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

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’

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.


Israel to send Palestinians 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in exchange deal

Israel to send Palestinians 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in exchange deal
Updated 53 min 11 sec ago

Israel to send Palestinians 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in exchange deal

Israel to send Palestinians 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in exchange deal
  • Vaccine deal was among initial policy moves toward the Palestinians by new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
  • Some 30 percent of eligible Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have received at least one vaccine dose

TEL AVIV: Israel will send at least 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under a deal to share shots, officials said on Friday, in a boost for the Palestinians’ vaccination campaign in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Under the terms of the deal, announced by new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office, the PA agreed to give Israel a reciprocal number of doses from one of its own shipments due to arrive later this year.
The vaccine deal was among initial policy moves toward the Palestinians by Bennett since he was sworn in on Sunday, replacing veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Israel will transfer to the Palestinian Authority 1-1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine,” a joint statement from Bennett’s office and the health and defense ministries said.
The Pfizer-BioNTech doses earmarked for transfer “will expire soon,” the statement said, and they were “approved in light of the fact that Israel’s vaccine stock meets its needs today.”
A source in the PA health ministry confirmed the deal and said the Palestinians expect to receive a shipment of Pfizer doses in August or September. The Israeli statement said Israel would receive reciprocal doses from the PA in September or October.
Neither side said when the initial Israeli transfer to the PA would be made.
Israel, which led the world with its swift vaccine roll-out, had faced criticism for not doing more to ensure Palestinian access to doses in territory it captured in a 1967 war.
Around 55 percent of eligible Israelis are fully vaccinated — a turnout largely unchanged by this month’s expansion of eligibility to include 12- to 15-year-olds.
Some 30 percent of eligible Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Palestinian officials.
The Palestinians have received vaccine doses from Israel, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates and the global COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative.


Egypt’s affirms support for Libya’s stability

Egypt’s affirms support for Libya’s stability
Updated 18 June 2021

Egypt’s affirms support for Libya’s stability

Egypt’s affirms support for Libya’s stability
  • Sisi called on Libyan institutions concerned with the upcoming elections to fulfill their national duty

DUBAI: President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has affirmed Cairo’s support for the Libyan government to achieve stability, presidential spokesperson Bassam Radi said.

Radi issued the statement on Thursday following Egypt intelligence chief Abbas Kamel’s visit to Tripoli, where he met with Abdel Hamid Al-Dabaiba, Libya’s Prime Minister-designate of the new Government of National Unity. They discussed how to strengthen cooperation relations and support the political process in the war-torn country.

Sisi affirmed that the efforts exerted for national unity in Libya are a key pillar for its stability, renewing Egypt’s support for carrying out the Libyan elections, local daily Egypt Today reported.

Sisi called on Libyan institutions concerned with the upcoming elections to fulfill their national duty, the report said.

Meanwhile Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shokry met with his Libyan counterpart Naglaa Al-Manqoush on the sidelines of an Arab ministerial meeting in Doha earlier this week.

Both ministers discussed developments in Libya steps to hold elections by the end of the year.


Israel strikes Gaza in retaliation for fire balloons

Israel strikes Gaza in retaliation for fire balloons
Updated 18 June 2021

Israel strikes Gaza in retaliation for fire balloons

Israel strikes Gaza in retaliation for fire balloons

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Israeli jets launched air strikes on Gaza overnight Thursday to Friday after militants in the Palestinian territory again set off incendiary balloons into southern Israel, the army and AFP journalists said.
The fire balloons and air strikes are the latest violence heaping pressure on a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers that came into place on May 21, ending 11 days of heavy fighting.
“Over the past day, arson balloons were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory,” Israel’s military said in a statement.
“In response... fighter jets struck military compounds and a rocket launch site belonging to the Hamas terror organization.”
AFP journalists in the Palestinian enclave also reported hearing explosions, which the army said hit sites in both Gaza City and in Khan Yunis, in the south of Gaza, home to some two million people.
Soon after the strikes, Hamas militants opened fire with heavy machines guns toward the Jewish state, as Israeli warning air raid sirens rang out.
US Secretary of State Blinken spoke on Thursday with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and discussed “the need to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations in practical ways,” the State Department said in a statement.
“They also shared opinions on opportunities to deepen normalization efforts as well as on regional security issues, including Iran,” the State Department said.
Palestinian militants in Gaza launched balloons for a third day running on Thursday, according to Israeli firefighters battling the blazes sparked by the devices.
The balloons are basic devices intended to set fire to farmland and bush surrounding Gaza.


Iranians nonchalant as regime opens poll

Iranians nonchalant as regime opens poll
Updated 18 June 2021

Iranians nonchalant as regime opens poll

Iranians nonchalant as regime opens poll
  • Khamenei’s ally Raisi likely to succeed succeed the pragmatist incumbent Hassan Rouhani

JEDDAH: Iranians vote on Friday in a race that is seen by the regime’s critics as not democratic, fair, or free by any means.

