UN warns Idlib assault by Syrian regime could be “six times worse” than Ghouta

Cars use the highway extending from Harasta in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2018
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UN warns Idlib assault by Syrian regime could be “six times worse” than Ghouta

UNITED NATIONS, New York: The UN special envoy to Syria warned Wednesday that a regime assault on the northern rebel-held area of Idlib would be “six times” more destructive than the battle to recapture Ghouta, which fell last month after years of siege.
“If we see a Ghouta scenario in Idlib, this could be six times worse, affecting 2.3 million people,” Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council’s monthly meeting on the Syria conflict.
De Mistura described what he called the classic Syrian regime tactic of a bombardment of a rebel territory followed by negotiations and then mass evacuations from the defeated area.
But the special envoy noted that half of the people in the northern rebel province of Idlib had already fled from other parts of Syria, “and will have nowhere else to go because there is no other place to go.”
Regime forces recaptured Ghouta from rebels last month after a ferocious offensive that displaced tens of thousands, both to government-controlled zones around Damascus and to opposition-held parts of northern Syria.
Nevertheless de Mistura said he was “encouraged” by talks earlier this week in the Kazakh capital Astana on “how to avoid worst-case scenario in Idlib.”
The latest round of peace talks, which wrapped up on Tuesday, did not however make any concrete progress toward ending the seven-year conflict that has cost 350,000 lives.
The high-level talks ended merely with a declaration by the three main guarantor nations of Russia and Iran — both of which are allies of the Damascus regime — and Turkey, which backs rebel groups, that negotiations would resume in July in the Russian city of Sochi, but rebel groups said they would not attend.
Since the Astana negotiations began at the beginning of last year, they have mostly focused on attempts to keep Syrian regime forces and their rebel opponents at arm’s length.
Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanski, said that the solution to the Syria conflict was “simple: restore the sovereignty of Damascus over its territories.”
“If you cannot or will not help solve the problem, at least do not stand in our way!” he said in a statement directed at the United States, which did not send a delegation to the latest Astana talks.
Shortly before the UN meeting, the Dutch ambassador Karel Van Oosterom told reporters that the main obstacle to resolving the conflict was that “the Syrian government is not engaging.”
He said that was the message that De Mistura himself had made during a recent meeting of the council.


Bahrain FM: No resolution in sight for Qatar crisis, Qatar blocks goods from quartet

Updated 30 min 12 sec ago
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Bahrain FM: No resolution in sight for Qatar crisis, Qatar blocks goods from quartet

  • Bahrain FM says Qatar has made no effort to resolve the issues that first prompted the boycott
  • Qatar has now issued a ban on all products from UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt

DUBAI: Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said his country sees “no resolution in sight” in the Gulf crisis between Qatar and the four boycotting countries, according to an interview with London-based Arabic international newspaper Alsharq Alawsat.

“The information in our hands today does not indicate any glimmer of hope for a solution now, as the matter does not happen suddenly," he said.

Bahrain's foreign minister said Qatar had prolonged the crisis by taking its case to Western allies, instead of dealing with it inside the Gulf Arab bloc.

“We were expecting from the beginning of the crisis with Qatar that the emir of Qatar would go to Saudi (Arabia) but this did not happen,” Al-Khalifa told the pan-Arab newspaper.

He spoke of Qatar’s lack of abiding by international laws in regards to terrorism.

“This state has put one of its citizens on the terrorism list, and after a few days they attend his son's wedding,” he said, referring to Abdulrahman Al-Nuaimi who was labeled a terrorist by the US government in December 2013, and the UN in September 2014, for providing financial support to terrorist organizations.

Meanwhile Qatar has announced that it will ban products originating from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain.

“Products originating from the blockading states, which as a result of the blockade cannot pass the Gulf Cooperation Council Customs Territory, have to undergo proper import inspections and customs procedures,” a Qatari government statement said late on Saturday.

And Qatari national newspaper Al Watan quoted a circular from the Ministry of Economy and Commerce telling traders and shops to stop dealing in products imported from the four countries. It said inspectors would monitor compliance with the policy.

(With Reuters)