Russia announces ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib from Saturday

Residents inspect the rubble of damaged buildings, looking for victims, after a deadly airstrike in Maarat Al-Numan, Idlib province, Syria August 28, 2019. (Syria Civil Defense/Reuters)
Updated 31 August 2019

Russia announces ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib from Saturday

  • Russia's defense ministry urged armed militant groups in the region to join the ceasefire
  • The Turkish FM said continued attacks on Idlib may push another wave of Syrian refugees to Europe

MOSCOW/BEIRUT:  The Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria announced on Friday that an agreement had been reached on “a unilateral cease-fire by Syrian government forces in the Idlib de-escalation zone, from 6 a.m. on Aug. 31.”

The statement said the cease-fire aimed “to stabilize the situation” and urged anti-government fighters to “abandon armed provocations and join the peace process.”

The announcement came after Russian-backed regime forces advanced in the jihadist-held bastion — one of the last holdouts of opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime — after months of intense bombardment.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011. Many of those displaced are currently living in desert camps inside Syria, and on Friday the United Nations announced that it will help evacuate civilians from an “abysmal” Syrian desert camp near the border with Jordan, after a mission last week — sent by the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent — determined who wanted to leave.

“We are ready to facilitate” evacuations from the Rukban camp, said Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s Syria humanitarian chief. “We want to make sure it happens in a voluntary way.”

IN NUMBERS

370,000 - Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.

According to the UN official, around 12,700 people remain in the isolated Rukban camp near a base used by the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group, and just over one-third of them expressed their desire to leave.  

Jordan has largely sealed its border in the area since 2016, after a deadly attack claimed by Daesh on Jordanian soldiers.

The Syrian government and key backer Russia said in February they had opened corridors out of the camp, calling on residents to leave. More than half of the original population has since left, the UN claims.

Conditions inside Rukban are dire, with many surviving on just one simple meal a day, often bread and olive oil or yoghurt, according to one resident. “The situation is desperate,” Moumtzis said, describing Rukban as one of the hardest places to reach in Syria for humanitarian actors. Abu Ahmad Al-Dirbas Khalidi, the head of an opposition-run civil council in the camp, said the UN has vowed to deliver food aid by the first week of September.

Some 47 percent of surveyed camp residents said they wanted to remain in Rukban despite the conditions there, citing reasons including “security concerns” and “fear of detention.” Rights groups have warned that civilians returning to government-held territory have faced detention and conscription.

Although Rukban has not received aid since February, the latest UN mission did not deliver any relief items beyond “a minimal number of health supplies,” Moumtzis said.

But last week’s visit is only the first part of a “two-step” plan — the second of which will involve aid delivery, according to the UN official.

“The next mission — I hope very quickly — will go back and deliver desperately needed assistance,” he said, without providing a specific date.


Saudi Arabia, other Middle East countries warn citizens after protests erupt in Lebanon

Updated 18 October 2019

Saudi Arabia, other Middle East countries warn citizens after protests erupt in Lebanon

  • Saudi Arabia and Egypt called on citizens to avoid protest areas
  • Kuwait’s embassy in Lebanon asked citizens wishing to travel to Lebanon to postpone their plans

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Lebanon called on its citizens to avoid places where protests are taking place in the country on Friday. 

The Kingdom’s embassy in Beirut advised its nationals to take care and to “stay away from places of protest,” Al-Ekhbariya news channel reported. 

It also announced that the Lancaster Plaza Beirut hotel in the capital's Raouche neighborhood is a gathering point from which Saudi nationals can be transported to Beirut airport. 

Egypt’s embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut also called on its nationals in the country to avoid protest areas, Egyptian state news agency MENA said.

“The embassy calls on all Egyptian citizens in Lebanon to avoid the areas of gatherings and protests, to be careful in their movements and to abide by the instructions of the Lebanese authorities in this regard,” MENA said.

Meanwhile, Kuwait’s embassy in Lebanon asked citizens wishing to travel to Lebanon to wait because of the current protests and unrest.

“The embassy also calls on citizens currently in Lebanon to take utmost care and stay away from crowds and demonstrations,” the embassy said in its tweet.

Protesters across Lebanon blocked roads with burning tires on Friday and thousands marched in Beirut, calling on the government to resign over an economic crisis.