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.


Red Sea resorts drive Egypt tourism hopes

Holidaymakers play on Thursday at El-Sokhna beach in Suez, Egypt. (AP)
Updated 19 July 2018
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Red Sea resorts drive Egypt tourism hopes

  • The Red Sea resort of Hurghada has been listed as one of the top 25 destinations in the world
  • Egypt’s annual tourist influx rose to 8.3 million in 2017 from 5.3 million in 2016

CAIRO: Egypt’s tourism industry, struggling since the 2011 uprising plunged the country into violence, is showing signs of recovery.
Thomas Cook, one of the largest tourism companies in Egypt, announced on Sunday that 500,000 tourists will visit the country in 2018.
Egypt’s Thomas Cook agent chairman, Moody Al-Shaer, said that the company had experienced a 50 percent surge in bookings during the first half of 2018, particularly to Red Sea destinations such as Hurghada and Marsa Alam.
“The occupancy rate reached its highest levels since July 2017. We also have a slight increase in prices since last year due to the high demand for Hurghada,” Azza Hussien, marketing manager of the Hilton Hurghada resort, told Arab News.
“One of the main drivers to Hurghada is the competitive pricing and value for money, and this is one of the major reasons leading to a rise in demand among tourists,” Hussien said.
Reports from airlines indicated a rise in British tourism to Egypt. International travel agencies have also forecast a surge in tourists from the UK, with bookings and flights set for a significant increase during 2018.
“With more than 40 UK flights a week, Egypt is again a dream destination for hundreds of thousands of British tourists,” John Casson, the UK ambassador to Egypt, said.
The envoy said at the end of 2017 that Thomas Cook planned to resume flights to the Egyptian city of Marsa Alam to accommodate “growing British demand” for Egyptian holidays.
The tour company suspended flights to the city 10 years ago.
Two flights from Birmingham airport and London Gatwick airport each week will support Thomas Cook’s plans.
The Red Sea resort of Hurghada has been listed as one of the top 25 destinations in the world, according to TripAdvisor.
“The stunning coral reefs and turquoise waters are perfect for windsurfing. Within easy reach of the Giftun Islands and the eastern Arabian Desert,” TripAdvisor wrote on its official website.
“It’s a relatively easy beach escape for Europeans, and some of the world’s best diving and snorkeling sites are just offshore,” it added.
“We come here every year, we love the place. Everyone smiles at you, we really feel at home here,” said Nancy Markaus, a Serbian tourist in Hurghada.
“We love Egypt and we love how friendly people are to us,” said Marten Lutz, a German tourist.
Egypt’s annual tourist influx rose to 8.3 million in 2017 from 5.3 million in 2016. Yet results are still well off the 12 million figure for 2010.