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.


Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

An Iranian army soldier walks through a temporary hospital in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP)
Updated 30 March 2020

Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

  • Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible”

TEHRAN: President Hassan Rouhani has warned that “the new way of life” in Iran was likely to be prolonged, as its declared death toll from the novel coronavirus rose to 2,640.
Iran is one of the countries worst-hit by the virus, which first originated in China.
Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January.
At his daily news briefing, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 123 more people in Iran had died from the virus in the past 24 hours.
He reported 2,901 new cases of COVID-19 infection, bringing the overall number of officially confirmed cases to 38,309.
According to the official, 12,391 of those hospitalized have recovered and 3,467 are in “critical” condition.
“We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a Cabinet meeting.
“The new way of life we have adopted” is to everyone’s benefit, he said, adding that “these changes will likely have to stay in place for some time.”
After weeks of refraining from imposing lockdown or quarantine measures, Tehran decided Wednesday to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.
Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible.” Schools and universities in some provinces were closed in late February and the measure was later extended to the whole country.
After Rouhani’s warning, the reopening of schools following this year’s new year holidays of March 19 to April 3 appears unlikely.

FASTFACT

Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January

On a positive note, Rouhani said he had been told by top health experts and doctors that “in some provinces we have passed the peak (of the epidemic) and are on a downward trajectory.”
Several Iranian government officials and notable figures have been infected by the new coronavirus, some of whom have died.
The most recent case of infection was Mohammed-Reza Khatami, brother of former president Mohammad Khatami and an ex-deputy speaker of parliament.
He is currently hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister who tested positive for the virus in late February, has returned to public life and appeared on state television to emphasize safety precautions.