A New Zealand nurse kidnapped in Syria more than five years ago may still be alive, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has said, revealing her identity for the first time in an attempt to secure her release. Louisa Akavi, 62, and two Syrian colleagues have been held hostage for longer than anyone in the 156-year history of the international aid organization. The fall of Isis’s last stronghold in the region has potentially increased the risk of losing track of the New Zealander, but also raised hopes someone will come forward with information about all three.
The U.N.’s human rights chief said Tuesday she is concerned about the condition of some 200 families trapped in the last remaining area held by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria, where they are mixed with hundreds of militants. Some 300 militants are mixed in with hundreds of civilians and are refusing to surrender while trying to negotiate an exit with the U.S.-backed forces surrounding them. Last week, the U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered badly needed humanitarian assistance as Russia offered to help relocate those willing to move to government-held areas in Syria.
Fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have launched an assault to oust ISIS from its last remaining enclave in Syria, the final remnant of the jihadist group’s so-called “caliphate.” After pausing more than a week to allow tens of thousands of civilians to flee the town, the SDF on Saturday renewed its push to wrest the last 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) from the militants. At least 500 ISIS fighters are believed to remain in the village, thought to be a concentration of ISIS’ most experienced and battle-hardened fighters and commanders.
A U.S. court has found the Syrian government liable in the 2012 death of American journalist Marie Colvin, ordering it to pay $300 million in punitive damages. Colvin was reporting from in the western Syrian city of Homs when the makeshift media center where she was working came under artillery attack. Colvin’s sister Cathleen and Cathleen’s three children filed the lawsuit in 2016. The Syrian government ignored the lawsuit. By failing to appear, it defaulted in the case.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for a deadly explosion that killed four Americans and at least 10 other people in the Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday. Prior to Wednesday’s attack, only two US service members had been killed in action in Syria since the start of the campaign in 2014. The ISIS-affiliated Amaq agency said the attack in the northern city of Manbij was carried out by a suicide bomber with an explosive vest.
The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus on Thursday, marking a diplomatic boost for President Bashar al-Assad from a U.S.-allied Arab state that once backed rebels fighting him. “The UAE decision … came after a conviction that the next stage requires the Arab presence and communication in the Syrian file,” tweeted Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs.
Russia has branded as “provocative” an alleged Israeli air strike on Syria late on Tuesday. Israel has not commented, but after the reported strikes it said it had fired at a Syrian anti-aircraft missile. It did not report any damage or injuries. It says it is acting to thwart advanced weapons transfers from Iran to the Lebanese pro-Iranian Hezbollah movement and the strengthening of Iran’s military presence in Syria.
The Trump administration announced that US troops will be pulled out of Syria immediately saying the Islamic State has been ‘defeated’ and that a transition is taking place to the ‘next phase of the campaign.’ The White House says the US remains ‘ready to re-engage at all levels’ in defense of American interests.
More than 100 people were taken to hospitals in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, after a suspected poison gas attack over the weekend. As President Bashar Assad’s regime traded blame for the alleged attack with anti-government rebels, Russian warplanes backing Assad’s forces hammered rebel targets. The attack took place on Saturday night in the now-government-controlled city of Aleppo, which has been the site of some of the fiercest battles in Syria’s civil war.
Syria’s National Museum reopened after closing six years ago due to the civil war. Syrian officials claimed the museum’s reopening was a sign of a return to normal life. Syria’s Minister of Culture said the reopening ‘is a genuine message that Syria is still here.’ Most museum pieces were evacuated to secret locations for protection.