Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Fallujah, Syria - 06/06/2016

Deadly endgame: ISIS shoot fleeing civilians as Iraqi army closes in on Fallujah

6 Jun, 2016 22:18

A still image from video released June 6, 2016 shows Iraqi families attempting to escape the besieged city of Falluja, Iraq, by crossing the Euphrates river. © Reuters TV

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) is using Iraqi city residents as human shields to slow down the Iraqi army, which has nearly encircled the city. It is killing those desperate enough to try and flee.

The UN estimated that there had been about 50,000 civilians in Fallujah – strategically valuable due to its proximity to the capital Baghdad – prior to the government counter-offensive, which began on May 22. Refugee NGOs say that only 18,000 of those have reached their camps in the past fortnight.

Those left inside, have been building rafts to try and escape the city via the 250m-wide river Euphrates, with scant possessions, or nothing at all.

They are using empty refrigerators, wooden cupboards and kerosene barrels as makeshift boats to cross the river. It’s totally unsafe and this is why innocent people are drowning,” provincial council head Shakir al-Essawi told Reuters, approximating that about 1,000 families have attempted to use the water route.

When people tried to cross the Euphrates, Islamic State militants shot and killed them,” Iraqi MP Khalid al-Alwani testified to the Iraqi parliament on Monday.

Iraqi elite counterterrorism force chief Major Ali Hanoon told AP that at least “dozens” of civilians, and likely a much higher number, had been shot in the back as they attempted to flee.

"They know that if they trap the civilians, it will slow our progress," Hanoon said.

Citizens’ fears may be augmented by reports of previous recaptures of ISIS strongholds, particularly by militias from a different sect, in which retribution has been delivered to locals, though this time the Iraqi authorities have purposefully elected to use regular forces for the final assault.

Still, social media images have emerged of Shia militias torturing Sunni escapees, earning a rebuke from the UN.

Al-Alwani, a Sunni, has lobbied the Shia-dominated government to provide cover and police boats for the refugees, but the chief of the government onslaught Ismail al-Mahalawi, said on state television on Monday that helping them remains a “difficult operation.”

"Our biggest fears are now tragically confirmed,” surmised Nasr Muflahi, of the Norwegian Refugee Council, the organization that has been receiving the fugitives.

Fallujah has been under ISIS control since January 2014, but last month the Pentagon declared that the radical Islamist group has lost 45 percent of its maximal gains in Iraq, and a fifth of its Syrian territory. An attack on the city of Mosul is likely to be the next biggest target for the government, and its international coalition backers.

"The assault on Fallujah will soon be over, and Iraq will be free of terrorists by the end of the year," promised Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday.

Russia to give strongest air support to Syrian army in Aleppo area – Lavrov

© Igor Kovalenko
© Igor Kovalenko / Sputnik

6 Jun, 2016 12:32

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Russia will provide "the most active" air support for Syrian ground troops in and around the city of Aleppo to prevent terrorists from seizing it.

Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front carry their weapons as they walk near al-Zahra village, north of Aleppo city. File photo. © Hosam Katan

We will decide on how our air forces should act, depending on the situation,” Lavrov said in a media conference following talks with his Finnish counterpart. “This will not be a surprise for the Americans.”

Al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda offshoot in Syria, went on an offensive in Aleppo last week. The Russian military blamed the US for stalling Russian airstrikes against the terrorist group’s forces in the region. The US said moderate rebel groups mingled with the terrorists in some areas and that Russia should use caution and not strike those groups by mistake.

We believe there was plenty of time for the ‘normal’ opposition to leave Nusra Front territories since February. Those who didn’t part ways with the terrorists have only themselves to blame,” Lavrov dded.

Moscow hopes that the US is not trying to do anything behind Russia’s back, Lavrov said.

We expect our partners to cooperate with us honestly and not try to use our regular contacts to secretly go with a Plan B, C or D behind our back.”

Russia and the US jointly support a peace process in Syria that aims to produce a transition government approved by both the so-called “moderate rebel” groups and the government of Syria. A truce between all sides who claim to share this goal was established in February, reducing the violence in the war-torn country.

Terrorist groups Al Nusra Front and Islamic State are not part of the process and do not uphold the ceasefire. Russia accuses certain other Islamist militant groups operating in Syria of not being honest and siding with the terrorists, but the US opposes designating those groups as legitimate targets for military attacks, arguing that they have the backing of Saudi Arabia and a place at the negotiating table in Geneva.

The situation is further complicated by the sheer number of armed groups in Syria and the complexity of their allegiances and rivalries, which makes distinguishing terrorists and "moderate rebels" often problematic.

Moderate opposition’ involved in ongoing attacks on civilians in Aleppo – Syrian FM to UN

Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front carry their weapons as they walk near al-Zahra village, north of Aleppo city. File photo. © Hosam Katan
Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front carry their weapons as they walk near al-Zahra village, north of Aleppo city. File photo. © Hosam Katan / Reuters

The West’s “moderate” opposition is shelling residential areas in Aleppo, Syria alongside Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, a letter sent to the UN by Damascus says. Moscow reports 2,000 terrorists and “moderates” are now attacking the city’s Kurdish district.

In the letter, which was addressed to the UN Secretary General and the Head of the UN Security Council, the Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry complained about ongoing attacks on safe neighborhoods in Aleppo, accusing some“moderate” opposition groups of cooperating and coordinating with Al-Nusra and its affiliates in conducting them, state-run SANA news agency reports, citing the document....[ ]

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