Tensions mount between Ankara and Damascus

Tensions mount between Ankara and Damascus
Turkey recently dispatched a task force consisting of at least 1,000 tactical vehicles equipped with aerial defense and firing capabilities in Idlib — the first-ever deployment in Syrian territory. (Reuters)
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Updated 11 February 2020

Tensions mount between Ankara and Damascus

Tensions mount between Ankara and Damascus
  • Turkish armed forces retaliate after Idlib shelling by Syrian forces kills more Turkish troops

ANKARA: Tensions between Turkey and Syria were on Monday ratcheted up after five Turkish troops died following shelling by Syrian regime forces in the northern province of Idlib.

Five other Turkish soldiers were also injured during the attacks in the Taftanaz area of Idlib — the last rebel stronghold in Syria — a strategic part of the region which hosts a military air base.
Turkish armed forces retaliated after the strike, which coincided with a car bomb explosion in the Syrian capital Damascus on the same day.
The attack on Turkish forces — the second in just over a week — took place as a Russian delegation held further talks with its Turkish counterparts over the Idlib conflict.
Last Monday, eight Turkish military and civilian officers were killed during shelling by Syrian regime troops in Idlib fighting to end rebel control over the key M4 and M5 highways.
Aaron Stein, Middle East program director at the US- based Foreign Policy Research Institute, said Turkey’s options in the province were running out. “Ankara can basically choose to annex the territory it governs in Syria and defend it or surrender as part of a dialogue with Moscow.
“It isn’t going to march to Damascus, and even a new defensive line it establishes in consultations with Russia won’t ease the pressure on Turkey to agree to some mechanism that Russia can live with to end the war,” he told Arab News.
“Taftanaz isn’t a designated observation point under the Sochi deal, and Russia is only providing safety guarantees for established points but not those that are not officially sanctioned, so that it keeps the airspace closed,” Stein added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently gave an ultimatum to Damascus, saying President Bashar Assad’s regime must withdraw from the Idlib de-escalation zone by the end of February.
According to Stein, Turkey could mount more military action in the region but only at the risk of ending talks with Moscow. “It is a losing bet,” he added.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Turkish troops would stay in Idlib “to give necessary response to those violating the international law.”
On Jan. 13, Turkish and Syrian heads of intelligence met in Moscow, in the first official contact in years, but the talks failed to result in any changes to the current battleground situation.

HIGHLIGHT

Last Monday, eight Turkish military and civilian officers were killed during shelling by Syrian regime troops in Idlib fighting to end rebel control over the key M4 and M5 highways.

Turkey recently dispatched a task force consisting of at least 1,000 tactical vehicles equipped with aerial defense and firing capabilities in Idlib — the first-ever deployment in Syrian territories.
Navvar Saban, a military expert from the Istanbul-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies, predicted a further escalation of fighting in Idlib. “There is no going back. I’m very concerned for the safety of civilians in the region,” he told Arab News.
He held out hopes that upcoming meetings between Russian and Turkish delegations could lead to a positive plan for Idlib. “But the military reinforcement and operations of the Turkish side aim to secure the current situation and could push the regime side behind the M4 road.
“In terms of the M5 road, it will be related to the ongoing talks between the Turks and the Russians. Turkey will insist that Russia will supervise this road,” he said.
In the meantime, Turkey has continued to gather its troops in Idlib close to the M4 and M5 highways, both strategic routes connecting the government-controlled cities of Aleppo and Hama with the rest of the country.
However, Russia and Turkey failed to reach a deal on Idlib after Monday’s talks, and Turkey has not resumed joint patrols with Russia.
Alexey Khlebnikov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, said that the Russia-Turkey talks were most likely to be preparatory and were not meant to reach a final deal.

“As has always happened in the past when a crisis or a difficult situation occurs, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Erdogan switch to a ‘manual operation’ mode and meet together. Moreover, Putin’s spokesperson did not exclude that the meet may happen,” he told Arab News.
Khlebnikov pointed out that a large-scale escalation was unlikely to happen while Russian military personnel were also on the ground.
“Turkey won’t risk a direct clash with Russia. Moscow is in control of the Syrian sky over Idlib which makes it doubtful that Turkey will use its airpower; an escalation will only increase refugee flows which is exactly what Turkey wants to avoid,” he said.
Latest reports show that about 1 million refugees are flocked along the Turkish-Syrian border, while the remaining 2 million civilians inside Idlib are expected to flee the province due to the threat of repeated air assaults by regime forces.
Khlebnikov noted that the most likely scenario was that Ankara and Moscow would strike another deal which reflected the current realities on the ground, namely the reopening of the M4 and M5 highways.


