SDF fighters close in on last Daesh-held village in Syria

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attend the funeral of a comrade from the Kurdish women's protection units (YPJ), who was killed while fighting against the Daesh, in northeastern Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli on February 9, 2019.(AFP / Delil Souleiman)
Updated 11 February 2019
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SDF fighters close in on last Daesh-held village in Syria

  • The US-backed Syrian forces captured 41 positions held by Daesh group militants in overnight clashes
  • US-led coalition warplanes are giving cover to advancing SDF fighters

BEIRUT: US-backed Syrian forces captured 41 positions held by Daesh group militants and destroyed their fortifications in the last tiny pocket they hold in eastern Syria amid fierce fighting, a spokesman said Sunday.
Mustafa Bali said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) made the advances overnight and on Sunday, hours after they launched a final push to clear the area from Daesh militants Saturday night.
The final battle to clear the village of Baghouz is now playing out after 20,000 civilians were evacuated from the area in the eastern province of Deir-el-Zour over the past few weeks.
Bali said heavy fighting was going on inside Baghouz on Sunday, adding that a Daesh counterattack was foiled early in the day. He did not say how long the battle was expected to last. US-led coalition warplanes are giving cover to advancing SDF fighters.
US President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that the Daesh group will lose by next week all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.
That would mark the end of a four-year global war to end the extremist group’s territorial hold over large parts of Syria and Iraq where the group established its self-proclaimed “caliphate” in 2014.
US officials have said in recent weeks that Daesh has lost 99.5 percent of its territory and is holding onto fewer than 5 square kilometers in Syria, or less than 2 square miles, where the bulk of the fighters are concentrated. But activists and residents say Daesh still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq, and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency . The US military has warned the group could stage a comeback if the military and counter-terrorism pressure on it is eased.


Britain slams Iran's 'vile ploy' over Zaghari-Ratcliffe prisoner swap offer

Updated 15 min 56 sec ago
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Britain slams Iran's 'vile ploy' over Zaghari-Ratcliffe prisoner swap offer

  • Iranian foreign minister suggested a swap between Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and an Iranian woman held in Australia
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 and accused of plotting against the government

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday dismissed the suggestion of a prisoner swap for a British-Iranian mother being held in Tehran as a “vile” diplomatic ploy, while her husband told AFP the idea was “almost impossible.”
In New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday suggested a swap between Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in jail in Tehran for alleged sedition, and Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman held in Australia on a US extradition warrant.
Hunt said there was a “huge difference” between the two women.
“The woman in jail in Australia is facing due process, a proper legal procedure, and she is alleged to have committed a very serious crime,” he told reporters in London.
“Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is innocent — she has done nothing wrong.”
He added: “What is unacceptable about what Iran is doing is that they are putting innocent people in prison and using it as leverage.
“I’m afraid that is what is happening with this Australian case. They’re saying, we’ll only release this innocent Brit if you’ll do something that suits us diplomatically.”
Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband who has been campaigning for her release, said he was “blindsided” by the offer as he followed Zarif’s speech on Twitter and does not think it is the “way forward.”
“It’s clearly a hopeful thing that he was talking about her release explicitly,” he told AFP.
“At the same time, linking her in a public way to a big complicated deal that is almost impossible to do because it’s been made public could easily be a displacement tactic.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation and was arrested in 2016 while visiting relatives for the Persian New Year.
Iranian authorities accused her of plotting against the government and handed her a five-year jail sentence for sedition.
Britain has taken the unusual step of granting her diplomatic protection in a bid to free her.
Ghodskani, a legal resident of Australia, was arrested in 2017 after US prosecutors said she sought US digital communications technology by presenting herself as an employee of a Malaysian company.
US prosecutors said she in fact was sending the technology to Iranian company Fanamoj, which works in public broadcasting.
Both women have been separated from their young children while being detained.
Ratcliffe has also been separated from his daughter Gabriella, who was with her mother when she was detained in Iran and has since remained in the country with her grandparents.
The prospect of Gabriella’s possible return to Britain after her fifth birthday this June is causing Zaghari-Ratcliffe fresh anguish amid her continued detention, he said.
Ratcliffe said his wife was “lifted” by the British government’s decision to grant her diplomatic protection in March.
But he added: “generally, her spirits are gradually sinking now.”