Kurdish military officials have denied reports that a Canadian-Israeli woman who joined the fight against the the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria has been captured by the militant group.
The whereabouts of Gill Rosenberg, a former pilot from White Rock, British Columbia, and resident of Tel Aviv, was called into question over the weekend after an IS-connected blog claimed that several female fighters from Kurdish peshmerga forces, including Ms. Rosenberg, had been captured. Rosenberg was known to be in Syria fighting alongside Kurdish militants, who described her as their first female foreign recruit, reports the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
But various Kurdish sources report that Rosenberg is safe. "It's a lie. She's OK," said Zagros Cudi, a Kurdish military commander whom CBC reports heads the unit to which Rosenberg was attached. And The Globe and Mail reports that Kader Kadandir, another peshmerga fighter, posted to Rosenberg's Facebook page that “She is in Rojava and safe.” Mr. Kadandir also posted several photos of Rosenberg to Facebook.
Haaretz reports that Rosenberg joined Kurdish forces in Syria in early November, after receiving guerrilla training in Iraq. She reportedly migrated to Israel in 2006, and served two years in the Israel Defense Forces.
She has a checkered past, Haaretz notes. In 2009, she was extradited to the United States where she served three years in prison in connection to what the FBI described as "a phony 'lottery prize' scheme that targeted victims, mostly elderly." Haaretz adds that it is possible she could face further charges for traveling to Syria and Iraq, which is illegal under Israeli law.
Both Israeli and Canadian government officials have said they are pursuing more information about Rosenberg's current well being.
Reports of Rosenberg's capture come amid an uptick in attacks by the US-led coalition leading airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria. Agence France-Presse reports that IS militants suffered one of their worst days of losses on Sunday. Airstrikes and other attacks killed some 50 fighters and 29 civilians in Syria, many in the IS stronghold of Raqqa, which was hit by at least 30 air attacks during the day.
“We can’t say it’s the largest set of raids they have carried out, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen this number of targets hit,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel-Rahman told AFP.
The airstrikes have worsened already intolerable civilian life in Raqqa, which IS harshly controls. The Observer reported on Sunday that while IS forces have "a relatively high standard of living," civilians "struggle to make ends meet."
Crucifixions of Isis opponents have taken place in Raqqa’s Paradise Square, as well as frequent beheadings and lashings for offences as minor as smoking a cigarette. Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, founder of a network of activists called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, told The Observer: “Isis kills a lot of people, we see a lot of executions, a lot of beheadings. I have seen about five people crucified in the city. People are now calling Paradise Square Hell Square.”
Meanwhile the population is subjected to a rolling daily nightmare as the Syrian government launches air strikes in the morning, which are followed by coalition air raids in the evening.
When warplanes belonging to President Bashar al-Assad killed scores of residents last week, repeatedly targeting heavily populated areas of the city, Isis [IS] and its battery of anti-aircraft and missile defences did not fire a single round. The lack of response further enraged Raqqa’s inhabitants towards the extremists, according to witnesses.
“People are getting very angry because Isis do not shoot at the aircraft with their rockets, they just watch the people die. We have a situation where there are Syrian air strikes at the start of the day and coalition air strikes later and in between Isis is controlling and killing the people. Everybody is tired and afraid,” said Raqqawi.
A further increase in coalition airstrikes may be on the way, The Wall Street Journal reports. Officials from both Turkey and the US told the newspaper that the two countries are closing in on an agreement that would allow the US-led coalition to launch attacks from Turkish airbases and establish a "safe zone" that would be off limits to the aircraft of Syrian President Assad. The deal may still be some weeks off, officials said, but would accommodate both US desire for greater access to bases closer to Syria, and Turkey's efforts to rein in forces loyal to Assad.