This handout undated picture taken and released by the press service of the Turkish Government, shows Rasmiya Awad, believed to be the sister of slain Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was captured in the northern Syrian town of Azaz by Turkish security officials, seen in an unknown location. "Turkey has captured Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's sister" in a raid near the town of Azaz, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP. US President announced on October 27 the death of Baghdadi in a US special forces raid in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, carried out in coordination with Kurdish militants.
AFP/Turkish Government/Handout
Turkey says it captured sister of dead IS leader
(Agence France-Presse) - November 6, 2019 - 8:31am

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkish forces in northern Syria have detained a sister of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group who was killed in a US raid, a senior Turkish official said Tuesday.

"Turkey has captured Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's sister" in a raid  near the town of Azaz, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

He named the woman as Rasmiya Awad, and said she was born in 1954.

The woman was accompanied by her husband, her daughter-in-law and five children. 

"The three adults are being interrogated at this time", the official said.

He added that the arrest could be "an intelligence gold mine.

"What she knows about ISIS can significantly expand our understanding of the group", help us catch more members and "help Turkey to better protect itself and the rest of Europe from terrorists", he said, using another acronym for IS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the arrests.

"Turkish forces arrested the sister of Baghdadi last night in a camp in the suburbs of the city of Azaz", said the head of the organisation, Rami Abdel Rahman.

"They arrested her, her husband, her daughter-in law, and her five grandchildren."

He said they also detained four other Iraqis, but it was not immediately clear if they were linked to IS or not.

The town of Azaz is located in a region of northwestern Syria that has been under Turkish control since an offensive it staged in 2016.

US President Donald Trump announced on October 27 the death of Baghdadi in a US special forces raid in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, carried out in coordination with Kurdish militants.

Baghdadi had led IS since 2014 and was the world's most wanted man.

The next day Turkey said that its intelligence services and military had had "intense" contact with their US counterparts on the night of the operation.

Long suspected of allowing the jihadists to cross its border to join Syria after the start of the conflict that has torn the country since 2011, Turkey, hit by several attacks committed by the IS, joined the anti-jihadist coalition in 2015.

But Ankara has been accused in recent weeks of weakening the fight against dispersed IS elements by launching an offensive on October 9 against the YPG Kurdish militia that had been spearheading the fight against the jihadist organisation.

ABU BAKR AL-BAGHDADI ISIS
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: November 12, 2019 - 8:34am

Eight Security Council nations say it's "imperative" that the U.N. body "immediately pursue decisive action" to achieve a cease-fire in Syria if U.N. member states, especially Russia and its ally Syria, don't implement a resolution demanding a cessation of hostilities.

A letter sent to all 15 council members on Monday expresses "profound concern" about the lack of implementation of the Feb. 24 resolution demanding a cease-fire throughout Syria without delay to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate the critically ill and wounded.

It singles out Russia and Syria as key to implementation.

The letter was signed by France, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands.

It says that implementing the resolution "could immediately save hundreds, if not thousands, of children, women and men who have suffered acutely during the past eight years of the brutal conflict in Syria."

___

12:10 a.m.

The U.N. human rights chief says the Syrian government's five-year siege of the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta has involved "pervasive war crimes," use of chemical weapons and starvation as a weapon of war.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council late Monday that never before have military offensives against terrorism been used more often "to justify the unconscionable use of force against civilians than in the last few months in Syria."

Russia earlier blocked his planned address to a formal meeting of the council.

Zeid said "unlawful methods of warfare have been used by all parties" in Syria. But he singled out the Syrian government's claim that it makes every effort to protect civilians and dismissed it.

In his words, "When you are capable of torturing and indiscriminately killing your own people, you have long forfeited your own credibility."

___

11 p.m.

Western nations on the U.N. Security Council and their supporters have quickly organized an informal briefing by the U.N. human rights chief on Syria after a Russian-led protest blocked him from addressing a formal council meeting.

France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters after a procedural vote that Russia called for prevented High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein from addressing an open meeting in the council that he would deliver the same address at the informal meeting late Monday afternoon.

Delattre criticized Russia for refusing any discussion of human rights in the Security Council when rights violations in Syria "are at their very peak."

Russian deputy ambassador Gennady Kuzmin had argued that human rights have nothing to do with the council's mandate of ensuring international peace and security.

