Over 60,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq: UN

Updated 09 December 2012
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Over 60,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq: UN

BAGHDAD: More than 63,000 Syrian refugees have fled the bloody conflict in their home country for neighboring Iraq, according to figures released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees yesterday.
The intense fighting between forces loyal to Bashar Assad and fighters battling to overthrow him has sparked a huge exodus of Syrians to neighboring countries.
There were 63,496 Syrian refugees in Iraq as of Dec. 5, a weekly update released by the UN said.
Most of them — 54,550 — were in the three-province autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, while 8,852 were located in Anbar province in the west and 94 in other provinces.
Meanwhile, Syria’s new opposition coalition said yesterday they will announce the creation of a military council before a Friends of Syria meeting next week, to unify the ranks of fighters.
National Coalition Secretary General Mustafa Sabbagh said the group “will announce the creation of a supreme military council before the Friends of Syria meeting in Marrakesh” due to take place on Dec. 12. In mid-November opposition factions met in Qatar and agreed to set up the National Coalition and bring together rebel forces under a supreme military council, as well as establish a judicial commission for fighter areas.
“The council will be exclusively responsible for receiving military aid which we obtain,” from outside Syria, Sabbagh told AFP.
He also stressed that the military command will not include radical groups such as Al-Nusra Front which, along with other rebels who rejected the formation of the opposition National Coalition.
The Al-Nusra Front, which has become a formidable fighting force, has claimed the majority of suicide bombing attacks in Syria’s 21-month-old insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives.
“Setting up the supreme military council is an important initiative to unify military action,” said Sabbagh.
The council will comprise “commanders of the various military councils on the group and forces battling the regime, namely the Free Syrian Army,” he said on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Bahrain.
Morocco has said it will host next Wednesday the fourth round of a Friends of Syria meeting of nations that support the opposition.


Militants kidnap Christian in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

Police pursued the kidnappers into the desert to which they fled after the incident. (AP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Militants kidnap Christian in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

  • The attack took place about 30 km west of El-Arish

CAIRO: Extremist militants on Thursday kidnapped a Christian man traveling in a taxi in the turbulent north of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, according to security officials, an incident that raises the specter of renewed attacks on minority Christians in the region after a two-year lull.

The officials did not identify the man, but said police pursued the kidnappers into the desert to which they fled after the incident, killing one of them and wounding two others in a firefight, but could not free the hostage. Two policemen were also wounded in the firefight, said the officials.

There was no word on whether any of the other passengers traveling in the taxi, a minibus, were harmed, suggesting that the kidnapping of the Christian man could have been planned. 

The attack took place about 30 km west of El-Arish, northern Sinai’s largest city, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

A spate of attacks on Christians in northern Sinai in late 2016 and early 2017 forced nearly 300 families to flee their homes there and find refuge elsewhere in Egypt. 

Those killed included a cleric, workers, a doctor and a merchant. The last Christian to be killed in Sinai was in January 2018, when militants gunned him down as he walked on the street in El-Arish.

The militants, now led by Daesh, say they are punishing the Christians for their support of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

The spiritual leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, whose ancient church is the country’s predominant Christian denomination, is a close ally of El-Sisi, who has made sectarian harmony a cornerstone of his domestic policy. 

El-Sisi’s patronage of the community has given Christians a measure of protection but did little to protect them from radicals, particularly in regions south of Cairo where Christians are a sizable minority.

Since 2016, Daesh militants have killed more than 100 Christians in attacks targeting churches and buses carrying pilgrims to remote desert monasteries. 

Also on Thursday, according to the officials, suspected militants sneaked into the parking lot of the main hospital in the city of Rafah on the Sinai border with the Gaza Strip and torched two vehicles before escaping. 

The incident was the latest in a recent spate of violent incidents in Rafah, most of whose residents have been evicted and compensated over the past year to deny the militants hiding places.

Nearly a year ago, the government threw into the battle against the Sinai militants thousands of troops, heavy armor, helicopter gunships and jet fighters in a bid to end the insurgency. 

The operation has significantly reduced the number of attacks and restored a near total normal life in El-Arish, on the Mediterranean coast.