Germany ‘considering possible military role in Syria’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks on during a leadership meeting of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party on September 10, 2018 in Berlin. (AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018

Germany ‘considering possible military role in Syria’

  • The German air force already provides refueling support and carries out reconnaissance missions using four Tornado fighter jets from a base in Jordan as part of the US-led coalition fighting Daesh in Iraq and Syria
  • The SPD will not agree — either in Parliament or in the government — to the participation of Germany in the war in Syria

BERLIN: The German government said on Monday it was in talks with its allies about a possible military deployment in Syria, prompting a sharp rebuke from the Social Democrats (SPD) and setting up a fresh conflict in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s loveless coalition.
Overseas military action remains a sensitive and deeply unpopular topic in Germany.
Participation in any airstrikes in Syria would also put Germany on a collision course with Russia, the main backer of Bashar Assad.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Germany had discussed with the US and European allies its possible military involvement if Assad’s forces used chemical weapons against the last major rebel stronghold in Idlib, now under heavy Syrian and Russian bombardment.
“There has not been a situation where a decision has had to be made,” Seibert said, adding that any decision would first have to be approved by Parliament.
Earlier, Bild newspaper had reported that Germany’s Defense Ministry was examining possible options for joining US, British and French forces in any future military action if Damascus again used chemical weapons.
It said Parliament would only be notified of any military action after the fact if speedy action were required.

SPD opposition
Andrea Nahles, leader of the SPD — junior partner in Merkel’s coalition — ruled out backing any German involvement.
“The SPD will not agree — either in Parliament or in the government — to the participation of Germany in the war in Syria,” Nahles said in a statement, adding the party backed diplomatic efforts to avert a humanitarian crisis.
Sources familiar with the issue, confirming the Bild report, said German and US officials had discussed the possibility of German fighter jets helping with battle damage assessments or dropping bombs for the first time since the war in ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The German air force already provides refueling support and carries out reconnaissance missions using four Tornado fighter jets from a base in Jordan as part of the US-led coalition fighting Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
Bild said a decision on whether to join any strikes would be made by Merkel, who ruled out joining April 2018 air strikes against Syria by US, French and British forces after a previous use of chemical weapons.
In a joint statement on Monday, the German foreign and defense ministries urged restraint in Syria.
“The goal is that the conflict parties ... avoid escalating an already terrible situation ... That is particularly true for the use of banned chemical weapons which the Assad government has already used in the past,” it said.


Thousands flee northwest Syria as Assad pushes closer to Idlib city

Updated 27 January 2020

Thousands flee northwest Syria as Assad pushes closer to Idlib city

  • Assad steps up campaign to retake northwest Idlib province
  • Tens of thousands fleeing northwestern Syria

AZAZ: A renewed drive by President Bashar Assad to recapture rebel-held territory in Syria’s northwest sparked a fresh exodus of many thousands of civilians toward Turkey’s border on Monday amid heavy air strikes, aid workers and witnesses said.
Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power have stepped up a campaign to recapture Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold where millions took refuge after fleeing other parts of Syria earlier in its nearly nine-year civil war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said Assad’s forces had since Friday wrestled control of 22 towns and had cut through a strategic highway in Idlib that links the capital Damascus to Aleppo in northern Syria.
It said the Syrian army had encircled and was close to capturing Maarat Al-Numan, an urban center 33 km (20 miles) south of Idlib city. This would mark a significant advance for Assad’s drive to take back all of Syria.
A rescue worker who posted a video from Maarat Al-Numan said the city had been devastated by an assault of barrel bombs, missiles and shelling in recent days that had laid waste to scores of homes and vital infrastructure.
“Marat Al-Numan is completely destroyed and its population has been displaced and is living in uncertainty,” said the civil defense force worker, who did not identify himself.
Moscow and Damascus say they are fighting extremist militants that have stepped up attacks on civilians in Aleppo, but rights groups and rescue workers say air strikes have demolished hospitals, schools and other civilian areas.
The renewed fighting comes despite a Jan. 12 cease-fire deal between Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides of the conflict.
Fouad Sayed Issa, an aid worker with the Violet Organization in northern Syria, said Assad’s latest campaign has frightened Syrians in the rebel enclave who fear death or arrest if their towns are recaptured.
“Over the past few days we have seen thousands of new internally displaced persons and we are talking here at the very least about 50,000 over the past four days,” said Issa.
A witness said that thousands on Monday fled from the Idlib towns of Ariha and Saraqib, with trucks and cars seen crawling in gridlocked traffic toward areas, including the town of Azaz, close to the Turkish border.
The Observatory estimated that about 120,000 people had fled from countryside around Aleppo and Idlib over the past 12 days. Aid workers said most have moved to relatively safer parts of northern Syria near the Turkish frontier.
Turkey, which backs some rebel groups opposed to Assad, already hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees and fears that millions more could soon cross the border.