Anti-Daesh Syria force boosted as extremist holdout shrinks

Women and children walk with their belongings as they are directed by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after leaving Daesh's last holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 1, 2019. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)
Updated 15 March 2019
0

Anti-Daesh Syria force boosted as extremist holdout shrinks

  • A total of about 60,000 people have streamed out of Daesh-held territory since December
  • The exodus has sparked a humanitarian crisis in Kurdish-held camps for the displaced

SOUSA, Syria: US-backed forces consolidated their positions around Daesh’s last redoubt in eastern Syria Friday as the country’s devastating conflict entered its ninth year with more than 370,000 dead.
All that remains of a once sprawling proto-state that the Daesh extremists declared in 2014 is a battered riverside camp in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and warplanes of a US-led coalition backing them, have rained fire on the enclave since Sunday, blitzing thousands of Daesh members into surrender.
The Kurdish-led force said “1,300 terrorists and their families” gave themselves up on Thursday alone as its fighters slowed their advance to allow them to exit the enclave.
AFP correspondents on the ground said Thursday night was relatively calm apart from limited air strikes, as the SDF said its fighters were consolidating their positions after extremist counter-attacks and foiled suicide bombings.
The force was “consolidating and rotating its troops,” an SDF spokesman told AFP.
“There are still women and children who want to surrender, so we are obliged to slow down operations,” Jiaker Amed said in the neighboring village of Sousa.
“Operations risk being slowed again today to allow more departures of jihadists and their families,” Amed said, but he was unable to give an estimate for the number of people left inside Baghouz.
“Those left are strongly attached to the (extremists’) ideology,” he said. “There are a lot of suicide bombers but there are also families and children.”
Since the months-old SDF offensive resumed on March 10, 3,000 IS suspected members have surrendered, according to the SDF.
A total of about 60,000 people have streamed out of Daesh-held territory since December, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says, a tenth of them suspected extremists.
The exodus has sparked a humanitarian crisis in Kurdish-held camps for the displaced, where women and children have arrived exhausted after weeks of siege.
These include the wives and children of alleged foreign extremists, hundreds of whom are being held by the Kurdish forces.
The International Rescue Committee says 120 people — mainly young children — have died on their way to the camp or after arrival.
Eight years of war in Syria have left more than 370,000 people dead including 112,000 civilians, the Syrian Observatory said, raising its last toll of over 360,000 issued in September.
The Britain-based monitoring group, which has a network of sources across Syria, said that more than 21,000 children and 13,000 women were among the dead.
The conflict flared after unprecedented anti-government protests in the southern city of Daraa on March 15, 2011.
Demonstrations spread across Syria and were brutally suppressed by the regime, triggering a multi-front armed conflict that has drawn in foreign powers and militant groups.
Over 125,000 Syrian government soldiers and pro-regime fighters figure in the latest death toll, the Observatory said.
It said other fighters, including rebels and Kurds, accounted for 67,000 of those killed.
Almost 66,000 were extremists, mainly from Daesh and Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), dominated by Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria.
The devastating conflict has displaced or sent into exile around 13 million Syrians, and cost almost $400 billion in damages, according to the United Nations.
With the support of powerful allies Russia and Iran, President Bashar Assad has won his war for political survival but his country is fractured and cash-strapped.
Having reversed rebel gains with a massive Russian intervention, Assad now controls almost two-thirds of Syria’s territory.
But key areas remain beyond regime control, including a swathe of the oil-rich northeast held by the SDF.
Idlib in northwestern Syria, held by HTS, is protected by a cease-fire deal between Ankara and Moscow which has seen Turkish troops deployed to the area.
Syria’s conflict is estimated to have set its economy back three decades, destroying infrastructure and paralysing the production of electricity and oil.
Assad, however, has regained control of key commercial arteries and started a tentative comeback on the Arab diplomatic scene.
Several countries have called for Syria to be reintegrated into the Arab League, from which it was suspended as the death toll from the uprising mounted in 2011.


Sudan holds ‘million-strong’ protest march

Updated 6 min 11 sec ago
0

Sudan holds ‘million-strong’ protest march

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protesters began gathering for a “million-strong” march Thursday to turn up the heat on the ruling military council after three of its members resigned following talks on handing over power.
The rally outside the army headquarters comes after the military rulers and protest leaders agreed to set up a joint committee, to chart the way forward two weeks after the ouster of veteran president Omar Al-Bashir.
“We call on our people, who have been demanding a transitional civilian rule, to participate in the million-strong march,” said the Alliance for Freedom and Change, the umbrella group leading the protests.
“Our sit-in will continue to protect our revolution and to ensure that all our demands are achieved,” the alliance said in a statement.
As Thursday’s protest got underway, witnesses in downtown Khartoum said crowds of protesters gathered outside the Egyptian consulate and embassy which were surrounded by riot police.
Several people held banners calling on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi not to “interfere in our affairs,” after Cairo hosted a summit of African leaders calling for more time for a transition to civilian rule in Sudan.
Others held signs reading “no to miliary rulers,” while across the city demonstrators began arriving at the army headquarters from the states of Jazeera and White Nile.
The planned mass march follows a late-night meeting between the military council and leaders of the protest movement’s umbrella group.
“We have an agreement on most demands presented in the document of the Alliance for Freedom and Change,” Lt. Gen. Shamseddine Kabbashi, spokesman of the military council, told reporters afterwards.
He did not elaborate on the key demand of handing power to a civilian government, but said there “were no big disputes.”
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which spearheaded months of protests against Bashir, described the meeting as a step toward “confidence-building.”
“Both sides agreed on the importance of joint cooperation to steer the country toward peace and stability,” the SPA said Thursday.
Writing on Twitter, the association said a “joint committee” was being set up to “discuss outstanding disputes” as part of efforts to reach a “comprehensive agreement.”
After returning from the protest site on Thursday, activist Ahmed Najdi said he was expecting “a joint military-civilian sovereign council, which I think is the middle path and most protesters would agree to that.”
Wednesday’s meeting was followed by the military council announcing three members of the ruling body had stepped down after demands from protesters.
They were Lt. Gen. Omar Zain Al-Abdin, Lt. Gen. Jalaluddin Al-Sheikh and Lt. Gen. Al-Tayieb Babikir.
The late night developments came as Siddiq Farouk, one of the leaders of the protests, said the demonstrators were also preparing for a general strike if the military council refuses to hand power to a civilian administration.
The council, led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan since his predecessor quit after barely 24 hours in the post, says it has assumed power for a two-year transitional period.
Despite Bashir’s fall, demonstrators have kept up their encampment outside the military headquarters to press their demands.
For the first time, Sudanese judges said they would join the sit-in on Thursday “to support change and for an independent judiciary.”
Protesters in Khartoum were joined Wednesday by hundreds of demonstrators from the central town of Madani, the second major batch of new arrivals from outside the capital in as many days.
“Revolutionaries from Madani want civilian rule,” they chanted, according to witnesses.
The previous day a train laden with demonstrators rolled from Atbara, where protests began on December 19 against a decision by Bashir’s government to triple bread prices.
They swiftly turned into nationwide rallies against his rule and that of the military council that took his place.
The protesters have found support in Washington, which has backed their call for civilian rule.
“We support the legitimate demand of the people of Sudan for a civilian-led government, and we are here to urge and to encourage parties to work together to advance that agenda as soon as possible,” State Department official Makila James told AFP on Tuesday.