Rare US raid in government-held zone in Syria kills suspected Daesh commander

US operation using helicopters in Syria kills one: State TV. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 October 2022

Rare US raid in government-held zone in Syria kills suspected Daesh commander

  • Two security sources said that the man who was killed was a Daesh group official wanted by the United States

QAMISHLI, Syria: A rare US helicopter raid on a government-held village in Syria’s northeast on Thursday killed a Daesh official hiding out there, two security sources said.
The United States has carried out previous raids in Syria against members of Daesh, but Thursday’s would be the first known operation in a zone held by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
Early on Thursday, US special forces carried out a rare operation on the government-held village of Muluk Saray in the northeastern province of Hasakah, Syrian state television said in its Telegram channel.
It said one person was killed and others were captured. It gave no further details on their identities.
Two security sources later told Reuters that the man who was killed was a Daesh group official wanted by the United States.
“The airborne operation targeted a key Daesh leader present in the areas controlled by the Syrian government. It was successful,” one of the security sources said.
The source said the man who was killed was responsible for coordinating across Daesh sleeper cells in the area.
“This operation aims to expand the scope of targeting this organization’s members across different parts of Syria,” the source added.
The second source confirmed the man killed was an Daesh official and said the US forces had taken his body with them as they retreated.
A local source said the man had moved to the village of Muluk Saray in recent years from Taif, a town near the border with Iraq that was once an Daesh stronghold.
“People thought he was a shepherd — no one knows his true identity,” said the source.
The local source said US forces also raided a building used by Syrian security and detained “several people” there.
Other residents of the area confirmed the raid to Reuters.
One said that US helicopters landed in the village after midnight and told residents by loudspeaker to stay indoors and keep their lights off. The resident said the operation lasted several hours and that there was no exchange of fire with the US troops.
A spokesperson for the US-led coalition formed to fight Daesh did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 


Two killed in Israeli West Bank raid – Palestinian health ministry

Updated 6 sec ago

Two killed in Israeli West Bank raid – Palestinian health ministry

  • Israeli media: The two men killed were commanders in the Islamic Jihad militant group
  • The military has been conducting months of arrest raids in the West Bank
JERUSALEM: Two Palestinians were killed Thursday during an Israeli military raid in a militant stronghold in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
Reports by Israeli media said the two men killed were commanders in the Islamic Jihad militant group. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the men as Naeem Jamal Zubaidi, 27, and Mohammad Ayman Saadi, 26, but did not confirm whether they were militants.
According to the reports, the military was conducting an arrest raid in the city of Jenin and was met by gunfire. The military responded, killing the two men.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The military has been conducting months of arrest raids in the West Bank, prompted by a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the spring that killed 19 people. The military says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks, but the Palestinians say they entrench Israel’s open-ended occupation and undermine their own security forces.
The raids have ratcheted up tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, triggering another wave of Palestinian attacks in recent weeks that have killed an additional eight people.
More than 130 Palestinians have been killed this year, making 2022 the deadliest since 2006. The Israeli military says many of those killed have been militants but local youths protesting the incursions as well as others not involved in the violence have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want those territories for their hoped-for future state. Substantive peace talks were last held more than a decade ago, and with Israel headed toward what’s likely to be its most right-wing government ever, there appears to be no prospect for a negotiated solution in the near future.

Daesh group announces death of chief, names replacement

Updated 56 min ago

Daesh group announces death of chief, names replacement

  • Says leader Abu Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi has been killed in battle
  • Announces a replacement to head up its remaining sleeper cells

The Daesh militant group said Wednesday that its leader Abu Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi has been killed in battle and announced a replacement to head up its remaining sleeper cells.

A spokesman for Daesh said Hashimi, an Iraqi, was killed "in combat with enemies of God", without elaborating on the date or circumstances of his death.

The US military's Central Command (CENTCOM) said Hashimi had been killed in an operation carried out by rebels of the Free Syrian Army in Daraa province in southern Syria in mid-October.

Daraa province is mostly controlled by Syrian government forces and rebels who have reached understandings with the regime. In mid-October, Damascus said it had launched a joint operation against Daesh with former rebels in the south of the province.

Using an alternative acronym for Daesh, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said: "We welcome the announcement that another leader from Daesh is no longer walking in the face of the Earth."

Speaking in an audio message, the Daesh spokesman said Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi had been named as the group's new leader.

After a meteoric rise in Iraq and Syria in 2014 that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, Daesh saw its self-proclaimed "caliphate" collapse under a wave of offensives.

