Turkey to host four-nation summit on Syria crisis

Russia and Turkey reached an agreement last month — during a summit between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Russian leader Vladimir — to set up a demilitarized zone around Idlib. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2018
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Turkey to host four-nation summit on Syria crisis

  • Russia and Turkey reached an agreement last month to set up a demilitarized zone around the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib
  • The Kremlin confirmed Vladimir Putin’s participation in the summit

ANKARA, Turkey: A summit between the leaders of Turkey, France, Germany and Russia will be held in Istanbul this month to discuss the conflict in Syria and efforts for a lasting solution to the war in the Arab country, a Turkish official said Friday.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, in a written statement said the summit will take place on October 27.
Russia and Turkey reached an agreement last month to set up a demilitarized zone around the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib preventing a government offensive on the last rebel stronghold in the country.
Idlib has been calm ever since although some militant groups did not meet an Oct. 15 deadline to evacuate the demilitarized zone that surrounds Idlib province. Many feared that a government offensive in Idlib would trigger a new refugee crisis as the region is home to some 3 million people many of them displaced by war from other parts of Syria.
Russia is a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government while Turkey has been helping insurgents trying to remove him from power.
Kalin said all aspects of the Syrian conflict are expected to be discussed, including the situation on the ground, the Idlib agreement and efforts for a lasting solution to the conflict.
German government spokeswoman Martina Fietz announced that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be attending the summit.
A statement by France’s Elysee Palace said Paris intends primarily to promote the maintenance of the ceasefire in Idlib to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and a new mass wave of refugees, and the effective launch of an inclusive political process in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
“These two objectives will be at the center of discussions between Heads of State and Government,” the statement said.
Security Council resolution 2254 from December 2015 called on top UN officials to convene the two sides of the Syrian conflict “to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process.”
The Kremlin confirmed Vladimir Putin’s participation in the summit and said it would focus on political settlement and conditions for the return of Syrian refugees.
Asked if the Kremlin was expecting a breakthrough at the meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA Novosti news agency that “this meeting is not about breakthroughs.”


UN envoy: No access for UN peacekeepers to Lebanon tunnels

Updated 23 January 2019
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UN envoy: No access for UN peacekeepers to Lebanon tunnels

  • Cohen accused Hezbollah, an Iranian ally, of threatening international peace and security
  • Danon alleged that Iran funnels $7 billion to militant groups across the region

UNITED NATIONS: The UN's envoy to the Mideast said Tuesday that peacekeepers in Lebanon have not been given access to tunnels stretching into Israel, which UN officials say violate a case-fire resolution that ended a devastating war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.
Nikolay Mladenov told the Security Council that the UN peacekeeping mission known as UNIFIL has confirmed that two tunnels crossed the UN-drawn Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, but “has not been granted access to the confirmed entry points of a tunnel near Kfar Kila on the Lebanese side.”
He did not say whether Lebanon’s government or the Hezbollah militant group was blocking access for UNIFIL, but US deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen blamed the government.
Cohen accused Hezbollah, an Iranian ally, of threatening international peace and security with the extensive tunneling exposed by Israel, which has reported uncovering six tunnels into its territory.
“We commend UNIFIL’s work to keep the Blue Line under control, but it is unacceptable that the Lebanese government has not yet given UNIFIL access to the tunnel entrance on their side of the Blue Line,” Cohen told the council.
Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon complained to the council that “the Lebanese army has taken no action in response, allowing Hezbollah to continue building these tunnels undisturbed.”
Danon alleged that Iran funnels $7 billion to militant groups across the region, including $1 billion to Hezbollah, which he said has “grand plans to take over the Israeli Galilee” and invests millions in every tunnel. He provided no information on how Israel calculated its estimate of Iranian spending, which also included $4 billion to the Syrian government, “hundreds of millions” to Iran’s proxies in Iraq, tens of millions to Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen, $70 million to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and $50 million to Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Mladenov noted that Lebanon has been without a government for over eight months and called on all parties to resolve their differences so the country “can address the man pressing challenges it faces, including that of a struggling economy.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mladenov said that “we should have no illusions about the dangerous dynamics ... which continue to unfold before our eyes” and have eroded “the possibility of establishing a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.”
He pointed to Israel’s latest new settlement plans and approvals, nearly half to be built deep in the West Bank, which the Palestinians say must be part of their state. He also cited “additional attempts to pass legislation that would directly apply Israeli law to the territory of the occupied West Bank, raising fears of future annexation.”
Mladenov said the chance for peace opened more than 25 years ago with the Oslo accords, which were enshrined in UN resolutions and bilateral agreements, but has “eroded as the prospect for credible negotiations has dimmed, only to be replaced by the lack of hope and the growing risk of a one-state reality of perpetual occupation.”
He urged both sides to recommit to the principles in those agreements — that key issues can be resolved only through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador, told the council that last year “Israel’s illegal occupation became more entrenched, more brutal and extreme” with the political process “deadlocked.”
“Day by day, the occupation is destroying the two-state solution and sowing deep despair among our people,” he said.
But despite “the dismal situation,” Mansour said, Palestinians “remain committed to non-violence, dialogue and the objectives of peace” and negotiations on a two-state solution. He urged regional and international efforts “to help overcome the impasse and contribute to the realization of a just solution as a matter of urgency.”