Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

The rockets struck areas known to contain Iraqi security forces.
The rockets struck areas known to contain Iraqi security forces near Baghdad international airport. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 April 2021

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

BAGHDAD: At least three rockets hit near Baghdad international airport late Thursday, the Iraqi military said.
A total of eight missiles were fired and three landed near the airport complex, the statement said. It did not detail whether the attack caused casualties.
The rockets struck areas known to contain Iraqi security forces. One hit close to a central prison, the second near an academy of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, and a third near the headquarters of the Rapid Response regiment.
No one claimed responsibility for the attacks. US officials have previously blamed Iran-backed militia groups.
It is the latest in a string of rocket attacks that have primarily targeted American installations in Iraq in recent weeks. On Sunday, multiple rockets hit an Iraqi air base just north of Baghdad, wounding two Iraqi security personnel.
Last month, a base in western Iraq housing US-led coalition troops and contractors was hit by 10 rockets. One contractor was killed.
Calls from mainly Shiite leaders have grown to oust US troops from Iraq after a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad in January 2020.
Strategic talks between the US and Iraq have focused on the future of US troop presence in the country.


Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating
Updated 11 sec ago

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating
  • President Aoun monitors aid effort as entire towns and villages are cut off
  • Japan donates $1.8 million to support UNICEF humanitarian aid programs

BEIRUT: People across Lebanon have been left stranded and struggling to find fuel for heating as snowstorm Yasmine continues to wreak havoc.

President Michel Aoun’s media office said he had instructed the relevant authorities to provide assistance to people in affected areas and had been following the work of military, security and civil agencies as they sought to clear roads.

As the storm intensified on Wednesday night, entire cities and villages in the Bekaa and northern regions were cut off, while power cuts left residents without heating.

Snow fell at an altitude of 500 meters above sea level, leaving dozens of towns along the eastern and western mountain chains isolated. Most main and mountain roads at an altitude of 1,100 meters and above were completely cut off.

Snow also engulfed the runways at Beirut Airport, though did not prevent operations, and covered beaches in the northern cities of Byblos and Beirut and the southern city of Sidon.

Also in Sidon, firefighters rushed to tackle a blaze after a school bus was set on fire by lightning.

Along the banks of the Hasbani River in Shebaa and the neighboring villages of Arqoub the snowfall was recorded at up to a meter deep.

Footage shot in some of the worst affected areas went viral on social media.

In some regions the authorities issued warnings to motorists against driving as the freezing temperatures covered roads with ice.

The Ministry of Public Works warned people against trying to find alternative routes around snow-blocked roads until the authorities had clarified the situation and issued guidance.

The director-general of the Lebanese Civil Defense, Brig. Gen. Raymond Khattar, said the agency had responded to multiple calls from around the country, while the army said it was helping to get fuel to people in need and clear snow from roads.

Meanwhile, many people have complained about not being able to buy gas or diesel to heat their homes as they have become too expensive and too scarce.

Many gas stations ran out of diesel, which is mainly used for heating in mountain regions, as the price of a 20-liter canister reached $17.

Some people resorted to burning charcoal, while those less fortunate did their best to stay warm by wrapping themselves in blankets.

“The lack of heating is not limited to mountainous areas, but rather to cities and Beirut in particular,” a Civil Defense worker told Arab News.

“In poor homes we found children and the elderly curled up with only blankets,” the person said.

Speaking about the diesel shortage, Economy Minister Amin Salam said: “Those who try to monopolize diesel will be pursued, especially in mountainous areas.”

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Walid Fayyad spoke of “violations committed by diesel distributors who do not abide by the specified fees.”

“There is an active black market taking commissions of up to 10 or 15 percent,” he said. “This is a crime. The perpetrators must be prosecuted and measures must be taken against them.”

One of the groups to be worst hit by the bad weather were the Syrian refugees — especially those in barren areas of Bekaa — whose flimsy plastic tents were left covered in snow.

