Daesh ambush kills 21 regime fighters in southern Syria

Daesh has killed 21 regime fighters in Syria’s southern province of Sweida. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018
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Daesh ambush kills 21 regime fighters in southern Syria

  • The attack occurred late Monday in the rural Tulul Al-Safa area of the province
  • Daesh has killed 21 regime fighters in Syria’s southern province of Sweida

BEIRUT: Daesh militants have killed 12 Syrian regime fighters in an ambush as the group faces separate assaults on its last desert strongholds, a war monitor said Tuesday.
The attack late Monday in Syria’s southern province of Sweida came as US-backed forces advanced against the militants on the border with Iraq, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It also comes with President Bashar Assad’s forces poised to launch an attack on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major region in Syria still controlled by rebels and extremists.
The Daesh ambush in Sweida’s volcanic plateau of Tulul Al-Safa sparked fighting that killed eight militants, the Britain-based Observatory said.
State news agency SANA reported heavy clashes with Daesh in the area, which lies some 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Damascus, adding that government aircraft and artillery “targeted hideouts and positions” held by the group.
Government forces have been fighting Daesh in Sweida since militants carried out a wave of attacks in the mainly Druze province on July 25, killing 250 people according to the Observatory.
During their rampage, which targeted the provincial capital as well as rural areas, the militants also seized around 30 hostages, mostly women and their children.
At least 27 are believed to still be held, according to Human Rights Watch, after Daesh said it had beheaded a 19-year-old man and announced an elderly woman had died.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the hostages were believed to be held captive in the Tulul Al-Safa area.
A source in Sweida told AFP that families had had no word of their kidnapped relatives in weeks.
Daesh has lost nearly all of the great swathes of territory straddling Iraq and Syria which it seized in 2014, but retains a presence in the vast Badiya desert that lies between Damascus and the Iraqi border, and holds a pocket in the Euphrates Valley in the east.
In that eastern pocket, a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance has for months been closing in on the town of Hajjin east of the Euphrates River near the Iraqi border, and on Monday launched an assault to retake it.
In the early hours of Tuesday, the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance advanced inside the town, the Observatory said, with backing from the US-led coalition fighting Daesh.
“They have seized control of the northwestern part of Hajjin” after residents fled, the monitor’s chief Abdel Rahman said.
An SDF commander said the offensive on Hajjin aimed to oust an estimated 3,000 militants, including a large portion of foreign fighters, from the town and surrounding areas.
“Most of the frontline commanders in this pocket are Iraqi,” said Ahmad Abu Khawla, a commander with the Deir Ezzor Military Council, which is part of the SDF.
After humanitarian corridors were opened to allow residents to flee the Daesh-held area, most civilians remaining inside were “directly linked to the group — hostages or the families of Islamic State fighters,” he said, referring to Daesh.
Abu Khawla said Daesh had “secret jails where they hold civilians” captured in other areas of Syria.
Last year Daesh lost its de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa in the north of the country, and this spring militants bussed out of the southern suburbs of Damascus.
Since Monday, 27 militants and 10 SDF fighters have been killed in the fighting for the Hajjin pocket, the Observatory says.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


Top Egyptian travel company sees sector recovering as tourists return

Updated 3 min 6 sec ago
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Top Egyptian travel company sees sector recovering as tourists return

  • Egypt’s revenues from tourism jumped 77 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2018 to $4.8 billion
  • Tourism is a cornerstone of Egypt’s economy, a source of income for millions of citizens and a major source of foreign exchange

CAIRO: One of the biggest Egyptian travel companies, Travco Group, said on Tuesday that hotel bookings are rising as tourists return to the country after years of political turmoil and security concerns.
Tourism is a cornerstone of Egypt’s economy, a source of income for millions of citizens and a major source of foreign exchange. But the sector suffered severely in the years following 2011’s popular uprising and was further hampered by a spate of militant attacks which targeted visitors.
Egypt’s revenues from tourism jumped 77 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2018 to $4.8 billion, while the number of tourists arriving in the country increased by 41 percent to just over 5 million.
Travco Group, which owns over 40 hotels in Egypt and abroad and is the local agent for Germany’s TUI Group, raised its prices by 30-35 percent at the beginning of this winter season, its CEO Hamed El Chiaty told Reuters in an interview.
“The level of tourist bookings during the current winter holiday season in Egypt is promising,” Chiaty said, adding that bookings from Germany, Italy, Poland and Ukraine were particularly promising.
In a devasting blow to the already struggling sector, Russia halted all flights to Egypt, and Britain stopped flights to Sinai, after an Islamist militant bomb attack brought down a Russian passenger plane in October 2015, killing everyone on board.
There have not been any major attacks aimed at the tourist sector in well over a year and Russia resumed flights to Cairo in April, although it has yet to authorize its aircraft to land in the Red Sea resort of Sham Al-Sheikh.
Chiaty said that Travco’s price increases were the highest in seven years, rising to pre-2011 levels, while occupancy levels at the group’s hotels were more than 80 percent, with the exception of Sharm Al-Sheikh.
Travco has market share of between 15 and 20 percent of the Polish, Belgian, English, Italian, Ukrainian and Austrian markets, Chiaty said, adding that it had recently refurbished its hotels.