U.S.-backed SDF to let Syrian Islamic State fighters leave Raqqa


AIN ISSA, Syria/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian Islamic State fighters are set to abandon Raqqa in a withdrawal agreed with U.S.-backed Syrian militias that have them surrounded, a militia spokesman said on Saturday, as the jihadists’ defeat in their former Syrian capital edged closer.

Officials gave conflicting accounts on whether foreign fighters would also be leaving the city, where the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been battling to defeat Islamic State since June.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo said the foreign fighters would be left behind “to surrender or die”, without saying when the evacuation of Syrian fighters would take place.

But Omar Alloush, a member of Raqqa’s Civil Council, said the evacuation would include foreign fighters. He said it would take place overnight into Sunday. The jihadists would be taking some 400 civilians with them as human shields, he said.

The final defeat of IS at Raqqa would be a milestone in efforts to roll back the theocratic “caliphate” the group declared in 2014 in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year it was driven from the city of Mosul.

IS used Raqqa as a base to plan attacks against the West.

The Kurdish YPG militia, which dominates the SDF, told Reuters earlier on Saturday that Islamic State was on the verge of defeat in Raqqa, and the city may finally be cleared of the jihadists on Saturday or Sunday.

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said a convoy was due to leave Raqqa on Saturday, in an arrangement agreed by local parties. It described the arrangement as “a civilian evacuation” and said it would not condone any arrangement that allowed “terrorists to escape Raqqa without facing justice”.

Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said the coalition’s stance was that IS fighters must surrender unconditionally, but added that he could not comment on who would be in the convoy. He said difficult fighting was expected in the days ahead.

The coalition statement said the arrangement brokered by the Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders on Oct. 12 was “designed to minimise civilian casualties and purportedly excludes foreign Daesh terrorists”.

The coalition believed the arrangement would “save innocent lives and allow Syrian Democratic Forces and the coalition to focus on defeating Daesh terrorists in Raqqa with less risk of civilian casualties”, it said.

Children play inside a truck at a refugee camp for people displaced because of fightings between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants in Ain Issa, Syria October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Tribal leaders from Raqqa said the SDF had agreed to allow safe passage out of the city for Syrian Islamic State fighters still inside, and they were organising a “mechanism” for them to leave.

Its statement made no mention of the fate of Islamic State’s foreign jihadists, but said the remaining fighters in the city were only “a small number besieged in one or more positions in the city, who have no choice but surrender or death”.

Alloush earlier told Reuters that the IS fighters would go to remaining territory held by the group in Syria.


Negotiated withdrawals of combatants facing defeat have become a common feature of the six-year-long Syrian war.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight Friday from the countryside to the north.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organisation that reports on the war, said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had already left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families.

The Syrian army, which is supported by Iran-backed militias and the Russian air force, declared another significant victory over Islamic State on Saturday, saying it had captured the town of al-Mayadin in Deir al-Zor province.

The eastern province is Islamic State’s last major foothold in Syria, and it is under attack there from the SDF on one side and Syrian government forces supported by Iran-backed militias and Russian air strikes on the other.

Islamic State fighters had previously agreed to an evacuation last August, from an area on the Syrian-Lebanese border.

But as their convoy moved towards Islamic State-held territory in eastern Syria, coalition planes blocked its route by cratering roads, destroying bridges and attacking nearby Islamic State vehicles.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Richard Balmforth


Source link

Syrian government troops push on into IS stronghold town


Syrian opposition activists say government troops are pushing deeper into an Islamic State stronghold in the country’s east, the town of Mayadeen.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says clashes with militants intensified in the morning hours on Thursday in the town, as government forces advanced into the western and northern neighborhoods of Mayadeen, which lies on the Euphrates River.

The Observatory says troops were able to cut off the road linking Mayadeen and the town of Boukamal on the border with Iraq.

Opposition activist Mozahem al-Salloum says the fighting is fierce and that it will likely take time to rid Mayadeen of the Islamic State group.

Syrian troops reached Mayadeen on Saturday, after pushing south along the eastern banks of the Euphrates.


Source link

About 4,000 civilians remain in IS-held Syrian city of Raqqa


A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group says an estimated 4,000 civilians are still trapped in the Syrian city of Raqqa, once the extremists’ de facto capital, and that coalition allies are working out ways to evacuate them.

Col. Ryan Dillon says the Raqqa Civil Council, a local administration of Arab and Kurdish officials, is leading the discussions. It’s not clear with whom the council is speaking inside Raqqa.

