Ramadan: Saudi, 33 countries declare Saturday first day

Ramadan Mubarak! Saudi Arabia officially declares May 27 as the first day of Ramadan. Pakistan, India start on Sunday.

ramadan 2017

by Al Jazeera

Saudi Arabia’s High Judicial Court has announced that, based on confirmed sightings of Ramadan’s new moon crescent, the first day of Ramadan 1438 fasting will be Saturday, May 27.

Saturday was confirmed the first day of Ramadan in 33 other countries also, whereas Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Shia Muslims in Iraq declared Sunday May 28 to be their first day of Ramadan.

As per tradition, the sighting of the new moon marks the beginning of the Muslim lunar month of Ramadan.

Turkey and Muslim communities in America, Europe and Australia previously announced they would observe Ramadan fasting from May 27, based on astronomic calculations.

In Muslim-majority countries, offices are required by law to reduce working hours, and many restaurants are closed during daylight hours in Ramadan.

“Ramadan Mubarak” and “Ramadan Kareem” are common greetings exchanged in this occasion, wishing the recipient a blessed and generous Ramadan.

Moon sighting

Muslim lunar months last between 29 and 30 days, and depending on sighting of the moon on the 29th night of each month. If the moon is not visible, the month will last 30 days.

Astronomic predictions indicate that the new moon crescent should be visible either with the naked eye, or with a telescope from around the world on Friday evening.

Moon sighters in the UAE posted a photo showing the new moon crescent during the day on Friday.

Last year in May, member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, at the International Hijri Calendar Unity Congress held in Istanbul, voted in favour of adopting a single unified lunar calendar.

However, local sighting continues to be the default policy in each country.

End of Ramadan

Ramadan lasts either 29 or 30 days, depending on sighting of the moon on the 29th night of Ramadan, on Saturday June 24.

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate breaking their fast with the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr, but holidays differ by country.

This year, Saudi Arabia announced holidays from the 25th of Ramadan until the 7th of Shawal, the lunar month after Ramadan.

As per astronomic calculations, Turkey and Muslim communities in the US and Europe expect the first day of Eid al-Fitr on Sunday, June 25.

Egypt: Gunmen attack vehicles carrying Christians

Masked attackers open fire on vehicles travelling to Minya monastery, killing and wounding dozens, before fleeing scene.

An image grab taken from Egypt's state-run Nile News TV shows the remains of the bus that was attacked while carrying Coptic Christians in Minya province [AFP/Nile News]

An image grab taken from Egypt’s state-run Nile News TV shows the remains of the bus that was attacked while carrying Coptic Christians in Minya province [AFP/Nile News]

by Al Jazeera

Masked gunmen on Friday attacked two buses and a truck carrying Coptic Christians in Egypt, killing more than 20 people and wounding dozens, according to officials.

The attackers arrived in three pick-up trucks and opened fire on the vehicles carrying visitors to the Saint Samuel Monastery in the Minya province, about 220km south of the capital, Cairo, before fleeing the scene.

The interior ministry said at least 26 people were killed and 25 wounded in the attack.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Pictures of a bus at the scene aired by state TV showed its windows shot out.

“They used automatic weapons,” Essam el-Bedawi, Minya governor, told state media.

Security forces launched a hunt for the attackers, setting up dozens of checkpoints and patrols on the desert road.

Following the attack, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called for a meeting with security officials.

Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the country’s population, has repeatedly been targeted by armed groups.

In April, at least 45 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in two separate suicide bomb attacks on churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria during Palm Sunday ceremonies.

The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group.

Following the Palm Sunday bombings, Sisi declared a nationwide three-month state of emergency.

A bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded 49 in December 2016, including many women and children.

NATO troop increase plan draws criticism in Afghanistan

NATO set to discuss sending more soldiers to Afghanistan, but many in Kabul fear such a move could prolong war.

(Photo: File/Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: File/Wikimedia Commons)

by Al Jazeera

As NATO allies converge in Brussels for a key summit, one topic on the agenda will be a potential increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan – a move met with strong opposition by many in Kabul.

The military alliance began considering a troop increase earlier this month after it received a request from army chiefs for more soldiers to help in the fight against the Taliban, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

The prospect of a troop surge might have drawn considerable support in Brussels and Washington, but in Kabul the situation is different.

