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Kurdish forces battle into last Daesh pocket

NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria: Kurdish-led forces battled militants defending their last village on Saturday as the operation to flush out Daesh from eastern Syria resumed after days of humanitarian evacuations. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) pushed into Baghouz, a tiny hamlet near the Iraqi border where Daesh militants are making a desperate last stand. As…

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Kurdish forces battle into last Daesh pocket

NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria: Kurdish-led forces battled militants defending their last village on Saturday as the operation to flush out Daesh from eastern Syria resumed after days of humanitarian evacuations.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) pushed into Baghouz, a tiny hamlet near the Iraqi border where Daesh militants are making a desperate last stand.

As the sun rose above the palm trees lining the Euphrates River, the crackle and thud of gunfire and shelling echoed across the farmland while SDF artillery units could be seen taking up positions, AFP journalists near the front line reported. An SDF officer said he saw fighters moving between empty buildings and a makeshift camp on the edge of the village where it is feared civilians might still be hunkered down.

“The fighting is intense at the moment,” the officer said. “Our forces are advancing from two directions.”

The SDF announced the launch of an assault on Daesh’s last redoubt late on Friday after a week-long exodus that saw thousands of people flee the enclave dried up.

While Daesh militants, who have been besieged for weeks in an ever-shrinking pocket, are vastly outgunned, their use of tunnels, booby traps and suicide bombers is hampering the SDF advance.

“We can’t put a time frame on this battle — two weeks, three weeks or a week — it will depend on the surprises we get along the way,” SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin said.

“Those who have not surrendered by now will meet their fate there,” he said.

Most of the more than 50,000 people who left the very last rump of the Daesh proto-state in recent weeks were women and children.

Some of the evacuees however were suspected fighters either surrendering to the SDF or attempting to slip back into civilian life.

The militants are cornered in a bend of the Euphrates, with Syrian regime forces and their allies on the west bank of the Euphrates blocking any escape across the river and Iraqi government forces blocking any move downstream.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said seven Daesh militants were shot dead by Syrian forces.

Only a few dozen people were evacuated by the SDF on Friday in the smallest convoy in days, prompting the Kurdish-led force to close the humanitarian window and resume their offensive.

The assault will deal a final death blow to Daesh supremo Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s caliphate, which was proclaimed in mid-2014 and once covered territory larger than Britain. At its peak, the militants’ proto-state covered large parts of Iraq and Syria, administered millions of people, minted its own currency, levied taxes and produced its own textbooks.

It effectively collapsed in 2017 when Daesh lost major cities such as Mosul and Raqqa following massive offensives by government armies and their respective international allies in both countries.

While the last remains of Daesh’s statehood experiment are about to disappear, the group remains a potent force in both Syria and Iraq, where it carries out deadly attacks.

Its brutal legacy is still raw and the scope of the atrocities committed under its rule continues to emerge, even in areas where its fighters were defeated long ago.

The SDF this week announced that yet another mass grave was discovered, this time near Baghouz, and that the severed heads of women were found in it.

While the victims were not immediately identified, local fighters believe the executed women are likely to be members of the Yazidi community.

The mostly Iraq-based religious minority are considered heretics by Daesh, which tried to exterminate them in 2014 with massacres that were among the reasons the United States intervened militarily.

Many of the thousands of women abducted and enslaved by Daesh then are still missing today and it is feared some may still be held captive in Baghouz.

Nadia Murad, the current laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize and herself an Iraqi Yazidi who was kidnapped and raped, urged the US-led coalition backing the SDF to help secure their safe return.

“The Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh must have a plan to help rescue Yazidis that are still missing,” she said in a statement Friday.

Some of them managed to slip out with the thousands of civilians who were evacuated over the past 10 days.

