Syria – Dawat Media Dawat Media Fri, 28 Feb 2020 16:27:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Syria war: Alarm after 33 Turkish soldiers killed in attack in Idlib Fri, 28 Feb 2020 16:27:50 +0000 At least 33 Turkish soldiers have died in a Syrian government attack in opposition-held north-western Syria, in a major escalation of the conflict.

Turkey, which backs the opposition, says it hit 200 government targets in response, “neutralising” 309 soldiers.

Russia, Syria’s key military ally, says Turkish troops were attacked in Idlib province by Syrian forces while operating alongside jihadist fighters.

The EU has warned the crisis could escalate further.

“There is a risk of sliding into a major open international military confrontation,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted. “It is also causing unbearable humanitarian suffering and putting civilians in danger.”

How is Turkey reacting?

The Turkish and Russian presidents spoke by phone on Friday. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin both expressed concern and agreed on the need for “additional measures” to normalise the situation, with the possibility of a summit in the near future, the Kremlin says.

Russian and Turkish officials are due to meet at the Turkish foreign ministry. Russia also says top Russian and US military officials have discussed the situation in Idlib.

Russia denies its own forces were involved in the fighting in the Balyun area.

Government forces, supported by Russia, have been trying to retake Idlib from jihadist groups and Turkish-backed rebel factions based there. The attack came after Turkish-backed rebels retook the key town of Saraqeb, north-east of Balyun. Idlib is the last Syrian province where Syrian rebel groups still control significant territory.

Media captionMigrants head for Turkey’s EU borders

Meanwhile, Turkey says it is opening its western land and sea borders so some of the millions of refugees and migrants it hosts can travel onwards towards Europe.

Turkey’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said the migrants were now also Europe and the world’s problem. He said Turkey had “no choice” but to relax border controls because it had not received enough support in hosting about 3.7 million Syrian refugees, Reuters reported.

Mr Altun had earlier said Turkey did not have the capacity to allow entry to the nearly 1 million Syrians fleeing the fighting in Idlib. He called for the international community to protect civilians in Idlib from “genocide” by imposing a no-fly zone.

What do we know about the attack?

“Thirty-three of our soldiers were martyred as a result of the air strike… by the forces of the [Bashar al-] Assad regime,” said Rahmi Dogan, the governor of Turkey’s neighbouring Hatay province.

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters ride on a tank in the town of Saraqeb, Syria's Idlib province. Photo: 27 February 2020Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionTurkish-backed Syrian fighters were seen taking positions in Saraqeb on Thursday

After President Erdogan held an urgent top-level security meeting in Ankara, Turkish forces began conducting ground and air strikes.

Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said that in addition to the casualties inflicted, five Syrian government helicopters, 23 tanks, 23 howitzers, and two air defence systems had been destroyed.

Map showing control of north-western Syria (24 February 2020)
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According to the Russian defence ministry, the Turkish soldiers had been killed in a “bombardment” while operating alongside “terrorists” in the Balyun area where, it said, fighters from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance (formerly the Nusra Front) were attacking Syrian government forces.

Russia said it was in constant contact with Turkey to ensure Turkish troops were not targeted in Idlib and had not been informed that Turkish forces were active at Balyun.

But Mr Akar insisted the Russians had been informed about the locations of Turkish troops and said no armed groups had been present near the soldiers who were attacked. He also said ambulances had been hit in the attack.

Two Russian warships equipped with cruise missiles have passed through Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait on their way to the Syrian coast.

Media captionWatch: Turkey’s defence ministry reiterates his country’s threat to Syria

President Erdogan wants Syrian government forces to pull back from positions where Turkey has set up military observation posts and earlier threatened to attack them if they did not halt their advance.

But Syria’s government and Russia have rejected his demand to pull back to ceasefire lines agreed in 2018. Russia has also accused Turkey of violating the 2018 ceasefire by backing rebels with artillery fire.

