Syrian airstrikes intensify in northwest

Civil Defense men search for survivors in a collapsed building after a regime airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2019

Syrian airstrikes intensify in northwest

  • Unstopped regime bombardment of Idlib region causes more deaths

IDLIB, BEIRUT: Airstrikes targeted opposition-held cities in northwest Syria on Friday, a war monitor reported, widening bombardment of the last major insurgent enclave to areas that had mostly escaped it.
The strikes killed three people in Idlib and three in Maarat Al-Numan, two of the largest cities in the region, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Nine more people were killed elsewhere in the enclave, it said.
Another 45 civilians were wounded in the strikes across the opposition-held Idlib region, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Idlib city had been spared strikes by the regime and its Russian ally since they stepped up bombardment of the region more than two months ago.
“It’s the first time that the raids hit the center of Idlib, after being confined until now to its suburbs,” said Observatory Director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) in January took full administrative control of the Idlib region, home to 3 million people, although other militant groups and opposition factions are also present.
Russian and regime aircraft have ramped up strikes on Idlib since the end of April, killing more than 580 civilians. More than 100 fighters were killed in clashes between regime and opposition-led forces in northwest Syria, the monitor said on Thursday, as violence raged on the edge of an opposition bastion despite a September truce deal.
The UN said it had received reports that the strikes hit medical facilities and health care workers.

FASTFACT

More than 100 fighters and regime troops were killed in clashes in Syria, as violence raged on the edge of an opposition bastion despite a truce deal.

Russian and regime aircraft have since late April ramped up the deadly bombardment of the Idlib region, despite a deal to avert a massive government assault.
Friday’s airstrikes hit residential buildings in one of the city’s largest squares, Sabaa Bahrat, an AFP photographer said. Ambulances were dispatched to the scene to tend to the victims, he added.
Meanwhile in neighboring Hama province, six children were wounded by opposition fire in the regime-held area of Karnaz.
Fierce clashes have raged in the northern sliver of Hama province in recent days, with at least 22 fighters killed on Friday, according to the Observatory.
At least 10 regime troops and a dozen militants and allied opposition fighters were killed in the battle near the village of Hamameyat and its strategic hilltop.
Regime forces retook the area in the north of Hama province overnight into Friday after relentless fighting, according to the Britain-based war monitor.
The recent uptick in violence has forced 330,000 people to flee their homes, according to the UN.


Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

Updated 18 October 2019

Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

  • “Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Al-Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father said
  • Twenty-four hours later, hei was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home”

BAGHDAD: A prominent Iraqi blogger resurfaced Friday a day after he was seized by masked gunmen, his father said, as Amnesty International denounced a “climate of fear” in the country after protests and deadly violence.
Shujaa Al-Khafaji’s family said armed men had snatched him from his home on Thursday without identifying themselves or showing an arrest warrant.
Khafaji’s Facebook page, Al-Khowa Al-Nadifa (Arabic for “Those Who Have Clean Hands“), carries posts on political and social issues and has some 2.5 million followers.
“Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father, Fares Al-Khafaji, told AFP.
He said they seized his son’s phones and computers, but were not violent.
Twenty-four hours later, Khafaji was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home,” his father added.
The report of Khafaji’s seizure sparked an outcry from activists and influential political leaders.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced a “relentless campaign of intimidation and assault against activists in Iraq” by authorities.
“The Iraqi authorities must immediately rein in the security forces and dismantle the climate of fear they have deliberately created to stop Iraqis from peacefully exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and assembly,” said Lynn Maalouf, the group’s Middle East research director.
The group said other activists, including a doctor and a lawyer, were “forcibly disappeared more than 10 days ago,” and called on Iraqi authorities to reveal their whereabouts.
Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr wrote on Twitter that “any act of aggression (against journalists or activists)... by the state constitutes an attack on freedom of speech.”
Former prime minister Haider Al-Abadi’s parliamentary bloc called on the government “to stop abuses of free media.”
Iraq was gripped by anti-government protests between October 1 and 6, during which 110 people, mainly demonstrators, were killed in clashes with security forces.
During the protests, unidentified armed men in uniforms raided several local television stations in Baghdad, destroying their equipment and intimidating their staff.
Journalists and activists also reported receiving threats, mostly by phone, from unidentified callers accusing them of having sided with the protesters.
Khafaji faced online harassment last month after a string of attacks on bases of the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force dominated by pro-Iran groups.
The group on Thursday denied any involvement in the disappearance of activists, threatening legal action against anyone making such accusations.
But according to Amnesty, the Hashed was involved in at least one abduction — that of lawyer Ali Hattab, who represented protesters and was seized on October 8 in the southern city of Amara.
He was snatched by “suspected members of a faction of the Popular Mobilization Units (Hashed),” Amnesty said quoting Hattab’s relatives.
It happened two days after “two armed men from the PMU came to (his) home to warn him to stop being vocal about the killing of protesters on Facebook, otherwise they would kill him,” Amnesty added.