Dillon said on Wednesday that the coalition wouldn’t accept a negotiated surrender of up to 400 militants believed holed up in the last part of the city that remains in IS hands.

Dillon says up to 15 militants have surrendered in the past three weeks in Raqqa. The battle for the city is in its final stages.


Source link

Conan O’Brien: Israeli doctors who treat Syrian patients ‘deserve a Nobel Peace Prize’


Conan O’Brien has been busy filming his new special “Conan Without Borders” in Israel.

The late night host seems to be having fun visiting Israel’s top attractions including the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and he even stopped by the set of the Netflix series “Fauda.” He also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the trip hasn’t been all laughs; the comedian shared a more serious moment of his trip when he visited a hospital in the Northern city of Safed.

After meeting with patients and physicians at the hospital, O’Brien said he feels the Israeli doctors “deserve a Nobel Peace Prize” for their work at the Ziv Medical Center.

Ziv, in conjunction with the Western Galilee Medical Center, has been providing medical care to a several thousand Syrian civilians the Israel Defense Forces bring over the border for treatment.

“I am amazed and excited by what is being done here at Ziv for the sake of people from a neighboring country and an enemy, and I think you are the ones who need to receive the Nobel Peace Prize,” O’Brien said during his visit, according to the Jerusalem Post.

O’Brien also filmed in Mexico for a previous “Conan Without Borders” special.

You can find Sasha Savitsky on Twitter @SashaFB.


Source link

Angelina Jolie makes plea for Syrian refugees

U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie makes a plea to the United Nations Security Council to do more to help and protect refugees of the ongoing conflict in …


Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugees with her daughter Shiloh Jolie Pitt

Angelina Jolie has taken her eldest daughter Shiloh on a visit to a camp for Syrian refugees in southeastern Turkey. The Hollywood star, who also serves as a …


Eleven Hezbollah fighters, seven Syrian soldiers killed in border battle against IS – Nasrallah


BEIRUT (Reuters) – Eleven Hezbollah fighters and seven Syrian soldiers were killed in an offensive against Islamic State in Syria’s western Qalamoun region, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Monday.

After a week-long battle, a convoy of Islamic State fighters began to depart the Syria-Lebanon border region on Monday under Syrian military escort, leaving for eastern Syria.

A ceasefire had halted the fighting in an Islamic State enclave at the border, where the militants had been battling the Lebanese army on one front and Shi’ite Hezbollah with the Syrian army on the other.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Alison Williams

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Source link

In Syrian skies, U.S. pilots learn how fast air war can morph


U.S. MILITARY FACILITY IN MIDDLE EAST (Reuters) – U.S. Air Force pilot Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Renken knew that whatever happened next might escalate the war in Syria.

The 40-year-old father of four was flying his F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet in “a race track” pattern around an Iranian-made drone, which had just tried to kill U.S.-backed forces and their advisers on the ground.

After the drone’s first shot failed to detonate on impact, it was positioning to strike again.

So, on June 8, in what was an unprecedented move in the U.S. air war over Syria to that point, Renken shot it down, even as two Russian fighter jets watched from a distance.

“When we saw the drone turn back towards friendly forces, we weren’t waiting around for anybody’s permission. We destroyed it,” Renken said in his first interview about the incident.

Renken’s downing of the Iranian drone, a Shaheed 129, was the first in a series of several defensive U.S. air-to-air shootdowns over several weeks in June that at first appeared to signal a tipping point to a far more dangerous air war in Syria.

But since the decisions by Renken and other U.S. pilots to fire at two drones and a manned Syrian fighter jet in June, there haven’t been similarly provocative actions by pro-Syrian forces. U.S. officials say they seem to have delivered the message.

Renken’s case, in many ways, highlights not just the risks of Syrian conflict in which Russia, Syria, the United States and its allies are flying military jets within targeting range of each other.

But it also illustrates the tremendous responsibility entrusted to U.S. pilots to make life-or-death decisions in an instant, with broad, strategic implications for the war.

Renken spoke with Reuters from a U.S. military installation in the Middle East, which does not disclose its location at the request of the country hosting it.


Renken, a squadron commander, developed his Air Force career in the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda. He was training as a pilot when suicide hijackers flew into the World Trade Center and has since deployed over and over again to the Middle East.

But Renken acknowledges that the Syrian air war is, in his view, unique.

U.S. pilots, who have enjoyed air supremacy against the insurgents they’ve been battling in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, cannot be sanguine about the risks posed by advanced Russian or Syrian jets or ground-based air defence in Syria.

