Turkish-backed rebels down Syrian helicopter in Idlib

An image grab taken from a video published by jihadists of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) allegedly shows a Syrian military helicopter being downed on February 12, 2020 in Syria's war-torn province of Idlib. (AFP/HO/HTS)
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Updated 15 February 2020

Turkish-backed rebels down Syrian helicopter in Idlib

  • Russian jets had been targeting areas in the countryside west of Aleppo earlier on Friday, but they evacuated back to the city after the helicopter was downed
  • Turkey’s military has sent additional arms and troops to Idlib, on its southern border, to confront a push by Russia-backed Syrian government forces

ANKARA: A Syrian military helicopter was shot down over the last major opposition bastion in northwest Syria on Friday, the second such incident in a week of high tensions with Turkey. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two pilots were killed. The Turkey-backed National Liberation Front rebel group claimed responsibility.

It came as Syrian and Russian forces pressed a deadly offensive against the shrinking pocket in the country’s northwest, claiming the lives of nine civilians on Friday.

The mangled remains of the chopper and the blood-stained fatigues of one of the pilots were seen at the crash site.

Three days earlier another Syrian regime helicopter was downed over Idlib province, killing at least three crew members.

Turkish media blamed that attack on rebels but the observatory said Ankara’s troops had fired rockets at the aircraft over the village of Qaminas, southeast of Idlib city. Turkey did not claim responsibility.

ANALYSIS: Is Turkey mulling a counterattack in Idlib?

Separately, Israeli strikes on the Damascus airport killed seven fighters, the latest in a string of attacks targeting Iran’s military presence in Syria.

The observatory said the strikes launched late Thursday hit military targets in the area of the international airport. Rami Abdel Rahman, its director, said the dead were three regime soldiers and four members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

As Turkey is poised to send additional troops to Idlib, there is speculation of a large-scale war if the deadline given to Damascus to withdraw its forces by the end of the month is ignored. Turkey’s military continued on Friday to move armored vehicles and bulldozers to Idlib. 


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Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said Turkey’s preference is to use the regime’s offensive as an excuse to exercise more control over Idlib and get rebel groups there to be more dependent on Ankara for support. 

“Turkey benefits from US support in Idlib, but isn’t interested in the US prodding it into an offensive,” he told Arab News.

“A conflict puts at risk too much for Ankara, such as its S-400 (missile system) deal (with Moscow), TurkStream (a natural gas pipeline running from Russia to Turkey) and Libya operations.”

So far, no deal has been reached yet between Turkey and the US regarding Idlib. 

If Lebanon needs financial aid, France will be there: Finance Minister Le Maire

Updated 5 min 3 sec ago

If Lebanon needs financial aid, France will be there: Finance Minister Le Maire

  • Le Maire said France is looking at options to support Lebanon recover from its financial crisis
  • IMF discussed all possible options in recent meetings with Lebanese officials

RIYADH: France is ready to support Lebanon financially — bilaterally or multilaterally — its finance minister said on Sunday, warning against mixing economic recovery in the small Mediterranean state with US-led efforts to counter Iran in the region.
“France always stands ready to help Lebanon. It has always been the case in the past and it will be the case in the future...” Bruno Le Maire told Reuters at the end of a meeting of finance officials from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies.
“If there is any help required from Lebanon, France will be there.”
Le Maire said in Abu Dhabi on Monday that France is looking at options to support Lebanon recover from its financial crisis, including through an International Monetary Fund program if Beirut seeks one.
He also told reporters he discussed the situation in Lebanon with the United Arab Emirates leadership.
Lebanon’s long-brewing economic crisis spiralled last year as the country’s capital inflows slowed and protests erupted against the ruling elite.
As the crisis deepens, hitting ordinary Lebanese hard, there is no sign of foreign aid. Western and Gulf Arab states that helped in the past have made clear that any support hinges on Beirut implementing long-delayed reforms to address root causes such as state corruption and bad governance.
Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said on Sunday the Kingdom was in contact with allies and international bodies to coordinate any support for Lebanon on the basis of economic reforms proposed by Beirut.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Reuters in an interview that Washington was keeping a close eye on the situation. “It’s something we’re monitoring – both the political and economic issues there,” he said. “Our interest is in the people of Lebanon. We want there to be safe environment where they can succeed economically and live as they want to.”
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team has discussed all possible options in recent meetings with Lebanese officials, who are seeking technical advice for tackling the crisis as Beirut mulls a plan for dealing with fast-approaching debt payments.
Le Maire said decisions by Lebanon’s government were urgently needed to improve the situation on the ground. “We want to move in the official fora and we think that the IMF might have a role to play at one stage, but it’s up to the Lebanese government to decide,” he said. “But if there is any need for help, either bilateral or multilateral, we stand ready to help.”
Since protests erupted in October, Lebanon’s currency has slumped by roughly 60% on a parallel market, dollars have become scarce, prices have been hiked and thousands of jobs have been shed.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government took office last month with the backing of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite group, and its allies, as Washington presses its policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran with wide-ranging sanctions.
“We know that there are ties between the two issues but we don’t want to mix the issue of economic recovery in Lebanon, which is today the clear emergency, and the question of Iran,” Le Maire added.