“They are thinking of sending soldiers … They [the soldiers] will not do anything,” Sher Mohammad Karimi, a retired four-star general in the Afghan National Army, told Al Jazeera.

“If they are advisers, then it’s OK.”

Afghan defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish agreed, saying that local forces needed better equipment and training.

“What we need now is bombing planes and also modern engineering technology,” he told Al Jazeera.

Since NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan formally ended in 2014, Taliban attacks have intensified and Afghan military and civilian casualties have risen.

NATO already has more than 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, including around 7,000 US and 500 British military personnel, who are training the Afghan armed forces to eventually take over the country’s defence and security. The US has an additional 1,500 soldiers conducting assist missions directly under Pentagon command.

Stoltenberg has insisted that a potential troop increase would not mean a return to combat operations.

The discussion of a NATO troop increase in Afghanistan comes as Trump considers a plan to send at least 3,000 troops to Afghanistan in an effort to put enough pressure on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

According to The New York Times, Trump was expected to make a decision at Thursday’s summit in Brussels regarding a troop increase, but that has been delayed after some within the administration expressed concern over sending more troops.

Some Afghans fear a foreign troop increase by either NATO or the US could actually prolong the war.

“Increasing foreign troops in Afghanistan is like putting more wood on the fire,” an Afghan resident told Al Jazeera.

“If they increase troops in Afghanistan that would provoke Pakistan, Iran and Russia. Neighbouring countries would increase their support for the Taliban, and more Afghans will be fighting each other.”

In February, General John Nicholson, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told Congress that he would need an extra “few thousand” troops to make gains against the Taliban and break what he called a stalemate against the armed group’s fighters.

At the height of the US combat mission, there were an estimated 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

“I don’t think anybody here is under the illusion that [a troop increase] is going to end the war,” Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Kabul, said.

“The Trump administration here is that would bring the Taliban to the bargaining table, but there is a lot of concern in Afghanistan that this surge is really going to be, at best, a half-measure.”

‘Pay more, do more’

At the Brussels meeting, the alliance is also expected to officially join a US-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group in Iraq and Syria.

The decision is mainly political because all 28 NATO member states are already individually part of the coalition, with some only taking part in support roles.

It comes on the back of pressure from Trump, who has urged NATO members to do more in the fight against ISIL.

Trump is also expected to urge NATO members to increase defence spending to the target of two percent of a country’s annual gross domestic product, as they agreed in 2014.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Brussels, said that Trump “certainly wants NATO members to pay more and do more”.

Only five members currently meet the target: Britain, Estonia, debt-laden Greece, Poland and the US, which spends more on defense than all the other allies combined.

“I think you can expect the president to be very tough on them, saying, ‘Look the U.S. is spending 4 percent. We’re doing a lot,'” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One.

Many are sceptical about this arbitrary bottom line that takes no account of effective military spending where it is needed most. Germany would have to virtually double its military budget and spend more than Russia.

The allies hope the US president will unequivocally state his support for NATO’s mutual defence pledge, known as Article 5.

Hassan Rouhani: ‘Trump Anti Terrorism Summit ‘Only A Show’

Terrorism is fought on the frontlines in Syria and Iraq, Rouhani said at a press conference. "That's where the real fight is, not in Riyadh." (AFP)

Terrorism is fought on the frontlines in Syria and Iraq, Rouhani said at a press conference. “That’s where the real fight is, not in Riyadh.” (AFP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has scoffed at joint efforts by the United States and Iran’s regional rivals to combat Islamist terrorism, dismissing President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia as “show.”

Speaking after Trump’s two-day visit to Riyadh, Rouhani said, “This summit was a show and had no political value. It is not possible to fight terrorism with precisely these kinds of shows.”

The Iranian leader, who was recently re-elected to serve a second term, also slammed a multibillion-dollar arms deal signed between the US and Saudi Arabia during the visit, arguing that this would not solve the problem either.

Terrorism is fought on the frontlines in Syria and Iraq, Rouhani said at a press conference. “That’s where the real fight is, not in Riyadh.”

On the arms deal, Rouhani added, “We don’t need that. We produce our own weapons.”

He also slammed Washington’s decision to side with the Saudis, arguing that the Islamic kingdom was undemocratic: “The Saudis have never seen a ballot box in their life and don’t know what elections are.”

Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting multiple proxy wars in the Middle East, most notably in Yemen and Syria. In both cases, the US sides with Saudi Arabia. At the same time, US and Iranian forces are both backing the government in Iraq against Islamic State militants.

Saudi forces have been accused of using excessive force during the fight to oust rebel forces in Yemen.

Trump gave a much-anticipated speech on combatting Islamist terrorism before Arab leaders in Riyadh on Sunday.

Walking back on the Islamophobic rhetoric of his previous speeches on home soil, Trump stressed that his administration was looking to strengthen partnerships across the region, and said the war on terrorism is not a fight between faiths but “a battle between good and evil.”

He struck a confrontational tone towards Tehran – one which had been avoided by his White House predecessor, Barack Obama – accusing Iran of funding and arming extremist militants in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

“All nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran,” Trump said.

Rowhani retaliated by criticizing Trump’s leadership. “We still do not know what the new US government plans and wants,” he said.

The Iranian president, however, did not rule out a meeting with his US counterpart.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also hit out at the US in a series of sarcastic tweets on Monday.

“Of all places, the US president uses this bastion of democracy and moderation to attack Iran shortly after its democratic election,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

Iran, which held presidential elections Friday, is a sharp contrast, Zarif noted, to the inherited monarchy that rules in Saudi Arabia.

He also used his series of tweets to accuse Trump of “milking” the Saudis with the new weapons deal.

Ariana Grande concert: 22 killed in Manchester blast

PM Theresa May says authorities believe they know identity of suicide bomber who killed 22 people in Manchester.

A bomb disposal robot is unloaded outside the Manchester Arena [Nigel Roddis/EPA]

A bomb disposal robot is unloaded outside the Manchester Arena [Nigel Roddis/EPA]

by Al Jazeera

UK police say they have arrested a 23-year old man in connection with a suicide bomb attack in Manchester which killed 23 people, including the attacker, and wounded dozens at a concert by US pop singer Ariana Grande.

An improvised explosive device went off late on Monday as thousands of – mostly young – fans streamed out of Manchester Arena in the northern English city at the end of Grande’s performance, police said.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group through its social media channels, saying “one of the caliphate’s soldiers placed bombs among the crowds”.

The deadly explosion, which caused scenes of chaos and panic, sending screaming families and children fleeing, also wounded at least 59 concert-goers, many of whom are in critical condition.

“With regards to last night’s incident at the Manchester Arena, we can confirm we have arrested a 23-year-old man in South Manchester,” Greater Manchester Police said on Twitter on Tuesday.

The news of the arrest came minutes after British Prime Minister Theresa May said police knew the identity of the suspected suicide bomber – but could not yet announce the attacker’s name.

Speaking after an emergency meeting of the country’s top security committee, May condemned what she called a “callous terrorist attack”, calling it “among the worst terrorism we have experienced in the United Kingdom”.

She also repeated an earlier police statement which said that the attacker had carried out the attack alone. Yet, it was not yet clear if others had helped in the preparation.

The attack has been described as the deadliest on Britain since four men killed 52 people in suicide bombings on London’s transport system in July 2005.

Ian Hopkins,chief constable for Great Manchester, said children were among those confirmed dead. The explosion was caused by one man “carrying an improvised explosive device, which he detonated”, Hopkins told reporters on Tuesday morning.

The attack came ahead of a June 8 general election.

Earlier on Tuesday, UK politicians said they were suspending election campaigning until further notice following the events in Manchester.

Police responded to reports of an explosion shortly after 10:35pm (21:35 GMT) at the arena, which has the capacity to hold 21,000 people, where Grande had been performing to an audience that included many children.

Police responded to reports of an explosion shortly after 10:35pm (21:35 GMT) at the arena, which has the capacity to hold 21,000 people, where Grande had been performing to an audience that included many children.

“A huge bomb-like bang went off that hugely panicked everyone and we were all trying to flee the arena,” concert-goer Majid Khan, 22, told Britain’s Press Association.

Catherine Macfarlane told the Reuters news agency the blast hit after the concert was over.

“We were making our way out and when we were right by the door there was a massive explosion and everybody was screaming,” Macfarlane said.

“It was a huge explosion – you could feel it in your chest. It was chaotic. Everybody was running and screaming and just trying to get out.”
Greater Manchester Police tweeted asking people to stay away.

