Russia accuses Turkey of aggravating situation in Syria’s Idlib

Damaged buildings in the village of Maaret Al-Naasan in Syria's Idlib province following a weeks-long regime offensive against the country's last major rebel bastion. (AFP)
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Updated 13 February 2020

Russia accuses Turkey of aggravating situation in Syria’s Idlib

  • Turkey is determined to push Syrian government forces beyond Turkish observation posts in the northwestern Idlib
  • A Turkish delegation will go to Moscow in coming days to discuss the escalating conflict

ANKARA: Russia said on Wednesday that the presence of Turkish troops and armor in Syria's Idlib region was making the situation there much worse as was the transport of weapons and ammunition across the Syrian-Turkish border.
Russia's Defence Ministry made the complaint after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey's military would strike Russian-backed Syrian forces by air or ground anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier was hurt as the Assad government tried to regain control of Idlib province. 

Earlier, Putin and Erdogan have discussed de-escalation of the Syrian crisis, the Kremlin said, adding that Russian-Turkish agreements should be implemented in full.

“The importance was noted of the full implementation of existing Russian-Turkish agreements including the Sochi memorandum,” the Kremlin said in a statement after the Putin-Erdogan phone call.

The leaders reviewed “various aspects of the settlement of the Syrian crisis, first and foremost in the context of a flare-up in the Idlib de-escalation zone,” the statement said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday Moscow remained committed to the agreements it struck with Ankara, but that Russia considered the attacks in Idlib to be unacceptable and in contravention of Moscow’s deal with Ankara.

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In 2018, Russia and Turkey agreed a memorandum to enforce a demilitarised zone in Syria’s Idlib region from which “radical” fighters would be required to withdraw.
Russia insists, however, that groups of “terrorists” continue fighting in Idlib.

Meanwhile, a Turkish delegation will go to Moscow in coming days to discuss the escalating conflict in Syria’s Idlib region, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday, adding that around 1 million people had been displaced there due to Russian-backed Syrian attacks.
Speaking at a news conference in Tirana, Cavusoglu also said Germany had provided Turkey with $44 million in support of Turkish plans to settle Syrians fleeing from Idlib.

Earlier today, Erdogan said Turkey will strike Syrian government forces anywhere it sees in northern Syria if another Turkish soldier is hurt, and it could use air power.

Speaking in Ankara, Erdogan said Turkey is determined to push Syrian government forces beyond Turkish observation posts in the northwestern Idlib region by the end of February. “We will do this by any means necessary, by air or ground,” he said.

Syria’s Russia-backed government forces launched an all-out assault on Idlib in December, retaking town after town. Hundreds of thousands have fled and hundreds of civilians have been killed.

Turkey has backed some anti-regime groups in the eight-year conflict and set up military posts in Idlib under the 2018 deal.


‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 21 February 2020

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”