Twin bombing in eastern Syria kills 20 including oil workers

A picture taken on February 21, 2019 shows vehicles belonging to the US-backed coalition as they drive down a road in Syria's northern Deir Ezzor province. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2019
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Twin bombing in eastern Syria kills 20 including oil workers

  • The incident took place near the town of Al-Shahil in the southeast of oil-rich Deir al-Zor province that borders Iraq
  • It came as the SDF presses on with efforts to retake the last small area of territory held in Syria by Daesh

NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria: A car bombing killed 20 people near the main base of US-backed Syrian forces on Thursday as fighters tried to negotiate the release of civilians still trapped in Daesh’s last redoubt.
As the Syrian Democratic Forces pressed the last extremist diehards the car bomb killed 14 oil workers and six of the Kurdish-led alliance’s conscripts near the Omar oil field which is uses as its main base in the region, the US-backed group and a monitor said.
SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin said the blast in the village of Shheel, some 100 kilometers north of Baghouz, was another example of Daesh cells attacking its fighters behind the front line.
The SDF are working toward evacuating civilians remaining in the holdout in east Syria, so they can retake the last scrap of the dying Daesh “caliphate” whether through an assault or a surrender deal.
The extremists overran large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, but several offensives have retaken all but half a square kilometer (a fifth of a square mile) of the territory in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting Daesh said international forces “continue to support the SDF as they negotiate having innocent civilians released” and their captured fighters returned.
A day after hundreds of people were evacuated from the last Daesh remnant, more than 50 trucks on Thursday returned near empty from Baghouz to SDF territory, an AFP correspondent said.
“We couldn’t enter Baghouz,” said a man who had accompanied the convoy.
“We got to an SDF point and we found around 15 people — women and children including a French woman and an Egyptian woman. We took them,” he said.
“The fighters asked us to go back tomorrow at 8 am.”
Thousands of people have escaped Daesh territory in recent weeks, but the flow slowed to a trickle at the weekend, before Wednesday’s first batch of evacuees.
Paul Bradley, from the Free Burma Rangers volunteer group, said people fleeing painted a grim picture of life inside.
“They showed us this bread that’s basically mashed up wheat with water burnt on both sides, $16 a kilo,” he said.
SDF spokesman Afrin said most of those trucked out on Wednesday were civilians, but they also included Daesh fighters.
On Thursday, the AFP reporter saw hundreds of people waiting in a screening area where the SDF have been questioning new arrivals in recent weeks, to separate out suspected extremists from the civilians.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Wednesday that negotiations were being held “for the surrender of the last Daesh fighters.”
It said there were “reports of a deal” but the details were unclear.
At the height of its rule, Daesh imposed its brutal ideology on a territory roughly the size of the United Kingdom, attracting thousands of supporters from abroad.
But the extremists have since lost almost all their territory, and hundreds of foreigners suspected of being Daesh fighters, as well as related women and children, are being held by the SDF.
Other foreign members have been killed.
A top French extremist, who voiced an audio recording claiming responsibility for the November 2015 attacks in Paris, was killed in an overnight airstrike, security sources told AFP on Thursday.
Fabien Clain, who is believed to have gone to Syria in March 2015, was killed in Baghouz, they said.
Across the border, security officials in Iraq said the SDF handed over 130 Iraqi extremsts to Baghdad on Thursday, but SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali denied the claim.
Syria’s Kurds have long demanded the repatriation of foreigners accused of belonging to Daesh in their custody, but their home countries have been reluctant.
US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he was barring a US-born former Daesh propagandist from returning home from Syria, where the conflict has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the diplomatic status of the father of Alabama woman Hoda Muthana means she is not a US citizen.
It came after a lawyer for the family of a teenager who fled London to join the extremists when she was 15 said Britain was revoking her citizenship.
Shamima Begum, 19, at the weekend gave birth to her third child. Two previous children died at an early age.


Syria's return to Arab League not on summit agenda: spokesman

Updated 14 min 8 sec ago
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Syria's return to Arab League not on summit agenda: spokesman

  • The pan-Arab bloc, which is set to hold its annual summit in Tunisia on March 31, froze Syria's membership in November 2011 over a bloody government crackdown on protestors
  • But several of the bloc's other 21 members have recently renewed ties with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad

CAIRO: The Arab League said Sunday it was not planning to discuss reinstating Syria's membership at a summit later this month, more than eight years after suspending it as the country descended into war.
The pan-Arab bloc, which is set to hold its annual summit in Tunisia on March 31, froze Syria's membership in November 2011 over a bloody government crackdown on protestors.
But several of the bloc's other 21 members have recently renewed ties with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and some have called for Syria to be re-admitted to the league.
"The issue of Syria's return to the Arab League has yet to be listed on the agenda and has not been formally proposed," said the League's spokesman Mahmoud Afifi.
He noted that the "Syrian crisis" however still tops the agenda, along with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the situation in Yemen and Libya.
Syria's conflict flared in 2011 with anti-government demonstrations that sparked a brutal regime crackdown.
It has since drawn in regional powers, killing 370,000 people and displacing millions.
But the regime, backed by allies Russia and Iran, has since re-conquered much of the territory it had lost to rebels and terrorists, and now controls some two-thirds of the country.
Syria's Kurds, which declared victory over Daesh on Saturday, control much of the oil-rich northeast, which the regime has hinted it may seize back in a military operation.
Earlier this month, Syrian officials attended a meeting of Arab states in neighbouring Jordan for the first time since the country's Arab League membership was suspended.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in December made the first visit of any Arab leader to the Syrian capital since 2011.
The same month, Egypt hosted Syria's national security chief and top Assad aide Ali Mamluk.
The UAE also reopened its Damascus embassy in a major sign of a diplomatic thaw.
Arab states have also slammed US President Donald Trump's call for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strategic territory the Jewish state seized from Syria in 1967.