Israel Draws Red Lines after Attacking Anti-Aircraft Syrian Battery

Israel

Tel Aviv, Damascus, London — An Israeli Defense Forces Spokesman said that Israeli jets bombed a Syrian anti-aircraft battery east of Damascus after it fired an anti-aircraft missile at the Israeli aircraft on a spy mission overflying Lebanon.

Other Israeli sources confirmed notifying the Russian army, a major backer supporting the Assad regime in Damascus, about the airstrike “in real-time mode”.

No Israeli planes were hit by the missile fired by the Syrians, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said. The counter-strike took place two hours later and “incapacitated” the anti-aircraft unit located 50 km east of Damascus, he said.

“We know according to our intelligence it was a battery controlled by the Syrian regime and we hold the Syrian regime responsible for the fire,” Conricus said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later issued a statement saying Israel would not hesitate to defend itself.
“Today there was an attempt to harm our aircraft — this is unacceptable to us.

The air force acted quickly and accurately to destroy what needed to be destroyed,” Reuters cited Netanyahu as saying.

“Our policy is clear. Whoever tries to harm us, we will strike at him. We will continue to act in the region as is required in order to defend Israel.”

But the Syrian army said it struck an Israeli warplane that had breached its air space at the Syria-Lebanon border.

“The Israeli enemy this morning violated our air space… Our air defense mediums confronted it, hit one of its planes directly and forced it to flee,” the Syrian military statement said.

According to military sources, the Syrian anti-aircraft missile was fired at the Israeli warplane at about 10:00 am on Monday.

Later on, Israeli officials reported that the Israeli aircraft responded with four air-to-surface missiles demolishing the Syrian missile battery.

SDF Seizes ‘Full Control’ of Syria’s Raqqa from ISIS

Raqqa

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared on Tuesday that they have completely recaptured the city of Raqqa from the ISIS terrorist organization.

“Everything is finished in Raqqa, our forces have taken full control of Raqqa,” SDF spokesman Talal Sello told AFP.

A Reuters witness said fighting appeared to be almost at an end with only sporadic bursts of gunfire.

The US-backed SDF have seized control of the former ISIS stronghold, announced the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights later on Tuesday.

Victorious fighters celebrated in the streets, chanted slogans from their vehicles and raised a flag inside Raqqa stadium.

The SDF has been fighting ISIS inside Raqqa since June.

“We do still know there are still IEDs and booby traps in and amongst the areas that ISIS once held, so the SDF will continue to clear deliberately through areas,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led international coalition.

The four-month long battle for Raqqa left at least 3,250 people dead, more than a third of them civilians, the Observatory said.

In a sign that the battle for Raqqa was in its last stages, Dillon said there had been no coalition air strikes there on Monday.

ISIS also suffered setbacks Tuesday in the eastern Syrian region of Deir al-Zour, where Russian-backed regime forces retook swathes of territory, further reducing a “caliphate” that three years ago was roughly the size of Britain.

The Observatory said regime forces had brought the entire area stretching between Deir al-Zour and Mayadeen, which was retaken on Saturday, under their control following a major military offensive.

“These are not desert areas, they are villages along the Euphrates (river) that were ISIS strongholds,” the Britain-based monitoring group said.

ISIS also controls territory in neighboring regions on the Iraqi side of the border, where they are facing another US-backed offensive by Iraqi pro-government forces.

ISIS has lost swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq this year, including its most prized possession, Mosul, and in Syria it has been forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert.

Russian Defense Minister in Tel Aviv, Dodges Commenting on Israeli Airstrike in Syria

Shoigu

Moscow – Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday for talks with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman.

During the meeting, Shoigu was said to have overlooked commenting on the recent Israeli airstrike against missile defense bases east of Damascus, Syria.

Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov did not elaborate on Moscow’s view on the attack.

Israeli jets bombed a Syrian anti-aircraft battery east of Damascus after it fired an anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli spy aircraft overflying Lebanon, the Israeli military said earlier on Monday.

Russia’s news agency TASS reported that the Israeli forces notified Russia “in real time” about a strike on a target near Damascus.

Russia has been backing the Damascus-centered regime led by Bashar al-Assad against Syrian rebels and other groups since 2015.