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah. One of the facility’s tanks…

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
One of the facility’s tanks was hit by a missile in early on Monday.
The attack knocked out 10 percent of all fuel that was stored at the plant, a Saudi Aramco official said on Tuesday, adding that the tank – one of 13 at the facility – is currently out of action.
The official described the site as a “critical facility” that distributes more than 120,000 barrels of products per day.
A fire caused by the attack was extinguished in about 40 minutes with no casualties, he said.
The attack was confirmed by a Saudi official who told the Saudi state news agency (SPA) it was a “terrorist attack with a projectile”.
The oil company’s production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, more than 1,000km (621 miles) away from Jeddah, across the country.
Announcing the attack, a military spokesman for the Houthis warned that “operations will continue”.
Yahya Sarea said the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile. He also posted a satellite image with the label: “North Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco”.
“The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said.
That facility is just southeast of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, an important site that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.
Renewed violence
Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, which had been removed from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired. The Saudi-led coalition has responded with air raids on Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis control most of north Yemen and most large urban areas. They say they are fighting a corrupt system.
Sarea said the attack was carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
The claimed attack came just after a visit by outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom also just hosted the annual G20 summit, which concluded on Sunday.

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a…

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations.
James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a US Senate voice vote.
The South Carolina native takes the job that he will carry out from the capital of neighbouring Colombia as Venezuela endures an historic economic and political crisis.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations first started to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.
The two nations totally broke diplomatic ties last year, each withdrawing its diplomats shortly after Washington backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader.
Story, 50, will likely play a key role in helping guide US policy on Venezuela during the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden’s win has sparked debate among those who back President Donald Trump’s hardline approach of isolating his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and others who say it is time for a new course.
The critics say heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opening Venezuela to US competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, while making life harder on millions of residents of the South American nation.
The US leads a coalition of dozens of nations that rejected Maduro following his election in 2018 to a second term in a vote Washington called fraudulent.
The US has since heavily sanctioned Maduro, his inner circle and the state-run oil firm, attempting to isolate them.
The Trump administration offered a $15m reward for Maduro’s arrest after a US court indicted him on drug charges.

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‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’

People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says. Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former…

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‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’

People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says.

Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
He said that one of the major achievements of the deal – considered a huge political and diplomatic win – is that it opens up a “cooperative space not only for leaders but also for citizens of all the participating countries”
“The architects of this important agreement must ensure that the Accords is not an agreement just for their countries but for their people. Abraham Accords should serve as a launchpad for the sustainable peace and prosperity in the region,” Ban Ki-moon said while addressing a virtual conference on ‘The Abraham Accords: Advancing UAE-Israel, Regional, and Muslim-Jewish Cooperation’ organised by UK-based Emirates Society.
Stressing on the important role of education in building secure, peaceful, resilient and prosperous societies in both a short and long term, the Secretary General said it is his “sincere hope that the UAE and Israel and others redouble their sustained effort to educate their students and citizens – both young and old – about the significance of this important agreement and each other.”
“Devising curriculum and expanding global citizenship education as well as being aggressive about stamping out instances of anti-Semitism and islamophobia are important steps to take in this regard, he added.
He said people to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in helping to change mindset and begin a dynamic new era of cooperation.
Palestinian cause
The UAE is the first GCC country and the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel by signing the US-brokered Abraham Accords on September 15. Bahrain and Sudan also followed suit and have signed peace deals with Israel.
The deal is considered a game changer for peace and stability in the region, as in exchange, Israel has agreed to temporarily halt annexations in the West Bank.
Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, said the UAE continues to consider the issue of a Palestinian state as the most important one but without impeding opportunities for dialogue and open communication.
She said Abraham Accords was born from a “desire to change the business as usual approach” that has mired the countries of Middle East in conflict for long.
Even as the UAE continues to work for its own national agenda, Al Hashimi said the country is “really looking to learn from each other and also to explain to one another who we are and what matters to us”.
“And it does matter to the Arab and the Muslim world that a Palestinian state in its rightful place … exists.”
Ban Ki-Moon said it would be difficult to forge lasting peace without addressing the Palestinian question as well as issues like the final status of Jerusalem and West Bank settlement.
“To truly advance the vision of peace throughout the Middle East, we should not forget that the Palestinians must be involved in determining a future that is based on security and prosperity for all people in the region. I hope that Abraham Accords can function as a springboard for invigorated action on ensuring a negotiated two-state solution aligned with the relevant UN security council resolutions.”
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Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.

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