Airstrike in northwestern Syria kills over 50 rebel fighters

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A fighter with the Turkey-backed Faylaq Al-Sham rebel faction in Syria shoots in the air during the funeral of 10 of the faction’s fighters in the northwestern city of Idlib, on October 26, 2020. (AFP)
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Smoke billows from a reported Russian airstrike near the village of Hafsarjah, in the western countryside of Idlib province in northwestern Syria, on September 11, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 26 October 2020

Airstrike in northwestern Syria kills over 50 rebel fighters

  • The opposition vowed to retaliate for the attack on Faylaq Al-Sham, blaming Russia for the daytime airstrike
  • The camp, at Jebel Al-Dweila not far from the Turkish border, was hosting training sessions for new recruits

BEIRUT: An airstrike on a rebel training camp in northwestern Syria on Monday killed more than 50 Turkish-backed fighters and wounded nearly as many, in one of the heaviest blows to the opposition’s strongest groups, a spokesman and a war monitor said.
The opposition vowed to retaliate for the attack on Faylaq Al-Sham, blaming Russia for the daytime airstrike. There was no immediate comment from Russia or Turkey, which although they support opposite sides in Syria’s conflict, have worked together to maintain a cease-fire in the rebel enclave.
Youssef Hammoud, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition, said the airstrike in the northwestern part of Idlib province, the last rebel enclave in Syria, targeted a military training camp for Faylaq Al-Sham. Faylaq Al-Sham is the largest Turkey-backed armed group and one of the most disciplined and best trained.
Turkey has long supported Syrian rebel forces in Syria and has used many of those fighters to bolster its military campaigns in Libya and Azerbaijan.
The camp, at Jebel Al-Dweila not far from the Turkish border, was hosting training sessions for new recruits, according to a war monitor and another opposition spokesman. Leaders of the camp were among those killed, according to Hammoud.
Journalists or activists in the area were not allowed near the camp and the extent of the damage was not immediately known,
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, gave a higher toll, at 78 fighters dead and nearly 90 wounded. Rescue efforts were still underway, the Observatory said. It said it also suspected the airstrike was carried out by Russia, which is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s civil war.
A hospital near the explosion was overwhelmed with the casualties and was forced to send wounded and dead to other facilities. A doctor in Idlib city said the city’s central hospital, more than 24 kilometers ( 15 miles) from the camp, received two bodies and 11 wounded. All the casualties were fighters, the doctor said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss the attack on an armed group. One media activist, Rashid Al-Bakr, was among those killed, according to the Macro Media Center, an online news platform.
One Facebook group called on Idlib residents to check with hospitals in the city if they are missing relatives, a clear indication many remained unidentified.
Syrian rebel groups vowed to retaliate.
“We, the factions of the National Front for Liberation, will respond to these violations,” said Naji Al-Mustafa, another spokesman for the Turkish-backed fighters, threatening to target government and Russian positions. He called the strike a “crime” by Russia.
Turkey and Russia brokered a truce in Idlib earlier this year to halt a government offensive that displaced hundreds of thousands in the already overcrowded enclave. Around a dozen Turkish observation points were deployed inside Idlib to monitor the truce, which remained shaky.
In recent days, there was a resumption of strikes.
On Friday, airstrikes also targeted a local market for rudimentary fuel burners and diesel in the opposition-controlled region of Jarablus, in northern Aleppo. At least seven people were killed, according to the Observatory.
Last week, Turkish troops evacuated one of their largest military bases in the area, which was surrounded by Syrian government troops for months. Syrian opposition fighters said it was part of Turkey’s redeployment of its forces in the shrinking enclave.


Iran says Rushdie and supporters to blame for attack

Updated 15 August 2022

Iran says Rushdie and supporters to blame for attack

  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently blamed Iran for inciting violence against Rushdie for generations
  • Iran’s former supreme leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini had called Muslims to kill the novelist in 1989

DUBAI: No one has the right to level accusations against Iran over Friday’s attack on Salman Rushdie, for which he is to blame after denigrating the world’s Muslims, the foreign ministry in Tehran said on Monday.

The novelist, who has lived under a death threat for decades since enraging clerical authorities in Iran through his writing, is recovering after being repeatedly stabbed at a public appearance in New York state.

In Iran’s first official reaction to Friday’s attack, ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said freedom of speech did not justify Rushdie’s insults against religion. His 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” is viewed by some Muslims as containing blasphemous passages.

“During the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not consider anyone other than himself and his supporters worthy of ... reproach and condemnation,” Kanaani told a news briefing. “No one has the right to accuse Iran in this regard.”

Writers and politicians around the world have condemned the attack. His agent told Reuters that Rushdie had sustained severe injuries, including nerve damage in his arm and wounds to his liver, and was likely to lose an eye.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that Iranian state institutions had incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media had gloated about the attempt on his life.

The Indian-born writer has had a bounty on his head since “The Satanic Verses” was published in 1988. The following year, Iran’s then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling on Muslims to kill the novelist and anyone involved in the book’s publication.

