Warplanes strike hospital in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib

Civil defense workers extinguishing damaged shops after shelling hit a street in the town of Ehssem, southern Idlib, Syria, on Friday. A hospital was struck in the area on Sunday. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Updated 05 May 2019

Warplanes strike hospital in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib

  • Russian warplanes were behind the attack on the main hospital in the rebel-held village of Hass
  • Attacks on hospitals and clinics in the past have preceded major government offensives on rebel-held areas

BEIRUT: Warplanes struck a hospital in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Sunday, knocking it out of service, as government forces continued to bombard the rebel-held region following insurgent attacks last week.
The latest fighting has killed dozens of people and displaced tens of thousands in Idlib and nearby rebel-held areas, who fled to safer regions further north. It’s the heaviest fighting in months, and has raised fears the government may launch a wider offensive to retake the country’s last major rebel stronghold.
Attacks on hospitals and clinics in the past have preceded major government offensives on rebel-held areas, including the 2016 attack on rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo and last year’s offensive on eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian warplanes were behind the attack on the main hospital in the rebel-held village of Hass. The opposition-run activist collective Baladi News also reported the airstrike on the hospital, adding that it was not clear if there were casualties.
The Observatory said that since the early hours of Sunday, Russian warplanes carried out more than 50 airstrikes on Idlib and nearby Hama province. It said government and Russia bombardment killed at least six people on Sunday in different rebel-held areas.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry meanwhile said that two Turkish soldiers were wounded on Saturday when mortar shells fell near one of their positions in Hama province.
Turkey and Russia, who back opposite sides in Syria’s eight-year conflict, brokered a truce in September that averted a government offensive on Idlib. But the truce has been repeatedly violated, and parts of it have yet to be implemented, including the withdrawal of Al-Qaeda-linked militants from the front lines. Two major highways that cut through rebel-held areas were supposed to be reopened before the end of 2018 but remain closed.
The latest fighting erupted on April 30, three days after Al-Qaeda-linked militants launched attacks on the positions of government forces in northern Syria, killing 22 soldiers and pro-government gunmen.
“Any action taken by the Syrian Arab Army is legitimate since there has been no commitment to agreements reached,” a Syrian security official was quoted as saying by the government-run Syrian Central Military Media.
Pro-government media said insurgents shelled villages near the front lines, killing one civilian.
State news agency SANA quoted an unnamed Syrian military official as saying that insurgents are preparing to launch an offensive on government-held areas, warning that such an attack “would mark the beginning of their end.”
Government troops and insurgents have been reinforcing their positions in recent days in a sign that violence is expected to continue as Muslims mark the holy month of Ramadan beginning Monday.


Turkey’s rulers plot law changes to block breakaway parties’ power grab

Updated 28 May 2020

Turkey’s rulers plot law changes to block breakaway parties’ power grab

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP is working on a plan to stop parliamentary deputies from transferring to other parties

ANKARA: Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is looking at ways to change electoral laws in order to block challenges to power from two new breakaway political parties.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP and its nationalist coalition partner the MHP are working on a plan to stop parliamentary deputies from transferring to other parties — a move that has fueled rumors of an imminent snap election in the country.

Under Turkish election rules, political parties must settle their organization procedures in at least half of the nation’s cities and hold their first convention six months ahead of an election date.

Any political party with 20 lawmakers in Turkey’s parliament is entitled to take part in elections and be eligible for financial aid from the treasury for the electoral process.

The leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has hinted at the possibility of transferring some CHP lawmakers to the newly founded parties to secure their participation in elections.

Turkey’s ex-premier, Ahmet Davutoglu, and the country’s former economy czar, Ali Babacan, both longtime allies of Erdogan, recently left the AKP to establish their own opposition groups, and have come under pressure from the AKP and MHP to leave their parties out of the race.

Babacan has been critical of Erdogan’s move away from a parliamentary system of governance in Turkey to one providing the president with wide-ranging powers without any strong checks and balances.

“The AKP is abolishing what it built with its own hands. The reputation and the economy of the country is in ruins. The number of competent people has declined in the ruling party. Decisions are being taken without consultations and inside a family,” Babacan said in a recent interview.

He also claimed that AKP officials were competing against each other for personal financial gain.

Babacan, a founding member of the AKP, was highly respected among foreign investors during his time running the economy. He resigned from the party last year over “deep differences” to set up his DEVA grouping on March 9 with a diverse team of former AKP officials and liberal figures.

Berk Esen, a political analyst from Ankara’s Bilkent University, believes Babacan’s recent statements have angered Erdogan.

“As a technocrat, Babacan gains respect from secular circles as well as the international community, which Erdogan clearly lacks. Despite being in office for 13 years, Babacan has not been tainted by corruption allegations and is known as the chief architect of Turkey’s rapid economic growth during the AKP’s first two terms,” he told Arab News.

“The legislation that the AKP-MHP coalition is working on may prevent deputy transfer only in case early elections are scheduled for the fall. Otherwise, the newly established parties will most likely build their organizations across the country and become viable for elections by summer, if not the spring of 2021.”

If Davutoglu and Babacan were successful in capturing disillusioned voters, they could prevent the ruling coalition getting the 51 percent of votes needed to secure a parliamentary majority.