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Raqqa recaptured from Islamic State by US-backed forces



…As Wave of Taliban suicide attacks on Afghan forces kills at least 74***

The Syrian city of Raqqa, once de facto capital of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, has fallen to US-backed forces after a gruelling four-month battle.

The recapture of Raqqa after three years of Isis rule is a symbolic loss to the terrorist group, which is under intense pressure in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, forced into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert between the two countries.

The Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Tuesday that they had captured the city’s stadium and the nearby hospital, which were the last holdouts of the terrorist group in the city. But they fell short of issuing an official statement announcing the liberation of Raqqa.

“Military operations have ended in Raqqa, but sweeping operations are continuing to destroy sleeper cells if they exist and to cleanse the city from mines,” Talal Selo, a SDF spokesman, said in a statement. “The situation is under control in Raqqa and soon we will announce the liberation of the city.”

Selo said the remaining Isis fighters who had not accepted the safe passage deal negotiated by the local council had either surrendered or been killed. “The terrorists have been eliminated completely from Raqqa,” he added. “Obviously we are doing sweeping operations and there may be a terrorist here or there who will be destroyed, but currently the terrorist presence in Raqqa has been eliminated.”

A Pentagon spokesman said the SDF had seized the last Isis strongholds, but warned that the advancing militiamen could still encounter pockets of resistance from about 100 fighters who remained in the city.

News agencies reported jubilant militiamen raising yellow flags in the city’s al-Naim square – which under Isis rule was known as “Hell Roundabout” because of its use as a setting for public executions.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said in a statement: “With [SDF] control over the local municipal stadium, the city of Raqqa is now completely outside the control of the Islamic State and it’s completely empty of Isis members. Subsequently, in the entire Raqqa province the presence of Islamic State has ended.”

Islamic State first captured Raqqa in early 2014 before spreading to a number of other major cities in Syria and Iraq, including Mosul. It is believed to have used the city as a command centre for operations in the Middle East and well as in the west. A number of westerners imprisoned by Isis were also held there before being killed.

Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and north Africa programme at Chatham House, said the liberation of Raqqa was an emblematic loss for Isis because it put an end to its claim of ruling a physical Islamic state, but she warned that it was still not clear who would control the city now.

“If the SDF ends up governing Raqqa, there are concerns about ethnic tensions between the local residents of Raqqa – who are mostly Arab – and the Kurdish-majority SDF,” she told the Guardian. “The SDF has also in the near past handed over areas it had taken over from Isis to the Syrian army. Repeating this scenario in Raqqa would plant the seed for a new wave of clashes.”

Umm Abdullah, a 44-year-old Raqqa native, was forced to leave the city after its capture by Isis and fled into exile in Kobani, 70 miles away. The AFP news agency quoted her as saying: “I can’t describe my happiness. When my sister told me it had been freed, she started to cry, and then I started to cry. Thank God. Thank God.”

After three years of rule under Isis and a series of airstrikes and ground fighting, the city is a panorama of ruined buildings and rubble.

The SDF began its assault on Raqqa in June but a few hundred jihadists remained in the city despite a deal that allowed many to leave on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Isis suffered another serious setback in the province of Deir ez-Zor, where its jihadists are still in control of at least five neighbourhoods. There, Russian and Iran-backed government forces were reported to have captured large swaths of territory, stretching between Deir ez-Zor and Mayadeen.

In the meantime, at least 74 people have been killed in a wave of Taliban suicide attacks targeting police compounds and government facilities in the south, east and west of Afghanistan.

Among those killed was a provincial police chief. Scores of people, including police officers and civilians, were also wounded.

The deputy interior minister, Murad Ali Murad, said the attacks on Tuesday had been the biggest this year.

He told a press conference in Kabul that 71 people had been killed by insurgents in Ghazni and Paktia provinces.

In southern Paktia province, 21 police officers and 20 civilians were killed when suicide car bombers targeted a police compound in the provincial capital of Gardez. Among the wounded were 48 police officers and 110 civilians.

The provincial police chief, Toryalai Abdyani, was killed in the Paktia attack, Murad confirmed.

The interior ministry said that after the two cars had exploded in Gardez, five assailants with suicide belts had tried to storm the compound but had been killed by Afghan security forces.

Gardez city hospital reported receiving at least 130 people wounded in the attack, a health ministry spokesman, Waheed Majroo, said.

Hamza Aqmhal, a student at Paktia University, said he had heard a powerful blast that shattered the windows of the building he was in. The university is about 1.25 miles from the training academy, said Aqmhal, who was slightly injured by broken glass.

A lawmaker from Paktia, Mujeeb Rahman Chamkni, said that along with the provincial chief of police several of his staff had been killed in the attack. Most of the casualties were civilians who had come to the centre, which also serves as a passport office, Chamkni said.

In southern Ghazni, suicide car bombers stormed a security compound in Andar district and killed 25 police officers and five civilians, Murad said. At least 15 people were wounded in the attack, including 10 police officers, he added.

Despite the high death toll, Murad said Afghan forces remained confident about their “readiness to fight terrorists and eliminate them from Afghanistan”.

Arif Noori, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Ghazni, said the onslaught there had lasted nine hours. The bodies of 13 Taliban fighters were discovered after the attack, Noori added.

In western Farah province, the police chief, Abdul Maruf Fulad, said Taliban fighters had killed three police officers in an attack on a government compound in Shibkho district.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks.

Murad said the militant group had sustained heavy losses over the past six months at the hands of Afghan forces and was seeking revenge.


Foreign News

Israel Rejects Calls For Ceasefire Before UN Security Council



Israel at the United Nations Security Council in New York on Wednesday rejected calls for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza war.

Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan told the most powerful UN body that with a ceasefire in place, Israel would not be able to protect its citizens.

“Anyone who supports a ceasefire, basically supports Hamas’ continued reign of terror in Gaza,” he said.

One could not demand a ceasefire and at the same time claim to be seeking a solution to the conflict, Erdan said further, noting that the militant Hamas is not a partner for reliable peace.

“Hamas has publicly stated – you all saw it – that it will repeat Oct. 7 over and over again until Israel is no more.

“How would you respond and defend your citizens from such a clear threat with a ceasefire?” he queried.

Erdan maintained that there could only be an end to the violence if Hamas handed over all its hostages and everyone else involved in the attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

  • dpa
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Report of Israeli hostage family’s deaths overshadows negotiations on Gaza truce



Negotiations between Israel and Hamas to extend the Gaza truce were overshadowed at the last minute on Wednesday by an unconfirmed claim by Hamas that a family of Israeli hostages including a 10-month-old baby had been killed.

Shortly before the final release of women and children hostages scheduled under the truce, the military wing of Hamas said in a statement that the youngest hostage, baby Kfir Bibas, had been killed in an earlier Israeli bombing, along with his four-year-old brother Ariel and their mother.

Their father, who has also been held, was not mentioned in the statement.

Israeli officials said they were checking the Hamas claim, a highly emotive issue in Israel where the family is among the highest-profile civilian hostages yet to be freed.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is assessing the accuracy of the information,” the military said in a statement which added that it held Hamas responsible for the safety of all the hostages in Gaza.

Relatives had issued a special appeal for the family’s freedom after the children and their parents were excluded from the penultimate group freed on Tuesday.

An Israeli official said it would be impossible to extend the ceasefire on Thursday morning, due to a lapse, without a commitment to release all women and children among the hostages.

The official said Israel believed militants were still holding enough women and children to prolong the truce by 2-3 days.

Egyptian security sources also said negotiators believed a two-day extension was possible.

Families of those Israeli hostages due to be released later on Wednesday had already been informed earlier of their names, the final group to be freed under the truce unless negotiators succeeded in extending it.

Officials did not say at the time whether that included the Bibas family.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers published a list of 15 women and 15 teenage Palestinians to be released from Israeli jails in return for the hostages released on Wednesday.

The hostages were seized by militants in their deadly raid on Israel on Oct. 7.

For the first time since the truce began, the list of Palestinians to be freed included Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as residents of occupied territory.

So far, Gaza militants have freed 60 Israeli women and children from among 240 hostages, under the deal that secured the war’s first truce.

At least 21 foreigners, mainly Thai farmworkers, were also freed under separate parallel deals.

In return, Israel has released 180 Palestinian security detainees, all women and teenagers.

The initial four-day truce was extended by 48 hours from Tuesday, and Israel said it would be willing to prolong it further for as long as Hamas frees 10 hostages a day.

But with fewer women and children still in captivity, that could mean agreeing to terms governing the release of at least some Israeli men for the first time.

A Palestinian official said negotiators were hammering out whether Israeli men would be released on different terms than the exchange for three Palestinian detainees each that had previously applied to the women and children.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said Israel would consider any serious proposal, though he declined to provide further details.

“We are doing everything we can in order to get those hostages out. Nothing is confirmed until it is confirmed,” Levy told reporters in Tel Aviv.

“We’re talking about very sensitive negotiations in which human lives hang in the balance,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his earlier pledges to pursue the war to annihilate Hamas, once the ceasefire lapses.

“There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end.

“This is my policy. The entire cabinet stands behind it. The entire government stands behind it. The soldiers stand behind it. The people stand behind it. This is exactly what we will do,” he said in a statement.

Tuesday’s release also included for the first time hostages held by Islamic Jihad, a separate militant group, as well as by Hamas itself.

“The ability of Hamas to secure the release of hostages held by other factions had been an issue in earlier talks.

The truce has brought the first respite to a war launched by Israel to annihilate Hamas after the “Black Shabbat” raid by gunmen who killed 1,200 people on the Jewish rest day, according to Israel’s tally.

Israeli bombardment has since reduced much of Gaza to a wasteland, with more than 15,000 people confirmed killed, 40 percent of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations.

Many more are feared buried under the ruins. The Palestinian health ministry said another 160 bodies had been pulled out of rubble during the past 24 hours of the truce, and around 6,500 people were still missing.

  • Reuters
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Foreign News

Israeli army says it has opened door leading to tunnel under hospital



The Israeli army says it has broken open the sealed blast door at the end of a suspected Hamas tunnel under the al-Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip.

The military published two pictures on social media platform X, formerly called Twitter, Tuesday evening showing the open door in a tunnel.

What exactly is behind the door remained unclear at first.

“Just through this door, underneath the Shifa Hospital, are Hamas’ terrorists tunnels.

“Here’s the PROOF of Hamas’ terrorism festering underneath hospitals,” the Israel Defense Forces said in their post on X.

However, the photographs were published without context and could not be independently verified.

The military suspects a command centre of the Islamist Hamas under the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip.

Buildings in the vicinity of the hospital were also suspected.

According to the army, a shaft uncovered a few days ago in the grounds of the embattled hospital led to a tunnel, at the end of which there was a locked “explosion-proof door” after 55 metres.

Israel says the tunnel leads to a network of Hamas tunnels and bunkers.

In spite of international criticism, Israeli soldiers have been engaging in combat operations in and around the Shifa hospital for days.

Israel accuses Hamas of misusing the hospital for “terrorist purposes.”

But Hamas denies this.

  • dpa


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