In 1991, the novel’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi was stabbed to death. A former student of Igarashi’s on Monday renewed calls for his murder to be solved, the Ibaraki Shimbun newspaper reported.

A police spokesperson told Reuters that an investigation was still active and that the statute of limitations on the crime, which expired in 2006, could be lifted.

The novel’s Italian translator was wounded in 1991 and two years later its Norwegian publisher was shot and seriously wounded.

In 1998, Iran’s pro-reform government of President Mohammad Khatami distanced itself from the fatwa, saying the threat against Rushdie — who had lived in hiding for nine years — was over.

But in 2019, Twitter suspended Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s account over a tweet that said the fatwa against was “irrevocable.”

HARDLINE REACTIONS

Rushdie, 75, has lived relatively openly in recent years.

He was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York on the importance of the United States as a haven for targeted artists when police say a 24-year-old man rushed the stage and stabbed him.

Ministry spokesperson Kanaani said Rushdie had “exposed himself to popular outrage by insulting Islamic sanctities and crossing the red lines of 1.5 billion Muslims.”

Kanaani said Iran had no other information about the novelist’s suspected assailant except what had appeared in media.

The suspect, Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault at a court appearance on Saturday, his court-appointed lawyer, Nathaniel Barone, told Reuters.

An initial law enforcement review of Matar’s social media accounts showed he was sympathetic to Shiite extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), according to NBC New York. Washington accuses the IRGC of carrying out a global extremist campaign.

IRGC-affiliated Jam-e Jam and other hard-line Iranian state media outlets celebrated the attack and some Iranians voiced support for it online.

Matar is the son of a man from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, according to Ali Tehfe, the town’s mayor. Matar’s parents emigrated to the United States, where he was born and raised, the mayor said, adding he had no information on their political views.

The Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah holds significant sway in Yaroun, where posters of Khomeini and IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani, killed by a US drone strike in 2020, adorned walls at the weekend.

A Hezbollah official told Reuters on Saturday that the group had no additional information on Friday’s attack.


Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties

Updated 15 August 2022

Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties

  • Attack took place in the vicinity of Al-Tanf base near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet
BEIRUT: An attack with drones hit a compound run by American troops and US-backed Syrian opposition fighters in eastern Syria on Monday, the US military said, adding that there were no casualties or damage.
The military said the attack took place in the vicinity of Al-Tanf base near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.
US and coalition troops are based at Al-Tanf to train Syrian forces on patrols to counter militants from the Daesh group. The base is also located on a road serving as a vital link for Iranian-backed forces, stretching from Tehran all the way to Lebanon.
The military statement said coalition troops in coordination with opposition fighters — known as Maghaweir Al-Thowra — “responded to an attack by multiple unmanned aerial systems in the vicinity of Al-Tanf Garrison” on Monday morning.
It said the troops successfully engaged one of the drones preventing its impact while a second one detonated within the opposition forces’ compound, “resulting in zero casualties or reported damage.” The other attempted drone strikes were not successful, it added.
Maj. Gen. John Brennan, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force, condemned the drone strike. “Such attacks put the lives of innocent Syrian civilians at risk and undermine the significant efforts by our Partner Forces to maintain the lasting defeat of IS,” he said, using an acronym for the Daesh group.
The attack occurred hours after Israeli airstrikes on western and central Syria killed three soldiers, wounded three others and caused material damage.
A Syrian opposition war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Israeli strikes hit Syrian army positions where Iran-backed fighters are based.
Drone attacks on Al-Tanf have been rare.
In October last year, US officials said they believe Iran was behind a drone attack that month in Al-Tanf saying at the time that they believe that the attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges. It said the drones hit both the US side of Al-Tanf garrison and the side where Syrian opposition forces stay.
The October attacks came days after an Israeli airstrike on central Syria.

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie

Updated 15 August 2022

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie

TEHRAN, Iran: An Iranian government official denied on Monday that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie, in remarks that were the country’s first public comments on the attack.
The comments by Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, come over two days after the attack on Rushdie in New York.
However, Iran has denied carrying out other operations abroad targeting dissidents in the years since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, despite prosecutors and Western governments attributing such attacks back to Tehran.
“We, in the incident of the attack on Salman Rushdie in the US, do not consider that anyone deserves blame and accusations except him and his supporters,” Kanaani said. “Nobody has right to accuse Iran in this regard.”
Rushdie, 75, was stabbed Friday while attending an event in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, his agent said. He was likely to lose the injured eye.
His assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the attack through his lawyer.
The award-winning author for more than 30 years has faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses.” Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, demanding his death. An Iranian foundation had put up a bounty of over $3 million for the author.
Kanaani added that Iran did not “have any other information more than what the American media has reported.”

Freedom of speech does not justify Rushdie's insults upon religion in his writing, Kanaani said.
The West “condemning the actions of the attacker and in return glorifying the actions of the insulter to Islamic beliefs is a contradictory attitude,” Kanaani said.


