SDF Announces Final Push Against Militants in Eastern Syria, Ending Lull in ISIS Battle
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Tuesday announced the start of a final phase of operations against the so-called Islamic State in eastern Syria, the Associated Press reported.
The SDF had paused operations against ISIS after Turkey launched an assault on the northwestern district of Afrin in January. However, hundreds of SDF fighters have returned to the front lines in eastern Syria in recent weeks to resume operations against the militant group, according to the AP.
Lelwa Abdullah, an SDF spokeswoman, said on Tuesday that the Kurdish-led force will “liberate those areas and secure the Syrian-Iraqi border and end the IS [ISIS] presence in eastern Syria once and for all.”
Abdullah said the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces just across the border will assist in clearing operations.
The U.S. State Department said the days of ISIS controlling territory in Syria “are coming to an end,” and that the re-energized operations are intended to “liberate the final ISIS strongholds in Syria.”
The announcement by the SDF comes less than a week after U.S. defense secretary Jim Mattis said he expects to see “re-energized” efforts against ISIS in eastern Syria.
Meanwhile, airstrikes targeting an ISIS pocket in Hassakeh province killed 23 civilians, including 10 children and six women, on Tuesday, the AP said, citing the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The strikes fell south of the town of Shadadi – an area where the SDF and coalition forces are fighting ISIS.
It was not immediately clear whether the U.S.-led coalition or Iraqi forces were behind the strike. Syria’s state-run SANA news agency held the coalition responsible, but the U.S.-led coalition told the AP that initial reports suggested there were no coalition airstrikes on the area.
Iran Threatens to Respond to Israeli Missile Attack
Iran on Tuesday threatened to respond to a suspected Israeli missile attack on Syrian military outposts that killed a number of Iranian personnel over the weekend, the Associated Press reported.
“Aggression of the Zionist entity against the presence of our military advisers in Syria gives us the right to respond at the appropriate place and time,” Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, said in the first direct response from Tehran to Sunday’s strikes.
Israel has not confirmed or denied responsibility for the strike, but Iran and the Syrian government hold Tel Aviv responsible for Sunday’s missile attack in northern Syria. The targets of the strike included an arms depot containing surface-to-surface missiles belonging to Iranian militias in Hama province and a military airport in Aleppo.
The strike killed more than a dozen pro-government forces, mostly Iranian military personnel.
On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a veiled threat to Israel without referring directly to Sunday’s attacks. He said the time when Tehran’s enemies can “hit and run” is over.
“They know if they enter military conflict with Iran, they will be hit multiple times,” he added.
State Media: Rebels Near Homs Agree to Surrender Deal
Syrian state media said on Tuesday that rebels near Homs province have agreed to give up their territory to government forces as part of a surrender deal, CNN reported.
Rebels in the northern countryside of Homs and in the southern countryside of Hama have agreed to surrender their pocket in return for safe exit to opposition-held areas in Syria’s north, CNN said, citing SANA.
The agreement caps a string of similar surrender deals that have seen rebels exiting a number of pockets around Damascus in recent weeks, including the town of Dumayr and the eastern Qalamoun region.
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