Deadly clashes, car blast in northwest Syria leave 84 dead

Syrian regime forces hold a position during clashes with militants in Syria’s Hama governorate on June 9, 2019. (AFP file photo)
Updated 11 July 2019
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Deadly clashes, car blast in northwest Syria leave 84 dead

  • 71 killed in fighting between regime forces and opposition fighters; 13 die in Afrin blast

BEIRUT, ANKARA: Regime forces and allied Syrian fighters were locked in clashes on Thursday on the edge of an opposition bastion in northwest Syria after an opposition-led advance that killed 71 fighters overnight, a monitor said.

Russian and regime aircraft have ramped up their deadly bombardment of the Idlib region — administered by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) — since late April, despite a months-old international truce deal.

Clashes have also raged on the edges of the region, including in the north of Hama province.

Late Wednesday, HTS and allied opposition fighters took control of Hamameyat village and hilltop, in clashes that killed 41 regime troops and 30 opposition fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“The fighting is ongoing as regime planes and artillery pound the area,” the head of the Britain-based monitor Rami Abdel Rahman said on Thursday morning.

HTS spokesman Abu Khaled Al-Shami said the militant and opposition fighters attacked after dark, taking control of the “heavily fortified” hill from forces loyal to Syria’s Bashar Assad.

Naji Mustafa, a spokesman for the allied National Liberation Front fighters’ grouping, said: “The hill is very strategic because it overlooks ... supply routes to enemy forces.”

Russian airstrikes killed one civilian in the town of Latmaneh and opposition artillery fire took the life of one woman in the regime-held area of Karnaz, the Observatory said.

A September deal between Russia and opposition backer Turkey was supposed to avert a massive regime offensive on Idlib, but it was never fully implemented and HTS took full administrative control in January.

More than 560 civilians have been killed in regime and Russian airstrikes on northwest Syria since the end of April, according to the Observatory.

Opposition fire during the same period has killed more than 40 civilians in adjacent regime-held areas, it has said.

Blast kills 13

In another development, a car bomb exploded on Thursday at the entrance to a northern Syrian town controlled by Turkish forces and allied Syrian fighters, killing at least 13 people including eight civilians and wounding 35, a war monitor said.

Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies took control of Afrin from Kurdish forces in March last year after a two-month air and ground offensive.

“The car bomb exploded near the checkpoint at the entrance to the town where vehicles were gathering to be checked,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Those killed also included four fighters and an unknown person, the Observatory said.

“Among the victims, at least six are originally from Eastern Ghouta,” a former opposition stronghold outside Damascus retaken by the regime last year, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

There was no immediate claim for the blast, which is the latest deadly explosion to rock the city.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the bomb in a fuel truck exploded in Afrin, igniting a fire and causing considerable damage to the surrounding area.

Afrin operation

Turkey and allied Syrian fighters took control of Afrin last year in a military operation that expelled local Kurdish fighters and displaced thousands of Kurdish residents. Ankara considers the Kurdish fighters who were in control of Afrin terrorists. Since then, there have been a series of attacks on Turkish targets in the area.

Turkey supports the Syrian opposition in the war against Assad but has joined with Russia to secure and monitor local cease-fires. Turkish troops have also crossed into Syria in recent years to battle Kurdish fighters and Daesh militants operating along the border, setting up bases in the area.

The civil war that has raged for eight years has killed more than 450,000 people and uprooted more than half of Syria’s population. The Syrian regime has regained control of more than 60 percent of the territory once in the hands of armed groups and militants.

In northwestern Syria, where the fighters have their last stronghold and where nearly 3 million civilians live, regime forces have been pushing their way in to at least restore their access to a strategic highway in the area. Despite a Turkey and Russia-backed cease-fire, fighting has raged since late April, displacing hundreds of thousands and killing hundreds.

On Thursday, the White Helmets said at least five people were killed in air raids on residential areas in the town of Jisr Al-Shughur, southwest of Idlib. The Observatory put the death toll at three, with eight injured.

The regime troops are fighting to regain control of a village they lost to the opposition earlier this week.


Camel dung fuels cement production in northern UAE

Updated 26 min 9 sec ago
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Camel dung fuels cement production in northern UAE

  • Farmers in the emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah drop off camel excrement at collection stations

RAS AL-KHAIMAH: Thousands of tons of camel dung are being used to fuel cement production in the northern United Arab Emirates, cutting emissions and keeping animal waste out of landfill.
Under a government-run scheme, farmers in the emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah drop off camel excrement at collection stations. It is then blended with coal to power the boiler at a large cement factory.
“People started to laugh, believe me,” said the general manager of Gulf Cement Company, Mohamed Ahmed Ali Ebrahim, describing the moment the waste management agency proposed the idea.
But after running tests, the company found two tons of camel waste could replace one ton of coal.
“We heard from our grandfathers that they used cow dung for heating. But nobody had thought about the camel waste itself,” said Ebrahim, whose factory now uses 50 tons of camel dung a day.
Cow dung has been tapped as a resource to generate energy from the United States, to Zimbabwe to China. Camel dung is a rarer fuel but one well suited to Ras Al-Khaimah, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, home to around 9,000 camels used in milk production, racing and beauty contests.
Each camel produces some 8kg of faeces daily — far more than farmers use as fertilizer.
A blend of one part dung to nine parts coal burns steadily — essential for cement ovens that work continuously at up to 1,400 degrees Celsius.
The main aim of the project is to prevent camel waste from ending up in the dump, with the government seeking to divert 75% of all waste from landfill by 2021.
“We don’t make use of it. The most important thing is for the area to be clean, for the camels to be clean,” said farm owner Ahmed Al-Khatri, stroking camel calves in the afternoon sun as a farm worker sifted dung for collection.
Authorities want more cement plants to adopt the practice and start using chicken and industrial waste, as well as sludge from water treatment, said Sonia Ytaurte Nasser, executive director of the waste management agency.
“Waste is just a resource in the wrong place,” she said.