Hundreds flee, fearing assault on Syria’s Idlib: monitor

Late on Wednesday, hundreds of villagers abandoned areas in the southeast of the province. (File/Amer Alhamwe/AFP)
Updated 06 September 2018
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Hundreds flee, fearing assault on Syria’s Idlib: monitor

  • Hundreds of civilians flee villages near the front line in Syria’s Idlib province
  • Russia-backed government forces have been massing around the northwestern province for weeks

BEIRUT: Hundreds of civilians have fled villages near the front line in Syria’s Idlib province fearing an imminent regime assault on the country’s last major rebel bastion, a monitor said Thursday.
Russia-backed government forces have been massing around the northwestern province for weeks, while on Wednesday Moscow carried out its first air strikes on the rebels in three weeks.
Late on Wednesday, hundreds of villagers abandoned areas in the southeast of the province that lie close to government-held territory, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
They were heading north toward rebel-held territory in neighboring Aleppo province, the Britain-based monitor said.
“Around 180 families, or some 1,000 people” have hit the roads since late Wednesday, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
More than half of Idlib province is controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a jihadist alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, while Turkish-backed rebels hold much of the rest.
Government forces recaptured much of the southeast of the province at the start of the year.
The United Nations has expressed fears that a full-scale offensive in Idlib could displace up to 800,000 people from their homes.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has urged the major powers to intervene to prevent a “bloodbath.”
On Friday, government allies Russia and Iran are to hold a Tehran summit with rebel backer Turkey that is expected to determine the future of the province.
The UN Security Council is due to discuss the situation on the same day.
Successive rounds of peace talks have failed to halt the civil war in Syria, which has killed 350,000 people and driven millions more from their homes since it erupted in 2011.
Neighbouring Turkey, which hosts more than three million Syrian refugees, fears a new mass influx.
Turkey wants to “prevent attacks on Idlib,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday, adding that it had “clearly told Russia” that its Wednesday air strikes were wrong.


US targets two individuals, three entities in Hezbollah-related sanctions program

Updated 26 min 54 sec ago
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US targets two individuals, three entities in Hezbollah-related sanctions program

  • Targeted for sanctions under US regulations aimed at suspected terrorists or those who support them
  • Comes at a time of growing US concern about role of Hezbollah in Lebanese government

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Treasury, moving to boost pressure on Hezbollah, imposed sanctions on Wednesday against two people and three firms that Washington accuses of being involved in schemes to help the armed Shi'ite group backed by Iran evade American sanctions.

The Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said it was targeting Belgium-based Wael Bazzi because he acted on behalf of his father Mohammad Bazzi, a Hezbollah financier.

OFAC also took action against two Belgian companies and a British-based firm controlled by Bazzi.

In addition, the US Treasury designated Lebanon-based Hassan Tabaja, who it said had acted on behalf of his brother Adham Tabajha, also a Hezbollah financier. The U.S. action freezes their assets and property and prevents U.S. citizens and businesses from dealing with them.

The two men and three businesses were targeted for sanctions under US regulations aimed at suspected terrorists or those who support them, the Treasury said in a statement. Hezbollah is considered a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

"Treasury is relentlessly pursuing Hezbollah's financial facilitators by dismantling two of Hezbollah's most important financial networks," Treasury Undersecretary Sigal Mandelker said in a statement.

"By targeting Hassan Tabaja and Wael Bazzi and their European-based companies, this administration is continuing to disrupt all avenues of financial support relied upon by Hezbollah," he said.

The US State Department earlier this week offered a reward of up to $10 million for information that could help disrupt Hezbollah's financing.

The move to boost pressure on the group comes at a time of growing US concern about its role in the Lebanese government. Hezbollah's regional clout has expanded as it has sent fighters to Middle East conflicts, including the war in Syria, where it supported President Bashar al-Assad.