But Sweden's U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog insisted that "human rights and peace and security are intimately linked."

And Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador Jonathan Allen said Russia "doesn't want the truth of ... the appalling human rights abuses taking place." But he said: "We mustn't let them silence us.

___

10:10 p.m.

The U.N. human rights chief has been blocked from speaking to the Security Council about the situation in Syria after Russia, backed by China and others, protested that the U.N. body charged with ensuring international peace and security should not be discussing human rights.

At the start of Monday afternoon's council meeting that was to be addressed by High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, Russia demanded a procedural vote on whether the meeting should be held.

Under council rules, nine "yes" votes are required.

After the issue was put to a vote, the result was 8 countries in favor, 4 against and 3 abstentions. So the meeting was canceled.

It was a very rare defeat on a procedural issue at an open council meeting.

But it reflected deep divisions at the Security Council over seven years of Syrian conflict that has involved President Bashar Assad's key ally Russia and Western nations including the U.S. and other supporters of the Syrian opposition.

___

10 p.m.

Turkey's president has vowed to expand military operations across northern Syria and even into neighboring Iraq after his forces drove Kurdish fighters from the northern Syrian town of Afrin.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that the two-month-long Afrin campaign was the "most important phase" of the military operation launched on Jan. 20, which is aimed at driving Syrian Kurdish forces out of areas along the border.

Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish militiamen as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents fighting inside Turkey.

Erdogan said Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces would now press eastward, toward the town of Manbij and areas east of the Euphrates River, including Ayn al-Arab, the Arabic name for the Kurdish town of Kobani. Those areas are controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, and U.S. troops are stationed there.

___

8:30 p.m.

The U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Syria is appealing for help to provide aid to tens of thousands of civilians affected by the fighting outside the Syrian capital and in the northern town of Afrin.

Ali al-Za'tari says the civilians are in "desperate need," and are "tired, hungry, traumatized and afraid."

Government forces are close to capturing the eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, where they have waged a fierce monthlong air and ground campaign. Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces seized Afrin from Kurdish fighters on Sunday after a two-month offensive. The fighting in both places has killed hundreds of civilians and displaced tens of thousands.

Al-Za'tari says the U.N., the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other partners are "fully mobilized to deliver aid on the spot," but require permissions and security guarantees.

The Syrian government has regularly blocked the delivery of aid to opposition-held areas.

___

8 p.m.

Syria has condemned Turkey's capture of the northern Syrian town of Afrin from Kurdish forces.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry, in messages sent to the U.N. Security Council and secretary general on Monday, called on Turkey to withdraw its forces immediately from Syrian territories.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition forces seized Afrin from a Kurdish militia on Sunday after a nearly two-month military campaign.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said the move was "illegal" and called it an invasion.

Turkey views the Kurdish forces as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey. Ankara denies it is invading or occupying Syrian land, saying it is only removing militants from areas along the border.

___

6:30 p.m.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's office has released videos showing the president driving himself to visit his forces at the battle for eastern Ghouta, just outside the capital, Damascus.

The videos, released late Sunday and early Monday, show the president calm and assured. Other drivers on the road give no indication of knowing who is behind the wheel of the Honda sedan.

Assad's forces in eastern Ghouta appear close to clinching one of their most significant victories against rebels in seven years of civil war.

As he drove, he narrated his route to the camera and gave his thoughts on the battle. He said the images of civilians crossing over by the thousands to government authorities in eastern Ghouta showed that his government was still popular with his people and still possessed the "legitimacy" to rule.

Eastern Ghouta has been under a crippling siege and heavy bombardment for weeks, with civilians packing into underground shelters. Some 1,500 civilians have been killed in the last month.

___

6:15 p.m.

The U.S. State Department says it is "deeply concerned" over the humanitarian situation following Turkey's capture of the town of Afrin in northern Syria from Kurdish forces.

Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Monday that the offensive forced the majority of the predominantly Kurdish population of Afrin to evacuate from the town.

She said the U.S. calls on all parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian groups to access the displaced and develop a program for their safe and voluntary return.

Nauert said the fighting in Afrin has distracted from the fight against Islamic State militants, allowing the extremists to begin to reconstitute in some areas.

