Turkey Says Will Not Withdraw From Army Posts In Syria’s Idlib

 

 

Turkey will not withdraw from its observation posts in the Syrian rebel bastion province of Idlib which has seen an increase in violence carried out by regime forces supported by Russian airstrikes, the defence minister said.

The posts were established under a September 2018 deal between Syrian regime ally Moscow and Ankara, which backs the rebels, to avert an all-out Syrian government onslaught in Idlib.

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces surrounded one of 12 Turkish observation posts in Idlib province on Monday after overrunning nearby areas in a push to take the last opposition holdout, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“We respect the agreement reached with Russia and we expect Russia to abide by this agreement,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in comments published on Sunday on the defence ministry’s Twitter account.

“We will by no means empty those 12 observation posts, we will not leave there,” Akar said.

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His comments came during a visit, together with top army commanders, to the southern province of Hatay on the Syrian border to inspect Turkish troops on Saturday.

Turkey, worried over a new wave of refugees from the Idlib region, is pressing for a fresh ceasefire deal, as it sent a delegation to Moscow on Monday.

“We are doing what’s needed to put an end to this massacre,” Akar was quoted as saying by the official news agency Anadolu.

He said Ankara expected Damascus ally Russia to “use its influence on the regime in order to stop ground and air assault” in Idlib.

The latest violence has displaced more than 235,000 people and killed scores of civilians, despite an August ceasefire deal and international calls for a de-escalation.

The Idlib region hosts some three million people including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of Syria.

“As long as this pressure remains in place, it will trigger a new migrant wave and put further burden on Turkey which is already hosting nearly four million Syrian brothers,” said Akar.

Around 300 protesters — mostly Syrians living in Turkey — held an anti-Moscow demonstration near the Russian consulate in Istanbul on Saturday against the intensified attacks in Idlib, shouting “murderer Putin, get out of Syria!”, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Libya timetable

Akar’s visit to soldiers on the border region comes as Turkey is also readying to send troops to support the UN-recognised government in Tripoli against strongman Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army.

“The Turkish Armed Forces are ready for whatever task is given in order to protect our country and people’s interests,” Akar said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said Ankara would respond to an invitation from the Libyan national unity government and that the Turkish parliament would vote on a motion to send troops as soon as it returns from recess as early as next month.

Ankara signed in November a security and military cooperation deal with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) but in order to send troops, parliament needs to vote through a motion as it does for Iraq and Syria.

Anadolu news agency, citing sources in Erdogan’s ruling party, reported that the timetable could be brought forward and the motion could be presented to the parliamentary speaker’s office on Monday.

The General Assembly could vote the measure in an extraordinary session on Thursday, it said. Parliament is due to return from recess on January 7.

Over 235,000 Flee Northwest Syria In Two Weeks – UN

This picture taken on December 24, 2019, in the village of Hazano, about 20 kilometres northwest of the city of Idlib, shows Syrian families from the south of Idlib province driving through the town towards the Syrian-Turkish border as they flee from the assault led by government forces and their allies. Aaref WATAD / AFP

 

More than 235,000 people have fled the Idlib region over the past two weeks, the UN said Friday, amid heightened regime and Russian attacks on Syria’s last major opposition bastion. 

The mass displacement between 12 and 25 December has left the violence-plagued Maaret al-Numan region in southern Idlib “almost empty,” according to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

AFP correspondents in the area have seen people fleeing in droves in recent days.

The main highway connecting southern Idlib to the province’s north has been bustling with pick-up trucks ferrying civilians out of the flashpoint region.

Since mid-December, Russian-backed regime forces have pressed with an assault on jihadists in southern Idlib, despite an August ceasefire deal and calls for a de-escalation from Turkey, France and the United Nations.

The increased air strikes came as Damascus loyalists advance on the ground.

They have since December 19 seized dozens of towns and villages from jihadists amid clashes that have killed hundreds on both sides.

The advances have brought them less than four kilometres (two miles) away from Maaret al-Numan, one of Idlib’s largest urban centres.

