu Kamal was the last significant town to have been under full Daesh control and lies at the heart of what used to be the sprawling “caliphate” the group declared in 2014 over swathes of Iraq and Syria.
“The terrorists went back in and retook several neighborhoods in the north, northeast and northwest,” Abdel Rahman said. “IS is trying to defend its last bastion.”
The terror group has in the space of a few weeks seen its caliphate shrink to a small rump and lost major cities such as Mosul, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.
The observatory said most of the fighting was done by the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and elite forces from its backer Tehran, as well as militia groups from Iraq.
Losing the town, where IS leaders used to meet and were once considered untouchable, would cap a process which has seen the group relinquish any ambition as a land-holding force and return to the desert to fight a clandestine guerrilla war.
Many of the group’s top leaders have been killed as Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from Russia, Iran and a US-led coalition rolled back the territorial losses that saw the terrorists declare a “caliphate” roughly the size of Britain in 2014.
But the whereabouts of the first among them, self-proclaimed “caliph” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, remains unclear. He has been reported killed or wounded many times but Daesh has never offered any confirmation.
In Deir Ezzor province, which used to be the heartland of their proto-state, the group’s remaining fighters only control about 30 percent of territory, most of it desert.
On the other bank of the Euphrates, coming from the north, the Kurdish-led US-backed forces that retook the Daesh “capital” of Raqqa last month were also advancing on Daesh positions.
According to the observatory, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) retook four villages from Daesh there on Friday.
Observers have predicted the regime may seek to retake towns and cities wrested from Daesh by the SDF, such as Raqqa which the terrorists had used as their main Syrian hub.


Israel reopens people, goods crossings to Gaza after lull

Updated 14 min 48 sec ago
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Israel reopens people, goods crossings to Gaza after lull

  • Hamas disavowed the launch and said it was investigating the incident, as fears of a new war rose
  • Near daily protests along the border since March 30 against Israel’s crippling 11-year blockade of the impoverished enclave have sparked repeated clashes with the army

JERUSALEM: Israel ordered the country’s goods and people border crossings with Gaza to be opened on Sunday, just four days after shuttering them following a Palestinian rocket attack that sparked retaliatory strikes.
The move followed efforts to prevent an escalation in ongoing violence that has raised fears of a new war between Israel and the Palestinian territory’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
“The decision comes after a decrease in the violent events in Gaza over the weekend and efforts Hamas made to restrain” demonstrators, a statement from Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s office read.
On Wednesday, Lieberman had ordered the closure of the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and the Erez crossing for people, after a rocket from the Palestinian territory hit a home in southern Israel, prompting the Jewish state to strike 20 Hamas targets in Gaza.
Hamas disavowed the launch and said it was investigating the incident, as alarm over a potential broader conflict rose.
Near daily protests along the Gaza border since March 30 against Israel’s crippling 11-year blockade of the impoverished enclave have sparked repeated clashes with the army.
More than 200 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in the violence.
On Friday, thousands again gathered for protests in northern Gaza, but demonstrators largely remained at least 100 meters (yards) from the border.
An Israeli army spokesman told AFP that while most of the protesters stayed back from the fence, some came close and threw explosive devices and hand grenades at troops, while burning tires.
At least 130 Palestinians were injured by live fire in clashes with Israeli soldiers, the Gaza health ministry said.
Hamas officials were seen discouraging protesters from nearing the fence.
Israel had on Wednesday also suspended the delivery of fuel for the Palestinian territory’s power plant that had been trucked daily into Gaza under a deal brokered by the United Nations.
“The decision on the renewal of the fuel from Qatar has been put off as for the time being, and will be examined in a number of days based on the events,” the Sunday statement from Lieberman said.
An Egyptian security delegation that visited the Gaza Strip on Thursday had encouraged Hamas leader Ismail Haniya to calm the protests, according to an Egyptian official.
On Friday, United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov also urged all sides “to exercise restraint, to proceed in a peaceful manner, and to avoid escalation.”
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and fears of a fourth have spurred efforts by Egypt and the United Nations for a wider deal that would see Israel ease its blockade in exchange for a long-term truce with the militants.