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.
A car bomb killed 19 people, 13 of them civilians, in the Turkish-controlled town of Al-Bab in northern Syria on Saturday, a war monitor said.
The bomb, which struck a bus and taxi station in the town, also wounded 33 people, some of them seriously, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Turkey and its Syrian proxies control several pockets of territory on the Syrian side of the border as a result of successive incursions in 2016-17, 2018 and 2019.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing but the Observatory said there had been persistent security incidents in the town since its capture by Turkish troops from the Islamic State group in February 2017.
The town, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) northeast of Syria’s second city Aleppo, was one of the westernmost strongholds of the jihadists’ self-styled “caliphate” which was finally eradicated by US-backed Kurdish forces in eastern Syria in March.
Turkey blamed the car bombing on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) against whom it launched a new invasion further east last month.
Kurdish fighters “continue to target innocent civilians using the same methods as Daesh,” the defence ministry said on its official Twitter account using another acronym for IS.
There was no immediate reaction from the YPG, seen by Ankara as a “terrorist offshoot” of the Kurdistan Workers Party which has fought an insurgency inside Turkey for the past 35 years.
The latest Turkish invasion, which was aimed at creating a buffer zone the whole length of the border, sparked an outcry in the West because of the key role the YPG played in the US-led campaign against IS.
It paused after Turkey struck a truce deal with Russia, the main supporter of the Syrian government, to jointly patrol the border area and oversee the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from a new Turkish-controlled pocket between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain.
A car bomb in Syria killed eight people and wounded more than 20 on Sunday in the sector in the north of the country currently under Turkey’s control, Ankara said.
“Eight civilians lost their lives and more than 20 were wounded in an attack by a booby-trapped vehicle,” a defence ministry statement said.
The statement blamed the attack on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, viewed by Ankara as an offshoot of the Kurdish PKK, which has fought an insurgency inside Turkey for the past 35 years.
But the force was until recently backed by Washington in the US fight against jihadist fighters in Syria.
The attack happened in Suluk, a village about 20 kilometres (12 miles) southeast of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad, according to Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Observatory gave a lower death toll, saying five people were killed and 13 wounded, with both civilians and fighters among the dead. It did not say who carried out the attack.
Turkish forces and their proxies — former Syrian rebels hired as a ground force by Ankara — launched a deadly offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria on October 9.
They acted days after US President Donald Trump ordered his troops to withdraw in a move that observers condemned as a betrayal of their Kurdish partners in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.
The Turkish push was aimed at seizing a strip of land roughly 30 kilometres deep along the 440-kilometre border between the two countries.
Ankara says it wants to establish a “safe zone” there in which to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts on its soil.
The invasion has displaced tens of thousands and left dozens of civilians dead, forcing Kurdish forces to retreat from some key towns.
President Donald Trump said Friday that the United States knows who the Islamic State group’s new leader is, as the United States vowed to keep “unrelenting” pressure on the extremists.
“ISIS has a new leader. We know exactly who he is!” Trump tweeted, less than a week after a US-led commando raid killed the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Islamic State on Thursday confirmed Baghdadi’s death and named his replacement as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi.
However, little is known about Hashimi, whose name was seldom mentioned as a possible successor the multiple times that Baghdadi was falsely reported killed in recent years.
Nathan Sales, the State Department counterterrorism coordinator, provided no details on Hashimi when asked by reporters, saying only that the United States was “looking into the leader, his role, the organization where he came from.”
“We will continue to subject that organization to unrelenting counterterrorism pressure using all the tools of national power,” Sales said.
“We will dismantle the group regardless of who its leadership cadre is,” he said.
Baghdadi, who led IS since 2014 and was the world’s most wanted man, died in a US special forces raid in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib on Sunday.
Islamic State also confirmed the killing in another raid the following day of the group’s previous spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir.
The statement said the jihadist group’s legislative and consultative body convened after the 48-year-old Iraqi-born jihadist chief’s death and “agreed” on a replacement.
An IS spokesman denounced Trump as a “crazy old man” and warned that the group would avenge Baghdadi’s death.
Turkey has captured 18 people in Syria who said they were from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the defence ministry said Tuesday.