“I would like to talk about the things related to Syria. The operation there is close to the end. There are several problems which require urgent solution and the prospects of further development of the situation in Syria require discussion,” Shoigu said.

More so, he dodged questions concerning the airstrikes before the press and reporters, focusing instead on the war against terror.

Addressing Lieberman, he stressed the need to “mobilize all forces” against terrorism in the region.

In an official statement, Konashenkov said that Shoigu arrived in Tel Aviv on a two-day visit, during which he will also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss issues of technical – military cooperation between the two sides.

Konashenkov added that regional security and issues related to the Syrian settlement will be discussed.

Dispute between Lebanese Interior, Foreign Ministers Contained

Mashnouq

Beirut – It does not appear that the renewed dispute between Lebanese Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil over the country’s foreign policy will have repercussions on the ties between President Michel Aoun and the ministers of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s cabinet.

Circles close to the ministers said that they are keen on strengthening their relationship in order to cement the foundations of the government and Aoun’s term in office.

The Mashnouq and Bassil had in the past few hours contained the repercussions of their dispute that had flared up again in wake of Lebanon’s voting in the UNESCO elections. The original dispute had erupted over Bassil’s meeting in New York last month with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem.

Bassil had stated: “Whoever does not like our foreign policy is affiliated with foreign powers.”

This prompted a response by Mashnouq, who said that he was never such a follower. The minister had previously described Lebanon’s foreign policy as “lost,” indirectly criticizing Bassil’s conduct.

The tensions between Mashnouq and Bassil had not affected their respective parties, the Mustaqbal Movement and Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).

Mustaqbal MP Oqab Saqr and FPM MP Hikmat Deeb agreed that the differences between the two ministers has not affected the parties.

Saqr told Asharq Al-Awsat: “This relationship is being handled with great care by Aoun and Hariri.”

“The foreign minister commits mistakes on several occasions, but he performs a good job on others,” he continued.

Deeb for his part said that the tit-for-tat statements between Mashnouq and Bassil do not affect the government and the current FPM alliance with Hariri.

He told Asharq Al-Awast that the dispute is part of electoral campaigning and attempts by either official to win over voters for next year’s polls.

Asharq Al-Awsat in Raqqa… Battles and Smoke Pending Liberation

Raqqa

Beirut – Clouds of smoke covered on Monday the skies of Syria’s Raqqa as the sound of bullets and the roars of bombs filled the air.

The liberation of the city is now pending the last battles waged by ISIS foreign militants, who are fighting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the southern part of the city in eastern Syria.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-dominated SDF told Asharq Al-Awsat that there are between 300 and 400 ISIS militants, the majority of them foreigners, who are still fighting in Raqqa.

On Sunday, the SDF launched their last attack on Raqqa after a convoy of ISIS gunmen left the city following a deal negotiated by local officials and tribesmen.

An SDF spokesperson said that 275 Syrian ISIS fighters left Raqqa, leaving behind only foreign-born terrorists.

According to Bali, the liberation of the city is expected in the upcoming days after the SDF seized control of the neighborhoods of Andalous, Nahda, Bado and Sakhani in central Raqqa on Monday and evacuated around 200 civilians, who escaped from the terrorist organization.

The streets of the city, once the group’s de facto capital, are now covered with debris and piles of rubble. Military bulldozers made their way through narrow alleyways and streets to allow the passage of cars.

When walking in the liberated areas, the appearance of destruction caused by the fierce clashes looks clear. Some buildings turned into rubble, while the rest were left with no windows and doors due to the pressure caused by the bombs dropped in the surrounding areas.

Life stopped in the city. Only the sound of the US-led coalition warplanes and bombs was heard in the city.

A cloud of smoke covered the sky pending the liberation of ISIS’ capital.

SDF Launches Final Assault Against ISIS in Raqqa

People displaced in fightings between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants are pictured at a refugee camp in Ain Issa

US-backed forces are battled on Monday ISIS militants from their former Syrian stronghold Raqqa, bringing their four-month campaign for the city to the brink of victory.

Sporadic artillery fire rang out and thick columns of smoke rose above the city as US-led coalition air strikes targeted remaining jihadists in a handful of last positions.

The field commander in Raqqa described Monday’s fighting as “a clearing operation” and said he expected it to be completed by the end of the day with the SDF controlling the whole city.

