Erdogan urges Russia, Iran to stop ‘disaster’ in Syria’s Idlib

The destruction caused by the regime bombings in the town of Al-Habit on the southern edges of the opposition-held Idlib province. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Erdogan urges Russia, Iran to stop ‘disaster’ in Syria’s Idlib

  • Erdogan has called for a cease-fire in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in Syria, as an assault by Syrian regime forces is expected any day
  • The comments came four days after the Turkish president met his Russian and Iranian counterparts for a summit in Tehran

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called on Russia and Iran to halt a looming “humanitarian disaster” in Idlib, saying Syrians there could not be left to the mercy of President Bashar Assad.

Erdogan has called for a cease-fire in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in Syria, as an assault by Syrian regime forces is expected any day.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Erdogan said the West had an “obligation to stop the next bloodshed” but that regime allies Moscow and Tehran were “likewise responsible for stopping this humanitarian disaster.”

The comments came four days after the Turkish president met his Russian and Iranian counterparts for a summit in Tehran, where Erdogan sought to avert a bloody assault in Idlib. 

Analysts said Erdogan failed at the summit to achieve his aim, and his comments appear to indicate growing frustration in Turkey that Iran and Russia are not reining in Assad.

While Turkey has been one of the main supporters of the Syrian opposition and called for Assad’s ouster, Ankara has until now worked closely with Assad’s allies Moscow and Tehran to find a political solution to the conflict. 

The UN has warned a large-scale military operation could create “the worst humanitarian catastrophe” of this century in Idlib, home to some 3 million people — about half of them displaced from other parts of the country.

“The consequences of inaction are immense. We cannot leave the Syrian people to the mercy of Bashar Assad,” Erdogan wrote.

The Turkish leader also criticized Assad’s bid to legitimize the fight in Idlib as a counter-terrorism operation.

“Innocent people must not be sacrificed in the name of fighting terrorism,” he wrote.

Idlib’s most powerful armed faction is the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) group, which Ankara officially designated a “terrorist” group last month.

Erdogan acknowledged that groups such as HTS “remain active in this area” but insisted that such fighters “account for a fraction of Idlib’s population.” 

He called for a “comprehensive international counter-terrorism operation” and said that the assistance of pro-Ankara moderate fighters will be “crucial” in Idlib.

Turkey has already taken in more than 3 million refugees from Syria and Ankara fears any large offensive will lead to a new influx of up to two million people from Idlib.

The civil war has claimed about 350,000 lives since 2011.

Meanwhile, an ambush by Daesh has killed 21 regime fighters in Syria’s southern province of Sweida, a Britain-based war monitor said on Tuesday.

The attack occurred late on Monday in the rural Tulul Al-Safa area of the province, about 100 km southeast of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Eight radical fighters were also killed in subsequent clashes in the area, which is the militants’ last bastion in Sweida, the observatory said.

State news agency SANA reported heavy clashes with Daesh in the area, adding that regime aircraft and artillery “targeted hideouts and positions” held by the group.

Regime forces have been fighting Daesh on Sweida’s arid plains since terrorists carried out a wave of attacks in the mainly Druze province on July 25, killing 250 people, according to the Observatory.

During their rampage, which targeted the provincial capital as well as rural areas, the insurgents also took about around 30 hostages, mostly women and their children.

At least 27 are believed to still be held, according to Human Rights Watch, after Daesh said it had beheaded a 19-year-old man and announced an elderly woman had died. Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the hostages were believed to be held captive in Tulul Al-Safa.

A source in Sweida told AFP that families had had no word of their kidnapped relatives in weeks.

Daesh has lost nearly all of the great swathes of territory straddling Iraq and Syria which it seized in 2014, but retains a presence in the vast desert that lies between Damascus and the Iraqi border, and holds a pocket in the Euphrates Valley in the east.

A Kurdish-Arab alliance launched an assault on the pocket’s main town of Hajjin on Monday, with support from the US-led coalition fighting Daesh.


Migrant killed during Libya disembarkation: UN

Updated 20 min 33 sec ago

Migrant killed during Libya disembarkation: UN

  • ‘This was tragedy waiting to happen’: International Organization for Migrationspokesman Leonard Doyle
  • IOM demands ‘immediate action ... to put an end to the suffering of civilians in Libya, especially detained migrants’

GENEVA: A Sudanese man was shot and killed Thursday as he and other migrants returned to shore by the Libyan Coast Guard tried to resist being sent back to detention, the UN said.
The International Organization for Migration strongly condemned the incident and demanded that Libyan authorities investigate and bring those responsible to justice.
“This was tragedy waiting to happen,” IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle said in a statement.
“The use of live bullets against unarmed vulnerable civilians, men, women and children alike, is unacceptable under any circumstances and raises alarms over the safety of migrants and humanitarian staff,” he added.
The UN agency said its staff had been on site at the Abusitta Disembarkation point in Tripoli when as many as 103 migrants returned to shore resisted being sent back to Libyan detention centers.
When several migrants tried to run away from the guards, “armed men began shooting into the air,” and one migrant was hit by a bullet in the stomach, according to the IOM staff accounts.
“Despite immediately receiving medical aid on the spot by an IOM doctor and then being transferred to a nearby clinic, he died two hours after admission,” the agency said.
The man’s death, it said, stood as “a stark reminder of the grim conditions faced by migrants picked up by the Coast Guard after paying smugglers to take them to Europe.”
The UN and aid groups have warned that rescued migrants returned to Libya face rampant human rights abuses in both official and illegal centers in the war-ravaged country.
According to the UN, some 5,000 migrant women, children and men remain detained in inhumane conditions in Libya — more than 3,000 of them in areas of active conflict.
In June, an airstrike on the Tajoura detention center killed 53 migrants, including six children.
“That facility remains operational to this day, despite persistent calls to end the arbitrary detention of migrants,” IOM said.
“Alternatives to detention must be found,” it said, stressing that the “increasing reports of abuse and human trafficking from detention centers are truly alarming.”
IOM demanded “immediate action ... to put an end to the suffering of civilians in Libya, especially detained migrants.”