Air Strike Kills Eight Iraq Paramilitaries In East Syria

 

An airstrike in eastern Syria killed eight fighters of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force overnight, a war monitor said on Friday.

“Unidentified aircraft targeted vehicles and arms depots in the Albu Kamal area, causing a large explosion. At least eight Iraqi Hashed fighters were killed,” the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.

He said several others were wounded.

Through a spokesman contacted by AFP, the US-led military coalition operating in Syria and Iraq denied carrying out the strike.

Abdel Rahman said three villages in the Albu Kamal area known for housing forces loyal to Tehran have been targeted by drone strikes since Wednesday, causing no casualties.

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The deadly strike comes in a context of spiralling tension between the United States and Iran, much of which has played out in Iraq.

Late last year, a US air strike in Iraq killed 25 Hashed fighters from the Kataeb Hezbollah militia, considered one of the closest to Tehran.

Hashed supporters subsequently stormed the huge US embassy compound in central Baghdad, further escalating the situation.

On January 3, a US strike near Baghdad airport killed Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s feared external operations supremo, in one of the Middle East’s highest-profile assassinations of recent years.

Also killed in the strike was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a founder of Kataeb Hezbollah and seen as Iran’s man in Iraq.

Tehran has vowed bloody revenge and has so far responded with ballistic missiles on a base in western Iraq housing US and other coalition troops.

Iran claimed the strikes killed 80 people but neither the US nor the Iraqi military reported any casualties.

Nearly Nine Years Of Conflict In Syria

Iraqi protesters set ablaze a sentry box in front of the US embassy building in the capital Baghdad to protest against the weekend’s air strikes by US planes on several bases belonging to the Hezbollah brigades near Al-Qaim, an Iraqi district bordering Syria, on December 31, 2019. Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP

 

 

Syria’s war began as a peaceful uprising that was swiftly crushed in a regime crackdown. Almost nine years on, more than 380,000 people have died, and millions more have fled.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin — a key ally of Damascus — on Tuesday made a surprise visit to the country, here is a summary of the main events in the conflict:

Revolt to repression

In March 2011, protests break out to demand political change after four decades of repressive rule by the Assad dynasty.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime cracks down on demonstrations but rallies continue.

In July an army colonel who has defected from the military sets up the Turkey-based opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA).

An armed rebellion erupts, with support from western and Arab countries. The rebels seize key territory, including large swathes of third city Homs and a chunk of the ancient city of Aleppo.

Air strikes

In 2012 regime forces step up their crackdown, carrying out bloody operations, notably in the central city of Hama, a bastion of opposition to the Assad regime.

In July FSA fighters launch a battle for Damascus but the government holds firm.

From 2013 regime helicopters and planes unleash air strikes, some of them using barrel bombs, on rebel zones.

The same year Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah confirms it has deployed fighters to back Syrian government forces.

Iran also boosts its support for Assad.

Chemical attack

On August 21, 2013, chemical attacks blamed on the regime on two rebel-held areas near Damascus reportedly kill more than 1,400 people. The regime denies the charge.

Then US president Barack Obama pulls back from threatened punitive strikes on Syrian regime infrastructure, instead of agreeing a deal with Moscow that is meant to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

Islamic State group

In June 2014, the jihadist Islamic State group proclaims a “caliphate” over territory it has seized in Syria and Iraq.

In September a US-led coalition launches airstrikes against IS in Syria.

The strikes benefit Kurdish groups, who since 2013 have run autonomous administrations in Kurdish-majority areas.

Kurds join with Arabs to form the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

They oust IS from key areas including the jihadists’ de facto capital Raqa in 2017, and then in 2019 their last Syrian holdout, the village of Baghuz.

In October IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killed during a US special services operation in northwestern Syria.

Russia steps in

In September 2015 Russia launches airstrikes in support of Assad’s troops, in a campaign that will prove to be a turning point in the war.

In a string of deadly campaigns, the regime retakes key rebel bastions, from Aleppo in 2016 to Eastern Ghouta in 2018.

US strikes

In April 2017 a sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun kills more than 80 people.

US President Donald Trump unleashes missile strikes against the regime’s Shayrat airbase.

In April 2018, the US, with the support of France and Britain, launches retaliatory strikes after an alleged regime chemical attack on the then rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus.

Turkish offensive against Kurds

On October 9, 2019, Ankara launches an offensive targeting Kurdish forces in Syria, whom it brands “terrorists” linked to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

It follows Washington’s decision to withdraw US forces from the Turkey-Syria border area.

Turkey and its Syrian proxies have since taken a 120-kilometre by 30-kilometre stretch of the border.

Battle for Idlib

Since mid-December, the Syrian regime and its ally Russia have ramped up their bombardments of Idlib province in the northwest, involving ground battles with jihadists and rebels.