Ilham Ahmed, a senior politician in the SDF, said she expected the end of the campaign to be declared “within hours of days”, but the US-led coalition said it could not put a timeline on the battle.

An alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces, broke into Raqqa in June and is poised to seize the last 10 percent of the city after a weekend deal to evacuate civilians.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces are currently waging their toughest battles yet,” AFP quoted Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, spokeswoman for the operation to capture the city, as saying.

The latest fighting “will bring an end to Daesh’s presence,” she added, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “They can choose between surrendering and dying.”

An estimated 300 mostly foreign ISIS fighters are surrounded, mostly in central parts of the city, but are expected to resist fiercely

Overnight, SDF fighters captured the northern Al-Barid neighborhood, and their efforts would focus Monday on several adjacent districts, she added.

ISIS defeat in Raqqa mirrors its collapse across Iraq and Syria, where its enemies have driven it from cities, killed its leaders in air strikes and regained the oil fields that funded its self-declared caliphate.

It lost Mosul, its largest city and most prized possession after months of fighting in July.

The group, which at its height ruled millions of people in both countries, is in Syria now forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley south of Deir al-Zor and areas of desert on each side.

“We have conducted some strikes in the last 24 hours, but I suspect that that will pick up here very soon with the SDF advancing into the final remaining areas of the city,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition.

According to a Reuters correspondent, some cars in the streets had loudspeakers mounted on their roofs broadcasting messages to the last ISIS fighters telling them they would not be ill-treated if they surrendered.

Another SDF field commander, who gave his name as Ashraf Serhad, said he had heard that 250 ISIS militants remained and that on Sunday he had seen several minivans and buses leave the hospital carrying some who had surrendered.

Saturday night’s convoy out of Raqqa included about 100 ISIS fighters and nearly 200 family members, said Omar Alloush, a member of the Raqqa Civil Council set up by the SDF to run the city.

The fighters who left in the convoy are being held by security forces before interrogation and may be tried in court, he added.

ISIS Militants Cleared from Raqqa… Mystery Surrounds Their Destination

Smoke rises near the stadium where the Islamic State militants are holed up after an air strike by coalition forces at the frontline, in Raqqa, on Oct 12, 2017

Beirut- The Syrian Democratic Forces launched on Sunday their last attack on Raqqa after a convoy of ISIS armed militants left the city following a deal negotiated by local officials and tribesmen.

An SDF spokesperson said that 275 Syrian ISIS fighters left Raqqa, leaving behind between 200 and 300 foreign ISIS jihadists.

About 3,000 trapped civilians also left the city.

However, details related to the deal, which the Coalition denied being involved in, were kept unclear, especially concerning the destination of the convoy that left Raqqa Sunday evening with conflicting reports about whether it included foreign-born militants or only Syrian nationals.

After both AFP and Reuters had quoted Omar Alloush- a senior official of the Raqqa Civil Council- as saying that the evacuation would include foreign fighters, the official later told Asharq Al-Awsat that no foreigners had left Raqqa in the convoy.

Also, Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman told Ahsarq Al-Awsat on Sunday: “We did not document any withdrawal of foreign militants from the city. Those fighters are still present in one pocket inside Raqqa.”

He said that the French intelligence was behind the delay of the foreign militants’ evacuation from Raqqa, due to confirmations on the presence of the Paris attacker inside the city.

However, Abdel Rahman said that if those fighters withdrew to the east of Deir Ezzor, there should be clarifications in this regard, especially how the convoy was capable of traveling hundreds of kilometers before reaching its final destination.

Meanwhile, French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly said on Sunday that it was necessary to neutralize a maximum number of ISIS militants in Raqqa, adding that it would be so much better if they were all killed in the fighting.

Civilians’ Evacuation Speeds Up Liberation of Raqqa

Syria

Beirut – The global coalition against ISIS announced on Saturday brokering a deal to evacuate Raqqa from civilians, excluding the foreign members of the terrorist group, a step that would drive the Coalition-led Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces to speed up its announcement of liberating the city.

Sources said that Washington rejected that ISIS foreign-born militants be part of the deal, which stipulates the evacuation of civilians from the last pockets of Raqqa.

“The US insists that those militants either be killed or surrender,” the source said.

