The Latest: Iraq says liberated last IS-held town of Qaim
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria whether government forces have liberated the eastern city of Deir el-Zour from the Islamic State group (all times local):
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abdi is congratulating Iraqi forces on liberating the town of Qaim, the last Islamic State group-held town in Iraq.
In a statement released by his office Friday evening, al-Abadi’s announcement comes just over a week after the operation — closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition — to retake the area was launched, a pace the Iraqi leader described as “record time.”
Earlier Friday, Iraqi forces retook the nearby Husaybah border crossing with Syria, according to the prime minister’s office.
Qaim and the border crossing, located about 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Baghdad, sit along what was once an important supply route used by IS when the group’s territorial hold stretched across the two countries.
The Russian military says that its long-range bombers and cruise missiles have struck the Islamic State group in eastern Syria.
The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that six Tu-22M bombers on Friday unloaded bombs on IS targets near Boukamal. He said two Russian submarines in the Mediterranean also launched six cruise missiles at IS targets.
Konashenkov said the strikes hit groups of IS militants and the group’s ammunition depots. He added they were launched in support of the Syrian army offensive in the area.
The strikes followed several other bombing raids and missile launches earlier this week on the same area.
The raids by long-range bombers that flew from their base in Russia came in addition to daily sorties flown by Russian warplanes based in Syria.
Israel says it’s ready to intervene militarily if necessary to defend a Druze area on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Military spokesman Ronen Manelis said in a Facebook posting on Friday that the army is “prepared and ready to assist residents ... and prevent harm” to the village of Hadar “out of commitments to the Druze population.”
Syria’s state-run news agency said at least six people were killed and 21 were wounded in a suicide bombing on Friday that targeted the outskirts of Hadar in the southern province of Quneitra.
The Druze in Israel are part of the country’s Arab minority. They are full citizens of Israel and generally serve in the army. They also have a large community in Syria.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is congratulating Iraqi forces on entering the border town of Qaim and retaking the nearby Husaybah border crossing with Syria in the latest military operation against the Islamic State group in Iraq.
The statement, released on Friday afternoon, comes just over a week after Iraqi forces, closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition, began the operation to retake IS-held Qaim, located about 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Baghdad.
Over the past three years Iraqi forces have retaken more than 90 percent of the territory IS once held in the country, reducing the militant group’s territorial control to a corner of Iraq’s western Anbar province along the Syrian border.
Coalition officials say the recapture of Qaim and its surrounding villages will make the end of the conventional military fight against IS in Iraq.
Syria’s military has declared victory over the Islamic State group in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, describing it as the “last phase” in its campaign toward the complete annihilation of IS in Syria.
The statement was read on Syrian state TV on Friday. It hails the recapture of Deir el-Zour as a strategic win, noting its location on a crossroad that links Syria’s eastern, northern and central regions, as well as an oil and gas reservoir.
Army spokesman Gen. Ali Mayhoub said that with the loss of Deir el-Zour, IS militants are now completely isolated and encircled in the city’s eastern countryside.
He pledged the military would go on to chase IS remnants across Syrian territory.
Israel’s military says a civilian was shot and wounded from stray fire from across the border amid “intense fighting” in neighboring Syria.
It says the Israeli civilian was lightly hurt on Friday from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Israel has mostly stayed out of Syria’s civil war that’s raging near its northern frontier.But it has carried out a number of strikes in response to spillover fire.
It is also believed to have carried out airstrikes on suspected weapons convoys from Syria to its archenemy Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group which has members fighting alongside Syrian government forces.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast War and the two countries remain enemies.
An Iraqi officer says troops battling the Islamic State group in Iraq’s far west have reached the border with Syria as they fight IS near the militants near the border town of Qaim.
Maj. Bassam Fawaz with the federal police says that Iraqi forces reached the border on Friday morning as they continue to close in on the last remaining pocket of militant-held territory in Iraq’s Anbar province.
The joint operations command says Iraqi forces began pushing into the western neighborhoods of Qaim and that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pledged the battle will be finished within days.
Qaim, located about 320 kilometers, or 200 miles, west of Baghdad lies along a border crossing with Syria in the Euphrates River Valley. It has been used by IS to ferry fighters and supplies between the two countries when the militants’ territorial hold included nearly a third of both Iraqi and Syrian territory.
Syria’s state-run news agency says at least six people were killed and 21 were wounded in a suicide bombing that hit a government-held town in the southern province of Quneitra.
SANA says Friday’s bombing targeted the outskirts of the town of Hadar in the northern countryside of Quneitra, near the Israel-occupied Golan Heights. It gave no further details.
Opposition activists reported that a suicide car bomb targeted a position of Syrian soldiers in that area amid clashes between government forces and rebels there.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at seven and said 23 people were wounded. It also reported heavy clashes between the two sides in the area.
Syrian state media say the army has liberated the eastern city of Deir el-Zour from the Islamic State group.
Friday’s report says the military is now in full control of the long contested city.
Syrian government forces and their pro-government allies first broke the militant group’s siege of their part of the city in September and have been advancing against IS positions since then.
Deir el-Zour had been divided into a government-held and an IS-held part for nearly three years.
The development is the latest significant defeat for IS as the militant group sees its self-proclaimed “caliphate” crumble and lose almost all urban strongholds.
The Syrian army and Kurdish-led forces backed by the U.S. are now racing to take the rest of the oil-rich eastern province.