TUE 26 - 3 - 2019
Date: Nov 3, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Govt shelling in north Syria kills at least eight: activists
BEIRUT/AL-QAIM, Iraq: Syrian government shelling of a rebel-held area in the country’s northwest Friday killed at least eight people in the latest and deadliest violation of a truce in the area reached two months ago, a Syria activist group and an opposition paramedic group said.

The artillery shelling marked another breach of the truce reached between Russia and Turkey in September that avoided a major government offensive on the rebel-held province of Idlib.

On Oct. 26, seven people were killed when government forces shelled parts of Idlib, according to opposition activists.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said eight people were killed, including five civilians, in the shelling near the village of Jarjanaz in Idlib.

The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, said artillery shells left 10 people dead and others wounded.

The Sept. 17 agreement to set up a demilitarized zone 15-20 kilometers deep and stretching along the front lines around Idlib, including parts of the provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo, aimed to avert a government offensive on the area.

It also called on militants to evacuate the zone, but activists say many of them did not pull out.

Idlib has recently witnessed internal fighting between Al-Qaeda-linked militants and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters.

In the northern city of Raqqa, which was held by Daesh (ISIS) until October last year, gunmen shot dead tribal leader Bashir Faysal Hweidi in his car, according to the observatory and the activist collective Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack, accusing Hweidi in a statement of cooperating with the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led group that captured the city from the extremists last year.

Hweidi was a senior leader of the Afadla tribe, one of the largest in Raqqa province.

Daesh sleeper cells have been blamed for deadly attacks in areas they once controlled in Syria and Iraq. In neighboring Iraq, troops have reinforced their positions along the porous frontier with Syria, fearing a spillover from clashes there between Daesh and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

For weeks, Daesh has fought back an assault by the SDF on a key militant-held pocket in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zor province near the border with Iraq.

It managed to recapture some territory from the SDF around Hajin, prompting Baghdad to dispatch reinforcements to its own border, including paramilitary units from Al-Hashd al-Shaabi and the army.

“All measures have been taken we have control towers, observation posts, dirt berms and trenches,” Lt. Col. Abbas Mohammad, the head of one border unit, said Thursday.

“The SDF’s retreat will not be a threat to Iraq,” he added.

Soldiers could be seen posted along a sand berm topped by barbed wire and decorated with Iraqi flags, according to an AFP video journalist at the scene.

Military vehicles patrolled between barracks, and soldiers stationed at observation posts pointed their machine guns towards the Syrian border.

Helicopters and more armored cars arrived throughout the day.

Daesh fighters were just “5 or 6 kilometers away, inside Syria, according to Iraqi Gen. Qassem al-Mohammadi, who heads operations in Iraq’s western Anbar province. Anbar, a massive desert governorate that extends from the edge of Baghdad west toward the Syrian border, served as a militant bastion before Iraqi forces retook it in late 2017.

Across the border in Syria, two separate offensives have aimed at ousting Daesh from the frontier with Iraq.

One has been carried out by Russian-backed Syrian troops, who have cleared Daesh from territory west of the Euphrates River.

That includes the Albukamal border post with Iraq, which was captured last year.

Authorities in both Baghdad and Damascus said in mid-October that they hope to revitalize cross-border trade through it as soon as possible.

The Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011, has killed some 400,000 people and some 5 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries. Millions others are internationally displaced.

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