Explosion in north Syria targets Al-Qaeda gunmen, kills 11

An explosion outside an office belonging to an Al-Qaeda-linked group in northwestern Syria on Friday killed at least 11 people and wounded several others. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Explosion in north Syria targets Al-Qaeda gunmen, kills 11

  • The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Smart news agency, an activist collective, said the blast occurred on the southern edge of the rebel-held city of Idlib
  • The Observatory said 11 people were killed in the blast, including seven HTS members. Smart said 12 people were killed, many of them militants

BEIRUT: An explosion outside an office belonging to an Al-Qaeda-linked group in northwestern Syria on Friday killed at least 11 people and wounded several others, opposition activists said.
The blast comes a week after members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, or HTS, took over control of wide parts of Idlib province and the surrounding countryside after forcing rival insurgents to accept a deal for a civil administration run by HTS in their areas.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Smart news agency, an activist collective, said the blast occurred on the southern edge of the rebel-held city of Idlib.
The Observatory said 11 people were killed in the blast, including seven HTS members. Smart said 12 people were killed, many of them militants.
In the country’s east, an airstrike in the last area held by Daesh killed at least 20 people.
State news agency SANA said 20 people were killed in the airstrike on the Daesh-held village of Baghouz, while the Observatory said 23 people were killed including 10 IS members.
They both blamed the US-led coalition that has been providing air cover to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their monthslong offensive to capture the area from extremists near the Iraqi border.
The SDF has intensified its offensive over the past weeks on the Daesh-held area.
Meanwhile in Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan met with US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to discuss the situation in Syria as the United States prepares to withdraw troops.
Graham, a prominent voice on foreign affairs in the US, met with Erdogan and other Turkish officials Friday for talks that were also expected to include a proposal for the creation of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria.
The visit comes days after a suicide bombing, claimed by Daesh, killed two US service members and two American civilians in the northeastern town of Manbij.
Graham has said he is concerned that US President Donald Trump’s troop withdrawal announcement had emboldened Daesh militants and created dangerous uncertainty for American allies.
The Pentagon identified three of the four Americans killed in the suicide bomb attack in Manbij — Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, from upstate New York and based at Fort Meade, Maryland; and a civilian, Scott A. Wirtz, from St. Louis.
The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.


Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

Updated 16 February 2019
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Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday suggested the mosque in Athens should open with minarets if the Greek premier wants to reopen a seminary in Istanbul.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was in Turkey this month and visited the disputed landmarks of Hagia Sophia and the now-closed Greek Orthodox Halki seminary.
Tsipras said during the visit to the seminary located on Heybeli island off Istanbul on February 6 he hoped to reopen the school next time with Erdogan.
Future priests of the Constantinople diocese had been trained at the seminary, which was closed in 1971 after tensions between Ankara and Athens over Cyprus.
Erdogan on Saturday complained that the Fethiye Mosque in Athens had no minarets despite Greek insistence that it would open.
The mosque was built in 1458 during the Ottoman occupation of Greece but has not been used as a mosque since 1821.
“Look you want something from us, you want the Halki seminary. And I tell you (Greece), come, let’s open the Fethiye Mosque,” Erdogan said during a rally in the northwestern province of Edirne ahead of local elections on March 31.
“They said, ‘we are opening the mosque’ but I said, why isn’t there a minaret? Can a church be a church without a bell tower?” he said, describing his talks with Tsipras.
“We say, you want to build a bell tower? Come and do it... But what is an essential part of our mosques? The minarets,” the Turkish president added.
Erdogan said Tsipras told him he was wary of criticism from the Greek opposition.
After the independence war against Ottomans began in 1821, the minaret is believed by some to have been destroyed because it was a symbol of the Ottoman occupation.
Ankara had returned land taken from the seminary in 1943 but there is still international pressure on Turkey to reopen it.
Erdogan has previously said that its reopening is dependent on reciprocal steps from Greece to enhance the rights of the Turkish minority.