“The incident took place outside the venue in a public space,” police said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims.”

The local ambulance service said on Twitter it had taken 59 casualties from the incident and treated “a number of walking wounded on scene”.

A “precautionary controlled explosion” was carried out near the venue on a package that was believed to be a suspect device, but turned out to be “abandoned clothing, not a suspicious item”.

Manchester Arena, which opened in 1995, is the largest indoor arena in Europe, according to its website.

A spokesman for Ariana Grande’s record label said the singer was “okay”. The concert was part of Grande’s The Dangerous Woman Tour.

Grande tweeted that she was “broken” after the incident.

Paula Robinson, 48, was at the train station next to the arena with her husband when she felt the explosion and saw dozens of teenage girls screaming and running away from the arena.

Robinson took several of them to the nearby Holiday Inn Express hotel and tweeted out her phone number to worried parents telling them to meet her there. She said her phone has not stopped ringing since her tweet.

“Parents were frantic running about trying to get to their children,” she said.

Corbyn said Tuesday he is “horrified” by the events in Manchester and that his thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have died and been injured.

Corbyn also said that his party had also put campaign events on hold. The leaders of the Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and UK Independence Party also suspended their election campaigning.

Hamas decries Trump’s terror allegation

Trump’s comments linking Hamas to ‘terrorism’ show his ‘complete bias’ towards Israel, says the group’s spokesman.

Hamas says its battle is against Israeli occupation, not the West [Reuters]

Hamas says its battle is against Israeli occupation, not the West [Reuters]

by Al Jazeera

Hamas Movement has rejected US President Donald Trump’s comments linking it to “terrorism” in his speech in Saudi Arabia, saying it shows his “complete bias” towards Israel.

“The statement describing Hamas as a terror group is rejected and is a distortion of our image and shows a complete bias to the Zionist occupation,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement on Sunday.

Barhoum dubbed the speech a “confirmation” that Trump is following the policy of previous US administrations.

Trump addressed the leaders of 55 Muslim countries in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and said they must take the lead in combating “radicalisation”.

“The true toll of ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many others, must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams,” said Trump in the speech.

Hamas says its battle is against Israeli occupation, not the West.

The movement presented a new political charter earlier this month that accepts the formation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, without recognising the statehood of Israel, and says that the conflict in Palestine is not a religious one.

Trump’s speech came on the second day of a visit to Saudi Arabia, part of Trump’s first foreign tour that will take him next to Israel and occupied Palestinian Territories and then to Europe.

Palestinian activists call for protests against Trump

Meanwhile, Palestinian activists have called for a “Day of Rage” when Trump visits the West Bank on Tuesday.

The call for mobilisation was put out by a group calling itself the Supreme National Leadership Committee, which includes various Palestinian political factions, including Abbas’s Fatah movement.

The committee was set up in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons.

The demonstrations are meant to draw attention to a month-long hunger strike by hundreds of prisoners being held by Israel and to protest what many Palestinians say is unfair US support for Israel.

In a statement, the group said on Sunday the Palestinian factions “affirm their rejection of the American position, which is biased in favour of the occupation”.

Trump’s visit to Israel and occupied Palestinian territories on Monday and Tuesday will be closely scrutinised as he seeks ways to restart peace efforts.

Low expectations as Syria talks resume in Geneva

Sixth round of United Nations-backed negotiations resumes in Swiss city but hopes for a breakthrough remain dim.

Dozens+of+civilians+killed+in+Syria

by Al Jazeera

A new round of Syria talks got off on Tuesday in Geneva amid low expectations, the latest United Nations push to resolve the country’s long-running conflict.

Five previous rounds of United Nations-backed negotiations have failed to produce concrete results and hopes for a major breakthrough remain dim.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has strengthened his position on the ground, with the rebels reeling from a major setback in the capital Damascus.

Assad has also recently called the Geneva process “null”, telling a Belarusian TV network that it had become “merely a meeting for the media”.

Assad’s comments, coupled with uncertainty over the United States’ position on Syria, had made “diplomats highly skeptical over the [impact of the talks] in Geneva”, said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from the Swiss city.

“In fact, it is the most amount of skepticism that I have heard from diplomats involved in this process,” he said.

