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Hundreds flee US-backed Syria battle for last IS holdout

Agencies

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NEAR BAGHOUZ: US-backed forces pressed the battle to expel diehard jihadists from the last pocket of land under their control in eastern Syria after hundreds fled the holdout overnight.

Outside the “Baghouz pocket”, the plains were littered with empty pistachio-coloured rocket shells, water bottles, clothes left behind, and rotting dog carcasses.
The extremist group declared a cross-border “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq in 2014, but various military campaigns have chipped it down to a fragment on the Iraqi border.

After a pause of more than a week to allow out civilians, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared a last push to retake the pocket from the extremists on Saturday.

 

Aided by the warplanes and artillery of a US-led coalition, the Kurdish-led alliance has pressed into a patch of four square kilometres (one square mile).

SDF spokesman Mostefa Bali said heavy clashes were underway on Tuesday, after hundreds fled the battle zone during the night.

“A group of 600 civilians escaped from Baghouz at one in the morning and they are being searched now,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the new arrivals included women and children from France and Germany.

“Most of those who got out are foreigners,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Coalition spokesperson Sean Ryan said US-backed forces were facing a fierce fightback.

“The progress is slow and methodical as the enemy is fully entrenched and IS fighters continue to conduct counter attacks,” he said.

“The coalition continues to strike at IS targets whenever available.”The SDF launched the battle to expel IS from the eastern province of Deir Ezzor in September, slowly tightening the noose around the jihadists and their families since December.

In the past two months, more than 37,000 people, mostly wives and children of jihadist fighters, have fled into SDF-held areas, the Observatory says.


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Two States only just solution for Israel-Palestine conflict: UN chief

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United Nations: A “peaceful and just solution” to the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict can only be achieved through creation of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, asserting that there is no plan B.

In his address to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1975, Guterres said on Friday that “based on relevant UN resolutions, long-held principles, previous agreements and international law”, Jerusalem should be the capital of both States.

“Unfortunately, over this past year, the situation has not moved in that direction”, he rued, pointing to protests that began along the border fence with Gaza last year that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded by Israeli security forces.

 

He also cited “security incidents and provocations by Hamas and other militants in Gaza”, including the launching of rockets and incendiary kites that dangerously escalated the situation.

“Thanks to the UN and Egyptian mediation efforts, a major escalation was avoided”, he said, appealing to Hamas authorities in Gaza to “prevent provocations”.

The UN chief said under International Humanitarian Law Israel too has a responsibility to exercise “maximum restraint”, except as a last resort.

Guterres said he regretted Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, saying “I hope an agreement can be found by the parties to preserve this long-standing and valuable arrangement”.

“Palestinians have endured more than a half-century of occupation and denial of their legitimate right to self-determination” with both sides continuously suffering from “deadly cycles of violence”, the Secretary-General said.

He indicated that leaders bore the responsibility to reverse this negative trajectory and pave the way toward peace, stability and reconciliation.

Guterres praised the Committee for keeping the focus on the ultimate objective of a “peaceful solution with two States coexisting in peace and security” as the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

“As I have said repeatedly, there is no Plan B,” Guterres said.

He underscored that the UN firmly supports Palestinian reconciliation and “the return of the legitimate Palestinian Government to Gaza” as “an integral part of a future Palestinian State”.

Noting that the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza must be immediately addressed, he detailed that some two million Palestinians remained mired in increasing poverty and unemployment, with limited access to adequate health, education, water and electricity, leaving young people with “little prospect of a better future”.

“I urge Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of people and goods, which also hamper the efforts of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, without naturally jeopardising legitimate security concerns,” Guterres said.

Lauding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for its “critical work” in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and across the region, he called on the international community to “significantly” increase efforts to revitalise Gaza’s economy.

Touching upon the risk of further unrest in the West Bank, the UN chief flagged that Israeli construction and settlement plans have expanded, including in East Jerusalem.

“Settlements are illegal under international law”, he asserted.

“They deepen the sense of mistrust and undermine the two-State solution”.

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Five killed in US industrial park shooting

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Washington: Five persons have been killed and several others injured after a gunman opened fire at an industrial park in the US state of Illinois, police said.

The gunman was also killed, a police spokesman said. He added that five police officers also sustained injuries after being hit by gunfire.

The attack took place in Aurora, a suburb about 65 km from Chicago, the BBC reported.

 

It comes a day after the first anniversary of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead.

The shooting is reported to have happened at Henry Pratt Company, a manufacturing firm that makes valves for large water pipes.

Police named the gunman as Gary Martin, 45, who they said was an employee at the industrial park.

Bill Donnell, an elected official in Aurora, told CNN that a number of civilians had been wounded in the shooting.

Chris Southwood of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police described the Aurora officers who attended and were shot at as “courageous”.

“(These) officers and their colleagues did not hesitate to literally put their lives on the line today to stop further bloodshed,” Southwood said in a statement.

An employee at nearby Capitol Printing told ABC7 they had hid in a closet when the shooting began.

Witness John Probst, who works at the plant, told ABC7 that he saw the attacker, whom he recognised as a colleague.

He said the man was carrying a handgun equipped with a laser sight, but this has yet to be confirmed by officials.

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth said: “This is a scary, sad day for all Illinoisans and Americans.”

US President Donald Trump has been briefed on the incident, according to White House Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s first visit to Pak delayed

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Islamabad: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s arrival in Pakistan on his first official visit to the country has been delayed by a day for “unknown reasons”. He was scheduled to reach Islamabad on Saturday but due to a slight change, he will arrive on Sunday, according to the Foreign Office.

However, the programmes of his stay in Pakistan will remain unchanged, it said. Prince Mohammad, who is also the deputy prime minister and minister of defence, will be conferred with Nishan-e-Pakistan – the highest civilian award — during his visit to the country, the Express Tribune reported.

A top official said that the arrival has been delayed by a day for “unknown reasons”. Preparations have been made to give an “unprecedented warm welcome” to the Saudi Prince who will be received personally by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members at the Nur Khan Airbase, the report said.

 

Abdul Razzak Dawood, Advisor to prime minister on trade, said investment deals worth USD 10-15 billion dollars would be signed during the trip. On the top of the list is an agreement to set up an oil refinery in Pakistan. Elaborate security arrangements have been planned during the visit of the powerful heir to the Saudi throne.

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