Daesh group announces death of chief, names replacement

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. (REUTERS/File)
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Updated 01 December 2022

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.


Israeli troops kill Palestinian driver as car speeds off: army

Updated 30 January 2023

Israeli troops kill Palestinian driver as car speeds off: army

  • Killing marks the latest bloodshed in spiraling violence that comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the region

HEBRON: Israeli troops killed a Palestinian driver in the occupied West Bank Monday, officials on both sides said, with the army saying the car had hit a soldier’s leg before speeding off.
Nassim Naif Salman Abu Fouda, 26, died from “a bullet wound to the head fired by the occupation (Israeli) soldiers in Hebron this morning,” the Palestinian health ministry said.
The Israeli army said that soldiers had “identified a suspicious vehicle” and “asked the driver to stop the vehicle in order to inspect it.”
“A soldier approached the vehicle and the driver rammed into his leg,” it added.
Troops then “fired toward the vehicle as it attempted to flee the scene and hits were identified,” the army statement said. “The vehicle continued driving and then crashed.”
An eyewitness told AFP that “four or five soldiers surrounded him (Abu Fouda) when he was in his car, front and behind.”
“They started shooting at him, then he was hit,” added the witness, Hazem Abu Sneineh.
The army said the driver was taken from the car by Palestinian medics and “was later declared dead.”
Abu Fouda’s body was wrapped in a green Islamic prayer rug as it was carried from a mosque in central Hebron for burial, surrounded by hundreds of mourners.
He is the 35th Palestinian killed in the conflict this month, in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem — including militants, civilians and several children — according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967.
The funeral in Hebron was held just before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Israel for a visit that will also include talks with the Palestinian leadership, amid one of the conflict’s deadliest phases in years.
Israel is reeling after a Palestinian killed six Israelis including a child and one Ukrainian citizen in a shooting on Friday outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem.
The attack came a day after Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp, in a raid the army claimed targeted operatives from Islamic Jihad.
On Sunday, CIA Director Williams Burns held talks in the West Bank with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to discuss the “dangerous developments,” the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
The US embassy declined to comment to AFP on CIA chief’s meeting.


Iran summons Ukraine envoy over top aide’s drone strike remarks

Footage shows what is said to be the moment of an explosion at a military industry factory in Isfahan, Iran. (Reuters)
Updated 30 January 2023

Iran summons Ukraine envoy over top aide’s drone strike remarks

  • Podoliak linked in a tweet on Sunday Iran’s support for Russia’s invasion of his country with the night-time strike on a military site

TEHRAN: Tehran on Monday summoned a Ukrainian diplomat to protest “biased” remarks by a presidential aide in Kyiv over a recent drone strike in Iran, the Islamic republic’s foreign ministry said.
Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, linked in a tweet on Sunday Iran’s support for Russia’s invasion of his country with the night-time strike on a military site.
“Explosive night in Iran — drone and missile production, oil refineries,” he said. “War logic... bills the authors and accomplices strictly.”
“Ukraine did warn you,” Podoliak added.
Iran’s foreign ministry said Ukraine’s charge d’affaires in Tehran had been summoned to provide “an official and immediate explanation from the Ukrainian government.”
It called Podoliak’s remarks “strange and biased,” adding in a statement it hoped “such positions will not be repeated.”
Iranian authorities reported an “unsuccessful” drone attack late Saturday night that targeted a defense ministry “workshop complex” in the central Isfahan province, home to the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.
An anti-aircraft system destroyed one drone and two others exploded, the defense ministry said, adding that there were no casualties and only minor damage to the site.
Dramatic video footage widely shared on social media and published by Iranian state media showed a fireball lighting up the night sky, with people outside seen running and emergency service vehicles speeding toward the site.
Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Iran of supplying military drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine, a claim that is denied by Tehran.


