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.


Pope backs Iraqi call for its sovereignty to be respected

Updated 25 January 2020

Pope backs Iraqi call for its sovereignty to be respected

  • President Barham Salih held private talks for about 30 minutes with the pope and then met the Vatican’s two top diplomats
  • The recent tensions in Iraq could make it impossible for Francis to visit the country, which he has said he would like to do this year

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis met Iraq’s president on Saturday and the two agreed that the country’s sovereignty must be respected, following attacks on Iraqi territory this month by the United States and Iran.
President Barham Salih held private talks for about 30 minutes with the pope and then met the Vatican’s two top diplomats, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, its foreign minister.
The talks “focused on the challenges the country currently faces and on the importance of promoting stability and the reconstruction process, encouraging the path of dialogue and the search for suitable solutions in favor of citizens and with respect for national sovereignty,” a Vatican statement said.
On Jan. 8, Iranian forces fired missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing US troops in retaliation for Washington’s killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike a Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.
The Iraqi parliament has passed a resolution ordering the 5,000 US troops stationed in Iraq to leave the country.
Soon after the Iranian attack, Francis urged the United States and Iran to avoid escalation and pursue “dialogue and self-restraint” to avert a wider conflict in the Middle East.
The pope discussed the Middle East with US Vice President Mike Pence on Friday.
The recent tensions in Iraq could make it impossible for Francis to visit the country, which he has said he would like to do this year.
The Vatican said the pope and Salih also discussed “the importance of preserving the historical presence of Christians in the country.”
The Christian presence in Iraq and some other countries in the Middle East has been depleted by wars and conflicts.
Iraq’s several hundred thousand Christians suffered particular hardships when Daesh controlled large parts of the country, but have recovered.