Rebels launch Idlib counter-offensive

A Syrian youth walks through rubble and debris in a building that was damaged by a reported government forces' air strike in the village of Al-Haraki in the northwestern Idlib province on December 1, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Rebels launch Idlib counter-offensive

  • The assault comes ahead of a NATO Summit in London that will discuss the Syrian conflict

ANKARA: A rebel counter-offensive has begun in Syria’s Idlib province against regime forces and Russia-backed militias, days ahead of a NATO Summit in London that will discuss the ongoing conflict.

A coalition of groups has taken some towns from the regime in the southeastern part of Idlib, the last remaining opposition rebel bastion.

Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, told Arab News that the aim of the opposition offensive is “to force the regime to cancel any plan for a future attack.”

Meanwhile, a second week-long round of talks on Syria’s constitution ended on Friday without agreement. 

There is as yet no date for the next meeting, and experts say the fighting in Idlib will further undermine efforts toward a political solution to the conflict.

“The regime cannot accuse the opposition of failing the political process as the regime is primary responsible for undermining it,” Ammar Hamou, senior editor at the Syria Direct news outlet, told Arab News.

“The Syrian regime is at the height of insolence because it didn’t abide by the cease-fire, and took control of Khan Sheikhoun and the northern countryside of Hama at a time when Turkey and Russia were supporting the political process.”

Halid Abdurrahman, a researcher and analyst on the Middle East and North Africa, said he does not expect the NATO Summit to resolve the crisis.

“However, some decisions can be taken on the fate of Syrian refugees currently hosted by Turkey,” he told Arab News.

“The attacks that were initiated by Russia in the southern part of Idlib may nevertheless trigger a wave of thousands of civilians to the Turkish borders.”

The regime cannot accuse the opposition of failing the political process as the regime is primary responsible for undermining it.

Ammar Hamou

Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch, said there is a risk that as the Turkish military and allied Syrian groups prioritize fighting Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, Russian and regime forces will take advantage of their departure from Idlib to intensify their assault there.

“The 3 million civilians sheltering in Idlib are at risk, completely vulnerable to Russia’s and Syria’s bombardment with little if any concern for civilian deaths,” he told Arab News.

“As has been the case for the past two years, the key to preventing a bloodbath in Idlib is pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Roth said.

“European governments especially must make clear that any hope he has for normalized relations with Europe, let alone future reconstruction assistance for Syria, depends on his preventing the slaughter of civilians in Idlib.”

Abdurrahman said the participation of some Ankara-backed groups in the rebel counter-offensive in Idlib “means that Turkey supports a military operation against Russia, while Moscow can use these clashes to justify a harsher intervention in Idlib in the coming days.”

Experts say the participation of Ankara-backed groups is a sign of Turkey’s dissatisfaction with recent contacts between Russia and the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers a terrorist group.

Last week, a Russian delegation discussed infrastructure and service issues with a YPG council in the northern Syrian city of Ayn Al-Arab, which the group was supposed to have left a month ago under a deal between Moscow and Ankara.

Hamou said if Turkey and Russia want the political process in Syria to succeed, they must put real pressure on the regime in Damascus, in the same way that the opposition is being pressured. 

Ankara and Moscow “must also explain what the political process means for civilians, and provide them with real guarantees,” he said.

Lebanese burn ruling parties’ offices after night of clashes

Updated 15 December 2019

Lebanese burn ruling parties’ offices after night of clashes

  • Attacks came just hours after Beirut was rocked by the most violent government crackdown on protesters

BEIRUT: Attackers in northern Lebanon set fire to the offices of two major political parties on Sunday, the state-run National News Agency said.
The assaults came just hours after the capital Beirut was rocked by the most violent government crackdown on protesters since nationwide demonstrations began two months ago. Lebanese security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas and used water cannons throughout the night to disperse anti-government protesters from the city center — the epicenter of the protest movement in Beirut — and around parliament.
The overnight confrontations in Beirut left more than 130 people injured, according to the Red Cross and the Lebanese Civil Defense.
In the northern Akkar district on Sunday, attackers broke the windows and torched the local office for resigned Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s political party in the town of Kharibet Al-Jindi.
In a separate attack in Akkar district, assailants stormed the local office of the largest party in parliament, affiliated with President Michel Aoun and headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Their party said the contents of the office in Jedidat Al-Juma town had also been smashed and burned.
Lebanon is facing one of its worst economic crises in decades, and the protesters accuse the ruling political class in place for three decades of mismanagement and corruption.
The violence comes a day before the president is due to hold talks with different parliamentary blocs to name a new prime minister on Monday.
Interior Minister Raya Al-Hassan on Sunday ordered an investigation into the clashes which she said injured both protesters and security forces. She said she watched the confrontations “with concern, sadness and shock.”
Al-Hassan blamed “infiltrators” for instigating the friction and called on the demonstrators to be wary of those who want to exploit their protests for political reasons. She didn’t elaborate.
Nationwide protests began on Oct. 17, and the government headed by Hariri resigned two weeks later.
Political parties have since been bickering over the shape and form of the new Cabinet. Protesters want a technocratic government, not affiliated with established political parties.
After weeks of back and forth, Hariri has emerged as the likely candidate for the job.