Blinken reaffirms need for two-state solution on arrival in Israel

Updated 30 January 2023

Blinken reaffirms need for two-state solution on arrival in Israel

  • Since the start of the year, Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed lives of 35 Palestinian adults, children
  • Over the same period six Israeli civilians, including a child, and a Ukrainian civilian have been killed

TEL AVIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel and Palestinians to calm tensions as he visited on Monday during the worst violence in years, reaffirming a long-stalled peace vision as the “only path” forward.
While focusing censure on a Palestinian gun spree outside a synagogue that has put Israel on high alert, Blinken also cautioned against any celebration or avenging of such bloodshed.
Seven people were shot dead in Friday’s attack by an East Jerusalem man who was himself killed by police. Lionized by many fellow Palestinians, he had no known links to militant groups.
A day earlier, Israel carried out an unusually deep raid on Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, killing 10 residents, most of them gunmen. At least 35 Palestinians, including fighters and civilians, have died in violence surging since Jan. 1, medical officials say.
“It is the responsibility of everyone to take steps to calm tensions rather than inflame them,” Blinken told reporters after landing in Tel Aviv.
Friday’s rampage, he said, “was more than attack on individuals. It was also an attack on the universal act of practicing one’s faith. We condemn it in the strongest terms.
“And we condemn all those who celebrate these and any other acts of terrorism that take innocent lives, no matter who the victim is or what they believe. Calls for vengeance against more innocent victims are not the answer.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Blinken will meet later on Monday, has called for more citizens to carry guns as a precaution against such street attacks. But he has also warned Israelis not to resort to vigilante violence.
Blinken is due to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.
Palestinian officials said Israeli settlers had set fire on Monday to two cars near the northern West Bank city of Nablus and thrown stones at a house near Ramallah, following a similar attack on Sunday.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Palestinian officials said Israeli troops killed a 26-year-old man at a checkpoint. The army said troops opened fire on the man’s car after he rammed into one of them and attempted to flee an inspection.
The last round of US-sponsored talks on founding a Palestinian state alongside Israel stalled in 2014.
Netanyahu’s new hard-line government includes partners who oppose Palestinian statehood, and control over the Palestinian territories is divided between Abbas, who favors diplomacy, and rival Hamas Islamists, who are sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Washington remains “a stalwart believer in the negotiated two-state solution — the only path to a lasting resolution for the conflict,” Blinken said in earlier remarks in Cairo.
Recent data, though, indicates that public support for a two-state solution has reached a historic low. According a survey published last week by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, just 33 percent of Palestinians and 34 percent of Israeli Jews say they support it, marking a significant drop from data collected in 2020.
Two-thirds of Palestinians and 53 percent of Israeli Jews said they were opposed to the two-state solution.
The US has voiced support for Israel’s security and for Palestinians to enjoy equal measures of dignity.

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Ten dead in new toll after fresh Syria strikes

Updated 30 January 2023

Ten dead in new toll after fresh Syria strikes

BEIRUT: A total of 10 people were killed in a series of drone strikes targeting pro-Iran factions in eastern Syria, including three dead in strikes on Monday, a war monitor said.
A pro-Iran commander was among the three killed in the drone strikes Monday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that they had been inspecting the site of strikes that had killed seven others the previous evening.
"A commander in an Iran-backed group and two of his companions, all of them non-Syrian, were killed this morning after renewed drone strikes," the Observatory said Monday.
Pro-Iran factions, including Iraqi groups as well as Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah, have a major presence around the Iraq-Syria border, and are heavily deployed south and west of the Euphrates in Syria's Deir Ezzor province.
The commander's pick-up truck was targeted while he was inspecting the site of the Sunday evening strike that destroyed a convoy of six refrigerated trucks transporting Iranian weapons to Syria from Iraq.
The convoy was struck in the Albu Kamal border region, said the Observatory, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.
The seven killed Sunday were truck drivers and their assistants, all of them non-Syrians, the Observatory said, adding that they were "killed as a result of unidentified aircraft targeting a convoy of Iran-backed groups".
The monitor could not verify the identities of the victims.


An Iraqi border official however told AFP that the vehicles targeted in Sunday's attack were Iraqi trucks.
But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the press, said that the trucks were not transporting Iraqi goods and had crossed illegally into Syria.
"Iraq does not export anything to Syria," he said Monday.
No country claimed the assault, but Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes against Iran-backed and government forces in Syria, where the US military is also active.
"The trucks were transporting Iranian weapons," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman had told AFP Sunday.
Tehran provides military support to its ally Damascus in Syria's civil war, including through armed factions.
The strikes hit a convoy of trucks, but also the headquarters of Iran-backed groups in the area, activist Omar Abu Layla, who heads the Deir Ezzor 24 media outlet, told AFP Monday.
"There was heavy damage in the area that was struck," he said.
A pro-Syrian government radio station had reported Sunday that "unidentified war planes targeted, in a number of raids, six refrigerated trucks", without providing further details.
The Syrian government did not immediately comment on the strikes.


