Thousands head home in Syria’s Idlib after deal, says monitor

Syrian children play in Morek, a town in the northern countryside of Hama province in neighboring Idlib province to the north, on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2018
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Thousands head home in Syria’s Idlib after deal, says monitor

  • At a camp for the displaced in the town of Atme on the Turkish border on Tuesday, dozens of Syrians held up banners welcoming the agreement
  • As airstrikes intensified earlier this month, the looming threat of a Russian-backed assault had prompted tens of thousands of civilians to flee areas near the front line.

BEIRUT, MOSCOW: Thousands of residents of Syria’s last major opposition bastion Idlib headed home within 48 hours of the announcement of a deal to avoid a government offensive to retake it, a war monitor said on Wednesday.

As airstrikes intensified earlier this month, the looming threat of a Russian-backed assault had prompted tens of thousands of civilians to flee areas near the front line.

But the announcement of an agreement between Russia and opposition supporter Turkey to create a demilitarized buffer zone along the front line as the first step in a wider settlement prompted many to head home, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Around 7,000 people have returned to their towns and villages since the announcement of the deal on Monday, especially in the southeast of Idlib and the north of (neighboring) Hama,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

At a camp for the displaced in the town of Atme on the Turkish border on Tuesday, dozens of Syrians held up banners welcoming the agreement.

“We will return, God permitting,” said one.

“Thank you to our Turkish brothers,” said another, signed by the people of a town in the north of Hama province that had been bombarded in recent weeks.

One of the demonstrators, Marhaf Al-Jadou, said he was tired of running from the shelling and airstrikes.

“Enough of being displaced and sitting in tents. We want to return to our homes and our children to their schools,” he said.

The UN has given cautious backing to the Russian-Turkish agreement.

It “will allow for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and for the saving of civilian lives,” the UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Ali Al-Zaatari, said on Tuesday.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions more since it erupted with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

Around half of the three million residents of the rebel zone around Idlib have fled from other parts of Syria recaptured by government forces in previous offensives.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the military’s combat experience gained in Syria has helped develop new weapons systems.

Russia has waged a campaign in Syria since September 2015, helping turn the tide of war in favor of Assad. The Russian military has used the conflict to test its new jets, cruise missiles and other weapons in combat for the first time.

Speaking on Wednesday at a meeting focusing on military industries, Putin said that new Russian weapons excel their foreign equivalents.

Putin singled out the new Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Su-57 fighter jet, the S-500 air defense system and the Armata battle tank, which are set to enter service in the coming years.


Trump says war with Iran 'would not last very long'

Updated 4 min 22 sec ago
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Trump says war with Iran 'would not last very long'

  • The comments come just days after Trump cancelled air strikes minutes before impact

 

WASHINGTON/GENEVA: US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he was "not talking boots on the ground" should military action be necessary against Iran, and said any conflict would not last long.
Asked if a war was brewing, Trump told Fox Business Network: "I hope we don't but we're in a very strong position if something should happen."
"I'm not talking boots on the ground," Trump said. "I'm just saying if something would happen, it wouldn't last very long."
The comments come just days after Trump cancelled air strikes minutes before impact, with allies warning that the increase in tensions since the United States pulled out of a nuclear pact with Iran last year could accidentally lead to war.
Iran suggested it was just one day from breaching a threshold in the agreement that limited its stockpile of uranium, a move that would put pressure on European countries that have tried to remain neutral to pick sides.
The fate of the 2015 nuclear deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for access to international trade, has been at the heart of the dispute which has escalated and taken on a military dimension in recent weeks.
Washington sharply tightened sanctions last month, aiming to bar all international sales of Iranian oil. It accuses Iran of being behind bomb attacks on ships in the Gulf, which it denies.
Last week, Iran shot down a US drone it said was in its air space, which Washington denied. Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes but called them off at the last minute, later saying too many people would have died.
Although the United States and Iran both say they do not want war, last week's aborted US strikes have been followed by menacing rhetoric on both sides. On Tuesday Trump threatened the "obliteration" of parts of Iran if it struck US interests. President Hassan Rouhani, who normally presents Tehran's mild-mannered face, called White House policy "mentally retarded".
The standoff creates a challenge for Washington which, after quitting the nuclear deal against the advice of European allies, is now seeking their support to force Iran to comply with it.
Over the past few weeks Iran has set a number of deadlines for European countries to protect its economy from the impact of US sanctions or see Tehran reduce compliance with the deal.
A spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation said on Wednesday that one of those deadlines would expire the following day, with Iran potentially exceeding a limit imposed under the deal to keep its stockpile of enriched uranium below 300kg.
"The deadline of the Atomic Energy Organization for passing the production of enriched uranium from the 300 kg limit will end tomorrow," the IRIB news agency quoted spokesman Behrouz Kamalvindi as saying. He added that after the deadline Iran would speed up its rate of producing the material.
Another threshold bars Iran from enriching uranium to a purity beyond 3.67 percent fissile material. It has set a deadline of July 7 after which it could also breach that.
Any such moves would put European countries that oppose Trump's tactics under pressure to take action. They have tried to salvage the nuclear deal by promising to provide Tehran with economic benefits to offset the harm from U.S. sanctions. But so far they have failed, with Iran largely shut from oil markets and all major European companies cancelling plans to invest.
Iran says it would be Washington's fault if it exceeds the 300 kg stockpile threshold. The 2015 deal allows Iran to sell excess uranium abroad to keep its stockpile below the limit, but such sales have been blocked by U.S. sanctions.
The Trump administration says the deal reached under his predecessor Barack Obama was too weak because it is not permanent and does not cover issues outside of the nuclear area, such as Iran's missile programme and its regional behaviour.