In reaction to the crisis:

  • Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg promised “strong political support and… practical support” for Turkey, and urged Syria and Russia to engage fully with UN-led efforts to find a peaceful solution
  • A spokesman for the US state department said: “We stand by our Nato ally Turkey and continue to call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces. We are looking at options on how we can best support Turkey in this crisis”
  • UN Secretary General António Guterres expressed “grave concern” over the latest escalation, calling for an immediate ceasefire.
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Will Ankara or Damascus back down?

Analysis box by Jonathan Marcus, defence correspondent

The scene is set for a full-scale confrontation between Turkey and Syria.

This leaves all sorts of questions.

Will Ankara or Damascus back down? Can Moscow – hardly a neutral party – in some way encourage de-escalation?

And is there any way to persuade the Syrian regime to halt its wider offensive in Idlib?

This appears doubtful since President Assad seems intent on taking back control of the area, and the Russians have already been backing him to this end.

Read Jonathan’s analysis in full

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Is the EU facing a new migrant crisis?

News that Turkey would let migrants cross into Europe prompted several hundred people to gather at the border with Greece. But Greece has sent extra police to the crossing to prevent them entering.

Other migrants have been boarding boats to make the crossing to the Greek island of Lesbos.

Migrants at Greece's Kastanies border crossingImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionSome migrants have made their way to Greece’s Kastanies border crossing – but the Greeks have closed it
boat with Afghans lands in Lesbos, 28 FebImage copyrightAFP
Image captionA boat carrying Afghans landed on the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday

The European Commission said it expected Turkey to uphold its commitments to control the flow of migrants to the EU.

Under a 2016 agreement with the EU, which followed a wave of Syrian refugees and refugees and migrants from other countries to Europe, Turkey imposed stronger controls to curb the flow.

The deal involved an EU pledge to provide €6bn (£5.4bn; $6.6bn) in aid to Turkey to house Syrian refugees.

What about Syrian civilians in Idlib?

At least 948,000 people have been displaced in north-west Syria since a government offensive began on 1 December, the UN says.

At least 465 civilians, including 145 children, have been killed during that period, the vast majority of them victims of attacks by the Syrian government and its allies, according to the UN. Children are also dying from the cold.

Media captionSyrian refugee families on their search for safety

Russia has rejected calls in the UN Security Council for a humanitarian ceasefire in northern Syria, saying the only solution is to chase what it calls terrorists from the country.

The Syrian government, which has regularly been accused of committing atrocities against civilians during the country’s civil war, says it is liberating Idlib from “terrorism”.

Why is Turkey so deeply involved in Syria?

Its long border with Syria has brought it into close contact with the civil war and its strong opposition to the Assad government has made it a natural destination for refugees.

But Turkey is also actively trying to prevent Syria’s Kurdish community establishing control over the border region, fearing that this would encourage Kurdish separatism within Turkey itself.

It has been accused of seeking to drive Kurds away from the border in order to establish a safe area within Syria to rehouse two million of the refugees it is hosting.


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Six killed in Israeli air raid on Damascus: Monitor Mon, 24 Feb 2020 13:21:39 +0000 Six people have been killed in an Israeli air attack on Damascus, a war monitor said on Monday, as Israel confirmed raids on the Syrian capital as well as on the besieged Gaza Strip.

A statement from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) armed group on Monday said two men, who were members of the group, were killed during the “Zionist bombing in Damascus”, which took place late on Sunday night.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based war monitor, later confirmed that four additional pro-al-Assad, Iran-backed fighters died in the attack.

At least one of the Iran-backed fighters was Syrian, while the nationalities of the others remained unknown, SOHR head Rami Abdurrahman told AFP news agency.

“This cowardly aggression in Damascus was a reflection of the enemy’s failure to confront our fighters inside occupied Palestine,” the PIJ said.

An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard several loud explosions shortly before the midnight local time (22:00 GMT).

The SOHR said the attacks were “near the Damascus international airport”.

The Syrian state news agency SANA said “most of the enemy missiles were shot down before reaching their targets”, stressing that “no airport” was struck.

Earlier, SANA said anti-air defences were activated against attacks “in the Damascus area”.

Israel said it launched the attack south of Damascus following rocket fire from the Palestinian territory, Gaza.