The election, tightly managed by the nation’s top authorities, is likely to hand the presidency to a judge sanctioned by Washington for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners.

Hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, an ally and protege of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the favorite to succeed the pragmatist incumbent Hassan Rouhani.

“The regime will attempt to project that it enjoys legitimacy during this election. Government employees will be instructed to go to the ballots in order to show the popularity of the regime, while the authorities may manipulate the statistics in order to show a high voter turnout,” Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist, writes in Opinion.

Khamenei on Wednesday urged Iranians to turn out and vote, but a record number of people are expected to boycott the polls due to anger over worsening economic hardship and frustration with hard-line rule.

Another potential deterrent for voters is a hard-line vetting body’s disqualification of hundreds of would-be candidates, including many advocating more freedoms.

For an overwhelmingly young population chafing at political restrictions, the lack of choice at the ballot box means a vote serves little purpose, analysts of Iranian politics say.

Soraya, a student at Tehran University, told Arab News: “The government is telling people to vote. But I see voting as an insult. We are not going to vote in order to show the world that we Iranians are frustrated with this clerical establishment.

“We are not with a government that shoots down a passenger plane (Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which was downed by the IRGC in January 2020), lies repeatedly, and kills and tortures its own citizens.

“We are not with a government that steals the nation’s natural resources and spends it on its militias. The old game of moderate or hard-liner is over. They are all the same.”

Within Iran’s mix of clerical rulers and elected officials, Khamenei has the final say on all state matters, including nuclear and foreign policies. But the elected president will be in charge of tackling an economy hammered by US sanctions.

Over 50 percent of Iran’s 85 million population has been pushed under the poverty line since 2018 when then US President Donald Trump ditched a 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed nuclear-related sanctions that have squeezed Tehran’s oil income.

Aware of its vulnerability to anger over the economy, the leadership fears a revival of street protests that have erupted since 2017, in which protesters called for “regime change.”


Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens

Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens
Updated 18 June 2021

Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens

Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens
  • Threat to military ‘leaves entire country at risk,’ defense ministers warn summit

BEIRUT: Lebanese army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun on Thursday expressed confidence that the military will overcome what he described as a “crucial and delicate period” facing Lebanon.

The military chief warned of an increasingly untenable situation, but said that the institution remains strong.

“We believe that we will overcome this crucial and delicate period thanks to the strong will of our soldiers, and to the support of the Lebanese people and the friendly countries,” Gen. Aoun said.

His remarks came as 20 members of the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG), in addition to European and Arab countries, the UN, EU and other international organizations attended a virtual conference on Thursday to support the army.

Discontent is brewing among Lebanon’s security forces over a currency crash that has wiped out most of the value of their salaries. Lebanon’s pound has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar since late 2019.

The conference, organized by France in collaboration with Italy and the UN, aimed to mobilize support through in-kind aid for the Lebanese Army such as food, medicine and spare parts for its military equipment, in light of the collapse of the pound and the effect of the country’s struggling economy on the military.

Lebanon is facing a political deadlock and the biggest economic crisis in its history, and there are expectations that the army will step in to protect public safety in the event of a full collapse — much feared by the international community.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said: “We are concerned that the Lebanese army remains capable of fulfilling its duties in maintaining security and stability.”

Her Italian counterpart, Lorenzo Guerrini, highlighted the importance of “quickly responding to the needs of the army by providing it with basic support requirements.”

Joana Wronecka, UN special coordinator for Lebanon, said that the army must be kept “cohesive and operative.”

Zeina Akar, Lebanon’s caretaker defense minister, said: “Taking into consideration the unstable environment — full of upheaval and uncertainty — that surrounds Lebanon, the army is a guarantee for stability and for the security of the Lebanese people.”

The minister said the army is facing the same problems as the Lebanese people.

“Its purchase power is eroding and it needs strong support to keep performing its duties. The army’s personnel need support in order to provide livelihood for their families.”

Gen. Aoun reviewed the army’s requirements at Thursday’s talks, saying that there is “an incremental need today to support it so that it remains tenacious and capable of doing its duties.”

He said that the depreciation of the Lebanese pound had stripped military salaries of 90 percent of their value.

Gen. Aoun warned that “the continuous retreat of the economic and financial situation in Lebanon will eventually lead to the collapse of institutions, including the military institution, which will render the whole country vulnerable on the security level.”

Soldiers “need support as individuals to overcome this precarious period,” he added.

“The army is the guarantee for security and stability in Lebanon and the region. Jeopardizing its role will lead to the collapse of Lebanon and to the spread of chaos.”

France, which has led international efforts, has sought to ramp up pressure on Lebanon’s squabbling politicians after failed attempts to agree a new government and launch reforms.

“The participants highlighted the dire and steadily degrading economic and social conditions in Lebanon. In this context, they stressed that the Lebanese army, though overstretched, remains a crucial pillar of the Lebanese state,” the French Armed Forces Ministry said in a statement.

“Their cohesiveness and professionalism remain key to preserving the country’s stability.”