‘Four baskets’

The UN negotiations are focused on finding a political solution and will concentrate on four separate areas, or “baskets” of issues: governance, a new constitution, elections and combating “terrorism” in the war-ravaged country.

It is the first meeting after the so-called “de-escalation zones” were agreed to by Turkey, Russia and Iran at a separate diplomatic track in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, earlier this month.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy to Syria, dismissed suggestions that the Astana negotiations were overshadowing the Geneva talks.

“We’re working in tandem,” he told reporters on Monday.

Bashar al-Jaafari, the head of the Syrian government delegation was holding an initial meeting with de Mistura at the UN on Tuesday.

The main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), led by Nasr al-Hariri and Mohammad Sabra, was due to meet the UN envoy later in the day.

Worries

De Mistura, who has lasted as Syria envoy far longer than his two predecessors, has consistently tried to resist pessimism.

The alternative to talks is “no discussion (and) no hope”, he said.

The envoy said he wanted to drill down on several issues in hopes of generating solid proposals, but one issue – Assad’s fate – remains a major roadblock.

The HNC has insisted the president’s ouster must be part of any political transition, a demand unacceptable to the Syrian government.

“Diplomats worry that if de Mistura is not able to come away with something significant from this round of talks, then the whole Geneva process could collapse all together,” Jamjoom said.

Palestinians mark 69th ‘Nakba’ anniversary with rallies

Protests and vigils in occupied West Bank, Gaza and Israel as Palestinians mark forced displacement from lands in 1948.

Palestinian scouts hold keys during a rally marking the 69th anniversary in the northern West Bank city of [Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP]

Palestinian scouts hold keys during a rally marking the 69th anniversary in the northern West Bank city of [Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP]

by Al Jazeera

Palestinians are commemorating the 69th anniversary of the “Nakba”, the “day of catastrophe” in which Israel was officially declared a state following the forced removal of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and the destruction of over 500 villages and towns.

People across historic Palestine – including Israel, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip – are holding rallies, marches and candlelight vigils on Monday, as well as sounding sirens.

Israel has made publicly commemorating the Nakba increasingly difficult for Palestinians, with a “Nakba Law” that authorises Israel’s finance minister to revoke funding from institutions that reject Israel’s character as a “Jewish state” or mark the country’s “Independence Day” as a day of mourning.

Monday also marks the 29th day of a hunger strike launched by 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. Prisoners’ children are expected to deliver speeches following the march in the West Bank.

Marwan Barghouti, a hunger striker and jailed Palestinian leader, urged Palestinians to engage in civil disobedience on Nakba day.

Barghouti, who has reportedly lost 13 kilograms so far in the course of his hunger strike, vowed to continue until the prisoners’ demands were met.

Prisoners are calling for better medical services, installation of a public telephone in all prisons to allow communication with relatives, more visitation rights with family members as well as other improved conditions.

At a Nakba protest in Ramallah, Mahmoud Ziadeh, father of political prisoner and hunger striker Majd Ziadeh, told Al Jazeera: “My son and the other political prisoners are only fighting for freedom. We are people like everyone else; we have mothers, we have colour in our eyes, we love. But unlike other people, we don’t have a homeland.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who participated in the failed Oslo Accords to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli occupation, has demanded an Israeli apology over the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948.

“Our nation marking 69 years of the Nakba, our national catastrophe, is symbolised in our exile and the systematic denial of our rights,” said Erekat in a statement.

Palestinian survivors of the Nakba and their descendants have lived outside of Palestine since 1948, with millions of them still stateless or languishing in surrounding refugee camps.

Israel has prevented them from returning to their homes. Palestinians have cited UN Resolution 194 that they say preserves their “Right to Return” to Palestine.

US-backed Syrian forces ‘fully capture’ Tabqa from ISIL

Syrian Democratic Forces say they now control all of the key city and an adjacent dam east of ISIL stronghold of Raqqa.

After taking Tabqa, SDF forces are expected to advance towards Raqqa [File: Rodi Said/Reuters]

After taking Tabqa, SDF forces are expected to advance towards Raqqa [File: Rodi Said/Reuters]

by Al Jazeera

A US-backed alliance of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters has fully captured the city of Tabqa and a strategic dam nearby from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS), according to the group and a monitor.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Wednesday it had taken full control of the contested city with the help of US-led coalition air raids after more than a month of heavy fighting.

