• Breaking News

    First Iraqi air raid in Syria hits Daesh

    BAGHDAD/BEIRUT: Daesh, under attack on two fronts, hit back on Friday with bombings in the Syrian town of Al-Bab, which it lost to Turkish forces and opposition fighters on Thursday. Over 60 people, mostly civilians, were killed.

    Also Friday, the terror group was struck by Iraq’s air force inside Syria for the first time as Iraqi troops pushed into western Mosul, the last major urban stronghold held by Daesh in Iraq.

    As the bloodbath continued, there appeared little prospect of the opposing Syrian sides meeting directly soon for peace talks in Geneva.

    The regime of Bashar Assad got a breather as Russia announced it will use its veto to block a proposed UN resolution drafted by the US, France and Britain that would impose sanctions on Syria for the use of chemical weapons.

    Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced the airstrikes in a statement, saying the air force hit towns of Boukamal and Husseibah across the border and came in response to recent bombings in Baghdad claimed by Daesh and linked to the militants’ operations in Syria.

    The US provided intelligence to Iraq for the strikes, the Pentagon said.

    “Yes we were aware, yes we supported it as well with information,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.

    “It is a good strike, it is a valid strike, it was a strike against Daesh targets,” Davis said.

    Meanwhile, Iraqi forces pushed into the first neighborhood of western Mosul and took full control of Mosul’s international airport and a sprawling military base on the southwestern edge of the city, according to Iraqi officials.

    The territorial gains mark the first key moves in the battle, now in its sixth day, to rout Daesh terrorists from the western half of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

    The push into Mamun neighborhood was followed by intense clashes with Daesh fighters, according to an Iraqi special forces officer on the ground, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

    An Iraqi air force commander said the airstrikes against Daesh in Syria were carried out with F-16 warplanes at dawn and “were successful.”

    The commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said they were conducted at the order of the prime minister.

    In Syria, a suicide car bomb went off outside a security office operated by Syrian opposition north of Al-Bab, killing 60 people, mostly civilians who had gathered to return home to the town liberated from Daesh only a day earlier.

    At least six fighters were among those killed in the attack, according to Turkey’s Prime Minister, who spoke in Ankara.

    According to Mohammed Al-Tawil, a leading Syrian opposition fighter north of Al-Bab, a suicide attacker blew up his small pick-up truck outside a security office in Sousian village, about 8 km north of Al-Bab.

    He said the explosion went off as the opposition fighters were organizing the return of civilians from Al-Bab who had been displaced by the fighting for their town.

    “These people have suffered a lot,” Al-Tawil said. “They have been waiting for this moment” to return home.

    Al-Tawil, a member of the opposition Al-Bab military council, said about four fighters manning the checkpoint were killed in the attack. Al-Tawil, who was at the security office at the time of the explosion, said the rest of the casualties were civilians from Al-Bab.

    In Geneva, UN mediator Staffan de Mistura handed working papers focused on procedural issues to delegations at Syrian peace talks, but there appeared little prospect of the opposing sides meeting directly soon.-Arab News

    Opposing sides in the war came face-to-face at the UN for the first time in three years on Thursday, to hear mediator Staffan de Mistura — who is looking to find a common ground between the regime and the opposition for negotiations.

    But tensions were palpable among participants at Friday’s opening ceremony.

    In a short statement to reporters after more than two hours of discussions with the UN envoy, the regime’s chief negotiator Bashar Al-Ja’afari told reporters that they had discussed nothing more than the format for the coming days.

    “At the end of the meeting de Mistura gave us a paper and we agreed to study this paper. We shall inform him of our position,” he said.

    He corrected an interpreter who described it as a “document,” and gave no details of what it said. He took no questions.

    De Mistura was holding bilateral meetings with the delegations on Friday to establish a plan for this round of negotiations that could run into early March.

    The opposition delegation, which is not fully under one umbrella, said it had also received a paper.

    “There is a paper about the procedural issues and some ideas to begin the political process,” lead negotiator Nasr Al-Hariri told reporters.

    In New York, Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told reporters following a closed-door meeting of the Security Council that Russia will use its veto to block the resolution seeking curbs against the Assad regime. “I just explained our position very clearly to our partners. If it is tabled we will veto it.”

    The US, France and Britain are pushing for a vote early next week on the proposed resolution that would slap sanctions on Syrians deemed responsible for chemical attacks in the nearly six-year war.

    Safronkov rejected the measure as “one-sided,” saying it was based on “insufficient proof” and contradicted “the fundamental principle of presumption of innocence until the investigation is over.”

    Russia has used its veto six times to shield its Damascus ally from any punitive action by the Security Council.

    The draft resolution follows a UN-led investigation which concluded in October that the Syrian military had carried out at least three chlorine attacks on opposition-held villages in 2014 and 2015.

    US Ambassador Nikki Haley said she was not swayed by the Russian arguments. “How much longer is Russia going to continue to babysit and make excuses for the Syrian regime?” she said.

    “People have died by being suffocated to death. That’s barbaric. You are either for chemical weapons or you are against it,” she added.

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