Trucks evacuate civilians from last Daesh pocket in Syria: SDF official

Reporters near the front line saw the trucks leaving the enclave. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 February 2019
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Trucks evacuate civilians from last Daesh pocket in Syria: SDF official

  • Isolating the civilians in the enclave at Baghouz from the remaining extremists is a crucial step toward the final capture of the area, SDF said
  • The civilians are coming from the last Daesh pocket in eastern Syria at Baghouz

BAGHOUZ, Syria: A convoy of trucks carrying hundreds of civilians, including men, women and children, left the last enclave held by Daesh militants in eastern Syria on Wednesday, signaling a possible end to a standoff that has lasted for more than a week.
An Associated Press team in Baghouz, a village near the Iraqi border where the Daesh group is making its final stand, counted at least 17 trucks that emerged through a humanitarian corridor used in past weeks to evacuate people from the militants’ last patch of territory along the Euphrates River.
Women, children and men, some with checkered headscarves, or keffiyehs, could be seen through a flap opening on the flatbed trucks. One man carried a crutch; the women were engulfed in conservative black garments covering their faces known as niqabs.
Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, the US-backed militia spearheading the fight against Daesh in Syria, confirmed the trucks were carrying civilians out of the enclave.
It was not immediately clear if militants were also on board the trucks. Around 300 militants are believed to be holed up in the enclave, along with several hundred civilians. On Tuesday, Bali said a military operation aimed at ousting the extremists from the area will begin if they don’t surrender, adding that such an operation would take place after separating or evacuating the civilians from the militants.
An SDF commander, Zana Amedi, said most of the militants remaining inside the enclave are seriously wounded or sick.
The Daesh group has been reduced from its self-proclaimed “caliphate” that once spread across much of Syria and Iraq at its height in 2014 to a speck of land on the countries’ shared border.
The SDF has been encircling the remaining Daesh-held territory for days, waiting to declare the territorial defeat of the extremist group.
Nearly 20,000 civilians had left the shrinking area in recent weeks before the evacuation halted last week when the militants closed all the roads out of the tiny area.


Rocket hits house north of Tel Aviv, Israelis wounded: police, medics

Updated 11 min 25 sec ago
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Rocket hits house north of Tel Aviv, Israelis wounded: police, medics

  • Palestinian rockets rarely reach an area at that distance from Gaza
  • Relations between the two states may flare up again after the incident

MISHMERET, Israel: A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house in a community north of Tel Aviv and caused it to catch fire on Monday, wounding five Israelis, authorities and medics said.

Israel’s army said the rocket was fired from the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas, raising the risk of another escalation between the two sides just ahead of April 9 Israeli elections.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently in Washington, where he is due to meet US President Donald Trump later Monday, and there was no word on whether he would shorten his trip.

The house hit was located in the community of Mishmeret, police said. Medics said they were treating one Israeli with moderate wounds and four others injured lightly.

Mishmeret is more than 80 kilometers from the Gaza Strip and rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave at that distance is rare.

It would be sure to draw an Israeli response and comes after mounting tensions in recent weeks.

Netanyahu is believed by many analysts to want to avoid another war in the Gaza Strip — the fourth since 2008 — with unpredictable results ahead of the elections.

But he faces a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance led by former military chief Benny Gantz and he will come under heavy political pressure to react firmly.

Monday’s incident comes after two rockets were fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv — also rare — on March 14.

No damage or injuries were caused, but Israel responded to that and further rocket fire by hitting what it said were around 100 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip.

Four Palestinians were reported wounded in those strikes.

Both Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad denied they were behind the March 14 rocket fire toward Tel Aviv, raising the possibility they were launched by fringe groups.

Israel’s military said they were launched by Hamas, but later there were Israeli media reports that the army’s preliminary assessment was that they had been fired by mistake during maintenance work.

The reports were a sign that Israel was seeking to calm tensions. The military had refused to comment on the reports at the time.

Monday’s rocket comes just days ahead of the March 30 one-year anniversary of Palestinian protests and clashes along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel.

An informal truce between Hamas and Israel had led to relative calm along the border of the blockaded strip, but recent weeks have seen another uptick in violence.