Clashes in northwest Syria kill 35 fighters

Smoke billows following reported shelling around the village of Al-Muntar on the southern edges of the rebel-held Idlib province on May 12, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 May 2019
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Clashes in northwest Syria kill 35 fighters

  • Priest says a rocket struck near a group of children, instantly killing five and wounding others
  • Syrian troops have been on the offensive under the cover of airstrikes for days

BEIRUT: Clashes on the edge of a rebel bastion in northwestern Syria have killed 35 fighters in 24 hours, a war monitor said Monday, after weeks of regime bombardment of the region.
The northwestern region has come under increasing fire by the regime and its ally Russia in recent weeks, despite a buffer zone deal intended to shield it from any government offensive.
The region controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, includes most of the Idlib province as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia provinces.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 16 loyalists and 19 rebels died from Sunday to Monday in clashes in the area of Jabal Al-Akrad in Latakia province, which lies on the bastion's northwestern edge.
Russian and regime aircraft bombarded the area on Monday with missiles and barrel bombs, while they also carried out strikes on southern areas of the region, said the Britain-based war monitor.
Russian air strikes hit a branch of the White Helmets rescue volunteers in the town of Kafranbel, knocking it out of action, the Observatory and a rescue worker said.
"Two high-explosive missiles hit the centre" just minutes after its personnel had headed out to the site of strikes in a nearby village, Oneida Zikra, the civil defence chief for the area, told AFP.
In a regime-held town in Hama province to the south of the bastion, retaliatory rocket fire on Monday killed one child, the Observatory and state news agency SANA said.
Five others were also wounded in the Christian-majority town of Suqaylabiyah, SANA added.
Idlib's three million inhabitants are supposed to be protected from a massive regime assault by a September buffer zone deal signed by Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
But that agreement was never fully implemented after rebels refused to withdraw from the planned buffer area.
An uptick in air strikes and shelling displaced 180,000 people between April 29 and May 9 alone, the United Nations says.
The Observatory says 119 civilians have been killed in the bombardment since late April.
In a filmed interview released on Sunday night, HTS chief Abu Mohammad Al-Jolani urged supporters to "take up weapons" to defend Idlib.
The spike in violence signalled "the death of all previous agreements and conferences", he said.
Damascus has not announced a wide offensive, but instead regularly announces targeting "terrorist" - meaning rebel - positions.
Analysts believe the offensive will be limited.

Meanwhile, Britain, Germany and France called on Monday for an end to the military escalation in north western Syria, saying they were gravely concerned at recent violence which had led to the death of more than 120 civilians.
"This military escalation must stop," the joint statement from the three countries, issued by Britain's Foreign Office, said.
"Airstrikes on population centers, indiscriminate bombardment and use of barrel bombs as well as the targeting of civilian and humanitarian infrastructures, notably schools and health facilities, are blatant violations of International Humanitarian Law."
The civil war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.


Iranian FM lands in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi counterpart

Updated 19 min 46 sec ago
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Iranian FM lands in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi counterpart

  • During his his two-day visit, Zarif will also meet the Iraqi president and Iraqi prime minister
  • Discussions will mainly focus on the current crisis and its impacts on the two countries

BAGHDAD: Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif landed in Baghdad on Saturday for talks with his Iraqi counterpart, an Arab News reporter confirmed.

During his his two-day visit, Zarif will also meet the Iraqi president and Iraqi prime minister. On Sunday morning, Zarif will meet several senior politicians before he heads to Najaf to meet some clerics, sources told Arab News.

The discussions will mainly focus on the current crisis and its impacts on the two countries in addition to possible options to reinforce the attempts to start dialogues with the related sides to reach a compromise or solutions for the current standoff between Iran and US.

The Iranian official will leave Iraq on Monday.

More to follow...