According to OCHA, ongoing battles have amplified displacement from the area and the nearby town of Saraqeb.

“People from Saraqab and its eastern countryside are now fleeing in anticipation of fighting directly affecting their communities next,” it said.

Idlib is dominated by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, whose chief this week urged jihadists and allied rebels to head to the frontlines and battle “the Russian occupiers” and the regime.

The region hosts some three million people, including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of Syria.

The Damascus regime, which now controls 70 percent of Syria, has repeatedly vowed to take back the area.

Backed by Moscow, Damascus launched a blistering offensive against Idlib in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people.

Despite a ceasefire announced in August, the bombardment has continued, prompting Turkey this week to press for a fresh ceasefire deal during talks in Moscow.

France on Tuesday called for an “an immediate de-escalation,” warning of deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began with anti-government demonstrations brutally crushed by security forces.

Trump Calls For End To Killing In Syria Rebel Bastion

 

on Thursday called for the governments in Moscow, Damascus and Tehran to stop the bloodshed that has displaced thousands in Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib.

Heightened regime and Russian bombardment has hit the country’s last major opposition bastion since mid-December, as regime forces make advances on the ground despite an August ceasefire and United Nations calls for a de-escalation.

“Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands” of civilians in jihadist-held Idlib, Trump tweeted, adding: “Don’t do it!”

Nearly 80 civilians have been killed by airstrikes and artillery attacks in the last two weeks, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which estimates that more than 40,000 people have been displaced.

Turkey called Tuesday for the attacks to “come to an end immediately,” after sending a delegation to Moscow to discuss the flare-up.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara was pressing for a new ceasefire to replace the August agreement.

Trump praised Turkey’s efforts, tweeting that Ankara “is working hard to stop this carnage.”

In a statement earlier this week, the Syrian army said it had seized 123 square miles (320 square kilometers) from its rivals in recent days.

It has pledged to continue its push until it recaptures all of Idlib, calling on civilians to exit areas under jihadist control.

Idlib is dominated by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Years of violence

The head of the group has urged jihadists and allied rebels to head to the front lines and battle “the Russian occupiers” and the regime.

Their “ferocious” campaign “requires us to exert more effort,” HTS chief Abu Mohammed al-Jolani said Tuesday in a statement.

Idlib, in northwestern Syria, hosts some three million people, including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of the country.

The Damascus regime, which now controls 70 percent of Syria, has repeatedly vowed to take back the area.

Backed by Moscow, Damascus launched a blistering offensive against Idlib in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people.

Despite a ceasefire announced in August, the bombardment has continued, killing hundreds of civilians and fighters.

The latest spike in violence comes after Russia and China on Friday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended for a year cross-border aid deliveries to four million Syrians, many of them in Idlib.

The move raised fears that vital UN-funded assistance could stop entering opposition-held parts of Syria from January unless an alternative agreement is reached.

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

17 Civilians Killed In 3rd Attack On Yemen Market

 

Seventeen civilians were killed in an attack in a market in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate, the United Nations said, the third deadly assault on the same location in just over a month.

The attacks come despite relative calm in Yemen, where large-scale combat between government troops — backed by a Saudi-led military coalition — and the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels has largely subsided.

The UN said 12 Ethiopian migrants were among the 17 civilians killed in the incident on Tuesday at the Al-Raqw market in Saada governorate, a Huthi rebel stronghold.

At least 12 people were wounded, it said, without saying who was responsible or what weaponry was used.

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The Saudi-led coalition acknowledged on Thursday it had carried out an operation in Monabbih, a Saada district where the market is located.

The Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) — which the coalition established but says operates independently — will investigate “the possibility of collateral damage”, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said in a statement.

The coalition did not provide further details.

An attack on Al-Raqw market on November 22 killed 10 civilians, again including Ethiopian nationals, and just days later, at least another 10 civilians were killed and 22 wounded in a second such incident.

“The attacks on Al-Raqw market raise deeply troubling questions about the commitment of the parties to the conflict to uphold international humanitarian law,” Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said Wednesday.

