Syria and Russia resume Idlib air strikes

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Displaced girls arrive at a camp in Kafr Lusin near the border with Turkey after fleeing fighting in Idlib. (AFP)
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A Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter flies in the sky of the Syrian village of Kafr Ain in the southern countryside of Idlib province on Sept. 7, 2018. (AFP/Anas Al-Dyab)
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The presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey were due to meet today in Tehran for a summit set to decide the future of Idlib province amid fears of a humanitarian disaster in Syria’s last major rebel bastion. (AFP/Anas Al-Dyab)
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This picture taken in Kafr Ain on Sept. 7, 2018, shows a member of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the “White Helmets,” carrying a dead corpse after airstrikes, 4 kilometers east of Khan Shaykhun in the southern countryside of Idlib province. (AFP/Anas Al-Dyab)
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This picture taken in Kafr Ain on Sept. 7, 2018, shows smoke rising as government forces target the city of Khan Shaykhun in the southern countryside of Idlib province. (AFP/Anas Al-Dyab)
Updated 09 September 2018
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Syria and Russia resume Idlib air strikes

  • Turkey and Western powers have warned of a bloodbath if a major Russian-backed bombing campaign was launched
  • Russia says it avoids civilians and only targets radical Al-Qaeda-inspired groups

AMMAN: Russian and Syrian jets resumed intensive strikes in Idlib and Hama on Sunday, residents and rescuers said, as Damascus stepped up its assault on the rebels’ last major stronghold after a Russian-Iranian-Turkish summit failed to agree a cease-fire.
They said Syrian army helicopters dropped barrel bombs — typically filled with high explosives and shrapnel — on Al-Habeet and Abdin villages in southern Idlib and a string of other hamlets and villages in the area.
The Syrian army denies using barrel bombs. However, United Nations investigators have extensively documented their use by the army.
Russian jets were believed to have hit the nearby towns of Latamneh and Kafr Zeita in northern Hama in a succession of raids, an organization which monitors air strikes in Syria and a rebel source said.
Damascus, backed by allies Russia and Iran, has been preparing a major assault to recover Idlib and adjacent areas of the northwest. The province is Syria’s last major stronghold of active opposition to the rule of President Bashar Assad.
Russian and Syrian warplanes have resumed their bombing campaign a day after a summit of the presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a cease-fire that would forestall the offensive.
Turkey and Western powers have warned of a bloodbath if a major Russian-backed bombing campaign is launched in the heavily populated northwestern province that borders Turkey.
The United Nations also said it feared a full-scale offensive could cause a humanitarian catastrophe involving tens of thousands of civilians.
So far the aerial strikes have not hit a major city in the province where over three million civilians, many displaced from other areas, have found refuge in the course of the conflict.
Russia says it avoids civilians and only targets radical Al-Qaeda-inspired groups but opposition sources and residents say most of the casualties in the last few days were civilians.
The opposition accuse Russia and its allies of striking at hospitals and civil defense centers to force rebels to surrender in a repeat of earlier, large-scale military offensives.
A US-based medical charity that operates in the provinces said three hospitals and two civil defense centers were bombed in the last two days, “leaving thousands with no access to medical care.”
“It is distressing to see a rise in attacks on medical facilities...There are over three million civilians in this crowded area of Syria who are in a life-threatening situation,” Ghanem Tayara, head of Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) said in a statement.


Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

Updated 18 February 2019
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Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

  • ‘We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible’
  • The minister noted that there is ‘no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship’

BERLIN: Germany vowed Monday to prosecute German Daesh fighters but warned that it would be “extremely difficult” to organize the repatriation of European nationals from Syria, after US President Donald Trump called on allies to take back alleged militants.
Syria’s US-backed Kurdish forces, which are battling Daesh group militants in their last redoubt in eastern Syria, hold hundreds of suspected foreign Daesh fighters and the calls for their reluctant home countries to take them back have grown in urgency.
“We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible,” Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told Bild daily.
Underlining the difficulties however of putting the ex-fighters on trial, the minister noted that there is “no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship.”
President Bashar “Assad cannot be our counterpart, the Syrian-democratic forces are not a unity government,” she added, stressing that proof and witness statements needed to be secured in Syria if the militants are to be put on trial.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said separately that a return could only be possible if “we can guarantee that these people can be immediately sent here to appear in court and that they will be detained.”
For this, “we need judicial information, and this is not yet the case,” Maas told ARD television late Sunday. Under such conditions a repatriation would be “extremely difficult to achieve.”
Berlin wants to “consult with France and Britain ... over how to proceed,” he said.
The subject is to be raised on Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers called to discuss among other issues “the situation in Syria, in particular the recent developments on the ground,” according to an agenda for the talks.
Trump on Sunday called on his European allies to take back alleged militants captured in Syria.
Daesh imposed a self-declared caliphate across parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq from 2014, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch of less than half a square kilometer near the Iraqi border.
After years of fighting Daesh, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for the group, as well as their wives and children.
Syria’s Kurds have repeatedly called for their countries of origin to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 Daesh fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a tweet.
After initial reluctance, Paris appears ready to consider the return of its nationals.
In Belgium, Justice Minister Koen Geens called for a “European solution” on Sunday, calling for “calm reflection and looking at what would be the least security risks.”