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Kurd-led forces overrun last IS-held village in Syria: monitor

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BEIRUT: Kurdish-led fighters overran the last village held by the Islamic State group in Syria on Wednesday, confining its once vast cross-border “caliphate” to two small hamlets, a war monitor said.

It is the culmination of a broad offensive launched by the Syrian Democratic Forces last September with US-led coalition support in which they have reduced the militants’ last enclave on the north bank of the Euphrates valley near the Iraqi border to a tiny rump.

The capture of the village of Baghouz leaves the few remaining diehard IS fighters holed up in scattered farmhouses among the irrigated fields and orchards on the north bank of the Euphrates River.

“Search operations are continuing in Baghouz to find any IS fighters who are still hiding,” the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told media.

“The SDF will now have to push on into the farmland around Baghouz.”

The Observatory said late on Tuesday that around 4,900 people, mostly women and children but including 470 IS fighters, had fled the militants’ fast dwindling enclave in two days.

Of those 3,500 surrendered to the advancing SDF on Tuesday alone. They were evacuated on dozens of trucks chartered by the SDF.

The fall of Baghouz follows the SDF’s capture of the enclave’s sole town of Hajin and the villages of Al-Shaafa and Sousa in recent weeks.

The new wave of departures means that nearly 27,000 people have left former IS areas since early December, including almost 1,800 militants who have surrendered, the Observatory said.

 

 

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Islamic State group claims Sri Lanka bombs that killed hundreds

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COLOMBO: A local group on Tuesday said it was behind a devastating string of suicide attacks against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 320 people on Easter Sunday.

The claim emerged more than 48 hours after the near-simultaneous blasts tore through three high-end hotels popular with foreigners and three churches packed with Christians marking Easter.

It came after Sri Lanka’s government said initial investigations suggested the attack had been carried out as “retaliation” for shootings at two mosques in New Zealand last month that killed 50 people.

The Sri Lankan government had already pointed the figure at a little-known local extremist group, but said it was investigating whether they had international support.

“Those that carried out the attack that targeted members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday are Islamic State group fighters,” a statement released by the group’s propaganda agency Amaq said.

It presented no immediate evidence for the claim, or further details on the attackers.

 

 

 

 

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Kim’s schedule for Russia visit seen to be taking shape

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VLADIVOSTOK: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s schedule for a visit to Russia appears to be taking shape, with his security and protocol staff spotted making final preparations in Vladivostok for his upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Moscow and Pyongyang have confirmed that Kim will visit Russia for the summit, but they did not disclose its date and venue. Media speculate that he is likely to arrive by train in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on Wednesday and hold the talks the following day.

Kim Chang-son, the North Korean leader’s protocol chief, and other staff members have been seen checking facilities in Vladivostok, including those of the Far Eastern Federal University, where the leaders of the two countries are expected to meet.

A diplomatic source here said that Moscow and Pyongyang appear to be fine-tuning the schedule for a dinner between Kim and Putin on Wednesday and their formal meeting the next day.

Should he decide to travel by train, Kim would travel a distance of around 1,200 kilometers from Pyongyang on a trip expected to take 20 hours or more given the poor railway conditions in some stretches toward the border with Russia.

The federal university on Russky Island of Vladivostok is seen as the most likely summit venue, as it has so far hosted a series of top-level international events, including the 2012 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The university is also a site of Russia’s annual Eastern Economic Forum designed to publicize and strengthen Moscow’s policy initiative to attract investment for and expedite the development of the Far Easter region.

Security on a bridge leading to the insular university is relatively easy to control, another reason why the university has been cited as a likely summit site.

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US sanctions over Iran oil will ‘intensify Mideast turmoil’: China

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BEIJING: China warned Tuesday that the US decision to impose sanctions on buyers of Iranian oil will “intensify turmoil” in the Middle East and in the international energy market.

The White House announced Monday it was calling an end to six-month waivers that had exempted several countries — including major importer China — from unilateral US sanctions on Iranian oil exports.

“China firmly opposes the US implementation of unilateral sanctions and its so-called long-armed jurisdiction,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing.

“The relevant move by the United States will intensify the turmoil in the Middle East and the turmoil in the international energy market.”

In seeking to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero, the Trump administration is targeting the country’s top revenue earner in its latest no-holds-barred move to crush the economy and scale back the clerical regime’s influence.

 

 

 

 

 

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