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.


Wife of White Helmets co-founder Le Mesurier banned from leaving Turkey

Updated 39 min 5 sec ago

Wife of White Helmets co-founder Le Mesurier banned from leaving Turkey

  • Winberg will not be allowed to leave the country, as long as the investigation into her husband’s death continues
  • The preliminary autopsy reports suggest suicide was the most likely cause of death, with the final report set to be completed next week

ISTANBUL: Turkey has imposed a travel ban on Emma Winberg, the wife of James Le Mesurier, founder of the Mayday Rescue Foundation, who was found dead in Istanbul on Monday.
Speculation abounds over the circumstances of Le Mesurier’s death, with questions over whether the former British intelligence officer was murdered or committed suicide.
Though Turkish police sources believe Le Mesurier jumped to his death from his flat, his wife, 39, has not been allowed to return home because of Turkish law.
Le Mesurier had reportedly told his wife of suicidal thoughts two weeks before the incident. His wife notified the police that he was in a deteriorating psychological state and taking anti-depressants and medication for stress. His hospital records are also being examined.
Umur Yildirim, an attorney specialized in criminal justice, said that according to Turkish law, it was possible for Turkish authorities to impose a travel ban on people not of Turkish nationality of importance to an open investigation.  
Winberg will not be allowed to leave the country, as long as the investigation into her husband’s death continues.
Based on reports, Le Mesurier’s residence was only accessible via fingerprint, and in testimony released by Turkish authorities, Winberg claimed the pair had taken sleeping pills at around 4 a.m.the night before. She was woken by police after they were notified of a body lying outside the building.
The preliminary autopsy reports suggest suicide was the most likely cause of death, with the final report set to be completed next week. The investigation continues.
Le Mesurier was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the UK government in 2016.