Syrian rebels shoot down government warplane in northwest

Syrian government soldiers intensified their fighting in the past days. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 August 2019

Syrian rebels shoot down government warplane in northwest

  • Syrian army captured 5 villages, including Tel Aas and Kfar Eean
  • Syrian military media said they fought Al-Qaeda-linked militants

BEIRUT: Rebels shot down a Syrian warplane in the opposition stronghold of Idlib province on Wednesday as Russian-backed government forces closed in on a strategically important town, rebel sources and a war monitor said.
A pilot who ejected from the plane was captured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reports on the war using a network of sources. Syrian state media made no initial mention of such an incident.
The hard-line extremists Tahrir Al-Sham, the most powerful insurgent group in the area, said its fighters had shot down a Sukhoi 22 jet that had taken off from a Syrian air base in Homs province.
The jet was downed near Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town that was hit by a sarin gas attack in 2017 and is now being targeted in a Russian-backed government offensive.
Government forces seized new ground from rebels near Khan Sheikhoun on Wednesday, advancing to within a few kilometers (miles) of the town. A rebel commander told Reuters that the town, in opposition hands since 2014, was in “great danger.”
Dozens of people were killed in Khan Sheikhoun in 2017 in the poison gas attack that prompted President Donald Trump to order a missile strike against the Syrian air base from where the United States said it had been launched.
An investigation conducted by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the Syrian government was responsible for releasing sarin on the town on April 4, 2017. Damascus denies using such weapons.
Syrian rebels have shot down government planes on several occasions during the war that spiralled out of the uprising against President Bashar Assad in 2011.
Tahrir Al-Sham’s statement did not say how the plane had been shot down. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy machine guns had been used.
The northwestern Idlib region is part of the last major stronghold of the opposition to President Assad.
Assad’s side had struggled to make any gains in the area in an offensive that got under way in late April. But since the collapse of a brief cease-fire this month, it has managed to take several significant positions, including the town of Al-Habeet on Saturday.
The advance toward Khan Sheikhoun threatens to encircle the last remaining pocket of rebel-held territory in neighboring Hama province, including the towns of Morek, Kafr Zeita and Latamneh.
The humanitarian adviser to the UN Special Envoy for Syria said the new surge in violence in the northwest threatened the lives of millions after more than 500 civilians were killed since late April.
Tahrir Al-Sham is the latest incarnation of the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which was Al-Qaeda’s official wing in the Syrian conflict until they parted ways in 2016.
The group is designated as a terrorist organization by the UN Security Council.


Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

Updated 10 min 22 sec ago

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

  • Several European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.