Northwest Syria fighting damages schools, health facilities

A man stands in front of a building that was damaged during an air strike by the Syrian government forces in town of Kafr Aweid, in the rebel-controlled region of Idlib on May 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2019
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Northwest Syria fighting damages schools, health facilities

  • First responders said dozens of air raids and barrel bombs were dropped on villages and towns south of Idlib, killing at least eight civilians
  • Rights groups say that since the offensive was launched in late April, government strikes have hit at least 18 health facilities, including five identified to the government through the UN

BEIRUT: Bombings by Syrian government forces damaged two schools and a health facility in the rebels’ last stronghold in the northwest, activists said Thursday, after insurgents successfully hit a power station in a government-held town.
Fighting has raged in the last 48 hours in the region, where insurgents launched a counteroffensive earlier this month, trying to regain territory lost to government forces. The area is among the last controlled by anti-government rebels in Syria’s eight-year civil war.
Activists and rescue workers said the government retaliated with an intense air bombing campaign. First responders said dozens of air raids and barrel bombs were dropped on villages and towns south of Idlib, killing at least eight civilians.
Syrian insurgents had recaptured Kfar Nabudah from government forces on Wednesday, two weeks after troops entered it at the start of a ground offensive against the rebels’ stronghold.
Naji Al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the rebel fighters, said the government is carrying out a “revenge campaign for its defeat” in Kfar Nabudah.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ground clashes have subsided but government warplanes carried out more than 60 raids on various parts of southern Idlib, part of the rebel stronghold that spans the province and nearby Hama.
One of the raids knocked out a health facility in Kfar Oweid village, the Observatory said.
Rights groups say that since the offensive was launched in late April, government strikes have hit at least 18 health facilities, including five identified to the government through the United Nations. Some of the facilities were targeted twice.
The White Helmets, a team of first responders, said the raids also targeted two schools in Kfar Nubul and burned crops on several farms.
Syrian Electricity Minister Mohammad Zuhair Kharboutly said Thursday that Al-Zara power station in Hama province was back online and linked up to the national grid.
Station manager Mostafa Shantout said a drone operated by insurgents dropped a number of bombs late Wednesday on the station, causing huge damage. He didn’t elaborate. The comments by both officials were carried by the official state news agency SANA.
Al-Mustafa denied the fighters targeted the power station. He said the rebels have shelled Hama military airport because it is used to attack their stronghold.


Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019
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Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

  • “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations”

BAGHDAD: Moqtada Al-Sadr, the powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric, on Monday threatened to withdraw his support for the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi if the prime minister fails to finalize the formation of his Cabinet within 10 days.
Al-Sadr is one of the most influential clerics in the country, with millions of followers, a large armed faction and a parliamentary bloc. He is the official sponsor of the Reform Alliance, the second-largest parliamentary coalition, which is overseeing the formation of the government following the national parliamentary elections in May last year. The removal of his support for Abdul Mahdi’s government might take the form of an announcement that he no longer has confidence in the Parliament, or the organization of mass demonstrations.
Abdul Mahdi, who became prime minister in October, formed his government with the support of Reform and the pro-Iranian Construction coalition. The latter is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions. However, disputes between the two alliances over some of the candidates erupted at the last minute, as a result of which four ministries remain vacant: Interior, defense, education and justice.

Monday’s statement, which was signed by Al-Sadr and described as his “last call,” was addressed to his Saeiroon parliamentary bloc, the leaders of all political blocs, and Abdul Mahdi. It was issued in response to criticism on social on Monday because of the vote by members of the parliamentary blocs, including Al-Sadr’s MPs, the day before to grant all the privileges enjoyed by the former MPs to the deputies who ruled out by the Federal Supreme Court due to the error of counting their votes.
“All the political blocs must authorize the prime minister to complete his ministerial Cabinet within 10 days…and he (Abdul Mahdi) must choose (the ministers) according to the standards of integrity, efficiency and specialization, or I will not support him,” Al-Sadr’s statement read.

His position is the latest in a series of events that have put pressure on Abdul Mahdi in recent weeks. These include efforts by some political blocs, including Saeiroon, to dismiss a number of ministers under the pretext of failure to improve services and inability to combat the financial and administrative corruption that is rampant in their departments.
While most political leaders believe that reaching a political agreement on candidates to fill the vacant ministries within 10 days “will be very difficult” and predict “this may be the end of the government of Abdul Mahdi,” some believe that Al-Sadr’s goal is to pile more pressure on Abdul Mahdi as a way to obtain certain concessions.

“Saeiroon is still negotiating with the prime minister and the other political partners to obtain some key government posts that its rivals are looking to get, and Abdul Mahdi refused to give them to the Saeiroon candidates, so this could be a part of this,” said a prominent Shiite negotiator who asked not to be named. “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations."