Tag Archive: Sacred Land of Syria


by Mohamed Mostafa

Apr 9, 2017

(Reuters) Iraq’s influential Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to “take a historic heroic decision” and step down, to spare his country further bloodshed.

Sadr, who commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and the southern cities, is the first Iraqi Shi’ite political leader to urge Assad to step down.

But his call was wrapped in kind words about the Syrian president and condemnation of the U.S. strikes carried out on a Syrian airbase on Friday, in retaliation for a chemical attack on civilians in a rebel-held area of Syria.

Sadr said the U.S. strikes would “drag the region to war” and could help “the expansion of Daesh,” the militant Islamic State group, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria.

Iraq’s Shi’ite-led governments have maintained good relations with the Syrian government throughout the six-year Syrian civil war. Sadr is the only Iraqi Shi’ite leader to keep some distance from Iran, a main backer of Assad along with Russia.

“I think it would be fair for President Bashar al-Assad to offer his resignation and step down in love for Syria, to spare it the woes of war and terrorism …and take a historic, heroic decision before it is too late,” Sadr said in a statement.

The Shi’ite-led Iraqi government issued a statement on Friday that reflected the difficult balancing act it maintains between its alliance with the United States and with Shi’ite Iran. It condemned the chemical attack, without naming Assad, calling instead for an international investigation to identify the perpetrator.

The statement also criticized “the hasty interventions” that followed the chemical attack, in an apparent reference to the U.S. strikes.

A U.S.-led coalition has been providing air and ground support to Iraqi forces battling Islamic State, allowing them to recapture most of the cities they had overrun in 2014 in Sunni areas of northern and western Iraq.

Source: Iraqi News.

Link: http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/sadr-becomes-first-iraqi-shiite-leader-urge-assad-step/.

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NOVEMBER 13, 2017

ANKARA/SOCHI (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan took swipes at U.S. and Russian interventions in Syria on Monday and said if countries truly believed a military solution was impossible, they should withdraw their troops.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump said in a joint statement on Saturday they would continue to fight against Islamic State in Syria, while agreeing that there was no military solution to the country’s wider, six-year-old conflict.

”I am having trouble understanding these comments,“ Erdogan told reporters before flying to Russia for talks with Putin. ”If a military solution is out of the question, then those who say this should pull their troops out.

“Then a political method should be sought in Syria, ways to head into elections should be examined… We will discuss these with Putin,” he said.

After more than four hours of talks with Putin in the southern Russian resort of Sochi, Erdogan said the two leaders had agreed to focus on a political solution to the conflict.

“We agreed that the grounds to focus on a political solution (in Syria) have been formed,” he said.

Putin said Russia would continue to work on Syria with Turkey and their efforts were yielding results: “The level of violence has definitely been reduced, favorable conditions are being created for the progression of a inter-Syrian dialogue.”

Neither leader went into more specific detail. Asked if the two discussed Erdogan’s earlier comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the talks were about more complex issues which could not be made public, according to RIA news agency.

Turkey has been annoyed by both Russian and U.S. missions in Syria. Before his trip to Russia, Erdogan said both Moscow, which backs President Bashar al-Assad, and Washington, which armed Syrian YPG Kurdish forces Ankara sees as allied to separatists fighting in southeastern Turkey, had set up bases.

“The United States said it would completely leave Iraq, but it didn‘t. The world is not stupid, some realities are being told differently and practiced differently,” he said.

He said the United States had 13 bases in Syria and Russia had five. The YPG has said Washington has established seven military bases in areas of northern Syria. The U.S.-led coalition says it does not discuss the location of its forces.

Russia has been a strong supporter of Assad, whose removal Erdogan has demanded, and Moscow’s military intervention two years ago helped turn the conflict in the Syrian president’s favor.

Turkish troops have also fought in Syria to halt the advance of Kurdish YPG forces along its frontier.

“We attach great importance to the joint steps Turkey and Russia will take on (the) defense industry,” Erdogan said.

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-turkey-russia/erdogan-swipes-at-russia-u-s-missions-in-syria-idUSKBN1DD1F2.

