Syrian Kurds boost fight against Daesh in east after setback

US-backed forces are pictured near the village of Susah in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, near the Syrian border with Iraq. (File / AFP)
Updated 29 October 2018

Syrian Kurds boost fight against Daesh in east after setback

BEIRUT/BAGHDAD: Syrian Kurdish special forces have joined an offensive against Daesh militants in eastern Syria, a commander said, after the fighters recovered ground from US-backed forces in a fierce counter attack.
Daesh launched the assault against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Deir Ezzor region near the Iraqi border on Friday. Iraqi Shiite militias reinforced their side of the frontier in response and Iraq’s military said it was ready to take on any militants who tried to cross.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said around 70 SDF fighters were killed in the assault which Daesh launched under cover of a sandstorm and drew on suicide bombers and female militants. The SDF says it lost 14 fighters.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition said Daesh had been able to regain some ground but the SDF would “come back with coalition support.”
An SDF commander attributed the setback partly to the relative inexperience of the Arab SDF forces which have carried out much of the fighting against hardened Daesh militants in Deir Ezzor.
While the Arab fighters of the Deir Ezzor Military Council had been able to make advances to a “certain level,” Daesh is resisting even more fiercely as the offensive closes in on its last pockets.
This required the deployment of special forces from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which spearheads the SDF, and its female affiliate the YPJ.
“We were forced to draw on experienced fighters from the YPG and YPJ,” the commander said. “They will be relied on to complete the campaign,” the commander said.
The fighting is the latest phase of efforts by the US-led coalition and the SDF to clear Daesh from its last footholds east of the Euphrates River following last year’s defeat of the group in Raqqa, its Syrian headquarters.
“This battle is give and take sometimes like most military fights and we have been saying from the beginning, this will be a difficult struggle,” Col. Sean Ryan, the coalition’s spokesman, said in an email to Reuters.
“Daesh is using experienced foreign fighters with nothing to lose and the SDF will come back with coalition support and continue to degrade and destroy Daesh,” he added, referring to another acronym for Daesh.
UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council on Monday up to 15,000 people remain within the Daesh-controlled area and around 7,000 people have in recent weeks been displaced by fighting from Hajjin, the last major stronghold of Daesh in Syria on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.
Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group that includes mostly Shiite militias, said it had reinforced along much of the border with Syria after the SDF was pushed back by Daesh.
“The Iraqi-Syrian border was not secure before. Our operations have fixed that completely from Rabia (in the northwest) to Tanf” in the southwest near the Jordanian-Iraqi-Syria border and close to a US military base, the PMF’s website quoted a senior commander as saying.
An Iraqi military spokesman confirmed the PMF, which were formally absorbed into the security forces earlier this year, had reinforced on the border. He also said the army was prepared for any attempt by militants to cross.
“We have units behind the border, including artillery, ready to deal with any attempts by terrorist elements to infiltrate ... there is also aerial surveillance,” Brig. Gen. Yehia Rasool said.
Helicopters dropped leaflets to Iraqi forces and tribes warning them of attempts by Daesh fighters to cross the border in retreat from their fight with the SDF, the interior ministry’s security media center said. 


Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

Updated 11 December 2019

Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

  • On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2
  • New elections would add to the political challenges facing Benjamin Netanyahu
JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament began rushing through a bill on Wednesday to call a third general election within a year as talks between embattled premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival broke down ahead of a midnight deadline.
A deal to avert a new election must be reached before 11:59 p.m. (2159 GMT), following a deadlocked vote in September.
But Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz, both of whom have repeatedly failed to build a governing majority in the Knesset, or parliament, have spent days trading blame for failing coalition talks.
On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2.
It must face three more plenary readings and votes during the day before being passed.
New elections would add to the political challenges facing Netanyahu — Israel’s longest serving premier, now governing in a caretaker capacity — at a time when, weakened by corruption charges, he must fend off internal challengers in his right-wing Likud party.
Netanyahu and Gantz, a former armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, had been discussing a potential unity government, but disagreed on who should lead it.
Last month, when Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges, Gantz called on him to step down.
On Tuesday night Netanyahu called on Gantz to stop “spinning.”
“After 80 days, it’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government. It’s not too late,” he said on social media.
Gantz said his party was making “efforts to find a way to form a government without us giving up the fundamental principles that brought us into politics.”
If confirmed, it would be the first time Israel’s weary electorate has been asked to go to the polls for a third time within 12 months.
The parties of Netanyahu and Gantz were nearly deadlocked in September’s election, following a similarly inconclusive poll in April.
Israel’s proportional system is reliant on coalition building, and both parties fell well short of the 61 seats needed to command a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Both were then given 28-day periods to try and forge a workable coalition but failed, forcing President Reuven Rivlin to turn to parliament with his deadline for Wednesday.
New elections are deeply unpopular with the Israeli public, which has expressed mounting anger and frustration with the entire political class.
Both parties had been trying to convince Avigdor Lieberman, a crucial kingmaker, to join their blocs.
But the former nightclub bouncer, whose secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party holds the balance of power, has refused.
Kann Radio reported Tuesday that Netanyahu had abandoned hopes of earning Lieberman’s endorsement.
Lieberman pointed out that Likud and Blue and White wouldn’t need his support if they could agree to work together.
“If during the next 24 hours a government is not formed it will be solely because the leaders of the two big parties — Likud and Blue and White — were not willing to set aside their egos,” he said on Facebook Tuesday.
“All the rest is lies and excuses.”
Netanyahu was indicted last month for bribery, breach of trust and fraud relating to three separate corruption cases.
He strongly denies the allegations and accuses the media, police and prosecution of a witch-hunt.
No date has yet been set for the beginning of the proceedings and, under Israeli law, Netanyahu can remain in office despite an indictment.
He also faces a potential challenge from within his own Likud party.
To boost his support, Netanyahu has pushed his plan to annex a strategic part of the occupied West Bank, as well as signing a defense treaty with the United States.
He is a close ally of US President Donald Trump, who has taken a number of controversial steps in support of Netanyahu’s agenda.
Blue and White, meanwhile, pledged Monday to run with only one leader in the next election — Gantz.
Previously Yair Lapid, second in command in the coalition, was meant to alternate the premiership, but on Monday Lapid said: “We’ll all get behind Benny Gantz, our candidate for prime minister.”
Despite Netanyahu’s indictment, polls suggest that a third round of elections could still be neck and neck — prompting some Israelis to speculate about yet another electoral stalemate.
A commentary writer for the Israel Hayom newspaper suggested that “a fourth election is even now visible on the horizon sometime in early September 2020.”