Israeli police kill Palestinian in east Jerusalem raid

Updated 15 August 2022

Israeli police kill Palestinian in east Jerusalem raid

  • The Jerusalem violence followed a tense week between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank

JERUSALEM: Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian man who attempted to stab officers during a raid in east Jerusalem on Monday, police said.
The officers were conducting a search for illegal weapons in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab, the police said. When officers approached the home, the man, armed with a knife, tried to stab them. They fired on the suspect and he was later pronounced dead, police said. Palestinian media identified the man as Mohammed Al-Shaham.
The incident came a day after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at a bus outside Jerusalem’s Old City, wounding eight, among them US citizens.
The US State Department condemned the Jerusalem attack late on Sunday, and said at least five of the victims were American citizens. “We remain in close contact with our Israeli partners and stand firmly with them in the face of this attack,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
The Jerusalem violence followed a tense week between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that was reached last week ended three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza that saw at least 49 Palestinians, including 17 children and 14 militants, killed.
A day after the cease-fire halted the worst round of Gaza fighting in more than a year, Israeli troops killed three Palestinian militants and wounded dozens in a shootout that erupted during an arrest raid in the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank.


Egyptians mourn 41 killed in Cairo Coptic church fire

Updated 6 min 7 sec ago

Egyptians mourn 41 killed in Cairo Coptic church fire

  • Witnesses to the fire Sunday morning described people rushing into the multi-story house of worship to save those trapped, but the rescuers were soon overwhelmed by heat and deadly smoke

CAIRO: Funerals were held in two Cairo churches Sunday evening for 41 victims of a fire that ripped through a Coptic Christian church during mass, forcing worshippers to jump out of windows.
The blaze, blamed on an electrical fault, hit the Abu Sifin church in densely populated Imbaba, a working class district west of the Nile River, part of Giza governorate in greater Cairo.
Hundreds gathered to pay their respects in and around the two Giza churches where clergymen prayed for the victims, according to AFP correspondents.
Pallbearers pushed through crowds of weeping mourners who reached for the coffins, including that of a priest at the church, Father Abdel-Messih Bekhit.
The Egyptian Coptic Church and the health ministry reported 41 dead and 14 injured in the blaze before emergency services brought it under control.
Witnesses to the fire Sunday morning described people rushing into the multi-story house of worship to save those trapped, but the rescuers were soon overwhelmed by heat and deadly smoke.
Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, making up at least 10 million of Egypt’s 103 million Muslim-majority population.
“Everyone was carrying kids out of the building,” said Ahmed Reda Baioumy, who lives next to the church. “But the fire was getting bigger and you could only go in once or you would asphyxiate.”
Another witness, Sayed Tawfik, told AFP that “some threw themselves out of windows to escape the fire.” He pointed to a car bearing dents “left by a person who is now lying in the hospital with a broken arm and back.”
A resident of the area, Mina Masry, said emergency services were slow in responding. Ambulances took “over an hour to arrive” and fire trucks “nearly an hour, though their station is five minutes away.”
“If the ambulances had come on time, they could have rescued people,” Masry added.
A statement from the public prosecutor’s office indicated that asphyxiation caused the deaths, as there were “no visible injuries.”
The interior ministry said “forensic evidence revealed that the blaze broke out in an air-conditioning unit on the second floor of the church building” which also houses social services.
Father Farid Fahmy, of another nearby church, told AFP a short circuit caused the fire.
“The power was out and they were using a generator,” he said. “When the power came back, it caused an overload.”
In the morning, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said on his Facebook page that he had “mobilized all state services” in response. He later said he had “presented his condolences by phone” to Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
He also directed the Armed Forces Engineering Authority to “take over the reconstruction and renovation” of the church, the presidency said in a statement.
Christian communities often complain that reconstruction of churches after devastating fires is marked by long delays and bureaucratic hurdles.
Giza’s governor ordered “urgent aid of 50,000 pounds (around $2,600) for the families of the deceased and 10,000 pounds for the injured.”
The grand imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s foremost Muslim institution, expressed his condolences for “the tragic accident” and affirmed “the readiness of Al-Azhar hospitals to receive the injured.”
A statement from the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered his “deepest condolences” to the families of the victims.
Accidental fires are not uncommon in the sprawling megalopolis of Cairo, where millions live in informal settlements.
Baioumy, the neighbor, told AFP that firefighters were hampered by the church’s location “on a very narrow street.”
Egypt, with its often dilapidated and poorly maintained infrastructure, has suffered several deadly fires in recent years.
The Coptic minority has endured attacks and complained of discrimination in the north African country, the Arab world’s most populous.
Copts have been targeted in deadly attacks by Islamist militants, particularly after El-Sisi overthrew former Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013, with churches, schools and homes burnt down.
Copts also complain they have been left out of key state positions and they have deplored restrictive legislation for the construction and renovation of churches.
El-Sisi, the first Egyptian president to attend the Coptic Christmas mass every year, in February appointed the first ever Coptic judge to head the Supreme Constitutional Court, the country’s highest.

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