Coalition hits back over reported civilian deaths in east Syria

The US led coalition launched strikes on Saturday, killing 43 people, including 36 family members of Daesh fighters. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Coalition hits back over reported civilian deaths in east Syria

  • 43 people were killed in the strikes launched by the coalition
  • The US-led coalition has consistently denied reports by the Observatory in recent days

BEIRUT: The US-led anti-militant coalition hit back Sunday at reports its air strikes on a Daesh group holdout in eastern Syria had killed civilians, appearing to accuse regime forces of targeting the area.
The militant Daesh group overran large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, declaring a “caliphate” in territory it controlled, but has since lost most of it to various offensives.
In war-torn Syria, multiple offensives have now whittled down territory Daesh once controlled to a small pocket in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on the Iraqi border.
A Kurdish-led alliance backed by the coalition is battling to expel Daesh from that holdout on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, while Russian-backed regime forces have been fighting the militants west of the river.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said coalition strikes on Saturday killed 43 people, including 36 family members of Daesh fighters in the village of Abu Al-Husn in the militant pocket.
But the coalition denied that its air raids there had killed any non-combatants.
The US envoy for the coalition, Brett McGurk, on Sunday appeared to blame regime forces stationed “across the river” for bombarding the area.
“Reports of civilian casualties attributed to coalition strikes are false. All other forces should cease uncoordinated fires from across the river immediately,” he said on Twitter.
In a statement late Saturday, the coalition reported 19 coalition strikes on Daesh targets “free of civilian presence” between late Friday and Saturday afternoon in the militant enclave, which includes the town of Hajjin.
But the coalition “detected a total of ten additional strikes in the same area of Hajjin that did not originate from the coalition or partner forces,” it added.
It called “on all other actors to cease uncoordinated fires across the Euphrates.”
The Observatory said regime forces and Daesh fighters exchanged fire across the river on Saturday, but pro-government shelling did not hit Abu Al-Husn.
The Britain-based war monitor says it obtains its information from sources inside Syria, and determines who carries out air strikes according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions involved.
The US-led international coalition has consistently denied reports by the Observatory in recent weeks that its air raids have killed civilians.
It says it investigates allegations of civilian casualties thoroughly.
Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Since 2014, the US-led coalition has acknowledged direct responsibility for over 1,100 civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq, but rights groups put the number much higher.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who are backed by the coalition, launched an assault to seize the eastern pocket around Hajjin from Daesh in September.
The SDF assault was slowed by a fierce militant fightback, and then briefly put on hold to protest Turkish shelling of Kurdish militia positions in northern Syria.
An SDF commander Saturday said his forces were advancing cautiously due to “fields of land mines, trenches, tunnels and barricades set up by IS,” referring to another acronym for Daesh.
On another front, regime forces on Saturday regained control from Daesh of a volcanic plateau in the south of the country after weeks of fighting.
Pro-government fighters took over Tulul Al-Safa between the provinces of Damascus and Sweida “after IS fighters withdrew from it and headed east into the Badia desert,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
State news agency SANA reported regime forces had made “a great advance in Tulul Al-Safa” and were combing the area for any remaining militants.
Government forces had been fighting Daesh in Tulul Al-Safa since a deadly militant attack against the country’s Druze minority in Sweida province on July 25.
In the deadliest attack against the Druze in the seven-year war, Daesh killed more than 260 people, most of them civilians, in suicide bombings, shootings, and stabbings.
Saturday’s victory in Tulul Al-Safa leaves Daesh contained in the Deir Ezzor pocket, although it also has a presence in the vast Badia desert stretching across the country to the Iraqi border.
After pushing back the militants from parts of northeastern Syria, analysts say the SDF is also likely to oust Daesh eventually from its eastern holdout.
“IS does not have great chances to remain in control of the pocket of Hajjin,” said Julien Theron of the Paris Institute of Political Studies.
The coalition-SDF alliance “has already shown a great efficiency against IS-held territory in the recent past,” he said.


UK teen who joined Daesh gives birth in Syrian refugee camp

Updated 3 min 5 sec ago
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UK teen who joined Daesh gives birth in Syrian refugee camp

  • Renews appeal to be allowed back to Britain with her newborn baby
  • Shamima Begum and two friends fled London to join the terror network in 2015 aged just 15

LONDON: A teenager who joined the Daesh group in Syria but now wants to return to Britain on Sunday gave birth in a refugee camp, as European governments grapple with what to do with returning extremists ahead of a US troop pullout.
Shamima Begum, whose fate has stirred controversy ever since she and two friends fled London to join the terror network in 2015 aged just 15, told Sky News she had delivered a boy.
“I just gave birth so I’m really tired,” the 19-year-old said as she made a renewed appeal to be allowed back to Britain with her newborn baby.
“I’m afraid he might even die in this camp. I feel a lot of people should have sympathy for me, for everything I’ve been through,” she said.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into when I left. I just was hoping that maybe for the sake of me and my child they let me come back,” she added.
Her case comes as European nations struggle with how to deal with extremists eager to return home following the disintegration of Daesh’s “caliphate” in eastern Syria.
US President Donald Trump again demanded on Saturday that they take back hundreds of captured Daesh fighters.
Trump said on Twitter that the United States was asking Britain and other continental allies “to take back over 800 Daesh fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial.”
The demand came as he prepared — ahead of the pullout of US troops — to declare the group’s so-called “caliphate” destroyed, with US-led Arab and Kurdish forces close to capturing its last Syrian territorial holdout.
“The US does not want to watch as these Daesh fighters permeate Europe,” Trump added.
“Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!“
Begum, previously gave birth to two other children after marrying in Syria. Both children died.
Leading politicians, including interior minister Sajid Javid, have vowed to prevent her return, pointing to her lack of remorse for joining the terror group.
Begum told Sky News she was aware of Daesh’s brutal tactics, including conducting beheadings, but did not regret going to Syria.
“I knew about those things and I was OK with it at first,” she said. “They take care of you... you’re living under Islamic law.
“I don’t regret it because it’s changed me as a person, made me stronger, tougher.”
The teenager, who said she had had no contact with British officials, added the government should not block her homecoming because she was “just a housewife” while there.
“I never made propaganda, I never encouraged people to come to Syria.
“They don’t really have proof that I did anything that is dangerous,” she said.
Europe has long been grappling with how to respond to foreign fighters, and their supporters or dependants, caught in Syria.
However the looming US departure has created a deadline for those governments whose citizens joined IS and have now been captured by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Britain’s government appears split on the issue.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright, a former attorney general — the country’s chief legal adviser — told the BBC on Sunday that it was “obliged, at some stage at least, to take them back.”
He noted it was “a matter of international law and domestic law.”
However, writing in The Sunday Times — under the headline “if you run away to join Daesh, I will use all my power to stop you coming back” — Javid insisted the government should strip “dangerous individuals of their British citizenship.”
He said Britain had already exercised this power more than 100 times.
“In considering what actions need to be taken now, I have to think about the safety and security of children living in our country,” Javid wrote.
Other European countries that have chosen to leave the extremists in SDF detention are now being forced to confront the situation.
“All German citizens — including those who are suspected of fighting for the so-called Islamic state — have a fundamental right to travel back into Germany,” a German foreign ministry source said Sunday.
Belgian justice minister Koen Geens told Flemish broadcaster VRT there was the need for a “European solution” to the issue, but appeared irked by Trump’s blunt call.
“It would have been nice for friendly nations to have these kinds of questions raised through the usual diplomatic channels rather than a tweet in the middle of the night,” he said in Dutch.