Syrian Kurdish forces end mop-up operations in Daesh-hit jail

US soldiers accompanied by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather in the neighbourhood of Ghwayran in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh, on January 29, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 31 January 2022

Syrian Kurdish forces end mop-up operations in Daesh-hit jail

  • Several Daesh fighters had been holed up inside the prison, but the SDF on Sunday said they been defeated
  • A war monitor said operations were still ongoing near the prison hunting for escaped Daesh fugitives

HASAKEH: US-backed Kurdish forces on Sunday said they had defeated all Daesh fighters left inside the Syrian jail that the extremists stormed 10 days ago sparking battles that left over 330 dead.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the end of its mopping-up campaign inside the prison “after ending the last pockets in which IS terrorists were present,” it said in a statement.
Daesh fighters on January 20 launched their biggest assault in years on the Ghwayran prison in the Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syrian city of Hasakah, aiming to free fellow militants.
After six days of intense fighting, the SDF announced on Wednesday they had recaptured the prison, but intermittent clashes continued until Saturday between Kurdish fighters and extremists near the jail.
Several Daesh fighters had been holed up in “northern dormitories” inside the prison, but the SDF on Sunday said they been defeated.
Daesh gunmen had been hiding in prison “cellars that are difficult to target with air strikes or infiltrate,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The war monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said operations were still ongoing near the prison hunting for escaped Daesh fugitives.
“Dozens of IS members managed to escape from Ghwayran prison... in the early hours of the attack,” the war monitor said.
It reported that 20 Daesh fighters had surrendered on Saturday, while the SDF killed another five in an exchange of fire inside the prison.
The Britain-based group said that 332 people had been killed since the onset of the attack, including 246 Daesh militants, 79 Kurdish-led fighters and seven civilians.
The death toll rose overnight on Sunday after the SDF found over 50 more bodies in prison buildings and nearby areas, the war monitor said.
“The newly discovered bodies were inside and outside the prison,” Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Observatory, told AFP.
He said the death toll was likely to rise further, because “there are dozens of people who are wounded, others who are still missing, and information about more casualties” on both sides.
On Saturday, an AFP correspondent saw a truck carrying away piles of bodies from an area near the prison, believed to be those of Daesh fighters.
A bulldozer dumped more corpses onto the truck, which then headed to an unknown location.
Farhad Shami, who heads the SDF’s media office, told AFP that the bodies would be buried in “remote, dedicated areas” under SDF control.
The violence prompted 45,000 people to flee Hasakah, the United Nations said. Many took refuge in relatives’ homes, while hundreds more slept in the city’s mosques and wedding halls.
The war in Syria, which broke out in 2011, has killed close to half a million people and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II.


Iran examining EU’s ‘final text’ at nuclear talks: state media

Updated 53 min 53 sec ago

Iran examining EU’s ‘final text’ at nuclear talks: state media

  • Talks aimed at reviving the agreement over Iran’s nuclear program resumed on Thursday in Vienna

TEHRAN: Iran said Monday it is examining a “final text” presented by the European Union at the negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
“As soon as we received these ideas, we conveyed our initial response and considerations... but naturally, these items require a comprehensive review, and we will convey our additional views and considerations,” state news agency IRNA quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying.
The comments came after a European official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the EU has tabled the “final” version of the text, negotiations are finished, “and it will not be renegotiated.”
Talks aimed at reviving the agreement over Iran’s nuclear program resumed on Thursday in Vienna, months after they had stalled.
Iranian sources have suggested an International Atomic Energy Agency probe is a key sticking point in reviving the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
But the European official said: “That has nothing to do with” the JCPOA.
Iran on Sunday said the IAEA should “completely” resolve the issues related to questions over nuclear material at its undeclared sites.
The IAEA’s board of governors adopted a resolution in June, censuring Iran for failing to adequately explain the discovery of traces of enriched uranium at three previously undeclared sites.
The Iranian foreign ministry official added on Monday that, during the talks of the past few days, “we shared our positions with the other sides, and relative progress was made in some issues.”
He added that the negotiating team looks to “protecting the rights and interests of the Iranian nation” as well as “ensuring the benefits and guaranteeing the sustainable implementation of the other party’s obligations and preventing the repetition of US illegal behavior.”
The negotiations to revive the deal began in April 2021 before coming to a standstill in March.
The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to guarantee that Tehran could not develop a nuclear weapon — something it has always denied wanting to do.
But the US unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.


