Syria talks on fragile Idlib truce begin in Kazakhstan

Talks were underway between delegations from the three regional power-brokers as well as the Syrian government and opposition, the ministry said in a statement. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 November 2018
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Syria talks on fragile Idlib truce begin in Kazakhstan

  • Talks are underway between delegations from the three regional power-brokers as well as the Syrian government and opposition
  • The 10-week-old Idlib truce deal is in the balance after an alleged chemical attack in the government-held city of Aleppo

ASTANA, Kazakhstan: Negotiators from Iran, Russia and Turkey met in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on Wednesday, the Kazakh foreign ministry said, for two days of talks aiming to preserve a fragile 10-week-old truce in northern Syria.
Talks were underway between delegations from the three regional power-brokers as well as the Syrian government and opposition, the ministry said in a statement.
In addition to cooling the conflict around the northern province of Idlib — Syria’s last major rebel and militant stronghold — discussions will focus on creating conditions for the return of refugees and internally displaced people, as well as post-conflict reconstruction, the ministry said.
The United Nations will be represented at the negotiations by Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, according to the statement, in what will likely be his last engagement on the conflict before leaving the post.
The 10-week-old Idlib truce deal is in the balance after an alleged chemical attack in the government-held city of Aleppo on Saturday which has triggered retaliatory raids.
The exact circumstances of the purported attack on three districts of the government-held city are murky and bitterly disputed.
The Syrian government of Bashar Assad has blamed fighters in neighboring Idlib for the attack, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said hospitalized 94 people.
The incident has put strain on an already fragile agreement reached in mid-September to fend off a fully-fledged assault on Idlib, which Syria’s regime — backed by Russia and Iran — has said it is committed to re-taking.
More than half of the region is controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a powerful alliance led by the militants of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, who have not commented on the Aleppo attack.
In September, Russia and rebel backer Turkey agreed to set up a U-shaped buffer zone around Idlib to keep pro-government forces outside the region of some three million.
But on Sunday, Russia said its war planes had carried out their first strikes in the zone since the deal was reached.
Moscow said the raids were a response to the shelling of Aleppo by “terrorist groups” operating inside a part the planned demilitarised area held by HTS.
The negotiations in Astana were expected to conclude on Thursday and are the eleventh of their kind since Moscow began a diplomatic push in early 2017 that effectively sidelined UN-led negotiations on Syria.
The United States has attended some of the Astana rounds as an observer, but Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey said last week that Washington would not attend these talks.
Syria’s grinding seven-year civil war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions.


Netanyahu to cut US trip short after rocket attack near Tel Aviv

Updated 4 min 25 sec ago
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Netanyahu to cut US trip short after rocket attack near Tel Aviv

  • Netanyahu said the incident will evoke a strong Israeli reaction
  • Palestinian rockets rarely reach an area at that distance from Gaza

MISHMERET/JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he is to cut short his trip to the United States after a rocket attack near Tel Aviv.

“In light of the security events I decided to cut short my visit to the US,” Netanyahu said, calling the attack a heinous crime that would draw a strong Israeli response.

He said he would meet with President Donald Trump in the coming hours and then fly back immediately.

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house in a community north of Tel Aviv and caused it to catch fire, wounding seven Israelis, authorities and medics said.

Israel’s army said the rocket was fired from the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas, raising the risk of another escalation between the two sides just ahead of April 9 Israeli elections.

The house hit was located in the community of Mishmeret, police said. Medics said they were treating one Israeli with moderate wounds and four others injured lightly.

Mishmeret is more than 80 kilometers from the Gaza Strip and rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave at that distance is rare.

Monday’s incident comes after two rockets were fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv — also rare — on March 14.

No damage or injuries were caused, but Israel responded to that and further rocket fire by hitting what it said were around 100 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip.

Four Palestinians were reported wounded in those strikes.

Both Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad denied they were behind the March 14 rocket fire toward Tel Aviv, raising the possibility they were launched by fringe groups.

Israel’s military said they were launched by Hamas, but later there were Israeli media reports that the army’s preliminary assessment was that they had been fired by mistake during maintenance work.

The reports were a sign that Israel was seeking to calm tensions. The military had refused to comment on the reports at the time.

Monday’s rocket comes just days ahead of the March 30 one-year anniversary of Palestinian protests and clashes along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel.

An informal truce between Hamas and Israel had led to relative calm along the border of the blockaded strip, but recent weeks have seen another uptick in violence.