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Syrian forces begin final push to oust Daesh
February 10, 2019
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BEIRUT: US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian forces said they have begun the final push to defeat the Daesh group in the last pocket it holds in eastern Syria.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted that the offensive began on Saturday after more than 20,000 civilians were evacuated from the Daesh-held area in the eastern province of Deir Al Zour.

Bali said the aim of the current push is to end the military presence of “Daesh terrorists.”

US President Donald Trump predicted on Wednesday that Daesh will have lost all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria by next week.

The Kurdish-led SDF launched its offensive to end the Daesh presence in Syria in September, a battle that left hundreds of fighters dead on both sides.

Earlier, an official said that the US-backed SDF is poised to attack the last Daesh enclave in its area of operations once civilians still inside have been evacuated.

The besieged Daesh enclave centred around Baghouz on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River represents the militant group’s last territorial foothold in the part of Syria where the US-backed forces have been fighting it.

Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, did not indicate how soon he expected the civilian evacuation to be completed. Most of the civilians are family members of Daesh fighters.

“There is of course a safe corridor and civilians are coming out daily, and this reduces their number in Baghouz until we can be sure the town is free of civilians.

“We will launch an attack to end the Daesh presence or they will turn themselves in. There are no other options for them. We confirm there are no negotiations and no intention to have negotiations,” Bali said late on Friday.

The United States said on Jan.29 that Daesh was expected to lose the final chunk of territory within a couple of weeks.

The SDF, backed by the US-led coalition, has defeated Daesh across a swathe of northern and eastern Syria.

After driving the militants from their Syrian headquarters at Raqa in October 2017, the SDF advanced southwards into Deir Al Zor province, attacking the militants in territory on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.

Daesh still has a territorial foothold in Syria west of the Euphrates in areas otherwise held by the Syrian government and its allies.

Also on Saturday, Armenia has sent a team of experts to Syria on a Russia-backed mission to help clear mines and provide medical assistance, the Armenian Defence Ministry said.

The ministry’s spokesman, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, said the team of 83 includes de-mining experts, medical personnel and security officers.

He said it will defuse mines and provide medical help to residents of Aleppo, in northern Syria, emphasising that they will stay outside areas of fighting.

Before the war, Aleppo was home to 110,000 ethnic Armenians, one of the world’s largest Armenian diasporas. About 22,000 have since moved to Armenia.

Government forces regained control over all of Aleppo in December 2016 after a long, devastating campaign of siege and bombardment against rebels, who had held the eastern side of the city for more than four years.

Russia, which has conducted a military campaign to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, will transport the Armenian team to Syria and provide logistical support, Hovhannisyan said. Russia is Armenia’s main ally and has a military base in the country.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Friday thanked his Armenian counterpart for deploying the mission. “You were the first to respond to our call to provide assistance to the Syrian people,” he said.

Some Armenian politicians, however, criticised the move. The Sasna Tsrer party warned in a statement that teaming up with Russia in Syria could hurt Armenia’s interests and undermine its security.


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