Eastern Mosul officially recaptured from Islamic State

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Iraqi government forces achieved the most remarkable victory over Islamic State in the country, declaring the recapture of the eastern section of the city of Mosul, like reported by iraqinews.com.

A statement by the army’s elite Counter-Terrorism Forces, which spearheaded the battles against the extremist group in Mosul since October, said the eastern side of Mosul was officially liberated, adding that 3300 militants were killed since the launch of operations.

The development represents a major impetus for the forces which hope to move onwards to the west, where Islamic State militants still dominate. The recapture of Mosul would represent the strongest blow to IS influence in the region.

Shortly before the announcement, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, who leads the Joint Operations Command battles in Nineveh, said in a statement the forces recaptured the Athariya (archaeological) zone, Tel Nerkal and al-Qadiya in the northeast.

Also in the northeast, Anadolu Agency, quoting a senior commander in the counter-terrorism troops, Fallah al-Abbassi, said 10 civilians were killed, including women and children, and 13 others were wounded when IS militants shelled districts recently recaptured by security forces.

Conflict in Mosul forced at least 178.000 people to flee to refugee camps, and the United Nations had voiced fears that battles could force at least one million out of homes.

ISIS documents show militants disqualified over harassment, mental deficiencies

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Documents seized by security forces from former Islamic State facilities in Mosul have shown that several militants nominated for joining the extremist group’s police service were disqualified for several reasons that ranged from sexual harassment history to mental deficiencies.

The documents, which were circulated by social networks users, and the authenticity of which could not be verified, carry disqualified members photos, group’s main logo and the so-called “Islamic Police”’s seal.

The reasons for the disqualification of the members, which are shown in a handwriting, ranged from frequenting brothels, drinking alcoholics, having a sexual harassment history and exhibiting signs of mental normality.

The Islamic State emerged in Iraq and Syria in 2014, conquering several cities in both countries and proclaiming the establishment of a self-styled “Islamic Caliphate”. Since then, the group reportedly imposed extreme religious rules on citizens subject to its rules, deployed vigilantes to ensure the rules were abided by and carried out executions and harsh punishments against violators.

Islamic State has reportedly been crumbling over the past few weeks as Iraqi security forces advanced closer towards the liberation of Mosul, the group’s last major stronghold in Iraq. Reports have been rampant about divisions and an atmosphere of mistrust among members.

Turkey official says border wall with Syria near completion

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A senior Turkish official says two-thirds of a border wall to prevent infiltration from Syria has been completed, and that authorities had prevented a few attempts to dig tunnels underneath the wall, according to ap.org.

Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said Wednesday the entire project would be finished in the next few months.

Turkey has come under criticism in the past for not doing more to control its 900-km (560-mile) borders with Syria after conflict erupted there in 2011.

Formal and informal crossings were used by foreign fighters, including by al-Qaida and Islamic State group operatives, Syrian rebels, refugees and an array of aid workers.

Turkey started erecting a wall in 2014. In August, it launched a military operation to clear IS militants from a strategic border patch.

British air strikes destroy ISIS terror group’s Mosul drone base

British air strikes have destroyed a site used by Islamic State (IS) as a base for drones in the battle for Mosul, the Ministry of Defence has said, according to belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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A pair of RAF Typhoons bombed the Mosul building used by the group, which the Government refers to as Daesh, on January 12, the MoD announced.

A statement from the ministry said: “During the battle for Mosul, small armed remotely piloted aerial vehicles with grenades have been used by Daesh a number of times to harass Iraqi troops, with reports suggesting they have also been used to target civilian refugees.

“A building in the southern area of central Mosul was identified as being used as a base for these drones and their operators.

“On Thursday 12 January a pair of Royal Air Force Typhoons targeted the site, demolishing the building with two Paveway IV guided bombs.”

A Reaper drone watching over Iraqi forces in the city’s south east also fired missiles on “a number of terrorists armed with heavy and light machine guns”, according to the MoD.

The following day, the ministry said, the same type of aircraft spotted a “heavy rocket” being loaded into a truck by opponents.

“They and the vehicle were promptly struck by a Hellfire missile,” the statement said.

It comes after Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said two million people were freed from the rule of IS in the course of last year, as US-led coalition forces gained ground in Iraq and Syria.

Sir Michael, who is briefing MPs privately on the progress of operations against IS, described “substantial progress” in driving the group out of Iraq, with Mosul – its last stronghold in the country – expected to fall to Iraqi forces this year.

In Syria, he said the US-backed militias of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were closing around the IS “capital” of Raqqa.

In the course of last year it is estimated almost 25,000 IS fighters were killed and the group now controls less than 10% of Iraqi territory.

Syrian soldiers trained in Russian military camps deployed in eastern Homs

Tens of fresh soldiers that have been trained at Russian bases near Damascus were deployed in T4 Airbase in Eastern Homs to reinvigorate the Syrian Army’s combat capacities, like reported by farsnews.com
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The Syrian Army has reinvigorated its combat and defense capabilities in Eastern Homs by deploying tens of fresh forces who had been trained in one of the Russian garrisons in Damascus countryside for several weeks.