UNICEF said on Thursday that Japan had contributed $1.8 million for humanitarian aid through the Adolescent and Youth, and Water Sanitation and Hygiene programs in Lebanon.

The money would be used to help 35,000 vulnerable children and families, it said.

Over the next two months, when temperatures at high altitude can fall to minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), UNICEF will distribute blankets and warm clothing to vulnerable people with limited or no access to heating, as well as continuing to provide water and sanitation services within Bekaa.

Okubo Takeshi, Japan’s ambassador to Lebanon, said: “We are fully aware of the gravity of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Lebanon where true victims are always vulnerable children and families.

“As they face the harsh winter conditions, Japan has decided to strengthen its interventions through UNICEF to alleviate their sufferings. I hope they receive our message through the assistance that the international community will be there with you at all times.”

Takeshi then tweeted: “No winter lasts forever, nor will the Lebanese crisis. Relief must come. May God protect Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s acting Information and Education Minister Abbas Al-Halabi said the Cabinet’s discussions of the government’s 2022 draft budget would be completed by Friday.


Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian
Updated 5 min 49 sec ago

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian
  • The autopsy, undertaken by three Palestinian doctors, confirmed that Omar Asaad, who has US citizenship, suffered from underlying health conditions
  • The cause of death was a “sudden cessation of the heart muscle caused by psychological tension due to the external violence he was exposed to”

JERUSALEM: An autopsy has found that a 78-year-old Palestinian man who was pronounced dead shortly after being detained by Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank died of a heart attack caused by “external violence.”
The autopsy, undertaken by three Palestinian doctors, confirmed that Omar Asaad, who has US citizenship, suffered from underlying health conditions. But it also found bruises on his head, redness on his wrists from being bound, and bleeding in his eyelids from being tightly blindfolded.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, concluded that the cause of death was a “sudden cessation of the heart muscle caused by psychological tension due to the external violence he was exposed to.”
Asaad was detained while returning home from a social gathering at around 3 a.m. on Jan. 12 by Israeli soldiers who had set up a flying checkpoint in his home village of Jiljiliya. It’s a common occurrence in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military rule since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war.
Palestinian witnesses say Asaad was roughed up before being bound and blindfolded, and then taken to an abandoned apartment complex nearby. Other Palestinians who were detained in the same building later that night said they didn’t realize he was there until after the soldiers left, when they found him unconscious, lying face down on the ground, and called an ambulance.
The Israeli military has said he was detained after resisting an inspection and later released, implying he was alive. It’s unclear when exactly he died. Initial reports said he was 80 years old.
The unit that detained Asaad, Netzah Yehuda, or “Judea Forever,” is a special unit for ultra-Orthodox Jewish soldiers. It was formed with the aim of integrating a segment of the population that does not normally do military service. But Israeli media have reported problems in the unit stemming from the hard-line ideology of many of the soldiers.
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, an Israeli military spokesman, said the incident remains under investigation and that “actions will be taken if wrongdoing is found.”
The US Embassy said it has not yet seen a final report from the Israeli government and supports a “thorough investigation into the circumstances of the incident.” It said it was “deeply saddened” by Asaad’s death and has been in close contact with his family to provide consular assistance.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said Asaad’s detention was “bizarre.”
“This is a very small, quiet village,” said Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for the group. “There was no reason at all to take an 80-year-old and to drag him and handcuff him. I have no idea why they did it.”
Israel says it thoroughly investigates incidents in which Palestinians are killed by Israeli troops. But rights groups say those investigations rarely lead to indictments or convictions, and that in many cases the army does not interview key witnesses or retrieve evidence.
Sadot said the fact that the military is still investigating more than two weeks after the incident, even with the added pressure of American scrutiny, indicates that any eventual conclusion will be another “whitewash.”
“I don’t know, but from our experience, it will lead to nothing,” she said.


Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout

Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout
Updated 19 min 16 sec ago

Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout

Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout
  • Experts have warned that Syria could turn into a narco-state due to the growth of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the country

AMMAN: The Jordanian army said its troops on the northeastern border with Syria killed 27 drug smugglers after they tried to illegally enter the country at dawn on Thursday.

