Three gendarmes were killed by Anglophone separatist rebels in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, the latest deaths in a bloody four-year conflict, a perfectly told AFP on Sunday.
The attack on Saturday follows the murders of two soldiers and an official in the neighbouring Southwest region in two separate incidents.
Five other officials also kidnapped in one of those attacks were still missing on Sunday.
“Three gendarmes who were at their checkpoint were attacked and killed” by separatists, Ngoketunjia county prefect Quetong Handerson Kongeh told AFP, adding that two of the three killed had been decapitated. A fourth managed to escape.
He said a large number of rebels overwhelmed the gendarmes who “could not defend themselves”.
A bitter independence struggle by English-speaking rebels has been raging in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions since 2017.
Members of the anglophone minority in the country’s westernmost provinces have long complained of being marginalised by the French-speaking majority and 88-year-old President Paul Biya, in power for 38 years.
From 2017, their demonstrations devolved into a bloody conflict.
The rebels have extended their violent attacks against police and soldiers to civilians.
UN and international aid groups say both army troops and anglophone rebels have committed abuses and crimes against civilians.
In the past four years, more than 3,500 people have been killed and over 700,000 have fled their homes to escape the conflict.
At least 11 civilians including four women and three children were killed when a roadside bomb struck a bus in Afghanistan, officials said Sunday, in the latest attack targeting passenger vehicles in the violence-wracked country.
The attack occurred on Saturday evening in the western province of Badghis, raising fears of fresh violence in the months ahead as the US military continues to pull out its last remaining troops from the country.
No group has claimed responsibility for the blast but Badghis governor Hessamuddin Shams accused the Taliban of planting the bomb.
Another official from the province, Khodadad Tayeb, confirmed the toll and said that the bus fell into a valley after it was hit by the bomb.
Saturday’s attack came after a series of blasts targeted passenger buses in Kabul this week.
The jihadist Islamic State claimed two back-to-back attacks on buses in Kabul.
Violence has soared in recent weeks as government forces and the Taliban clash in near-daily battles across the rugged countryside, with the militants appearing to focus on capturing new territory and battering checkpoints and bases near Kabul.
The Taliban said on Saturday that they have “captured the district of Deh Yak” in the province of Ghazni, about 150 kilometres south of Kabul.
The authorities said they had only “relocated” their forces from the area.
Ghazni is strategically located on the main road from Kabul to Kandahar, the former bastion of the Taliban in the south. The province sees regular fighting between the two warring sides.
In 2018, the Taliban briefly seized the provincial capital Ghazni, which has the same name as the province, in an all-out attack that left several government buildings torched and destroyed.
The surge in violence across Afghanistan comes as the US military continues to withdraw its remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden has ordered the military to complete the pullout by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
But as the Americans pack up, experts fear Afghanistan will remain home to a number of jihadist groups.
Israeli and Egyptian officials held talks in both countries Sunday aimed at bolstering the Cairo-brokered ceasefire that ended the latest deadly flare-up of violence between the Jewish state and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Jerusalem to discuss “strengthening cooperation” between their countries, Netanyahu’s office said.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi tasked Kamel and his delegation, who were also to visit the occupied Palestinian Territories, with hammering out a permanent ceasefire deal, senior Egyptian security officials told AFP.
On the same day, Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi made the first official visit by an Israeli top diplomat to neighbouring Egypt in 13 years, for talks with his counterpart Sameh Shoukry.
Ashkenazi tweeted on his arrival that they would “discuss establishing a permanent ceasefire with Hamas, a mechanism for providing humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of Gaza with a pivotal role played by the international community”.
The Egyptian foreign ministry tweeted that the ministers’ talks were “part of Egypt’s relentless and continued efforts to revive the peace track and to build on the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip”.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was also expected in Cairo for talks, senior Egyptian security officials said, without providing further details.
Egypt played a pivotal role in negotiating the May 21 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that brought an end to 11 days of deadly fighting.
Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, health officials said.
Rockets and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, medics said.
Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s demand “for the prompt return” of Israelis being held in the Gaza Strip, according to the statement.
Ashkenazi also said Israel was “fully committed” to repatriating Israeli prisoners held by Hamas.
Since Israel’s 2014 invasion of the Gaza Strip, the Islamist group has held the bodies of Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, although Hamas has never confirmed their deaths.
Hamas is also believed to be holding two Israeli citizens who entered Gaza alone and whose families say they have mental health issues.
Israel is meanwhile holding more than 5,000 Palestinians in its jails.
Sisi has pledged $500 million to help reconstruction efforts in the densely populated Gaza enclave, which was pummelled by Israeli air strikes.
Hamas has pledged not to touch “a single cent” of international aid to rebuild Gaza.
Israel, which has enforced a land and maritime blockade on the enclave since 2007, accuses the group of diverting international aid to military ends.
The statement from Netanyahu’s office said he and Kamel also discussed “mechanisms and processes to prevent the strengthening of Hamas and its use of the resources that will be directed to the civilian population in the future”.
