Turkey-Russia: Is the marriage of convenience in Idlib over?

Turkey-Russia: Is the marriage  of convenience in Idlib over?
A convoy of trucks transporting Syrians and their belongings drives through the village of Al-Mastuma, in the northern countryside of Idlib province on Thursday, as thousands of people flee Idlib. (AFP)
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Updated 31 January 2020

Turkey-Russia: Is the marriage of convenience in Idlib over?

Turkey-Russia: Is the marriage  of convenience in Idlib over?
  • As of now, Moscow is loyal to neither the Astana nor the Sochi accords, says Turkish president

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sharp criticism of Russia over its handling of the Syria crisis has sparked debate about whether their alliance of convenience is over.

On his way back from his African diplomatic tour, Erdogan told reporters: “As of now, Russia is loyal to neither the Astana nor the Sochi accords,” adding that his “patience is running out” over the bombardment of rebels in Idlib province.

These two agreements co-sponsored by Moscow and Ankara almost three years ago aimed to de-escalate the fighting in rebel-held northwestern province of Syria and to prevent any assault from the regime forces to the region. Turkey set up observation posts to monitor them under a demilitarized zone. Turkey and Russia also struck a cease-fire earlier in January for Syria.

“If we are trustworthy partners, Russia has to make its position clear,” Erdogan said. “Either it will opt for a different process with Syria, or with Turkey. There’s no other option. We are running out patience.”

The furious statements were in response to reports that Syrian regime troops, backed by Russia, have taken control of Maarat Al-Numan, which has been a major opposition bastion in Idlib province for the past eight years. The capture of the town resulted in heavy clashes with Turkey-backed rebel groups.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday that it would retaliate “in the strongest way” against “any move to jeopardize the security” of Turkish observation posts in Idlib, as at least three of them are in close proximity to regime forces. The escalation of fighting in the region triggered a major exodus of civilians heading for Turkish border.

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated its commitments to implement its obligations on Syria: “Idlib is a very complex and difficult case. Both sides have reasons to complain about the ability or willingness of the other side to live up to its commitments,” said Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). He said this dispute was not lethal for the relationship.

“Russia and Turkey always had diverging views on many issues. But I do not think that the Astana process is dead — it is too valuable for both sides to let it go down the drain,” he said.

Russia and Turkey began supporting opposite sides in another war-torn country, Libya, recently. Russian-backed mercenaries are thought to be fighting alongside Libyan National Army leader Gen. Khalifa Haftar, while Turkey has been allegedly deploying thousands of Syrian fighters and Turkish advisers in Tripoli to support the Government of National Accord, regardless of UN’s call for respecting the arms embargo on Libya.

Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, thinks that Astana process is suffering, but it is not dead yet. “Turkish government has to say something about what is going on in Idlib and how the Russia-backed regime forces are advancing so fast. Everybody, including the Turkish opposition, is asking why and how these attacks could have happened,” he told Arab News.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a Turkish military convoy of 30 vehicles entered Syria on Jan. 27 to establish a new observation post in the Idlib town of Saraqeb.

Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, thinks Idlib is a serious area of disagreement between Turkey and Russia.

“It’s rare to see Erdogan make such a critical statement in the post-2016 environment of improved Russia-Turkey relations,” he said.

He says it is still hard to see how Turkey defends its interests in Idlib now.

“Syrian rebels have lost the critical M5 highway, and Assad’s advance since the breakdown of the latest cease-fire has been unprecedentedly swift. Since Jan. 15, the strategic balance has changed considerably with Damascus being the sole beneficiary,” he said, and added: “Turkey’s main priority now is to contain the fallout. 110,000 Syrian refugees are crowding the Turkish borders and rates of internal displacement are spiraling out of control, even by the horrific standards of the Syrian civil war.”


Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19
Updated 39 min 43 sec ago

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19
  • Palestinian medical teams would be stationed at checkpoints to administer the vaccines
  • Of the 5.2 million people, only 32,000 have received the vaccine to date

JERUSALEM: Israel will administer COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians who work in Israel or in its settlements in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli liaison office COGAT said on Sunday.
The vaccination campaign, which could apply to around 130,000 Palestinians, will begin within days, COGAT said.
Shaher Saad, secretary-general of the Palestinian Workers’ Union, said thousands of Palestinians who work in the Israeli service and industrial sectors had already been vaccinated privately by their employers inside Israel.
He said Palestinian medical teams would be stationed at checkpoints to administer the vaccines, by agreement with Israeli authorities.
Israel has given at least one dose of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine to more than half of its 9.3 million population, including Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
But it has come under international criticism for not doing more to enable vaccination of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
The Palestinians have received around 32,000 vaccine doses to date, for the 5.2 million people who live in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli officials have said that, under the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian health ministry is responsible for vaccinating people in Gaza and those parts of the West Bank where it has limited self-rule.


Jordan ministers sacked for virus rules breach

Jordan ministers sacked for virus rules breach
Updated 28 February 2021

Jordan ministers sacked for virus rules breach

Jordan ministers sacked for virus rules breach
  • The pair were asked to step down by Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh
  • The Jordanian news website Ammon claimed Mobaideen and Talhuni had attended a dinner in a restaurant in Amman with a total of nine people

AMMAN: Jordan’s interior and justice ministers were sacked Sunday for breaching health regulations to stem the spread of coronavirus, with their replacements named by royal decree.
The pair were asked to step down by Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh, a move immediately endorsed by King Abdullah II, according to a statement from the royal palace.
They are accused, according to a government source, of “having violated the emergency law” put in place to curb Covid-19.
The Jordanian news website Ammon claimed interior minister Samir Mobaideen and justice minister Bassam Talhuni had attended a dinner in a restaurant in Amman with a total of nine people, when the law allowed a maximum of six.
Tawfiq Krishan, deputy prime minister and in charge of local administration, was appointed as the new interior minister.
Ahmed Ziyadat, State Secretary for Legal Affairs, was named as justice minister.
Following a surge in virus cases, Jordan toughened this week its Covid-19 restrictions, returning to rules imposed in March last year, and which were only eased last month.
Jordan, which began vaccinations last month, has officially recorded more than 386,000 novel coronavirus cases and 4,675 deaths out of a population of 10.5 million people.


Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya

Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya
Updated 28 February 2021

Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya

Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya

CAIRO: Turkey has summoned the Iranian ambassador over accusations by Tehran that Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty, Al Arabiya TV reported Sunday. 

Turkey said it expects from Tehran to stand by Ankara in “combating terrorism”. 

Last week, Iran summoned the Turkish ambassador in Tehran over comments made by Turkish officials accusing Iran of destabilizing the region by getting involved in Iraq and Syria. 


Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark

Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark
Updated 28 February 2021

Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark

Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark

Iran's health ministry said the country's coronavirus fatalities broke the 60,000 mark on Sunday, as the Islamic republic battles the Middle East's worst outbreak of the illness.
"Sadly in the past 24 hours, 93 people lost their lives to Covid-19, and total deaths from this disease reached 60,073," health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said in a televised address.
Iran has registered a total of 1,631,169 infections, according to the ministry.


Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria
Updated 28 February 2021

Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria
  • Russian Defense Ministry said the helicopter was not fired at

AMMAN/MOSCOW: A Russian Mi-35 helicopter made an emergency landing due to technical problems during a flight over Syria’s northern Hasaka province, state agencies quoted Russia’s Defense Ministry as saying on Sunday.
“The crew was quickly evacuated to the airfield. There is no threat to lives of the pilots,” the RIA news agency cited a Defense Ministry statement as saying.
The helicopter was not fired at, it added.
Syrian state media said earlier there were reports of a Russian helicopter crash in northeast Syria that killed the pilot.
It said the site of the crash was in Hasaka province, near Tal Tamr close to a Russian base.