Attack on mosque in Egypt’s Sinai kills at least 305

Egyptians walk past bodies following a gun and bombing attack at the Rawda mosque, roughly 40 kilometers west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish, on November 24, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 25 November 2017
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Attack on mosque in Egypt’s Sinai kills at least 305

CAIRO: Armed attackers on Friday killed at least 305 worshippers, including 27 children, in a bomb and gun assault on a packed mosque in Egypt’s restive North Sinai province, state media reported, the country’s deadliest attack in recent memory.
A bomb explosion ripped through the Rawda mosque frequented by Sufis roughly 40 kilometers west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish before gunmen opened fire on those gathered for weekly Friday prayers, officials said.
Gunmen who attacked a mosque in North Sinai were carrying a Daesh flag, Egyptian officials said on Saturday.
Egypt's military said they had carried out air strikes and raids overnight against militants held responsible for the killings, the bloodiest attack in Egypt's modern history.
The attack also left 128 people injured, the state news agency reported, while Egypt's public prosecutor's office linked it to the Daesh militants.
"They numbered between 25 and 30, carrying the Daesh flag and took up positions in front of the mosque door and its 12 windows with automatic rifles," the prosecutor said in a statement.
Witnesses said the assailants had surrounded the mosque with all-terrain vehicles then planted a bomb outside.
The gunmen then mowed down the panicked worshippers as they attempted to flee and used the congregants’ vehicles they had set alight to block routes to the mosque.
Egypt’s presidency declared three days of mourning, state television reported, as President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met his security ministers to follow developments.
UK foreign minister Boris Johnson condemned the “barbaric attack” in a post on Twitter, while his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian expressed his condolences to the families of victims of the “despicable attack.”
Ahmed Abul Gheit, head of the Arab League, which is based in Cairo, condemned the “terrifying crime which again shows that Islam is innocent of those who follow extremist terrorist ideology,” his spokesman said in a statement.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
The Daesh group’s Egypt branch has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers, and also civilians accused of working with the authorities, in attacks in the north of the Sinai peninsula.
They have also targeted followers of the mystical Sufi branch of Sunni Islam as well as Christians.
The victims of Friday’s attack included civilians and conscripts praying at the mosque.
A tribal leader and head of a Bedouin militia that fights Daesh told AFP that the mosque is known as a place of gathering for Sufis.
The Daesh group shares the puritan Salafi view of Sufis as heretics for seeking the intercession of saints.
The jihadists had previously kidnapped and beheaded an elderly Sufi leader, accusing him of practicing magic which Islam forbids, and abducted Sufi practitioners later released after “repenting.”
A Daesh propaganda outlet had published an interview earlier with the commander of its “morality police” in Sinai who said their “first priority was to combat the manifestations of polytheism including Sufism.”
The group has killed more than 100 Christians in church bombings and shootings in Sinai and other parts of Egypt, forcing many to flee the peninsula.
The military has struggled to quell jihadists who pledged allegiance to Daesh in November 2014.
Daesh regularly conducts attacks against soldiers and policemen in the peninsula bordering Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, although the frequency and scale of such attacks has diminished over the past year.
The jihadists have since increasingly turned to civilian targets, attacking not only Christians and Sufis but also Bedouin Sinai inhabitants accused of working with the army.
Aside from Daesh, Egypt also faces a threat from Al-Qaeda-aligned jihadists who operate out of neighboring Libya.
A group calling itself Ansar Al-Islam — Supporters of Islam in Arabic — claimed an October ambush in Egypt’s Western Desert that killed at least 16 policemen.
Many of those killed belonged to the interior ministry’s secretive National Security Service.
The military later conducted air strikes on the attackers, killing their leader Emad Al-Din Abdel Hamid, a most wanted jihadist who was a military officer before joining an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Libya’s militant stronghold of Derna.