The clash with smugglers, the deadliest ever, came after the Jordanian Armed Forces announced a change in the rules of engagement in a bid to curb increasing illicit drug smuggling from Syria.

A security source told Arab News that orders were given to troops to chase and kill smugglers inside Syrian territory rather than wait until they get closer to the borders.

The security source said that the smugglers killed in Thursday’s operation tried to take advantage of the harsh weather conditions but “were received by vigilant border guards.”

The JAF said in a statement on Thursday that the smugglers were aided by an armed group, adding that a preliminary search of the area was conducted and large quantities of narcotics were found.

“The smugglers were supported by other armed groups,” the JAF said, adding that troops also wounded an unknown number of traffickers while others retreated back into Syrian territory.

Jordan has reported a surge in drug smuggling attempts from Syria, with authorities seizing large quantities of narcotics either found hidden in trucks on borders crossings or abandoned by smugglers following clashes with troops.

On Jan. 17, the Jordanian army announced that an officer had been killed and three border guards wounded in a clash with drug smugglers on the border with Syria, which stretches more than 360 kilometers.

The Jordanian army recently said that it had thwarted a total of 361 infiltration and smuggling attempts from Syria into the kingdom in 2021, seizing about 15.5 million pills.

In 2020, the army said it had thwarted more than 130 infiltration and smuggling attempts from Syria that resulted in the seizure of about 132 million Captagon pills and more than 15,000 sheets of hashish.

And in October last year, the Jordanian army said it had shot down a drone carrying a large quantity of drugs as it flew over the border.

Experts have warned that Syria could turn into a narco-state due to the growth of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the country and the group’s expansion of its drug trafficking operations as alternative financing following US sanctions.

UN drug experts say that Syria, shattered by a decade-long civil war, has become the region’s main production site for drugs destined for Jordan, Iraq, the Gulf and Europe.

According to an EU-funded report by the Center for Operational Analysis and Research, “Captagon exports from Syria reached a market value of at least $3.46 billion” in 2020.


Two years of stalemate show a military solution in Syria is an illusion, says UN envoy

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the SDF. (Reuters/File Photo)
According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the SDF. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 27 January 2022

Two years of stalemate show a military solution in Syria is an illusion, says UN envoy

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the SDF. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Geir Pedersen also told the Security Council that the humanitarian tragedy in the country is “only deepening,” with 14 million people now in need of aid to survive a harsh winter
  • America’s ambassador said her country is frustrated with the stalled efforts of the Syrian Constitutional Committee and the ‘unwillingness’ of the Assad regime to make progress

NEW YORK: The strategic stalemate in Syria makes it clear that no warring faction has the ability to decisively affect the outcome of the decade-long conflict, and so the idea that there can be a military solution is “an illusion,” the UN’s special envoy to Syria told the Security Council on Thursday.

“Despite the continued violence and suffering, (there have) been no shifts in the front lines for nearly two years,” Geir Pedersen said.

“It is clear that no existing actor or group of actors can determine the trajectory or outcome of this conflict, and indeed that the military solution remains an illusion.”

The envoy highlighted the precarious security situation that exists in several parts in the country, where “Syrians continue to suffer deeply.”

He said the violence continues unabated, including airstrikes on Idlib that kill civilians and damage infrastructure, mutual shelling across the front lines, hostilities in the northeast, improvised explosive device attacks in the north, and the Israeli shelling of the main commercial port of Latakiah. There have also been security incidents involving drug smuggling and Daesh attacks in the northeastern and central Syria, he added.

On a humanitarian level, Pedersen said the tragedy of the Syrian people is “only deepening,” exacerbated by the freezing winter conditions.

“14 million civilians now need humanitarian assistance,” he said. “More than 12 million remain displaced. Tens of thousands are detained, abducted or missing. The economy of Syria has collapsed. Criminality and smuggling are flourishing. And there are reports of young people seeking any opportunity to leave the country, sometimes falling prey to traffickers and warlords.

