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US-Backed Syrian Fighters Targeting New IS-Held Town

Al-Bab is lying on a key highway about half way between the embattled northern city of Aleppo and Manbij, which the SDF liberated from extremist forces last week

File -Syrian rebels fire a mortar towards regime forces stationed at Kwiriss airport in Al-Bab, 30 kilometers from the northeastern Syrian city of Aleppo, February 14, 2013 (VOA)

Syria, August 15, 2016: A U.S.-backed coalition of Syrian fighters will now target another IS-held town near the Turkish border. On Sunday The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by U.S. air power, announced “the creation of the Al-Bab Military Council,” with the aim of liberating the town and the region around it.

Al-Bab is lying on a key highway about half way between the embattled northern city of Aleppo and Manbij, which the SDF liberated from extremist forces last week. By capturing al-Bab, the rebels would tighten their grip on the area along the Turkish border, making it more difficult for the so-called Islamic State to infiltrate fighters and supplies.

The siege at Manbij, a key outpost on a jihadist supply route to the self-declared IS capital, Raqqa, ended Friday when Islamic State forces abandoned the city after two months of fighting.

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Saturday saw spontaneous celebrations from civilians returning to the wrecked city.

In other developments, monitors linked to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that Syrian and Russian warplanes launched a new wave of airstrikes near the embattled city of Aleppo. In a statement, the SOHR said the overnight strikes had killed at least 45 civilians in and near the city, and at least 22 others elsewhere in Idlib province.

The Syrian army recaptured military positions in southern Aleppo province. Image Source: sputniknews.com
The Syrian army recaptured military positions in southern Aleppo province. Image Source: sputniknews.com

The monitoring group said the ongoing strikes were targeting areas held by a rebel coalition known as the Army of Conquest, an alliance of rebels and jihadist groupings seeking to break the months-long government siege of Aleppo.

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The multi-sided Syrian civil war pits the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies against a loosely knit coalition of rebels seeking to drive Assad from power. That coalition includes al-Qaida-linked fighters, making Western governments reluctant to send arms to the rebels.

The third major party to the five-year-old conflict, the extremist Islamic State, is seeking to establish an Islamist “caliphate” in large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq. The group has used widely circulated videos to show its fighters slaughtering hundreds of civilians as it seeks to expand its rule.

For its part, the Syria Democratic Forces, formed in 2015 with U.S. support, has focused on driving IS fighters from strongholds along the Turkish border.

The United Nations estimates more than 400,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians, since fighting first erupted near Damascus in 2011. (VOA)


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Christian Blasphemy Suspect in Pakistan Jumps from Building to Escape Torture

Supporters of Pakistani civil society groups protest in favor of the Christian community in Karachi, Pakistan, Feb. 26, 2018. An official said Sajid Masih, a Christian blasphemy suspect, who suffered serious injuries after jumping off a federal building, is now in stable condition. VOA

Authorities in Pakistan are investigating reports that a Christian blasphemy suspect jumped from a four-story building and suffered serious injuries to escape torture in custody.

Officials and doctors say Sajid Masih is recovering from his “fractured legs and jaw” in a hospital in Lahore where the incident took place on Friday.

Masih and one of his cousins were taken into custody for allegedly posting anti-Islam content on Facebook. They were being probed by cybercrime experts of the Federal Investigation Agency, or FIA, at its main office in the eastern Pakistani city when Masih jumped from the fourth floor of the building.

FIA officials denied charges the man was being tortured or abused, saying “no one had even touched” him. They insisted Masih panicked after “he was asked to unlock his cell phone” for screening.

ALSO READ: 69 Years a Slave? Balochistan’s Struggle for Freedom: A Detailed Report

In a video message circulated and shared via social media, Masih has accused several FIA officers of “severely” torturing him and snatching his cell phone in the process. Pixabay

He alleged the officers were coercing him and his cousin into sexually assaulting one another before he decided to jump from the window.

Dozens of Pakistani human rights groups and activists strongly condemned the incident in a joint statement Monday. They raised serious concerns over persistent misuse of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, specifically against Christian and other religious minorities.

“The law enforcement authorities have not only failed in their duty to protect minorities but have actively participated in violence against them,” the statement said.

The groups called for an independent inquiry into the incident, rejecting the FIA’s ongoing internal probe as unacceptable. Wikimedia Commons


They also demanded that area police withdraw the case of attempted suicide against Masih. Activists say they suspect the police case was meant to cover up and protect FIA officers who made the Christian community member jump off the building.

Insulting Islam and its Prophet Mohammad are extremely sensitive issues in Pakistan and can carry the death penalty, although no one has been executed under the blasphemy laws. Right groups say the laws are often misused or exploited to settle personal disputes.

ALSO READ: Pakistan’s handling of Balochistan is reminiscent of its step brotherly treatment to East Pakistan

Mere allegations of blasphemy have provoked mob lynchings of suspects or their targeted killings in Pakistan. Pixabay

In Monday’s joint statement, activists have also demanded authorities take immediate steps for safety and protection of Masih and his relatives.

Last year,23-year-old university student Mashal Khan was beaten to death by fellow students and others at the campus, accusing him of sharing blasphemous content on social media, charges investigations later determined were false. The incident happened in the northwestern city of Mardan, provoking a nationwide outcry against Khan’s brutal killing.

Earlier in February, an anti-terrorism court sentenced one person to death and 30 others to jail terms, including life imprisonment, for their role in the lynching case. (VOA)