“Our forces have seized control of both the dam and the city of Tabqa,” Jihan Sheikh, of the Ghadab al-Furat (dubbed Wrath of the Euphrates) told Al Jazeera.

Ghadab al-Furat is a Kurdish group fighting under the SDF. They launched a campaign in October 2016 to retake Raqqa, the de facto capital of the ISIL in northern Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor that relies on a network of contacts on the ground to track developments in Syria’s war, also confirmed the SDF’s takeover of the area.

The city and the adjacent Tabqa dam are key objectives in the US-led coalition’s push to retake ISIL’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa.

In March, fears about the major hydroelectric dam’s integrity after fighting had forced it out of service led to a brief pause in military operations amid warnings that a collapse would be “catastrophic”.

‘Significant development’

The recapture of Tabqa leaves no other major ISIL-held urban settlements on the eastern road to Raqqa.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Gaziantep along the Syria-Turkey border, called the capture a “significant development”, particularly following Washington’s recently-announced decision to arm the Kurdish fighters battling ISIL in Syria.

The US has said that the SDF, particularly its core component, the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), are its most effective ground partner in the fight against ISIL in Syria.

US President Donald Trump on Monday authorised the direct shipment of arms to the YPG to facilitate the takeover of Raqqa, drawing intense opposition from Turkey.

Ankara says the YPG is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) separatists inside Turkey that have waged an armed campaign since 1984.

READ MORE: Turkey condemns US move to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters

The SDF assault on Tabqa began after US forces helped its fighters conduct an airborne and water crossing of the Euphrates in late March.

According to Pentagon estimates from last year, the SDF has more than 40,000 fighters.

ISIL captured Raqqa in January 2014, and took a nearby airbase from the Syrian government in August the same year.

It lost the strategic airbase, about 45km west of Raqqa, to the SDF last month.

The United Nations said in a recent press release that at least 39,000 newly-displaced people fled to the Jib Al-Shaair makeshift camp in Raqqa, where four out of five people are staying in the open air without appropriate shelter.

As the Syrian conflict enters its seventh year, nearly half-a-million people have been killed in the fighting and more than 12 million Syrians – half the country’s pre-war population – have been forced from their homes.

Battle for Mosul: 400k Iraqis displaced in two months

UN report says 434,775 people have fled ISIL’s last stronghold about two months into the army’s offensive to retake it.

The UNHCR has opened a new camp in east Mosul for displaced people [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

The UNHCR has opened a new camp in east Mosul for displaced people [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

by Al Jazeera

More than 400,000 people have been displaced from western Mosul about two months into the Iraqi army’s battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to the UN.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said, citing the Iraqi government, that 434,775 people have fled ISIL’s last stronghold in Iraq since Iraqi forces launched the western Mosul operation on February 19.

This brings the number of internally displaced people, since the Mosul operation started in October, to a total of 615,150 Iraqis.

According to OCHA, about 30,000 civilians have returned to their homes in western Mosul since the end of April – meaning that the number of internally displaced people from western Mosul stands at 403,490 people.

The UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, announced on Tuesday the opening of a new camp in eastern Mosul for citizens displaced from the west.

The Hasansham U2 camp has a capacity of 9,000.

In recent months, ISIL, also known as ISIS, has stepped up its attacks in different parts of Iraq, apparently in an effort to distract attention from the ongoing US-backed campaign to remove it from Mosul in northern Iraq.

Eastern Mosul was cleared of ISIL fighters in January.

Major offensive

On February 19, Iraqi forces started a major offensive to wrest back the western section of Mosul from ISIL, almost a month after they recaptured the eastern part of the city.

The western side of Mosul is thought to be the most difficult to retake in the ongoing campaign because of the high population density there.

ISIL seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in a blitz in mid-2014.

As hundreds of thousands of civilians are still in Mosul, anti-ISIL forces have had to limit their use of aerial attacks and artillery in the city.

Nevertheless, hundreds of civilians have been killed by coalition air raids and shelling, as well as in the counterattacks launched by ISIL.

The US-led coalition bombing ISIL positions in Iraq admitted that it carried out air raids in March at a location in west Mosul where officials and residents say scores of civilians were killed.

According to Iraq’s authorities, ISIL now controls less than 7 percent of Iraq.