US-backed fighters brave sandstorm to battle terrorists in Syria

Syrian rebel-fighters with the National Liberation Front (NLF) in a trench overlooking the regime areas in Aleppo province on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 12 October 2018

US-backed fighters brave sandstorm to battle terrorists in Syria

  • Daesh terrorists launched a counter-attack against SDF positions around Hajjin and nearby towns on Wednesday
  • In recent years the SDF, with US air support, has driven Daesh from much of northern and eastern Syria

BEIRUT: US-backed fighters braved a sandstorm to battle the Daesh group in eastern Syria on Thursday in heavy clashes that killed several fighters on both sides.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led group, said it was fighting to retake the village of Sousah, where the extremists took advantage of the poor visibility to launch a counteroffensive.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting began Wednesday and killed at least 10 US-allied fighters, with the fate of 35 others unknown. It said 18 Daesh militants were killed.

On Wednesday, Daesh launched “a counter attack against SDF positions around Hajjin and nearby towns,” the Observatory said.

“Violent clashes subsequently erupted and are still ongoing,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The SDF denied any of its fighters had been captured during the attack.

“No fighter from the SDF was captured by Daesh on the Deir Ezzor front. This information is not true,” SDF media official Mustefa Bali told AFP.

The Daesh-linked Aamaq news agency reported 18 deaths among the SDF fighters and posted photos online of what it said were some of the bodies.

In recent years the SDF, with US air support, has driven Daesh from much of northern and eastern Syria. The extremists have also suffered a series of defeats at the hands of Syrian government forces and Iraqi forces, losing virtually all the territory that once made up their self-styled caliphate.

Sousah is in one of the last pockets of territory held by Daesh, which has put up stiff resistance. The advancing SDF has had to contend with mines, sniper fire and suicide attacks.

Founded in 2015, the SDF is spearheaded by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a powerful Kurdish armed movement.

Hundreds of foreigners have joined the YPG to fight Daesh.

On Wednesday, the force announced that a French national fighting among its ranks had been killed near Hajjin.

Farid Medjahed, born in the French city of Marseilles, died on Oct. 6 fighting Daesh there, the YPG said. It did not say when he arrived in Syria but said it had only been a “short stay.” 

In February, the YPG announced that three European nationals had been killed in clashes in Syria.

In one month of fighting for Hajjin, at least 139 SDF fighters and 267 extremists have been killed, the Observatory said.

First Arab-EU summit billed as chance to cooperate in troubled region

Updated 22 February 2019

First Arab-EU summit billed as chance to cooperate in troubled region

  • President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will host the two-day summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh
  • EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says the gathering is about much more than migration
CAIRO: European and Arab leaders are to hold their first summit Sunday, in what the top EU diplomat sees as a chance to boost cooperation across a troubled Mediterranean region.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will host the two-day summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss topics like security, trade, development and migration.
Wars and conflicts in places such as Syria and Libya are on the agenda at a summit guarded by the security forces who are fighting a bloody jihadist insurgency a short distance to the north.
But analysts voiced doubts over how much progress can be made, with Europe split over migration and Arab countries still grappling with the fallout from Arab Spring revolutions.
European leaders first mentioned the summit in Austria in September amid efforts to agree ways to curb the illegal migration that has sharply divided the 28-nation bloc.
But checking migration is only part of Europe’s broader strategy to forge a new alliance with its southern neighbors.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini insists that the gathering in Egypt of more than 40 heads of state and government is about much more than migration.
“We will have frank, open discussions, not only on migration, definitely not,” Mogherini told journalists in Brussels on Monday.
“We will have first of all discussions on our economic cooperation, on our common region,” she said.
“That is a troubled region but also full of opportunities.”
Attending will be Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of EU member countries, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
EU officials said 25 European heads of state and government will attend.
These include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who could also discuss the stalemate over Brexit on the sidelines.
Apart from El-Sisi, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri will attend from the 22-member Arab League, which is based in Cairo. It is not yet clear who else will be present.
A UN official warned that Europe’s failure to bridge divisions on migration “risks blocking all the other discussions” at the summit.
“How do you discuss an issue if you can’t even mention it!” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said EU countries like Hungary refuse to mention migration because they oppose asylum seekers and migrants, particularly from Muslim countries.
The EU has struck aid-for-cooperation agreements with Turkey and Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli, which has sharply cut the flow of migrants since a 2015 peak.
But the official said broader cooperation with the Arab League, which includes Libya, is limited without the EU being able to speak in one voice.
Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Tunisia and Libya, said the summit will struggle “to establish a dialogue between two sides who are confronted with their own challenges.”
The meeting comes as “the Arab countries are still feeling the effects of the revolutions started in 2011,” Pierini told AFP.
“Arab League unity is in trouble,” said Pierini, now an analyst with the Carnegie Europe think tank.
With expectations low for EU-Arab progress, the focus may shift to EU efforts to break the logjam over Britain’s looming exit from the bloc on March 29.
Britain’s Philip Hammond said May would have an “opportunity” in Egypt to discuss Brexit with her EU counterparts who have balked at her requests for concessions to sell the divorce to her parliament.
But officials in Brussels and London have played down the prospect of a Brexit “deal in the desert” to try to ensure an orderly departure.