November 20, 2017

Over the last eight months, Turkey has rebuilt over 400 damaged schools in Syria’s Aleppo region, enabling 152,000 children to continue their education.

After the Operation Euphrates Shield operation, Turkey’s National Education Ministry launched a study for a total of 458 schools in Aleppo’s Jarabulus, Al-Bab, Cobanbey and Azez regions.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the ministry’s Lifelong Education Director Ali Riza Altunel said: “I believe the number of students will increase to around 170,000 by the end of the first semester.”

Altunel said the ministry had been running its program since March after Operation of Euphrates Shield was successfully wrapped up by the Turkish military.

“There were enough numbers of primary and middle schools, but a very small amount of high schools,” Altunel said. “In March, we only managed to continue with lessons in only three schools. By the end of June, the number increased to 103 schools.”

The director said children in the rebuilt regions were “extremely happy with Turkey’s contributions,” with Syrian children painting banners saying they continue their education “no matter what”.

“This is the reaction we are glad to receive in exchange for our hard work,” Altunel said.

The director said children in the region were unable to receive a proper education in the last five years.

“So, we launched a ‘compensation program’ for children to make up for the lack of the education,” he said. “We are working hard to graduate children from elementary schools for them to continue with middle school.”

Syria has remained locked in a vicious civil war since 2011. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by the conflict and millions more displaced, according to UN figures.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171120-turkey-rebuilds-over-400-war-torn-schools-in-syria/.

2017-11-19

DEIR EZZOR – The Syrian army and loyalist militiamen Sunday retook full control of Albu Kamal from the Islamic State group, a military source said, ousting the jihadists from their last urban stronghold in Syria.

Albu Kamal has changed hands several times, with government forces announcing the capture of the town near the Iraqi border earlier this month but losing it to a blistering IS counter-attack a week ago.

“Syrian troops and allied forces took full control of Albu Kamal, and are removing mines and explosives left by IS,” the military source in Deir Ezzor said on Sunday.

“IS put up fierce resistance and tried to use explosives and suicide bombers, but besieging the city allowed the army to clinch the offensive and take full control of the city,” the source added.

State news agency SANA also reported the advance in Albu Kamal, saying the “Syrian army and its allies eliminated the last Daesh (IS) terrorist pocket in the town.”

A string of territorial defeats across northern and eastern Syria had left Albu Kamal as the last significant Syrian town held by IS.

Syria’s army announced on November 9 it had ousted IS from the town, but the jihadists launched a lightning offensive and retook it.

A week later, the army and allied Iraqi, Lebanese, and Iranian fighters broke back into Albu Kamal and steadily advanced through the town.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed on Sunday that Syrian troops and their allies had captured Albu Kamal.

“IS fighters withdrew from the city towards the Euphrates River,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

“There is no more fighting in the town, but there are clashes around Albu Kamal,” he said.

The monitor said more than 80 fighters were killed in the three days of ferocious push to retake the town, including 31 pro-regime forces and at least 50 IS jihadists.

IS seized large areas of both Syria and neighboring Iraq in a lightning 2014 campaign, but this year has lost much of the territory it once held.

The loss of Albu Kamal caps the group’s reversion to an underground guerrilla organisation with no urban base.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86013.

2017-11-03

DAMASCUS – Syria’s army has seized Deir Ezzor from the Islamic State group, state media said Friday, driving the jihadists from the last major city where they were present.

“The army announces full control of Deir Ezzor city,” state television said in a breaking news alert, citing sources on the ground.

State news agency SANA also reported that Deir Ezzor had been “fully liberated.”

State television reported that engineering units from the army were combing captured neighborhoods to defuse mines and other explosives.

On Thursday, a reporter contributing to AFP saw widespread destruction in the city, with whole buildings hit by air strikes or artillery fire crumpled into themselves and streets strewn with rubble.

Trenches dug by IS fighters to defend their positions were still visible as government minesweepers worked.

Syrian troops and allied fighters backed by Russian air power have been battling inside the eastern city since September, when they broke an IS siege of nearly three years on government-held districts.

