Nearly Half a Million Displaced People Return to Syrian Province

Damascus, Aug 18 (Prensa Latina) Nearly half a million displaced persons have returned to their houses in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor since the beginning of this year, today confirmed local administration sources.

The number of citizens who returned to their homes in the province reached 489,531 from the beginning of 2018, which shows a total number of residents of up to 1,37,000 people, according to the latest statistics.

After the Syrian army restored security in most of the province's countryside and secured thousands of kilometers of main roads to other regions, the first sector that was rehabilitated was transport.

Likewise, work was carried out on the resumption of the operations of offices for civil affairs, banks, post offices, fire stations and municipal councils, in parallel with the start of work to eliminate debris, repair streets and infrastructure in general, including water services and electricity.

The director of the Deir Ezzor Health Department Abdul Najem al-Obeid said that 26 medical centers and two medical centers were opened, as well as hospitals that provide services to citizens, which include equipment, general supplies, ambulances and mobile clinics.

The sources indicated that the food, scarce under the blockade imposed by the terrorists of the Islamic State (Daesh) for almost three years, was guaranteed a few days after breaking the siege through convoys and prices fell and returned to normal levels. They also stated that several institutions and departments of services are working to complete the rehabilitation of the infrastructure of different sectors in Deir Ezzor within the context of a work program integrated by all the society's forces.

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ISIS Suicide Blasts Kill More Than 220 Dead In Southern Syria

Beirut, Lebanon: A string of suicide blasts and raids claimed by the ISIS killed more than 220 people in southern Syria on Wednesday, in one of the terrorist group's deadliest ever assaults in the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attacks hit several areas of the largely government-held southern province of Sweida, where ISIS retains a presence in a northeastern desert region.

The bloodshed came almost a week into a Russia-backed regime campaign to oust ISIS fighters from a holdout in a neighbouring province of the country's south.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the violence, saying "soldiers of the caliphate" attacked Syrian government positions and security outposts in Sweida city, then detonated explosive belts.

The Britain-based Observatory said four suicide bombers targeted Sweida city while others hit small villages to the north and east and shot residents in their homes.  

At least 221 people were killed, including 127 civilians, the Observatory said.

The remaining 94 dead were pro-regime fighters, mostly residents who took up arms to defend their homes, it said.

The overwhelming majority of the dead "were in (Sweida's) northern countryside, where the bodies of civilians executed inside their homes were found," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Sweida, whose residents are mostly from the Druze minority, has been relatively insulated from the war that has ravaged the rest of the country since 2011.

"It's the bloodiest death toll in Sweida province since the start of the war" and one of the deadliest ever IS attacks in Syria, the Observatory chief said.

He said regime forces eventually ousted ISIS from several villages its fighters had seized and put an end to the attacks.

"Some residents who fled the attacks on their villages are returning and finding people dead in their homes," Abdel Rahman said.

At least 38 ISIS fighters were also killed, including the suicide attackers.

Abandoned Shoes

State media confirmed the attacks had killed and wounded people in Sweida city and villages to the north and east but did not give a specific toll.

"Today's crime shows that countries supporting terrorism are trying to breathe life back into the terrorist organisation to keep it as a card in their hand that they will use to achieve political gains," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he received Russia's envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev.

"These attempts will only succeed in... shedding more innocent blood," he added, in comments carried on his social media accounts.

Omar, a resident of Sweida city, told AFP explosions began rocking the city around 5:30 am local time.

"The blast was sudden and unexpected. Never in its history has Sweida seen such a tough day," he told AFP.

State news agency SANA published images from the city of the attack's aftermath, showing a victim's remains sprawled on a staircase near a damaged wall.

Abandoned shoes lay in the middle of the road among fruit that had spilt out of cartons.

An eyewitness said Sweida's national hospital was "packed".

He said he saw "people bringing in a lot of wounded in their own private cars.. Others were coming to the hospital to ask if loved ones they had lost track of were there".

The UN's humanitarian coordinator in Syria Ali al-Zaatari condemned the "terrorist bombing in Sweida city", saying all civilians should be protected.

Government ally Russia said the IS attacks "confirm the need for energetic and coordinated efforts by the international community to eradicate this universal evil from Syrian territory".

Pro-government forces ousted ISIS from urban centres in eastern Syria last year, but ISIS raids in recent months have killed dozens of regime and allied fighters.

