Beirut, Feb 5 (AP/UNB) — The United States on Monday called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens who traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State group and who are now being held by Washington's local partners.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces say they have detained more than 900 foreign fighters during their U.S.-backed campaign against IS in northeastern Syria, where they are currently battling to drive the extremists from their last tiny pocket of territory.
The question of what to do with the detained foreigners has grown increasingly thorny since U.S. President Donald Trump's surprise announcement in December that he intends to withdraw all American forces from the country.
"The United States calls upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens detained by the SDF and commends the continued efforts of the SDF to return these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin," U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement.
The statement came as the SDF announced the capture earlier this month of three alleged IS fighters, from Germany, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In addition to the hundreds of militants, the SDF are also holding more than 4,000 family members of IS fighters.
Very few countries have expressed readiness to repatriate their citizens, posing a dilemma for the Kurdish-led forces, particularly after the US said it plans to withdraw.
Last week, France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told French media that a handful of French jihadis had already returned home and more would follow soon after the departure of American troops. Britain refuses to take back citizens who joined IS and has reportedly stripped them of their citizenship. Other European countries have remained largely silent about the fate of men and women whom many see as a security threat.
Palladino commended the SDF's efforts and said the force has "demonstrated a clear commitment to detain these individuals securely and humanely."
IS has lost virtually all the territory it once held in Syria and neighboring Iraq, but Palladino said it remains "a significant terrorist threat," adding that "collective action is imperative to address this shared international security challenge."
A Defense Department Inspector General report released Monday said IS "remains a potent force of battle-hardened and well-disciplined fighters that could likely resurge in Syria absent continued counterterrorism pressure." It said the militants are still able to coordinate offensives "as well as operate as a decentralized insurgency."
The campaign against the extremists is currently focused on a small, remote patch of land in eastern Syria, where thousands of civilians remain holed up with the militants. The battles have slowed in recent days to allow civilians to flee from the nearly 1.5 square mile (4 square kilometer) area.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely tracks the conflict, said more than 36,000 people, including many foreigners and over 3,000 fighters, have trickled out of the small area in recent weeks. Most were evacuated to displaced people camps but many were also taken for interrogation and questioning.
Syrian opposition activists said Monday that the SDF killed six children and three women who were trying to flee.
An SDF spokesman did not immediately respond to request for comment on the shooting.
The Observatory said the incident occurred Saturday night, adding that the gunfire came from SDF positions. It said the civilians had paid money to smugglers to take them out of the area controlled by the extremists.
The DeirEzzor 24, an activist collective, said the incident occurred near Tanak oil field, which is close to the front line between IS and the SDF, blaming the Kurdish-led force for the shooting.
Tripoli, Feb 4 (Xinhua/UNB) -The United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on Sunday said it evacuated more than 4,000 refugees from Libya from 2018 to the end of January 2019.
The commission said it resettled or evacuated 4,080 refugees from Libya and provided 34,505 medical consultations during last year up until the end of last month.
It also said that 6,219 families have received cash assistance, and 1,311 shelter kits have been distributed to internally displaced Libyans.
UNHCR confirmed that 56,643 refugees and asylum seekers have been registered in Libya so far.
Libya has become a preferred departure point for illegal immigrants hoping to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe because of insecurity and chaos in the North African country following the 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Shelters in Libya are crowded with thousands of illegal immigrants rescued at sea or arrested by the Libyan security services.
Yorba Linda, Feb 4(AP/UNB) — Five people died and two others were injured after a small plane apparently came apart, raining debris across a Southern California neighborhood and igniting a house fire before landing in a backyard, authorities said Sunday.
The male pilot, who was the only person in the twin-engine plane, and four people in the Yorba Linda house that caught fire died Sunday, Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Cory Martino said at a news conference Sunday night. He says the deceased occupants of the home were two males and two females. No other identifying information such as names or ages was immediately released.
The Cessna 414A took off from the Fullerton Municipal Airport about a dozen miles west of the blaze, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.
