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Syrian civil war: Russian jets suspected of killing at least 20 people after bombing residential buildings near Damascus

- 1500615948 breaking - Syrian civil war: Russian jets suspected of killing at least 20 people after bombing residential buildings near Damascus


Suspected Russian jets have killed at least 20 people, including 11 women and a child, and wounded dozens more in bombing raids on a besieged rebel enclave east of the Syrian capital, residents and a war monitor said.

At least four bombs flattened the buildings in the town of Misraba, wounding more than 40 people, they said.

Meanwhile, at least ten people were killed in aerial strikes in nearby towns in the last rebel stronghold near the capital.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor based in Britain, said 11 women and a child were among the dead in the strike in Misraba.

The Observatory said the death toll is expected to rise as some of the wounded are in a critical condition. 

Video footage posted by activists on social media showed rescue workers pulling women and children from the rubble. The footage could not be independently confirmed.

Backed by Russian strikes, government forces have escalated military operations against Eastern Ghouta in recent months, seeking to tighten a siege that residents and aid workers say is a deliberate use of starvation as a weapon of war, a charge the government denies.

The rebel assault aims partly to relieve that pressure.

Jets have pounded rebel-held Harasta when rebels this week overran a major base in the heart of the enclave which residents say the army uses to pound residential areas.

Vladimir Putin meets Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

The United Nations says about 400,000 civilians besieged in the region face “complete catastrophe”€ because aid deliveries by the government were blocked and hundreds of people who need urgent medical evacuation have not been allowed outside the enclave.

Russia rejects opposition and human rights groups’ accusations its jets have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians since its major intervention two years ago that turned the tide in favour of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Scores of hospitals and civil defence centres have been bombed in what the opposition said is a “scorched earth policy” to paralyse life in rebel-held areas.

Moscow asserts it only attacks hardline Islamists.

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Middle East

Over 150 IS Jihadists Killed in Coalition Airstrike

- 823209f59df423d3a8200031329924ff L - Over 150 IS Jihadists Killed in Coalition Airstrike


ERBIL — The US-led Global Coalition against the Islamic State (IS) says its warplanes has killed over 150 jihadists in Syria last Saturday.

The large number of eliminated militants were killed in airstrikes carried out against the IS headquarters in al-Shafah district of middle Euphrates river valley.

“The precision strikes were a culmination of extensive intelligence preparation to confirm an ISIS headquarters and command-and-control center in an exclusively ISIS-occupied location in the contested Middle Euphrates River valley,” officials were cited in a press release by the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.

According to the Coalition, the targeted headquarter contained a heavy concentration of IS fighters who appear to have been massing for movement.

“The strikes underscore our assertion that the fight to liberate Syria is far from over,” said Army Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard, commanding general of Special Operations Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.

“Our SDF partners are still making daily progress and sacrifices, and together we are still finding, targeting and killing ISIS terrorists’ intent on keeping their extremist hold on the region. We cannot take our focus off our mission, and we must not lose our momentum in taking these terrorists off the battlefield and preventing them from resurfacing somewhere else,” Jarrard said.

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Middle East

Jalalabad bombing: Explosion at Save The Children offices in Afghan city as gunmen clash with security forces

- 1516778066 breaking - Jalalabad bombing: Explosion at Save The Children offices in Afghan city as gunmen clash with security forces


Attackers set off a car bomb near the office of the Save The Children aid agency in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday and then clashed with security forces, a provincial government spokesman said.

“There was a blast and the target was Save The Children,” said the spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani. A clash was going on after the blast, he said.

Khogyani had no word on casualties but the director of the provincial health department said 11 wounded people had been taken to hospital.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

There were several other aid groups and government offices in the immediate area, raising the possibility that Save The Children was not the target.

Jalalabad is the capital of Nangarhar province, on the porous border with Pakistan.

The province has become a stronghold for Isis, which has grown to become one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous militant groups since it appeared around the beginning of 2015.

Backed by intensive US air strikes, Afghan forces have claimed growing success against the Taliban and other militant groups, including Isis, but attacks on civilian targets have continued, causing heavy casualties.

The attack in Jalalabad came just days after Taliban militants attacked the Hotel Intercontinental in the capital, Kabul, killing at least 20 people, including 13 foreigners. 

Reuters

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Manbij becomes key as US looks to rein in Turkey’s Syrian offensive

- 1516747391 tirkey syria tank - Manbij becomes key as US looks to rein in Turkey’s Syrian offensive


The US is trying to prevent the fighting in Afrin between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurds spreading east into the main Kurdish enclave in Syria where US troops are based. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to drive the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters not just from Afrin, but from Manbij, a strategic town west of the Euphrates.

“Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. “If the US does not stop this, we will stop it.”

Some 6,000 Turkish troops backed by 10,000 Free Syrian Army fighters controlled by Turkey are seeking to fight their way into the isolated Kurdish canton of Afrin in northern Syria. Their progress has so far been slow, with thick cloud hindering air strikes in the hilly terrain. The YPG and Turkish-led forces have been fighting for the Bursaya Hill, with the summit, which overlooks the eastern side of Afrin town, changing hands several times.

The US has so far given muted support to its Kurdish allies in Syria, who provided the ground troops for the successful campaign against Isis. The US has supported the YPG during the war against Isis with massive air power, military equipment and some 2,000 specialised US troops.

The US is hoping to keep the present fighting confined to Afrin, which is separate from the bulk of Kurdish territory. There have never been any US military forces in this enclave, though there were Russian observers that have now been withdrawn. But if Turkey attacks Manbij then the US will have to decide if it is going to be seen as betraying its Kurdish ally or risk a military confrontation with its Nato partner Turkey.  

The Kurdish authorities in north-east Syria are calling for a mass mobilisation in defence of Afrin. But they already have large numbers of experienced combat troops previously fighting Isis that they can deploy if they wish. “The Turkish state has been trying to enter north Syria for days, but it will not be able to,” said Siyamund Walat, a YPG general. “We have forces in Afrin, thousands… they are protecting the border and the people. If necessary all the soldiers will go to Afrin.”

It may be in the interests of the Syrian Kurds to prolong the fighting in Afrin so international diplomatic pressure increases on Turkey to end Operation Olive Branch, as it calls its campaign. On the other hand, Afrin is cut off from the rest of the Kurdish-held area and the one supply road to the south is held by the Syrian Army. Syrian soldiers have been refusing to allow refugees from Afrin through their checkpoints to reach Kurdish areas in Aleppo city 25 miles away.

Explosions as Turkey confirms airstrikes on Afrin, Syria

The Turkish campaign only became possible when Russia agreed not to oppose it and, above all, allowed Turkish jets to operate in Syrian airspace. This is under Russian control west of the Euphrates. The long-contemplated Turkish assault was finally provoked by the US announcement last week that its forces would be staying in Syrian Kurdish territory for the foreseeable future. This de facto guarantee of the Kurdish statelet, directed against the Syrian government and Iran by the US, radically changed the strategic balance in Syria. The US had assured the Turks since the end of 2014 that its military cooperation with the YPG was purely tactical, directed against Isis and would end when Isis was defeated.

Mr Erdogan is taking advantage of a wave of patriotic support in Turkey for the Afrin operation to arrest dozens of politicians, journalists and activists who are accused of criticising the offensive. Many of those arrested, often for critical media posts, belong to the pro-Kurdish HDP party. “Journalists are having their doors rammed down without anybody knocking,” said HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen. “People are [becoming] afraid of keyboards, pens, words and writing”

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