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.


Yemeni spokesman says militants seek to ignite Hodeidah fighting

Updated 21 March 2019
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Yemeni spokesman says militants seek to ignite Hodeidah fighting

  • Renewed fighting in Hodeidah would risk severing the main passage for humanitarian aid
  • A senior Houthi member earlier said a withdrawal is “impossible”

CAIRO: Yemen’s militants are igniting more conflict by their refusal to give up control of the key port city of Hodeida, the focus of months of UN-brokered talks, a government spokesman said.
Renewed fighting in Hodeidah would risk severing the main passage for humanitarian aid to the rest of the country, including northern Yemen, a heartland of the Houthi militants.
Rageh Badi, spokesman for the internationally recognized Yemen government, denounced remarks by senior militant leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi who earlier this week told The Associated Press that the Saudi-led coalition, which backs the government side in the conflict, is trying to change the terms of the agreement struck last year in Sweden and that a militant withdrawal would therefore be “impossible.”
Badi told reporters at a press conference Wednesday in the southern city of Aden that such remarks could set off renewed fighting in Hodeidah, the key entry point for international aid to the war-torn country, and violate the tentative peace agreement reached by the two sides in Sweden.
The remarks are a “renunciation of the Hodeidah agreement and a declaration of war,” Badi said, urging the UN to step up pressure on the rebels to prevent another “explosion of the situation” in Hodeidah. Otherwise, renewed fighting is just a “few days” away, he added.