The extremist group's austere and terror-ridden rule was marked by beheadings and shootings. 

It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells still carry out attacks in both countries.

The group or its branches have also claimed attacks elsewhere this year, including in Afghanistan, Iran and Israel.

The spokesman did not provide details on the new leader, but said he was a "veteran" jihadist and called on all groups loyal to Daesh to pledge their allegiance to its fourth leader.

Daesh's previous chief, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi, was killed in February this year in a US raid in Idlib province in northern Syria.

His predecessor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed, also in Idlib, in October 2019.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not comment on any US involvement in the operation that led to Hashimi's death.

"We are pleased to see the removal of Daesh leaders in such quick succession," she told reporters "The United States remains committed to countering the global threat from Daesh and stands ready to work with international partners."

The Daesh leadership have suffered repeated blows from various quarters this year.

In October, US forces killed a "senior" Daesh member in a pre-dawn raid in northeastern Syria, CENTCOM said at the time.

The US leads a military coalition battling Daesh in Syria. 

The raid targeted "Rakkan Wahid al-Shammari, an Daesh official known to facilitate the smuggling of weapons and fighters", CENTCOM said.

It said a later air strike had killed two other senior Daesh members.

In July, the Pentagon said it had killed Syria's top Daesh jihadist in a drone strike in the north of the country.

US Central Command said he had been "one of the top five" Daesh leaders.

Turkey said in September security forces had arrested a "senior executive" of Daesh known as Abu Zeyd, whose real name was Bashar Khattab Ghazal al-Sumaidai.

Turkish media said there were some indications Sumaidai might have been the Daesh leader.

Thousands of suspected militants and their relatives are still detained in camps in Syria and prisons in Iraq.

In January, Daesh launched a major attack on a prison housing fellow jihadists in northeastern Syria, in a jailbreak attempt that triggered a week of deadly clashes.

Hundreds of Daesh prisoners, including senior leaders, were thought to have escaped, with some crossing to neighbouring Turkey or Turkish-held territory in northern Syria, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Pentagon warned Tuesday that a threatened Turkish ground operation against Kurdish targets in Syria would "severely jeopardise" gains made in the war against Daesh.


Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News

Updated 01 December 2022

Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News

  • Norway is “working tirelessly” to renew the cross-border aid mechanism for Syria, says country’s permanent representative to UN
  • Along with Ireland, Norway is the current penholder of the Syrian humanitarian file at the Security Council

NEW YORK CITY: While the world’s media may have stopped counting the dead and injured in the Syrian conflict, the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and the second largest number of internally displaced people in the world both drive home the point that the war is far from over.

Syria continues to endure one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line. According to the World Food Program, some 14.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance to survive — an increase of 1.2 million compared to last year.

The collapsing economy coupled with a looming global food shortage as a consequence of the war in Ukraine have added new layers of complexity to the situation. Now, the WFP warns, the threat of famine is knocking at Syria’s door.

“We are extremely worried,” Mona Juul, Norway’s permanent representative to the UN, told Arab News in an exclusive interview in New York.

According to the World Food Program, some 14.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance to survive. (AFP)

“We have been worried for many years. But now the situation seems to be continuously deteriorating. And of course, with winter coming up, that adds to the suffering of millions and millions of Syrian people that are in dire need, in acute need, of humanitarian assistance.

“This is pretty much across the whole country. But of course, we are also very concerned about the situation in the northwest, outside the government-controlled area.”

Especially alarming is the condition of 4.4 million people in the opposition-held northwest of the country who rely on foreign aid to survive and who are now unsure whether there will be sufficient bread on the table come January.

That is when an increasingly fragile UN cross-border mechanism for delivering aid to Syria is set to expire and its renewal is up for a vote at the UN Security Council. Diplomats fear the regime’s ally Russia will use its veto to close the last remaining UN-facilitated aid gateway into Syria — Bab Al-Hawa on the Turkish border.

As the co-penholder of Syria’s humanitarian file in the Security Council, Norway, together with Ireland, is responsible for following up on the humanitarian situation in Syria by drafting resolutions, requesting emergency meetings, and organizing mission visits.

The cross-border mechanism was created in 2014 to allow for the delivery of UN aid directly to opposition-held areas of Syria.

International humanitarian law requires that all aid deliveries go through the host government. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tactic of treating humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war prompted the UNSC to approve the use of four aid crossings — from Jordan, Iraq, and two from Turkiye.

