US-backed Syrian Forces Resume Offensive to Recapture Raqqa

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Sunday their offensive to retake Raqqa, the de facto capital of so-called Islamic State (IS), has resumed after a halt that lasted for one week.

The SDF, a Kurdish-led force, intends to isolate Raqqa from Deir Ezzor, another IS stronghold in eastern Syria, and to take control of more territories along the Euphrates River en route to Raqqa, a statement from the group said.

 

“In the past week, we had a chance to regroup our forces and bring them to a high level of readiness,” the SDF said.

 

The anti-IS force seized at least seven villages in Deir Ezzor province on Sunday after fierce clashes with IS fighters, according to a local commander who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity.

 

“Our advances on IS in Deir Ezzor have been very rapid, and we expect to liberate larger areas this week,” the commander added.

 

IS is retreating

 

The commander said that IS fighters lack the ability to attack and face advancing SDF forces and are retreating from the area.

 

SDF made the advances against so-called Islamic State with the help of U.S. close air support, and coordination between SDF and U.S.-led coalition continues with the aim of isolating Raqqa, according to SDF.

 

While SDF claims that its week-long halt of operations against IS was due to weather conditions, analysts believe the group was awaiting a “green light” from the U.S. government to move forward with the offensive.

 

“The SDF has been getting the bulk majority of American support,” said Khorshid Alika, a Syrian researcher who closely follows the offensive. “This will only continue in the days ahead in the Raqqa campaign.”

 

U.S support may increase

 

Reports from the region suggest that the U.S. is likely to increase its military support for the Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters within the SDF, which could including artillery, arms supplies and other weaponry.

 

Earlier this week, U.S. President Donald Trump received a plan regarding the Raqqa offensive after he had given the Pentagon 30 days to prepare it. The plan reportedly includes a significant increase of U.S. Special Operations Forces against the group, The Washington Post reported. The U.S. currently has 500 trainers deployed who advise local partners.

 

Turkey, a NATO ally, has repeatedly voiced opposition to a Syrian Kurdish participation in the Raqqa operation and has criticized the U.S. for providing military support to the Syrian Kurdish fighters in the SDF.

 

Ankara views the Kurdish YPG, the main group in the SDF, as a terrorist organization and fears that any Kurdish advances in northern Syria would empower the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been waging a deadly war on Turkish troops.

 

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, assured his Turkish counterpart General Hulusi Akar last month at NATO’s Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey that the United States is considerate of Turkey’s concerns and that it chooses Kurdish fighters with care when lending its support to rebels fighting the Islamic State.

 

But Turkey continues to claim that the U.S. is actively supporting YPG which Turkey views as an ally of the outlawed PKK. Both the United States and Turkey view PKK as a terrorist organization.

 

However, analysts suggest that Turkey’s objection to a Kurdish participation in the Raqqa offensive would soften after recent Turkish military gains in parts of northern Syria.

 

“Turkey’s primary goal was to prevent the YPG from forming a contiguous Kurdish entity in the Syria-Turkey border region,” researcher Alika said. “Now that its goal has been achieved, I don’t think Turkey is concerned with having the Kurds lead the operation to liberate Raqqa.”

 

Last week Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies moved closer to the Kurdish-held town of Manbij in northern Syria, after they pushed out IS from the nearby town of al-Bab.

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White House Demands Probe of Alleged Trump Tower Wiretap

Washington is engulfed by a dizzying flurry of contradictory statements and rampant speculation over whether federal authorities wiretapped Donald Trump’s telephones during last year’s presidential campaign. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the White House is demanding ongoing investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election be expanded to probe whether the FBI spied on Trump at the behest of the Obama administration.

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FBI, Local Police Investigate Shooting of Sikh Man as Community Rallies Support

Local police and the FBI continue to look for the white male who shot a Sikh man after telling him to “go back to your own country” in a Seattle, Washington (state) suburb Friday.

The victim had been released from the hospital Sunday, but wishes to remain anonymous and has not made any public statement after being shot in his own driveway in the town of Kent.

Local Sikhs, however, quickly came together over the weekend to work on increasing awareness and understanding of their community. And the larger community of Kent has expressed their solidarity as well.

“We have been getting so much appreciation, love, amazing support from the community. Everybody is rallying behind us,” Satwinder Kaur, a Sikh, candidate for Kent city council, and longtime local resident, told VOA.

