Idlib rebels blow up bridges to hamper expected assault

Syrian Rebel fighters prepare in anticipation of an attack by the regime on Idlib province and the surrounding countryside, in Kafr Zeta on August 30, 2018. (File/AFP)
Updated 31 August 2018
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Idlib rebels blow up bridges to hamper expected assault

  • The bridges over the Orontes River linked areas of Hama province under government control
  • Russia's Lavrov says talks to create humanitarian corridors in Idlib ongoing

BEIRUT: Rebels from Idlib have blown up two key bridges in a bid to hamper an expected government assault on Syria’s only remaining rebel-held province, a monitor said on Friday.
The bridges over the Orontes River linked areas of neighboring Hama province under government control to rebel-held territory in Idlib, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
They were blown up by Islamist factions from the National Liberation Front (NLF), the main non-jihadist alliance in Idlib, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“They were the two main bridges in the area, but there are others,” he told AFP.
The bridges were located in the Al-Ghab plain, which straddles Hama and Idlib provinces and could be one of the first targets of any government offensive.
Government forces have been massing around Idlib province for weeks, particularly in Al-Ghab which was once a key farming area.
“The rebels have seen the intense activity on the regime side, with the arrival of tanks and armored vehicles,” Abdel Rahman said.
“Rebel groups are reinforcing their positions in anticipation of a military operation.”
In recent days, both the government and its ally Russia have stepped up their rhetoric against the rebel presence in Idlib, which is dominated by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) jihadist alliance formed by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch, Al-Nusra Front.
“The Syrian command has taken a decision to defeat Al-Nusra Front in Idlib no matter the sacrifices that it would entail,” Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that talks to create humanitarian corridors in Idlib were ongoing. On Wednesday he called on the West not to stand in the way of an “anti-terror operation” in Idlib, saying: “This abscess needs to be liquidated.”
Turkish troops are also stationed in the area and Ankara — which backs the NLF — has expressed opposition to any large-scale offensive that sparks a new exodus of refugees.
An assault on Idlib by Damascus and Moscow could be the last major battle of the civil war that has torn Syria apart since 2011.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in the conflict and millions forced to flee their homes.


Iran, US tension is a ‘clash of wills’: Guards commander

Updated 55 min 42 sec ago
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Iran, US tension is a ‘clash of wills’: Guards commander

  • The commander said they will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for their enemies
  • Tensions between Iran and US escalated after Trump restored sanctions

GENEVA: The standoff between Iran and the United States is a “clash of wills,” a senior commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday, suggesting any enemy “adventurism” would meet a crushing response, Fars news agency reported.
Tensions have spiked between the two countries after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East in a show of force against what US officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
“The confrontation and face-off of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the malicious government of America is the arena for a clash of wills,” Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri said.
He pointed to a battle during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war where Iran was victorious and said the outcome could be a message that Iran will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for any enemy “adventurism.”
On Sunday, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!“
Trump restored US sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.
Trump wants Iran to come to the negotiating table to reach a new deal with more curbs on its nuclear and missile programs.
Reiterating Iran’s stance, the spokesman for its Supreme National Security Council said on Thursday that “There will not be any negotiations between Iran and America.”
Keyvan Khosravi was also quoted as saying by the state broadcaster that some officials from several countries have visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States.”
He did not elaborate, but the foreign minister of Oman, which in the past helped pave the way for negotiations between Iran and the United States, visited Tehran on Monday.
“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said.
In Berlin, a German diplomatic source told Reuters that Jens Ploetner, a political director in Germany’s Foreign Ministry, was in Tehran on Thursday for meetings with Iranian officials to try to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and cool tensions in the region.