The Observatory said at least two similar convoys had entered Syria from Iraq this week, offloading their cargo to pro-Iran groups in the eastern town of Al-Mayadeen.
Both Albu Kamal and Al-Mayadeen are in Deir Ezzor, and Albu Kamal has seen similar strikes in the past.
The Observatory said in November that a strike in the area hit a pro-Iran militia convoy of "fuel tankers and trucks loaded with weapons", killing at least 14, though an Iraqi border guard official said there were no casualties.
In December, Israel's then-military chief Aviv Kohavi said his country had launched the raid, adding that the convoy was carrying weapons bound for Lebanon, where Hezbollah has an influential role.
Israel rarely comments on individual raids but has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of air and missile strikes in Syria since civil war broke out in 2011.
A US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria has also carried out strikes on pro-Iran fighters in Syria in the past.
The conflict in Syria started with the brutal repression of peaceful protests and escalated to pull in foreign powers and global jihadists.
Nearly half a million people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which has also displaced about half of the country's pre-war population.


Turkiye’s opposition pledges to strip president of powers

Updated 30 January 2023

Turkiye’s opposition pledges to strip president of powers

  • The opposition pledged to change the constitution back to the way things worked throughout most of Turkiye’s post-Ottoman history
  • The program was unveiled at a ceremony attended by cheering crowds thirsting for a chance to reverse Erdogan’s transformation of Turkiye into a more religiously conservative country

ANKARA: Turkiye’s opposition vowed on Monday to crimp the president’s powers and broadly expand democratic rights if they seize power in May 14 presidential and parliamentary polls.
The six parties that are united against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also pledged to agree on February 13 to a joint candidate for the crucial vote — widely seen as Turkiye’s most consequential in generations.
The opposition’s long-awaited election program aims to roll back many of the powers Erdogan has amassed over his two-decade rule.
It limits the president to a seven-year term and makes a powerful new prime minister accountable to parliament.
“We will shift to a strengthened parliamentary system,” the program says.
“We will put an end to the president’s power to issue decrees.”
Erdogan began his rule in 2003 as prime minister and was elected president — at the time a more ceremonial post — when his mandates ran out in 2014.
He then rammed through constitutional changes in 2017 that eliminated the premiership and created a powerful new executive that allowed the president to effectively rule by decree.
The opposition pledged to change the constitution back to the way things worked throughout most of Turkiye’s post-Ottoman history.
Constitutional changes can be ratified by 400 votes in the 600-seat parliament.
They can also be put up for a national vote if the opposition gathers the 360 votes needed to trigger a constitutional referendum.
The opposition’s pledge to rewrite the constitution adds particular importance to the parliamentary vote.
Erdogan briefly lost control of parliament during his second decade in power and now relies on support from a far-right party that has seen its support slip in the past year.
Opinion polls point to a tightly contested election that is too close to call.
The opposition pledged to “urgently” amend the constitution and “put an end to the vague and arbitrary restriction of the freedoms of assembly and demonstration.”
“We will strengthen the freedoms of thought, opinion and expression,” it added.
Erdogan unleashed sweeping purges after a failed 2016 coup attempt that curbed many of the freedoms enjoyed under his more prosperous and publicly popular first years of rule.
Analysts estimate that 90 percent of Turkiye’s media are now under government or its business allies’ control.
Thousands of activists — many of them Kurds — are languishing in prison on terror-related charges that rights groups believe Erdogan is using to crack down on political dissent.

The program was unveiled at a ceremony attended by cheering crowds thirsting for a chance to reverse Erdogan’s transformation of Turkiye into a more religiously conservative country that was slowly losing support from the West.
Some of the biggest applause came from promises to crack down on corruption and restore the strength of Turkiye’s traditional institutions — including its state media.
The opposition vowed to make Turkiye’s TRT national broadcaster and Anadolu state news agency abide by “the principles of independence and impartiality.”
Its foreign policy section stressed the importance of restoring “mutual trust” with the United States and achieving Turkiye’s stalled goal of gaining “full membership in the European Union.”
It made no direct mention of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We will maintain relations with the Russian Federation with an understanding that both parties are equal and strengthened by balanced and constructive dialogue at the institutional level,” the program said.
Erdogan’s refusal to join Western sanctions on Moscow has turned Turkiye into a key route for Russia to access Western goods and services.
The resulting boom in bilateral trade has added to Erdogan’s tensions with Washington and the European Union.