80 ISIS Militants Killed in US Strikes on Sirte

Brigadier Ahmed Abu Shahma, the military governor of the city of Sirte in southwestern Libya, told Asharq Al-Awsat that sudden air strikes carried out by US warplanes at dawn yesterday against ISIS sites in the city were implemented at the request of Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous forces and information provided by them. The forces are loyal to the government of national accord that is led by Fayez Al-Sarraj and supported by a UN mission.

During a telephone conversation with Asharq Al-Awsat, Abu Shahma said that military operations in the city to eradicate remnants of ISIS have not stopped. Meanwhile, the spokesman for Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous’ operations room Brigadier General Mohammad Al-Gusri said that the US airstrikes took place in coordination with his forces and that they had prior knowledge of the strikes.

Al-Gusri declined to identify the place from which the American military aircraft launched the latest air strikes but said that these raids resulted in at least 80 people being killed.

A senior US official said that the United States bombed two camps near Sirte belonging to ISIS using B-2 bombers which led to dozens of ISIS fighters being killed. He added that the extremists “were seen directly before the strikes wearing tactical vests, carrying mortars and standing in tactical formations”. Two American defence officials said that the B-2 bombers carried out air raids on ISIS camps 45km southwest of Sirte in cooperation with Al-Sarraj’s government.

On his part, the outgoing US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter said that more than 80 ISIS militants were killed in a US air strike on two ISIS camps in Libya and added that this number is based on initial reports that were released after the attacks took place last night near the Libyan city Sirte.

At Least 10 Children Killed in Regime, Russian Air Strikes in Northwestern Syria

Air strikes launched by regime and allies air power in Syria, next to artillery fire has reportedly killed at least 20 people, including 10 children, in the largely opposition-held Syrian province of Idlib on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Observatory, a Britain-based war monitor, said Russian or Syrian regime warplanes pounded the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing seven children and two pregnant women. Warplanes and government artillery also killed 11 people in the village of Baarbo in the southwest of the province, the monitor reported.

“The Russian Defence Ministry has denied information reported in multiple foreign media outlets about alleged strikes by the Russian Air Force in the region of Khan Sheikhoun near the city of Idlib,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying on Tuesday.

Syria’s war pits authoritarian Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias, against an array of internationally-backed opposition groups.

Idlib contains the largest populated area of Syria controlled by the Syrian opposition – including nationalist groups under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

Idlib is a Disaster Stricken City

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and opposition websites, dozens of people were killed and wounded in the heaviest bombing on the city of Idlib since the beginning of the truce in Syria on the 27th of February. While the Russian Defence Ministry denied responsibility, the Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed that Russian bombing targeted a mosque and a hospital in the region and called on the international community to act quickly against the crimes of the Russians and the Assad regime that he described as “unjustifiable”.

The Free Idlib Provincial Council declared the city as “an area afflicted with disaster” in light of the continuous and indiscriminate shelling that is targeting it at a time when the Jaish Al-Fatah group responded by bombing positions of the regime’s forces, Iranian militias and Hezbollah in the towns of Kefraya and Al-Fu’ah in the countryside of Idlib, that are under siege by opposition factions. Opposition sources reported that “Jaish Al-Fatah fighters targeted these sites with more than ten rockets which resulted in the outburst of flames in large parts of Al-Fu’ah and led to tens of people being killed and wounded”.

In a statement, the Free Idlib Provincial Council said that “We announce that the province of Idlib is a province afflicted with disaster after being targeted by more than 40 air strikes in 12 hours, and we hold the international community responsible for what is happening today and every day in the city. It added that northern Syria is being subjected to genocide at the hands of the regime and its allies – the Russians and the Iranians. The council also said that “hospitals and residential areas were targeted with cluster bombs and bombs that are prohibited internationally” on Monday and Tuesday.

Syrian Regime Commits Genocide in Aleppo

Washington denounces the regime’s strikes and calls on Russia to use its influence on Damascus

The US State Department said that the air strikes carried out by the Syrian regime on a hospital in Aleppo is “reprehensible” and called on Russia to use its influence to put pressure on Bashar Al-Assad’s government to stop the attacks.

The Spokesman for the US State Department John Kirby said that the attack bore the features of attacks made by regime forces on medical facilities and emergency workers in the past. He added that the cessation of hostilities in Syria is at risk because of persistent violations.

The Al-Quds Hospital massacre in Aleppo and the subsequent intensification of indiscriminate shelling of the city yesterday authenticate the announcement made by the pro-Syrian Al-Watan newspaper that regime forces are braced for a “final battle” that will not take long.

Meanwhile, the opposition described what is happening in the city as “genocide” because “battle should be between two equally equipped parties and not against peaceful civilians”. According to what Abdul Jabbar Al-Oqaidi told Asharq Al-Awsat, what is taking place in Aleppo proves beyond doubt that the ceasefire has been broken. Al-Oqaidi is a commander of and spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Aleppo and a former colonel in the Syrian Arab Army.

Al-Oqaidi confirmed that the death toll of those killed in the Al-Quds Hospital massacre on Thursday night has reached 52 people. All of the dead were civilians and amongst them was the last paediatrician in the liberated areas of Aleppo, Dr Mohammed Waseem Maaz who was 35 years old.

