‘Russian’ bombardment threatens Syrian cease-fire

Syrian men look at a destroyed sheep pen following a Russian airstrike in the village of Al-Daher in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2019
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‘Russian’ bombardment threatens Syrian cease-fire

  • UN investigators link US, Syrian and Russian forces to war crimes

BEIRUT, GENEVA: Jets believed to be Russian bombed opposition-held areas in northwest Syria on Wednesday amid increased shelling of towns by the Syrian army that threatened the collapse of a fragile Russian-brokered cease-fire, two opposition sources and residents said. The jets that flew overnight at high altitudes struck a village near Kafr Takhareem and an area near the town of Darkoush, both in rural areas in western Idlib province, two opposition sources and a resident in the area said.
The overnight bombing raid came hours after airstrikes hit a part of the northwest for the first time since the truce was declared 11 days ago, according to activists and a monitor. Moscow denied conducting the first strikes.
Russia said the Syrian regime unilaterally agreed to a truce on Aug. 31 in opposition-controlled Idlib, where a “de-escalation zone” was brokered two years ago between Russia and Turkey.
The opposition says Russian special forces and Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside the Syrian forces have also breached the cease-fire by trying several times to storm opposition-held areas in the last week only to be repelled so far.

UN report
Meanwhile, UN investigators said on Wednesday that airstrikes by US-led coalition forces in Syria have killed or wounded many civilians, indicating that required precautions were ignored and war crimes may have been committed.

FASTFACT

The opposition says Russian special forces and Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside the Syrian army have also breached the cease-fire by trying several times to storm rebel-held areas in the last week only to be repelled so far.

Syrian regime and allied Russian warplanes are also conducting a deadly campaign that appears to target medical facilities, schools, markets and farmland and which may also amount to war crimes, the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said.
The investigators also accused Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an opposition alliance formerly known as Nusra Front that is the dominant armed group in Idlib, of firing rockets indiscriminately and killing civilians.
The eight-year-old war has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and forced 13 million people from their homes, half of whom have left their shattered homeland.
Backed by US-led coalition air power in a fight to oust Daesh, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which include Kurdish fighters, retook the group’s last major stronghold of Hajjin in eastern Syria in late December.
The coalition’s Al-Jazeera Storm operation resulted in a high number of civilian casualties, including in a series of strikes on Jan. 3 in Sha’fah, south of Hajjin, that killed 16 civilians including 12 children, the UN report said.
“The Commission finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that international coalition forces may not have directed their attacks at a specific military objective, or failed to do so with the necessary precaution,” it said.
“Launching indiscriminate attacks that result in death or injury to civilians amounts to a war crime in cases in which such attacks are conducted recklessly,” it added.
Coalition officials could not be reached immediately for comment on the report.
Night raids by SDF forces backed by coalition helicopter gunships killed and wounded civilians in Shahil and other parts of Deir Ezzor province, in further apparent violations of international law, the investigators said.
Syrian regime forces carried out repeated airstrikes in Saraqib, in northwest Idlib province on March 9, damaging Al-Hayat women’s and children’s hospital, despite pro-regime forces being aware of its coordinates, the report said.
In Idlib on May 14, pro-regime forces “airdropped between two and four missiles on a fish market and primary school for girls in Jisr Al-Shughur,” killing at least 8 civilians, it said.
“Such attacks may amount to the war crime of deliberately attacking protected objects and intentionally attacking medical personnel,” it said.
The Syrian army denies its strikes target civilians and says its forces only bomb militants associated with hard-line groups linked to Al-Qaeda.
The report covers the year to July and is based on nearly 300 interviews and analysis of satellite imagery, photographs and videos.


Lebanese economic growth zero if not negative, acknowledges Finance Minister Khalil

Updated 36 min 36 sec ago

Lebanese economic growth zero if not negative, acknowledges Finance Minister Khalil

  • Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said Lebanon will very soon start measures to issue about $2 billion of foreign currency bonds
  • One of the world’s most heavily indebted states, Lebanon is aiming to drive through long-postponed reforms to put the public finances on a sustainable path

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s economic growth is zero if not negative, leading to pressure on the central bank’s foreign currency reserves, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said on Wednesday.
Khalil also said Lebanon will “very soon” start measures to issue about $2 billion of foreign currency bonds.
In response to questions about difficulties some Lebanese have faced in obtaining dollars, Khalil said that “there was not much liquidity in people’s hands” but that this had “no impact” and that banks were maintaining the pegged exchange rate.
Khalil was giving details at a news conference of the 2020 draft state budget, which is aimed at reducing the deficit. The new budget would include no new taxes or fees, he said.
“The level of growth went back to zero, if not negative, and therefore this matter led to an increase in the pressure on (the central bank) reserve in foreign currencies, (and) the accumulation of the deficit in the treasury,” Khalil said.
The cost of debt servicing had also moved higher with increased interest rates, he said.
One of the world’s most heavily indebted states, Lebanon is aiming to drive through long-postponed reforms to put the public finances on a sustainable path.
The impetus has grown due to a stagnant economy and a slowdown in inflows of hard currency from Lebanese abroad, which has long been a key source of financing for the state and its current account deficit.
The Lebanese pound has been pegged at its current level against the US dollar for more than two decades and the government has vowed it will be kept there.
Some Lebanese importers say they have found it harder or more expensive to acquire dollars in recent weeks.
“The economic situation is tough but we are not a collapsing country at the financial level ... and we still have the ability to meet needs,” Khalil said. “Yes, there is not much liquidity in foreign currencies in people’s hands in the market, but the dollar exchange rate is still maintained in the banks.
“What we are feeling is that small cash in people’s hands is not available, outside the framework of (bank) transactions ... but we want to say that this has no impact,” he added.