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US intensifies bombing in Syria after Trump announced withdrawal | ISIS/ISIL News




After President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria last month, the US military ramped up its bombing campaign against territory still held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in the eastern part of the country, according to sources on the ground and photographs obtained in a joint investigation by Al Jazeera and The Intercept.

The fiercest attacks in the past week occurred in Al Kashmah, a village on the Euphrates River near the border with Iraq, according to three sources in eastern Syria. Amid US air attacks and artillery fire by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), civilians and family members of ISIL fighters fled to villages to the south, the sources said. While Al Kashmah has not yet fallen, the only people remaining there are fighters representing what has become the front line of the war against ISIL in Deir Az Zor province.

The ISIL fighters are clustered in villages along the Euphrates, from the border with Iraq to south of Hajin, a former ISIL stronghold that fell to the SDF, a Kurdish-led militia, in mid-December.

There are about 50,000 to 60,000 people who remain in those areas, according to a civilian activist in Deir Az Zor who documents rights abuses and asked not to be named due to safety concerns. “The civilians in these areas have no place to go or hide from the US bombardment of their villages,” the activist said, noting that the residents have been harmed at the hands of the Syrian government, the US, and ISIL alike.

Bombing of hospital

The ISIL-held villages along the Euphrates have been the targets of US bombing sorties since November as part of Operation Roundup. In addition to military targets, Operation Roundup bombed civilian areas, including a hospital, The Intercept and Al Jazeera reported last month.

The US could not attack the hospital without warning it first — and without giving the hospital a reasonable amount of time to either stop ISIS from using it or to evacuate civilian personnel and wounded.

Kevin Jon Heller, professor of international law

A senior ISIL fighter said the al Yarmouk Hospital was the region’s last public health facility that treated civilians in the area. He also acknowledged that ISIL might have used it to treat its fighters if treatment was not available in its own field hospitals.

Kevin Jon Heller, an international law scholar, told Al Jazeera that the US could not legally attack the hospital simply because it believes some ISIL fighters were there.

“The US could not attack the hospital without warning it first — and without giving the hospital a reasonable amount of time to either stop ISIL from using it or to evacuate civilian personnel and wounded,” said Heller, a professor of international law at Australia National University and the University of Amsterdam

Heller said the bombing of a hospital in a combat zone without considering the civilian casualties or warning them is a fundamental violation of International Humanitarian law (IHL), a component of international law that regulates the conduct of war and the protection of civilians.

Fighters and civilians in the villages have reportedly been describing the US bombing campaign as a scorched-earth policy, using an Arabic term that translates to “burn the ground” [Zoe Garbarino/US Army Photo/AP Photo]

Trump’s abrupt December 19 decision to withdraw US ground troops involved in the fight against ISIL in Syria took even the US Defense Department by surprise. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the president declined to give a timeline for the pullout, and said instead that it would happen “over a period of time.” The increased intensity of the bombings, however, belie claims by Trump and others that ISIL has been defeated or that the US war in Syria, which has largely been carried out from the skies, is over. It remains unclear whether US air attacks will continue once the troops leave.

During the final days of 2018, the US campaign bombed villages up and down the Euphrates, focusing primarily on Al Kashmah. On the night of New Year’s Eve, the bombs relentlessly assaulted Al Kashmah, leaving the village largely destroyed by the next morning, according to an ISIL fighter who was there. (We interviewed members of ISIL and the SDF, as well as a tribal leader, for this article via messaging services, and we’ve granted them anonymity because they all stand to be targeted by the various warring factions for speaking to journalists.)

The coalition against ISIL appears to be targeting internet cafes, according to two sources on the ground. Internet cafes in the villages are used by civilians and ISIL fighters alike. They are not part of ISIL’s tactical communications infrastructure, according to sources, but the fighters typically use them to communicate with the outside world, especially their families in other countries.

“They just like to disrupt and mess everything up,” an ISIL fighter said in an interview. “They bombed the places where they sell gasoline for the motor, or they sell cooking oil, or where they filter the water – they bomb all these places. Not just the net, they bomb everything just to make your life horrible.”

The aftermath of the US bombing campaign in Al Kashmah, from where civilians have fled due to relentless attacks [Courtesy: The Intercept]

The risk of civilian casualties from bombings in Deir Az Zor is high because the rural villages have become densely populated with the families of ISIL fighters and civilians fleeing in recent months from more densely populated cities and towns that have fallen to Kurdish-led forces. “No building is empty here,” the ISIL fighter said, referring to the remaining ISIL-controlled villages in Deir Az Zor. Fighters and civilians in the villages have reportedly been describing the US bombing campaign as a scorched-earth policy, using an Arabic term that translates to “burn the ground”.

On Sunday, the US military admitted that it’s killed 1,139 civilians in Iraq and Syria since the start of its campaign against ISIL in 2014. That number is significantly smaller than the estimates of civilian casualties put out by monitoring groups, like Airwars, which says between 7,308 and 11,629 civilians have been killed.

In response to a list of questions about the bombings in Syria, Danielle Covington, a spokesperson for US Department of Defense, said the coalition dictates “the pace of our strikes against ISIS targets deliberately and with careful consideration of their impact to civilians. The increase in strikes in late December were selected specifically to degrade ISIS capabilities and were unrelated to any other variable.” 

Following Trump’s withdrawal announcement, the Kurds, who lead the on-the-ground forces that had partnered with the US in fighting ISIL in Syria, reached out to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria for protection. Feeling betrayed by the US, the Kurds are concerned about a possible attack by Turkey, which has long feared that its own minority Kurdish population might be emboldened by the existence of a Kurdish state or autonomous region south of Turkey. (In March 2018, Turkish Armed Forces and allied militia seized control of the Syrian city of Afrin from the Kurds.)

In addition, after the evacuation of civilians from Al Kashmah, ISIL negotiated a three-day ceasefire with the Kurds, according to three sources on the ground. On Monday, seven trucks carrying food and humanitarian aid entered ISIL-controlled areas under the agreement, according to one ISIL and one SDF source. The ceasefire was initially scheduled to end December 31, but ISIL officials are discussing a possible six-month extension, according to an ISIL fighter familiar with the talks but who is not directly part of the effort. During the temporary ceasefire, some ISIL fighters and defectors fled Deir Az Zor to other parts of Syria, according to two sources who made such journeys themselves.

A lasting ceasefire would allow badly-needed supplies to reach civilians in the villages, and ISIL would also use it to regroup. The Kurds would receive a safeguard from a two-front war if the Turks attack.

A ceasefire between ISIL and the Kurds, coupled with the Syrian government’s potential protection of the Kurds from Turkey, would largely undercut part of Trump’s public rationale for withdrawing US troops from Syria. In a tweet, Trump described how Turkey could “easily take care of whatever remains” of ISIL. In a subsequent tweet, Trump spoke of his conversation with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey:

But the prospect of Turkey’s completion of a clean-up job against ISIL in Syria seems increasingly unlikely given the rapidly shifting alliances there.

Meanwhile, the US military continues to drop bombs on Deir Az Zor, despite the fact that the Kurds, expected to be abandoned by the US, are not currently engaging ISIL fighters.

“They’ve backstabbed all their allies and they’re killing the people here, and eventually the Islamic State will survive and spread or it will fall,” the ISIL fighter said, referring to the US. “But there will be people here who will remember what happened here, and they will carry on this information and it will spread throughout the Middle East.”

 Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports


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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day




The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat




In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic




TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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