Damascus regime troops, allies retake most of last Daesh-held town

Men ride a bicycle in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor during a military operation by government forces against Daesh group, in this photo taken on November 4, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 19 November 2017
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Damascus regime troops, allies retake most of last Daesh-held town

BEIRUT: Syrian troops and allied fighters advanced Saturday to capture most of Albu Kamal, a monitor said, in a tug-of-war over Daesh’s last urban stronghold in the country.
The town in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province has changed hands several times, with regime troops announcing its capture but losing it to a blistering Daesh counter-attack a week ago.
Syria’s army and Lebanese, Iranian and Iraqi loyalists re-entered Albu Kamal two days ago and by Saturday had taken most of it from Daesh, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Syrian regime forces, (Lebanese) Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and Iraqi militias seized control on Saturday of more than 80 percent of Albu Kamal, after a huge attack that began Friday night,” said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
“IS (Daesh) was pushed back to the northern and northeastern sectors of the city. Clashes are ongoing,” Abdel Rahman said.
The Britain-based monitor said the fresh push came with heavy bombing raids by regime ally Russia, and that troops were advancing more “carefully” than in their previous assault to ensure their gains would not be rolled back.
A string of territorial defeats across northern and eastern Syria left Albu Kamal, near the border with Iraq, as the last significant town held by IS in the country.
Losing it to regime forces would cap the group’s reversion to a guerrilla organization with no urban base.
On Saturday, Syrian state television aired live footage from Albu Kamal, showing plumes of smoke rising over the city’s skyline as explosions echoed in the background.
It said the army was preparing to “storm the remaining areas” held by Daesh in Albu Kamal’s east.
“What has most impeded the Syrian army’s advance is the large amounts of mines left by Daesh (IS) and its attempt at using families as human shields,” state television reported.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said shelling by the regime on the opposition-held area of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus Friday killed at least 19 civilians, among them six children.
According to the Observatory, 52 civilians have been killed since Tuesday, most of them in Eastern Ghouta, which has been besieged since 2013 and where humanitarian conditions are dire.
Thirteen people, including five children and three emergency workers, were killed in regime shelling and airstrikes in Douma, the Eastern Ghouta area’s main town, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.


Iraqi police arresting protesters in the south — activists

Updated 50 min 14 sec ago
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Iraqi police arresting protesters in the south — activists

  • The government rushed to contain the protests with promises of thousands of jobs, mainly in the oil sector
  • Basra is home to about 70 percent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces in the southern oil-rich province of Basra have started arresting protesters who took part in the week-long demonstrations there to demand more jobs and better services, activists said Monday.
Protests in the city of Basra, the provincial capital and Iraq’s second-largest city, are not unusual in scorching summer weather but they boiled over last Tuesday, when security forces opened fire, killing one person and wounding five.
Within days the rallies spread to other provinces. In some places, protesters broke into local government buildings and burned the offices of some political parties.
The government rushed to contain the protests with promises of thousands of jobs, mainly in the oil sector, and an urgent allocation of 3.5 trillion Iraqi dinars ($3 billion) for electricity and water projects. It blamed “infiltrators” for the damages.
The arrests started on Sunday night, with police chasing protesters down main roads and alleys following demonstrations in the city of Basra, and also in the countryside and around oil fields, two activists told The Associated Press.
The activists could not give a specific number for those arrested, saying only “hundreds.” They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. Officials were not immediately available to comment.
The activists said Internet was back on after a two-day shutdown, but a heavy deployment of security forces outside the local government building in Basra prevented protesters from gathering there Monday.
Police also closed off surrounding streets with barbed wire.
Meanwhile, authorities reopened the country’s second-busiest airport, in the city of Najaf, following a two-day shutdown after a mob broke into the facility on Friday, damaging the passenger terminal and vandalizing equipment.
Transportation Minister Kadhim Finjan Al-Hamai was at the Najaf airport to announce the reopening on the Iraqi state TV as an Iraqi Airways plane landed behind him. He said 18 local and international flights were to land on Monday.
The shutdown had caused “heavy losses” to the government, the airport and airline companies, he said without elaborating.
Kuwait Airways, the Royal Jordanian and Iran’s Aviation Authority suspended their flights to Najaf on Sunday, citing security concerns. The United Arab Emirates’ FlyDubai canceled Saturday’s flights to Najaf and said it was suspending its flights until July 22.
Iraq’s vital Um Qasr port on the Arabian Gulf, and two main border crossings — Safwan with Kuwait and Shalamcheh with Iran — were closed to both passengers and goods as protesters had blocked the main roads leading to the sites.
Basra is home to about 70 percent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels. It is located on the Arabian Gulf bordering Kuwait and Iran, and is Iraq’s only hub these days for all oil exports to the international market.