“Every attack of this kind is a gross violation,” she said in a statement.

The UN says 89 civilians have either been killed or wounded in the attacks on the market.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced since March 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s conflict.

Over 60 Killed In Niger Military Camp Attack

 

 

Jihadists attacked a Niger military camp near the border with Mali with artillery and mortars, killing more than 60 people, a security source said on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s attack in Inates in the western Tillaberi region was the deadliest on Niger’s military since the armed forces began fighting Islamist militants in 2015.

“The attack killed more than 60,” the source said. “The terrorists bombarded the camp with shelling and mortars. The explosions from ammunition and fuel were the cause of the heavy toll.”

The source did not say which group was responsible for the deadly assault.

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Niger forces are fighting against Boko Haram militants in the southeast border with Nigeria and jihadists allied with the Islamic State in the west near Mali and Libya.

Three soldiers and 14 militants were also killed on Monday in an attack on another army post in Agando in the western Tahoua region, the defence ministry said.

Heavily armed “terrorists” in a dozen 4×4 vehicles led the attack early Monday morning on the military post in Tahoua, the ministry statement said.

Niger is part of a five-nation anti-jihadist task force known as the G5, set up in 2014 with Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Chad.

Thousands of civilians and soldiers have died in violence across the vast region, known as the Sahel, which began when armed Islamists revolted in northern Mali in 2012.

Resolution Of Conflict Key To Development In Africa – Buhari

 

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that the resolution of conflict situations in African countries remains a key component in the overall development of the continent.

Speaking Wednesday during the opening session of the ongoing Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development in Africa, taking place in the Egyptian town, the President said: “As Africans, it is important to focus on the issues of conflict prevention and resolution. Conflicts have devastating effects on our societies and they militate against our progress. In this regard, the need to silence the guns cannot be overemphasized.”

President Buhari equally emphasized that massive investment in transportation infrastructure was necessary for African economic resurgence as this would facilitate the African Free Trade Area Agreement recently signed on by the continental leaders.

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“Africa should embark on the provision of transport connectivity by enhancing the development of roads, rail, and air links which will ease the free movement of persons, goods and services within the continent. In this regard, we in Nigeria have already commenced an aggressive drive to upgrade our rail transport system and road networks across the country.

“We should furthermore promote free trade within and amongst Africa and Africans especially now that we have launched the African Free Trade Area Agreement,” he said.

In order to realize its Pan-African vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena, President Buhari declared: “We in Nigeria have already taken the strategic decision to bring down barriers that have hindered the free movement of our people within the continent by introducing the issuance of visa at the point of entry into Nigeria to all persons holding passports of African countries with effect from January 2020.”

The Nigerian leader also stated that Africa must take its destiny in its own hands by minimizing reliance on donor funding for the execution of its vital peace, security and development agenda. According to him, “Nigeria is not the only host to our sub-regional body ECOWAS but has also been supporting substantially the ECOWAS budget up to about 60 percent.

“Nigeria has been funding by almost a 100 percent the operations of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting Boko Haram Terrorists in the Lake Chad Basin.”

President Buhari also harped on the fight against corruption and inclusive growth: “The menace of corruption undermines our efforts to achieve sustainable development and realize the goals of the AU Agenda 2063. It is also important to attach great priority to the promotion of good and inclusive governance as we equally strive to empower our women and youth.”

The President once again used the opportunity to draw global attention to the recession of the Lake Chad and its attendant economic consequences for the region.

“The issue of climate change should be given the due attention that it deserves. The effects of Climate Change are at the root of some of the conflicts in parts of the continent. This is why we must focus on the issue of the recharging of the Lake Chad which used to provide a livelihood to over forty million people in the region. It is difficult to expect durable stability in the region without restoration of the shrinking lake.

He urged African leaders to see education as a key tool for the transformation and repositioning of our continent, saying, “Africa would need to heavily invest in education and capacity building. Education creates opportunities and holds the key for a better and prosperous future of our people.”