The terrorists still hold some territory in Syria's south, including in Sweida and another isolated but larger patch in neighbouring Daraa province, to the west.

That pocket is held by Jaish Khaled bin al-Walid, a jihadist faction whose 1,000 fighters have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

After ousting mainstream rebels from most of the south, Assad's troops backed by his Russian allies are now closing in on the ISIS pocket in Daraa.


SANA said the attacks on Sweida were an attempt to relieve pressure "on ISIS remnants facing their inevitable end in the western Daraa countryside".

Desert Holdouts

On Wednesday, Russia-backed regime forces pressed their heavy bombardment of ISIS territory in Daraa.

At least 41 civilians have been killed in air strikes on the jihadist holdout since July 19, while clashes have killed 49 regime fighters and 67 terrorists, says the Observatory.

Last month, Assad's forces launched a lightning assault that battered rebel areas in the south and brought most of Daraa province under his control.

They then moved on to Quneitra, the neighbouring province which borders the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.

On Tuesday, a Syrian military source accused Israel of firing at one of its warplanes as it carried out operations against jihadists in Quneitra.

Israel's army on Tuesday said it had shot down a Syrian fighter jet that had infiltrated Israeli airspace, risking another escalation around the sensitive buffer zone.

The Damascus regime has long accused Israel of backing ISIS, which overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014 but has since lost most of that territory.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

 

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ISIS-linked militants show up in Syrian refugee camp under US control – Lavrov

Militants linked with the terrorist group Islamic State are feeling increasingly comfortable in a refugee camp located near a US military base in southern Syria, the Russian foreign minister said.

“We have plenty of reports about strange things happening in the Al-Tanf area,” Sergey Lavrov said on Monday. “This area has no particular military value in terms of fighting terrorism. And in practical terms, we see a rise of presence in the region of militant groups, including those we believe to be connected with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in this or that way, including in the Rukban refugee camp.”

Located on Syria’s border with Jordan, Al-Tanf was captured last year by the US, which declared it under its protection and attacked pro-government forces showing up there. Russia has repeatedly expressed concern about the presence of US troops in the area and their refusal to allow access to it, including for humanitarian convoys to the Rukban camp.

READ MORE: Militants get R&R in US-guarded part of southern Syria – Lavrov

Asked by a journalist during a media conference if Russia was aware of US plans to withdraw from Al-Tanf, Lavrov said he has not seen any reports indicating such an intention, but would welcome such a move.

“This zone was created under manufactured justification with no military necessity,” he said. “If [the Americans] are arriving at the same conclusions, I expect this to translate into a practical implementation.”

The US put troops on the ground in Syria, stating that their goal was to defeat IS. The military intervention was carried out with no mandate from the UN Security Council, and against the objection of the Syrian government. The threat of IS has since been greatly diminished, but the US shows no intention of withdrawing from Syria. Instead, it is using its foothold in the north of the country to prop up the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia.

Russia says the continued presence of US troops is a sign that Washington may still be seeking to topple of the Syrian government or at least aiming to partition Syria.

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Moscow slams ‘illegal’ US presence in Syria as Pentagon reserves right for ‘defensive’ attacks

Russia has reminded the US that its presence in Syria is illegal after the coalition struck pro-government militias. Washington however reserved the right for “defensive” attacks to achieve peace “from a position of strength.”

The US presence in Syria is “actually illegal,” the Russian Ambassador to the UN reminded his Western counterparts on Thursday at a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council. “Nobody invited them there,” Vasily Nebenzya stated, emphasizing that a hard fought for stability in Syria is being jeopardized by US actions.

On Wednesday, the US-led coalition said it carried out several “defensive” airstrikes on Syrian forces in Deir Ez-Zor province in retaliation for what they described as an “unprovoked” attack on the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and foreign military “advisers.”

 
FILE PHOTO. Oil well on the outskirts of the city of Deir ez-Zor. © Mikhail Voskresenskiy

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Syrian militia unit was advancing against a “sleeper cell” of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists near the former oil processing plant of al-Isba, when it suddenly came under massive air strikes. At least 25 militiamen were injured in the attack, the Russian MoD noted, clarifying that pro-government troops targeted by the coalition did not coordinate their operation with the Russian command.

