Russian air strikes in Syria kill 15 civilians: monitor

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A Syrian man mourns the death of family members next to the rubble of his house following a reported airstrike on the village of Kafr Nuran, in the western countryside of the northern province of Aleppo, on January 21, 2020. (AFP)
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Members of the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, dig through the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on the village of Kafr Nuran, in the western countryside of the northern province of Aleppo, on January 21, 2020. (AFP)
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Members of the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, load a body onto a stretcher following a reported airstrike on the village of Kafr Naha, in the western countryside of the northern province of Aleppo, on January 21, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2020

Russian air strikes in Syria kill 15 civilians: monitor

  • The spike in violence in the neighboring provinces of Aleppo and Idlib follow so far unsuccessful diplomatic attempts to reduce hostilities in the region

BEIRUT: Russian air strikes killed at least 15 civilians Tuesday in northwestern Syria, as renewed violence tightened the noose around the country’s last major rebel-held bastion and deepened an already dire humanitarian crisis.
Retaliatory rocket attacks blamed on rebels and jihadists killed three more civilians in the government-held city of Aleppo in northern Syria, state news agency SANA said.
The spike in violence in the neighboring provinces of Aleppo and Idlib follow so far unsuccessful diplomatic attempts to reduce hostilities in the flashpoint region, with the latest truce in theory going into effect less than two weeks ago.
Most of Idlib and parts of Aleppo province are still controlled by factions opposed to President Bashar Assad’s regime, including a group that includes onetime members of Al-Qaeda’s former Syria franchise.
The Damascus regime, which controls around 70 percent of the country after nearly nine years of war, has repeatedly vowed to recapture the region.
On Tuesday, air strikes by regime-ally Russia on a rebel-held region in Aleppo’s western countryside killed eight members of the same family sheltering in a house, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Six children were among those killed in the raid on Kfar Taal village, where three girls already died a day earlier in strikes, according to the Britain-based monitor.
Another seven civilians were killed in Russian air strikes on western Aleppo and a southern region of Idlib.
“Over the past three days, the bombardment on Idlib and its surroundings, including in western Aleppo, has been exclusively Russian,” saud Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
“They want to push rebels and jihadists away from the city of Aleppo and from the motorway linking Aleppo to Damascus,” Abdel Rahman said.
SANA said rebel rocket fire on Tuesday also killed two women and a child in Aleppo city.
The surge in violence comes despite a cease-fire announced by Russia earlier this month that never really took hold.
Last Thursday, Russia denied launching any combat operations in the region since the start of the cease-fire earlier this month.
Russia has thousands of forces deployed across Syria in support of the army, while a contingent of Russian private security personnel also operates on the ground.
Moscow’s military intervention in 2015, four years into the Syrian conflict, helped keep Assad in power and marked a long, bloody reconquest of territory lost to rebels in early stages of the war.
Abdul Rahman said the latest spate in air strikes could be a prelude to a land offensive in western Aleppo, as the regime and its allies continue their drive to shrink the last opposition-held pocket.
“The regime has massed reinforcements on the outskirts of the city of Aleppo,” Abdel Rahman said.
The violence in northern Syria is escalating an already dire humanitarian situation, with aid groups warning of displacement on an unprecedented scale.
Idlib province alone is home to at least three million people, many of whom are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
According to the UN humanitarian coordination agency OCHA, almost 350,000 people have fled their homes since December 1, mainly northwards from southern Idlib, which has borne the brunt of the air strikes.
The International Rescue Committee has warned another 650,000 people, mostly children and women, could be forced from their homes if the violence continues.


Saudi-led coalition tightens the screws on Houthi smuggling routes

Iranian-backed militants ride on the back of a police patrol truck after participating in a Houthi gathering in Sanaa, as Yemen’s legitimage government tightens security measures. (Reuters)
Updated 3 min 18 sec ago

Saudi-led coalition tightens the screws on Houthi smuggling routes

  • Security measures intensified around main sea and land entry posts in Yemen to prevent Iran arms supply to rebels

AL-MUKALLA: The Saudi-led coalition and Yemen’s internationally recognized government have intensified security measures around main sea and land entry posts in Yemen to prevent Iran from smuggling arms to Houthis in Yemen.

Over the last couple of months, hundreds of Yemeni coast guard soldiers have been deployed off the Yemeni coasts on the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, as the coalition tightens security checks at the Shihen border crossing in the western province of Mahra.
Dozens of army and security checkpoints have also stepped up the inspection of vehicles that cross into Houthi-controlled territories in northern Yemen. Local army officers and experts say those measures have yielded considerable results, as several arms shipments have been intercepted before reaching the Houthis.

Yemen alert
In the Red Sea, local officers said Yemeni troops had consolidated their presence on the island of Perim near Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and off the coasts of the provinces of Hodeida and Taiz.
The coast guard initiated a hotline for receiving alerts from local fishermen, who were urged to report any suspected movements of boats in the Red Sea.
“Local fishermen are now helping us monitor the sea. They alert us about any ship or a boat suspected of carrying weapons to Houthis,” a coast guard officer in the Red Sea Khokha district told Arab News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, adding that coast guard forces had increased sea patrols around Zuqar and Perim Islands with the same aim.
The two islands are located at the southern entrance of the Red Sea, where arms shipments from Iran are thought to pass through.
The same officer said that three ships carrying a large amount of explosive materials heading to Houthis had been intercepted at sea in the last three months.
Last week, the commander of the Yemeni coast guard in the western coast announced seizing a ship carrying 20 tons of urea fertilizer. The material can be used for making bombs.
The investigation with the three Yemeni fishermen captured on the ship showed that they received cargo from unidentified smugglers near the Somali port city of Zeila and were asked to give it to the Houthis for several thousand Saudi riyals.
“A big smuggling network is involved,” the officer who learned about the investigation said.
“We are confident that the Iranian smugglers do not directly hand over shipments to the Yemenis. All directions come from big smugglers in Yemen. We have learnt that Iranian smugglers pretending to be fishermen are active near Somalia.”

FASTFACTS

• The coast guard initiated a hotline for receiving alerts from local fishermen.

• Three ships carrying a large amount of explosive materials heading to Houthis ‘had been intercepted at sea in the last three months.’

• Yemen’s coast guard authority crumbled in late 2014 when Houthis seized control of Sanaa and expanded across the country, triggering a civil war.

In the southeastern province of Hadramout, dozens of soldiers have been deployed across a vast and porous coastline at suspected entry points for arms and drugs.
Maj. Gen. Faraj Salmeen Al-Bahsani, the governor of Hadramout, said the deployment was the last phase of a plan aimed at securing the province’s coasts.
“The coalition has asked us to secure areas between Shiher and Mahra to prevent smuggling,” he told Arab News. “We have discovered several vehicles carrying weapons to the Houthis.”

Starting from scratch
Yemen’s coast guard authority crumbled in late 2014 when Houthis seized control of Sanaa and expanded across the country, triggering a civil war.
When the Saudi-led coalition intervened militarily in support of Yemen’s government, monitoring the country’s sea waters was left to the coalition’s navy. At the same time, the coalition had to rebuild the coast guard by training troops inside and outside Yemen, building facilities and equipping the forces with boats that would enable them to take on the mission.
The governor of Hadramout said that the coast guard branch in the large province was now working without much help as the coalition had furnished them with the equipment needed for the missions.
“We have stood on our feet thanks to great help from the coalition. They provided us with radar and boats,” Al-Bahsani added.

Smuggling focal points
Yemeni experts believed that large shipments of Iranian weapons to the Houthis went through a few seaports that were under rebel control in the western province of Hodeida.
“It is true that the Houthis might bring in light devices and weapons on land through government-controlled areas. But rockets, drones and heavy weapons come through Hodeida,” Yasser Al Yafae, a political analyst, told Arab News.
Hodeida city, which hosts Yemen’s biggest seaport, was the target of a major military offensive that managed to liberate several seaports on the Red Sea and reach the city’s outskirts.
The offensive was canceled in late 2018 under the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement that obliged the coalition-backed Yemeni forces to stop hostilities in exchange for a Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida’s seaport. Two years later, the Houthis have neither pulled out of the seaports nor allowed inspection on ships docked.
“The inauspicious Stockholm Agreement allowed Houthis to use Hodeida seaports to smuggle, weapons, weapons and drones,” Yahya Abu Hatem, a Yemeni military expert, told Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath on Friday.