The President added that his administration was, “ pursuing the diversification of our economy through the development of agriculture and mineral resources, the promotion of manufacturing sector and the creation of job opportunities for our teeming youths. By so doing, we will also discourage the irregular migration of our youth out of the Continent through dangerous journeys.”

Nearly 70 Dead In Syria Regime Clashes With Idlib Militants

 

Two days of clashes between regime forces and armed groups in Syria’s last major opposition bastion have killed nearly 70 on both sides, undermining a months-long ceasefire agreement, a war monitor said Sunday.

The battles in the northwestern province of Idlib are “the most violent” there since a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement went into effect in late August, said Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Residents of affected villages fled north to escape the fighting, adding to the hundreds of thousands who have already flooded out of the province’s violence-plagued south since fighting escalated earlier this year.

“I don’t want to see my children trapped under rubble,” said one of those driven from his home, Hafez, who escaped the flashpoint area along with his wife and three kids two days earlier.

On Sunday morning, clouds of smoke rose over the Maaret al-Numan region as warplanes pounded jihadists and allied rebels in positions they had recently recaptured from regime forces, said an AFP correspondent.

The Britain-based Observatory on Sunday put the death toll from fighting at 69 combatants since battles started the previous day.

At least 36 regime forces were among those killed.

‘Cease-fire’

The Observatory said an attack led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate on several regime positions had initially sparked the fighting.

Overnight, the Syrian army backed by Russian warplanes launched a counter-push to reclaim territory it had lost in the battles, the war monitor said.

Regime forces have since regained lost ground but violent clashes are ongoing, the Observatory and an AFP correspondent said.

Air strikes on Sunday afternoon hit jihadist-run areas dozens of kilometres (miles) away from the main frontline, signalling a potential escalation, the correspondent said.

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, with battles also currently taking place in the latter, according to the monitor.

The region is one of the last holdouts of opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who controls more than 70 per cent of the country, according to the Observatory.

Assad has repeatedly vowed to reclaim all of Syria, including Idlib, which he views as a “terrorist” holdout.

In August, government troops began a ground offensive that saw them retake several areas in southern Idlib, allowing them their first foothold in the region in years.

Assad, during a visit to the area in October, his first since the start of the eight-year war, said that defeating jihadists in the province was key to ending the conflict.

The other flashpoint

Between late April and the end of August, Idlib was pounded ceaselessly by Syrian soldiers backed by Russian air power.

The Observatory estimates that nearly 1,000 civilians were killed in that period, and the UN says that more than 400,000 people were displaced.

A ceasefire announced by Russia in late August has reduced fighting, but air strikes and clashes increased in November.

According to the Observatory, more than 160 civilians and more than 460 fighters, including regime forces, have been killed since the deal went into effect.

The Idlib front was the main focus of Syrian regime forces before Turkey in October launched an invasion of swaths of northeast Syria.

The operation against Kurdish forces who had controlled the region since 2012 paved the way for mass regime deployments in the area for the first time in seven years.

Syrian troops arrived in positions bordering Turkey as well as other parts of the northeast under a deal with Kurdish forces seeking protection from Ankara and its Syrian proxies.

An agreement between Russia and Ankara in October further cemented the deployment, tasking regime forces with ensuring the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from the border region.

Turkey last month accused Russia and Damascus of failing to secure that objective, threatening further action against Kurdish groups.

The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011.

Hong Kong Protesters Set Fire To Deter Police From University Campus

Riot police (R) make arrests as protesters (L) attempt to find safe passage out of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus in Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on November 18, 2019.
Riot police (R) make arrests as protesters (L) attempt to find safe passage out of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus in Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on November 18, 2019. Ye Aung Thu / AFP

 

Pro-democracy demonstrators holed up in a Hong Kong university campus set the main entrance ablaze Monday after police warned they may use live rounds, deepening fears over how nearly six months of unrest across the city will end.

The violence extended a dangerous new phase of the crisis, which over the past week has seen schools shut down, roads barricaded and Chinese soldiers briefly leave their local barracks to clean up streets.

