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Raqqa recaptured from Islamic State by US-backed forces

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…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.

Guardian

Foreign News

Yemen’s Houthis Claim Fresh Attack Against Lobivia Ship, In Gulf Of Aden

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Yemen’s Houthis Claim Fresh Attack Against Lobivia Ship, In Gulf Of Aden

…As 2 killed by Russian artillery fire on Ukrainian village

 Yemen’s Houthi group on Friday claimed responsibility for launching a drone and missile attack against a ship in the Gulf of Aden.

“The Lobivia ship was hit accurately by several missiles and drones,” Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said in a televised statement aired by the group’s al-Masirah TV.

Earlier in the day, Sarea in another televised statement claimed responsibility for launching a drone attack against what he said was a vital target in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

He didn’t identify the target. 

Meanwhile, Israeli media reported the attack killed a person and injured 10 others.

The Houthi group, which controls much of northern Yemen, has been targeting ships linked to Israel since November 2023, in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The group threatens to escalate its attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden until the conflict stops in the besieged Palestinian territory. 

In another development, two women were killed and several others injured by Russian artillery fire that travelled across the Dnipro River and hit a village in southern Ukraine, local authorities said on Friday.

One of the injured is a doctor, Alexander Prokudin, military governor of the Kherson region, announced on Telegram.

Where he posted that Russian troops fired 40 shells from a rocket artillery launcher at the village of Biloserka on the north bank of the Dnipro during the night.

Meanwhile, around 60 houses were damaged.

And one woman was killed in her house.

The body of a second woman was later discovered under the rubble.

Russia occupied Biloserka, along with the rest of the Kherson region, in the spring of 2022, shortly after it launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbour in February of that year.

However, Russian forces were driven from the area in late autumn of 2022.

Since then, the wide lower reaches of the Dnipro have formed the front line in most places.

Russia’s Defence Ministry in Moscow announced, without specifying the exact location that Russian artillery had knocked out the command centre of a Ukrainian battalion on the other bank of the river.

Separately, nine people were injured by Russian shelling in the city of Chuhuiv in the eastern region of Kharkiv, according to military governor Oleh Synyehubov.

Several buildings were damaged, while some cars were burnt.

The governor did not specify which weapons were used to fire on the city.

Chuhuiv is an important transport hub for supplying Ukrainian units on the front east of Kharkiv.

– Xinhua

– With additional information from DPA/NAN

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Israeli Defence Minister Reports Death Of Hamas Terrorists

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…As Norway is to deliver six F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine

 Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday said that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have killed a majority of Hamas terrorists and most of the Islamist organisation’s battalions smashed.

Gallant commented on parliament on Wednesday, according to Israeli media.

Israel announced the destruction of Hamas as a war objective after the massacres carried out by Hamas and other extremist groups on October 7.

“As long as Hamas retains a hold in the Gaza Strip, it can rebuild and strengthen itself, “Israeli officials have said.

So the IDF would then have to return and fight in areas where it had already been deployed.

Gallant has called for the creation of a political alternative to Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far refused to present a plan for the administration and reconstruction of Gaza after the end of the war.

Observers say this is likely because he is trying to avoid conflict with his far-right coalition partners who favour the building of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, a proposition. 

In another developmnet, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) member, Norway, will supply six F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

The first is due to arrive by the end of the year, the government in Oslo confirmed on Wednesday.

“Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against air attacks is crucial in its battle against Russia,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said in a statement.

It has been known for some time that Norway intends to send F-16s to Ukraine as part of an international coalition.

However, the timing has so far been as unclear as the exact number of aircraft.

Even though several countries have pledged to deliver the US-built fighters, none are known to have yet arrived in Ukraine.

On the fringes of the NATO summit in Washington on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country hopes to receive its first F-16s this summer.

Ukraine, which has been under attack from Russia since February 2022, needs at least 128 fighter jets, Zelensky said.

According to the government, Norway decommissioned its F-16s in 2021 as part of the introduction of new F-35 fighter jets. Of the fighters withdrawn from service, 32 were sold to Romania.

– dpa

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Sunak Insists Predictions Of Defeat Not Going To Stop Him

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Sunak Insists Predictions Of Defeat Are Not Going To Stop Him

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted that predictions of a Conservative defeat are not going to stop him after the likelihood of his return to Downing Street.

He said this was put at less than “lightning striking twice in the same place” by a polling expert.

He was asked during a “BBC Breakfast’’ interview whether he accepted the analysis by-elections guru Professor John Curtice, the prime minister said: “That’s his view.

“That’s not going to stop me from working as hard as I can over these final few days to talk to as many people as possible about the choice.”

“And I was up at 4 this morning talking to workers at a distribution facility.

“I’m here talking to you. I’ll be out till the last moment of this campaign because I think it’s an important choice for the country.”

Sunak kicked off a final push for votes on the last two days of the campaign with an early morning visit to an Ocado packing plant in Bedfordshire.

Then he stopped at a Morrisons near Witney the former Oxfordshire seat of Foreign Secretary, David Cameron where the conservatives won with a 15,200 majority in 2019.

In a last-ditch attempt to rally conservative voters, the Tory leader claimed in a speech on Tuesday that just 130,000 voters could prevent a Labour “supermajority.”

He denied that his switch from talking about his policy plans to warnings about a landslide for Keir Starmer and his Labour Party was the language of defeat.

“No, I’m much still talking to people about our plan,” he said.

Sunak also defended the conservative campaign, in spite of it having failed to narrow the opinion poll gap with Labour.

It was asked if he had got the campaign wrong after it was hit by debacles including his early D-day departure and the gambling row, the prime minister said

“No, actually everywhere I’ve been going, people are waking up to the dangers of what a labour government would mean for them, particularly when it comes to taxes.”

He said under the conservatives, things were undeniably better than they were a few years ago.

“When it comes to the things that we want to do, people can see that we have turned a corner,” he said.

Meanwhile, Starmer said a big Labour majority would be better for the country.

The Labour leader hammered home his get-out-the-vote message on a whistlestop campaign tour to Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire on Tuesday.

In an interview with The Times, he said he needed a strong mandate to reform the planning system and improve the economy.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey is continuing his action-packed campaign tour to the South-West of England where he will call on voters to end the sewage scandal. 

– dpa

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