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.


Man shot dead as Lebanese army disperse protesters

Updated 13 November 2019

Man shot dead as Lebanese army disperse protesters

  • The death is the second during the nationwide protests that have paralyzed the country

BEIRUT: A man was shot dead south of Beirut after the army opened fire to disperse protesters blocking roads, Lebanese state media said Wednesday, nearly a month into an unprecedented anti-graft street movement.
The victim “succumbed to his injuries” in hospital, the National News Agency said, the second death during the nationwide protests that have paralyzed the country.
The army said in a statement that it had arrested a soldier after he opened fire in the coastal town of Khalde, just below the capital, to clear protesters “injuring one person.”
Protesters have been demanding the ouster of a generation of politicians seen by demonstrators as inefficient and corrupt, in a movement that has been largely peaceful.
On Tuesday night, street protests erupted after President Michel Aoun defended the role of his allies, the Shiite movement Hezbollah, in Lebanon’s government.
Protesters responded by cutting off several major roads in and around Beirut, the northern city of Tripoli and the eastern region of Bekaa.
The Progressive Socialist Party, led by influential Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, said in a statement that the man shot dead was one its members.
A long-time opponent of President Michel Aoun, Jumblatt appealed to his supporters to stay calm.
“In spite of what happened, we have no other refuge than the state. If we lose hope in the state, we enter chaos,” he said.
The government stepped down on October 29 but stayed on in a caretaker capacity and no overt efforts have so far been made to form a new one, as an economic crisis brings the country to the brink of default.
On Tuesday morning, dozens of protesters had gathered near the law courts in central Beirut and tried to stop judges and lawyers from going to work, demanding an independent judiciary.
Employees at the two main mobile operators, Alfa and Touch, started a nationwide strike.
Many schools and universities were closed, as were banks after their employees called for a general strike over alleged mistreatment by customers last week.

Opinion

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The UN’s special coordinator for the country, Jan Kubis, urged Lebanon to accelerate the formation of a new government that would be able “to appeal for support from Lebanon’s international partners.”
“The financial and economic situation is critical, and the government and other authorities cannot wait any longer to start addressing it,” he said.
The leaderless protest movement first erupted after a proposed tax on calls via free phone apps, but it has since morphed into an unprecedented cross-sectarian outcry against everything from perceived state corruption to rampant electricity cuts.
Demonstrators say they are fed up with the same families dominating government institutions since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
In his televised address on Tuesday, Aoun proposed a government that includes both technocrats and politicians.
“A technocratic government can’t set the policies of the country” and would not “represent the people,” he said in the interview on Lebanese television.
Asked if he was facing pressure from outside Lebanon not to include the Iran-backed Hezbollah in a new government, he did not deny it.
But, he said, “they can’t force me to get rid of a party that represents at least a third of Lebanese,” referring to the weight of the Shiite community.
The latest crisis in Lebanon comes at a time of high tensions between Iran and the United States, which has sanctioned Hezbollah members in Lebanon.
Forming a government typically takes months in Lebanon, with protracted debate on how best to maintain a fragile balance between religious communities.
The World Bank says around a third of Lebanese live in poverty and has warned the country’s struggling economy could further deteriorate if a new cabinet is not formed rapidly.