Gaza crossing opens as truce holds between Israel, Islamic Jihad

Updated 08 August 2022

Gaza crossing opens as truce holds between Israel, Islamic Jihad

  • Trucks passed from Israel through Kerem Shalom goods crossing to southern Gaza
  • The arrival of vital supplies follows the start of a cease-fire at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Gaza’s sole power plant also restarted Monday after fuel trucks passed from Israel into the Palestinian enclave following the start of truce ending three days of deadly conflict, the electricity company said.

“The plant has started working to generate electricity,” Mohammed Thabet, spokesman for the company, told AFP. The plant had shut on Saturday after running out of fuel following Israel's closure of the goods crossing. 

An AFP journalist at the goods crossing to southern Gaza saw trucks loaded with fuel enter the enclave, ending a severe shortage which had prompted the only power station there to shut down Saturday.

The arrival of vital supplies follows the start of a cease-fire at 11:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) Sunday to stem the worst fighting in Gaza since an 11-day war last year devastated the Palestinian coastal territory. 

Gaza’s health ministry said 15 children were among 44 people killed in three days of intense fighting.

Despite a flurry of strikes and rocket attacks in the run-up to the truce, neither side had reported any major violations of the agreement overnight.

The Israeli military said roads would gradually reopen in the border area on Monday.

“It was decided to gradually lift the restrictions,” which have seen Israelis living near Gaza remain close to their bomb shelters, the army said.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the cease-fire and thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for his country’s role in brokering it.

UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said in a statement: “The situation is still very fragile, and I urge all parties to observe the cease-fire.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office late Sunday thanked “Egypt for its efforts” as it agreed to the truce, but said that “if the cease-fire is violated,” Israel “maintains the right to respond strongly.”

Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed group designated as a terrorist organization by several Western nations, also accepted the truce but said it too “reserves the right to respond” to any aggression.

Starting on Friday, Israel had launched a heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza, leading the militants to fire hundreds of rockets in retaliation.

In addition to those killed, Gazan health officials said 360 people had been wounded in the Palestinian enclave, which is run by the Islamist group Hamas.

A senior Israeli diplomatic official said Monday that “most of the civilians that were killed in Gaza were killed by Islamic Jihad rockets” that fell short or misfired.

Three people in Israel were wounded by shrapnel, while 31 others were lightly hurt while running for safety, emergency services said.

Islamic Jihad member Mohammad Al-Hindi said the cease-fire deal “contains Egypt’s commitment to work toward the release of two prisoners.”

They were named as Bassem Al-Saadi, a senior figure in the group’s political wing who was recently arrested in the occupied West Bank, and Khalil Awawdeh, a militant also in Israeli detention.

Gaza resident Nour Abu Sultan, 29, said the three days of conflict were “terrifying,” and that she had been unable to sleep during the “shelling and rockets, the sound of aircraft above us.”

Dalia Harel, a resident of the Israeli town of Sderot close to the Gaza border, said she was “disappointed” at news of a truce Sunday despite her five children being “traumatized.”

“We’re tired of having a military operation every year,” she said. “We need our military and political leaders to get it over with once and for all... we’re not for war, but we can’t go on like this.”

Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas but often acts independently. Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict in May last year.

Israel has said it was necessary to launch a “pre-emptive” operation against Islamic Jihad, while the diplomatic official said the group had been planning an attack by sniper fire or with anti-tank missiles.

The army has killed senior leaders of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, including Taysir Al-Jabari and Khaled Mansour.

The senior Israeli diplomatic official said Islamic Jihad had been dealt “a very serious blow” which had “taken them back decades.”


Saudi Arabia leads condemnations of Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Updated 08 August 2022

Saudi Arabia leads condemnations of Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque

  • Saudi Arabia calls on international community to end escalation, protect Palestinians
  • Israel's Gaza bombardment earlier this week killed over 40 Palestinians

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday condemned Israeli settlers storming Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard, in what the Kingdom called a “serious violation of international law.”

In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the international community to end the escalation and provide the necessary protection for Palestinian civilians.

The Kingdom said the attack violated the sanctity of the holy sites in Jerusalem, which contributes to exacerbating tensions and prolonging violence, amid escalations in Gaza that killed over 40 Palestinians and injured scores more this week.

Jordan, the custodian of the site, urged Israel to respect the sanctity of the compound and to “halt measures aimed at altering the historical and legal status quo.”

In a statement published on Petra news agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates’ spokesperson Haitham Abu Alfoul stressed that running the affairs of the holy site was exclusively under the jurisdiction of Jordanian-run Waqf (endowments) and al-Aqsa Affairs Administration in Jerusalem.