In recent days they have advanced, capturing a string of neighborhoods and encircling remaining IS fighters.

The city is the provincial capital of surrounding Deir Ezzor province, an oil-rich region that sits on the county’s eastern border with Iraq.

The province was once largely held by IS, though parts of Deir Ezzor city stayed under government control throughout the jihadist group’s reign.

IS is now facing twin assaults in the province, from the army as well as US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

The jihadist group has lost much of the territory it once held in the province. Its most important remaining position is the town of Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85744.

OCTOBER 31, 2017

BEIRUT (Reuters) – With Islamic State near defeat in Syria, Damascus is setting its sights on territory held by Kurdish-led forces including eastern oil fields, risking a new confrontation that could draw the United States in more deeply and complicate Russian diplomacy.

President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian allies appear to have been emboldened by events in Iraq, where Kurdish authorities have suffered a major blow since regional states mobilized against their independence referendum, analysts say.

Rivalry between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by the United States, and the Syrian government backed by Iran and Russia is emerging as a fault line with their common enemy – Islamic State – close to collapse in Syria.

Syria’s main Kurdish groups hope for a new phase of negotiations that will shore up their autonomy in northern Syria. Assad’s government, however, is asserting its claim to areas captured by the SDF from the jihadist group, known in Arabic by its enemies as Daesh, in more forceful terms.

On Sunday, Damascus declared Islamic State’s former capital at Raqqa would be considered “occupied” until the Syrian army took control – a challenge to Washington which helped the SDF capture the city in months of fighting.

And the eastern oil fields seized by the SDF in October, including Syria’s largest, will be a target for the government as it tries to recover resources needed for reconstructing areas it controls, according to a Syrian official and a non-Syrian commander in the alliance fighting in support of Assad.

“The message is very clear to the SDF militants and their backers in the coalition, headed by America: the lands they took from Daesh are rightfully the Syrian state‘s,” said the non-Syrian commander, who requested that his name and nationality be withheld.

“Regarding the resources of the Syrian people in the east – oil and so on – we will not allow anyone to continue to control the country’s resources and to create cantons or to think about self government,” added the commander, who is part of a military alliance that includes numerous Iran-backed Shi‘ite militias from across the region.

The Syrian official said the SDF could not keep control of oil resources. “We won’t permit it,” said the official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity as he was giving a personal view.

The United States has not spelt out how military support for the SDF will evolve after Islamic State’s defeat, a sensitive point due to the concerns of its NATO ally Turkey.

Ankara regards Syrian Kurdish power as a threat its national security as its forces are fighting Kurdish PKK rebels over the border in Turkey.

The U.S.-led coalition, which has established several military bases in northern Syria, has been helping the SDF shore up control of the recently captured al-Omar oil field in Deir al-Zor province.

“Many people will say that will help them with (political) negotiations, but only if the United States remains with them, otherwise they are going to get clobbered,” said Joshua Landis, an expert on Syria and head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“I think the Syrian government is going to push on some of these oil wells, in the same way as Iraq just pushed to get Kirkuk oil, and in the same way the Iraqi push is going to embolden the Syrian army,” he said.

KIRKUK “LESSON”

Iraqi Kurds took control of large areas outside their autonomous region during the fight against Islamic State. However, last month’s independence referendum prompted Western opposition and fierce resistance from Baghdad, Ankara and Assad’s Iranian allies, and the Kurdish authorities have since lost much territory to Baghdad, including oil producing areas around the city of Kirkuk.

The Syrian official said this should serve “as a lesson for the Kurds in Syria, so they think about the future”.

Regional sources say the U.S. unwillingness to stop Iraqi government forces, backed by Shi‘ite militias, from recapturing Kirkuk sent an encouraging message to Assad and his Iranian allies to retake the SDF-held oil areas in Syria.

With critical military support from Russia and the Iran-backed militias, Assad has recovered swathes of central and eastern Syria from Islamic State this year, having defeated many anti-Assad rebel factions in western Syria.

