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Sunday , January 17 2021

Momentum builds for joining Syria strikes – Protests in Britain, Spain

LONDON, Nov 28, (Agencies): Some 5,000 people protested in London Saturday against potential British participation in Syria airstrikes, as political momentum mounted to broaden the fight against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday laid out the case for British jets, already bombing IS targets in Iraq, to join France, the United States and others in targeting IS strongholds in neighbouring Syria.
Yet Britain remains deeply scarred by its former interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter drawing hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets of London in 2003.
In an echo of that protest, thousands gathered in central London carrying placards reading “Don’t bomb Syria”, “Drop Cameron, not bombs”, and “Don’t add fuel to the fire”.
“David Cameron’s incoherent proposals for action in Syria will do nothing to weaken ISIS but will instead inflame the civil war, deepen the misery of the Syrian people and increase the terrorist risk,” said the Stop the War Coalition protest movement.
A parliamentary vote on bombing Syria is expected as early as next week, and many formerly reluctant politicians are thought to have changed their minds after the Paris attacks.
Some 5,000 people also protested in Madrid against military action in Syria, with many wary of Spain becoming a target for militants again after al-Qaeda-inspired bombers blew up commuter trains in the Spanish capital in 2004, killing 191 people.
Many Spaniards believe the attack was in retaliation for their country’s involvement in the Iraq war.
Reeling from the coordinated IS gun and bomb assault that killed 130 people on Nov 13, French leaders have in recent days called on allies to join France in stepping up military action against the jihadist group.
On Thursday Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called on Britain to help “win this war”, and in a rare intervention in a British parliamentary ballot, President Francois Hollande on Friday urged lawmakers to “meet the request of Prime Minister Cameron”.
A day later, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the campaign against IS should move beyond airstrikes to ground troops, through alliances with Arab forces.
“It will be necessary … France has no intention of intervening on the ground. Foreign troops would be seen as an occupying force. Therefore they must be Syrian, Arab, Kurdish troops,” he told Spain’s El Pais newspaper, the quotes translated from Spanish.
Britain’s potential participation in Syria airstrikes has proven deeply divisive, with Cameron having lost a parliamentary ballot on military action against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in 2013, leading to a humiliating climbdown.
He now insists he will not hold a vote until he is sure he has enough support.
The main opposition Labour party is also deeply divided, with the vote threatening to tear the party apart and undermine leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Long-time anti-war campaigner Corbyn is opposed to airstrikes, but several members of the party have signalled they will rebel amid talk that some could resign over the issue.
In a letter to Labour lawmakers on Thursday, Corbyn said the prime minister had failed to make a “convincing case” for joining the conflict.
Meanwhile, the Syrian army captured territory from Islamic State east of Aleppo including several kilometres (miles) of highway linking the city with the jihadists’ de facto capital of Raqqa, Syrian state TV reported on Saturday.
The areas reported captured are east of the Kweires, air base seized from Islamic State control on Nov 10 in one of several offensives being waged by the Syrian army with support from Russian air strikes, Iranian forces, and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.
Reuters could not independently confirm the report.
A headline flashed on state TV said the army had captured the two villages of Kaskis and Akula and wide areas of agricultural land, seizing tunnels and fortifications built by the jihadists, and were demining areas mined by the group.
The villages are about 60 kms (40 miles) east of Aleppo.
The highway mentioned in the report runs southeast from Akula to the west of the Euphrates river. The road passes through Islamic State-held Tabqa on its way to Raqqa, which is 150 kms (90 miles) from Akula.
The Syrian government and its allies have also made gains against Islamic State to the southeast of Homs.
They are also waging offensives against non-Islamic State insurgents in western regions of Syria, gaining ground in the northwestern province of Latakia and to the south of Aleppo, while losing territory in Hama province.
Elsewhere, one person was killed and 30 wounded Saturday in rocket and mortar attacks on two neighbourhoods of the Syrian capital separately blamed on rebels and government forces, state media and a monitor said.
The fatality and three of the injuries occurred when a rocket hit the mostly Christian neighbourhood of Bab Tuma in the Old City of Damascus, state news agency SANA reported, blaming “terrorists”, the regime word for rebels.
Meanwhile, 27 people were wounded by regime mortar rounds fired into the northeastern rebel-held Qabun neighbourhood, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Some of them were seriously injured, said the Britain-based monitoring group.
It was not immediately clear if Saturday’s casualties were civilians.
Rebels frequently fire rockets on Damascus, which is largely in regime hands, from positions on the outskirts of the city.
They often hit residential areas, causing dozens of deaths.
Government forces also regularly attack rebels entrenched in the Eastern Ghouta region east of the capital, which has been devastated by fighting since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in March 2011.
More than 250,000 people have been killed in the war.

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