Armed aircraft from Syria, Russia, the United States and its coalition allies are all flying within a “no escape” range of each other’s weapons.

“We can all engage each other. So it takes a lot of discipline and studying the nuance of a circumstance to (determine): ‘Was that an escalation?’,” Renken said.

As U.S.-backed and Russia-backed ground forces scramble to capture what is left of Islamic State’s caliphate, the risk of accidental contacts between the sides is growing, raising the stakes both on the ground and in the air.

But while the U.S. military has had years to iron out how and when to engage Islamic State fighters on the ground, American pilots are still gaining experience deciphering hostile intent by other aircraft in the skies above Syria.


The U.S. Air Force proudly boasts that no U.S. soldier has been killed by enemy aircraft since 1953. But the drone attack threatened to change that, if accounts by two U.S. officials of a limited American presence in the convoy that day are correct.

The U.S. military initially said the drone dropped a bomb that missed the convoy, which included U.S.-backed fighters and their advisors. Renken offered a slightly different account.

He said the drone was actually carrying missiles. When it fired, it hit the door of one of the vehicles with a munition that failed to detonate, he said.

“It was a dud round. So, very lucky,” Renken said. “It was definitely intended to be a lethal shot.” The criteria needed to fire the drone had been clearly met, he said.

Still, one factor complicating his decision to return fire was the presence of the Russian “Flanker” fighter jets, who might think that Renken was shooting at them.

“Is (the Russian pilot) going to see a missile come off of my aircraft and consider that a potential aggression against him?” he explained.

Another problem was that the drone was small enough that the missile Renken would fire could potentially go long and inadvertently head towards the Russian jet.

“(There) was a lot of potential for escalation,” he said.

For Renken, the big takeaway for pilots is that the war in Syria has evolved far beyond simply striking Islamic State targets on the ground.

U.S. pilots have to be prepared for anything.

“What this recent event has proven is that you can’t take for granted that you know what the fight is going to look like,” Renken said.

“You need to walk in ready for it to metastasize into any hybrid variation.”

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Source link

Netanyahu to press Putin over Iran’s Syrian foothold


JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will tell Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that he is concerned Iran and its Shiite allies are expanding their presence in Syria as Moscow works to tamp down the Syrian civil war, Israeli officials said.

Russia has been the main broker of de-escalation zones set up in Syria in recent weeks. Israel worries those zones will allow Damascus’s Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements to deploy in greater strength along its northern front.

Another sponsor of the zones is the United States, which shares Moscow’s focus on defeating Islamic State insurgents. Israel argues that Iran is the greater common threat.

Netanyahu and Putin will meet in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi for their sixth series of talks since September 2015. Netanyahu is due back in Israel later in the day for talks with White House peace envoys Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Dina Powell.

“I will discuss with (Putin) Iran’s accelerated effort to entrench militarily in Syria,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Tuesday. “This creates a problem not just for Israel, but for all the of countries of the Middle East and the whole world.”

A Kremlin statement said Putin and Netanyahu would “exchange opinions on bilateral relations and the situation in the Middle East, primarily Syria, on fighting international terrorism, a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and other global and regional issues.”

Russia intervened in Syria on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, its forces fighting what it deems Sunni Islamist “terrorists” in partnership with Iran and Hezbollah, Israel’s arch-foes. Moscow argues its big-power clout deters Iran or Hezbollah from opening a new front with Israel.

“We take the Israeli interests in Syria into account,” Alexander Petrovich Shein, Russia’s ambassador to Israel, told its Channel One television on Tuesday. “Were it up to Russia, the foreign forces would not stay.”

Netanyahu has publicly alleged, without providing details, that Iran plans to set up air and naval bases in Syria and his government has issued veiled threats to take pre-emptive action.

“We will find the common diplomatic and political interest with the United States, and later on with Russia, in order to combine our efforts and effect Iran’s return to its place,” Yoav Gallant, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, told Israel’s Channel Two television.

“We should also prepare the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) so it … has relevant plans (for Syria), should that be required.”

In comments published this week, the chief of Israel’s air force said Israel had struck suspected Hezbollah arms shipments in Syria around 100 times during the Syrian civil war, apparently without Russian interference and rarely drawing retaliation.

Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova in Moscow; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Larry King


Source link

Angelina Jolie brings voice to Syrian refugees

Actress/activist Angelina Jolie files an exclusive report on Syrian refugees for CNN. Erin McLaughlin reports. For more CNN videos, visit our site at …