She said the U.S. is committed to its NATO ally Turkey and its security concerns, and is also committed to the fight against IS with its partners, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Nauert said U.S. officials have expressed their concern to Turkish officials about the situation in Afrin.

___

4:15 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that after victory in Syria's Afrin region, his country will expand its military operations into other Kurdish-held areas in Syria as well as to Iraq's Sinjar region.

Speaking at a ceremony for judicial appointments in Ankara, Erdogan said troops would target the Syrian city of Manbij, as well as Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobani, and other towns along the border to the east of the Euphrates River. Those areas are controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces and U.S. troops are stationed there.

Erdogan said Turkish troops could also cross into Iraq to drive out Kurdish militants from the region of Sinjar, if the Iraqi government is reluctant to oust militants from the area. Turkey says the region is becoming a headquarters for outlawed Kurdish rebels who have been fighting an insurgency in Turkey's southeast since 1984.

Erdogan said "one night, we could suddenly enter Sinjar."

He insisted Turkey had no intention of "invading" Syria, saying it was merely clearing the border area of terrorists.

___

2:05 p.m.

Syria's Kurdish militia says a British woman who had joined their ranks to fight in the northern town of Afrin has been killed in a Turkish airstrike.

Nisrin Abdullah, spokeswoman of the Kurdish female militia known as YPJ, said on Monday that Anna Campbell was killed last Thursday.

She is the first foreign national to die in the battle for Afrin. She is also the first British female fighter and the eighth Briton to die fighting alongside the Kurdish militia in Syria. The Press Association says Campbell was 26 years old from Lewes, East Sussex.

Macer Gifford, a Briton who travelled with Campbell, said they arrived last May to eastern Syria, where they joined the U.S-backed Kurdish militia to fight against Islamic State militants. Gifford returned home after the fall of the city of Raqqa last summer.

Gifford told The Associated Press via Twitter that Campbell, an animal rights activist, "was a lovely girl. Very opinionated and determined."

He also says: "She loved the YPJ and the last I saw of her was her leaving to join them."

___

1:50 p.m.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag says Turkey does not aim to invade the Syrian town of Afrin and will hand it over to "its real owners."

Bozdag made the comments on Monday, a day after Turkish troops and Ankara-allied Syrian opposition forces captured Afrin.

The town was taken nearly two month after Turkey launched its offensive to clear Afrin and surrounding districts of a Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara considers to be a "terrorist" group, allied with Turkey's outlawed Kurdish rebels.

Bozdag says" ''We are not invaders. The aim of our offensive is to clear the region of terror."

He says the Syrian Kurdish forces retreated from Afrin because "they were afraid ... you see this very clearly when you look at ammunition and weapons that they left behind."

He says the Kurdish fighters had left booby traps and other explosives inside Afrin.

___

1:35 p.m.

The European Union has slapped sanctions on a senior Syrian military officer and three scientists accused of links to the development and use of chemical weapons against civilians.

EU headquarters said on Monday that the four work at the Scientific Studies and Research Center, a Syrian government agency the EU says produces chemical weapons and missiles to deliver them.

The center has been under EU sanctions since Dec. 2011.

The move brings to 261 the number of people targeted by an EU travel ban and asset freeze over the crackdown on Syrian civilians and support for the government of President Bashar Assad or associating with certain government officials.

A further 67 entities — often companies, agencies and organizations — have had their assets frozen.

___

12:40 p.m.

A senior Syrian Kurdish official says Turkey's offensive on the Syrian town of Afrin is an "occupation" that endangers the rest of northern Syria.

Aldar Khalil, a leading Kurdish official, on Monday condemned Turkey for the assault and for raising the Turkey's flag in a Syrian town.

He says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to spread his influence in Syria as a way of restoring the Ottoman empire's former influence.

He says: "The whole of northern Syria is in danger."

Turkish troops and Syrian opposition fighters allied with Ankara captured Afrin on Sunday, nearly two months after Turkey began its offensive on the enclave.

Erdogan, who first launched military operations in Syria in 2016, has repeatedly said Turkey will not allow a "terror corridor" along its border and has vowed to push eastward in Syria after Afrin, to prevent the Kurdish militia from linking up territories it controls in eastern and western Syria.

___

9:50 a.m.

The European Union's top diplomat is criticizing Turkey over its military offensive in a northern Syrian town and is calling on Ankara to ensure that fighting eases in the conflict-torn country.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says: "I am worried about this."

