Iraqi Yazidis celebrate restoration of temple destroyed by Daesh

Iraqi Yazidis visit their temple during a ceremony on January 12, 2018, in the town of Bashiqa, some 20 kilometres north east of Mosul. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Iraqi Yazidis celebrate restoration of temple destroyed by Daesh

BASHIQA, Iraq: Northern Iraq’s Yazidi community that suffered so terribly under Daesh group persecution celebrated on Friday as it inaugurated a restored temple to the sound of traditional drums and flutes.
Overlooked by conical domes of polished stone, hundreds of men in dishdasha robes and women veiled in white gathered at the site which was blown up by the rampaging jihadists in 2014.
The temple at Bashiqa was one of 68 Yazidi temples destroyed by Daesh, officials said — and one of the last of 23 in the region to be restored.
The Yazidi community in Iraq comprised some 550,000 people before it was scattered by the Daesh offensive.
Orthodox Muslims consider the peacock to be a demon figure and refer to Yazidis as devil-worshippers.
Daesh group murdered Yazidis in their thousands in 2014 and abducted thousands of women and teenage girls to make them sex slaves.
According to the religious affairs ministry in Iraqi Kurdistan, some 360,000 Yazidis were displaced by the fighting with 100,000 leaving the country.
Of 6,417 Yazidis reported kidnapped by the jihadists, just 3,207 have been rescued or managed to escape their captors. Half of those still missing are women and girls, the ministry said.
It also said that to date 47 mass graves of Yazidis massacred by Daesh have been discovered.
UN investigators have said the Daesh assault on the Yazidis was a premeditated effort to exterminate an entire community — crimes that amount to genocide.
Friday’s ceremony at the temple in the Bashiqa area some 15 kilometers (nine miles) east of Iraq’s second city Mosul was an act of both revival and defiance.
“This ceremony shows that life has returned despite the terrorism of IS and its bloody attacks,” said 21-year-old Jihan Sinan.
Around her, families posed for pictures as traditional dishes and sweets were handed out and celebrants danced to the tunes of traditional flutes.
Religious leader Ali Rashwakari, 72, urged the international community to help “rebuild the temples and Yazidi regions” of Iraq.


First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2018
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First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

  • Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
  • Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year

BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.

Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.

“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.