Daesh fighters move to Syria’s Idlib, clash with factions — sources

A phoo taken on February 9, 2018 in the countryside of Idlib, where Syrian government forces are conducting a major offensive. (AFP)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Daesh fighters move to Syria’s Idlib, clash with factions — sources

BEIRUT: Daesh fighters clashed with Syrian insurgents in the northwestern province of Idlib on Friday, a monitoring group and a rebel commander said, accusing pro-government forces of opening a corridor for the extremists to reach the region.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces had allowed Daesh fighters to leave a besieged pocket of territory at the intersection of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces, and then go to southern Idlib.
A military news outlet run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is fighting on the Syrian government side, reported gains for the army and its allies against Daesh in that pocket, but made no mention of the militants being allowed to leave.
A commander in the alliance fighting alongside Syria’s army said the Daesh militants left the enclave. “The pocket is finished. A crossing was opened till they exited, and then it was closed,” the commander said.
The Syrian military could not be reached for comment.
“The regime started the operation against this pocket seven days ago, suddenly they were able to take 80 villages and towns after giving them a corridor,” said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Observatory, a Britain-based war monitoring group.
Hasan Hajj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army rebel group, confirmed the report. Ali said his fighters were taking part in clashes against some 200 Islamic State fighters who had arrived in southern Idlib early on Friday.
“This morning at dawn we were surprised by the joint treachery by the regime and Daesh,” he told Reuters. Clashes were under way in the village of Lweibdeh, he said. “They have six armored vehicles with them.”
A source in the Ahrar Al-Sham faction said Daesh fighters had pushed into south Idlib from government territory.
“The rebel factions are repelling Daesh attempts to advance,” the source said. “The regime’s militias opened a gap helping the besieged Daesh forces pass.”
Idlib is the largest chunk of Syrian territory held by insuirgent factions opposed to President Bashar Assad’s government. Extremist factions including Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in the Syrian war dominate the province.


Christian leaders urge Israeli PM to nix church lands bill

Updated 38 min 36 sec ago
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Christian leaders urge Israeli PM to nix church lands bill

  • Christian leaders are urging Netanyahu to stop a bill that the churches say would allow the state to appropriate land sold to buyers
  • The government’s Ministerial Legislation Committee will reportedly vote on the bill on Sunday

JERUSALEM: Three major Holy Land churches on Friday called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block draft legislation they said was aimed at expropriating their property.
In a letter to Netanyahu seen by AFP, heads of the Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches in Jerusalem and a senior Roman Catholic official condemned the bill as “disgraceful.”
They said its inclusion on the agenda of a government committee meeting scheduled for Sunday reneged on previous commitments to withdraw the law.
Swathes of Jerusalem are held by various churches, in many cases under long-term leases from the state.
The churches then sublet the properties on the commercial market.
In February, Jerusalem municipality began enforcing tax collection on church property — excluding places of worship.
Separately, parliament was working on a law that would allow the state to intervene in the resale of leases to commercial property developers.
The religious leaders protested by closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site in Jerusalem where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried.
Israeli authorities then froze both the tax measures and the legislation, committing to a dialogue with the churches over the issues.
In their letter Friday, the churchmen said Netanyahu himself had written to them in July giving “assurances to withdraw the legislation.”
“We were astonished to realize that this disgraceful bill was listed on the agenda of the ministerial committee for legislation this coming Sunday,” it said.
“We are therefore compelled to call yet again for Your Excellency’s urgent intervention to stop this bill once and for all.”
The cabinet office listed the bill among several “added to the agenda” of Sunday’s meeting.
Listed as a bill for tenants’ rights, it aims to safeguard residents of properties assigned to “various bodies” on 99-year leases during the 1950s.
The bill’s sponsor, MP Rachel Azaria of the centrist Kulanu party says it was meant to solve the problem of “thousands of Jerusalem residents who could lose their homes due to the demands of developers.”