US to withdraw assistance from northwest Syria: US officials

US troops sit atop an armoured vehicle on a road near the northern Syrian village of Ain Issa. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2018

US to withdraw assistance from northwest Syria: US officials

  • Trump said in March that it was time for the United States to leave Syria, following allied victories against Daesh militants
  • Tens of millions of dollars will be cut from previous US-backed efforts in the northwest

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration will withdraw assistance from northwest Syria dominated by Islamist factions and focus recovery efforts on areas where US-led forces have retaken territory from Daesh in the northeast, US officials with knowledge of the decision said on Friday.
CBS, which first reported the story, said tens of millions of dollars will be cut from previous US-backed efforts in the northwest, including projects for “countering violent extremism, supporting independent society and independent media, strengthening education, and advocating for community policing.”
US officials told Reuters that humanitarian assistance would not be affected in the northwest around Idlib province, which is the largest chunk of Syrian territory held by insurgent factions, including Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in the Syrian war.
“US assistance for programs in northwest Syria are being freed up to provide potential increased support for priorities in northeast Syria,” a State Department official told Reuters.
A second official said the administration believed it wanted to move the assistance to areas where the US had more control.
President Donald Trump in March froze more than $200 million in funds for recovery efforts in Syria while his administration reassesses Washington’s role in the Syrian conflict. The review is still under way, one US official said.
Trump said in March that it was time for the United States to leave Syria, following allied victories against Daesh militants. About 2,000 US troops are deployed in Syria.
In April, however, Trump deepened US involvement by ordering missile strikes against Syria in response to a poison gas attack that killed dozens of people.
A third US official said the cuts in the northwest would take place over a period of months.
“The danger is a repeat of what the president criticized about Iraq — leaving a vacuum where the violence can get worse and extremists can exploit that,” the official added.
The Pentagon has estimated that Daesh has lost about 98 percent of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria, US military officials have warned that the militants could regain the freed areas quickly unless they are stabilized.


Palestinian official Erekat in critical, stable condition

Updated 1 min 38 sec ago

Palestinian official Erekat in critical, stable condition

  • Erekat was receiving artificial respiration in the intensive care unit at Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center
  • He was a senior adviser to late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and current President Mahmoud Abbas
JERUSALEM: Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat remained in critical but stable condition in an Israeli hospital Tuesday, his family said, after he was infected with the coronavirus.
Erekat’s family told the official Palestinian news agency WAFA that he was receiving artificial respiration in the intensive care unit at Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center.
Erekat, 65, has been one of the Palestinians’ most recognizable faces over the past several decades, serving as a senior negotiator in talks with Israel. He was also a senior adviser to late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and current President Mahmoud Abbas.
He was hospitalized Sunday at the Jerusalem hospital despite the Palestinian leadership’s decision earlier this year to sever ties with Israel over plans to begin annexing parts of the occupied West Bank as part of President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan.
The hospital said Monday that Erekat’s case was extremely challenging in light of his history of health problems, including a lung transplant in 2017. It said he suffered from a weak immune system, and a bacterial infection in addition to COVID-19.