Erdogan urges Russia, Iran to stop ‘disaster’ in Syria’s Idlib

The destruction caused by the regime bombings in the town of Al-Habit on the southern edges of the opposition-held Idlib province. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Erdogan urges Russia, Iran to stop ‘disaster’ in Syria’s Idlib

  • Erdogan has called for a cease-fire in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in Syria, as an assault by Syrian regime forces is expected any day
  • The comments came four days after the Turkish president met his Russian and Iranian counterparts for a summit in Tehran

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called on Russia and Iran to halt a looming “humanitarian disaster” in Idlib, saying Syrians there could not be left to the mercy of President Bashar Assad.

Erdogan has called for a cease-fire in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in Syria, as an assault by Syrian regime forces is expected any day.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Erdogan said the West had an “obligation to stop the next bloodshed” but that regime allies Moscow and Tehran were “likewise responsible for stopping this humanitarian disaster.”

The comments came four days after the Turkish president met his Russian and Iranian counterparts for a summit in Tehran, where Erdogan sought to avert a bloody assault in Idlib. 

Analysts said Erdogan failed at the summit to achieve his aim, and his comments appear to indicate growing frustration in Turkey that Iran and Russia are not reining in Assad.

While Turkey has been one of the main supporters of the Syrian opposition and called for Assad’s ouster, Ankara has until now worked closely with Assad’s allies Moscow and Tehran to find a political solution to the conflict. 

The UN has warned a large-scale military operation could create “the worst humanitarian catastrophe” of this century in Idlib, home to some 3 million people — about half of them displaced from other parts of the country.

“The consequences of inaction are immense. We cannot leave the Syrian people to the mercy of Bashar Assad,” Erdogan wrote.

The Turkish leader also criticized Assad’s bid to legitimize the fight in Idlib as a counter-terrorism operation.

“Innocent people must not be sacrificed in the name of fighting terrorism,” he wrote.

Idlib’s most powerful armed faction is the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) group, which Ankara officially designated a “terrorist” group last month.

Erdogan acknowledged that groups such as HTS “remain active in this area” but insisted that such fighters “account for a fraction of Idlib’s population.” 

He called for a “comprehensive international counter-terrorism operation” and said that the assistance of pro-Ankara moderate fighters will be “crucial” in Idlib.

Turkey has already taken in more than 3 million refugees from Syria and Ankara fears any large offensive will lead to a new influx of up to two million people from Idlib.

The civil war has claimed about 350,000 lives since 2011.

Meanwhile, an ambush by Daesh has killed 21 regime fighters in Syria’s southern province of Sweida, a Britain-based war monitor said on Tuesday.

The attack occurred late on Monday in the rural Tulul Al-Safa area of the province, about 100 km southeast of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Eight radical fighters were also killed in subsequent clashes in the area, which is the militants’ last bastion in Sweida, the observatory said.

State news agency SANA reported heavy clashes with Daesh in the area, adding that regime aircraft and artillery “targeted hideouts and positions” held by the group.

Regime forces have been fighting Daesh on Sweida’s arid plains since terrorists carried out a wave of attacks in the mainly Druze province on July 25, killing 250 people, according to the Observatory.

During their rampage, which targeted the provincial capital as well as rural areas, the insurgents also took about around 30 hostages, mostly women and their children.

At least 27 are believed to still be held, according to Human Rights Watch, after Daesh said it had beheaded a 19-year-old man and announced an elderly woman had died. Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the hostages were believed to be held captive in Tulul Al-Safa.

A source in Sweida told AFP that families had had no word of their kidnapped relatives in weeks.

Daesh has lost nearly all of the great swathes of territory straddling Iraq and Syria which it seized in 2014, but retains a presence in the vast desert that lies between Damascus and the Iraqi border, and holds a pocket in the Euphrates Valley in the east.

A Kurdish-Arab alliance launched an assault on the pocket’s main town of Hajjin on Monday, with support from the US-led coalition fighting Daesh.


‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

Updated 19 June 2019
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‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

  • Tehran regime has fanned sectarian flames in region for four decades, analyst tells Arab News
  • IRGC chief says Iranian missiles capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision

JEDDAH: Iran “will not wage war against any nation,” President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday — hours after two drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen targeted civilians in southern Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani's statement sounded a note of restraint after the United States announced more troop deployments to the Middle East.

“Iran will not wage war against any nation,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

But he was also contradicted by the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Hossein Salami, who said Iran’s ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

“These missiles can hit, with great precision, carriers in the sea ... they are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles,” Salami said.

He said Iran's ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

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Before both men spoke, Saudi air defenses intercepted and shot down two Houthi drones packed with explosives. One targeted a civilian area in the southern city of Abha, and the second was shot down in Yemeni air space. There were no casualties, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said.

Rouhani’s offer to avoid war was “the height of hypocrisy,” the Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“Rouhani is the biggest hypocrite in the world,” he said. “On the one hand, he is saying that Iran does not seek a conflict with anybody, and on the other it is launching attacks through its militias on oil tankers, oil pipelines, civilian airports and holy cities.

“This is nothing but the height of hypocrisy. Who does he think he is fooling with those words? Why are they enriching uranium? Why are they seeking nuclear bombs? What have they done over the past four decades? They have only caused trouble. They have only fanned sectarian flames in the region.”

The Saudi Cabinet, meeting in Jeddah, also condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians, and last week’s terrorist attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, widely blamed on Iran. 

 

Confrontation fears

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and its long-time foe the United States have mounted since Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, which Washington blamed on Tehran.

Iran denied involvement in the attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.

The standoff drew a call for caution from China. Its top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced US pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal.

Russia urged restraint on all sides.

On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged US forces to leave the region.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

The new US deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.


'Nuclear blackmail'

Iran’s announcement on Monday that it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal was denounced by a White House National Security Council spokesman as “nuclear blackmail.”

The move further undermines the nuclear pact, but Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.

Wang told reporters China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension.

“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.

“In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said. “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”

Wang also said the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and urged Iran to be prudent.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.

The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, was flawed as it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.