Anti-Daesh Syria force boosted as extremist holdout shrinks

Women and children walk with their belongings as they are directed by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after leaving Daesh's last holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 1, 2019. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)
Updated 15 March 2019

Anti-Daesh Syria force boosted as extremist holdout shrinks

  • A total of about 60,000 people have streamed out of Daesh-held territory since December
  • The exodus has sparked a humanitarian crisis in Kurdish-held camps for the displaced

SOUSA, Syria: US-backed forces consolidated their positions around Daesh’s last redoubt in eastern Syria Friday as the country’s devastating conflict entered its ninth year with more than 370,000 dead.
All that remains of a once sprawling proto-state that the Daesh extremists declared in 2014 is a battered riverside camp in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and warplanes of a US-led coalition backing them, have rained fire on the enclave since Sunday, blitzing thousands of Daesh members into surrender.
The Kurdish-led force said “1,300 terrorists and their families” gave themselves up on Thursday alone as its fighters slowed their advance to allow them to exit the enclave.
AFP correspondents on the ground said Thursday night was relatively calm apart from limited air strikes, as the SDF said its fighters were consolidating their positions after extremist counter-attacks and foiled suicide bombings.
The force was “consolidating and rotating its troops,” an SDF spokesman told AFP.
“There are still women and children who want to surrender, so we are obliged to slow down operations,” Jiaker Amed said in the neighboring village of Sousa.
“Operations risk being slowed again today to allow more departures of jihadists and their families,” Amed said, but he was unable to give an estimate for the number of people left inside Baghouz.
“Those left are strongly attached to the (extremists’) ideology,” he said. “There are a lot of suicide bombers but there are also families and children.”
Since the months-old SDF offensive resumed on March 10, 3,000 IS suspected members have surrendered, according to the SDF.
A total of about 60,000 people have streamed out of Daesh-held territory since December, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says, a tenth of them suspected extremists.
The exodus has sparked a humanitarian crisis in Kurdish-held camps for the displaced, where women and children have arrived exhausted after weeks of siege.
These include the wives and children of alleged foreign extremists, hundreds of whom are being held by the Kurdish forces.
The International Rescue Committee says 120 people — mainly young children — have died on their way to the camp or after arrival.
Eight years of war in Syria have left more than 370,000 people dead including 112,000 civilians, the Syrian Observatory said, raising its last toll of over 360,000 issued in September.
The Britain-based monitoring group, which has a network of sources across Syria, said that more than 21,000 children and 13,000 women were among the dead.
The conflict flared after unprecedented anti-government protests in the southern city of Daraa on March 15, 2011.
Demonstrations spread across Syria and were brutally suppressed by the regime, triggering a multi-front armed conflict that has drawn in foreign powers and militant groups.
Over 125,000 Syrian government soldiers and pro-regime fighters figure in the latest death toll, the Observatory said.
It said other fighters, including rebels and Kurds, accounted for 67,000 of those killed.
Almost 66,000 were extremists, mainly from Daesh and Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), dominated by Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria.
The devastating conflict has displaced or sent into exile around 13 million Syrians, and cost almost $400 billion in damages, according to the United Nations.
With the support of powerful allies Russia and Iran, President Bashar Assad has won his war for political survival but his country is fractured and cash-strapped.
Having reversed rebel gains with a massive Russian intervention, Assad now controls almost two-thirds of Syria’s territory.
But key areas remain beyond regime control, including a swathe of the oil-rich northeast held by the SDF.
Idlib in northwestern Syria, held by HTS, is protected by a cease-fire deal between Ankara and Moscow which has seen Turkish troops deployed to the area.
Syria’s conflict is estimated to have set its economy back three decades, destroying infrastructure and paralysing the production of electricity and oil.
Assad, however, has regained control of key commercial arteries and started a tentative comeback on the Arab diplomatic scene.
Several countries have called for Syria to be reintegrated into the Arab League, from which it was suspended as the death toll from the uprising mounted in 2011.


Algeria buries remains of anti-French fighters, seeks Paris apology

Updated 05 July 2020

Algeria buries remains of anti-French fighters, seeks Paris apology

  • The skulls of the fighters were laid to rest during an emotional ceremony at El Alia cemetery
  • The coffins draped with the national flag were lowered into freshly dug graves in the martyr’s square of Algeria’s largest burial ground

ALGIERS: Algeria on Sunday buried the remains of 24 resistance fighters returned from Paris after more than a century and a half as it marked the 58th anniversary of its independence from France.
The skulls of the fighters, shot and decapitated in the early years of the French occupation, were laid to rest during an emotional ceremony at El Alia cemetery.
The coffins draped with the national flag were lowered into freshly dug graves in the martyr’s square of Algeria’s largest burial ground, alongside national heroes such as top revolt leader Emir Abdelkader.
An elite unit of the Republican Guard presented arms while a funeral march played in the background, an AFP correspondent reported.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who took part in the ceremony alongside other officials, on Saturday said it was time to turn a page on years of frosty relations with France, calling on Paris to apologize for its colonial past.
“We have already had half-apologies. The next step is needed... we await it,” he told news channel France 24 in an interview.
An apology was necessary to “face the problem of memory that jeopardizes many things in the relations between the two countries,” Tebboune said.
It would “make it possible to cool tensions and create a calmer atmosphere for economic and cultural relations,” especially for the more than six million Algerians who live in France, he added.
The skulls, once viewed as war trophies by French colonial officers, were flown into Algiers international airport on Friday and then moved to the Palace of Culture where they were placed on display.
Despite stifling heat, a long queue formed outside the palace and some men and women, waiting to pay their respects, wept, according to footage broadcast by several television stations.
“I came as a fighter, as an invalid from the war of libration, as a citizen who loves his country,” said Ali Zemlat.
The 85-year-old fought in the brutal 1954-1962 war that ended France’s 132 years of colonial rule in Algeria.
The skulls had been stored since the 19th century in the vaults of the Musee de l’Homme in Paris, which specializes in anthropology.
Among the remains were those of revolt leader Sheikh Bouzian, who was captured in 1849 by the French, shot and decapitated, and those of his comrades who had met the same fate.
Algeria had officially asked for their return in 2018, as well as requesting the handover of colonial archives.
The restitution of the skulls has been seen as a sign of a thaw in relations between Algeria and the former colonial power, marked since independence by recurrent tensions.
The French presidency, in a statement to AFP, said the return of the remains was a gesture of “friendship” and part of efforts to “reconcile the memories of the French and Algerian people.”
The repatriation comes amid a global reexamination of the legacy of colonialism, sparked by the May killing of unarmed African American George Floyd by a white police officer.
His murder sparked protests across the world, and UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to make amends for “centuries of violence and discrimination.”
Emmanuel Macron, the first French president to be born after the 1954-62 independence war in which 1.5 million Algerians died, made his first official visit to Algiers in December 2017.
At the time, he told news website Tout sur l’Algerie that he was “ready” to see his country hand back the skulls.
During his presidential election campaign, Macron had created a storm by calling France’s colonization of Algeria a “crime against humanity.”