“In the Adeliyah region, outside of Damascus, an Islamic Jihad compound was struck, used as a hub of Islamic Jihad’s activity in Syria,” the Israeli army said in a statement while confirming several other attacks in Gaza.

It is rare for Israel to claim such attacks directly.

Al Jazeera also received independent confirmation about the air raids in Gaza. According to a statement by the Israeli army, “Israeli military planes targeted Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza” including the Khan Younis headquarters of the group and several storage sites in the southern city of Rafah.

Images received by Al Jazeera showed a ball of fire lighting up the night sky in one Gaza neighbourhood, as thick smoke rose. According to the Palestinian news agency, Maan, four people were injured.

The PIJ, which operates in the occupied Palestinian territories and Syria, fired more than 20 rockets from Gaza throughout Sunday.

The intense bombardment resumed on Monday, as the Palestinian armed group fired a fresh volley of rockets and mortars towards southern Israel.

Israel’s army said in a statement that 20 “projectiles” had been fired from the Palestinian enclave on Monday, 18 of them intercepted by its air defence systems.

The rockets came in response to the killing of Mohammed Ali al-Naim, a Palestinian member of the PIJ’s armed wing, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip earlier on Sunday.

A video showing an Israeli bulldozer dragging al-Naim’s body and mutilating it before moving it to the Israeli side of the fence has sparked outrage among Palestinians.

Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of raids in Syria, mainly targeting government forces as well as allied Iranian forces and Hezbollah fighters.

A missile attack blamed on Israel in mid-February killed three Syrian and four Iranian fighters in the Damascus airport area, according to the Syrian Observatory.

Iran is an ally of Damascus and has offered military advisers, and sent fighters and material support to help President Bashar al-Assad‘s government forces in the nine-year civil war.

Israel considers Iran a national security threat and says it would not tolerate Iran’s presence on its borders.

In November, Israel targeted two senior PIJ commanders in a simultaneous attack, killing one in the Gaza Strip and missing the second in Syria.

At the time, Israeli warplanes fired three missiles at the home of Akram al-Ajouri, a member of the PIJ’s leadership living in exile. He was not harmed, but his son and granddaughter were killed.



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Trump, Turkey call on Russia to stop backing Syrian ‘atrocities’ Mon, 17 Feb 2020 20:47:52 +0000 Russia must halt its support for the Syrian government’s “atrocities”, US President Donald Trump said, as fighting rages in the country’s dwindling rebel-held areas.

In a statement released by the White House on Sunday, Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said Trump – in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – “conveyed the United States’s desire to see an end to Russia’s support for the Assad government’s atrocities and for a political resolution to the Syrian conflict”.

“Trump expressed concern [yesterday] over the violence in Idlib, Syria and thanked Erdogan for Turkey’s efforts to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” Deere said.

Syria’s military announced on Monday its troops regained control of territories in northwestern Syria “in record time”, vowing to continue to chase armed groups “wherever they are”.

The announcement came hours after troops consolidated the government’s hold over the key Aleppo province, capturing over 30 villages and hamlets in the western countryside in one day and securing the provincial capital that had for years remained within range of opposition fire.

The new advances, along with securing a key highway that ran through rebel territory, are set to facilitate movement between northern and southern Syria, including the city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial centre before the war.

The Shaam Network, an opposition media platform, said the advances cut the rebels’ supply line, effectively driving them out of the area.

The developments sparked late-night celebrations in the city, with state media showing images of residents waving flags and dancing in streets packed with vehicles.

Turkey’s foreign minister, meanwhile, pressed his Russian counterpart over the attacks by Damascus on the last rebel-held bastion in the country.

Backed by Russian air power, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces made significant gains Sunday as they intensified the assault on the holdout northwestern province of Idlib.

‘Must stop’

Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib as part of a 2018 deal reached between Ankara and Moscow to prevent a government offensive, but al-Assad’s forces have pressed ahead regardless.

Four of the Turkish posts are believed to be encircled by Syrian forces and Ankara has threatened to attack Damascus if they do not retreat by the end of February.

