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Islamic State confirms death of ‘Jihadi John’ in Syria drone strike

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BEIRUT, Jan 20, (Agencies): The Islamic State group confi rmed Tuesday the death of British extremist “Jihadi John”, saying he was killed in a drone strike in their Syrian stronghold of Raqa in November. Born Mohammed Emwazi, he was known as the executioner of the jihadist group appearing masked in a string of videos showing the beheadings of Western hostages. In its online magazine Dabiq, the group said Emwazi was killed on Nov 12 “as the car he was in was targeted in a strike by an unmanned drone in the city of Raqa, destroying the car and killing him instantly”. The US military had said at the time that it was “reasonably certain” he had been killed in the strike. IS described Emwazi as a “martyr” and prayed to “Allah … to envelop him with His mercy and enter him into the highest levels of al-Firdaws (paradise)”. Dabiq devoted an article to Emwazi, describing him as an “honourable brother” known for his “mercy and generosity” who once gave away a concubine as a gift “to an unmarried injured brother”. The world knew him as a ruthless executioner who spoke English with a British accent and he was dubbed “Jihadi John” after hostages nicknamed a group of IS guards The Beatles.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov met Wednesday in a bid to create momentum for Syria peace talks to kick off as planned next week. Negotiations between Syria’s regime and part of the opposition are tentatively scheduled to begin on January 25 in Geneva to seek an end to a confl ict that has claimed more than 260,000 lives since it began nearly fi ve years ago. But disagreement over who will represent the opposition has cast a shadow of doubt over whether the UN-brokered talks will begin on schedule. “We will see. We will see,” Lavrov said at a Zurich hotel where the meeting was taking place, after being asked whether the talks would go ahead as planned. He stressed though that “it’s mostly for (UN envoy Staffan) de Mistura, not for us” to say. Kerry did not comment Wednesday, but on Tuesday his spokesman acknowledged a lot of work remained to ensure that the talks go ahead. “We’re not unmindful of the fact that there still remain differences of opinion, and that this is a complicated process,” spokesman John Kirby said. “And that there is still quite a bit of work that needs to be done to get the meeting to occur” between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and representatives of the opposition.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday there could be no military solution to the devastating war in Syria and said further confrontation with Saudi Arabia was in no one’s interest. “There is no military solution to the (Syrian) crisis. We need a political solution,” Zarif told an audience at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos. The Russian military said Wednesday it had bombed the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor after a deadly Islamic State assault saw jihadists tighten their siege in the region. “The Russian operation conducted military operations only in the provinces of Latakia and Deir Ezzor in light of unfavourable weather conditions and to avoid risks for the civilian population,” Russian news agencies quoted military spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying. Konashenkov added that Russian warplanes had struck 57 targets in 16 combat sorties in these two provinces in the last day. The military spokesman also said Russia had delivered 50 tonnes of humanitarian aid to the besieged city of Deir Ezzor on January 15. More than 40 tonnes of humanitarian cargo were delivered earlier this week to the blockaded eastern Syrian city, the defence ministry said on Tuesday.

Russian air strikes in Syria have killed more than 1,000 civilians since they were launched nearly four months ago, a monitor said Wednesday. The raids, which started on September 30, have killed 1,015 civilians, including more than 200 children, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The group, which relies on a network of sources on the ground for its reports, said the strikes had also killed 893 Islamic State group jihadists and 1,141 other opposition militants, including members of Al-Qaeda affi liate Al-Nusra Front.