“Education is fragmented and severely degraded, as indeed are institutions and infrastructure across the board. The country remains de facto divided and society is deeply fractured. Syrians see no concrete progress toward a political solution.”

Having established this backdrop, the Norwegian envoy briefed the 15 members of the Security Council on his most recent efforts to advance the diplomatic process. He updated them on his meetings in recent weeks with officials from Germany, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Qatar and the UK to discuss the status of Syria’s Constitutional Committee, the most recent meeting of which took place in October last year.

In December, Perdersen’s deputy, Khawla Mattar from Bahrain, attended an Astana-format meeting in Kazakhstan where she met senior officials from Russia, Turkey, Iran, and the Syrian government and opposition.

She also met with representatives of the Working Group on the Release of Detainees and Abductees and the Handover of Bodies and the Identification of Missing Persons. Pedersen said good proposals emerged from that meeting “but what is absolutely needed is for these ideas now to be followed up on, as we are urging all stakeholders to do.”

Pedersen said he has also held a series of bilateral meetings with officials from Russia, the EU, Turkey, Qatar, the Arab League, Germany, France, Italy, the UK and the US. He described these consultations as a “rolling process where it will be necessary to revert to interlocutors repeatedly over time.”

He added: “My question to all interlocutors is the same: Can you identify not only what you demand, but also what you are prepared to put on the table in exchange for steps from the other side?”

The envoy said he seeks “fresh ideas from any quarter that could bring about action” on issues such as detainees and missing persons; the safe and “voluntary” return of refugees; restoring an economy that has “collapsed after more than a decade of war, corruption, mismanagement;” establishing calm throughout Syria; cooperation in fighting terrorism; and thoughts on the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon.

Pedersen also highlighted the plight of civilians at Al-Ghuwayran prison in Al-Hasakah, northeastern Syria, which was the scene of an attempted jailbreak by hundreds of Daesh insurgents last week that left at least 300 detainees dead.

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces on the ground.

Fionnula Ni Aolain, a UN human rights expert, expressed serious concern for the well-being of more than 700 children locked up the prison.

She said boys as young as 12 are living “in fear for their lives amid the chaos and carnage in the jail (and) are tragically being neglected by their own countries through no fault of their own except they were born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups.”

Pedersen said: “UNICEF drew attention to reports of (Daesh) members being holed up in dormitories for minors, putting hundreds of children in detention at risk.

“This episode brings back terrible memories of the prison breaks that fueled the original rise of (Daesh) in 2014 and 2015.

“I see this as a clear message to us all of the importance of uniting to combat the threat of internationally-proscribed terrorist groups — and to resolve the broader conflict in which terrorism inevitably thrives.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent representative of the US to the UN, said that the ongoing situation in Al-Hasakah “a stark reminder” that Daesh “remains a real threat.”

She also reiterated her country’s support for the diplomatic process in Syria and lamented the “less than constructive comments” by some states about Pedersen’s effort to advance the dialogue.

She singled out Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, quoting his public statement that Pedersen’s “steps-for-steps model as a way to resolve the crisis in Syria is unacceptable for us.” 

Thomas-Greenfield said her country shares Pedersen’s frustration with the lack of progress by the Syrian Constitutional Committee, and expressed disappointment “with the Assad regime participants’ unwillingness to make progress toward this end.”

Ambassador Mohammed Abushabab, the UAE’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, expressed support for Pedersen’s efforts and told the council that his country’s vision of a peaceful solution in Syria involves “opening channels of communication and building bridges, creating opportunities to support and reinvigorate the Constitutional Committee and ending foreign interference.”

He added: “Creating an appropriate environment to achieve peace and stability in Syria requires an end to foreign interference in Syrian affairs. We stress here the importance of preserving the unity, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.

“In this context, the UAE supports the call of the United Nations secretary-general and the special envoy for Syria to reach an immediate ceasefire throughout the country, and we stress the importance of maintaining and sustaining it.”


Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison

Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison
Updated 27 January 2022

Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison

Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison
  • Two sides clashed a day after the SDF announced they had regained full control of the facility
  • The weeklong assault on one of the largest detention facilities in Syria has turned Hassakeh into a conflict zone

BEIRUT: Dozens of armed Daesh militants remained holed up in the last occupied section of a Syrian prison, US-backed Kurdish-led forces said Thursday. The two sides clashed a day after the Syrian Democratic Forces announced they had regained full control of the facility.
Fighting between the armed extremists and SDF troops left at least two Daesh extremists dead Thursday, the SDF said in a statement. It said between 60 and 90 militants were hiding out in the northern section of the prison in the northeastern city of Hassakeh.
The SDF claimed Wednesday it had regained full control of the prison — a week after scores of militants overran the facility. The attackers allowed some to escape, took hostages, including child detainees, and clashed with SDF fighters in violence that killed dozens.
The weeklong assault on one of the largest detention facilities in Syria has turned Hassakeh into a conflict zone. The Kurdish-led administration declared a curfew and sealed off the city, barring movement in and out.
Thousands have been displaced because of the violence that began with a bold attack on the prison last Thursday. There were overnight celebrations in the city, including fireworks, after news that the prison had been recaptured.
It was the biggest military operation by Daesh since the fall of the group’s “caliphate” in 2019 and came as the militants staged a number of deadly attacks in both Syria and Iraq that stoked fears they may be staging a comeback.
The SDF said about 3,000 inmates have surrendered since its operation to retake the prison’s northern wing began three days ago.
The militants had used child detainees as human shields slowing down the effort. There are over 600 child detainees in the facility that houses more than 3,000 inmates. The Kurdish officials have not provided specific numbers of the facility’s population.
Kurdish officials said a large number of children were freed Wednesday but their fate remained unclear. Rights groups and at least one child detainee from inside the prison say many children were killed and injured in the clashes. Rights groups have criticized the SDF for keeping the children in adult facilities or holding them without trials in the first place.
In a statement, SDF said the children had been kept in separate dormitories from the adults, and were detained as an “interim measure” for their safety and the safety of the community until a solution for them is found.
The Kurdish-led SDF appealed to the UN and member states to “search for genuine solutions by repatriating non-Syrian children, rehabilitating them.”
At least 300 foreign child detainees are believed to be held in the Gweiran facility. Thousands more, mostly under the age of 12, are held with their mothers in locked camps in other parts of northeastern Syria on suspicion of being families of Daesh members. Most countries have refused to repatriate them, with only 25 out of 60 countries taking back their children, some without their mothers.
In the week of fighting, dozens of fighters from both sides have been killed, the US-led coalition has carried out nearly a dozen airstrikes and thousands of civilians living nearby have been displaced.
Siamand Ali, a spokesman for SDF, said the militants were hiding in the basement of the northern section.
A coalition official said Thursday that detainees of the prison known as Gweiran or Al-Sinaa are being secured in a “new, hardened facility” nearby where biometrics will be used by the SDF to enroll them. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the coalition continues to advise and assist the SDF in the operation. The militants had also targeted the new facility in their initial assault but failed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll from the struggle at over 200, including over 150 militants and more than 50 fighters from the Kurdish-led force. At least seven civilians were killed in the fighting, the Observatory said. The SDF said preliminary information put the force’s death toll at 35.
The SDF, backed by US-led coalition Bradley Fighting Vehicles and air support, had been closing in on the prison wing still controlled by the militants for a few days. Fighters from the SDF and other security teams used loudspeakers to call on the militants to surrender.
Kurdish officials said about 200 militants attacked the prison with car bombs and suicide belts while activating sleeper cells hiding in residential areas around the prison. In one video released by Daesh, the militants rammed vehicles against the prison walls. At one point, a car bomb was detonated in a petroleum warehouse near the prison, sparking a fire that lasted a couple of days.