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
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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.


Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

Updated 23 May 2019
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Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

  • Israel reduced the fishing limit to 10 nautical miles
  • The countries agreed to 20 nautical miles in the Oslo accords of 1990s

JERUSALEM: Israel reduced the offshore fishing limits it imposes for vessels operating out of Gaza from Thursday after Palestinians floated balloons fitted with incendiaries over the border, officials said.
The cut came just two days after Israel restored the limits to those set in April ahead of an Israeli general election.
“A decision was taken this Wednesday evening to reduce the fishing zone off the Gaza Strip to 10 nautical miles until further notice,” said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.
“The decision was taken after the launch of incendiary balloons from Gaza toward Israel,” it added.
Palestinians in Gaza have frequently floated balloons fitted with firebombs over the border to damage Israeli property and have in the past succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland.
Israel banned fishing completely when two days of deadly violence erupted earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following a truce.
The 15-nautical-mile limit that had been restored on Tuesday was the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.
But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.
Israeli authorities have not said whether the 15-mile limit was one of the understandings reached as part of the May 6 cease-fire in Gaza but Israel media reported on Monday that it was.
The additional nautical miles are important to Gaza fishermen as they bring more valuable, deeper water species within reach.
Four Israeli civilians and 25 Palestinians, including at least nine militants, were killed in this month’s exchanges across the border.