Rebel fighters from the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rest on the outskirts of Al Bab, which they have been fighting to take from ISIL for more than a month. Khalil Ashawi / Reuters / February 4, 2017
Rebel fighters from the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rest on the outskirts of Al Bab, which they have been fighting to take from ISIL for more than a month. Khalil Ashawi / Reuters / February 4, 201

ISIL besieged in northern Syrian town

BEIRUT // The Syrian army and its allies on Monday cut off the last major supply route between the northern ISIL-held town of Al Bab and the extremist group’s strongholds to the east.

The militants are now effectively surrounded by Syrian pro-government forces and by Turkish troops and allied rebel groups, as Damascus and Ankara race to capture the largest ISIL stronghold in Aleppo province.

The latest setback for ISIL came as a new UN report said the group had suffered from a sharp drop in revenue and in its ability to attract new recruits.

Syrian troops and fighters from the Lebanese group Hizbollah seized the main road linking Al Bab to ISIL-held territory in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces in an advance backed by Russian artillery, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Al Bab is now completely besieged by the regime from the south, and the Turkish forces and rebels from the east, north and west,” said the Britain-based monitoring group, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

However, the Syrian army’s advance risks triggering a confrontation with the Turkish military and its allies – rebel groups fighting under the Free Syria Army banner – which have been waging their own campaign to take the town.

The Syrian army has moved to within 5 kilometres of Al Bab in less than three weeks as Damascus seeks to stop Turkey form penetrating deeper into a strategic area of northern Syria. Ankara’s forces have been advancing on Al Bab, about 25km from the Syria-Turkey border since December.

Northern Syria is one of the most complicated battlefields of the multi-sided Syrian war, with ISIL now being fought there by the Syrian army, Turkey and its rebel allies, and an alliance of US-backed Syrian militias.

Turkey launched its campaign in Syria in August to secure its frontier from ISIL and halt the advance of the powerful Kurdish YPG militia. In recent months Turkey has also joined forces with regime ally Russia to try to end to Syria’s six-year conflict.

The two countries carried out their first joint bombing raids around Al Bab in January after brokering a ceasefire agreement between rebels and regime forces. Along with Iran, they organised a summit in Kazakhstan last month in a bid to reinforce that truce ahead of full-fledged peace talks under the United Nations in Geneva.

Experts from Russia, Turkey, Iran and the UN met again in the Kazakh capital on Monday to discuss the ceasefire, with the Kazakh foreign ministry saying representatives from Jordan were also expected to take part.

The ceasefire with rebels has allowed the Syrian regime to target ISIL, with president Bashar Al Assad’s forces engaging the extremists in the central province of Homs at the weekend, the Observatory said.

It said troops had also captured the Hayyan oilfield west of Palmyra, the historical city that ISIL recaptured in December, and fought back against ISIL around Al Seen military airport north-east of Damascus.

ISIL is facing simultaneous offensives against it self-proclaimed Islamic “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.

A UN report released on Monday said the extremists were “militarily on the defensive in several regions, notably in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic”.

ISIL finances are on a decline, according to the report sent to the Security Council last week, forcing the militant group to operate on a “crisis budget”.

Illicit oil sales, mainly from oilfields in Deir Ezzor, dropped from as much as US$500 million (Dh1.8 billion) in 2015 to $260m last year.

The flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria has slowed considerably, because of security measures taken by governments and also the “diminished attractiveness” of the group, the report said.

“The ability of ISIL to attract new recruits has diminished, and fighters are increasingly leaving the battlefield,” the report said.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters


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Where to buy art books in the UAE

There are a number of speciality art bookshops in the UAE.

In Dubai, The Lighthouse at Dubai Design District has a wonderfully curated selection of art and design books. Alserkal Avenue runs a pop-up shop at their A4 space, and host the art-book fair Fully Booked during Art Week in March. The Third Line, also in Alserkal Avenue, has a strong book-publishing arm and sells copies at its gallery. Kinokuniya, at Dubai Mall, has some good offerings within its broad selection, and you never know what you will find at the House of Prose in Jumeirah. Finally, all of Gulf Photo Plus’s photo books are available for sale at their show. 

In Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi has a beautiful selection of catalogues and art books, and Magrudy’s – across the Emirates, but particularly at their NYU Abu Dhabi site – has a great selection in art, fiction and cultural theory.

In Sharjah, the Sharjah Art Museum sells catalogues and art books at its museum shop, and the Sharjah Art Foundation has a bookshop that offers reads on art, theory and cultural history.

If you go

The flights 

Emirates flies from Dubai to Funchal via Lisbon, with a connecting flight with Air Portugal. Economy class returns cost from Dh3,845 return including taxes.

The trip

The WalkMe app can be downloaded from the usual sources. If you don’t fancy doing the trip yourself, then Explore  offers an eight-day levada trails tour from Dh3,050, not including flights.

The hotel

There isn’t another hotel anywhere in Madeira that matches the history and luxury of the Belmond Reid's Palace in Funchal. Doubles from Dh1,400 per night including taxes.



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The specs: 2018 Renault Megane

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Transmission Continuously variable transmission

Power 115hp @ 5,500rpm

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Company name: Fasset
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Director: Deon Taylor

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Michael Ealy, Meagan Good

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What is the definition of an SME?

SMEs in the UAE are defined by the number of employees, annual turnover and sector. For example, a “small company” in the services industry has six to 50 employees with a turnover of more than Dh2 million up to Dh20m, while in the manufacturing industry the requirements are 10 to 100 employees with a turnover of more than Dh3m up to Dh50m, according to Dubai SME, an agency of the Department of Economic Development.

A “medium-sized company” can either have staff of 51 to 200 employees or 101 to 250 employees, and a turnover less than or equal to Dh200m or Dh250m, again depending on whether the business is in the trading, manufacturing or services sectors. 

The specs

Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6

Power: 540hp at 6,500rpm

Torque: 600Nm at 2,500rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed auto

Kerb weight: 1580kg

Price: From Dh750k

On sale: via special order

Tips to avoid getting scammed

1) Beware of cheques presented late on Thursday

2) Visit an RTA centre to change registration only after receiving payment

3) Be aware of people asking to test drive the car alone

4) Try not to close the sale at night

5) Don't be rushed into a sale 

6) Call 901 if you see any suspicious behaviour

Opening Rugby Championship fixtures:Games can be watched on OSN Sports
Saturday: Australia v New Zealand, Sydney, 1pm (UAE)
Sunday: South Africa v Argentina, Port Elizabeth, 11pm (UAE)


Director: Spike Lee

Starring: John David Washington; Adam Driver 

Five stars


- 5 wins in 22 months as pro
- Three wins in past 10 starts
- 45 pro starts worldwide: 5 wins, 17 top 5s
- Ranked 551th in world on debut, now No 4 (was No 2 earlier this year)
- 5th player in last 30 years to win 3 European Tour and 2 PGA Tour titles before age 24 (Woods, Garcia, McIlroy, Spieth)

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