China has refused to budge on any of the protesters’ key demands, which include free elections for the city of 7.5 million people and an end to the perceived erosion of liberties under China’s tightening grip.

Beijing has instead repeatedly warned it will not tolerate any dissent, and concerns are growing it could intervene militarily to quell the unrest.

On Monday several loud blasts were heard around dawn before a wall of fire lit up an entrance to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), AFP reporters said, as what appeared to be a police attempt to enter the campus was repelled by protesters determined to hold their ground.

Police said they had fired three live rounds at a protest site near the university but no one appeared to have been hit.

Intense clashes

Intense clashes on Sunday saw a police officer hit in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs.

At the besieged campus, protesters hunkered down under umbrellas from police water cannon, and hurled Molotov cocktails at an armoured vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.

Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — rioting is punishable by up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning.

“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.

“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”

Hong Kong police routinely carry sidearms, but until now they have only used them in isolated incidents during running street clashes. Three people have been shot, none of them fatally.

Faced with large groups throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails, they have relied on tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets, but the new warning suggests a more proactive use of live rounds.

‘Helpless’

Fear gripped protesters inside the campus — whose occupation is a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid nature.

One 19-year-old, who gave her name as “K”, said there was desperation among the 200 demonstrators she estimated remained.

“Some people were crying badly, some were furious, some agonising, because they felt hopeless as we were left no way out of the campus.

“We don’t know when the police will storm in.”

A few hundred metres from the campus, protesters erected barricades in the Tsim Sha Tsui and Jordan areas.

One 16-year-old, who gave his name as Joshua, said it was an attempt to draw police attention away from the university.

‘Blossom everywhere’

The nearly six-months of unrest has rocked previously stable Hong Kong, tipping the international financial hub into recession and frightening off tourists.

What began as a series of mostly peaceful demonstrations against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to the Chinese mainland has morphed into wider calls for democracy and an inquiry into alleged police brutality.

Violence has worsened this month, with two men killed in separate incidents.

Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down sections of Hong Kong’s transport network and closed schools and shopping malls.

Chinese President Xi Jinping last week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.

On Saturday, dozens of soldiers from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army briefly left their Hong Kong barracks to help clean-up the streets.

It was a rare and symbolic operation, as the troops are normally confined to barracks and are meant to be only called out in a time of emergency.

Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian on Monday defended the operation, as he repeated warnings from Beijing that the military had the capabilities to quell the unrest.

“Ending violence and restoring order is the most pressing task we have in Hong Kong,” Wu said in Bangkok.

In a small — but largely symbolic — victory for the demonstrators, Hong Kong’s high court on Monday said a government ban on the wearing of facemasks at demonstrations was unconstitutional.

The ban has been widely flouted and police have found it all-but-impossible to enforce.

 

AFP

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.

France Says Turkey’s Syria Action ‘Currently’ No Threat To Jihadist Jails

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly (Assemblee Nationale) in Paris on October 15, 2019. Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

 

 

 
France said Wednesday that the security of Kurdish-run prisons holding suspected jihadists in northern Syria was “currently” not threatened by a Turkish military operation in the region.

“To my knowledge, the Turkish offensive and the positioning of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) have so far not led to the safety and security of these camps… currently being threatened,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French broadcaster BFMTV and RMC radio.

Meanwhile, Le Drian said he would discuss a judicial framework for putting jihadists on trial during an upcoming visit to Iraq, as calls grow for an international court to judge the extremists.

“We need to work things out with the Iraqi authorities so that we can find the ways to have a judicial mechanism that is able to judge all these fighters, including obviously the French fighters,” he told newsmen, without specifying when he would go to Baghdad.

Three Killed, Dozens Children Wounded In Taliban Truck Blast

 

At least three people were killed and about 20 children wounded when a Taliban truck bomb detonated near a rural police station and partially destroyed a nearby religious school, Afghan officials said.

The early morning attack happened in Alishing district in eastern Laghman province, said interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.

“Three people including two security forces were killed and 27 were wounded,” he added.