A two-story house burst into flames after being struck by the main cabin and one engine of the plane, sending panicked neighbors into the streets. The second engine dislodged and fell onto the street, creating a large hole in the asphalt, according to Eliott Simpson, an aviation accident investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
"It was a boom. It sounded like something exploded. It shook our house," said John Wolbart, who lives a block away.
He said he ran to the burning house and saw a woman come out with singed hair.
The wounded were taken to a hospital with burn injuries, said Pokey Sanchez, an assistant chief with the Orange County Fire Authority. A firefighter was also treated for a minor injury.
Clint Langford, who lives about a half-mile away, said he was in his living room when he heard a low rumbling.
"It's the eerie, low rumbling sound that keeps getting lower and louder. It was scary," he said. "And then all of a sudden boom. It shook the house."
He looked out his front door and could see plane parts falling out the sky in the distance.
Pat Rogers, who lives about a mile from the crash site, told the Orange County Register he saw the plane on fire and coming apart.
Video posted on Twitter showed panicked residents running to the house as it became engulfed in flames and dark smoke. One man doused a burning wing that landed on the street with a garden hose.
Aerial footage taken from news helicopters show plane parts, including side panels and a propeller, scattered on rooftops and driveways near the burned house. The main body of the twin-engine plane was found in the backyard of another home not far from the burned house. The fire spread to a SUV that was parked in the driveway.
Debris was scattered over four blocks, Simpson said.
Rain from a winter storm helped firefighters extinguish the house fire. They planned to search the burned house in case there were additional victims, Sanchez said.
The National Transportation and Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash.
Jerusalem, Feb 4 (AP/UNB) — Israel says it has started reinforcing its border fence with the Gaza Strip, erecting a galvanized steel barrier six meters (20 feet) high that will run the length of territory.
Israel's Defense Ministry issued a statement Sunday saying it had commenced construction of an above-ground barrier that complements a subterranean wall aimed at thwarting Hamas attack tunnels beneath the border.
The fence's construction comes after months of mass protests by Palestinians in Gaza along the border. Nearly 190 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since they began last March. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper last July.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the new barrier "will prevent terrorists from Gaza from penetrating into our territory on the ground."
South Korea, Feb 4 (AP/UNB) — Senior U.S. and South Korean officials met Sunday to discuss an expected second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump's special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, arrived in South Korea earlier amid reports that he'll meet North Korean officials soon to work out details for the summit.
Trump told CBS' "Face the Nation" that "the meeting is set" with Kim, but he provided no further details about the meeting expected around the end of February. The president said there was "a very good chance that we will make a deal."
With the North under economic penalties and the U.S. unwilling to ease them under the North denuclearizes, Trump said Kim "has a chance to have North Korea be a tremendous economic behemoth. It has a chance to be one of the great economic countries in the world. He can't do that with nuclear weapons and he can't do that on the path they're on now."
Seoul's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Biegun and his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon held consultations about working-level U.S.-North Korea talks ahead of the summit.
South Korean media reported Biegun and his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol will likely meet at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom or in the North's capital of Pyongyang early this week.
Little progress has been made toward ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons since Trump and Kim held their first summit in Singapore last June. During that summit, Kim pledged to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, though he did not provide a timetable or roadmap for his disarmament steps.
Last year, North Korea suspended nuclear and missile tests, dismantled its nuclear test site and parts of its rocket launch facility and released American detainees. The North demanded the United States to take corresponding measurers such as sanctions relief.
U.S. officials want North Korea to take more significant steps, saying sanctions will stay in place until North Korea denuclearizes.
Satellite footage taken since the June summit has indicated North Korea has been continuing to produce nuclear materials at its weapons factories. Last Tuesday, U.S. intelligence chiefs told Congress they believe there is little likelihood Kim will voluntarily give up his nuclear weapons or missiles capable of carrying them.
Biegun said last week that Kim committed to "the dismantlement and destruction of North Korea's plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities" during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in September and at a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October.
During the second summit, some experts say North Korea will likely seek to trade the destruction of its main Yongbyon nuclear complex for a U.S. promise to formally declare the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, open a liaison office in Pyongyang and allow the North to resume some lucrative economic projects with South Korea.