Militants kill eight soldiers in northwest Syria: monitor

Eight Syrian soldiers were killed in the country's northwest on Wednesday in an attack carried out by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militant group, a war monitor reported. (AFP/File)
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Updated 01 February 2023
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Militants kill eight soldiers in northwest Syria: monitor

  • "HTS fired shells and rockets at a Syrian military post, killing eight soldiers," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said
  • The Idlib region is home to about three million people, around half of them displaced

BEIRUT: Eight Syrian soldiers were killed in the country’s northwest on Wednesday in an attack carried out by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham militant group, a war monitor reported.
“HTS fired shells and rockets at a Syrian military post, killing eight soldiers near Kafr Ruma in Idlib province,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
HTS is headed by ex-members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.
Syrian state media did not immediately report the attack.
About half of the northwestern province of Idlib and areas bordering the neighboring provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia are dominated by HTS and other rebel factions.
The Idlib region is home to about three million people, around half of them displaced.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that since the end of 2022, the militants “have intensified operations against regime forces in Idlib... in the context of a rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus.”
He said exchanges of fire and clashes between regime forces and militant factions had killed 63 people since the start of the year, 45 of them pro-regime forces. One of the 18 militants was a French national.
Ankara became a sworn enemy of Damascus when it began backing rebel efforts to topple Assad at the start of the civil war.
But in late December the defense ministers of Turkiye and Syria held landmark negotiations in Moscow — the first such meeting since 2011.
The mooted reconciliation has alarmed Syrian opposition leaders and supporters who reside mostly in parts of the war-torn country under Ankara’s indirect control.
President Bashar Assad said in January that a Moscow-brokered rapprochement with Turkiye should aim for “the end of occupation” by Ankara of parts of Syria.
Turkiye has military bases in northern Syria and backs some local groups fighting the regime and against Syrian Kurdish forces which it considers “terrorist” groups.
Ankara has never publicly backed hard-line group HTS but is believed to coordinate with its forces.
HTS, which is sanctioned by the UN as a terrorist organization, formally broke ties with Al-Qaeda in 2016 and incorporated a number of smaller Syrian rebel factions in a major re-branding effort.
Widely seen as the strongest and best organized of Syria’s rebel groups, it has presented itself as the mainstay of Syria’s opposition.
With Russian and Iranian support, Damascus has clawed back much of the ground lost in the early stages of Syria’s conflict, which erupted in 2011 when Assad’s government brutally repressed pro-democracy protests.
The war has killed nearly half a million people since it broke out over a decade ago, displacing almost half of Syria’s pre-war population.
Despite periodic clashes, a cease-fire reached in 2020 by Moscow and Turkiye has largely held in the northwest.


Egypt keen to work with partners to find swift solution to Sudan crisis, foreign minister says

Updated 25 sec ago
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Egypt keen to work with partners to find swift solution to Sudan crisis, foreign minister says

  • African Union official praises Cairo during talks in Ghana for its pivotal role in efforts to enhance regional security and stability
  • Abdelatty emphasized the need to support the Somali government’s efforts to enhance security and stability

CAIRO: Egypt earned praise during talks on Monday in Accra, Ghana, for the pivotal role it plays in efforts to enhance security and stability on the African continent.

Bankole Adeoye, the African Union’s commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, said he was keen to continue to coordinate with Cairo on all priority issues related to the bloc.

It came as he held talks with Badr Abdelatty, Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs, emigration and Egyptian expatriates, on the sidelines of the sixth Mid-Year Coordination Meeting of the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities.

They discussed the latest political and security developments in the crisis in Sudan and agreed on the need to unite the country’s civil political forces, preserve national unity and institutions, and coordinate regional and international mediation.

Abdelatty said Egypt was aware of the seriousness of the situation and eager to work with all partners and mechanisms to resolve the crisis swiftly. He stressed the importance of fully involving Sudan in talks about ways to resolve the situation, to preserve “our Sudanese brothers’ ownership of these solutions and proposals.”

The minister welcomed consultations and coordination with the African Union’s commissioner on peace and security in Africa. He said Egypt remains committed to support of the organization and its agencies, and to participation in its Peace and Security Council, in pursuit of peace and stability.

Abdelatty emphasized the need for increased consultation and coordination between member states and the union’s agencies in response to escalating security challenges on the continent, the expanding scope of conflicts and the associated human suffering.

He also outlined Egypt’s agenda and planned activities for its chairmanship of the Peace and Security Council in October. He said its plans prioritize the operationalization of the African Union Center for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development, an effort that President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has led within the union to support countries facing multiple crises.

Egypt welcomed the approval by the Peace and Security Council of a request from the Somali government to extend the time frame for the third phase of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, Abdelatty said. He highlighted plans for the deployment of a new mission in the country when the current one expires, and emphasized the need to support the Somali government’s efforts to enhance security and stability.

Adeoye and Abdelatty also discussed other issues of mutual concern, including the Great Lakes issue, the Renaissance Dam, security challenges in the Red Sea, and the situation in the Horn of Africa.