Damascus vows to reconquer the region, run by the powerful Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist alliance, led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

US Army Will ‘Pay Price’ For Killing Soleimani – Hezbollah Chief

 

 

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Sunday said the US army will “pay the price” for killing top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi commander in a drone strike.

“The American army killed them and it will pay the price,” the Iran-backed head of the Lebanese Shiite group warned in a televised speech following Friday’s strike in the Iraqi capital.

“The only just punishment is (to target) American military presence in the region: US military bases, US warships, each and every officer and soldier in the region,” Nasrallah said.

He added however that American civilians such as “businessmen, engineers, journalists and doctors” should be spared.

“When the coffins of American soldiers and officers… start to return to the United States, (US President Donald) Trump and his administration will realise they have lost the region,” he said.

Soleimani and top Iraqi military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed in a US drone strike Friday near Baghdad’s international airport, sparking fury in Iran and Iraq.

Nasrallah’s speech was beamed to black-clad supporters who gathered in southern Beirut, waving Hezbollah’s yellow flag or holding up portraits of Soleimani and Muhandis.

Nasrallah also called on Iraq to free itself of the American “occupation”.

“Our demand, our hope from our brothers in the Iraqi parliament is… to adopt a law that demands American forces withdraw from Iraq,” he said.

Iraq’s parliament urged the government on Sunday to end the presence of US-led coalition forces in the country, outraged by the American strike.

Some 5,200 US soldiers are stationed across Iraqi bases to support local troops preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State jihadist group.

They are deployed as part of the broader international coalition, invited by the Iraqi government in 2014 to help fight IS.

In his speech, Nasrallah said he had last seen Soleimani when the Iranian general visited him on New Year’s Day on Wednesday, without specifying where the meeting took place.

He said the general had flown out of the Damascus airport on Thursday night to Baghdad, where he was welcomed by Muhandis.

Earlier on Sunday, Hezbollah news outlet Al-Manar published undated photos of Nasrallah and Soleimani, including one in which the Iranian commander kisses Nasrallah’s forehead.

In a rare interview aired on Iranian state television in October, Soleimani said he had been in Lebanon during the 34-day 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war to oversee the fighting.

Hezbollah is the only side not to have disarmed after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

The United States has designated it a “terrorist” group and several of its figures are under sanctions, but the party is also a key player in Lebanese politics.

Syria Regime Fire Kills Eight In School Turned Shelter

 

 

Land-to-land missiles fired by Syrian regime forces killed eight civilians including four children in a school in northwestern Syria on Wednesday, a war monitor said.

Part of the building in the town of Sarmeen had been turned into a shelter for the displaced, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In the latest round of violence in Syria’s nearly nine-year-old war, regime forces have upped their deadly bombardment of the northwestern opposition bastion of Idlib in recent weeks.

In December alone, the violence pushed some 284,000 from their homes in the jihadist-run region of some three million people, the United Nations says.

The mass movement of people has seen public buildings such as mosques, garages, wedding halls and schools turned into shelters, UN humanitarian agency OCHA says.

Regime ally Russia announced a ceasefire for Idlib in late August after months of deadly Russian and regime bombardment that killed around 1,000 civilians.

But sporadic clashes and bombardment persisted throughout the autumn before a spike in violence in the past month, the Observatory says.

Syria’s civil war has killed more than 370,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

In total 11,215 people including more than 1,000 children were killed during the war last year, although it was the least deadly year on record since the beginning of the conflict.

Russian Strikes Kill Nine Civilians In Syria

An aerial view shows residents gathered around a building destroyed by a reported Russian airstrike on the village al-Barra in the southern countryside of Syria’s northern Idlib province on November 15, 2019.

 

Airstrikes by Syrian regime ally Russia on Sunday killed nine civilians in the jihadist-run enclave of Idlib in the northwest of the country, a war monitor said.

Five of the victims died in the village of Al-Malaja in southern Idlib province while the other four were killed in raids on the town of Saraqeb in the east, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A number of people were wounded, some seriously, the monitor’s head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, though he was unable to say how many.

The Idlib region, home to around three million people including many displaced by Syria’s eight-year civil war, is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadist alliance also controls parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.

The region is one of the last holdouts of opposition to forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

A ceasefire announced by Russia has largely held since late August.

But the Observatory says 48 civilians — including 16 children — have been killed in Russian air strikes on the region since the start of November.

The Britain-based monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria, says it determines who carries out an air strike according to flight patterns, as well as aircraft and the munitions involved.

Last month Assad said Idlib was standing in the way of an end to the civil war that has ravaged his country.

Syria’s conflict has killed 370,000 people and displaced millions since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.

Israeli Strikes In Syria Hit Hezbollah Post – Nasrallah

This picture taken on August 25, 2019 from the Israeli side of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights shows self-propelled artillery guns positioned along the border with Syria.
Jalaa MAREY / AFP

 

The head of Hezbollah said Sunday that Israeli strikes overnight in Syria had hit a position used by his Lebanese Shiite group, killing two of its members.