Abu Alfoul described Israel’s actions as a “violation of the historical and legal status quo and international law” and said it is a disrespect to the authority of the administration.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said it held the Israeli government fully and directly responsible for its ongoing aggression against Christian and Islamic holy sites, the foremost of which was Al-Aqsa, and for the danger posed to and repercussions for the entire region.

A statement issued by the Islamic Awqaf (affiliated with Jordan and in charge of the Al-Aqsa Mosque) and signed by other Islamic commissions in Jerusalem stated: “Barbarism, no matter how much, will not change the reality of the Islamic mosque.”

It said the Islamic bodies and authorities stress their adherence to and support for the guardianship of King Abdullah II over Al-Aqsa Mosque and all Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Qatar’s foreign ministry said the “provocative practices” are part of the attempts to alter the historical and legal status of Al-Aqsa Mosque, calling on the international community to halt Israel’s attempts to transform the ongoing conflict into a “religious war.”

The ministry said the provocative violations that coincide with the recent attacks on Gaza will lead to “a dangerous escalation of violence.”  

Kuwait condemned the Israeli actions as an attempt to change the historical and legal status of Al-Quds and its sanctities.

In a statement, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that the attacks would increase violence and tension and threaten the stability of the region. 

Kuwait also called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to curb these attacks, put an end to them and provide protection for the Palestinian people and their sanctities.

The Muslim World League also condemned the storming of the mosque, saying it was a serious violation of international resolutions and laws.

The League and its international councils, bodies and councils denounced the “dangerous escalation” that impacts on the sanctity of Islamic sites.

The chairman of the African Union commission also condemned Israeli “airstrike attacks” in the Gaza Strip as violence escalates in the troubled region.

“Moussa Faki Mahamat strongly condemns the continued airstrike attacks by Israel on Gaza,” an AU statement said.

The “targeting of civilians and the continued illegal occupation by Israeli security forces of the Occupied Territories, are in stark violation of international law, and complicate the search for a just and lasting solution,” the statement said.


Iran: Police arrest Afghan suspected of stabbing 10 to death

Updated 08 August 2022

Iran: Police arrest Afghan suspected of stabbing 10 to death

  • According to the report, the suspect was mentally unbalanced
  • Violent acts have escalated in recent years in Iran as the country’s economic conditions deteriorate

TEHRAN: Police in Iran arrested an Afghan man suspected of stabbing 10 other farm laborers to death following a quarrel over land, Iranian state media reported Monday. The rampage in a remote village in southeastern Iran was a rare such incident in the Islamic Republic.
The official IRNA news agency said four Iranians and six Afghans were killed, and one farm worker was wounded in the rampage on Sunday and was in hospital. According to the report, the suspect was mentally unbalanced.
A decades-long drought in Iran has caused increased disputes over water resources and land with better access to water. Hunting rifles are the only weapon that Iranians are allowed to possess legally.
Violent acts have escalated in recent years in Iran as the country’s economic conditions deteriorate amid crushing American sanctions that helped spark soaring inflation and increasing unemployment.
In May, an employee fired from one of Iran’s largest state-owned financial conglomerates went on a shooting rampage at his former workplace in western Iran, killing three people and wounding five before turning the gun on himself.
In 2016, a 26-year-old man gunned down 10 relatives and wounded four others.


US President Biden welcomes Gaza truce

Updated 08 August 2022

US President Biden welcomes Gaza truce

  • Israeli bombardment in Gaza has left 44 Palestinians dead over the past couple of days
  • Biden laments death, injury of civilians in Gaza but refrains from assigning responsibility

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Sunday welcomed a truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad aimed at ending days of bombardment in Gaza, urging all parties to implement it fully.
The president said in a statement that Washington had worked with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and various countries in the region to “encourage a swift resolution to the conflict” over the previous three days.
“We also call on all parties to fully implement the cease-fire, and to ensure fuel and humanitarian supplies are flowing into Gaza as the fighting subsides,” Biden added.
The president also lamented the injury and death of civilians in Gaza, but did not specify who was responsible. The violence has left at least 44 Palestinians dead, including 15 children.
“The reports of civilian casualties in Gaza are a tragedy, whether by Israeli strikes against Islamic Jihad positions or the dozens of Islamic Jihad rockets that reportedly fell inside Gaza,” Biden said.
Since Friday, Israel has carried out heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza, with the group’s fighters firing hundreds of rockets in retaliation.
Buildings in Gaza have been reduced to rubble, while Israelis have been forced to shelter from a barrage of rockets.
“As I made clear during my recent trip to Israel and the West Bank, Israelis and Palestinians both deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy,” added Biden, who traveled to the region last month.