Mogherini told reporters in Brussels on Monday that international efforts in Syria are supposed to be "aiming at de-escalating the military activities and not escalating them."

She urged Turkey, Russia and Iran to guarantee that conflict "de-escalation zones" are established as promised, to "guarantee that that is what happens on the ground."

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Sunday the capture of the town of Afrin, previously controlled by the Kurdish militia known as the People's Defense Units, or YPG.

___

9:40 a.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says a booby trap bomb reportedly left by Syrian Kurdish fighters in the northern Syrian town of Afrin has killed 11 people — seven civilians and four Turkish-backed fighters.

Anadolu Agency says the explosion occurred late on Sunday in a four-story building that Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces were clearing for explosives.

Turkish troops and Syrian opposition fighters allied with Ankara marched into Afrin on Sunday, nearly two months after Turkey began its offensive on the enclave to drive out a Syrian Kurdish militia. Ankara considers the militia an extension of its own insurgency.

Kurdish officials and a war monitor say some pockets of resistance remain in the town of Afrin but the Kurdish militia, known as YPG, has largely withdrawn.

___

9:20 a.m.

A Syria war monitoring group says Turkish-allied militiamen are looting the northern Syrian town of Afrin after the Turkish military and allied Syrian fighters seized control of it.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday the looting began on Sunday, after the Turkish and allied Syrian forces marched into the town center and raised their flags there — nearly two months after the offensive on the Kurdish enclave started.

The troops faced little resistance from the Kurdish militia, which withdrew, vowing a "new phase" of guerrilla tactics against Turkish troops and their allied fighters.

The Observatory, which monitors Syria's war through a network of activists on the ground, described extensive looting of shops, homes and cars in Afrin.

It's unclear what Turkey plans after the capture of Afrin. — AP

November 12, 2019 - 8:34am

Three simultaneous bombings have killed at least six civilians in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, the latest attack to target the de-facto capital of the country's embattled Kurdish minority.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, which came after the Islamic State group said it was responsible for the killing of a priest from the city.

Two car bombs and an explosives-rigged motorcycle blew up in a busy market and near a school and several churches, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says — AFP 

October 26, 2019 - 2:07pm

Damascus and Moscow deploy extra forces to Syria's border with Turkey, even as Washington partially reversed a drawback to boost its own military presence near key Syrian oil fields.

The United States earlier this month announced a pullout from Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria, allowing Damascus, Ankara and Moscow to carve up the Kurds' now-defunct autonomous region.

Turkey and its Syrian proxies on October 9 launched a cross-border attack against Kurdish-held areas, grabbing a 120-kilometre-long (70-mile) swathe of Syrian land along the frontier. — AFP

October 24, 2019 - 6:18pm

Turkey is "heading in the wrong direction" with its incursion into Syria and deal with Russia to jointly patrol a "safe zone" there, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper warns.

"Turkey put us all in a very terrible situation" by sweeping into northern Syria this month to fight Kurdish militia allied with the US in the fight against the Islamic State group, Esper tells a conference in Brussels ahead of a NATO defence ministers' meeting.

The onus was on Turkey's NATO allies to now "work together to strengthen our partnership with them, and get them on the trend back to being the strong reliable ally of the past," he says. — AFP

October 23, 2019 - 9:57am

Russia and Turkey have agreed to ensure Kurdish forces withdraw from areas close to Syria's border with Turkey and to launch joint patrols, in a deal hailed as "historic" by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After marathon talks in Russia's southern city of Sochi, Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announces the deal just hours ahead of a deadline for Turkey to restart its assault on Syrian Kurdish forces.

As the evening deadline passed, Turkey says there was "no need" to relaunch the offensive. — AFP

October 19, 2019 - 5:39pm

Turkey accuses Kurdish forces of violating an agreement to suspend its Syria offensive if they withdraw from a "safe zone" along the border.

"The Turkish armed forces fully abide by the agreement" reached on Thursday with the United States, the defence ministry says in a statement. "Despite this, terrorists... carried out a total of 14 attacks in the last 36 hours."

The ministry says 12 of the attacks came from the border town of Ras al-Ain in northeastern Syria, one from Tal Abyad and another from Tal Tamr region, adding that various light and heavy weaponry including rockets were used. — AFP

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