Turkey, a supporter of the Syrian opposition, and Damascus ally Russia have worked closely on Syria in recent years despite being on opposing sides of the nine-year conflict.

A Turkish delegation will head to Moscow on Monday after Russian officials visited Ankara last weekend but failed to reach a concrete deal.

War monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Sunday said government forces “were in control of all the villages and small towns around Aleppo for the first time since 2012”.

Government forces have for weeks been making gains in northwest Syria and chipping away at territory held by armed opposition fighters, focusing their latest operations on the west of Aleppo province.

The Russian-backed offensive has triggered the largest wave of displacement in Syria’s civil war, with 800,000 people fleeing since it began in December, the United Nations has said.

Backed by Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, al-Assad’s forces now control more than 70 percent of Syria and the president has repeatedly promised to retake the entire country.

Libya’s war

In the Saturday phone call with Erdogan, Trump also “reiterated that continued foreign interference in Libya would only serve to worsen the situation”.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, with two rival administrations vying for power.

Countries including Russia, France, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt support renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, while the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) is backed by Turkey and Qatar.


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Syrian military helicopter shot down as fighting intensifies Fri, 14 Feb 2020 19:17:16 +0000 A Syrian military helicopter has been shot down in northwest Syria, where an intensifying government offensive to retake the country’s last rebel-held areas has caused a massive wave of displacement.

Syrian state media said the aircraft was hit by a missile at approximately 1:40pm (11:40 GMT) on Friday near the town of Urum al-Kubra in the western countryside of Aleppo.

“This lead the helicopter to crash, killing all crew on board,” SANA news agency said, without providing any information on who was behind the incident.

Turkey‘s Anadolu news agency also said rebels reported striking the helicopter while it was flying over the western Aleppo province.

The incident came days after rebels said they had downed another government helicopter on Tuesday near the town of Nairab.

Since December, the Russia-backed Syrian government forces have been pressing ahead with a ferocious assault on the last rebel bastion in the country’s northwest.

The offensive has triggered the largest wave of displacement in the nine-year war, with more than 800,000 people fleeing towards the Turkish border. Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot absorb any more.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Clivegozu on the Turkish side of the border, said aid agencies are struggling to cope with the “huge number” of people displaced by the fighting.

“It’s a very delicate situation and activists are already saying it’s already a tragic humanitarian situation,” he said.

The intensified fighting, which saw five Turkish troops killed this week in Syrian government shelling, is the most serious since Ankara, which is supporting certain rebel groups in northest Syria’s Idlib province, first sent forces to its neighbouring country in 2016.

In recent weeks, Turkey’s military has deployed large convoys of vehicles carrying commandos, tanks and howitzers to shore up its military posts in Idlib.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based war monitor that relies on sources in Syria, said on Friday that Turkey had deployed around 6,500 soldiers to reinforce existing units in the country’s northwest, as well as some 1,900 military vehicles since early February.

Government advances

Meanwhile, government forces have made new gains in northwest Syria in recent days.

They are currently securing areas along the key MP5 highway they seized from rebels this week, according to reports. They are pushing west of the motorway that connects Syria’s four largest cities and is economically vital for the government.

In an attempt to consolidate a “security belt” around the road, they captured a key base on Friday that they had lost to rebels in 2012, SOHR said.

The base’s recapture marks a symbolic win for the government, which has reduced the rebel-held pocket to just over half of Idlib province, as well as slivers of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia.


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Turkey, Russia talk Syria as thousands flee bombing Tue, 24 Dec 2019 11:05:45 +0000 A Turkish delegation was in Russia on Monday for talks on Syria, following reports that Russian-backed attacks there were forcing tens of thousands more Syrians to flee towards Turkey.

Turkey already hosts about 3.7 million Syrians – the world’s biggest refugee population. Its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday it could not handle a new influx and was urging Russia to stop the strikes in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

The Turkey-based Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said on Monday 120,000 Syrians were fleeing towards the Turkish border – higher than Erdogan’s estimate of 80,000.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to recapture the Idlib region, the last significant area of Syria still under opposition control after eight and a half years of war.