The Kurdish YPG militia, the dominant force in the SDF, controls the second largest chunk of Syrian territory – around a quarter of the country. Syrian Kurdish leaders say they are not seeking secession.

The YPG and Damascus have mostly avoided conflict during the Syrian civil war, setting aside historic enmity to fight shared foes. Kurdish-led regions of northern Syria have meanwhile focused on establishing an autonomous government which they aim to safeguard.

Moscow has called for a new “congress” of Syrian groups that may start work on a new constitution. The Russian Foreign Ministry published on Tuesday a list of 33 groups and political parties invited to a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Nov. 18.

A Syrian Kurdish official told Reuters the administration in northern Syria had been invited to the congress. Kurdish officials said they discussed their political demands with the Russians as recently as last month.

A senior Kurdish politician said government statements directed at the Kurdish-led regions of northern Syria were contradictory, noting that the Syrian foreign minister had said in September that Kurdish autonomy demands were negotiable.

“One day they say we are willing to negotiate and then someone else denies this or puts out an opposing statement,” Fawza Youssef said in a telephone interview with Reuters. “One of them declares war and the other wants to come negotiate. What is the regime’s strategy? Dialogue or war?”

After the final defeat of Islamic State in Deir al-Zor, “the situation will drive all the political sides and the combatants to start the stage of negotiations”, Youssef said.

The SDF has also pushed into Arab majority areas, including Raqqa and parts of Deir al-Zor, where it is working to establish its model of multi-ethnic local governance.

Analysts believe the Syrian Kurdish groups could use the SDF-held Arab areas as bargaining chips in negotiations with Damascus.

“There is no other option than to negotiate,” Youssef said. “Either a new stage of tensions and attrition will start – which we are 100 percent against – or a stage of dialogue and negotiations will start.”

Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Washington; Writing by Tom Perry; editing by David Stamp

Source: Reuters.

Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-kurds-analysis/assad-sets-sights-on-kurdish-areas-risking-new-syria-conflict-idUSKBN1D02CN.

October 31, 2017

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The U.N. humanitarian chief called for immediate “life-saving” access to 50,000 displaced Syrians stranded on the sealed border with Jordan, as aid officials reported a sharp drop in food supplies in the remote desert camp since Syrian government forces advanced toward the area in the summer.

Black market prices for food have soared and malnutrition is on the rise among young children in the Rukban camp, the officials said. Mark Lowcock, the U.N. official, told the U.N. Security Council in a Syria briefing that a long-term solution is needed for getting aid to Rukban.

He said that “the best approach is to find a solution from within Syria” — an apparent shift after U.N. agencies held months of largely unsuccessful talks with Jordan about access to the camp. Speaking to the Security Council after meetings with Jordanian officials on Monday, Lowcock said U.N. agencies are “straining every sinew” to find a way to deliver aid from Syria.

Jordan sealed its border with Syria in June 2016, after a cross-border car bomb by Islamic State extremists killed seven Jordanian border guards. The pro-Western kingdom has defended the closure, saying its security trumps humanitarian considerations, and that the attack underscored warnings that Rukban has been infiltrated by IS sympathizers.

The international community is reluctant to pressure Jordan, which is hosting a large number of refugees. In all, more than 5 million Syrians fled their country since 2011, including about 660,000 registered refugees in Jordan.

Jordan’s foreign minister told European Union diplomats last month that Syria and the international community, not Jordan, bear responsibility for Rukban. U.N. aid deliveries to Rukban from inside Syria would require permission from the government in Damascus and also pose safety risks for staff crossing front lines.

Since Jordan’s border closure, U.N. agencies have only carried out two distributions from Jordan, in addition to a partial one in June. At one point, food was hoisted by cranes from Jordan and dropped off near Rukban. A subsequent system of delivery, through a Jordanian contractor, has repeatedly broken down.

The recent deterioration in Rukban followed a temporary cease-fire for southwestern Syria in early July. As fighting ebbed in the southwest, Syrian government forces and their allies advanced in the southeast.

