Syria fight against Daesh in Damascus stalls, dozens dead: monitor

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on May 2, 2018 shows Syrian soldiers holding position during battles with Daesh extremists in al-Hajar al-Aswad area. (AFP PHOTO / SANA)
Updated 12 May 2018
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Syria fight against Daesh in Damascus stalls, dozens dead: monitor

BEIRUT: At least 86 pro-regime fighters were killed in Syria over the past week in battles against Daesh as regime forces push to clear extremists from their last stronghold in Damascus, a monitor said Saturday.
The extremists have lost 57 fighters in the clashes in the Hajjar Al-Aswad district on the outskirts of Damascus since May 5, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Since mid-April, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have pounded Daesh in its last Damascus bastion.
Retaking the area, which includes Hajjar Al-Aswad and the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk, would place the regime in full control of the capital and its surroundings for the first time since 2012.
“The clashes continue. Despite its firepower, the regime has been unable to achieve any significant advance on the ground for a week,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“IS is entrenched in tunnels and underground shelters and it has been conducting counter-attacks since Saturday,” he said, using another term for Daesh.
At least 203 pro-government fighters have been killed along with 159 Daesh militants since April 19, according to the Observatory.
Government forces have retaken 60 percent of Hajjar Al-Aswad, but extremists still control 80 percent of Yarmuk, the monitor said.
Once a thriving district home to some 160,000 Palestinians and Syrians, Yarmuk’s population has fallen to just a few hundred people.
The regime continued to pound the area with air strikes and artillery fire on Saturday, the Observatory said.
Daesh has been expelled from most of the country since it declared a “caliphate” across large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.
But it still holds around five percent of Syrian territory, in eastern and central desert holdouts and on the edge of Damascus.
Syria’s war has killed more than 350,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests before spiralling into a complex conflict involving world powers and extremists.


Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 21 March 2019
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Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.