Russia and Iran have supported Assad’s forces during the Syrian conflict while Turkey has backed the Syrian opposition fighting Assad.

Russian and Syrian army jets have been targeting civilian convoys trying to flee the Idlib city of Maarat al-Numan, leaving hundreds of families still trapped there, activists and aid groups have said.

“It’s a tragic situation for civilians remaining in the city since Russian jets are hitting any convoy that leaves the city, while those who were able to reach areas closer to the border have nowhere to shelter,” said Mohamad Rasheed, an activist in the area.

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Russian airstrikes kill eight in Syria’s Saraqib city: Monitor Tue, 24 Dec 2019 11:02:01 +0000 At least eight people, including five children, were killed Tuesday in Russian airstrikes on a school in northwest Syria sheltering displaced civilians, according to a war monitor.

The strikes targeted the village of Jubass near the town of Saraqib in southern Idlib province, killing civilians sheltering in and near a school, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Airstrikes on the rebel-held town killed seven people and wounded more than a dozen on Saturday in Syria’s, opposition activists said. The attack came amid a government offensive in the region.

The casualties on Saturday came as government forces captured two new villages on the southern edge of Idlib.

Idlib is the last remaining rebel stronghold in the war-torn country.

The province has been the center point of a government push under the cover of airstrikes, according to opposition activists and pro-government media.

The offensive has already forced thousands of civilians to abandon their homes and flee for their lives.

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Northwest Syria battles rage after rebel counterattack Sat, 08 Jun 2019 14:09:34 +0000 Plumes of smoke rise following reported Syrian government forces’ bombardment on the town of Khan Sheikhun, countryside of Idlib. (AFP)


Reuters, Azaz

Saturday, 8 June 2019


Battles intensified in northwest Syria on Friday after insurgents mounted an attack to repel an army offensive that has pounded the country’s last major rebel stronghold for weeks.

State news agency SANA said the army absorbed the new attack and reinforced its frontline positions after fierce clashes with militants overnight. It said insurgents fired shells at a village in the northern Hama countryside.

Insurgent factions said they seized three key villages in the Hama countryside late on Thursday in their counterattack.

They denied reports that government forces had recovered the positions and said army units were suffering heavy losses as fighting raged on Friday.

The violence in Idlib province and a strip of nearby Hama has marked the biggest military escalation between President Bashar al-Assad and his insurgent enemies since last summer.

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes, many of them sheltering at the Turkish border from regime air strikes that have killed scores of people.

The Russian-backed Assad government’s bombing has shut down 55 medical facilities since late April, the UOSSM aid group that operates in opposition territory said on Friday.

Turkey has complained to Moscow, while Russia says the onus is on Ankara to rein in the rebels.

The dominant force in the Idlib region is Tahrir al-Sham, the latest incarnation of the former Nusra Front that was part of al Qaeda until 2016. Others, including some with Turkish backing, also have a presence.

Under its deals with Russia, Ankara has deployed forces in Idlib at a dozen positions. Turkish forces are also spread out across a swathe of territory to the north under the control of rebel factions Ankara backs.

Hostilities have hit dozens of health facilities and schools, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says.

“It is appalling … and it must be brought to an end,” OCHA spokesman Jens Larke told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

Even in hospitals that have not been hit, he added, “they fear that they may be hit. So the doctors, the healthcare personnel are leaving, the patients are not going.”

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Hundreds of ISIL fighters surrender in Syria’s Baghouz: SDF Wed, 06 Mar 2019 20:50:56 +0000

US-backed SDF says 400 ISIL fighters captured while trying to flee or have surrendered from armed group’s last enclave.


US-backed Kurdish-led forces in northeastern Syria have captured 400 ISIL fighters who were trying to escape the armed group’s last enclave in Deir Az Zor, according to a military commander for the Kurdish group.

A senior commander for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also said on Wednesday that hundreds more Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) fighters surrendered from the last shred of territory they control in the village of Baghouz.

The fighters left Baghouz as part of an evacuation that also included civilians, but it was not yet clear how many had given themselves up voluntarily, the commander said.