Iran’s Revolutionary Guards intercepted UAE-managed tanker, Ambrey says

Updated 9 min 35 sec ago
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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards intercepted UAE-managed tanker, Ambrey says

  • Vessel had loaded marine gas oil off the coast of Iraq and was destined for Sharjah when it was intercepted on Sunday 61NM southwest of Iran’s port of Bushehr

DUBAI: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have intercepted a Togo-flagged, UAE-managed products tanker carrying 1,500 tons of marine gas oil, British security firm Ambrey said on Monday.
The vessel had loaded marine gas oil off the coast of Iraq and was destined for UAE’s Sharjah when it was intercepted on Sunday 61 nautical miles southwest of Iran’s port of Bushehr, Ambrey said.
Ambrey added that the incident is unlikely to be politically motivated and is not assessed as a ‘war’ event.
The interception was likely a counter-smuggling operation by the IRGC, as the vessel’s “trading behavior was consistent with previous IRGC target profile,” Ambrey said.
Iran, which has some of the world’s cheapest fuel prices due to heavy subsidies and the plunge in the value of its currency, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling to neighboring countries.
No further information was provided regarding the fate of the vessel.


UN warns Iraq becoming major regional drug conduit

Iraq’s premier Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani attends an anti-drug conference held with regional officials in Baghdad on July 22, 2024.
Updated 22 July 2024
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UN warns Iraq becoming major regional drug conduit

  • “Iraq appears to be at the nexus of regional trafficking routes for both methamphetamine and captagon,” UNODC said
  • Authorities in Iraq regularly announce large seizures of captagon, much of it moved across the border with Syria

BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities seized record quantities of the potent stimulant captagon last year, at an estimated value of up to $144 million, with the country increasingly a critical drug conduit, a UN report said Monday.
“Iraq has been experiencing a dramatic surge in drug trafficking and consumption for the past five years,” according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report.
In 2023 alone, authorities “seized a record-high 24 million captagon tablets,” the equivalent of over 4.1 tons, with an estimated “retail value” of between $84 million and $144 million, it said.
“Iraq appears to be at the nexus of regional trafficking routes for both methamphetamine and captagon,” UNODC said, adding that it is “becoming a critical juncture in the complex trafficking dynamics observed in the Near and Middle East region.”
Captagon seizures in Iraq “reportedly tripled between 2022 and 2023, and overall amounts seized in 2023 are 34 times higher than in 2019.”
An amphetamine derived from a once-legal treatment for narcolepsy and attention disorder, captagon today is trafficked through several Middle Eastern countries, with Syria the main country of origin.
Authorities in conflict-scarred Iraq regularly announce large seizures of captagon, much of it moved across the porous 600-kilometer (370-mile) border with war-torn Syria.
According to UNODC, 82 percent of the captagon seized in the region between 2019 and 2023 originated in Syria, followed by neighboring Lebanon, at 17 percent.
Iraq faces an explosion in domestic drug use, with the repeated crises that have gripped the conflict-ridden country of 43 million people driving up usage.
During an anti-drug conference attended by regional officials, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani called for regional cooperation.
“Coordinating and cooperating to pursue and dismantle drug gangs will serve regional and international security,” he said, adding that “Iraq is open to all cooperation” to fight “cross-border crime.”
“We will support any effort aiming to eliminate drug hubs, manufacturing stations, and cutting off their supply chains.”


UN expert urges probe of Iran ‘genocide’ in 1980s

Updated 22 July 2024
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UN expert urges probe of Iran ‘genocide’ in 1980s

  • UN Special rapporteur says the Iranian regime and its leaders should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their crimes

GENEVA: A United Nations expert called Monday for an international investigation into a range of “atrocity crimes” committed in Iran in connection with a purge of dissidents in the 1980s.
“There should be no impunity for such gross human rights violations, regardless of when they were committed,” said Javaid Rehman, the UN’s independent special rapporteur on the rights situation in Iran, insisting that “the Iranian regime and its leaders should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their crimes against humanity and genocide.”


Hostages forum says two captives died while held by Hamas in Gaza

Updated 22 July 2024
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Hostages forum says two captives died while held by Hamas in Gaza

  • The forum did not provide any information on how they had died

JERUSALEM: Israeli campaign group the Hostages and Missing Families Forum announced on Monday that two captives held by Hamas in Gaza had died.
The deaths of Yagev Buchshtab, 35, and Alex Dancyg, 76, who were abducted during the October 7 attack by Hamas, are a “stark reminder of the urgency” to bring the hostages home, the forum said in a statement.
It did not provide any information on how they had died.
“Their bodies are being held by the Hamas terror organization,” the Israeli military said in a separate statement.
“The circumstances of their death in Hamas captivity are being examined by all the professional authorities.”
Buchshtab was abducted from his home in Kibbutz Nirim along with his wife Rimon Buchshtab-Kirsht, who was released after 50 days in captivity, the forum said.
Dancyg, who was born to Holocaust survivors, worked at Yad Vashem, the International Holocaust Remembrance Institute, and trained thousands of guides there, it added.
Hostages who were held captive with him reported that Dancyg spent his time in captivity giving history lectures to fellow captives, the forum said.
“Yagev and Alex were taken alive and should have returned alive to their families and to their country,” the forum said.
“Their death in captivity is a tragic reflection of the consequences of foot-dragging in negotiations,” it said referring to ceasefire talks that have dragged on for months.
During the October 7 attack, Hamas militants seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 44 the Israeli military and officials say are dead.
The attack by Hamas resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 39,006 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.