The latest violent flare-up was sparked by increased tensions in Jerusalem, including over Israeli security forces cracking down on Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.
A bitter divide between Hamas and Fatah has long plagued Palestinian politics, but analysts say the latest escalation has served to unite the geographically fragmented Palestinian community in a way not seen in years.
Sisi also tasked Kamel with working to help iron out political divisions between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Egyptian officials said.
The UN Human Rights Council decided Thursday to create an open-ended international investigation into violations surrounding the latest Gaza violence.
It said it would also look at the “underlying root causes of recurrent tensions and instability, including systematic discrimination” in the occupied Palestinian Territories and inside Israel.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced particular concern about the “high level of civilian fatalities and injuries” from the bombing of Gaza and warned the Israeli strikes on the enclave “may constitute war crimes”.
At least eight migrants and guards were killed, and scores more injured, in a fire on Sunday at a holding facility in Yemen’s capital, the International Organization for Migration said.
“Eight people confirmed dead, the total death toll is reported to be much higher,” tweeted Carmela Godeau, IOM’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“IOM is responding particularly with emergency health care for over 170 injured, more than 90 of them are in a serious condition.”
Godeau said that it “remains unclear” how the fire at the centre in Sanaa started, adding: “This is just one of the many dangers that migrants have faced during the past six years of the crisis in Yemen.”
It is believed thousands of migrants are stranded in Yemen, where a years-long conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Every year thousands of migrants make perilous boat journeys from the Horn of Africa to the war-torn nation, many with the aim of travelling overland to Gulf countries in search of work.
Last week, at least 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a crossing between Djibouti and Yemen, according to IOM.
Israeli night raids targeting arms depots and military positions in eastern Syria killed at least seven Syrian soldiers and 16 allied fighters, in the deadliest raids since 2018, a war monitor said Wednesday.
The Israeli air force carried out more than 18 strikes against multiple targets in an area stretching from the eastern town of Deir Ezzor to the Iraqi border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The raids killed seven Syrian soldiers and 16 non-Syrian militia fighters whose nationalities were not immediately known, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Paramilitaries belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and the Fatimid Brigade, which is made up of pro-Iranian Afghan fighters, operate in the region, the Observatory said.
The raids also wounded 28 troops and militiamen, some of them critically.
The Israeli military did not immediately comment.
Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman called the Israeli raids the “deadliest since June 2018” when strikes on the same region killed at least 55 pro-government fighters, including Iraqis as well as Syrians.
In November, similar raids on eastern Syria killed at least 19 pro-Iran militia fighters, the monitor said.
The Syrian state news agency SANA reported the latest strikes but gave few details.
“At 1:10 am (2310 GMT Tuesday), the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial assault on the town of Deir Ezzor and the Albu Kamal region,” SANA said, citing a military source.
“The results of the aggression are currently being verified,” it added.
It was the second wave of Israeli raids in Syria in less than a week.
The last strikes on January 7 targeted positions in southern Syria and in the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus, killing three pro-Iran fighters.
Israel routinely carries out raids in Syria, mostly against targets linked to Iran in what it says is a bid to prevent its arch foe from consolidating a foothold on its northern border.
Israel hit around 50 targets in Syria in 2020, according to an annual report released in late December by the Israeli military.
Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since civil war broke out in 2011, targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as Syrian government troops.
Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes but has done so when responding to what it describes as aggression inside Israeli territory.
The war in Syria has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions more since it erupted after the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Suspected militants beheaded over a dozen men and teenagers participating in a male initiation ceremony in northern Mozambique, local sources said Wednesday, in the latest violent incident in the country’s insurgency-hit northeast.
The dismembered bodies of at least five adults and 15 boys were found on Monday, scattered across a forest clearing in Muidumbe district.
Islamist militants operating in the area had attacked several nearby villages over the weekend, looting and burning down homes before retreating into surrounding thicket.
“Police learnt of the massacre committed by the insurgents through reports of people who found corpses in the woods,” said an officer in the neighbouring Mueda district who asked not to be named.
“It was possible to count 20 bodies spread over an area of about 500 meters,” he added.
“These were young people who were at an initiation rite ceremony accompanied by their advisers.”
An aid worker in Mueda, who also declined to be named, confirmed the massacre had taken place, saying some of the boys had come from that area.
She said body parts had been sent to their families for burial on Tuesday.
“Funerals were held in an environment of great pain,” said the worker, hired by the World Food Programme to assist citizens displaced by the unrest.
“The bodies were already decomposing and couldn’t be shown to those present.”
Mozambican authorities have not yet commented on the deaths, and provincial police did not respond to multiple telephone calls from AFP outside office hours.
Jihadists have caused havoc in Mozambique’s northeastern Cabo Delgado province over the past three years, ravaging villages and towns as part of a campaign to establish an Islamist caliphate.
The militants have stepped up their offensive in recent months and violently seized swathes of territory, terrorising citizens in the process.
In April, jihadists shot dead and beheaded more than 50 youths for allegedly refusing to join their ranks.
