Daesh ambush kills 21 regime fighters in southern Syria

Daesh has killed 21 regime fighters in Syria’s southern province of Sweida. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018
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Daesh ambush kills 21 regime fighters in southern Syria

  • The attack occurred late Monday in the rural Tulul Al-Safa area of the province
  • Daesh has killed 21 regime fighters in Syria’s southern province of Sweida

BEIRUT: Daesh militants have killed 12 Syrian regime fighters in an ambush as the group faces separate assaults on its last desert strongholds, a war monitor said Tuesday.
The attack late Monday in Syria’s southern province of Sweida came as US-backed forces advanced against the militants on the border with Iraq, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It also comes with President Bashar Assad’s forces poised to launch an attack on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major region in Syria still controlled by rebels and extremists.
The Daesh ambush in Sweida’s volcanic plateau of Tulul Al-Safa sparked fighting that killed eight militants, the Britain-based Observatory said.
State news agency SANA reported heavy clashes with Daesh in the area, which lies some 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Damascus, adding that government aircraft and artillery “targeted hideouts and positions” held by the group.
Government forces have been fighting Daesh in Sweida since militants carried out a wave of attacks in the mainly Druze province on July 25, killing 250 people according to the Observatory.
During their rampage, which targeted the provincial capital as well as rural areas, the militants also seized around 30 hostages, mostly women and their children.
At least 27 are believed to still be held, according to Human Rights Watch, after Daesh said it had beheaded a 19-year-old man and announced an elderly woman had died.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the hostages were believed to be held captive in the Tulul Al-Safa area.
A source in Sweida told AFP that families had had no word of their kidnapped relatives in weeks.
Daesh has lost nearly all of the great swathes of territory straddling Iraq and Syria which it seized in 2014, but retains a presence in the vast Badiya desert that lies between Damascus and the Iraqi border, and holds a pocket in the Euphrates Valley in the east.
In that eastern pocket, a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance has for months been closing in on the town of Hajjin east of the Euphrates River near the Iraqi border, and on Monday launched an assault to retake it.
In the early hours of Tuesday, the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance advanced inside the town, the Observatory said, with backing from the US-led coalition fighting Daesh.
“They have seized control of the northwestern part of Hajjin” after residents fled, the monitor’s chief Abdel Rahman said.
An SDF commander said the offensive on Hajjin aimed to oust an estimated 3,000 militants, including a large portion of foreign fighters, from the town and surrounding areas.
“Most of the frontline commanders in this pocket are Iraqi,” said Ahmad Abu Khawla, a commander with the Deir Ezzor Military Council, which is part of the SDF.
After humanitarian corridors were opened to allow residents to flee the Daesh-held area, most civilians remaining inside were “directly linked to the group — hostages or the families of Islamic State fighters,” he said, referring to Daesh.
Abu Khawla said Daesh had “secret jails where they hold civilians” captured in other areas of Syria.
Last year Daesh lost its de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa in the north of the country, and this spring militants bussed out of the southern suburbs of Damascus.
Since Monday, 27 militants and 10 SDF fighters have been killed in the fighting for the Hajjin pocket, the Observatory says.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


Gaza border protests provide artist with inspiration, and raw materials

Updated 5 min 19 sec ago
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Gaza border protests provide artist with inspiration, and raw materials

  • Diorama artist Majdi Abu Taqeya spends hours creating three-dimensional miniature replicas of the protest scenes
  • Some neighbours who had been wounded gifted the artist bullets extracted from their bodies

GAZA: One year on from the start of Gaza's border protests, the weekly clashes with Israeli soldiers have become part of the texture of life in the Palestinian enclave, providing inspiration and even raw materials for local artists.

Diorama artist Majdi Abu Taqeya spends hours creating three-dimensional miniature replicas of the protest scenes, with figures carved from remnants of Israeli ammunition collected from the landscape along the frontier.

Wool and cotton are turned into the white and black smoke that swirls over the five protest camps that have been set up along the fortified frontier since the protests began on March 30, 2018.

Elsewhere on Abu Taqeya's wooden boards, Palestinian protesters, ambulances, Israeli troops and tanks and even the wire fence itself are all created in miniature. He uses empty shells of bullets, tear gas canisters and sometimes shrapnel of Israeli missiles.

A bullet triggered the idea, the artist said. At the first day of the protests, Abu Taqeya's youngest brother was shot in his leg and doctors took out the bullet, which he then brought home.

"I turned it into a small statue of a soldier and I gave it to him," he told Reuters.

"It was then when I got the idea to start recycling the remnants of the occupation," said Abu Taqeya, a 38-year-old retired naval policeman.

Gaza health authorities said some 200 people have been killed by Israeli fire since Palestinians launched the protests a year ago. They are demanding the right to return to land from which their ancestors fled or were expelled during fighting that accompanied Israel’s founding in 1948.

An Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier.

Israel says it uses lethal force to defend the frontier from militants trying to destroy its border fence and infiltrate under cover of the protests. On Monday, UN war crimes investigators urged Israel to rein in its troops at the border.

In Nusseirat refugee camp, where Abu Taqeya lives, some neighbours who had been wounded gifted the artist bullets extracted from their bodies.

"This bullet was taken from a girl's body, I turned it into a bullet with a butterfly on the top," said Abu Taqeya.

On Thursday, organizers of the protests called for mass rallies on March 30 to mark the anniversary, raising concerns of possible heavy casualty toll. Abu Taqeya urged demonstrators to steer clear of the fence.

"We must not give the occupation any pretext to open fire. These protests must be peaceful," he said, using a Palestinian term for Israel.

Israel pulled its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza in 2005. Citing security concerns, it still maintains tight control of the Hamas-run territory's borders.