“People are scared. But…we are not going to let this crime bring us down. We’re going to continue educating people. And we are going to talk about our culture and our community,” she said, speaking from her car as she drove to the local Sikh temple to speak on upcoming community outreach programs.

The town of Kent, which recorded a population of just over 125,000 according to 2015 census data, is about 15 percent Asian, including South Asians. Kent, just south of Seattle in the Northwestern state of Washington, boasts diversity, claiming its school district speaks 138 different languages.

The shooting of the Sikh man in Kent comes just one week after an Indian-American was fatally shot in Kansas City. Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, died of the wounds he sustained when a man allegedly opened fire in a crowded bar in suburban Kansas last Wednesday. Another Indian and an American who tried to intervene were injured in the incident.

The Kansas City Star quoted a witness as saying a man shouted “Get out of my country” before shooting at the Indian men.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the backlash against Muslims across the U.S. at times also included members of the Sikh faith.  Followers of the Sikh faith, a monotheistic religion that originated in northern India, are often confused with Muslims.

Over the past year, the number of incidents of anti-Muslim (whether actually Muslim or simply perceived as Muslim) violence has risen dramatically, according to a report released by Georgetown’s Bridge Initiative (in December).

Despite growing unease among American-South Asians as anti-immigrant rhetoric and hate crimes increase, Satwinder says that for her and the town of Kent, focusing on the local is what is important.

“We will just need to be more vigilant, more aware, stay in close touch with our authorities at the local level – that’s what you can do. We can’t really wait on our administration right now,” she said.

“There’s no hope there, I think.”

 

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Упродовж дня на Донбасі 2 українських військових поранені, 1 травмований – штаб АТО

Упродовж дня підтримувані Росією бойовики на Донбасі здійснили 54 обстріли позицій Збройних сил України, в результаті бойових дій поранено двох українських військовослужбовців, ще один – травмований. Про це йдеться в повідомленні прес-центру штабу АТО на сторінці у Facebook.

Згідно з повідомленням, до вечора неділі бойовики вели вогонь на всіх напрямках. Під час обстрілів використовували танки, міномети різних калібрів, гранатомети та стрілецьку зброю

«Широкине обстріляли з протитанкових ракетних комплексів», – додали у штабі.

Раніше у штабі АТО заявили, що минулої доби проросійські бойовики здійснили 110 обстрілів. Десятеро українських військових були поранені, двоє травмовані, один загинув.

В угрупованні «ДНР» заявили про понад 600 обстрілів з боку ЗСУ за минулу добу, загибель двох своїх бійців і поранення ще одного. Луганські сепаратисти повідомили про 29 фактів порушення режиму тиші за попередню добу.

Останнім часом у низці місцевостей на лінії зіткнення на Донбасі сталося помітне загострення бойових дій, яке не припинилося й попри чергові домовленості, досягнені у Тристоронній контактній групі. І українські силовики, і сепаратисти заперечують свою вину. Сторони конфлікту звинувачують одна одну у порушеннях і провокаціях.

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НАБУ: офіційного повідомлення про перенесення суду щодо запобіжного заходу Насірову немає

В НАБУ висловили сподівання, що суд сьогодні ухвалить рішення про запобіжний захід для Романа Насірова, попри те, що досі не знайденого другого чергового судді

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Активісти «Автомайдану» заблокували виїзди з території суду, де перебуває Насіров

Активісти руху «Автомайдан» у неділю заблокували виїзди з території Солом’янського райсуду Києва, де перебуває усунений з посади голови Державної фіскальної служби Роман Насіров. Активісти автомобілями перекрили виїзд з території суду.

Вони також не виключили блокування виїзду з Вознесенського узвозу, де розміщується суд, і до Кудрявського узвозу.

Під будівлею суду о 19:00 запланована акція протесту, перебіг якої транслюватиме Радіо Свобода.

Як повідомив народний депутат Мустафа Найєм, мета акції – вимога до суду продовжити роботу і розглянути подання щодо обрання запобіжного заходу Романові Насірову.

Участь в акції підтвердив, крім «Автомайдану», також «Центр протидії корупції».

