US strikes Al-Qaeda leaders in Syria as regime violates Idlib ceasefire

People walk amidst the rubble of damaged buildings following a reported airstrike by Syrian regime forces in the area of Maaret Al-Numan in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on August 28, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 31 August 2019

US strikes Al-Qaeda leaders in Syria as regime violates Idlib ceasefire

  • The strike north of Idlib targeted leaders of the group the Pentagon calls Al-Qaeda in Syria (AQS)
  • Regime bombardment on Syria's northwest province of Idlib on Saturday killed a civilian just hours after a Russian-backed truce for the area started

BEIRUT: US forces attacked extremist leaders in Syria Saturday, the Pentagon said, in what a battlefield monitor called a missile strike that left at least 40 dead.
The US Defense Department said the attack targeted leaders of Al-Qaeda in Syria north of Idlib. It did not say what kind of weapon was used or give any details.
The missiles targeted leaders of terrorist groups and allied factions near Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

 "A missile attack targeted a meeting held by the leaders of Hurras Al-Deen, Ansar Al-Tawhid and other allied groups inside a training camp" near Idlib city, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory.
The attack killed at least 40 extremist leaders, the Britain based monitor said.
The US Central Command said in a statement that the attack targeted leaders of Al-Qaeda in Syria (AQ-S) "responsible for attacks threatening US citizens, our partners and innocent civilians. Additionally, the removal of this facility will further degrade their ability to conduct future attacks and destabilize the region."
An AFP correspondent saw clouds of black smoke rising over the area after blasts rocked the extremist stronghold.
Ambulances rushed to the site of the attack, which was closed off to journalists, he said.
It was not immediately clear if the missiles were launched from war planes or positions on the ground, the monitor said.
CENTCOM declined to say what kind of weaponry was used.

Regime bombardment on Syria's northwest province of Idlib on Saturday killed a civilian just hours after a Russian-backed truce for the area started, Abdel Rahman also said. 
The truce that came into effect on Saturday is the second such agreement between the Syrian regime and extremists since an August 1 ceasefire deal covering the Idlib region broke down only days after going into effect.
Russia-backed regime forces have been pressing an offensive against the major opposition stronghold in Idlib since April.
But Russia and Damascus are not the only players with a history of strike activity in the area.
On July 1 the United States said it had carried out a strike on Hurras Al-Deen in northwestern Syria, in its first such operation there in two years.
Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras Al-Deen was established in February 2018 and has some 1,800 fighters, including non-Syrians, according to the Observatory.
The group and its ally Ansar Al-Tawhid both operate in the Idlib region and are members of a joint extremist operation room that also includes Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.
Most of Idlib province and parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces are controlled by HTS.
Syrian state news agency SANA on Saturday said the government agreed to the Idlib ceasefire deal, which Russia said aimed "to stabilise the situation" in the anti-government bastion.
But the army "reserves the right to respond to violations" by extremists and allied rebel groups, SANA added, citing a Syrian military source.
The Idlib region is home to some three million people, nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of Syria.
Air strikes by Damascus and Russia have killed more than 950 civilians since the end of April, according to the Observatory.
The United Nations says the violence has also displaced more than 400,000 people.
The Idlib region is supposed to be protected from a massive government offensive by a Turkish-Russian deal struck in September 2018 that was never fully implemented as extremists refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarised cordon.
Turkey backs rebels in northwestern Syria.
"Russia and the Syrian government may be willing to give Turkey another opportunity to implement the terms of its September 2018 bilateral agreement with Russia," said Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group.
"Alternately, this ceasefire may just be an operational pause for Damascus and Moscow to consolidate their territorial gains and prepare for the next phase of their offensive," the Syria expert added.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whose forces control around 60 per cent of territory, has vowed to reclaim the rest of the country, including Idlib.
Saturday's truce is the latest attempt to avert a full-blown offensive, which the UN has said would result in one of the worst humanitarian "nightmares" in Syria's eight-year conflict.
Only a few hours before it went into effect, a Russian air strike hit a health facility in Aleppo's western countryside, putting it out of service, the Observatory said.
The UN has said 43 hospitals and clinics and 87 educational facilities have been impacted by fighting since April.
"The attacks we have seen on health facilities, educational facilities and water points is one of the highest in the world," Panos Moumtzis, the UN's Syria humanitarian chief, told AFP.
The Syrian conflict has killed more than 370,000 people and driven millions from their homes since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.


Lebanon struggles to restore normality amid protests

Anti-government protesters shout slogans against the Lebanese government in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. (AP)
Updated 2 min 17 sec ago

Lebanon struggles to restore normality amid protests

  • The ISG urged Lebanese authorities to address people’s complaints, demanding “structural reforms and responsible and acceptable social changes that truly curb corruption and waste, away from sectarianism

BEIRUT: Lebanese banks will remain closed in light of nationwide protests for the fifth consecutive day, the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced.
However, Banque du Liban, the country’s central bank, on Tuesday provided banks with money from their deposits in order to meet citizens’ needs.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Akram Chehayeb ordered all schools and universities to resume classes on Wednesday “in order to preserve the interests of students and to preserve the academic year.”
Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with the International Support Group (ISG) for Lebanon, which includes envoys from the US, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, the EU, China and the Arab League, as well as the UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis.
The ISG urged Lebanese authorities to address people’s complaints, demanding “structural reforms and responsible and acceptable social changes that truly curb corruption and waste, away from sectarianism.”
Such changes, it said, should “ensure proper governance and full accountability, and lead to sustainable and stable growth.”

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International Support Group urges govt to implement ‘structural reforms.’

Kubis said Hariri “committed that the government and its legitimate security forces will continue to protect civilians who are demonstrating peacefully, and will take appropriate measures against any possible violent incitement, to protect public and private property and institutions, and the people’s right to peacefully express their views.”
On behalf of the ISG, Kubis urged “officials and political actors in Lebanon to listen to the legitimate demands of the people, work with them on solutions, apply them, and refrain from any statements and acts that could inflame tensions and incite confrontation and violence.”
After meeting Hariri, Kuwait’s ambassador to Lebanon, Abdel Aal Al-Kinai, said: “Now is not the time to speak but to act.”