Commercial food shipments from other areas of Syria to Rukban dropped by about 70 percent since the Syrian government’s advances, said Firas Abdel Aziz, a Jordan-based activist for Jusoor al-Amal, a charity that operates in the camp.

The price of bread has doubled, sugar is up six-fold and the cost of rice has tripled, he said. Lowcock said that “as limited commercial supplies are reaching Rukban, access to food is precarious and the overall situation remains dire.” The situation will become more acute as winter approaches, he added.

While a long-term solution is needed, “immediate access to enable life-saving assistance for the civilian population is critical,” he said. A U.N.-run clinic continues to operate on Jordanian soil, several kilometers from Rukban, and receives 100 to 150 patients per day, said other aid officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of ongoing talks with Jordan.

The population size of Rukban has fluctuated, said Abdel Aziz. In early September, residents of a smaller border tent camp, Hadalat, evacuated the area as Syrian troops advanced, with many fleeing to Rukban. Abdel Aziz said hundreds more families arrived recently from another flashpoint of fighting in Syria’s far east.

U.N. satellite images from late September indicated there are close to 10,000 shelters in the camp, an increase of 6.6 percent from three months earlier.

Associated Press writer Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

29.10.2017 Sunday

By Rebecca Trigger

After escaping her war-torn hometown of Aleppo, Talar Anjer-Koushian threw herself into Australian life — going to university, securing a fulltime job, and now volunteering to help other refugees establish themselves in their adopted home.

Talar was one of 12,000 asylum seekers granted visas in Australia under a special humanitarian intake of Syrians and Iraqis, fleeing terrorism and civil war — all of whom have now arrived on our shores.

Ms Anjer-Koushian said the biggest challenge after arriving in Australia was going back to university — she’s studying a masters in International Development in her fourth language.

She also managed to land a fulltime job last week, but says for many other Syrians, securing employment remains their biggest concern.

“We want to work, we want to give back, we don’t like just taking and sitting and being lazy,” she said.

All of the extraordinary visas announced by the then-Abbott government in 2015 were granted by March this year, but the final families only arrived in the latter half of the year.

The special visas have been granted to people in UNHCR camps, but also to people forced to flee and shelter in urban communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

‘We decided to leave, to have a life’

For Ms Anjer-Koushian, her life now is a stark contrast to what she was forced to leave behind.

Syria’s horrific civil war has left hundreds of thousands of people dead, fueled the rise of the Islamic State group, and caused the biggest asylum seeker crisis since the last World War.

Once a vibrant and thriving commercial center, Aleppo has seen industrial-scale devastation, buildings damaged beyond repair, and basic services to its people cut off.

“We had days that we didn’t have water, electricity, it wasn’t safe to go outside,” she said.

“Electricity was a celebration, so whenever we had electricity we used to wake up even if it was in the middle of the night, just to watch TV, and just enjoy the lights.”

She said the worry was constant, and it was always dangerous to leave your home.

“You get used to it, you get the skills that help you to live with the conditions that you are put under,” she said.

“But when it was enough … we just couldn’t tolerate it, and we decided to leave, and to have a life.”

‘It needs time’: Syrian-Iraq refugees put down roots

Ms Anjer-Koushian said while many of her fellow refugees will be grateful for the chance at a new life, they will need help to adjust to a completely new environment.

“They might get afraid people won’t be welcoming of them, so they won’t approach others,” she said.

“They will be closed and always questioning themselves, ‘are we good enough, are we OK to approach and to talk to others, and form friendships and meet other people?

“Although Australians are really welcoming, from my experience everyone was really welcoming and helpful … so I think in time they will get over that.”

Despite learning about Australia from an uncle who lived in Perth for many years, Ms Anjer-Koushian still hit a few hurdles adjusting to the culture here.

“Sometimes being straightforward and being honest in my culture is not always that acceptable, you always turn around and you’re not straight to the point,” she said.

“Whereas here people don’t go around and around, they just tell you straight what their opinion is or what they think about a topic.

Volunteering to help others adjust

Now she is giving back — volunteering with the Australian Red Cross’s new Humanitarian Settlement Program to help new refugees acclimatize and understand how to thrive in their adopted country.