Прес-секретар Солом’янського районного суду Києва Яна Квітченко повідомила, що продовження процесу відбудеться 6 березня, тому що в неділю немає другого чергового слідчого судді, який би міг розглянути питання про відвід судді за клопотанням адвокатів Насірова, 72-годинний термін затримання якого спливає сьогодні пізно ввечері. В НАБУ нагадали, якщо до завершення цього строку запобіжний захід не буде обрано, детективи будуть змушені звільнити усуненого від обов’язків голову ДФС із-під варти.

В ніч на 3 березня в лікарні «Феофанія» детективи НАБУ на виконання доручення прокурора САП вручили голові ДФС Роману Насірову повідомлення про підозру за статтею про «зловживання службовим становищем, що спричинило тяжкі наслідки». Пізніше лікарі заявили, що у чиновника стався інфаркт. 4 березня Насірова доставили на обстеження до Інституту кардіології, але там не змогли встановити чи уточнити діагноз.

2 березня НАБУ провело обшуки за кількома адресами, в тому числі в центральному офісі ДФС, у рамках розслідування кримінального провадження, пов’язаного з неправомірними, на думку слідства, рішеннями голови ДФС Романа Насірова про розстрочення податкових боргів підприємствам із орбіти народного депутата Олександра Онищенка.

 

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Tea Party Parallel? Liberals Taking Aim at Their Own Party

Four days after Donald Trump’s surprising White House victory, the liberal organization CREDO Action fired off a frantic warning to its 4.6 million anxious supporters.

Their worry wasn’t the new president. It was his opposition.

“Democratic leaders have been welcoming Trump,” the email said. “That’s not acceptable. Democratic leaders need to stand up and fight. Now.”

Amid a national surge of anti-Trump protests, boycotts and actions, liberals have begun taking aim at a different target: Their own party.

Over the past few weeks, activists have formed a number of organizations threatening a primary challenge to Democratic lawmakers who offer anything less than complete resistance to the Republican president.

“We’re not interested in unity,” said Cenk Uygur, the founder of Justice Democrats, a new organization that’s pledged to replace “every establishment politician” in Congress. “We can’t beat the Republicans unless we have good, honest, uncorrupted candidates.”

While party leaders have urged Democrats to keep their attacks focused on Trump, the liberal grass roots sees the fresh wave of opposition energy as an opportunity to push their party to the left and wrest power from longtime party stalwarts.

The intraparty pressure is reminiscent of the tea party movement, where conservative activists defeated several centrist Republican incumbents. Their efforts reverberated through the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, forcing candidates to the right on economic issues.

Like Uygur, many founders of the new groups are supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, eager to continue their effort to remake the Democratic Party.

Uygur’s group says they’ve already found 70 possible candidates who will refuse corporate campaign donations while running for Congress_ challenging elected Democrats if needed. Those people are now going through candidate training.

Democratic officials from more conservative states worry that those primary contests will result in the party holding even less power in Washington.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat likely to face a tough re-election fight in a state won overwhelmingly by Trump, said the effort will make Democrats a “super minority” in the Senate.

A coalition named “WeWillReplaceYou” is urging Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York to remove Manchin from his new role in the party leadership after Manchin expressed openness to working with Trump.

“If you want to go ahead and beat me up in a primary then go ahead,” Manchin said. “All it does is take the resources from the general.”

Even without primaries, the party faces a challenging political map in 2018. Republicans will be defending just eight Senate seats, while Democrats must hold 23 _ plus two filled by independents who caucus with them. Ten of those races are in states Trump carried last November.

The activists say they’re willing to trade power for conviction.

“I’d rather have 44 or 45 awesome Democrats who are lockstep together than 44 or 45 really awesome Democrats and three to four weak-kneed individuals who are going to dilute the party,” said Murshed Zaheed, CREDO’s political director.

They point to a postelection shift among Democrats as a sign that their efforts are working.

Initially, Schumer and even liberals such as Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren cautiously spoke of working with Trump on certain issues. After the wave of liberal fury, most Democrats have shifted into full opposition mode.

“Democrats have a reflexive instinct to compromise,” said Ben Wikler of MoveOn.org, which has directed its members to protest at Democratic as well as Republican congressional offices. “At this moment of successive Trump crises, resistance rather than compromise is what the country needs.”

Democratic leaders say the path to victory next year depends on a strong economic message, one that casts Trump as betraying the working-class voters who boosted him to victory.

“What we have in common, whether you’re West Virginia or Massachusetts or Kansas is a commitment to economic opportunity,” said Tom Perez, the newly elected Democratic National Committee chairman.