Former Jordan royal court chief faces trial over destabilization plot

Former Jordan royal court chief faces trial over destabilization plot
Updated 52 min 53 sec ago

Former Jordan royal court chief faces trial over destabilization plot

Former Jordan royal court chief faces trial over destabilization plot

CAIRO: Jordan's military court will start the trial next week of former royal court chief Bassem Awadallah and Sherif Hassan Zaid Hussein on charges of agitating to destabilise the monarchy, state media said on Sunday.

Prosecutors last week referred to court the defendants case. They were arrested in early April over allegations they had liaised with foreign parties over a plot to destabilise Jordan. 


Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Updated 13 June 2021

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19

DUBAI: About two-thirds of people eligible for inoculation against COVID-19 have now received two doses of the vaccine in Dubai, the tourist and business hub of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) said.
Dubai is the most populous of the seven emirates that make up the UAE and has one of the world’s busiest airports.
For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19, initially using a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and then adding the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca shots and Russia’s Sputnik V.
DHA deputy director general Alawi Alsheikh Ali told Dubai Television late on Saturday that 83 percent of people aged over 16 — or about 2.3 million people — had now received at least one dose of a vaccine and that 64 percent had received two doses in the emirate.
The UAE recently said nearly 85 percent of its total eligible population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, without saying how many people had had both doses.
The UAE, which does not break down the number of cases by emirate, has seen a rise in the number of infections in the past month. It recorded 2,281 new cases on Saturday, bringing the total so far to around 596,000 cases. Daily cases peaked at almost 4,000 a day in early February.
DHA said 90 percent of the COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units in Dubai hospitals were unvaccinated, without specifying when that statistic was recorded.


Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says
Updated 13 June 2021

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

ALGIERS: The results of an Algerian parliamentary election in which fewer than a third of voters took part will be announced within a few days, the head of the voting authority said late on Saturday.
The ruling establishment has tried to use elections along with a crackdown on dissent as a way to end two years of political unrest, with Algeria facing a looming economic crisis.
Supporters of the “Hirak” mass protest movement said it showed the system lacked legitimacy. Two prominent journalists, Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, and the opposition figure Karim Tabbou, were detained last week but released on Saturday.
Politicians said the turnout of 30.2 percent, the lowest ever officially recorded for a parliamentary election in Algeria, was “acceptable.”
“The election took place in good conditions. Voters were able to vote and choose the most suitable candidates to serve Algeria,” said election authority head Mohamed Chorfi on television.
The protests erupted in 2019 and unseated veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, continuing weekly until the global pandemic struck a year later. After a year-long pause they resumed in February but police mostly quashed them last month.
Many Algerians believe real power rests with the military and security establishments who have dominated politics for decades, rather than with elected politicians.
“We have grown accustomed in the past to high turnout due to fraud,” said Arslan Chikhaoui, an Algerian analyst, saying the authorities had manipulated the results of elections before the Hirak protests to suggest greater enthusiasm.
After Bouteflika was forced to step down, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected with a turnout of 40 percent. Last year he held a referendum on an amended constitution that gained only 25 percent of votes.
The old parties that traditionally dominated have been tarred with corruption and abuse scandals, giving space to independents and moderate Islamist parties that hope to gain a majority of seats in the new parliament.
Those that win a lot of seats are likely to be included in the next government.
During parliament’s coming five-year term, Algeria is likely to face a fiscal and economic crunch, after burning through four fifths of foreign currency reserves since 2013.
The government has maintained expensive social programs and the state’s central role in the economy despite plummeting oil and gas sales.
Reforms to strengthen the private sector contributed to corruption that fueled the Hirak. Spending cuts could trigger a new wave of protests against the ruling establishment.
Laws passed by the outgoing parliament to encourage foreign and private investment and strengthen the energy sector have so far had little effect.


Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing
Updated 13 June 2021

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army on Sunday said it intercepted a small boat carrying 11 people, mostly Syrians, attempting an illegal sea crossing out of the crisis-hit country.
A statement said a naval force spotted the boat off the northern port city of Tripoli and that its passengers were all detained and referred for investigation, the army added.
The boat was carrying “10 people of Syrian nationality and a Lebanese national,” it said.
Their journey’s end was not specified but neighboring Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has been a popular sea smuggling destination in recent months.
In May, the Lebanese army intercepted a boat near Tripoli carrying 60 people, including 59 Syrians.
Lebanon, home to more than six million people, says it hosts more than a million Syrian refugees.
They have been hit hard by widening poverty rates and growing food insecurity brought on by the country’s economic crisis.
In a report released this month, the World Bank warned that Lebanon’s economic collapse is likely to rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century.


Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule

Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule
Updated 13 June 2021

Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule

Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule
  • The Knesset vote will either terminate the hawkish premier’s uninterrupted 12-year tenure or return Israel to a stalemate

JERUSALEM: Israeli lawmakers are to vote Sunday on a “change” coalition government of bitter ideological rivals united by their determination to banish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
The crunch Knesset vote will either terminate the hawkish premier’s uninterrupted 12-year tenure or return Israel to a stalemate likely to trigger a fifth general election since 2019.
Netanyahu, who is battling a clutch of corruption charges in an ongoing trial he dismisses as a conspiracy, has pushed Israeli politics firmly to the right over the years.
On Saturday night, around 2,000 protesters rallied outside the 71-year-old’s official residence to celebrate what they believe will be his departure from office.
“For us, this is a big night and tomorrow will be even a bigger day. I am almost crying. We fought peacefully for this (Netanyahu’s departure) and the day has come,” said protester Ofir Robinski.
A fragile eight-party alliance, ranging from the right-wing Jewish nationalist Yamina party to Arab lawmakers, was early this month cobbled together by centrist politician Yair Lapid.
On Friday, all coalition agreements had been signed and submitted to the Knesset secretariat, Yamina announced, a moment party leader Naftali Bennett said brought “to an end two and a half years of political crisis.”
But the ever-combative Netanyahu has tried to peel off defectors that would deprive the nascent coalition of its wafer-thin legislative majority.
If the new government is confirmed, Bennett, a former defense minister, would serve as premier for two years.
Coalition architect Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party and is a former television presenter, would then take the helm.
The anti-Netanyahu bloc spans the political spectrum, including three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.
The improbable alliance emerged two weeks after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza and following inter-communal violence in Israeli cities with significant Arab populations.
“We will work together, out of partnership and national responsibility — and I believe we will succeed,” Bennett said Friday.
Sunday’s crucial Knesset session is due to open at 4:00 p.m. local time (1300 GMT), with Bennett, Lapid and Netanyahu all set to speak before the vote.
Netanyahu has heaped pressure on his former right-wing allies to defect from the fledgling coalition while attacking the legitimacy of the Bennett-Lapid partnership.
He has accused Bennett of “fraud” for siding with rivals, and angry rallies by the premier’s Likud party supporters have resulted in security being bolstered for some lawmakers.
Netanyahu’s bombastic remarks as he sees his grip on power slip have drawn parallels at home and abroad to former US president Donald Trump, who described his election loss last year as the result of a rigged vote.
The prime minister has called the prospective coalition “the greatest election fraud in the history” of Israel.
His Likud party said the accusations refer to Bennett entering a coalition that “doesn’t reflect the will of the voters.”
Sunday’s vote arrives hot on the heels of police crackdowns on Palestinian protests over the threatened eviction of families from homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers, a month after similar clashes fueled the latest war between Israel and Hamas.
It also comes amid right-wing anger over the postponement of a controversial Jewish nationalist march.
Netanyahu favored finding a way to allow the so-called “March of the Flags,” originally scheduled to take place last Thursday, to proceed as planned.
He took that position despite the original route envisaging the march unfolding close to flashpoint areas including the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, where clashes last month triggered the Gaza conflict.
The premier’s insistence saw his opponents accuse him and his allies of stoking tensions to cling onto power via a “scorched-earth” campaign.
If Netanyahu loses the premiership, he will not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity in regard to his corruption trial.
The controversial flag march is now slated for Tuesday and ongoing tensions surrounding it could represent a key initial test for any approved coalition.