“135 soldiers have been sent to T4 airbase to protect the airport and further take part in the liberation operation of Palmyra and energy fields in Eastern Homs,” a military source said.

Media sources released images of the fresh forces who have been equipped with advanced Russia-made logistic equipment and Russian guns with night vision lens.

Earlier today, the army troops warded off three offensives of ISIL on government’s positions in Northern, Northeastern and Eastern Homs, inflicting major losses on the terrorists.

The army men engaged in heavy fighting with ISIL terrorists that tried to break through their positions in the villages of Jubb al-Jarrah and Abu al-Ala in Northeastern Homs, killing and wounding a number of them and forcing the rest to retreat from the battlefield.

In the meantime, the army soldiers targeted concentration centers of a group of terrorists that had planned to carry out an attack on government positions in Talbiseh region.

The army troops also foiled ISIL’s plan to capture their positions to the West of Palmyra (Tadmur) city and killed a number of them in a preemptive move.

Also, the Syrian and Russian fighter jets bombed the gatherings and movements of terrorists in the villages of Deir Foul and Ezzeddeen in Northern and Northeastern Homs.

Iraqi troops find ‘radioactive material’ in former Islamic State base Mosul University

Iraqi-led forces, backed by the United States military, have reportedly pushed the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) out of its strategic base in northern Iraq’s Mosul University complex

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Mosul University once served as the jihadist group’s headquarters, makeshift chemical weapons factory, training facility, and killing ground.

Citing the United Nations, the Telegraph reports “radioactive materials” have been found in the university along with chemical agents used to make weapons, like reported by breitbart.com .

The Telegraph explains that ISIS jihadists had transformed a dormitory into a “makeshift chemical weapons factory” after taking agents from chemical stores in the College of Sciences.

“Soldiers were unable to enter and specialist engineers had been called in to neutralize any potential dangers posed by the chemicals,” adds the news outlet.

Mosul University has been described as formerly one of the largest higher education centers in the Middle East.

The Telegraph notes:

Iraqi special forces struck a devastating blow at the weekend to the jihadists, who were using the campus to stage a “final stand” in the east of Mosul, [ISIS’s] last stronghold in Iraq.

After entering the complex early on Friday, troops faced stiff resistance in the form of sniper and mortar fire and more than a dozen car bombs.  More than 40 [ISIS] militants were killed and a dozen captured in fierce fighting.

“This was the toughest resistance we had seen so far in Mosul, they were everywhere,” declared Rasous Sabagh, identified by the British news outlet as one of the first soldiers to enter Mosul University.

However, the Iraqi private added, “By Saturday they [ISIS] were panicking, they were scared and some of them had even started to run away.”

Reuters learned from a spokesman for Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) that the allied forces had “swept through the campus of Mosul University on Sunday to clear it of any remaining Islamic State militants after taking full control of the area.”

“The university is completely liberated and forces are sweeping the complex for any hiding militants,” CTS spokesman Sabah al-Numan told Reuters. “Most buildings are booby-trapped so we’re being cautious.”

The ongoing offensive to retake the city of Mosul — led by a U.S.-backed coalition of an estimated 100,000 fighters made up primarily of Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga troops, and Iran-allied Shiite militias — has been raging since October.

Citing Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi of the Iraqi counterterrorism forces, CNN notes that the U.S.-backed forces participating in the operation have also seized parts of the east bank of the Tigris River, which bisects Mosul from north to south.

Taking the eastern bank of the river will allow U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and their allies to begin efforts to take the western part of the city which is still controlled by ISIS.

“The latest phase in the bid to retake Mosul has advanced more quickly than expected… The new government complex in eastern Mosul as well as several Mosul University buildings had at one time been a headquarters and killing ground for ISIS fighters,” points out CNN.

CTS Spokesman al-Numan reportedly indicated that Iraqi security forces discovered “large amounts of suspected chemical substances and ‘a bomb factory’ at the university.”

Moreover, Iraqi federal police, which recently joined the U.S.-backed coalition fighting to seize back Mosul, noted Saturday, that intelligence information led them to uncover a facility used to make chemical weapons in al-Bir, about 27 miles south of Mosul.

ISIS has used chemical weapons in the past against the U.S. military, Iraqi forces, and their allies.

Losing Mosul, Iraq’ssecond-largestt city and the last remaining major ISIS stronghold in the country, could mean bring the end of the jihadist group’s presence in Iraq.

U.S. forces erect 4 military bases in Mosul preparing for new combat plans

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U.S. forces have positioned in four districts in eastern Mosul to oversee the implementation of new combat plans as Iraqi forces become closer to retake that region from Islamic State militants, military sources say to iraqinews.com.

The bases were surrounded by tight security measures that deny access even to Iraqi troops and became under around-the-clock aerial watch as the Iraqi army’s Golden Division, a special operations force, prepares to carry out a newly-devised U.S. combat plan, an Iraqi army officer in Mosul was quoted by London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper as saying.

