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.


Interfaith dialogue ‘vital to curb extremism,’ says Islamic researcher

Ahmed Qassim Al-Ghamdi
Updated 33 min 9 sec ago
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Interfaith dialogue ‘vital to curb extremism,’ says Islamic researcher

  • Dialogue is the only choice for contemporary societies to coexist in a peaceful world: Al-Ghamdi
  • We hope this cooperation will promote the culture of moderation and correct misconceptions about Islam, said the researcher

JEDDAH: Interfaith dialogue is essential to combat terrorism, curb extremism and promote peace, a leading Islamic researcher has told Arab News.

Open discussion between followers of different religions would also correct many common misconceptions about Islam, said Sheikh Ahmed Qassim Al-Ghamdi, former president of the Makkah branch of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

“Dialogue is the only choice for contemporary societies to coexist in a peaceful world,” Al-Ghamdi said. “It establishes a legitimate relationship between members of different societies. It also ignites their understanding and openness toward each other.”

Such discussions did not conflict with the values of Islam, he said. On the contrary, they encouraged greater mutual understanding. “They are, in fact, in compliance with the Qur’anic approach to protecting human communities, which have been created from the same soul, against racism, sectarian strife, hostility and dissonance.

“We hope this cooperation will promote the culture of moderation and correct misconceptions about Islam.”

It was normal for people to have different views and beliefs, Al-Ghamdi said, but rather than create conflict, this was an opportunity to exchange experiences and share benefits. 

A good example was the recent agreement between the Vatican and the Muslim World League on achieving common objectives. Al-Ghamdi said. “It will cut off the way to extremism and terrorism, encourage members of different religions to work on common humanitarian, religious and social interests, and reinforce positive relations between followers of different religions.”

Saudi Arabia was a unique and distinguished model in the fight against terrorism and extremism, Al-Ghamdi said. The Kingdom continued to combat the evil of terrorism in all forms, locally, regionally and internationally, and it called upon the international community to cooperate to eradicate terrorism.