Syrian army takes strategic town from rebels in new advance

The town was described as the gateway to the southern countryside of Idlib, to the main Damascus-Aleppo highway and to the city of Khan Sheikhoun. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 August 2019

Syrian army takes strategic town from rebels in new advance

  • Rebels have not yet commented on the fighting around Al-Hobeit but this week acknowledged losing ground nearby
  • Fighting on Saturday killed more than 100 fighters from both sides as the army and its allies unleashed about 2,000 air and artillery strikes against rebels

BEIRUT: Syria’s army has captured a strategically important town in Idlib in the rebels’ last major enclave, a war monitor and a military media unit run by its ally Hezbollah reported on Sunday.
The capture of Al-Hobeit represents the most significant advance the army has made in Idlib province since the start of its offensive three months ago, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Hezbollah media unit described the town as the gateway to the southern countryside of Idlib, to the main Damascus-Aleppo highway and to the city of Khan Sheikhoun.
Rebels have not yet commented on the fighting around Al-Hobeit but this week acknowledged losing ground nearby as the army ramped up its offensive after a brief cease-fire.
Fighting on Saturday killed more than 100 fighters from both sides as the army and its allies unleashed about 2,000 air and artillery strikes against rebels dug into Syria’s northwest, the Observatory said.
The three-month offensive has made slower progress than any by Syrian President Bashar Assad since Russia entered the war on his side in 2015, prompting a run of military victories that have brought most of Syria back under his rule.
Turkey, a supporter of some rebel groups, has posted military observation posts around the enclave’s front lines, complicating Syrian army advances.
Rebels fighting to oust him are now concentrated in the northwestern enclave, covering most of Idlib province and parts of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces, though they also have a small presence in the southeast near the border with Jordan.
Assad, who offered prayers for Islam’s Eid Al-Adha holiday in Damascus on Sunday morning, has sworn to take back every inch of Syria. However, other large areas are still beyond his control, including the Kurdish-controlled northeast and a Turkish-held strip along the frontier.
The northwest offensive has prompted warnings by the United Nations and aid agencies of a new humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people having fled the violence to seek shelter at the border with Turkey.
Syrian military air strikes have targeted hospitals, schools, water points, markets, bakeries and other civilian infrastructure, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Panos Mumtzis, has said.


UN warns of severe aid cuts in Yemen without new funds soon

Updated 22 August 2019

UN warns of severe aid cuts in Yemen without new funds soon

  • Donors have pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis
  • But UN humanitarian chief Lise Grande says less than half the amount has been received so far
UNITED NATIONS: The UN humanitarian chief in Yemen warned Wednesday that unless significant new funding is received in the coming weeks, food rations for 12 million people in the war-torn country will be reduced and at least 2.5 million malnourished children will be cut off from life-saving services.
Lise Grande said the UN was forced to suspend most vaccination campaigns in May, and without new money a “staggering” 22 life-saving programs in Yemen will close in the next two months.
At a UN pledging conference in February, donors pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis, but Grande said that to date, less than half the amount has been received.
“When money doesn’t come, people die,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels who control much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates allied with Yemen’s internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country has left thousands of civilians and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
UN deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller told the Security Council on Tuesday that 12 million Yemenis have been assisted every month, “but much of this is about to stop” because only 34% of the UN’s $4.2 billion appeal for 2019 has been funded.
At this time last year, she said, 65% of the appeal was funded, including generous contributions from Yemen’s neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The UN humanitarian office in New York said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and the UAE each pledged $750 million to its Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019.
Grande said the UN is grateful to donors who have lived up to their promises, and in half the districts where people were facing famine “conditions have improved to the point where families are no longer at risk of starvation.”
But she said of the 34 major UN humanitarian programs in Yemen, only three are funded for the entire year. Several have been forced to close in recent weeks, Grande said, and many large-scale projects designed to help destitute, hungry families have been unable to start.
Without new funds in the coming weeks, she said, 19 million people will also lose access to health care, including 1 million women who depend on the UN for reproductive health services. In addition, Grande said, clean water programs for 5 million people will have to shut down at the end of October and tens of thousands of displaced families may find themselves homeless.
“Millions of people in Yemen, who through no fault of their own are the victims of this conflict, depend on us to survive,” she said. “All of us are ashamed by the situation. It’s heart-breaking to look a family in the eye and say we have no money to help.”