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January 27, 2019

Coalition strikes kill 42 in IS Syria holdout


January 27, 2019

BEIRUT: Coalition missile strikes have killed 42 people including 13 civilians in what remains of the Islamic State group’s last holdout in eastern Syria, a war monitor said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, with backing from a US-led coalition, are battling to expel the last jihadists from hamlets in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said short-range missiles late Friday hit homes on farmland near the village of Baghouz, killing 42 people.

Among them were 13 civilians, the Britain-based monitor said.

They included seven Syrians linked to IS including three children from the same family, as well as six Iraqi non-combatants, it said.

The coalition was not immediately available for comment, but has in the past said it does everything to avoid targeting civilians.

“The area is a launchpad for jihadist counterattacks,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The SDF have since September been battling to expel IS from their last pocket of territory on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor.

The SDF has advanced swiftly in recent weeks, taking control of a series of key villages, with IS scrambling to retaliate.

On Thursday, IS failed to retake Baghouz from the SDF in one counterattack that left a total of 50 fighters dead on both sides, the Observatory said.

Thousands of people, mostly women and children, have fled into SDF-held territory in recent days, according to the Britain based Observatory, which relies on a network of contacts inside Syria for its information.

IS overran large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, declaring a “caliphate”, but it has since lost almost all of its territory to various offensives.

But it maintains a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert.

Syria’s civil war has killed 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Damascus condemns Turkey presence in north Syria as violation of deal: The Syrian government on Saturday condemned Turkey’s military presence in northern Syria as a violation of a 1998 protocol between the two countries.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted the Adana Protocol gives his country the right to intervene militarily in the neighbouring country.

Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies control part of northern Syria, and Ankara has repeatedly threatened another military operation against Kurdish fighters on its southern border.

On Saturday, the foreign ministry in Damascus accused Ankara of repeatedly breaching the Adana deal throughout Syria’s eight-year war.

“Since 2011, the Turkish regime has violated and continues to violate this agreement,” a ministry source said, quoted by state news agency SANA. The source accused Turkey of “supporting terrorists”, using the regime’s usual term for both jihadists and rebels.

It said Ankara was breaching the deal through “occupying Syrian territory via terrorist organisations linked to it or directly via Turkish military forces”.

Rebel backer Turkey has twice led incursions into northern Syria in 2016 and 2018, since when its forces and allied Syrian proxies have controlled a patch of territory on the border.

Ankara has repeatedly threatened to march on areas further east, where Kurdish fighters it views as “terrorists” have led the US-backed battle against the Islamic State jihadist group.

Washington last month said it would pull all its troops from the war-torn country, leaving the Kurds scrambling to find a new ally in Damascus to avoid a Turkish assault.

On Friday, Erdogan said Turkey expected a “security zone” to be created in Syria in a few months.

Turkey accuses the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which have led the fight against IS of being an extension of its outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The Adana deal was signed in 1998 to end a crisis between the neighbours, sparked by the then presence in Syria of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and bases run by the group.

Turkey argues the protocol provides Ankara with the legal ground to intervene in Syria against the PKK and its affiliates, because of the Syrian regime’s failure to act against the group.

Damascus has regained control of almost two-thirds of the country after significant Russia-backed victories against rebels and jihadists since 2015, and hopes to see all areas of the country revert to its rule.

Syria’s war has killed 360,000 people and spiralled into a complex conflict involving world powers since starting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.—AFP

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