Of the new refugees arriving in Australia in 2016-2017, more than 6,500 were fleeing the Iraq-Syrian conflict, and many more are expected to come from the region in future years.

Red Cross migration support programs manager Vicki Mau said people who came to Australia through the humanitarian resettlement program had often been through extremely difficult experiences, but that also meant they were incredibly resilient.

“What we’re really trying to do is make it a smooth process for them,” she said.

Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Link: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-29/extraordinary-intake-syrian-iraq-refugees-12000/9090308.

October 18, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-backed Syrian forces celebrated in the devastated streets of Raqqa on Tuesday after gaining control of the northern city that once was the heart of the Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate, dealing a major defeat to the extremist group that has seen its territory shrink ever smaller since summer.

Militants took over the vibrant metropolis on the Euphrates River in 2014, transforming it into the epicenter of their brutal rule, where opponents were beheaded and terror plots hatched. It took thousands of bombs dropped by the U.S.-led coalition and more than four months of grueling house-to-house battles for the Syrian Democratic Forces to recapture Raqqa, marking a new chapter in the fight against the group whose once vast territory has been reduced to a handful of towns in Syria and Iraq.

“Liberating Raqqa is a triumph for humanity, especially women,” who suffered the most under IS, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior member of the SDF political wing. “It is a salvation for the will to live an honorable life. It is a defeat to the forces of darkness,” said Ahmed, speaking to The Associated Press from Ein Issa, just north of Raqqa.

Fighters from the SDF celebrated by chanting and honking their horns as they spun doughnuts with their Humvees and armored personnel carriers, and hoisting yellow SDF flags around Naim, or Paradise Square.

The infamous square was the site of public beheadings and other killings by the militants. Bodies and severed heads would be displayed there for days, mounted on posts and labeled with their alleged crimes, according to residents who later dubbed it “Hell Square.”

Crumbled and flattened buildings stood behind the fighters as they drove around the square, a sign of the massive destruction the city has suffered since the militants took over. It was in Naim Square that the extremists paraded tanks and military hardware in 2014 in a chilling show of force that foretold what would come.

SDF commanders later visited Raqqa’s sports stadium, which IS had turned into a notorious prison. Dozens of militants who refused to surrender made their last stand earlier Tuesday holed up inside. “Immortal martyrs!” chanted the men and women in SDF uniforms, saluting their comrades who died battling for the city. According to the coalition, about 1,100 SDF forces have been killed fighting IS in Raqqa and Deir el-Zour.

“Military operations in Raqqa have ceased and we are now combing the city for sleeper cells and cleaning it from land mines,” Brig. Gen. Talal Sillo told the AP earlier in the day. A formal declaration that Raqqa has fallen would be made soon, once troops finish their clearing operations, Sillo said.

Col. Ryan Dillon, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, was more cautious, saying only that “more than 90 percent” of Raqqa had been cleared. He estimated about 100 IS militants were still in the city and said he expects the SDF to encounter “pockets of resistance” during the clearing operations.

The battle of Raqqa has killed more than 1,000 civilians, many of them in coalition airstrikes in recent months, and displaced tens of thousands of people who face the prospect of returning to ruined homes. The coalition and residents who managed to escape accused the militants of using civilians as human shields and tried to stop them from leaving the city.

In a reminder of the humanitarian catastrophe unleashed by the fighting, the international charity group Save the Children said that camps housing tens of thousands of people who fled Raqqa are “bursting at the seams.”

It said about 270,000 people from Raqqa are still in critical need of aid. With the high level of destruction reported in and around Raqqa, most families have nowhere to go and are likely to be in camps for months or years. The World Food Program said it was ready to send teams as soon as the area was secure enough.

Ahmed, the SDF official, said the hardest part will be administering and rebuilding Raqqa. The group has appointed a civilian administration of locals to rebuild the city, but larger questions loom. The SDF is a multi-ethnic force, but its Kurdish leadership harbors ambitions of autonomous rule over a Kurdish region in Syria that now includes the Arab-majority Raqqa, leading to concerns of a possible backlash among the city’s Sunni Arab population.

