Fleeing Daesh fighters using civilians as human shields forced to surrender in Baghouz

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stands guard on top of a building during shelling on Daesh's last holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province. (AFP)
Updated 05 March 2019
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Fleeing Daesh fighters using civilians as human shields forced to surrender in Baghouz

  • SDF spokeswoman said the offensive had slowed down but pressure is being kept up
  • US-backed Syrian fighters said they were forced to slow their advance because the extremists were using civilians as shields

BEIRUT:  Around 150 Daesh fighters have surrendered to US-backed forces in Baghouz, the group's last enclave in eastern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitoring group said on Monday.

The Daesh fighters were among 400 people to leave the area on Monday after the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces staged an assault in recent days, the Observatory said.

US-backed Syrian fighters said they were forced to slow their advance because the extremists were using civilians as human shields.

But despite this hindrance, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces Mustafa Bali tweeted that the battle to retake Baghouz, the last territory in Syria held by Daesh, was "going to be over soon."

An SDF spokeswoman said the offensive had slowed down but pressure is being kept up away from the corridor to prevent fighters from infiltrating or sabotaging the area. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the press.

The US-backed forces resumed their offensive on Baghouz last Friday, after a two-week pause to allow for the evacuation of civilians.

Retaking the sliver of land would be a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to end Daesh's self-proclaimed "caliphate" that once straddled a vast territory across both Syria and Iraq.

"We're slowing down the offensive" due to a small number of civilians held as human shields, Bali said. The previous night, an SDF statement said the Kurdish-led forces would continue their military campaign "to take control of the last ISIS-held pocket in Baghouz and to liberate the remaining civilians who are being used as human shields," using an alternative acronym for the extremist group.

"In order not to harm them, we are advancing slowly but we assert that the battle of Baghouz will end in a short period of time," it said.

 

 

 


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”