The US, however, maintains that the militia attacked the SDF. The Pentagon said Syrian forces moved “in a battalion-sized unit formation, supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars.” The battle which lasted over three hours, the US claims, began after 30 artillery tank rounds landed within 500 meters of the SDF unit’s location.

“At the start of the unprovoked attack on Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisers, coalition aircraft, including F-22A Raptors and MQ-9B Reapers, were overhead providing protective overwatch, defensive counter air and [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] support as they have 24/7 throughout the fight to defeat ISIS,” Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told Military.com.

“Following a call for support from Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, a variety of joint aircraft and ground-based artillery responded in defense of our SDF partners, including F-15E Strike Eagles,” he said in a statement Thursday. “These aircraft released multiple precision-fire munitions and conducted strafing runs against the advancing aggressor force, stopping their advance and destroying multiple artillery pieces and tanks.”

@RT_com 'Actions of the US coalition do not comply with legal norms. Beyond all doubt, it is aggression' https://on.rt.com/8yo4

Damascus called the attack a “war crime,” while the Russian military asserted that Washington’s true goal is to capture “economic assets” in Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova affirmed that the US military presence in Syria poses a dangerous threat to the political process and territorial integrity of the country, while Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the strike another violation of Syria’s sovereignty by the US.

The US, however, remained unmoved, promising to continue to support the US-allied forces in Syria at any cost. “We continue to support SDF with respect to defeating ISIS... ISIS is still there, and our mission is still to defeat ISIS,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Thursday. “We will continue to support them. Our goal is to ensure that our diplomats can negotiate from a position of strength, with respect to the Geneva process.”

@RT_com 'What right does the US have to defend illegal formations in Syria?' - former US diplomat @JimJatras https://on.rt.com/8yow

“They [US] constantly assert that they are fighting international terrorism there, but we see that they go beyond this framework,” Nebenzya told the UNSC. He warned the US-led coalition members that it is “criminal” to engage the only forces “who actually fight” international terrorism in Syria.

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US anti-ISIS Coalition Claims to Have Killed 800 Civilians

The coalition, which has been operating in Syria in breach of international law, has claimed responsibility for around 800 civilian deaths.

The U.S.-led international anti-Islamic State coalition acknowledged that its attacks in Syria and Iraq against the so-called Islamic State group have killed 801 civilians since 2014.

ANALYSIS: Raqqa Offensive Highlights US Human Rights Hypocrisy

A coalition report found that at least 801 civilians were killed inadvertently during operations in the two countries. The coalition is allegedly investigating the deaths of 695 more civilians.

The U.S.-led coalition includes more than 70 members and has been operating against the Islamic State group since 2014 without the approval of the Syrian government.

Along with this, the coalition operates a military base in the Syrian city of al-Tanf near the Jordanian border to “fight the terrorists.” The coalition also holds positions in Iraq to assists in operations in the country, which borders Syria.

On November 19, the United Nations (UN) coordinator for Syrian humanitarian affairs, Ali al-Zaatari, asked the participants in the conflict to stop bombings in residential areas where civilians have seen massive casualties.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has loosened the rules of engagement, making bombings less discriminate in both Iraq and Syria, with many blaming his administration for a spike in civilian casualties, particularly in Raqqa and Mosul.

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Alien life? Bacteria ‘that had not been there’ found on ISS hull, Russian cosmonaut says

Living bacteria were found on the surface of the International Space Station (ISS), and they might have extraterrestrial origins, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov said. The microorganisms will be studied further on Earth.

Shkaplerov, an ISS expedition flight engineer who will take his third trip to the ISS in December as part of the Expedition 54 crew, said that scientists found living bacteria while they were taking samples from the surface of the station. Speaking to TASS, he said that the microorganisms might have come from outer space.

“Bacteria that had not been there during the launch of the ISS module were found on the swabs,” Shkaplerov said. “So they have flew from somewhere in space and settled on the outside hull.” The cosmonaut added that the samples are currently being studied and seem to be safe.

 
© NASA

Shkaplerov said that some microorganisms from Earth also survived in a vacuum and differences in temperature from -150C to 150C.

These bacteria accidentally entered outer space during the ‘Test’ and ‘Biorisk’ experiments, in which special pads are installed on the ISS hull and left there for several years to determine how the material is affected by the conditions in space. 