Brett McGurk, the top U.S. presidential envoy to the anti-IS coalition, arrived in northern Syria and met Tuesday with members of the Raqqa Civil Council and members of the reconstruction committee. He also met tribal leaders and urged them to work closely with the SDF, preventing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad from using any divisions between them, according to the Furat FM, an activist-run news agency.

An immediate challenge was clearing Raqqa of thousands of land mines and booby traps that have killed returning civilians and senior SDF commanders in recent days. One of those killed Monday was the head of the internal security force affiliated with the SDF.

Another challenge for the troops is searching the tunnels that were dug by the militants around the city, Dillon said. “This will take some time, to say that the city is completely clear,” he told AP. “We still suspect that there are still (IS) fighters that are within the city in small pockets.”

The loss of Raqqa will deprive the militants of a major hub for recruitment and planning, Dillon said, because the city attracted hundreds of foreign fighters and was a place where attacks in the Middle East and Europe were planned. The militants remain active in Syria, he said, farther south around the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.

In recent months, the Islamic State has steadily lost ground in Iraq and Syria, including Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul. It has also lost major territory to Syrian government forces who have been marching against the group in a simultaneous but separate offensive, mainly in Deir el-Zour province.

Syria’s state news agency said government forces and their Russian and Iranian-backed allies captured the Deir el-Zour villages of Mouhassan, Bouomar and Bouleil that were once extremist strongholds. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that government forces now control more than 90 percent of the city of Deir el-Zour, where a major offensive is underway to capture remaining IS-held neighborhoods.

The battle for Raqqa began in June and the SDF met with stiff resistance from the militants. It began its final assault on Sunday after nearly 300 IS fighters surrendered. Naim Square was captured Monday.

The force seized the hospital Tuesday, taking down the last black IS flag, according to the Kurdish-run Hawar news agency. A video from Hawar showed the clashes around the hospital, which appeared riddled with bullets and partly blackened from a fire.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut and National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

By JT

Nov 16, 2017

AMMAN — Deputizing for HRH Princess Muna, Minister of Health Mahmoud Sheyyab on Wednesday inaugurated the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) new multi-specialty medical center at Zaatari refugee camp, a SAMS statement said.

With this new enterprise, SAMS, a leading medical relief organisation with offices in the US, Syria and its neighboring countries, in addition to Greece, provides dignified and high-quality healthcare to refugees living in the camp.

SAMS President Ahmad Tarakji and SAMS Foundation Chairman Amjad Rass, attended the opening ceremony at Zaatari Camp, highlighting SAMS’s role in providing healthcare to refugees living inside and outside the camp.

The SAMS multi-specialty medical center will address the vast and urgent health care needs of 80,000 refugees currently living in Zaatari camp, the world’s largest Syrian refugee camp, according to the statement.

Many refugees in the camp suffer from chronic and communicable illnesses and emotional trauma that have gone untreated due to a lack of consistent, specialized medical services. The new medical center is expected to provide 7,700 medical services per month, treating up to 350 patients on a daily basis, in various areas of specialty care, including cardiology, neurology, pediatrics, gynaecology, dental and orthopedics, as well as those pertaining to primary and preventative care.

At the front lines of crisis relief in Syria and its neighboring countries since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, SAMS has provided medical services in Zaatari for over three years, regularly heading medical missions in the area to offer free, quality care to refugees, with 95,637 medical services offered inside Zaatari Camp in 2016, the statement continued.

“The new medical center has been carefully designed to address the growing need for ongoing, quality medical care to refugees, following the recent closure of a number of health facilities in the camp. We are proud to announce that our center will be fully equipped to focus not only on treatment, but also on prevention, wellness and specialty care,” Tarakji was quoted in the statement as saying. “We are confident that the facility will serve as a beacon of hope and a place of respite for the camp’s residents, and in so doing, help provide them a future they can look forward to.”

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/news/local/new-multispecialty-medical-centre-inaugurated-zaatari-camp.