“Eighteen people who claimed to be regime elements were captured alive in the southeast of Ras al-Ain” a key border town, during reconnaissance activities, the ministry said.
Turkey was investigating in coordination with the Russian authorities, it added.
Turkey and Russia agreed last week that Syrian Kurdish fighters would be removed from areas along the Turkish-Syrian border.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had assured him that Syrian Kurdish fighters would not be allowed to stay in Syria along the Turkish border wearing “regime clothes”.
A 150-hour deadline given for the pullout of the Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters expired at 1500 GMT Tuesday, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Kurdish forces had withdrawn as planned.
Fahrettin Altun, the communications director at the presidency, said the joint patrols by Russia and Turkey would verify whether or not the fighters had retreated.
Ankara says the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria is a terror group linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdish insurgent group outlawed in Turkey.
Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi left behind a horrific trail of beheadings, mass executions, rapes, abductions and ethnic cleansing in his five years as the self-proclaimed “caliph” of Iraq and Syria.
Here is how world leaders have reacted to news of his death.
Died ‘like a dog’
President Donald Trump confirmed Baghdadi’s death in a nighttime US raid in northwestern Syria, declaring in televised address that he died “like a dog”.
“He ignited his vest, killing himself… He died after running into a dead end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.”
“The killing of Daesh’s ringleader marks a turning point in our joint fight against terrorism,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
He said Turkey would “continue to support anti-terror efforts -— as it has done in the past”.
“I am confident that a decisive struggle against terrorism, in line with the spirit of alliance, will bring peace to all of humanity.”
“The defence ministry does not have reliable information about the actions of the US army in the Idlib ‘de-escalation’ zone… concerning the umpteenth ‘death'” of Baghdadi, Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
He said there were “contradictory details” which raised “legitimate questions and doubts about the success of this American operation”.
“Since the final defeat of the Islamic State by the Syrian government with the support of Russian air power in 2018, the umpteenth ‘death’ of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has no operational significance for the situation in Syria nor for the actions of the remaining terrorists in Idlib.”
‘Fight will go on’
“The death of al-Baghdadi is a hard blow against Daesh (IS) but it is just a stage,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter.
“The fight will continue with our partners in the international coalition to ensure that the terror organisation is definitively defeated. It is our priority.”
‘Not yet over’
“The death of Baghdadi is an important moment in our fight against terror but the battle against the evil of Daesh is not yet over,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter.
“We will work with our coalition partners to bring an end to the murderous, barbaric activities of Daesh once and for all.”
“This reflects the united resolve of the free countries led by the United States to fight the forces of terror, the terror organisations and the terrorist states,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
“This is an important milestone, but it’s part of a longer battle which we must win.”
“Sleeper cells will seek revenge for Baghdadi’s death,” Mazloum Abdi — the top commander of the Syrian Kurdish force that was the US-led coalition’s main ally in the fight against IS — told AFP.
Jihadist supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted man, was believed Sunday to have been killed in a US special operation in northwest Syria.
The elusive chief of the Islamic State group was thought to be dead after a US military raid in the Idlib region, US media reported early Sunday.
The White House announced President Donald Trump would make a “major statement” Sunday at 9:00 am (1300 GMT), without providing details.
Turkey said it had coordinated with the United States before the operation.
A war monitor said US helicopters dropped forces in an area of Idlib province where “groups linked to the Islamic State group” were present.
The helicopters targeted a home and a car outside the village of Barisha in Idlib province, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a vast network of sources inside Syria for its information.
The operation killed nine people including an IS senior leader called Abu Yamaan as well as a child and two women, it said.
The war monitor could not confirm Baghdadi’s death however and the jihadist organisation, which lost the last scrap of its once-sprawling “caliphate” earlier this year, did not immediately react on its usual social media channels.
An AFP correspondent outside Barisha saw a minibus scorched to cinders by the side of the road, and windows shattered in a neighbour’s house surrounded by red agricultural land dotted with olive trees.
A resident in the area who gave his name as Abdel Hameed said he rushed to the place of the attack after he heard helicopters, gunfire and strikes in the night.
“The home had collapsed and next to it there was a destroyed tent and vehicle. There were two people killed inside” the car, he said.
US media cited multiple government sources as saying Baghdadi may have killed himself with a suicide vest as US special operations forces descended.