A memo this past week from Priorities USA gave Democrats a “10-point checklist” for criticizing Trump’s economic policies and conflicts of interest, saying the party cannot simply count on the president to remain “his own worst enemy.”

Many of the most vulnerable Democratic senators avoided town halls meetings during the congressional recess last week, hoping to evade politically damaging confrontations.

Party officials are trying to channel the new energy into more targeted electoral efforts.

In the weeks after Election Day, the Ohio Democratic Party held a series of meetings across the state with new activists. Since then, they’ve teamed up with some organizations for events.

“Our goal is to build good relationships so that come spring, summer of `18 everyone moves to an election mindset,” said David Pepper, the state party chairman.

Last month, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee installed full-time organizers in 20 swing districts, with the goal of building stronger connections with activist groups.

Their message: “We can’t add by subtracting,” said the committee chairman, Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico.

That may be a hard sell for some of the new anti-Trump organizations.

“Something the tea party was really smart about early on was not giving a big bear hug to the Republican National Committee,” said Ezra Levin, the executive director of the new anti-Trump group Indivisible. “Keeping the political parties at arm’s length is crucial to remaining an outside political force.”

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Prosecutors: NY Man Willing to Sacrifice Self for Jihad

A New York man was being held without bail on terrorism charges after federal authorities said he was prepared to strap on a bomb and sacrifice himself for jihad and persistently tried to join the Islamic State or another extremist group in Syria.

Elvis Redzepagic, 26, was charged Saturday with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Police on suburban Long Island arrested Redzepagic on Feb. 2 on a minor, unrelated charge, and he told them: “I’m going to leave this country, and I’m going to come back with an Army — Islam is coming,” according to a federal court complaint.

His lawyer, Mildred Whalen, noted that Redzepagic is a citizen and had cooperated with law enforcement.

“We will be working with his family in the hope that the court and the government will see that what he needs is counseling and support, not imprisonment,” she said in an email.

Authorities have prosecuted a number of people accused of trying to join the Islamic State group and other militants in recent years, though in some cases, the accused haven’t actually succeeded in traveling overseas.

Redzepagic “was persistent in his efforts” to join Islamic militants in civil-war-ravaged Syria, making it to Turkey in 2015 and Jordan last year and even getting to the Syrian border, said William F. Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office.

Redzepagic, who lives in Commack, told authorities after his arrest that he’d become a devout Muslim while in Montenegro, in the Balkans, and believed a cousin was a battalion commander in Syria for the Islamic State or the group once known as the Nusra Front, according to the court complaint. The latter group — now called the Fatah al-Sham Front, and also known at times as Jabhat al-Nusra — is an al-Qaida affiliate.

No one immediately responded to phone or email messages to Redzepagic’s relatives.

After telling his cousin he wanted to join him, Redzepagic went to Turkey in July 2015 and aimed for Syria. He got cab rides to the border, then directions to a border wall manned by the military, followed by instructions to try to cross instead by making a two-day trip through the woods, the complaint says.

He’d been willing to put on a bomb and sacrifice himself, he told authorities after his arrest, though he told them at another point he just wanted to “feed the children” in Syria. But frustrated that he didn’t getting more help crossing the border, Redzepagic returned to the U.S., the complaint says.

“Since I got back from Turkey from trying to perform jihad and join Jabhat al-Nusra the CIA has been bothering me,” he wrote to a Facebook contact in October 2015, the complaint says. “It’s annoying but I out smarted them.”

The CIA declined to comment Saturday on the case.

He also told various Facebook contacts that “I just don’t like this country,” apparently meaning the U.S., and that “jihad is the best for u,” according to the complaint.

“There will come a time where people will only know to say Allahu akbar,” he wrote in one message, using the Arabic phrase for “God is great,” says the complaint.

Redzepagic went to Jordan last August to try again to get to Syria, but Jordanian officials stopped him and asked why he wanted to go there. He said he wanted to study Arabic, the complaint says.

It says he then told the same to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, who found he had electronic files about jihad. He said he’d downloaded them two years earlier, the complaint adds.

It’s not immediately clear whether he remained on federal authorities’ radar between then and his arrest in February. Long Island police notified federal authorities about the arrest, and although he was released without bail on the minor charge, he willingly continued talking to federal agents and let them scrutinize his phone, laptop and Facebook account, the complaint says.

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