'15 dead' in huge blast in northwest Syria

It wasn’t clear what the cause of the explosion was. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 April 2019
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'15 dead' in huge blast in northwest Syria

  • It was not clear if the cause of the blast near the market in the town of Jisr Al-Shughur was a car bomb, or a vehicle carrying explosives
  • All except one were civillians

BEIRUT: A powerful explosion Wednesday killed 15 people including more than a dozen civilians in militant-held northwest Syria, a war monitor said, as rescuers searched for people trapped under the rubble.
An AFP reporter at the scene saw a building of at least four storeys that had collapsed in the town of Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib, a region controlled by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
One opposite had partially caved in while surrounding buildings appeared on the verge of collapse.
A civil defence worker eased himself under a massive slab of fallen concrete to search for victims, as three colleagues crouched by his side to help.
Thirteen civilians were among those killed in the blast, the cause of which was not immediately clear, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
"The explosion hit next to the market," killing 15 people including the daughter of a Turkestani fighter, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
He earlier said the explosion could have been the result of a car bomb or a vehicle carrying explosives that detonated.
But bystanders and the head of the local civil defence unit, Abdelwahab al-Abdu, said they did not know what caused it.
Abdu said 13 civilians had died in "an explosion of unknown origin".
Abu Ammar, a father of two, told AFP he felt the "huge" blast from his home about 50 metres (yards) away.
"We ran to the place of the explosion and saw the rescue teams trying to pull out the wounded," he said.
There were "people still alive under the rubble, and lots of body parts on the ground."
Rescue personnel were seen directing bulldozers to clear rubble from a road.
The Idlib region is under the administrative control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is dominated by a faction previously known as Al-Nusra Front before renouncing its ties to Al-Qaeda.
The Turkestan Islamic Party, a group of foreign jihadists from the ethnic Uighur Muslim minority, also has a large presence in Jisr al-Shughur.
The Daesh group has sleeper cells in the wider Idlib region.
Idlib has since September been protected from a massive regime offensive by a fragile ceasefire deal signed by Damascus ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
But the region of some three million people has come under increasing bombardment since HTS took full control of it in January.
On Tuesday, regime shelling killed seven civilians, including four children, in the town of Khan Sheikhun.
Increased regime shelling on Khan Sheikhun has sparked one of the largest waves of displacement since the September deal.
Syria's war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since the conflict began with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011.


Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

Updated 43 min 51 sec ago
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Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

  • EU foreign ministers said they are suspending talks with Turkey over air transport agreement
  • They backed EU’s proposal to decrease financial assistance to Turkey

ANKARA: Turkey on Tuesday rejected as “worthless” an initial set of sanctions approved by the European Union against Ankara, and vowed to send a new vessel to the eastern Mediterranean to reinforce its efforts to drill for hydrocarbons off the island of Cyprus.
EU foreign ministers on Monday approved sanctions against Turkey over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. They said they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement, as well as high-level Turkey-EU dialogues, and would call on the European Investment Bank to review its lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU’s executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional “targeted measures” were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Speaking at a news conference in Macedonia, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the sanctions aimed to “appease” Cyprus and were of “no importance.”
“The EU needs us concerning the migration issue or other issues,” he said. “They will come to us and hold contacts; there is no escaping that.”
“They know that the decisions they took cannot be applied,” he said. “They were forced to take the worthless decisions under pressure from the Greek Cypriots and Greece.”
Cavusoglu added: “If you take such decisions against Turkey, we will increase our activities. We have three ships in the eastern Mediterranean, will with send a fourth.”
Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the EU for ignoring the rights of Turkish Cypriots and accused the 28-nation bloc of “prejudice and bias.”
It added that Turkey was determined to protect its rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus. A third Turkish exploration ship is also in the area. Turkey insists that it has rights over certain offshore zones and that Turkish Cypriots have rights over others.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
Cypriot officials accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 68 kilometers off the island’s west coast.