Turkey hints at ‘Plan B’ if Idlib agreements violated

Syrian rebel fighters load a Grad rocket launcher in northwestern Syria on Saturday. Since December, regime forces have pressed a blistering assault against the Idlib region with Russian support. (AFP)
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Updated 10 February 2020

Turkey hints at ‘Plan B’ if Idlib agreements violated

  • ‘Ankara will change tack in northwestern Syria if agreements over Idlib continue to be violated’

ISTANBUL: Turkey will change tack in northwestern Syria if agreements over Idlib, a rebel bastion, continue to be violated, the country’s defense minister warned in remarks published on Sunday.

Turkey and Russia have brokered a cease-fire for Idlib where Syrian regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes have pressed ahead with an offensive to retake the province from rebel groups.
“If the agreement kept being violated, we have Plan B and Plan C,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, in an interview with the Hurriyet daily.
“We on every occasion say ‘do not force us, otherwise our Plan B and Plan C are ready’.”
He did not give details, but referred to Ankara’s military campaigns in Syria since 2016.
As part of a 2018 deal with Russia, Turkey set up 12 observation posts in Idlib and Turkish security sources said this week three of them have now been encircled by forces loyal to Syria’s Bashar Assad.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given Damascus until the end of the month to pull back from the outposts and urged Russia to convince the regime to halt its offensive.
Eight Turks were killed on Monday by regime shelling prompting a response by the Turkish army.


• Idlib has long been a destination for civilians and rebel fighters who were either displaced or fled the regime’s offensive elsewhere in Syria.

• Turkey keeps on shipping supplies to its outposts in coordination with Russian authorities.

Since Friday, Turkey has shipped large convoys of vehicles carrying commandos, tanks and howitzers to shore up its military posts in Idlib.
“Our observation posts there will remain in place within the agreement,” Akar said. Turkey keeps on shipping supplies to its outposts in coordination with Russian authorities, he added.
“Despite this, if there is any obstacle, we put it clearly that we will do what’s necessary.”
Idlib has long been a destination for civilians and rebel fighters who were either displaced or fled the regime’s offensive elsewhere in Syria. Ankara backs rebels seeking Assad’s ouster.
A Russian delegation on Saturday met with Turkish officials for two rounds of talks in Ankara to discuss steps toward peace and push ahead with a political process in Idlib, according to a Turkish diplomatic source. Ankara and Moscow have worked closely in recent years to resolve the situation in Idlib despite being on opposing sides of the conflict.
“Our primary goal is to prevent migration and humanitarian tragedy. We are working to establish a cease-fire as soon as possible and stop the bloodshed,” Akar said.

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

Workers disinfect Qom’s Masumeh shrine, which is visited by a large number of people, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2020

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

  • Six Saudi women recovering in Bahrain as Kingdom warns against travel to Italy and Japan

DUBAI: Two more people infected with the new coronavirus have died, taking the toll in Iran to 16, a Health Ministry official told state TV on Tuesday.

Iran has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged late last year.
“Among those who had been suspected of the virus, 35 have been confirmed and two died of the coronavirus infection,” said Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour. He said 95 people had been infected across Iran.
The Health Ministry urged Iranians to stay at home.
Iran said on Monday 900 cases were suspected, dismissing claims by a lawmaker from Qom who said 50 people had died in the city, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Iran, which confirmed its first two deaths last week in Qom, has yet to say how many people it has quarantined, but the semi-official Mehr news agency said 320 people had been hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, Iran’s deputy health minister, has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now under quarantine.
Six Arab countries have reported their first cases of coronavirus, with those infected all having links to Iran. Kuwait said the number of infected people there had risen to eight.
Bahrain’s Health Ministry said 15 more people, including six Saudi women, had tested positive for the virus after returning from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah. The new cases were carried by Bahraini and Saudi nationals who arrived at Bahrain International Airport from Iran via Dubai or Sharjah.
The Saudi Ministry of Health said that it was coordinating with Bahraini health officials for the treatment of the Saudi women who had visited Iran. They will remain in Bahrain until they are fully recovered. The Kingdom has advised citizens and residents to avoid traveling to Italy and Japan.
Iranian authorities have ordered the nationwide cancellation of concerts and soccer matches and the closure of schools and universities in many provinces.
The head of Qom’s Medical Science University, Mohammad Reza Ghadir, expressed concern over “the spread of those people infected by the virus across the city,” adding the Health Ministry had banned releasing figures linked to the coronavirus.
Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing the facts.
Rouhani called for calm, saying the outbreak was no worse than other epidemics that Iran has weathered.
The sight of Iranians wearing masks and gloves is now common in much of the country.
Sales of masks, disinfectant gels and disposable gloves have soared in Tehran and other cities, with officials vowing to prevent hoarding and shortages by boosting production.
Iran has shut schools, universities and cultural centers until the end of the week in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The UAE has banned all flights to and from Iran. The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran’s 80 million people.
Emirates, the government-owned carrier based in Dubai, flies daily to Tehran. Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, flies to multiple Iranian cities, as does the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia.
The announcement came after Bahrain said it would suspend all flights from Dubai and Sharjah.
Kuwait raised the number of its infected cases to eight, after earlier raising the number to five. It said the three latest cases involved Kuwaiti citizens just back from Iran, without giving more details. The five previously reported cases were passengers returning on a flight from the Iranian city of Mashhad, where Iran’s government has not yet announced a single case of the virus.
Kuwait had halted transport links with Iran over the weekend and said it was evacuating its citizens from Iran.
An Iraqi family of four who returned from a visit to Iran tested positive for the coronavirus, the first Iraqis known to have caught the disease.
The four cases in Kirkuk province brought Iraq’s total to five after it reported its first case on Monday, an Iranian theology student in Najaf. Iraq is deeply concerned about its exposure to the Iranian outbreak, as it has deep cultural and religious ties with its neighbor and typically receives millions of Iranians each year.
The Iraqi government, which has already banned all travel from China and Iran, added Italy, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan to its travel ban list on Tuesday. Returning Iraqi citizens are exempt, as are diplomats.
Populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr suspended a call for his followers to hold a “million-man” protest, saying he had decide to forbid the events “for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else.”
“I had called for million-man protests and sit-ins against sectarian power-sharing and today I forbid you from them for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else,” he said in a statement. It was not immediately clear how the government’s call on citizens to avoid public gatherings would affect the strength of anti-government protests, and the response of security forces.
A Turkish Airlines plane flying from Iran was diverted to Ankara on Tuesday at the Turkish Health Ministry’s request and an aviation news website said one passenger was suspected of being infected by coronavirus.
Turkey’s Demiroren news agency broadcast video showing ambulances lined up beside the plane, with several personnel wearing white protective suits on the tarmac.
The plane was flying from Tehran and had been scheduled to land in Istanbul. Turkey shut its borders to Iran on Sunday and cut flights due to the spread of the virus in that country.
Oman’s Khasab port has suspended the import and export of goods to and from Iran from Feb. 26.