He was the target of the secretly planned operation that was approved by Trump, officials said.
Turkey, which has been waging an offensive against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria in recent weeks, had “advance knowledge” about the raid, a senior Turkish official said.
“To the best of my knowledge, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi arrived at this location 48 hours prior to the raid,” the official told AFP.
The commander-in-chief of the SDF, who have been fighting IS in Syria, said the operation came after “joint intelligence work” with American forces.
From the outskirts of Barisha, an inhabitant of a camp for the displaced also heard helicopters followed by what he described as US-led coalition air strikes.
They “were flying very low, causing great panic among the people,” Ahmed Hassawi told AFP by phone.
Another resident, who gave his name as Abu Ahmad and lives less than 100 metres away from the site of the destroyed house, said he heard voices “speaking a foreign language” during the raid.
The AFP correspondent said the area of the night-time operation had been cordoned off by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group dominated by members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate controlling Idlib.
Between the trees, he glimpsed bulldozers at the site of the reported raid clearing out the rubble.
Long pursued by the US-led coalition against IS, Baghdadi has been erroneously reported dead several times in recent years.
Officials told ABC News that biometric work was underway to firm up the identification of those killed in the raid.
Trump earlier tweeted, without explaining, “Something very big has just happened!”
In 2014, IS overran large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq and Baghdadi appeared in a video that summer announcing a “caliphate” in regions they controlled.
$25 Million Reward
At the height of IS rule, Baghdadi’s group implemented its brutal version of Islamic law on millions. The group has been blamed for mass executions, and accused of carrying out war crimes.
But several offensives in both countries whittled down that land, backed by the air power of the US-led coalition.
In March, the SDF ousted the extremist group from its last patch of territory in eastern Syria, forcing IS to revert to an underground guerrilla modus operandi.
Baghdadi – an Iraqi native believed to be around 48 years old – was rarely seen.
After 2014 he disappeared from sight, only surfacing in a video in April with a wiry grey and red beard and an assault rifle at his side, as he encouraged followers to “take revenge” after the group’s territorial defeat.
His reappearance was seen as a reassertion of his leadership of a group that — despite its March defeat — has spread from the Middle East to Asia and Africa and claimed several deadly attacks in Europe.
The US State Department had posted a $25 million reward for information on his whereabouts.
In September, the group released an audio message said to be from Baghdadi praising the operations of IS affiliates in other regions.
It also called on scattered IS fighters to regroup and try to free thousands of their comrades held in jails and camps by the SDF in northeastern Syria.
Russia and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to ensure Kurdish forces withdraw from areas close to Syria’s border with Turkey and to launch joint patrols, in a deal hailed as “historic” by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
After marathon talks in Russia’s southern city of Sochi, Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced the deal just hours ahead of a deadline for Turkey to restart its assault on Syrian Kurdish forces.
The agreement cements Russia and Turkey’s roles as the main foreign players in Syria, after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from the country’s north earlier this month.
That announcement cleared the way for Turkey to launch a cross-border offensive on October 9 against the Kurdish YPG militia, viewed by Ankara as “terrorists” linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkey has seized control of a “safe zone” inside Syria about 120 kilometres long (75 miles) and 32 kilometres (20 miles) deep.
Tuesday’s agreement with Moscow will see it preserve that zone between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, giving Ankara a crucial presence inside the country.
From noon (0900 GMT) on Wednesday, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will “facilitate the removal” of Kurdish fighters and their weapons from within 30 kilometres (18 miles) of the border outside the zone.
This withdrawal must be finalised within 150 hours, according to a text of the agreement released after the talks.
Russian and Turkish forces will then begin joint patrols along the Turkish-controlled zone.
Putin said the decisions were “very important, if not crucial, to allowing us to resolve the acute situation on the Syrian-Turkish border.”
Erdogan had earlier threatened to resume Ankara’s military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria if they did not withdraw as agreed under a US-brokered deal.
A deadline for the withdrawal passed at 1900 GMT on Tuesday, with a Kurdish official telling AFP they had “fully complied” ahead of the deadline.
The Turkish operation “is ending, and everything will depend now on the implementation of these agreements,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Sochi.
