Syrian government forces’ shelling kills 22: war monitor

The government forces’ artillery fire targeted several locations. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 April 2019

Syrian government forces’ shelling kills 22: war monitor

  • About half of those killed were under 18 years old
  • The northwest, including Idlib province and parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces, is home to about 3 million people

BEIRUT: Heavy bombardment by Syrian regime troops of the extremist-controlled Idlib region has killed 22 civilians, a monitor said on Thursday, the latest violence to theaten a seven-month-old truce.

The cease-fire was brokered by the main foreign backers of the warring parties in September to head off a government offensive that prompted UN warnings of humanitarian disaster for the region’s 3 million residents.

But since the region was overrun by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by former Al-Qaeda militants in January, the fragile truce has come under mounting assault.

Walid Muallem, foreign minister of the Assad regime, accused Turkey, which signed the September deal on behalf of the rebels, of failing to honor its commitments and warned that his government’s patience was running out.

The UN humanitarian affairs office said the escalating violence threatened aid deliveries to some 2.7 million people in need.

In the latest flare-up, army artillery and rocket fire on the Idlib towns of Kafrnabel and Maaret Al-Noman killed 13 people on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It came after shelling of adjacent extremist-held areas of Hama and Aleppo provinces killed nine people late on Wednesday, the Britain-based watchdog said.

The UN humanitarian office said that the ecalating violence had already killed 90 civilians in the Idlib region in March, nearly half of them children.

More than 86,500 people fled their homes in February and March as a result of the escalation, it added.

The UN expressed concern over “increased shelling along front lines, an intensification of air strikes and a growing number of attacks involving improvised explosive devices in urban areas.”

The foreign minister said his regime was growing impatient to recapture Idlib, the last region outside its control apart from the Kurdish-held north and northeast where Washington retains a troop presence.

Muallem said Turkey had failed to ensure the withdrawal of extremist forces from a planned buffer zone along the front line as stipulated by the truce agreed in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“It is known that Turkey is responsible for a delay in implementing” the deal, he said at a joint press conference with his Venezuelan counterpart Jorge Arreaza.

“Honestly, we are still waiting for the Sochi deal to be implemented but our patience has its limits and we must liberate this land.

“We are losing patience,” he warned.

More than half of the population of the Idlib region have already fled regime offensives on other militant-held regions of Syria.

Many live in tent cities where they are dependent on humanitarian aid and deeply vulnerable to a resurgence of all-out conflict.

At least 370,000 people have died in Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011.


Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

Updated 21 January 2020

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

  • Expert says sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in Libyan conflict unlikely

JEDDAH: With the conclusion of the Libya peace summit in Berlin on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether Turkey is willing to implement the provisions of the final communique and stay out of the conflict.

Ankara is accused of sending Syrian fighters to the Libyan battlefront in support of Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

During the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concerns over the arrival of Syrian and other foreign fighters in Tripoli, saying: “That must end.” 

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst at Oxford University, speculates that Turkey will not deploy more troops.  

But he told Arab News that a sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in the Libyan conflict is unlikely for the moment as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will remain present “until the GNA’s future is secured.”

Noting the difficulty of enforcing the Berlin agreement, Ramani said Turkey might not be the first mover in breaching a cease-fire in Libya.

But he added that Turkey will not hesitate to deploy forces and upend the agreement if Haftar makes any moves that it considers “provocative.”

The summit called for sanctions on those who violate the UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya.

Turkish opposition MPs recently criticized the expanded security pact between Ankara and the GNA, saying the dispatch of materials and equipment to Libya breaches the UN arms embargo.

Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.

Micha’el Tanchum, Analyst

The summit does not seem to have resolved ongoing disputes regarding the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, a planned natural gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean energy resources to mainland Greece via Cyprus and Crete.

The Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of being a “pirate state,” citing Ankara’s recent drilling off its coasts just a day after Brussels warned Turkey that its plans were illegal.

Erdogan dismissed the warning and threatened to send to the EU some 4 million refugees that Turkey is hosting.

Turkey dispatched its Yavuz drillship to the south of Cyprus on Sunday, based on claims deriving from the maritime delimitation agreement with the GNA.

Turkey’s insistence on gas exploration in the region may be subject to sanctions as early as this week, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based political analyst, drew attention to Article 25 of the Berlin final communique, which underlined the “Libyan Political Agreement as a viable framework for the political solution in Libya,” and called for the “establishment of a functioning presidency council and the formation of a single, unified, inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”

Sezer told Arab News: “Getting approval from Libya’s Haftar-allied House of Representatives would be a serious challenge for Ankara because Haftar recently considered all agreements with Turkey as a betrayal. This peace conference once more showed that Turkey should keep away from Libya.”

Many experts remain skeptical about the possible outcome of the summit. 

Micha’el Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said: “Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.”