US-backed fighters closing in on Daesh gunmen in eastern Syria

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) assault's overall commander Jia Furat (C) answers the press near the Omar oil field in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on February 16. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2019
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US-backed fighters closing in on Daesh gunmen in eastern Syria

  • President Donald Trump said the White House will make an announcement about Syria on Saturday
  • Groups said that some 200 Daesh gunmen surrendered Friday

BAGHOUZ, Syria: A US-backed force in Syria is closing in on Daesh militants in a tiny area less than a square kilometer (square mile) in eastern Syria, and will soon declare the defeat of the militant group, a commander with the group said Saturday.
The capture of the last pocket still held by Daesh fighters in the village of Baghouz would mark the end of a devastating four-year global campaign to end the extremist group’s hold on territory in Syria and Iraq — their so-called “caliphate” that at the height of the group’s power in 2014 controlled nearly a third of both Iraq and Syria.
“We will very soon bring good news to the whole world,” said Ciya Furat, a commander with the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, speaking at a news conference at the Al-Omar Oil Field Base in the Deir Ezzor province.
President Donald Trump said the White House will make an announcement about Syria and the fight against Daesh by the end of Saturday.
“We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours,” Trump told journalists at the White House on Friday.
An Associated Press team in Baghouz Saturday, hundreds of meters away from the last speck of land where Daesh militants were holed up, saw several aircraft overhead and two airstrikes hit the area. SDF fighters said were fired by the US-led coalition.
The Syrian Democratic Forces declared the final push to capture the village a week ago after more than 20,000 civilians, many of them the wives and families of foreign fighters, were evacuated.
Since then, SDF commanders say they have been surprised to discover that there were hundreds more civilians in the enclave, after they were brought up by the militants from underground tunnels. Their presence has slowed down the SDF advance.
Furat, the SDF commander, said Daesh fighters are now besieged in an area that is about 700 square meters (840 square yards). He said that SDF fighters were able to liberate 10 of their colleagues that were held by Daesh.
Furat’s comments were carried by Kurdish news agencies, including Hawar News.
“We are dealing with this small pocket with patience and caution. It is militarily fallen but civilians are used as human shields,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told The Associated Press. Bali added that the SDF believes that Daesh gunmen are also holding previously kidnapped Syrians in the area.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said SDF fighters are almost in full control of the area once controlled by extremists, adding that there might still be Daesh fighters hiding in a network of underground tunnels.
The Observatory said that some 200 Daesh gunmen surrendered Friday, days after about 240 others surrendered and were taken by SDF fighters and members of the US-led coalition.
“The defeat of Daesh will come within days,” Furat said. He added that after the physical defeat of Daesh, the SDF “will continue in its fight against Daesh sleepers cells.”
Despite the expected defeat on the ground, activists and residents say Daesh still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency. The group has claimed responsibility in recent months for deadly attacks, mostly in Iraq, more than a year after the Iraqi government said the extremists have been defeated after losing the northern city of Mosul in 2017, the largest they held.


Russia says Syrian government forces has halted fire in Idlib

Updated 4 min 8 sec ago
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Russia says Syrian government forces has halted fire in Idlib

  • The last round of violence also displaced some 180,000 in opposition-held areas
DAMASCUS: Syrian government forces have unilaterally ceased fire in the northern Idlib province, the last major opposition stronghold, Russia said on Sunday, while opposition activists reported continued shelling and airstrikes.
Fighting erupted in Idlib late last month, effectively shattering a cease-fire negotiated by Russia and Turkey that had been in place since September. Russia has firmly backed Syria’s Bashar Assad regime in the eight-year civil war, while Turkey has supported the opposition.
In a brief statement on Sunday, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Reconciliation of the Warring Sides in Syria said regime forces had ceased fire as of midnight. It described the move as unilateral, but did not give details.
The pro-government Syrian Central Military Media said regime forces responded to shelling by militants on Sunday on the edge of Idlib. It gave no further details.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group, reported an airstrike on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, saying it inflicted casualties.
The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense also reported shelling near the town of Jisr Al-Shughour without reporting any casualties.
Syrian government forces intensified their attacks as of April 30 on Idlib. The area is home to some 3 million people, many of whom are internally displaced. The last round of violence also displaced some 180,000 in opposition-held areas.