However, traces of bacteria originating on Earth – from Madagascar – and plankton from the Barents Sea were earlier found during a ‘Test’ experiment in May. Scientists explained that they got there due to the ionosphere lift phenomenon, in which substances from our planet’s surface rise to the upper atmospheric layer. Following the discovery, Russian space agency Roscosmos along with other scientists suggested raising the upper border of the biosphere to 400 kilometers from the current altitude of 20 kilometers.

No more ‘fighting ISIS?’ US to stay in Syria to prevent ‘win’ for Assad and Iran – report

The US plans to keep its troops in Syria long after the defeat of ISIS – the goal used to justify their illegal presence in the first place – because the Syrian government and its ally Iran would “win” if they were withdrawn, the Washington Post reported.

The Trump administration is “expanding its goals” in Syria to include a “potentially open-ended commitment” to support the Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing several anonymous US officials. The change comes as the defeat of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group in Syria seems imminent.

 
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis © Aaron P. Bernstein 

Washington has been justifying its deployment of ground troops in Syria, which violates the embattled nation’s sovereignty, by citing the need to fight IS. US Defense Secretary James Mattis last week went so far as to erroneously claim that the US had been given a mandate to be in Syria, stating: “You know, the UN said that … basically we can go after ISIS. And we're there to take them out.”

While Washington has a history of skipping UN approval for its military interventions, be it in Syria or in other sovereign states, it appears that the semblance of legitimacy for keeping hundreds of troops in Syria is about to be dispelled. WaPo sources say that Washington actually sees its boots on the ground as a source of leverage in dealing with the government of President Bashar Assad and his allies.

“An abrupt US withdrawal could complete Assad’s sweep of Syrian territory and help guarantee his political survival – an outcome that would constitute a win for Iran, his close ally. To avoid that outcome, US officials say they plan to maintain a US troop presence in northern Syria… and establish new local governance, apart from the Assad government, in those areas,” the newspaper said.

If true, it means Washington will be actively promoting Kurdish separatism to spite Damascus and Tehran, while paying lip service to preserving Syria’s territorial integrity.

“The conditions are there for the counter-ISIS campaign to morph into a counter-Iran campaign,” Nicholas Heras of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security told WaPo. “By placing no timeline on the end of the US mission… the Pentagon is creating a framework for keeping the US engaged in Syria for years to come.”

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Iraqi militias spill blood for their country while US is playing its own game – FM

Iraqi militias have made huge sacrifices for their country and has become a legitimate force on the ground, Iraq’s FM told RT, describing as hypocritical the US demand for Iranian-backed militiamen to “go home.”

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU/PMF) militias are sons of Iraq, whose sacrifices in the war against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists are immeasurable, and they deserve the “highest merits,” Ibrahim al-Jaafari told RT in an exclusive interview.
 
“Al-Hasd Al-Shaabi [the Arabic name for the PMU] fighters suffered huge losses, shed their precious blood for the sake of saving the Fatherland,” the official said.
 
“These fighters voluntarily went to other parts of Iraq and have been dying there. For what? What did they want to get there? They deserve the highest merits. These formations have the constitutional status and the real military presence on the ground.”
 
Recent demands by the US urging the “Iranian militias” to “go home” are a glaring example of US hypocrisy, al-Jaafari stated.
 
“The US is playing its own game, by own rules and relying on certain factions. Iraq, though, operates in its own territory within its own powers, relying on support of it sons, its political parties and movements, on support of those who sacrifice themselves for the good of their country,” the minister told RT.
 
The demands were voiced by US State Secretary Rex Tillerson last Sunday at a joint news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir in Riyadh following a meeting with senior Saudi and Iraqi officials.
 
“Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against… ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home,” Tillerson said, referring to the PMU units, some of whom, to a certain extent, are backed by Tehran. “The foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control.
 
Tillerson’s demand was met by a firm rejection from Baghdad, which condemned Washington’s interference into internal affairs of their country.
 
“No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s said Monday, according to a Facebook statement issued by his office.
 
Tens of thousands of Iraqis joined militia units in 2014 after Iraqi Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for a national uprising against IS terrorists by issuing a non-sectarian fatwa. Though there are no official statistics, PMU units numbered up to 100,000 fighters, according to some estimates. Iran has been funding and training some of the PMU units which fought alongside the Iraqi Army in the battle of Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities.
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