Idlib assault ‘not now,’ says Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a news conference at the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing, China, 27 April 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 April 2019

Idlib assault ‘not now,’ says Russia

  • Putin said they would work with the Syrian opposition to create a constitutional committee
  • Russia backed Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the country’s civil war

BEIJING, BEIRUT: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday he did not rule out Syrian forces, backed by Russian air power, launching a full-scale assault on militants in Syria’s Idlib province, but that such an operation was unpractical for now.

Speaking in Beijing, Putin said that Moscow and Damascus would continue what he called the fight against terrorism and that any militants who tried to break out of Idlib, something he said happened from time to time, were bombed.
But Putin said the presence of civilians in parts of Idlib where militants were also active meant the time was not yet ripe for full-scale military operations.
“I don’t rule it (a full-scale assault) out, but right now we and our Syrian friends consider that to be inadvisable given this humanitarian element,” Putin told reporters.
Russia, one of the Syrian regime’s staunchest allies, and Turkey brokered a deal in September to create a demilitarized zone in the northwest Idlib region that would be free of all heavy weapons and militant fighters.
The deal helped avert a government assault on the region, the last major bastion of opponents of President Bashar Assad.
But Moscow has since complained about escalating violence in the area and said that militants who used to belong to the Nusra Front group are in control of large swaths of territory.
Syrian forces attacked
In another development, attacks by two militant groups killed at least 17 Syrian government troops and militiamen in the northern province of Aleppo early on Saturday, a war monitor said.
Thirty others were wounded in the assaults by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), and its ally Hurras Al-Deen, which remains affiliated to the global militant network, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The attacks in the southern and southwestern countryside of Aleppo province were launched shortly after midnight and triggered clashes that continued until dawn, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
He said the fighting subsided after Russian aircraft struck militant positions in the area, prompting the fighters to pull back.
Eight militants were killed, he added.
Russia aircraft also carried out strikes in neighboring Hama province early on Saturday, killing five civilians, the Observatory said.
On Friday, Russian strikes killed 10 civilians in Idlib province, the hub of territory held by the militants of HTS in northwestern Syria.
Russia and opposition-backer Turkey in September inked a buffer zone deal to avert a massive government offensive on the Idlib region, but the deal has never been implemented.
The region of some 3 million people has come under increasing bombardment since HTS took full control of it in January.
The latest Russian air raids came after two days of talks on the Syrian conflict between Turkey, Russia and fellow government backer Iran in Kazakhstan earlier this week.
The three governments expressed concern over the growing power of HTS in Idlib and parts of adjacent provinces, and determination to cooperate to eliminate the militant group.
Moscow is keen to help Assad retake territory, including eventually Idlib province, but Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has argued against a Russian-backed offensive in a region that borders his own country.
Ankara is concerned about potential refugee flows from Idlib in the event of a military operation, and wants to retain its influence there.
The civil war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began with the bloody repression of anti-government protests in 2011.


UN agency: Iran violating all restrictions of nuclear deal

Updated 39 min 6 sec ago

UN agency: Iran violating all restrictions of nuclear deal

  • Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia
  • Known as the JCPOA, it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms

VIENNA: Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium and remains in violation of its deal with world powers, the United Nations' atomic watchdog said Friday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported the finding in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press.
The agency said that as of May 20, Iran’s total stockpile of low-enriched uranium amounted to 1,571.6 kilograms (1.73 tons), up from 1,020.9 kilograms (1.1 tons) on Feb. 19.
Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds).
The US pulled out of the deal unilaterally in 2018.
The IAEA reported that Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of 4.5%, higher than the 3.67% allowed under the JCPOA. It is also above the pact's limitations on heavy water.
The nuclear deal promised Iran economic incentives in return for the curbs on its nuclear program. Since President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal, Iran has been slowly violating the restrictions.
The ultimate goal of the JCPOA is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb — something that Tehran says it does not want to do. It has been open about the violations and continues to allow IAEA inspectors access to its facilities to monitor their operations.
It is now in violation of all restrictions outlined by the JCPOA, which Tehran says it hopes will pressure the other nations involved to increase economic incentives to make up for hard-hitting sanctions imposed by Washington after the US withdrawal.
Though Iran has been hard hit by the new coronavirus pandemic, the IAEA said it has maintained its verification and monitoring activities in the country, primarily by chartering aircraft to fly inspectors to and from Iran.
It cited “exceptional cooperation” from authorities in Austria, where it is based, and Iran in facilitating the operation.