US-backed forces expel Daesh from east Syria hub

In this file photo taken on September 11, 2018, members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather in the town of Shadadi, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of the northeastern Syrian city of Hassakeh, on September 11, 2018. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 December 2018

US-backed forces expel Daesh from east Syria hub

  • The Syrian Democratic Forces secured Hajjin, the largest settlement in what is the last pocket of territory controlled by the Daesh
  • The last Daesh fighters were confined to a network of tunnels and the edges of Hajjin

BEIRUT: Kurdish-led forces seized Daesh’s main hub of Hajjin Friday, a milestone in a massive and costly US-backed operation to eradicate the militants from eastern Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces secured Hajjin, the largest settlement in what is the last pocket of territory controlled by Daesh, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“After a week of heavy fighting and air strikes, the SDF were able to kick IS out,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring group, said, referring to another acronym for Daesh.
The operation was completed at dawn, he said, a day after SDF forces fanned out across the large village in the Euphrates valley.
On Thursday, the last Daesh fighters were confined to a network of tunnels and the edges of Hajjin, which lies in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border with Iraq.
The area held by Daesh is sometimes referred to as the “Hajjin pocket,” the last rump of a once-sprawling “caliphate” the group proclaimed in 2014 over swathes of Syria and Iraq.
Daesh fighters pulled back to positions east of Hajjin Friday and to Sousa and Al-Shaafa, the other two main villages in their shrinking Euphrates valley enclave.
As recently as Thursday, the group posted pictures of fighting in Hajjin on its social media accounts.
According to Abdel Rahman, a total of 17,000 fighters from the Kurdish-Arab SDF alliance are involved in the operation to flush Daesh out of its last bastion.
The operation was launched on September 10 and has taken a heavy toll, according to figures collected by the Observatory, which has a network of sources on the ground.
At least 900 militants and 500 SDF fighters were killed in the fighting, the Observatory said.
According to Abdel Rahman, more than 320 civilians were also killed, many of them in air strikes by the US-led coalition.
Thousands more civilians who had remained, voluntarily or not, in the Hajjin area have fled their homes since the start of the offensive three months ago.
US President Donald Trump this week predicted the militant group would be fully defeated within a month.
“We’ve done a very, very major job on Daesh,” he said on Tuesday, using another acronym for Daesh.
“There are very few of them left in that area of the world. And within another 30 days, there won’t be any of them left,” he vowed.
Western and other officials have repeatedly announced deadlines for a final victory over Daesh but the group is proving resilient.
The push to retake Hajjin was delayed by Turkish threats on the Kurdish heartland further north and deadly counter-attacks by die-hard militants making a bloody last stand.
The Turkish threats were renewed this week by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the army would launch an offensive within the “next few days” to “bring peace and security to areas east of the Euphrates” controlled by the SDF.
Washington, which has set up observation posts along the border and launched joint patrols with the SDF, said any unilateral military action in northern Syria would be “unacceptable.”
On Friday, 13 political parties in Kurdish territory in northern Syria issued a joint statement denouncing Erdogan’s threat as a “declaration of war.”
Besides what is left of the pocket near Hajjin, Daesh has a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert, a front which is managed by Russian-backed government forces.
What is left of the militant group also has sleeper cells across Iraq and Syria that regularly carry out attacks.
“Daesh anticipated its battlefield defeat and the loss of the caliphate and prepared accordingly,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University in Washington.


Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

A Palestinian man facing Israeli soldiers waves a national flag during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, near the town of Tulkarm on June 5, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2020

Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

  • Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause

AMMAN: Leading Palestinian and Arab figures have used the 53rd anniversary of Naksa — the displacement and occupation of Arab territories that followed Israel’s victory in the 1967 war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan — to highlight political mistakes made during and after the conflict.

Adnan Abu-Odeh, political adviser to Jordan's King Hussein and King Abdullah II, told Arab News that Arab countries and the Palestinian leadership had failed to understand the goals of Zionism.

“Governments that participated in the war were naive, expecting a repeat of the 1956 Sinai invasion when the US ordered an Israeli withdrawal. This was followed by the mistaken belief that we could liberate the land using guerrilla warfare," he said.

Anees Sweidan, director-general of foreign relations in the PLO, told Arab News that the Palestinian cause is undergoing a complicated phase where political opportunities are limited.

“The US bias towards Israel and absence of unity has put the Palestinian movement in a difficult situation. It is harder to generate external support and the financial crunch is causing much suffering despite the fact that we have made important accomplishments in the UN and Europe.”

Abdalqader Husseini, chairperson of the Faisal Husseini Foundation, said that the opportunities the anniversary offers should not be ignored.

“We need to realize that this is an illegal occupation that continues to dig deeper and escalate every day to the degree that the international community has lost interest and world conscience has become numb to Israeli practices. We in Jerusalem have not normalized with the occupiers and we have not accepted the new situation as an inescapable reality that we must accept.”

Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause.

“We went to Madrid with hope, the Palestinian leadership went to Oslo with optimism that they could reach a phased solution that would lead to statehood. As we remember this Naksa, we must revisit the path that has allowed the occupying entity to steal our land and cause havoc to our people without any deterrence from the international community," he said.

They (Palestinian youth) personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of PASSIA thinktank

Nibal Thawabteh, director of the Bir Zeit University’s Media Development Center, said the biggest mistake since 1967 was focusing on politics and avoiding community development.

"We don’t have a strong sense of citizenship, some have become accustomed to religious Islam. We need to work more on the citizenship.”

Ahmad Awad, director of the Amman-based Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, said there is a lack of acknowledgment of the reasons behind the Arab loss.

“Political, economic and cultural factors caused our loss, and we feel that most Arab countries have not learned this lesson. Instead of learning, we are going backwards, failing to defend their existential rights, shifting to isolationism as well as cultural and economic regression in our region."

Instead of looking backward, some Palestinians wanted to look forward.

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of the PASSIA thinktank in Jerusalem, said that Palestinian youth who never felt the shock of the 1967 defeat but have seen the exposure of Arab regimes in the face of the "deal of the century" will prevail.

“They personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Lily Habash, a Exeter University political science graduate, told Arab News that things look different on the ground.

“The world is changing and Israel uses geopolitical and regional changes to its advantage,” she said.

Dangers today encourage despair but Palestinians will be steadfast in the long term, she added.

“Some say we need a savior to get us out of this dilemma but I believe we need to trust in ourselves and work on all fronts.”