UN calls on Russia, Iran and Turkey to break Syria aid deadlock

United Nations Syria envoy’s Special Adviser Jan Egeland attends a briefing after the meeting of the humanitarian task force on Syria in Geneva, Switzerland. (Reuters)
Updated 01 February 2018

UN calls on Russia, Iran and Turkey to break Syria aid deadlock

GENEVA: A United Nations humanitarian task force has been unable to make deliveries to desperate Syrians for the past two months as President Bashar Assad’s government has witheld approval for aid convoys, the UN humanitarian adviser said on Thursday.
Before they can move into besieged areas or across front lines, the convoys require letters from the government and security guarantees from armed groups.
“It’s an all-time low in giving us the facilitation letters,” adviser Jan Egeland told reporters after meeting senior diplomats in Geneva.
Insurgents fighting Assad’s forces were also creating obstacles, contributing to the worst situation since 2015, he said.
Egeland called on Russia, Turkey and Iran to de-escalate the fighting in Idlib governorate, which he said was “screaming for a cease-fire.”
“When we need their ability to influence the parties the most, in this bleak hour for humanitarian work, humanitarian diplomacy seems to be totally impotent. We’re getting nowhere at the moment.”
This week Russia convened a Syrian peace congress in Sochi. Egeland said it had so far not resulted in any progress but he hoped that it would.
Air strikes hit two crowded markets in Idlib this week, killing at least 31 people, and have deprived hundreds of thousands of health care.
“I told the members of the humanitarian task force, we cannot have conventional warfare in what is essentially a refugee camp,” Egeland said.
Further north, a Turkish offensive in Afrin district has displaced about 15,000 people, Egeland said, adding: “There are also reports...that local authorities have made it hard for people to flee from the Afrin area.”
And outside Damascus, the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, where almost 400,000 people are under siege and about 750 need urgent medical evacuation, desperately needs a pause in the fighting, he said.
“We have indications from both sides that they want it, but it hasn’t happened. And it’s both sides that have to help us here. There are air raids, fighting from the government side, but there is a barrage of mortars and grenades going from this area going into civilian neighborhoods in Damascus.”
He also said 112 people had been killed by explosions in the town of Raqqa since it was recaptured from Daesh fighters in October because people had been allowed back to their homes before the town had been cleared of bombs.


Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

Updated 34 min 30 sec ago

Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

  • Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington
  • It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past

ANKARA: More than 420 people working at a crucial military air base in southern Turkey have lost their jobs, with some analysts considering it symbolic of decreased cooperation levels with the US and as the Pentagon reconsiders Middle East deployments.
Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington. It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past, as well as hosting US nuclear warheads.
The Colorado-based company Vectrus System Corporation, which provides day-to-day maintenance and operation services at the base, terminated the contracts of almost half of its employees at the base earlier this month.
“The base surged to support OIR,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “The Turkey-based staff for OIR has mostly left. So, the base is going back to its pre-OIR level of people, and that level requires less contractor support.”
Vectrus did not reply to Arab News’ request for comment about its decision to scale back at the base.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the move was largely symbolic as the canceled contracts related to logistical support rather than the US military mission.
“But obviously, it comes against the background of some tensions in the US-Turkish relationship and previous hints by Ankara that it might reconsider the status of the Incirlik base,” he told Arab News. “The Pentagon is reconsidering its deployment across the Middle East and it might be looking to become less dependent on Incirlik without fully exiting this crucial military air base.”
Incirlik air base has been used in the past as a bargaining chip at times of tension between the two countries.
“Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if the US imposes sanctions,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month in an interview with pro-government channel A-Haber, referring to the potential fallout from Turkey’s decision to buy an air defense system from Russia. 
Washington has threatened to use its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act to punish Ankara for buying the S-400 system.
Seth J. Frantzman, who is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said reports of the US reducing presence at Incirlik, or challenges to the US presence there, have been growing over the last years.
“Whether these reports relate to changes or are just random is unclear and it is important to note that the large interests of the military and history tend to mean the US does not simply walk away from bases, even if it reduces its role slowly over time,” he told Arab News.
The US has invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Air Base to expand its presence there.