Syria regime unleashes its brutal air power on Idlib

People look at the damage in the aftermath of an explosion at a base in an opposition-held area of the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 08 January 2018

Syria regime unleashes its brutal air power on Idlib

BEIRUT: Regime forces upped the pressure on two of the last opposition bastions in Syria, with airstrikes in Idlib province and a move to break a siege near Damascus Monday.
Syrian and Russian aircraft pounded targets in the northwestern region of Idlib, pressing a week-old operation targeting the last province in the country to escape government control.
Raids Sunday left “at least 21 dead, including eight children and 11 members of the same family" west of the town of Sinjar in the southeast of the province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Regime and Russian strikes are continuing today on several parts of Idlib” province, Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring organization, told AFP.
Russian-backed regime forces launched an operation on the edge of Idlib province in the last days of 2017 and have retaken villages every day since.
After the collapse of Daesh group in both Syria and Iraq late last year, President Bashar Assad’s regime is bent on restoring its grip over the country.
Idlib province, which borders Turkey, is almost entirely controlled by anti-government forces that are dominated by an outfit known as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).
An explosion on Sunday in the city of Idlib at a base for the group Ajnad Al-Qawqaz made up of fighters from the Caucasus that operates alongside HTS, left at least 34 dead, including 19 civilians, the Observatory said.
The initial death toll for the attack, the origins of which remain unclear, was 23 but the number went up on Monday when more bodies were found in the wreckage.
Abdel Rahman said the casualty count could yet rise because more victims were believed to be buried under the rubble and many of the wounded were in critical condition.
“Rescue teams are still sifting through the wreckage,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether the blast was caused by airstrikes or was the result of the kind of internal clashes that sometimes break out between different opposition factions.
After shrinking to barely a sixth of the country at the height of the nearly seven-year-old conflict, the areas under government control now cover more than 50 percent of Syrian territory.
Another pocket where opposition groups are still holding out, however, is Eastern Ghouta, a semi-rural area east of the capital Damascus that is home to some 400,000 people.
Rebels led by the Jaish Al-Islam group had in recent days surrounded the army’s only military base in the area but the state news agency SANA said Monday the siege had been broken.
“Units from the Syrian Arab Army have brought an end to the encirclement of the Armored Vehicles Base in Harasta,” it said, adding that operations were ongoing to fully secure the base.
According to the Observatory, the fighting in Harasta since the base was surrounded in late December left 72 regime fighters and 87 opposition men dead.
The shelling and bombardment of besieged Eastern Ghouta, where the humanitarian conditions have sharply deteriorated in recent months, has also claimed a heavy toll on civilians.
The latest casualties came on Monday when airstrikes killed a child and two other civilians in Madira, a village in Eastern Ghouta, the Observatory said.
More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions have been driven from their homes since Syria’s conflict erupted with anti-government protests in 2011.


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.