Saturday, 20 Apr 2024

Rebels ‘gas’ Syria village as US-backed forces declare IS defeat

Deir al-Zor Province:  Twenty-one people have been hospitalised after inhaling gas when their government-controlled village in Syria was shelled by rebels, state media is reporting.

The victims were from the village of al-Rasif in Hama province, SANA news agency said on Sunday, citing a local hospital spokesperson regarding the injuries.

A military band performs ahead of a ceremony at al-Omar Oil Field marking the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) capture of Baghouz, Syria, after months of fighting to oust Islamic State militants on Saturday.Credit:AP

Originally an offshoot of al-Qaeda, IS took large swathes of Iraq and Syria from 2014, imposing a reign of terror with public beheadings and attacks by supporters abroad – but it was eventually beaten back to the village of Baghouz.

"We announce today the destruction of the so-called Islamic State organisation and the end of its ground control in its last pocket in Baghouz," Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) general commander Mazloum Abdi told a victory ceremony.

The Australian Government welcomed the announcement.

"The last remaining civilians under Da’esh [IS] control in the Middle Euphrates River Valley have been liberated, and the task of removing Da’esh’s control of territory in Iraq and Syria has been completed," a statement from the offices of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said.

"The territorial defeat of Da’esh has been achieved through the tremendous courage and sacrifice of Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces, who have operated with Coalition backing.

An Islamic State militant flag lies in a tent encampment after US-backed SDF fighters took control of Baghouz, Syria on Saturday.Credit:AP

"Since September 2014, Australia has made one of the most significant contributions to the Global Coalition. Since the start of operations, on average, around 600 Australian Defence Force personnel are deployed at any one time to the Middle East as part of our support to the coalition."

The statement acknowledged that the threat from IS was not over.

"Despite the significance of the milestone represented by this territorial defeat, it does not represent the end of the fight against Da’esh nor the extremism it embodies. Da’esh continues to pose a security threat in the Middle East region and beyond, including through the propagation of its extreme ideology."

In Syria, SDF fighters, who besieged Baghouz for weeks while planes pounded from above, paraded in memory of 11,000 comrades killed in years of fighting against IS.

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces stand in formation at a ceremony to mark their defeat of Islamic State militants in Baghouz.Credit:AP

Despite the euphoria, some shooting and mortar fire continued on Saturday morning, according to a Reuters journalist at Baghouz. And Abdi warned the campaign against the militant's more hidden threats must continue.

Some IS fighters still hold out in Syria's remote central desert, and in Iraqi cities they have slipped into the shadows, staging shootings or kidnappings.

The United States believes the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is in Iraq. He stood at the pulpit of the medieval mosque in Mosul in 2014 to declare himself caliph, sovereign over all Muslims.

Further afield, jihadists in Afghanistan, Nigeria and elsewhere show no sign of recanting allegiance, and intelligence services say IS devotees in the West might plot new attacks.

Islamic State originated as an al Qaeda faction in Iraq, but took advantage of Syria's civil war to seize land there and split from the global jihadist organisation.

In 2014, it grabbed Iraq's Mosul, erased the border with Syria and called on supporters worldwide to join a jihadist utopia, complete with currency, flag and passports.

Oil production, extortion and stolen antiquities financed its agenda, which included slaughtering some minorities, slave auctions of captured women, grotesque punishments for minor crimes, and the choreographed killing of hostages.

Over the past two months, some 60,000 people poured out, fleeing SDF bombardment and a shortage of food so severe that some were reduced to cooking grass.

At the end, they were holed up in a tiny enclave from which they released a video showing fighters still shooting with smoke billowing above – an attempt to portray their last stand as heroic and a call to arms for future jihadists.


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