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.


World Bank report warns Gaza Strip economy is in ‘free fall’

Updated 25 September 2018
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World Bank report warns Gaza Strip economy is in ‘free fall’

  • The World Bank says Gaza’s economy contracted by 6 percent in the first quarter of 2018
  • It cited various factors, beginning with Israel’s decade-long blockade against the territory’s Hamas rulers

JERUSALEM: The Gaza Strip’s economy is in “free fall,” a report from the World Bank warned Tuesday, calling for urgent action by Israel and the international community to avoid “immediate collapse.”
According to the report, Gaza’s economy contracted by 6 percent in the first quarter of 2018. It said unemployment is now over 50 percent — and over 70 percent among Gaza’s youth.
The World Bank cited various factors, starting with Israel’s decade-long blockade against the territory’s militant Hamas rulers, for the precarious downturn. It also cited budget cuts by the rival Palestinian Authority and a reduction in international aid to the Palestinians, particularly from the United States.
“A combination of war, isolation, and internal rivalries has left Gaza in a crippling economic state and exacerbated the human distress,” said Marina Wes, the World Bank’s director for the region.
The report was released ahead of a high-level meeting of the bank’s Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, responsible for coordinating development assistance to the Palestinians, on September 27.

 

Wes said the increasingly dire economic situation in Gaza “has reached a critical point.”
“Increased frustration is feeding into the increased tensions which have already started spilling over into unrest and set back the human development of the region’s large youth population,” she added.
Gazans have staged near weekly demonstrations along the border with Israel since late March, in part to protest the blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007, when the militant group Hamas seized the territory. Hamas has led and organized the protests, but turnout has also been driven by growing despair over blockade-linked hardship, including lengthy power cuts and soaring unemployment.
Israeli soldiers have killed at least 136 Palestinians during the weekly protests since March, including 27 minors, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. A Palestinian sniper also fatally shot an Israeli soldier. Israel contends it’s defending its border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as a screen for attempts to breach the border fence to attack civilians and soldiers. Human rights groups have accused Israel of excessive and unlawful use of force against unarmed protesters.
In the report, the World Bank calls upon Israel to lift restrictions on trade and movement of goods and people to help improve Gaza’s economy, and urges development of “legitimate institutions to govern Gaza in a transparent and efficient manner.”

FACTOID

Unemployment in Gaza is now more than 50 percent — and more than 70 percent among the youth.