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.


Innovation, cooperation key to GCC’s economic vitality

The speakers underscored the need for GCC countries to strengthen their economies by continuing to invest in health care and education. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 44 min 31 sec ago

Innovation, cooperation key to GCC’s economic vitality

  • Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate features discussions on pressing geopolitical issues

ABU DHABI: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) could become the sixth-largest economic power in the world by 2030 if it can maintain the same pace of growth and development, according to a senior Bahraini official. Dr. Abdulla bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, chairman of the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (DERASAT), made the remark while speaking at the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate (ADSD) on Monday.
With “Old Power Competition in the New Age” as its theme, the conference has featured an impressive lineup of speakers. The topics for the second and final day were broadly “Power distribution in the Gulf region” and “Repercussions of conflicts on the future of Arab states.”
Al-Khalifa underscored the need for GCC countries to strengthen their economies by continuing to invest in health care and education and boosting the quality of human resources.
On the subject of regional tensions, Al-Khalifa had three likely scenarios, starting with one in which Gulf states become a united political bloc that serves as a “regional center for innovation, entrepreneurship, cooperation and sustainable development.” In the second scenario, a dire fate awaits the region, with terrorism and unrest prevailing over the forces of social and economic stability.
An equally worse-case scenario sees a “static” future, with the GCC region condemned to a prolonged period of unrest and constant interference by regional and global powers in their affairs.
Similar apprehensions were expressed by Mahmoud Jibril, a former prime minister of Libya and president of the National Forces’ Alliance, during a separate panel discussion, “Middle East Power Distribution: Hard, Soft and Artificial.”
Arguing that Israel has emerged as “the main winner” in Middle East conflicts, Jibril blamed the Arab world for not moving in step with “the trends of this era.”

HIGHLIGHT

With ‘Old Power Competition in the New Age’ as its theme, the conference has featured an impressive line-up of speakers.

He said that Israel was the recipient of 21 percent of international investments by technology giants such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon in their research and development centers.
“Investment channeled to Israel is 200 times as a proportion of the country’s population. These are its source of power,” Jibril said. By contrast, he said, the Arab world has one of the highest budgets for military acquisitions and yet its security environment keeps deteriorating.
Jibril identified three forces that he said are shaping modern history. The first is technologies such as AI (artificial intelligence) and digitalization. The second is youth, which he described as a “game changer” in the region. The third force, according to Jibril, is climate change.
“In the coming years, cities will disappear because of rising temperatures and economies will collapse due to expanding desertification,” he said. “The consequences will be migration and conflict. Unfortunately, these three forces cannot be reversed. At best, their impacts can be mitigated.”
Earlier in the day, Dr. Ebtesam Al-Ketbi, president of the Emirates Policy Center, the ADSD’s organizer, said that the Gulf region is witnessing “fierce competition among states over power redistribution.”
While the region’s security and stability will continue to be among the primary challenges, change will come once a deal with Iran is reached, she said.
“Iran doesn’t have anything to lose at the level of infrastructure,” El-Ketbi said.
“If a missile hits Iran, the country will not lose much but if a missile hits Aramco from Iran, there is a lot to lose.”
Al-Ketbi said that a balance of hard and soft power is crucial for achieving stability in the region. “Having hard power alone leads to wars and acts of sabotage,” she said, evidently alluding to recent incidents in the Gulf, while “possession of soft power alone is not enough for achieving security, especially for the GCC countries.”