Syria’s Rukban camp dwindles after five-month Russian siege

Members of the Syrian Civil Defense search for victims at the site of a reported airstrike on the town of Ariha, in the south of Syria's Idlib province, on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2019

Syria’s Rukban camp dwindles after five-month Russian siege

  • Damascus keeps up deadly bombardment of opposition-held town; 9 more killed

AMMAN, BEIRUT: The population of Rukban camp in a US-protected desert zone in southeast Syria has dwindled to a quarter of the more than 40,000 who lived there five months ago due to Russian moves to block supplies, Syrian aid workers, diplomats and residents say.

The fate of the camp and its residents, living near a Pentagon-run base close to the Jordanian and Iraqi borders, highlights the tussle for influence in the region between Russia and the US.
It also exposes the same strategy of years of bitter siege imposed on former opposition bastions by Moscow and Syria’s Bashar Assad’s forces to push opposition forces to capitulate.
The camp’s inhabitants, most of whom fled from Russian airstrikes when Moscow pounded towns in eastern Homs desert several years ago, say growing hunger and poverty as a result of the blocking of food supplies had forced most to leave.
“The situation is very, very bad and food supplies are not available,” said Mahmoud al Humeili, a prominent local figure in the camp who fled Homs.

Civilians die
Regime and Russian bombardment on Sunday killed nine civilians in northwestern Syria where ramped-up attacks by the two allies have claimed hundreds of lives since April, a war monitor said.
Idlib and parts of the neighboring provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia are under the control of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.
The region is supposed to be protected from a massive government offensive by a September buffer zone deal, but it has come under increasing fire by Damascus and its backer Moscow over the past three months.

FASTFACT

• The fate of the camp and its residents, living near a Pentagon-run base close to the Jordanian and Iraqi borders, highlights the tussle for influence in the region between Russia and the US.

• The region is supposed to be protected from a massive government offensive by a September buffer zone deal.

Regime airstrikes on Sunday killed five civilians in the Idlib town of Ariha, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Russian raids, meanwhile, killed two civilians in northern Hama, according to the Britain-based monitor. Shelling and airstrikes by the regime also killed two other civilians elsewhere in the northwest, it added.
The bombardment comes a day after regime and Russian airstrikes on the region killed 15 civilians, including 11 in Ariha, the monitor said.
Some 3 million people, nearly half of them already displaced from other parts of the country, live in the Idlib region.
Attacks by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia have claimed more than 740 lives there since late April, according to the war monitor.
The UN says more than 400,000 people have been displaced.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.


Successor to slain Iran general faces same fate if he kills Americans: US envoy

Updated 23 January 2020

Successor to slain Iran general faces same fate if he kills Americans: US envoy

  • Washington blamed Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias against US forces in the region
  • Ghaani promised to “continue in this luminous path” taken by Soleimani and said the goal was to drive US forces out of the region

DUBAI: The US special representative for Iran said the successor to Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike, would suffer the same fate if he followed a similar path of killing Americans, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.

Washington blamed Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias against US forces in the region. US President Donald Trump ordered the Jan. 3 drone strike in Iraq after a build up of tension over Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran responded to the killing of Soleimani, who was charged with expanding Tehran’s influence across the Middle East, by launching missile strikes on US targets in Iraq, although no US soldiers were killed.

After Soleimani’s death, Tehran swiftly appointed Esmail Ghaani as the new head of the Quds Force, an elite unit in the Revolutionary Guards that handles actions abroad. The new commander pledged to pursue Soleimani’s course.

“If (Esmail) Ghaani follows the same path of killing Americans then he will meet the same fate,” Brian Hook told the Arabic-language daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said in the interview in Davos that US President Donald Trump had long made it clear “that any attack on Americans or American interests would be met with a decisive response.”

“This isn’t a new threat. The president has always said that he will always respond decisively to protect American interests,” Hook said. “I think the Iranian regime understands now that they cannot attack America and get away with it.”

After his appointment, Ghaani promised to “continue in this luminous path” taken by Soleimani and said the goal was to drive US forces out of the region, which has long been Iran’s stated policy.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have steadily increased since Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and imposed tough news sanctions that have hammered the Iranian economy.

This month’s military flare-up began in December when rockets fired at US bases in Iraq killed a US contractor. Washington blamed pro-Iran militia and launched air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters. After the militia surrounded the US embassy in Baghdad for two days, Trump ordered the drone strike on Soleimani.