UN chief asks Russia, Turkey to ‘stabilize’ Syria’s embattled Idlib

Members of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the ‘White Helmets,’ carry away a body on a stretcher following a reported regime airstrike in the village of Benin, about 30 km south of Idlib in northwestern Syria, on June 19, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2019
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UN chief asks Russia, Turkey to ‘stabilize’ Syria’s embattled Idlib

  • There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The solution must be political: UN

NEW YORK: UN chief Antonio Guterres called on Russia and Turkey on Tuesday to “stabilize the situation” in the Syrian province of Idlib, rocked by intense fighting that the UN body warned is creating a humanitarian disaster.

“I am deeply concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib and the situation is especially dangerous given the involvement of an increased number of actors. Yet again civilians are paying a horrific price,” Guterres told reporters.

His comments came ahead of a UN Security Council session on Tuesday to discuss the situation.

The world is facing “a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes,” Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told the council.

Parts of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib — the last bastion of jihadist forces in Syria — are supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September. But it was never fully implemented as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, militant group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) extended its administrative control over the region. The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region in Syria’s northwest since late April.

“Over the last six weeks, the conduct of hostilities has resulted in more than 230 civilian deaths, including 69 women and 81 children. Hundreds more have been injured,” Lowcock said, adding that an estimated 330,000 have been forced to flee their homes and move toward Turkey since early last month.

“Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure need to stop and they need to stop immediately,” Lowcock said.

Several diplomats indicated that the aim of the council meeting was to “renew attention” on Idlib and maintain pressure on Russia and Syria to stop their attacks on civilians.

Guterres appealed to Russia and Turkey, as signatories of the September deal, to stabilize the situation “without delay.”

“There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The solution must be political,” he said, stressing the need to respect human rights and international humanitarian law “even in the fight against terrorism.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia responded that “we never attack civilian installations,” and added that the September accord is being “fully implemented.” His Turkish counterpart disagreed.

“Unfortunately, cease-fire violations are still on the rise. Consequences of the attacks by the regime against civilians are dire,” said Ankara’s Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 14 pro-regime forces and 41 militants and opposition fighters were killed in clashes on Tuesday.

The fighting flared on the edge of Hama province when HTS launched a dawn attack on regime positions, the observatory said.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, explained to the council the contrasting priorities of Russia and Turkey.

HTS’s presence in the de-escalation area “is not tolerable” for Moscow, while for Ankara, “time is required to effectively isolate and address HTS’s most hard-line fighters,” she said.

Tuesday’s Council meeting occurred at the request of Belgium, Germany, the US and Kuwait.

In May, the council held several meetings on Syria and the situation in Idlib.

Syria’s war began in 2011 and has now claimed more than 370,000 lives. Several million more have been displaced.


Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

Updated 16 July 2019
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Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

  • Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal
  • The US quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions

UNITED NATIONS: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Monday that the United States is “playing with fire,” echoing remarks by President Donald Trump as the two sides are locked in a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The United States quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions.
Tensions have since soared, with the US calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming the Islamic republic for a series of attacks on tanker ships.
“I think the United States is playing with fire,” Zarif told NBC News.
Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal, and has also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.
But “it can be reversed within hours,” Zarif told the channel, adding: “We are not about to develop nuclear weapons. Had we wanted to develop nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it (a) long time ago.”
Zarif’s comments came as the United States imposed unusually harsh restrictions on his movements during a visit to the United Nations.
Weeks after the United States threatened sanctions against Zarif, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington issued him a visa but forbade him from moving beyond six blocks of Iran’s UN mission in Midtown Manhattan.
“US diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either,” Pompeo told The Washington Post.
No US diplomats are based in Iran as the two countries broke off relations in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah.
“Foreign Minister Zarif, he uses the freedoms of the United States to come here and spread malign propaganda,” the top US diplomat said.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the UN Secretariat was in contact with the US and Iranian missions about Zarif’s travel restrictions and “has conveyed its concerns to the host country.”
The United States, as host of the United Nations, has an agreement to issue visas promptly to foreign diplomats on UN business and only rarely declines.
Washington generally bars diplomats of hostile nations from traveling outside a 40-kilometer (25-mile) radius of New York’s Columbus Circle.
Zarif is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the UN Economic and Social Council, which is holding a high-level meeting on sustainable development.
Despite the restrictions, the decision to admit Zarif is the latest sign that Trump’s administration appears to be retreating from its vow to place sanctions on him as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 24 that sanctions against Zarif would come later that week.
Critics questioned the legal rationale for targeting Zarif and noted that sanctions would all but end the possibility of dialogue — which Trump has said is his goal.
Zarif said in an interview with The New York Times he would not be affected by sanctions as he owns no assets outside of Iran.