Syria has suffered years of war sparked by anti-government protests during the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East. (AFP)

Until Dec. 2019, the UNSC renewed the mandate for these crossings without obstruction. However, in Jan. 2020, Russia used its veto to force the closure of all but one crossing: Bab Al-Hawa.

If this last remaining crossing is closed, humanitarian agencies fear an alternative would be near impossible to find.

“And that’s why we are working tirelessly to make sure that we can extend the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution that allows cross-border humanitarian assistance at Bab Al-Hawa,” said Juul.

Since 2020, the renewal has become the subject of much delicate negotiations, at a time when diplomatic channels between Russia and the US have been all but shut, impacting every issue on the UNSC agenda.

“It is no secret that every time we have to renew this cross-border mechanism, the starting point is that at least one member of the Security Council does not want to have this resolution and this mechanism,” said Juul. “That has been the starting point since the mechanism was established back in 2014.”

Moscow argues the international aid operation violates Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Since Syria has been “liberated,” it says all aid destined for the north should go via the capital, Damascus.

Although internal shipments from Damascus to opposition-held areas would provide a welcome addition to the cross-border lifeline, Juul says they are no substitute. Even if deployed regularly, such convoys could not replicate the size and scope of cross-border operations.

Although the UN says its internal aid delivery operations are conducted in a “transparent and principled” manner, aid agencies say assistance delivered to Damascus does not reach areas that oppose the Assad regime.

They accuse the government of deliberately withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tactic of treating humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war prompted the UNSC to approve the use of four aid crossings. (AFP)

A recent investigation into the UN’s procurement operations in Syria, conducted by the Syrian Legal Development Program and the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks, found around 50 percent of UN procurement involves actors linked to the regime, many of them implicated in rights violations and war crimes.

Asked to comment on the report’s findings, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told Arab News the UN is “well aware of the challenges” posed by working in such contexts.

He said the UN is engaging with the authors of the report, and that UN teams in Syria continue “to try to improve” their methods.

“The other thing I would say is that there is an increase in terms of the value of items that are procured outside of Syria, but there are items that can only be procured in-country, (such as) telephones, fuel, and so on.

INNUMBERS

• 4.1m People in northwestern Syria in need of humanitarian assistance.

• 80% Syrians receiving cross-border aid who are women and children.

•* 1/3 Proportion of children under the age of 5 who are undernourished.

• 800 Average number of trucks delivering supplies via Turkiye per month.

“It is also important to note that we operate in Syria under the same rules that we operate in every country, in terms of currency exchange and vendors.

“So we are well aware of the challenges posed by us working in many countries, including Syria, and I think the general effort has been one of trying continuously to improve how we work and how we manage the global taxpayers’ money.”

For her part, Juul underscored her country’s advocacy for Syria is anchored in purely humanitarian values. “Our very, very strong argument is that this is not about aiding the opposition or helping the other side and not the government,” she said.

“We are (motivated) purely by the humanitarian imperative to help the people. It’s the people of Syria that we care about and that goes back to a very strong humanitarian tradition in Norway. We are almost always there when there is a humanitarian crisis and we want to help.”

That long tradition was at the heart of Norway’s message when it campaigned for a seat at the Security Council two years ago, and also expressed its willingness to take up the Syrian file.

“We have always had a pretty large portion of our foreign assistance purely for humanitarian work,” said Juul.

“So for us, going into the council, bringing that tradition with us, having for a long time been one of the largest humanitarian contributors to Syria, not only per capita, but in real terms, and having seen the merit of the cross-border operation, we were very much willing to take up that difficult file and Ireland the same.”

Long before it became a wealthy oil and gas producer, Norway had at one time been an aid recipient, and is no stranger to invasion, war and displacement.

“A third of the Norwegian population migrated to America to find livelihoods because we didn’t find it at home. Norway is a very cold country. It’s difficult to survive during winter if you’re poor. So we migrated,” said Juul.

“And then we were occupied by the Germans for five years. We were on the other, aid recipient end. We received Marshall aid from America. We know what it’s like to need aid. And then, of course, we now have the resources to contribute.

“So, there is this strong solidarity with the underdogs, those who are suffering. This is what drives us. We are not being naive about the political complexity in Syria, but we really see no alternative to continuing with the cross-border operation.”

Many Syrians have fled the war, heading to destination like Jordan, Turkiye and Europe. (AFP)

In the run-up to the last renewal vote in July, intensive negotiations went on behind closed doors. Juul and her Irish counterpart at that time, Geraldine Nason Byrne, were seen rushing between UN chambers trying to rally Security Council members to reauthorize Bab Al-Hawa.

Securing the coming renewal vote is unlikely to be any easier.

“One needs to work very hard in order to get it renewed, every time,” Juul told Arab News. “This has been a continuous challenge for the Security Council to be able to uphold this crucial mechanism.”

Although Norway and Ireland’s Security Council tenure is coming to a close by the year’s end, Juul vowed to continue to “do as much as possible to prepare the ground for extension.”

She draws hope from the successful renewal they achieved in July.

They accuse the government of deliberately withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war. (AFP)

“We had to go through a veto. It was really tough negotiations mainly between us and the Russians. But we managed in the end to find — I will not even call it a compromise — we found a way to agree that we extend it to January, but with a very clear intention that there will be another extension in six months.”

She added: “That is what diplomacy is all about. I dare say it is what diplomacy is all about when the situation is as it is.

“We cannot stop relating to those we disagree with on other files. Norway has been very clear on condemning Russia’s invasion and the war on Ukraine. But, at the same time, we see that it’s very important that the Security Council is not paralyzed on all the other files.

“And I think, so far, the council has proven that we have been able to do that.”

She added: “We also worked very much together with the other elected members. And we feel that this is an elected-member resolution. We have 100 percent support from all the elected members. And as we say, when the E10 agrees, we are the sixth veto power in the council.”


Russia sends reinforcements to northern Syria

Updated 30 November 2022

Russia sends reinforcements to northern Syria

  • The move by Damascus ally Moscow comes after Ankara launched air strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq on November 20
  • Residents of Tal Rifaat, a Kurdish-held pocket north of Aleppo, told AFP that Russian troop reinforcements had reached the city

QAMISHLI, Syria: Russia deployed troop reinforcements Wednesday to an area of northern Syria controlled by Kurdish fighters and government troops, residents and a war monitor said, amid fears of a Turkish ground incursion.
The move by Damascus ally Moscow comes after Ankara launched air strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq on November 20, a week after a deadly Istanbul bombing that it blamed on Kurdish militants, who have denied responsibility.
Residents of Tal Rifaat, a Kurdish-held pocket north of Aleppo, told AFP that Russian troop reinforcements had reached the city.
Tal Rifaat lies 15 kilometers (nine miles) south of the border with Turkiye. Kurdish forces control the city and surrounding villages, and Russian troops were already present in the area.
Residents said Russian forces had set up roadblocks at a nearby village separating it from positions under the control of Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel proxies.
Turkish proxies control areas surrounding Tal Rifaat from the north, while Russian-backed Syrian troops control zones mostly to the south.
After carrying out a series of air strikes, Turkiye has threatened to launch a ground incursion into northern Syria, including the Tal Rifaat pocket as well as Kobani and Manbij further east.
Kobani and Manbij are under the control of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which include the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), one of the groups Turkiye accuses of being behind the Istanbul bombing.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Russia was also reinforcing its troops at a government-controlled air base near Tal Rifaat.
The reinforcements could be an attempt “to stop or put off the Turkish operation,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria have called on Russia to dissuade Turkiye from launching a ground offensive against them, their commander said on Tuesday.
The Observatory said Russian reinforcements had also reached the outskirts of the border city of Kobani.
Russian troops deployed in some Kurdish-controlled border areas of northern Syria following a 2019 agreement that sought to avert a previous Turkish incursion threat.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Turkiye was more determined than ever to secure its border with Syria from attacks by Kurdish fighters, threatening a ground operation “at the most convenient time.”
Since 2016, Turkiye has carried out successive operations against Kurdish forces in northern Syria that have installed its proxies in several areas along the border.


Earthquake of magnitude 5.6 strikes southern Iran; felt in UAE — EMSC

Updated 30 November 2022

Earthquake of magnitude 5.6 strikes southern Iran; felt in UAE — EMSC

  • Iranian state TV reported that rescue teams were dispatched to the quake-hit area and added there were no casualties

DUBAI: An Earthquake of magnitude 5.6 struck southern Iran on Wednesday and was felt in the United Arab Emirates, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said.
Iranian state TV reported that rescue teams were dispatched to the quake-hit area and added there were no casualties.
The quake was at a depth of 10 km (6 miles) and about 88 km northwest of Ras Al Khaimah City in the UAE, EMSC added.