Putin needs to stop fighting Assad’s battles: Syrian opposition

Yahya Al-Aridi. (Courtesy photo)
Updated 17 December 2017
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Putin needs to stop fighting Assad’s battles: Syrian opposition

JEDDAH: Russia needs to stop fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s battles and tell his regime to get to the negotiating table and talk peace, the Syrian opposition said on Saturday.
“As a permanent member of the Security Council, Moscow should be supporting Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, and not setting conditions,” opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News.
He was reacting to reports that Moscow has set five conditions for the resumption of negotiations between the regime and the opposition, and has again urged the opposition to drop the condition of a transition without Assad.
Assad “wouldn’t be able to besiege and bombard our people without the support of Russia’s air force, nor could he continue to sabotage the peace process unless (Russian President Vladimir) Putin allows it,” Al-Aridi said.
“While we’ve been fighting Daesh, Russia and the regime have been using most of their firepower against the Syrian people.”
Daesh “could never have captured a single town without Assad turning a blind eye,” Al-Aridi said.
Russia has been more interested in “using terrorism for propaganda than in helping to rid our country of Daesh,” he added.
Meanwhile, Moscow has asked the opposition to openly declare that it is willing to fight Daesh and join the international fight against Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (JFS).
Bahia Mardini, a UK-based Syrian journalist and human rights activist who fled regime persecution, told Arab News that it is ridiculous to suggest that Syrians must choose between Assad and terrorist groups “because they’re both brutal.”
It is critical for Syria’s future that terrorist groups such as Daesh and JFS are defeated, she said, adding: “They have no place in Syria; they’re only there to manipulate the people to gain power.”
Defeating terrorism is fundamental to a peaceful future not only in Syria but across the world, “but it’s also absolutely necessary that we reach a peaceful agreement that sees Syrians free to elect our own leaders,” Mardini said.
“We must focus on reaching a political solution, and the international community must apply pressure on the regime to engage in the UN negotiations.”
The opposition, she said, is simply articulating the wishes of ordinary Syrians back home. “We want and deserve a future free from the persecution of Assad and from the violence of terrorism,” she added.
“The idea that we can only defeat terrorism through Assad is completely false.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the State Department said the US wants the regime’s supporters “to use their leverage to urge the regime to participate fully in tangible negotiations with the opposition in Geneva.”
The US “urges all parties to work seriously toward a political resolution to this conflict or face continued isolation and instability indefinitely in Syria,” Reuters quoted spokeswoman Heather Nauert as saying.
Regime forces on Saturday entered small parts of the north-western opposition-held province of Idlib in one of their deepest incursions into the area, where the regime has almost no presence.
Regime troops captured the village of Tal Al-Khanazeer on the south-eastern edge of Idlib, the Associated Press reported.


Yemen govt, Houthis to start first phase of Hodeidah pullout

Updated 19 February 2019
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Yemen govt, Houthis to start first phase of Hodeidah pullout

  • The UN statement said both sides ‘made important progress on planning for the redeployment of forces as envisaged in the Hodeidah agreement.’
  • Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil.

NEW YORK: Yemen’s government and the Houthi militias have agreed on the first stage of a mutual pullout of forces from the port city of Hodeidah, a key entry point for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the government agreed in talks in December to withdraw troops by Jan. 7 from Hodeidah under a truce accord aimed at averting a full-scale assault on the port and paving the way for negotiations to end the four-year-old war.

“The parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces,” the UN spokesman’s office said in a statement without giving details on what was agreed.

Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil. This would be met by a retreat of Saudi-led coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of Hodeidah, where battles raged before a cease-fire went into effect on Dec. 18.

The Houthis occupy Hodeidah, the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid imports, while Yemeni government forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi are massed on the outskirts.

The UN statement said the two sides also agreed “in principle” on Phase 2, entailing full redeployment of both parties’ forces in Hodeidah province.

Two sources involved in the negotiations said both sides had yet to agree on a withdrawal timeline or on a mechanism for local forces to take over security at the ports and city.

“The UN is still discussing how to reduce the gap between the two sides on how to choose the forces that will control the city,” one source told Reuters.

The parties could decide within 7-10 days on where they would reposition forces, said the other source, adding that Houthi fighters could pull back as far as 20 km from the port.

Disagreement on withdrawal had delayed opening humanitarian corridors in Yemen.

Under the first phase, the two sides agreed to reopen main roads linking Hodeidah to the Houthi-occupied capital Sanaa and in Yemen’s third city of Taiz, said a UN source.

They also agreed to enable access to Red Sea Mills, which holds some 50,000 tons of World Food Program grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month, the source said. Access to the site has been cut off since September due to fighting.

The Hodeidah truce has largely been respected but there have been intermittent skirmishes in flashpoints on the city’s edges.

Hodeidah became the focus of the war last year when the coalition twice launched an offensive to seize the port and weaken the Houthis by cutting of their main supply line.