Turkey’s assault had sparked Western outrage and accusations of betrayal from the Kurds, whose frontline fighters were crucial in the battle against the Islamic State group in Syria.
Russia is a key ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and has demanded that Turkey respect the country’s territorial integrity.
As the US troops began to withdraw last week, Russian forces moved in to support the Syrian army, whose help against Turkey was requested by the Kurds.
Erdogan said last week he was not bothered by the Damascus regime’s return as what mattered to Ankara was pushing back the Kurdish fighters from the safe zone.
Despite being on the opposite sides of the Syria conflict, Turkey and Russia have been working together to find a solution to the war.
Tuesday’s agreement said the two countries would try “to find a lasting political solution to the Syrian conflict”.
It said Russia and Turkey were determined “to combat terrorism in all forms… and to disrupt separatist agendas in Syrian territory”.
Ankara says the YPG is a “terrorist” offshoot of the PKK, which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984. The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.
The agreement said efforts would also be launched for the return of refugees to Syria “in a safe and voluntary manner”.
Ankara has said some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey can be rehoused inside the safe zone.
President Donald Trump has authorized $4.5 million in aid for Syria’s White Helmets group, famed for rescuing wounded civilians from the frontlines in the civil war, the White House said Tuesday.
Trump ordered the funds for what is formally known as the Syria Civil Defense group “to continue United States support for the organization’s important and highly valued work in the country,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
Iran on Monday denounced as “unacceptable” any move by Turkey to establish military bases in Syria, saying such a step would face opposition from the Islamic republic and other countries.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey would set up 12 observation posts inside Syria as he warned Ankara would restart an operation against Kurdish forces across the border.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi criticised the planned move in response to a question at a news conference.
“The Turks can have any bases and can do anything on their own territory and within their borders, but if you mean… establishing Turkish bases in Syria, this is unacceptable,” Mousavi said in remarks aired on state television.
Such a step, he said, would be seen by Iran as an “aggression against the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of an independent country.
“Naturally it will face opposition from the Islamic Republic of Iran and other countries,” Mousavi added.
Iran has repeatedly called for an immediate halt to the Turkish offensive in Syria, launched on October 9 after the United States announced it would withdraw all its troops from the area.
A US-brokered ceasefire gives Kurdish forces until Tuesday evening to withdraw from a buffer area Turkey wants to create on Syrian territory along its southern frontier.
In his remarks on Friday, Erdogan said the proposed “safe zone” would be 32 kilometres (20 miles) deep, and 444 kilometres in length, and patrolled by Turkey.
But, he said, “We have no intention to stay there. This is out of the question.”
US forces withdrew from a key base in northern Syria on Sunday, a monitor said, two days before the end of a US-brokered truce to stem a Turkish attack on Kurdish forces in the region.
An AFP correspondent saw more than 70 US armoured vehicles escorted by helicopters drive past the town of Tal Tamr carrying military equipment.
Some flew the American stars-and-stripes flag as they made their way eastwards along a highway crossing the town, he said.
The Syrian Observatory for the Human Rights said the convoy was evacuating the military base of Sarrin.
It appeared to be heading to the town of Hassakeh, further east, said the Britain-based monitor, which relies on sources inside war-torn Syria for its information.
Sarrin “is the largest American military base in the north of the country,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
It is situated on the edges of a planned “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border that Turkey wants to keep Kurdish forces away from its frontier, he explained.
Sunday’s pullout was the fourth such withdrawal of American forces in a week and left Syria’s northern provinces of Aleppo and Raqa devoid of US troops, Abdel Rahman said.
The Kurds have been a key ally to Washington in the US-backed fight against Islamic State group jihadists in Syria, but Ankara views them as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish militants on its own soil.
A week ago, the Pentagon said US President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of up to 1,000 troops from northern Syria as Turkish troops advanced into Syrian territory.
Turkey launched a cross-border incursion into Syria on October 9, after Trump said he would pull back US special forces in the Kurdish-held north.
After the violence killed scores from both sides and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes, a US-brokered ceasefire was announced late Thursday.
Turkey has given the Syrian Democratic Forces, the de facto army of the Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria, until Tuesday evening to withdraw from a 30-kilometre strip of Syrian land along its southern border.
Both sides accuse each other of violating the truce.