There are maximum 200 foreign-born militants trapped in the center of the city.

Buses had arrived on Saturday night to the village of Hawi al-Hawa, west Raqqa, to transport local members of ISIS and civilians, according to a deal reached between the SDF and ISIS, and led by the tribal Sheikhs.

Abu Mohammad al-Raqqawi, an activist in the Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, told Asharq Al-Awsat that 90 percent of the deal has been already been completed, adding that the file is now exclusively in the hands of the Coalition.

Separately, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced on Saturday that regime forces and their allies controlled the city of Mayadeen, the last stronghold of ISIS in eastern Syria.

Although several sources confirmed the regime’s full control of the city, head of the activist-run Euphrates Post group Ahmad Ramadan told Asharq Al-Awsat that regime forces had only the neighborhoods located at the entrance of the city.

“ISIS militants are withdrawing from Mayadeen towards the town of Bukamal, on the border with Iraq,” he said.
According to Ramadan, regime forces launched more than 200 strikes on Mayadeen and had targeted the city with 200 explosive barrels, destroying 50 percent of the city.

Meanwhile, Damascus demanded on Saturday that Turkish troops immediately leave the province of Idlib in the northwest of the country.

Quoting a source from the foreign ministry, a statement carried by the Syrian official news agency SANA said “Syria condemns in the strongest possible terms the incursion of Turkish army units into Idlib province, stressing that it constitutes a blatant aggression against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and a flagrant violation of international law.”

The source added that the Turkish aggression has nothing to do with what has been agreed upon by the guarantor states during the latest round of talks in Astana, emphasizing that Turkey should abide by provisions of Astana statement.

ISIS Loses Eastern Syria’s al-Mayadeen

Syrian regime and allied forces have taken the eastern town of al-Mayadeen from ISIS militants, in the latest blow to the terrorist group.

Al-Mayadeen, near the Iraqi border in Deir Ezzor province, had become a major base for ISIS terrorists as they were being driven out of their de facto Syrian capital in Raqqa city by the US-backed offensive.

Over the past few months many of the individuals which the US-led coalition against ISIS has targeted have come from al-Mayadeen, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon told Reuters.

The Syrian regime campaign to take al-Mayadeen has been supported by heavy Russian air strikes. The US-led coalition has also previously struck in the vicinity of the town.

Al-Mayadeen lies south of the provincial capital Deir Ezzor city, where Syrian and allied forces are also trying to oust the militants from a small pocket they still control.

“Units of our armed forces, in cooperation with allied forces, have regained control of the city of Mayadeen in Deir Ezzor, killing a large number of terrorists and destroying their weapons,” regime media said, citing a military source.

“Our units are chasing down remaining members of ISIS fleeing the city amid a collapse in their ranks, and the engineering units are removing mines and explosives planted by the terrorists in the streets and square of the city,” the source added.

Raqqa Battle Nears End as ISIS Terrorists Surrender

Raqqa

Syrian ISIS members in Raqqa have started to leave the northern city in recent days, said a Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The removal of foreign ISIS fighters is being prepared.

“All Syrian fighters from the ISIS group left Raqa over the past five days,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, saying they headed to unknown destinations.

Some 200 ISIS members surrendered and they have left the area with their families, he added.

A local official revealed however that members of the terror group have surrendered to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). He did not specify their numbers.

The Observatory had reported earlier that a convoy of buses had entered Raqqa to transport the remaining ISIS members and their families outside of the city.

A spokesman for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) stated that the forces combating ISIS in Raqqa are on the verge of defeating the group and declaring victory.

Nuri Mahmoud predicted that the announcement of the liberation of Raqqa will take place later on Saturday or on Sunday.

A spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting ISIS said that some 100 fighters had surrendered in the city in the past 24. They have since been removed from the area.

“We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think ISIS will be completely defeated in Raqqa,” said coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced on Friday that the coalition will accept the surrender of ISIS members in Raqqa.

He added however that the surrender of the more radicalized members will not be accepted.

The international coalition estimated in a report on Thursday that some 4,000 civilians were still trapped in Raqqa. Most of them are being used as human shields by 300 to 400 ISIS terrorists.

Backed by coalition air strikes, the SDF succeeded in liberating nearly 90 percent of Raqqa, ISIS’ former stronghold in Syria.