Air Strikes Kill 5 Rescue Workers near Syria’s Aleppo

Anti-government fighter hides his face after his friend was shot by a Syrian army sniper. /Reuters

Two air strikes and at least one rocket attack staged overnight against an opposition-held area west of Aleppo killed five rescue workers, who appeared to have been knowingly targeted, a monitoring group and colleagues nearby reported.

The raids hit a center for the Syrian Civil Defence, known as the “White Helmets”, in the town of Atareb, some 25 km (15 miles) west of Aleppo.

The recent weeks have witnessed grave escalation in fighting in Aleppo province, as a partial truce brokered the United States and Russia in February has all but collapsed.

The Civil Defence corps work as first responders in opposition-held territory where medical infrastructure has broken down.

“The targeting was very precise,” Radi Saad, a Civil Defence worker based in northwestern Syria, told Reuters via internet.

“They were in the center and ready to respond. When they heard warplanes in the area they did not think they would be the target.”

It was unclear whether Syrian or Russian warplanes had launched the raids, he said. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government.

Another Civil Defence member, Ahmad Sheikho, said five rescue workers had died and two were seriously wounded. Ambulances and cars belonging to doctors were also damaged.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said at least five had been killed, confirming that the center appeared to have been deliberately targeted.

The observatory also reported government air strikes and rebel bombardments in Aleppo city killing dozens of people in the last few days.

In the past 24 hours, fighting in Aleppo has killed at least 30 people including at least eight children, the Observatory added.

Air Strikes Target al Qaeda in Yemen, Troops Capture Aden District

Yemeni fighters of the southern separatist movement, loyal to the Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, gather on the outskirts of Aden on March 21, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / SALEH AL-OBEIDI

A drone strike on Wednesday killed at least four suspected al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen, as unidentified warplanes shelled settlements held by the jihadist group further east, witnesses and local residents said.

The four suspected militants were killed when what was thought to be a U.S. drone fired on a checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Azan in southern Yemen.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the accounts by the residents, who said the militants had seized the city two months ago. The United States has acknowledged using drones but declines to comment on specific attacks.

The heightened air strikes came as forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi conducted a security operation against militants in al-Mansoura district of Aden, attempting to bring to an end a state of chaos that had wrapped up the southern port city where the Yemeni government is temporarily based.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS have taken advantage of the year-old Yemen war between Hadi supporters, who are supported by a Saudi-led alliance, and Iran-allied Houthis to seize parts of the country, including the Hadramout provincial capital in southeastern Yemen.

Residents said unidentified warplanes launched three strikes on a former Yemeni army camp east of Mukalla controlled by al Qaeda late on Wednesday night.

They said the air strikes ignited a fire at the old al-Rayyan air base that could be seen from several miles away. Residents said they believed the attacks have caused casualties, but provided no figures.

The militants captured Mukalla in April last year, a month after a Saudi-led alliance began military operations trying to restore Hadi to power and keep the Houthis from taking over the country.

Last week, U.S. warplanes targeted a training camp run by al Qaeda, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 30.

A local al Qaeda commander said in an audio recording posted on the Internet on Wednesday that the camp was being used to train tribal volunteers to fight the Houthis.

The authenticity of the recording by the commander, identified as Saad bin Atef al-Awlaki, could not immediately be verified.

In Aden, a security official said Yemeni troops loyal to Hadi, backed by local fighters, deployed in the al-Mansoura district which resulted in the capture of at least 21 suspected militants.

Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, who is also the vice president, is based in Aden.

Turkey Launches Air Strikes against PKK in Iraq, Turkey

The Turkish F-16s took off from the south-eastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir- Reuters
The Turkish F-16s took off from the south-eastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir- Reuters

Turkish armed forces said on Wednesday that the military carried out air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq and killed 26 militants in southeast Turkey.

Violence in Turkey has increasingly flared since a ceasefire with the Kurds broke down last July.

Tuesday’s air strikes targeted shelters, caves and ammunition depots used by the PKK in northern Iraq and rural areas near the southeastern Turkish town of Semdinli, at the mountainous border with Iraq and Iran, the military statement said.

The military says more than a thousand militants have been killed in the largely Kurdish southeast since the 2-1/2 year PKK ceasefire collapsed in July, prompting the heaviest clashes in the region since the 1990s.

President Tayyip Erdogan has said more than 300 members of the security forces have died, while the pro-Kurdish opposition says hundreds of civilians have also been killed.

The army said it killed 26 PKK fighters in the southeastern towns of Nusaybin, Sirnak and Yuksekova on Tuesday alone. It also destroyed explosives and seized weapons and ammunition.

On Tuesday, the PKK killed five members of Turkish security forces in three separate bomb attacks near the Syrian and Iranian borders, army and security sources said.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict since it began in 1984. The PKK, which says it is fighting for Kurdish autonomy, is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

In face of the surge in violence and the deadly attacks against Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday Turkey would use its entire military and intelligence might to battle “one of the biggest and bloodiest terrorist waves in its history”.