The evacuations came as the US-backed forces slowed down their latest push on Baghouz, which lies east of the Euphrates river,to allow civilians to leave the tiny enclave.

The families of ISIL fighters are believed to be among the latest civilians to flee the last tiny area under the group’s control [Bulent Kilic/AFP]

There were no signs of combat on Wednesday a lull that appeared to allow for evacuations from the ISIL-held pocket less than a square kilometre.

The SDF has said this is the final move against ISIL and the US-backed forces have alternated between heavy fighting and air raids, and pauses to allow people to come out.

Since February 20, more than 10,000 people have left the pocket, producing dramatic scenes of women shrouded in black and many children climbing off trucks in the desert to be screened and searched.

They were then taken to a camp for displaced persons to the north in Hasakah’s al-Hol, while suspected fighters were moved to detention facilities.

The overcrowded al-Hol camp has now become home to more than 55,000 people, many of whom emerged from Baghouz weak, tired, and hungry.

Aid agencies in the area are struggling to cope with the influx, according to NGOs, including Save the Children.

Capturing Baghouz, an eastern Syrian village on the bank of the Euphrates River, would cap four years of international efforts to roll back the armed group.

ISIL ‘will remain’

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, angry civilians evacuating from Baghouz chanted “Islamic State will remain,” underscoring the defiance of ISIL fighters and their supporters even as their defeat looms.

Associated Press journalists positioned across from the ISIL-held pocket saw lines of pick-up trucks, motorcycles and people walking on foot, in what appeared to be a group evacuating.

People ride in a truck after being evacuated out of the last territory held by ISIL fighters outside of Baghouz village in Syria’s Deir Az Zor province [Andrea Rosa/AP Photo]

A group of women seen at a reception area in the desert, set up for screening purposes by the SDF, were screening them, were rowdy, aggressive and defiant, praising ISIL and screaming angrily at journalists.

They pointed their fingers at the group and screamed: “Islamic State will stay, God is great, God is great, Islamic State will stay.”

A 30-year-old Iraqi woman said her one-month-old baby, who was sick, died overnight in the reception area from the cold.

“I didn’t want to leave except to treat her,” the woman who identified herself as Umm Fatima said.

She cursed the SDF and said: “The Islamic State will remain and expand, God willing,” and walked away.

A group of men were seated on the ground, under the watchful eye of SDF fighters, many of them covering their faces with checkered scarves.

Many among those leaving Wednesday appeared to be wives and children of ISIL fighters. But also among those who emerged were 13 Yazidi children from Iraq, looking dusty, dirty and in a state of shock.

At least 75 men also came out, heading straight to the interrogation area.

The scenes of surrender, humiliation and anger highlighted the desperation of the group as their last bastion teeters on the edge of collapse.

The SDF announced a military operation to liberate Baghouz in September, but has held off on a full-blown assault after it became apparent that a huge number of civilians were still inside.

Is it all over for ISIL in Syria?


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Syrian government forces ‘enter’ Kurdish-controlled Manbij region Tue, 25 Dec 2018 20:30:40 +0000 Trucks carrying regime forces and equipment, and armoured vehicles have arrived in the region, sources say.

Syrian government forces have entered the country’s northern border region of Manbij controlled by Kurdish fighters, local sources told Al Jazeera and Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.

Trucks carrying regime forces and equipment, two tanks, and other armoured vehicles have arrived in the village of Arimah in the western countryside of Manbij, sources told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday. Arimah is 25km away from the centre of Manbij.

The development comes a day after Turkish-backed Syrian fighters dispatched fighters and armoured vehicles to the front line along Manbij and days after Washington took an unexpected decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

Manbij is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), seen as a “terrorist” group by Turkey.OPINION

Ankara says a Turkish operation in Syria will target areas under the control of YPG fighters, including Manbij.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that Ankara and Washington agreed to complete withdrawal of the YPG forces from Manbij before the US pulls out of Syria. 

He added the US agreed to take back weapons given to the YPG.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his threats to target Kurdish fighters.