At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive regional trade

This picture taken from the Jordanian Mafraq governate on October 15, 2018, shows Jordanian policemen checking cars at the Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria (Nassib crossing on the Syrian side) on the day of its reopening. The main border crossing between Jordan and war-torn Syria reopened on October 15 after a three year closure, an AFP photographer reported. (AFP)
Updated 15 min 1 sec ago
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At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive regional trade

  • Lebanese businessmen are delighted, as they can now reach other countries in the region by sending lorries through Syria and its southern border crossing
  • Assad’s forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels and jihadists

BEIRUT: By reopening a key land crossing with Jordan this month, the Syrian regime is inching toward a return to trade with the wider region as it looks to boost its war-ravaged economy.
The government of President Bashar Assad took back control of the Nassib border post in July from rebels as part of a military offensive that reclaimed swathes of the south of the country.
Syria’s international trade has plummeted during the seven-year civil war, and its foreign reserves have been almost depleted.
The reopening of Nassib after a three-year hiatus, on October 15, is a political victory for the Damascus regime, said Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group.
It is “a step toward reintegrating with Syria’s surroundings economically and recapturing the country’s traditional role as a conduit for regional trade,” he said.
The Nassib crossing reopens a direct land route between Syria and Jordan, but also a passage via its southern neighbor to Iraq to the east, and the Gulf to the south.
“For the Syrian government, reopening Nassib is a step toward normalization with Jordan and the broader region, and a blow to US-led attempts to isolate Damascus,” Heller said.
International pressure and numerous rounds of peace talks have failed to stem the fighting in Syria, and seven years in the regime has gained the military upper hand in the conflict.
Assad’s forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels and jihadists.

Syria faces a mammoth task to revive its battered economy.
The country’s exports plummeted by more than 90 percent in the first four years of the conflict alone, from $7.9 billion to $631 million, according to a World Bank report last year.
The Syria Report, an economic weekly, said Nassib’s reopening would reconnect Syria with an “important market” in the Gulf.
But, it warned, “it is unlikely Syrian exports will recover anywhere close to the 2011 levels in the short and medium terms because the country’s production capacity has been largely destroyed.”
For now, at least, Nassib’s reopening is good news for Syrian tradesmen forced into costlier, lengthier maritime shipping since 2015.
Among them, Syrian businessman Farouk Joud was looking forward to being able to finally import goods from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates via land.
Before 2015, “it would take maximum three days for us to receive goods, but via the sea it takes a whole month,” he told AFP.
Importing goods until recently has involved a circuitous maritime route from the Jordanian port of Aqaba via the Suez Canal, and up to a regime-held port in the northwest of the country.
“It costs twice as much as land transport via Nassib,” Joud said.
Syrian parliament member Hadi Sharaf was equally enthusiastic about fresh opportunities for Syrian exports.
“Exporting (fruit and) vegetables will have a positive economic impact, especially for much-demanded citrus fruit to Iraq,” he told AFP.
Before Syria’s war broke out in 2011, neighboring Iraq was the first destination of Syria’s non-oil exports.

The parliamentarian also hoped the revived trade route on Syria’s southern border would swell state coffers with much-needed dollars.
Before the conflict, the Nassib crossing raked in $2 million in customs fees, Sharaf said.
Last month, Syria’s Prime Minister Imad Khamis said fees at Nassib for a four-ton truck had been increased from $10 to $62.
Syria’s foreign reserves have been almost depleted due to the drop in oil exports, loss of tourism revenues and sanctions, the World Bank says.
And the local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value since the start of the war.
Lebanese businessmen are also delighted, as they can now reach other countries in the region by sending lorries through Syria and its southern border crossing.
Lebanon’s farmers “used to export more than 70 percent of their produce to Arab countries via this strategic crossing,” said Bechara Al-Asmar, head of Lebanon’s labor union.
Despite recent victories, Damascus still controls only half of the 19 crossings along Syria’s lengthy borders with Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.
Damascus and Baghdad have said the Albukamal crossing with Iraq in eastern Syria will open soon, but did not give a specific date.
Beyond trade, there is even hope that the Nassib crossing reopening might bring some tourists back to Syria.
A Jordanian travel agency recently posted on Facebook that it was organizing daily trips to the Syrian capital by “safe and air-conditioned” bus from Monday.
“Who among us doesn’t miss the good old days in Syria?” it said.