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Australia to take 12000 Syrians, expand bombing on IS

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By NewsGram News Desk

Canberra: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is the latest head of state joining the international chorus of ‘taking refugees’ and ‘attacking IS’. Abbott said on Wednesday that Australia will permanently take 12,000 refugees from war-torn Syria and will expand its bombing mission against IS into Syria “within days”.

This refugee intake would be on the top of Australia’s annual commitment of taking in 13,750 refugees from around the world, Xinhua news agency reported.

29-Tony-Abbott-AFP“Australia will re-settle an additional 12,000 refugees from the Syria/Iraq conflict,” Abbott announced at a media conference.

“These will be permanent resettlement places over and above Australia’s existing humanitarian program of 13,750 this year, which rises to 18,750 in 2018-19, the prime minister said.

Abbott said “Our focus for these new, 12,000 resettlement places will be those most in need of permanent protection… women, children and families from persecuted minorities who have sought temporary refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey… the most vulnerable of all.”

Abbott said while he would like the resettlement to occur “as quickly as possible”, background checks would be taking place.

Earlier, however, he had stated that the nation would include the Syrian number in its annual commitment itself. The latest statement means that the PM has listened to the international cry on helping the Syrian refugees.

At the same press conference, the government also said it would allocate $30.1 million to aid agencies working in the Middle East just a day after the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) slammed Australia for its lack of contributions in 2015.

“We will directly pay for the support of 240,000 displaced people in countries neighboring Syria and Iraq through the UNHCR and other agencies,” Abbott said.

Meanwhile, Australia has also signed off on expanding air force operations into Syria.

Abbot said Australia’s national security committee had rubber-stamped the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) expansion into Syria, saying operation could begin “within days”.

Australia already runs bombing mission against IS forces in Iraq, but Abbott said it was time to defeat IS at its source in Syria.

“We cannot defeat Daesh in Iraq unless we defeat Daesh in Syria,” Abbot said.

“I emphasize that our aircraft will be targeting IS, not the Assad regime, evil though it is,” the prime minister said.

With inputs from IANS

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Thousands Displaced as SDF Targeting Civilians Advances on Last IS Territory in Syria

Bali said the second obstacle for the SDF forces is that IS has a number of hostages who had been arrested and detained by the militants.

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A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter stands atop a hill in the desert outside the village of Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

Islamic State (IS) fighters are targeting civilians who are trying to flee the last territory held by the terror group in eastern Syria, U.S.-backed forces told VOA on Thursday.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed Kurdish-led alliance, said that IS militants hit a road used by civilians to escape violence as the battle to free the town of Baghuz in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province enters its sixth day.

“IS has blocked that road to prevent civilians from coming to the SDF,” SDF fighter Ali Ahmed said. “They have targeted civilians there, but we have responded to their attacks against civilians.”

Ahmed said that some families of IS fighters are among the fleeing civilians.

Located near the Iraqi border, Baghuz is the last stronghold held by IS extremists in Syria. With the help of the U.S.-led coalition, SDF fighters have pushed out IS from all territories it once held since 2014.

Fierce fighting between IS militants and the U.S.-backed fighters continues as the latter try to gain ground on Baghuz on several fronts.

“We have two main obstacles as we advance on Baghuz,” Mustafa Bali, an SDF spokesperson, told VOA. “The first one is that [IS] terrorists are holding on to a number of civilians to use them as a bargain chip for their exit.”

Bali said the second obstacle for the SDF forces is that IS has a number of hostages who had been arrested and detained by the militants.

IS controls about 5 square kilometers of territory inside the Syrian town, local military officials said.

“It seems that even the Americans are trying to rescue those civilians and hostages from IS,” Hasib said in a phone interview. VOA

Ivan Hasib, a Syrian reporter covering the battle, told VOA that he witnessed an unusual movement by U.S. military vehicles in the area.

“It seems that even the Americans are trying to rescue those civilians and hostages from IS,” Hasib said in a phone interview.

He said the remaining IS fighters in Baghuz are hoping to exchange hostages for a safe exit into the Iraqi desert.

Also Read: Islamic State Using Women, Children as Human Shields to Postpone Defeat

“There must be some sort of negotiations between IS and SDF about the hostages, because even [U.S.-led] coalition airstrikes have stopped since Tuesday night,” Hasib said, adding that SDF fighters were forced to pause their military operations on the northeastern front in Baghuz.

“We can’t start marching toward it from this side because of civilians. Many civilians are using this road to this side. So we’re here to protect them,” Mezlum Kobani, an SDF commander, told VOA.

According to SDF officials, more than 5,000 civilians have been rescued from IS in Baghuz. (VOA)