The districts chosen as location for the new bases were al-Quds, Saddam, Zohour and Gogjali, according to the officer.

Based on the new plan, the Iraqi forces are advised not to isolate or besiege several districts combined, but instead besiege and recapture one at a time.

Though displaced families from those districts were barred from returning home by Iraqi forces who feared attacks by Islamic State militants, the U.S. forces allowed the families to return, according to the source.

The officer added that U.S. forces rely on the Golden Division in liberating Mosul districts, having formed and trained that division after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He said “U.S. forces had made strict directives to those forces not to leave their casualties in the battlefield so as not to affect the morale of other forces.

Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S-led military coalition and popular forces, have been carrying out a major campaign since October to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city an Islamic State extremists’ last urban stronghold in the country.

Iraqi generals said recently they became in control over 90 percent of the city’s eastern section and hope to move later to recapture the IS-held west.

Iraqi government and military officials have reiterated that U.S.-led international forces in the battlefield had only practiced an advisory, rather than combat, role, but some news reports have told of occasional combat contribution by those forces.

Syria: ISIS isolates Deir Ezzor from its Airport

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During its third day of continuous attack, ISIS isolated the city of Deir Ezzor from its military airport as part of the organization’s efforts to kick out the regime from its last stronghold east Syria, like reported by aawsat.com.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS achieved on Monday an important advancement after controlling the Jeriah residential project in addition to cutting off the access route linking the city to the airport.

The Observatory added that ISIS also separated the city’s eastern half from its western half, which is now divided by an area where ISIS advanced last Sunday by controlling the hill facing Deir Ezzor.

During the last 24 hours, the Observatory said 84 people were killed including 14 civilians.

Media activist in Deir Ezzor Ahmad Ramadan told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS was capable of isolating the airport from the city by controlling the regime’s access route to the airport.

“Because ISIS now controls the airport and the nearby Arayeh area, it will be easier for the organization to control the rest of the regime-held neighborhoods. Therefore, the entire Deir Ezzor would end up in the hands of ISIS,” Ramadan said. He added that Russian and Syrian warplanes launched more than 60 airstrikes on several battlefield positions but failed to make any changes.

However, ISIS retreated in the Raqqa countryside where Kurdish forces, backed by the Washington-led international coalition, were capable to control a number of villages.

Meanwhile, seven opposition factions presented on Monday the names of their representatives who would attend the Astana talks. The majority of Aleppo’s opposition factions also announced their participation in the talks, expected on January 23 in the Kazakh capital.

Turkey and Russia are working to organize the new series of Syrian peace talks between the Bashar Assad regime and the opposition.

However, most factions operating in Idlib still refuse to attend the talks, despite the efforts exerted by Ankara and Russia in this regard.

Sources close to the Astana talks told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday: “Moscow and Ankara say they chose to limit the opposition’s representation by only inviting the factions and not the political groups – because the Astana talks would discuss military affairs related to the ceasefire.”

The sources said the Syrian regime delegation will include generals and military expert teams even if Assad insists that the delegation be headed by Bashar al-Jaafari, the permanent representative of Syria to the U.N.

Until Monday, the seven factions that announced their participation in the Astana talks were: Faylaq al-Sham, Sultan Murad faction, Shuhada’ Al-Islam, Fastaqim Kama Umirt, Juba al-Shamiya, Aleppo Operations Rooms and Jaish al-Islam.

Clash kills 34 in southeastern Yemen

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At least 34 were killed and 16 others wounded during clashes between pro-government forces and Shia Houthi militiamen in Yemen’s southern Shabwah governerate, according to the Information Center.

The pro-government center’s spokesman, Macid Amir el-Harisi, told Anadolu Agency that 23 of those killed were Houthi militants, and 11 were pro-government forces.

Since late last month, the army has been conducting a major operation aimed at recapturing parts of the governorate.

Yemen has been wracked by chaos since late 2014, when the Houthis and their allies overran the capital, Sanaa, and other parts of the country.

The conflict escalated in mid-2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a major air campaign aimed at reversing Houthi military gains and shoring up Yemen’s embattled Saudi-backed government.

Two rounds of UN-backed peace talks have failed to resolve the conflict in which thousands of Yemenis are believed to have been killed and an estimated 2.5 million forced to flee their homes.

10,000 civilians killed in Yemen conflict, UN reveals

T he civilian death toll in Yemen from a conflict lasting nearly two years has reached 10,000, with 40,000 others wounded, according to a UN official in the country

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Jamie McGoldrick, from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the figure is based on lists of victims gathered by health facilities and that the actual number might be higher.

The announcement marks the first time a UN official has confirmed such a high death toll in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation.

The UN has previously reported that 4,200 civilians had been killed in the war.

The Yemen conflict pits Shiite Houthi rebels and allied forces against the Saudi-led coalition.

The coalition waged an air campaign in March 2015 to restore the internationally recognised government that fled the country after Houthis seized the capital.