Turkey was in Syria “to return the freedom of our Arab brothers and sisters, to return the freedom of our Kurdish brothers and sisters”, Erdogan said during a speech.

Turkey has sent reinforcements at the border with Syria in the previous days, with local media reporting that some vehicles had crossed it.

In the past two years, Turkey has conducted two offensives into northern Syria, dubbed “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch”.

Surprising decision

President Donald Trump‘s surprise decision to withdraw the estimated 2,000 US troops from Syria on Wednesday has created shock among members of the Congress, including Republicans, as well as among Washington’s Western allies.READ MORE

Erdogan’s spokesperson said on Monday that US military officials will come to Turkey this week to discuss coordination on Syria.

Washington for years supported the YPG-led SDF in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in Syria.

A senior Syrian Kurdish official said they were reaching out for help to protect the Kurdish-administered areas against a possible Turkish offensive following the US withdrawal, adding that they were in talks with Russia, the Syrian government and European countries.READ MORE

“We will deal with whoever can protect the good and stability of this country,” the Associated Press news agency quoted Ilham Ahmed as saying on Monday.

A delegation of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of SDF, arrived in Russia last week for talks.

Ankara claims the YPG is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged attacks on Turkish soil since the 1980s as they sought autonomy.


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More than 2,000 Afghans killed in Syria fighting for Bashar al-Assad: Official Tue, 09 Jan 2018 20:41:27 +0000 Iran, said to have deployed the Afghans, denies sending professional troops to Syria, only military advisers and volunteer brigades

More than 2,000 Afghans deployed by Iran have been killed fighting in Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, an official in the volunteer force told Iranian media.

The Fatemiyoun Brigade of Afghan “volunteer” recruits has been fighting in Syria for five years, said Zohair Mojahed, a cultural official in the brigade.

“This brigade has given more than 2,000 martyrs and 8,000 wounded for Islam,” he said in an interview with the reformist Shargh newspaper published Saturday.

Iran rarely provides figures on the numbers fighting and killed in its operations in Syria and Iraq.

The last toll was provided by the veterans organisation in March, which said 2,100 volunteers had died without specifying how many were foreign recruits.

Iran denies sending professional troops to fight in the region, saying it has provided only military advisers and organised brigades made up of volunteers from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Fatemiyoun is reportedly the biggest military unit deployed by Iran in Iraq and Syria, made up of recruits from Afghanistan’s Shia minority.

Iran has backed Afghan forces in the past against the Taliban in their own country, as well as mobilising them against Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.

Some 3,000 Afghans died fighting Iraq in the 1980s, Mojahed said.

Tehran offers Iranian citizenship to the families of those foreign fighters “martyred” in the conflicts of Syria and Iraq.

Iranian media has reported on the funerals of volunteer “martyrs” and aired television features about their presence in Syria.

Last year, Human Rights Watch reported that Afghan children as young as 14 are being recruited to fight in the war in Syria by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The rights group says that the IRGC has recruited Afghan immigrant children living in Iran to fight inside Syria.

Many of the children who were recruited had fought in the Fatemiyoun division, an exclusively Afghan armed group supported by Iran that fights alongside Syrian government forces in Syria’s civil war.

The report comes as Syrian government and Russian warplanes pound rebel-held territory inside Idlib, in northwest Syria.

In 2015, the Guardian reported that Iranian authorities have lured some of the estimated three million Afghan refugees living in their country to fight in Syria by offering a regular salary and permanent residence in Iran.

The Shia Afghan recruits have been told by Iran that they are fighting to defend religious shrines in the Syrian capital Damascus.

The Fatemiyoun brigade was set up in Iran after the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. It was reported to be the second-biggest foreign force fighting for President Assad, behind the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, the Guardian reported.

Daily recruitment of Afghan refugees is taking place in the Iranian cities of Mashhad and Qom, which the Guardian said has the highest population of Afghans.

Afghans under the age of 18 are being accepted to go and fight if their parents grant them permission. At least one 16-year-old has been killed this year in Syria’s brutal civil war.

At least 200 Fatemiyoun militants have been killed in Syria, Iranian media reported in 2015.


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