Damascus to let civilians flee rebel-held Idlib

The corridor will be set up in Souran, the countryside of Hama province. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 August 2019

Damascus to let civilians flee rebel-held Idlib

  • The corridor will help evacuate individuals in “areas controlled by terrorists”
  • The Idlib region has been ruled since January by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance

DAMASCUS: Damascus said Thursday it is opening a corridor for civilians to leave the rebel-held northwestern region of Idlib, where government bombardment has killed hundreds since late April, state media said.
The announcement came a day after government forces captured the key Idlib province town of Khan Sheikhun from extremists and allied rebels.
Damascus has opened such corridors out of other rebel bastions in the past as a prelude to retaking them either by force or through negotiated surrenders.
The Idlib region, which sits on the Turkish border, is now the last major stronghold of opposition to the Russia-backed government of President Bashar Assad.
Wednesday’s advance saw government forces cutting of a pocket of territory stretching from the south of Idlib province into neighboring Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.
“The Syrian government announces the opening of a humanitarian corridor in Souran in the northern countryside of Hama province,” state news agency SANA quoted a foreign ministry source as saying Thursday.
The corridor will be used to evacuate “civilians who want to leave areas controlled by terrorists in northern Hama and the southern countryside of Idlib.
The Idlib region has been ruled since January by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance, which is led by extremists from Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The government refers to all rebel groups in Idlib as “terrorists.”
The region of some three million people was supposed to be protected by a proposed buffer zone agreed by Moscow and rebel backer Ankara last September.
But the extremists of HTS failed to pull back from the zone as agreed and in April government and Russian forces resumed intense bombardment of the region.
Around 890 civilians have been killed, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
More than 400,000 more have led their homes, the United Nations says.
The entry of government forces into Khan Sheikhun raises the stakes between Damascus and Ankara, which has troops deployed in the nearby town of Morek, that is now cut off.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people since it started with the brutal suppression of anti-government protests in 2011.


French FM holds Iraq talks on Daesh prisoners in Syria

Updated 17 October 2019

French FM holds Iraq talks on Daesh prisoners in Syria

  • One of the issues is Iraq’s use of death penalty, which is outlawed throughout EU
  • Several EU countries sent technical missions to Baghdad to assess the situation

BAGHDAD: France’s top diplomat held talks in Baghdad on Thursday about transferring foreign militants from northern Syria, where a Turkish offensive has triggered fears of mass jailbreaks, to be tried in Iraq.
European governments are worried that the Turkish operation will allow the escape of some of the 12,000 suspected Daesh group fighters — including thousands of foreigners — held by Syrian Kurds.
The issue was top of the agenda for French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in his talks with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Ali Al-Hakim, President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
“We need to work things out with the Iraqi authorities so that we can find a way to have a judicial mechanism that is able to judge all these fighters, including obviously the French fighters,” Le Drian told French TV channel BFM on Wednesday.
The aim is for foreign militants to be tried in Iraqi courts while upholding certain principles of justice and respect for human rights, a French diplomatic source said.
One issue will be Iraq’s use of the death penalty, which is outlawed throughout the EU.
Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden sent officials on a technical mission to Baghdad this week to assess the situation.
“There are talks between the Americans, the British, French and Iraqis about funding the construction of prisons,” Hisham Al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert on Daesh, told AFP.
Hundreds of foreigners have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment in Iraq for belonging to Daesh.
Eleven French militants handed over to Iraqi authorities early this year by US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria were sentenced to death by a court in Baghdad.
In April, Iraq offered to try foreign Daesh suspects in exchange for operational costs.
One Iraqi official said Baghdad had requested $2 billion to put the suspects on trial.
Turkey on Monday accused Kurdish forces of deliberately releasing Daesh prisoners held at a prison in the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad “in an attempt to fuel chaos in the area.”
Kurdish officials claimed that Turkish bombardments had allowed nearly 800 relatives of foreign Daesh fighters to escape from a camp for the displaced.
According to the Kurdish administration, there are around 12,000 suspected Daesh fighters in the custody of Kurdish security forces across northeastern Syria.
At least 2,500 of them are non-Iraqi foreigners of more than 50 different nationalities. Tunisia is thought to have the biggest contingent.
Officials in Paris say 60 to 70 French nationals are among those held.
The rest are around 4,000 Syrians and roughly the same number of Iraqis.
The fighters, who were detained mostly in the course of operations led by Kurdish forces and backed by the US-led coalition against Daesh, are detained in at least seven facilities.
Western governments such as France have been reluctant to take them back, for lack of a clear legal framework and fears of a public backlash.
Le Drian said Wednesday that the security of Kurdish-run prisons holding suspected militants in northern Syria was “currently” not threatened by the Turkish military operation.