Militant rocket fire kills 12 civilians in Syria: state media

A Syrian fighter fires a rocket-propelled grenade during a graduation of new Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham members at a camp in the countryside of the northern Idlib province on August 14, 2018. (AFP file photo)
Updated 17 June 2019

Militant rocket fire kills 12 civilians in Syria: state media

  • Former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham being blamed for the attack

DAMASCUS: Rocket fire has killed 12 civilians in a regime-held village in northwestern Syria, state news agency SANA has said blaming former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham for the attack.

SANA said 15 people were also wounded late Sunday in the attack on Al-Wadihi village south of Aleppo city and said HTS, which controls parts of Aleppo’s countryside as well as most of neighboring Idlib, was responsible.

It published graphic pictures purporting to show some of the victims in a hospital in the aftermath of the attack, including of bandaged men and children lying on stretchers, thick blankets covering their bodies.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the same death toll — saying five children were among those killed — and also blamed militants based in rural Aleppo for the attack.

But the Britain-based monitor did not specify whether HTS or other allied militant groups were responsible.

The attack came as Syrian government forces have been locked in clashes with HTS fighters in nearby Hama province.

More than 35 combatants, mostly regime forces, were killed on Saturday in battles in Hama’s countryside, according to the Observatory.

Parts of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib are supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented as militants refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, HTS extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian government and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.