The unrest has killed over 2,000 people since 2017, more than half of them civilians, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data group.
Over 400,000 others have been displaced by the conflict and sought refuge in nearby towns and cities.
Around 100,000 people fled to the provincial capital Pemba via boat over the past week alone, Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday, raising concerns over access to clean water and sanitation.
Little is known about Mozambique’s jihadists, who call themselves Al-Shabab — although they have no known links to the group of that name operating in Somalia.
Last year the militants pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group.
A Russian-backed regime offensive in northwest Syria has displaced 900,000 people since the start of December, and babies are dying of cold because aid camps are full, the UN said Monday.
That figure is 100,000 more than the United Nations had previously recorded.
“The crisis in northwest Syria has reached a horrifying new level,” said Mark Lowcock, the UN head of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief.
He said the displaced were overwhelmingly women and children who are “traumatized and forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full. Mothers burn plastic to keep children warm. Babies and small children are dying because of the cold.”
The Idlib region, including parts of neighboring Aleppo province, is home to some three million people, half of them already displaced from other parts of the country.
The offensive that began late last year has caused the biggest single displacement of people since the conflict began in 2011. The war has killed more than 380,000 people since it erupted almost nine years ago, following the brutal repression of popular demonstrations demanding regime change.
Lowcock warned Monday that the violence in the northwest was “indiscriminate.”
“Health facilities, schools, residential areas, mosques and markets have been hit. Schools are suspended, many health facilities have closed. There is a serious risk of disease outbreaks. Basic infrastructure is falling apart,” he said in a statement.
“We are now receiving reports that settlements for displaced people are being hit, resulting in deaths, injuries and further displacement.”
He said that a massive relief operation underway from the Turkish border is has been “overwhelmed. The equipment and facilities being used by aid workers are being damaged. Humanitarian workers themselves are being displaced and killed.”
US President Donald Trump on Sunday called for Russia to end its support for the Syrian regime’s “atrocities” in the Idlib region, the White House said.
At least 20 civilians were killed on Sunday as Syrian regime forces were poised to retake a key motorway connecting Damascus to second city Aleppo, after weeks of battles in the rebel-held Idlib region, a monitor said.
The regime and its Russian ally have been engaged in a fierce weeks-long offensive to take back the vital M5 artery which connects Aleppo, once Syria’s economic hub, to Damascus and the Jordanian border.
A section of the highway southwest of Aleppo city still lies under control of rebels and jihadists who dominate a shrinking, densely populated territory centred on neighbouring Idlib province.
Pro-regime forces have been chipping away at the area in an assault that has sent half a million people fleeing north towards the Turkish border.
Deadly raids on Sunday by regime ally Russia left 14 people dead, including nine in the village of Kar Nuran in southwestern Aleppo province, near the last stretch of the M5 still in rebel hands, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian air raids with crude barrel bombs also killed four civilians in the Atareb district east of Aleppo, while another died in artillery fire near the city of Jisr Al-Shughur, it said.
The last civilian was killed in regime airstrikes on Ketian village in southern Idlib.
Recapturing the M5 would allow traffic to resume between war-torn Syria’s main business hubs, helping the regime revive a moribund economy after nearly nine years of war.
After weeks of steady regime advances in Syria’s northwest, only a two-kilometer section of the M5 remains outside government control, according to the Observatory.
Pro-government forces were closing on Sunday on the last segment southwest of Aleppo, neighbouring Idlib, the Britain-based war monitor said.
“Regime forces have gained new ground and now control several villages near the motorway,” Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.
Fighting was ongoing in the area early Sunday evening with bombing intensifying, he said.
Half a million displaced
Since December, Russian-backed government forces have pressed a blistering assault against Idlib, Syria’s last major opposition bastion, retaking town after town.
The violence has killed more than 300 civilians and sent some 586,000 fleeing towards relative safety nearer the Turkish border.
Some three million people are now trapped in the Idlib region, around half of whom have already fled other parts of the country.
The Syrian army said in a statement Sunday it had recaptured 600 square kilometres (232 square miles) in recent days, comprising “dozens of villages and locations” in south Idlib and west Aleppo provinces.
The Syrian government on Sunday approved a plan aimed at “progressively re-establishing services in liberated areas”, official news agency SANA reported.
That came a day after the army captured the Idlib town of Saraqeb, located on a junction of the M5, state media said.
Troops then pressed north along the motorway past Idlib’s provincial borders and linked up with a unit of Syrian soldiers in Aleppo province, according to the Observatory and state agency SANA.
It was the first time in weeks the two units joined up after waging separate offensives against rebels and jihadists in Idlib and Aleppo.
A little more than half of Idlib province remains in rebel hands, along with slivers of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
Some 50,000 fighters are in the shrinking pocket, many of them jihadists but the majority allied rebels, according to the Observatory.
The United Nations and aid groups have appealed for an end to hostilities in the Idlib region, warning that the exodus risks creating one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the nearly nine-year war.
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.