World Bulletin / News Desk
Islamist fighters declared on Thursday they had secured full control of Mali's desert north, a day after pushing their former Tuareg MNLA separatist allies out of the town of Gao in a gun battle that killed at least 20 people.
The local Ansar Dine group had already gained the upper hand in the northern town of Kidal and the ancient trading post of Timbuktu after government forces were routed in an April rebel advance.
"Our men control all three of the towns in northern Mali," Oumar Ould Hamaha, a Timbuktu-based Ansar Dine official said of the mostly desert territory which is larger than France.
"They (the MNLA) all ran away, we decided not to pursue them. ... All I can tell you is that they are not even in the outskirts the city," Hamaha said of the battle in Gao.
The separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad - the northern territory it claims as an independent state - said its forces beat a tactical retreat in Gao on Wednesday and rejected suggestions they had lost the battle.
"Right now some MNLA units, stationed at the borders of Azawad, are coming back to completely rid the city of Gao of Islamist groups that are terrorising the population," MNLA spokesman Mossa Ag Attaher said in a written statement.
The battle was a culmination of weeks of tension between the MNLA and local Islamists who had helped it take control of northern Mali after government forces were left without a command following a March 22 coup.
The two factions had an uneasy power sharing arrangement after seizing control of the territory.
A Timbuktu resident said on Thursday that MNLA fighters who had been stationed at the city's airport and port had now even abandoned those positions.
Ansar Dine's Hamaha said more than 22 MNLA fighters including a top colonel had been killed during the Gao battle, while three of their fighters had died in combat.
He added that MNLA leader Bilal Ag Acherif had been injured and evacuated to neighbouring Burkina Faso. MNLA's Attaher declined to confirm the identities or number of casualties but a Burkinabe security source confirmed he had been injured.
"He was injured in a mortar attack and was bleeding a lot from the ear, but we managed to stop the bleeding," he said.
EU leaders agreed last week to increase sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, citing devastating attacks on Syria's second city of Aleppo.
"I strongly believe it is absolutely possible to strengthen European defence without duplicating efforts by NATO," alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said.
12 people were killed Tuesday after al-Shabaab militants carried out attack in Mandera near Kenyan-Somali border
Head of Kurdish Regional Government says ‘only Iraqi counter-terrorism forces’ will enter Mosul once ISIL is defeated
25 militants killed in western Anbar province while another 5 are killed near Kirkuk, local military sources say
Jobless rate drops below 20 percent for first time in 6 years, despite Spain lacking agreed government for last 10 months
The airlines, owned by flag carrier Lufthansa, are locked in disputes with the Ufo flight attendants union.
Stoltenberg said NATO had just launched its own Operation Sea Guardian in the Mediterranean to help support Operation Sophia.
Belgium has effectively blocked the deal, which must be endorsed by all 28 EU member states.
No casualties reported from quake, which was felt as far away as Rome
The incident takes place Tuesday in Qalqilya, northern West bank
Consultative meetings also due next week on forming a government of reconciliation in Libya
'There are no more migrants in the camp.' says Pas-de-Calais prefect Fabienne Buccio
At least 3,800 people have died, making 2016 the deadliest ever, says UNHCR spokesman
In Kenya, Rockefeller Foundation panel says 1/3 of food never makes if from farm to table
Iraqi army, meanwhile, captures strategic oilfield northeast of ISIL-held city