Extremists kill 22 Syria regime fighters near Idlib: monitor

Extremists on Friday killed nine Syrian regime fighters near a planned buffer zone around the country’s last major rebel bastion. (AFP)
Updated 16 November 2018
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Extremists kill 22 Syria regime fighters near Idlib: monitor

  • Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests
  • Extremist groups attacked government forces in the northwest of Hama province near a planned buffer zone

BEIRUT: Extremists on Friday killed 22 Syrian regime fighters near a planned buffer zone around the country’s last major rebel bastion, a monitor said.
A September deal between government ally Russia and opposition backer Turkey aimed to set up a de-militarised zone around the northwestern region of Idlib to protect it from a regime assault.
But its implementation has been stalled since extremists who hold around 70 percent of the planned buffer area failed to withdraw by mid-October, and sporadic clashes have rocked the area since.
Early Friday, extremist groups attacked government forces in the northwest of Hama province near the planned buffer zone, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Nine regime fighters and five assailants were killed” in the attack, causing government forces to respond with artillery fire, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The attackers included the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras Al-Deen group, which has publicly rejected the Russian-Turkish deal, he said.
The lion’s share of Idlib is held by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate.
Under the September 17 deal, all fighters in the zone were supposed to withdraw their heavy weapons and militants including HTS and Hurras Al-Deen were supposed to leave.
On Thursday, Russian spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized “sporadic clashes,” as well as “provocations” by HTS in northwestern Syria.
Late last month, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem expressed dissatisfaction with the implementation of the Idlib deal, and criticized Turkey for shortcomings.
He said heavy weapons had not been withdrawn and accused Turkey of not wanting to “respect its obligations.”
Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.