US-backed force tracks Syria extremists after ‘caliphate’ falls

A Syrian Democratic Forces flag flutters in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 02 April 2019

US-backed force tracks Syria extremists after ‘caliphate’ falls

  • More than a dozen coalition air strikes have targeted Daesh hideouts near Baghouz since Sunday
  • Daesh fighters also retain a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert and various other hideouts

BEIRUT: A US-backed force said Tuesday it was chasing Daesh group fighters in eastern Syria, as coalition warplanes pound the militants more than a week after their “caliphate” was declared defeated.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by warplanes of a US-led coalition, dislodged Daesh fighters from their last redoubt in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border on March 23, following a months-long offensive.

The US-backed alliance is now “tracking down remnants of the terrorist group,” SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said on Tuesday.

“There are groups hiding in caves overlooking Baghouz,” he said.

The US-led coalition said it was supporting sweeping operations with air strikes on militant hideouts.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces continues to deny Daesh a physical space and influence in the area and work to deny them the resources they need to return,” coalition spokesman Scott Rawlinson told AFP on Monday.

“In support of back-clearance operations, the coalition continues to conduct precision strike support in coordination with SDF,” he said.

The official said anti-Daesh operations are now focusing on “eroding” Daesh’s “capacity to regenerate and collaborate.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said that more than a dozen coalition air strikes have targeted Daesh hideouts in Baghouz since Sunday.

Strikes hit caves and farmlands in the village where holdout militants are believed to be hiding, it said.

Daesh fighters also retain a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert and various other hideouts, and have continued to claim deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

Last week, Daesh killed seven US-backed fighters in an attack on a checkpoint in the northern city of Manbij, which is controlled by a local council linked to the SDF.

The Observatory on Tuesday said that nine suspected militants were captured in the former Daesh bastion of Raqqa since Sunday.

The SDF has warned that a new phase has begun in anti-Daesh operations, following the defeat of the militant proto-state.

They appealed for sustained coalition assistance to help smash sleeper cells.

The “caliphate” proclaimed in mid-2014 by fugitive Daesh supremo Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi started collapsing in 2017 when parallel offensives in Iraq and Syria wrested back its main urban hubs — Mosul and Raqqa.

The nearly five years of fighting against the most brutal extremist group in modern history left major cities in ruins and populations homeless.


Jordan criticizes Israel over Al-Aqsa Mosque changes

Updated 44 min 8 sec ago

Jordan criticizes Israel over Al-Aqsa Mosque changes

  • Palestinians welcomed the Jordanian position but expressed concerns over a decline of support for Amman’s custodianship of the holy places at Al-Aqsa

AMMAN: Jordan has stepped up its diplomatic pressure on Israel, demanding that they do not change the status quo at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Zaid Lozi, director-general of Jordan’s Foreign Ministry, summoned Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Amir Weissbrod to protest Israel’s actions in Jerusalem.

According to Petra News, Lozi told the envoy that recent remarks by Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Ardan over changing the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque are unacceptable. Lozi added that the mosque is a place of worship for Muslims only.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi addressed a group of EU ambassadors in Amman and “stressed the urgency of effective international steps against Israel’s violations of Holy Sites in occupied Jerusalem.”

Safadi told Arab News that the situation in Jerusalem is challenging and must be addressed. He said that he will present a detailed report on Jordan’s position to Parliament on Monday.

The ministry denounced the Israeli authorities’ closure of the mosque’s gates and demanded that Israel respects its obligations in accordance with international humanitarian law.

HIGHLIGHT

• Muslims insist that all 144,000 square meters of the UNESCO World Heritage Site are a single unit that has belonged to them for 11 centuries.

Hatem Abdel Qader, a member of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, told Arab News that Israeli authorities had been attempting to enforce major changes at the mosque.

“Security forces barged into the mosque yesterday. They went to the Bab Al-Rahmeh Mosque where they confiscated carpets and the closet where shoes are kept.”

Jordan’s diplomatic statements follow comments by Ardan, who said that Israel is disappointed with the current state of affairs at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

According to Israeli officials, the mosque area is sovereign Israeli territory, despite it being administered by Jordan. Muslims insist that all 144,000 square meters of the UNESCO World Heritage Site are a single unit that has belonged to them for 11 centuries.

Qader said that Palestinians welcomed the Jordanian position but expressed concerns over a decline of support for Amman’s custodianship of the holy places at Al-Aqsa.

“There appears to have been a gradual deterioration of Arab and Islamic support to Jordan. It surprises me that Muslims have been quiet, perhaps they see an advantage if Jordan’s role is diminished? If true, this would be dangerous.”

Qader, a former minister in the Palestinian government and a current member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told Arab News that Jordan’s position “guarantees continuation of the status quo.”