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al-Baghdadi allegedly alive, issued ‘resistance’ call to IS militants

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The Islamic State (IS, ISIS or ISIL) has released an unverified audio recording that it said was by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who called on the armed group’s followers to “resist the infidels”. A speaker who sounds like the IS leader seems to refer to recent North Korean threats against Japan and the US.

The date of the 46-minute recording, released on Thursday via the ISIL-linked Al-Furqan news organization, was not clear.  He also talks of battles for IS strongholds like Mosul, which was regained by Iraqi forces in July.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has a $25m (£19m) US bounty on his head, has not been seen in public since July 2014, leading to much speculation about his fate. Baghdadi’s whereabouts have been the subject of intense speculation throughout the past three years, during which time Isis rampaged through large parts of Iraq and Syria. The last time he appeared was to preach at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul after IS overran the city and a “caliphate” was proclaimed.

In the tape, Baghdadi refers to the “nearly year-long fight for Mosul”, from which Isis was ousted in August after nearly 10 months of fighting. He also referenced fights for Hama in Syria, where a push in recent weeks by Iranian-led militias has ousted the terror group from much of its stronghold in the countryside to the east of Syria’s third city.

He also referred to North Korean “nuclear threats to America” and “Russia taking control” of the Astana peace process between the Syrian opposition and regime. Both matters have been headline news throughout the year, but the North Korean standoff has been particularly potent in recent weeks.

“The fighters in Mosul refused to surrender the city at the cost of their flesh and blood,” said Baghdadi. “Only after a year of fighting.”

The newest audio footage was the first from the reclusive Baghdadi in nearly 10 months and it gave several clues that suggest Iranian and Russian claims that he was killed in May were incorrect. So the IS leader al-Baghdadi is still alive, or at least it appears he was still alive at least as recently as August.

This concurs with the views of western intelligence agencies and Iraq’s government, which were always skeptical of Russian claims to have killed him an air strike. His apparent survival to date will give some small morale boost to the beleaguered IS fighters still clinging on in Raqqa, but it is unlikely to make any strategic difference.

 

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War zone

Israel Destroys Syrian Air Defence Battery After Alleged ‘Shelling’

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The IDF has cited its right to “thwart hostilities towards Israeli population”. The incident comes as the latest in a string of tit-for-tat attacks between Damascus and Tel Aviv that remain in a state of war for decades.
The Israeli Air Force has announced that its military jets destroyed an anti-aircraft battery east of the Syrian capital of Damascus on October 16. The incident has not yet been confirmed by the Syrian government.

According to the IDF, the “retaliatory” move came after Israeli jets had been targeted with an anti-aircraft missile launched from the Syrian territory. The military’s spokesperson has said that no hits had been confirmed. The jets were carrying out a routine reconnaissance mission over Lebanon.

While the IDF has blamed the Syrian government for the incident, it has yet again stated it “maintains its ability to thwart hostilities against Israeli civilians.” According to one of the heads of the Israeli military’s press service, Tel Aviv has also notified Russia that has a military presence Syria of the airstrike in real time.

“The Russians were notified in real time, or maybe just before [the attack],” the military official said. However, the IDF said that it “has no intention to destabilize the situation.”

In September Israeli jets attacked the Syrian army in the Hama province, however the IDF refused to comment on the incident. Israel and Syria have exchanged numerous tit-for-tat attacks over the disputed area of Golan Hights, seized by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967.

The move has been repeatedly condemned by the international community. According to the UN resolution adopted in 1981, the Golan Heights were declared as illegally occupied by Israel. In 2008, the United Nations reitterated its calls for Tel Aviv to return the ‘annexed territory’ — something that, according to the incumbent PM Benyamin Netanyahu, “Israel will never do”.

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Syrian Democratic Forces Begin Final Assault on ISIS in Raqqa

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The US-backed Syrian rebels have announced the final stage of their operation to free the former so-called ISIS “capital,” Raqqa, from terrorists.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said that they have started the final assault on Raqqa after the evacuation of civilians and Daesh terrorists, who agreed to leave the city.

“The battle will continue until the whole city is clean of the terrorists who refused to surrender, including the foreign fighters,” a statement by the SDF said on Sunday.

Earlier, the US-led coalition announced that an agreement has been reached to evacuate civilians from Raqqa. After a convoy with evacuees left the former “capital” of ISIS terrorist group, the final battle with remaining terrorists began. Reuters reported citing a militia spokesman that 275 Daesh fighters from Syria left Raqqa, according to the agreement, while 200-300 militants mostly of foreign origin remained in the city.

“We still expect there to be difficult fighting,” US-led coalition’s spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said.

A source in the Syrian Democratic Forces that are conducting the Raqqa operation on the ground with the coalition’s support, told Sputnik on Friday that the city is set to be liberated from militants within 2-3 days. The source added that the strength of the terrorists is running out; their defeats in Raqqa have undermined their morale and prevent them from fighting back. According to SDF representatives, the Syrian rebels currently control about 90 percent of Raqqa.

Raqqa has been under ISIS control since 2013. On November 6, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, also consisting of Arab, Assyrian and Turkmen fighters, among others, announced the start of the military operation to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa from Daesh terrorist group with the assistance of the US-led coalition’s airstrikes. Raqqa’s Old City was freed from Daesh last month.

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