According to Asadullah Daulatzai, spokesman for the provincial governor, the bomb exploded outside a police station and severely damaged a nearby madrassa, or religious school.

“The students were wounded by flying glass,” he said, adding about 20 students were hurt.

Ezatullah, an injured 10-year-old, said the blast was “huge and loud”.

“I was in class with my friends reciting the Koran when we saw a red truck rushing toward us. For a moment everything went dark, and when I woke up I found myself in the hospital,” he told AFP.

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Six police officers were wounded in the attack.

The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the blast in a statement sent to media, saying the bomb killed dozens of Afghan security forces.

As the violence worsens, its impact on the children has been disproportionate across war-torn Afghanistan.

According to the UN Children’s Fund the number of attacks against Afghan schools tripled last year compared to 2017.

By the end of 2018, more than 1,000 Afghan schools had been shut due to conflict.

The attack in Laghman comes a day after a helicopter crash in northern Balkh province killed at least seven Afghan military personnel, officials said.

Afghanistan is currently awaiting the results of the first round of presidential voting, which took place last month.

Polling was marred by several small-scale attacks claimed by the Taliban.

Pentagon Says Up To 1,000 US Troops To Withdraw From Northern Syria

 

 

 

The Pentagon said Sunday President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of up to 1,000 troops from northern Syria — almost the entire ground force in the war-torn country — amid an intensifying Turkish assault on Kurdish forces.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the move came after the US learned that Turkey was pressing further into Syria than had been expected.

The Kurds — with whom the US partnered to combat the Islamic State (IS) group — later announced they had reached a deal with the regime in Damascus to deploy Syrian troops near the border to confront the Turkish offensive.

“We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it’s a very untenable situation,” Esper told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“So I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria.”

Esper said he was unable to provide a timeline because of the rapidly changing situation on the ground, but added that the withdrawal would be carried out in a “very safe, deliberate manner.”

“Look it’s a very terrible situation over there, a situation caused by the Turks… Despite our opposition they decided to make this incursion into Syria,” Esper told CBS.

“And at this point in time in the last 24 hours we learned that they likely intend to expand their attack further south than originally planned and to the west.”

– Bipartisan firestorm –
Esper also pointed to a possible deal — later confirmed by the Kurdish administration in northern Syria — on a Syrian troop deployment near the border with Turkey to help the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) confront Ankara’s offensive.

The US withdrawal announcement came after its troops came under artillery fire Friday which the Pentagon said was from Turkish positions, warning that the US was ready to meet aggression with “immediate defensive action.”

Asked if troops would be leaving the country altogether, Esper clarified that the withdrawal was just from northern Syria, “which is where most of our forces are.”

Fighting raged Sunday along the border on the fifth day of an offensive that has provoked an international outcry and left dozens of civilians and fighters dead.

Ankara launched the long-threatened offensive against the SDF, which it considers “terrorists” linked to insurgents inside Turkey, after Trump ordered special forces serving as a trip wire against Turkish action to pull back from the border.

The US withdrawal provoked a bipartisan firestorm of criticism and accusations that Trump was abandoning a loyal ally in the fight against IS militants.

– ‘Derelict in his duty’ –
“The president is simply derelict in his duty as president. He is making Americans much less safe, he is undoing years of work to curb (IS),” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said in a statement on Sunday.

“He is making America more susceptible to terrorism by his actions.”

Trump hit back at the criticism in a tweet describing the US withdrawal as “very smart.”

“The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years… Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them! We are monitoring the situation closely. Endless Wars!” he said.

Hundreds of relatives of foreign jihadists have escaped from a displacement camp in northern Syria, Kurdish authorities said Sunday, as the number of people fleeing the Turkish assault soared to 130,000.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Friday that Trump had authorized — but not yet activated — new sanctions to dissuade Turkey from further offensive military action.

“We can shut down all US dollar transactions with the entire government of Turkey,” Mnuchin told ABC on Sunday.

“It’s something we may do. There’s full authority and something at a moment’s notice the president can tell me to do.”