“There were just Lebanese youth from Hezbollah in the place that was bombarded,” a non-military facility, Hassan Nasrallah said.

Israel earlier claimed to have targeted an Iranian force and other “Shiite militias”.

‘Dozens Killed’ As Syria Regime Forces Battle Jihadists

 

 

Pro-regime forces were locked in heavy fighting with insurgents Sunday near a jihadist-run town in northwestern Syria, leaving dozens of combatants dead, a war monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said: “fierce clashes” between loyalist forces, jihadists, and allied rebels were taking place one kilometre (0.6 miles) west of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province.

The latest fighting broke out overnight Saturday to Sunday and has already killed at least 45 jihadists and allied rebels as well as 17 members of the pro-regime forces, the Britain-based monitor said.

The town of Khan Sheikhun lies on a key highway coveted by the regime.

The road runs through Idlib, connecting government-held Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, which was retaken by loyalists from rebels in December 2016.

READ ALSO: IS Car Bomb Kills Kurdish Police Officer In Northeast Syria

Pro-regime forces are deployed around three kilometres from the road and have been advancing over the past few days in a bid to encircle Khan Sheikhun from the north and the west and seize the highway.

On Sunday they retook the village of Tel al-Nar and nearby farmland northwest of Khan Sheikhun “and were moving close to the highway,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

But their advance from the east was being slowed down due to “a ferocious resistance” from jihadists and allied rebels.

Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) controls most of Idlib province as well as parts of the neighbouring provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia.

A buffer zone deal brokered by Russia and Turkey last year was supposed to protect the Idlib region’s three million inhabitants from an all-out regime offensive, but it was never fully implemented.

Regime and Russian airstrikes and shelling since late April have killed more than 860 civilians, according to the Observatory, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.

On Sunday airstrikes by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia killed two people, including a child, in the south of Idlib, the Observatory said.

More than 1,400 insurgents and over 1,200 pro-regime forces have been killed since April, according to the monitor.

The violence has displaced more than 400,000 people, the United Nations says.

Khan Sheikhun was hit by a chemical attack that killed more than 80 people in April 2017, attributed to the Syrian regime by the UN and international experts.

In response, US President Donald Trump ordered strikes on the regime’s key Shayrat airbase.

Now almost emptied of inhabitants, Khan Sheikhun sheltered almost 100,000 people before the start of the current military escalation, the majority displaced from Hama province.

“Many of these people have been displaced up to five times,” the UN’s regional spokesman for the Syria crisis, David Swanson, told AFP on Saturday.

Syria’s conflict has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions at home and abroad since starting with the brutal repression of anti-regime protests in 2011.

Kuwait Crackdown On ‘ISIS-Supporting Extremist Cell’

Kuwait Crackdown On 'ISIS-Supporting Extremist Cell'Reports say Kuwait has arrested members of an alleged terror cell accused of supplying funds and weapons to Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists.

A Lebanese National, Osama Khayat, allegedly confessed to buying ammunition and rockets for ISIS. Five others have been arrested.

ISIS has also said it was behind last week’s attacks in Paris and Beirut.

Kuwait’s Interior Ministry said the cell had been helping to recruit fighters and raised money that was being funnelled to an ISIS-related bank account in Turkey.

It said four members of the cell were outside Kuwait, including two Syrians and two Australian-Lebanese. It was unclear whether those four had been arrested.

In June, 27 people died after an attack on one of Kuwait’s oldest Shia mosques.

It was the worst terror attack in decades in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country. An affiliate group of ISIS calling itself Najd province claimed responsibility for the attack.

Facebook Activates Safety Checks For Nigeria

facebookPopular social media platform, Facebook Inc, has activated its “safety check” feature after deadly blasts in Nigeria on Tuesday, following criticism from users that the social media network was being selective about deploying it.

Facebook usually activates the feature, which allows users to mark themselves as safe, after natural disasters, but not bombings or attacks.

The social network, however, activated it after Friday’s gun and bomb attacks in Paris, drawing criticism from some users, because the feature was not activated for suicide bombings in Beirut, a day earlier.

In a post on his Facebook page, Chief Executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said the feature would now be used more frequently.

Islamic State Claims It Carried Out Bombing On Beirut

IS Claims It Carried Out Bombing On BeirutIslamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for two suicide bomb attacks which killed at least 41 people in Beirut, the Lebanese capital.

The bombing occurred in a suburb of Burj al-Barajneh – a stronghold of Hezbollah forces fighting IS in Syria.

BBC says the White House in a statement condemned the “horrific terrorist” bomb blasts.

The US government said it “would only serve to reinforce our commitment to support the institutions of the Lebanese state, including the security services, to ensure a stable, sovereign and secure Lebanon”.

The Lebanese government has declared Friday, a day of national mourning.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam called for unity in the face of attempts to create strife.

The bombing is the worst in Beirut since the end of Lebanon’s civil war in 1990.