In Syrian riverside camp, Daesh clings to last scrap of ‘caliphate’

Women and children evacuated from Daesh's embattled holdout of Baghouz arrive at a screening area held by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, on March 6, 2019. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)
Updated 08 March 2019

In Syrian riverside camp, Daesh clings to last scrap of ‘caliphate’

  • Thousands of men and women have poured out of the pocket of territory in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border in recent days
  • The last Daesh fighters and their families were cornered on Friday among a dense gathering of vehicles and tents on the water’s edge

OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria: Holdout Daesh fighters hunkered down in a riverside camp in eastern Syria Friday as US-backed forces pressed to expel them from the last scrap of their dying “caliphate.”
Thousands of men and women have poured out of the pocket of territory in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border in recent days, their wounded, and dust-covered children, in tow.
The extremist group created a proto-state across large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, ruling millions of people, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch in Baghouz by the Euphrates River.
The last Daesh fighters and their families were cornered on Friday among a dense gathering of vehicles and tents on the water’s edge, caught between advancing US-backed forces and Syrian regime fighters across the river.
Men and women draped in black walked between a sea of small pickup trucks and canvas scattered across the uneven riverbank, footage obtained by AFP showed.
Amid the haphazard dwellings, a black cow grazed on a patch of dry grass.
The images, filmed by the Free Burma Rangers aid group, showed a motorbike darting between a dark earth berm topped with clumps of reeds and a line of makeshift shelters.
Just a few meters from the river, a few figures sat behind a wall of breeze-blocks erected among a thick bed of reeds, shielding them from the other side of the waterway.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, who are backed by air strikes by the US-led coalition against Daesh, are waiting for all civilians to be evacuated before moving in to retake the last scrap of Daesh-held territory.
More than 7,000 people, mostly women and children, have left the enclave this week, into territory held by the Kurdish-led SDF.
On Thursday, AFP saw dozens of women and children at a screening point for new arrivals outside Baghouz.
A woman dressed from head to toe in black sat slumped on a wheelchair, with other women and children wrapped in thick jackets scattered on blankets at her feet.
All around, women and children sat together in groups under a cloud of churned-up orange dust.
Near a field of yellow flowers, two SDF fighters carried a man with a long beard on a wooden stretcher.
He was the latest wounded man to emerge from the dregs of the “caliphate,” after a stream of men limping out on crutches a day earlier.
Around a tenth of the nearly 58,000 people who have fled the last IS bastion since December were extremists, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor.
It is unclear how many people remain inside, but the SDF has been surprised by the large numbers streaming out in recent days.
At the height of its rule, Daesh imposed its brutal interpretation of Islam across an area the size of the United Kingdom.
After it lost major cities in both countries in 2017, the fall of Baghouz would be a symbolic end to its territorial control.
But General Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command, warned Thursday that many of those being evacuated are “unrepentant, unbroken and radicalized.”
He told Congress the fight against Daesh was “far from over,” and stressed the need to “maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organization.”
Beyond Baghouz, Daesh fighters are still present in Syria’s vast Badia desert and have claimed deadly attacks in SDF-held territory, including one that killed four Americans in the city of Manbij in January.
US President Trump stunned allies in December when he announced all 2,000 US troops would withdraw from Syria as Daesh had been defeated.
The White House later said that around 200 American “peace-keeping” soldiers would remain in northern Syria.
The SDF is holding detained extremists in jail, while civilians are being trucked to Kurdish-held displacement camps hours north.
Syria’s Kurds have detained hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for Daesh, as well as family members, but their home nations have been reluctant to take them back.
Baghouz is currently the only active front in Syria’s eight-year civil war, the latest battle in a complex, devastating conflict that has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions from their homes.


Vandals damage cars in Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem

Updated 40 min 48 sec ago

Vandals damage cars in Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem

  • Masked suspects operated under the cover of darkness to vandalize the cars in east Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood
  • The graffiti included the phrases “When Jews are stabbed, we aren’t silent”

JERUSALEM: Vandals slashed the tires of over 160 vehicles and sprayed slogans such as “Arabs=enemies” in a Palestinian neighborhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli police said Monday. Elsewhere, Palestinian residents of the volatile West Bank city of Hebron staged a general strike to protest the construction of a new Jewish settlement there.
Masked suspects operated under the cover of darkness to vandalize the cars in east Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood and spray-painted Hebrew graffiti on a nearby wall, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. He said the authorities were treating the incident as criminal with “nationalistic motives.”
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion condemned the “hate crime” and called upon the police “to find the criminals as fast as possible and bring them to justice.”
The graffiti included the phrases “When Jews are stabbed, we aren’t silent,” and “There is no place in the land for enemies.”
Hard-line nationalist Israelis have been known to execute so-called “price tag” attacks against Palestinians in response to Palestinian militant attacks or perceived efforts by Israeli authorities to limit settlement expansion.
It was unclear what motivated Monday’s incident.
In Hebron, the West Bank’s largest city, Palestinian shops, schools and businesses were shuttered for the one-day strike. Some youngsters hurled stones at Israeli military patrols, and soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.
Israel’s new defense minister, Naftali Bennett, presented his plan for a new settlement there early this month. Bennett, a longtime supporter of the West Bank settlement movement, said his plan will double the Jewish population of Hebron.
Hebron is frequent flashpoint of violence. Hundreds of hard-line Jewish settlers guarded by thousands of soldiers live in the heart of the city, which has a population of over 200,000 Palestinians.
Palestinian Mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh said the city has formed a legal team to challenge the decision in Israeli courts.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory.
Over the past five decades, Israel, citing security needs, has established a military bureaucracy in the West Bank that enforces movement restrictions on Palestinians through a complex permit system. Some 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The US announced a new American doctrine last month that does not consider Israeli settlements a violation of international law. It was the latest in a string of diplomatic gifts by the Trump administration to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.