Macron and Merkel warn of ‘humanitarian risks’ in Idlib

Russian military support has helped Syrian regime troops to regain control of key cities such as Aleppo. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 August 2018
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Macron and Merkel warn of ‘humanitarian risks’ in Idlib

  • US-backed forces had repelled a raid by Daesh targeting barracks housing American and French troops in eastern Syria
  • Daesh overran large swaths of Syria and Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” in territory it controlled

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced concern Friday about the humanitarian situation in the opposition-held Syrian region of Idlib, which is shaping up be the country’s next big battleground.
In a telephone call the two leaders described the “humanitarian risks” in Idlib, where regime forces have stepped up their bombardments of opposition positions in recent days, as “very high,” according to the French presidency.
They also called for an “inclusive political process to allow lasting peace in the region.”
President Bashar Assad has set his sights on retaking control of the northwestern province of Idlib — the biggest area still in opposition hands after seven years of war.
Last week, regime helicopters dropped leaflets over towns in Idlib’s east, urging people to surrender.
Idlib, which sits between Syria’s Mediterranean coast and the second city Aleppo, has been a landing point for thousands of civilians and rebel fighters and their families as part of deals struck with the regime following successive regime victories.
The UN has called for talks to avert “a civilian bloodbath” in the northern province, which borders Turkey.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said US-backed forces had repelled a raid by Daesh targeting barracks housing American and French troops in eastern Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition supporting them were on high alert after the raid late on Friday at the Omar oil field in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the Britain-based war monitor said.
“The attack targeted the oil field’s housing, where US-led coalition forces and leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces are present,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Seven terrorists were killed in the attack, which ended at dawn after clashes near the barracks, he added.
Contacted by AFP, neither the US-led coalition nor the Kurdish-led SDF were immediately available for comment.
In October last year, the SDF took control of the Omar oil field, one of the largest in Syria, which according to The Syria Report economic weekly had a pre-war output of 30,000 barrels per day. “It’s the largest attack of its kind since the oil field was turned into a coalition base” following its capture by the SDF, Abdel Rahman said.
Daesh overran large swaths of Syria and Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” in territory it controlled.
But the terrorist group has since lost nearly all of it to multiple offensives in both countries.
In Syria, two separate campaigns — by the US-backed SDF and by the Russia-supported regime — have reduced Daesh’s presence to pockets in Deir Ezzor and in the vast desert that lies between it and the capital.


UN envoy: No access for UN peacekeepers to Lebanon tunnels

Updated 23 January 2019
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UN envoy: No access for UN peacekeepers to Lebanon tunnels

  • Cohen accused Hezbollah, an Iranian ally, of threatening international peace and security
  • Danon alleged that Iran funnels $7 billion to militant groups across the region

UNITED NATIONS: The UN's envoy to the Mideast said Tuesday that peacekeepers in Lebanon have not been given access to tunnels stretching into Israel, which UN officials say violate a case-fire resolution that ended a devastating war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.
Nikolay Mladenov told the Security Council that the UN peacekeeping mission known as UNIFIL has confirmed that two tunnels crossed the UN-drawn Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, but “has not been granted access to the confirmed entry points of a tunnel near Kfar Kila on the Lebanese side.”
He did not say whether Lebanon’s government or the Hezbollah militant group was blocking access for UNIFIL, but US deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen blamed the government.
Cohen accused Hezbollah, an Iranian ally, of threatening international peace and security with the extensive tunneling exposed by Israel, which has reported uncovering six tunnels into its territory.
“We commend UNIFIL’s work to keep the Blue Line under control, but it is unacceptable that the Lebanese government has not yet given UNIFIL access to the tunnel entrance on their side of the Blue Line,” Cohen told the council.
Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon complained to the council that “the Lebanese army has taken no action in response, allowing Hezbollah to continue building these tunnels undisturbed.”
Danon alleged that Iran funnels $7 billion to militant groups across the region, including $1 billion to Hezbollah, which he said has “grand plans to take over the Israeli Galilee” and invests millions in every tunnel. He provided no information on how Israel calculated its estimate of Iranian spending, which also included $4 billion to the Syrian government, “hundreds of millions” to Iran’s proxies in Iraq, tens of millions to Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen, $70 million to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and $50 million to Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Mladenov noted that Lebanon has been without a government for over eight months and called on all parties to resolve their differences so the country “can address the man pressing challenges it faces, including that of a struggling economy.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mladenov said that “we should have no illusions about the dangerous dynamics ... which continue to unfold before our eyes” and have eroded “the possibility of establishing a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.”
He pointed to Israel’s latest new settlement plans and approvals, nearly half to be built deep in the West Bank, which the Palestinians say must be part of their state. He also cited “additional attempts to pass legislation that would directly apply Israeli law to the territory of the occupied West Bank, raising fears of future annexation.”
Mladenov said the chance for peace opened more than 25 years ago with the Oslo accords, which were enshrined in UN resolutions and bilateral agreements, but has “eroded as the prospect for credible negotiations has dimmed, only to be replaced by the lack of hope and the growing risk of a one-state reality of perpetual occupation.”
He urged both sides to recommit to the principles in those agreements — that key issues can be resolved only through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador, told the council that last year “Israel’s illegal occupation became more entrenched, more brutal and extreme” with the political process “deadlocked.”
“Day by day, the occupation is destroying the two-state solution and sowing deep despair among our people,” he said.
But despite “the dismal situation,” Mansour said, Palestinians “remain committed to non-violence, dialogue and the objectives of peace” and negotiations on a two-state solution. He urged regional and international efforts “to help overcome the impasse and contribute to the realization of a just solution as a matter of urgency.”