Russia carries out air strikes against militants in Syria’s Idlib

The Russian Ministry of Defence said on Thursday that its planes had carried out four air strikes against militants in Syria's Idlib region. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 June 2019

Russia carries out air strikes against militants in Syria’s Idlib

  • The Syrian army and its allies shelled rebel-held areas of northwest Syria on Thursday and attacked a Turkish observation post
  • Russia is Damascus’s main ally in the civil war between Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels seeking to oust him, using its warplanes to bombard opposition areas

MOSCOW: The Russian Ministry of Defence said on Thursday that its planes had carried out four air strikes against militants in Syria's Idlib region, the RIA news agency reported.
The Russian military said that the Turkish army had asked for its help to protect Turkish troops by striking "terrorists in Idlib".

Earlier, the Syrian army and its allies shelled rebel-held areas of northwest Syria on Thursday and attacked a Turkish observation post, Ankara and a monitoring group said, despite Russia saying it and Turkey had brokered a new cease-fire.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday said a ceasefire had not been fully secured in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, despite the announcement by Moscow.
"We are working hard with Russia to stop these attacks. It is not possible to say a complete ceasefire has been secured," Cavusoglu told a press conference with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said Syrian government forces carried out what it assessed to be a deliberate attack, firing 35 mortar shells at one of its observation posts in the de-escalation zone in Idlib, wounding three Turkish soldiers and damaging equipment and facilities.
Ankara has made representations to Moscow about the incident, the defense ministry said. It did not say when exactly the attack happened.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said air strikes on rebel-held areas paused overnight, but resumed on Thursday morning. They targeted the area around Khan Sheikhoun, an opposition-held town in southern Idlib province, it said, adding that the insurgents had also fired artillery at government forces.
On Wednesday, the Russian military said that Moscow and Ankara had agreed a full cease-fire in the northwest, centered on Idlib, but it did not say how long the truce would last.
The Syrian government launched its offensive against northwest Syria, the last major stronghold of the rebellion against it, in late April.
Russia is Damascus’s main ally in the civil war between Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels seeking to oust him, using its warplanes to bombard opposition areas. Turkey backs some insurgent groups.
Moscow and Ankara had agreed a partial truce last September that called for an end to bombardment of the area and for Ankara to pull heavy weapons and militant groups from frontline areas.
The fighting has caused hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom had already been displaced, to flee further north and seek shelter along the Turkish border.
Turkey has pushed Russia to rein in the government’s offensive while Russia has said Turkey must curb the militant groups that dominate in Idlib.


Iraq officials must ‘step up’ to enact reforms: UN envoy

Updated 47 min 48 sec ago

Iraq officials must ‘step up’ to enact reforms: UN envoy

  • UN has put forward a phased roadmap calling for an immediate end to violence and electoral reform within 2 weeks
  • Protesters have escalated their demands to deep-rooted regime change

BAGHDAD: Iraqi officials must ramp up their response to mass demonstrations demanding an overhaul of the political system, the UN representative in Baghdad told AFP in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who heads the UN’s Iraq mission (UNAMI), said the country’s authorities must “step up to the plate and make things happen.”
“They are elected by the people, they are accountable to them,” she said.
Protests broke out in Baghdad and the country’s Shiite-majority south in early October over rampant corruption, lack of jobs and notoriously poor services.
One in five people lives below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second biggest producer.
The United Nations has proposed a phased roadmap that, in a crucial step, was endorsed by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani after meeting Hennis-Plasschaert.
It calls for an immediate end to violence, electoral reform and anti-graft measures within two weeks followed by constitutional amendments and infrastructure legislation within three months.
Hennis-Plasschaert discussed the plan with lawmakers on the sidelines of a parliamentary session on Wednesday, telling them: “Now is the time to act, otherwise any momentum will be lost — lost at a time when many, many Iraqis demand concrete results.”
Protesters have escalated their demands to deep-rooted regime change, unimpressed by government promises of reform.
“There is lots at stake here. Public trust is at an all-time low,” Hennis-Plasschaert told AFP.
“Nothing is more detrimental to public trust than saying ‘A’ and doing ‘B.’ Nothing is more harmful than overpromising and under-delivering,” she added.
Hennis-Plasschaert, 46, was named UNAMI chief last year after having served as the Netherlands defense minister from 2012 until 2017.
She is one of the very few diplomatic figures who meets with Sistani, the revered 89-year-old cleric who never appears in public.
Following their meeting on Monday, she said Sistani, known as the marjaiyah, feared political forces were “not serious enough” to enact reforms.
“If the three authorities — executive, judiciary and legislative — are not able or willing to conduct these reforms decisively, there must be a way to think of a different approach,” she warned at the time.
Pressed by AFP on what the “different approach” could be, Hennis-Plasschaert declined to elaborate, citing “the confidentiality we have with him.”
“The conversation with Grand Ayatollah Sistani is always straightforward, open, and frank, but I cannot go into further detail,” the top diplomat said.
Demonstrators gathering in the main protest camp of Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Wednesday said her meeting with Sistani helped bolster their crowds.
Hennis-Plasschaert met with protesters in Tahrir last month, even riding in the tuk-tuk rickshaw that has become an icon of the uprising for ferrying wounded protesters to medics.
“They are losing brothers and friends in the streets,” she said of the young protesters she had met.
More than 300 people have died and 15,000 people have been wounded since demonstrations erupted on October 1.
“We are witnessing rising numbers of deaths and injured every day. It’s horrific,” Hennis-Plasschaert said.
The protests initially fractured the political class but it has rallied in recent days to prop up the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
Politicians closed ranks following a series of meetings with top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, an extremely influential figure who often brokers deals among Iraq’s fractured political class.
Hennis-Plasschaert told AFP she did not seek to be a counter-weight to Iranian influence but said she feared that “spoilers” could prevent progress.
“This country unfortunately knows many actors, external, internal, that could act as spoilers (and) undermine the legitimate demands of the people,” she said.