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. 


Arab world mourns death of Kuwait’s emir

Updated 15 min 23 sec ago

Arab world mourns death of Kuwait’s emir

  • Kuwait says goodbye to “Emir of Humanity”
  • Sheikh Sabah has been succeeded as emir by his brother

The Gulf states and the wider Middle East mourned the death on Tuesday of the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
Sheikh Sabah, who was 91, had ruled Kuwait since 2006, and steered its foreign policy for more than 50 years. He died in the US, where he had been in hospital since July following surgery in Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent their condolences to the people of Kuwait and the Al-Sabah family. (AP)

Flags flew at half staff in Kuwait, which began 40 days of mourning. “Goodbye, Emir of Humanity,” read a large banner on a street near the Kuwait stock exchange.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent their condolences to the people of Kuwait and the Al-Sabah family.
“With the departure of Sheikh Sabah, we lose a wise leader who devoted his life to the service of his country and the Islamic and Arab nations,” said the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan. “We console ourselves and our brothers in Kuwait for this great loss.”

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GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf said the world had “lost the pioneer of development, always striving for good, love and peace, aiming to strengthen harmony, cooperation and solidarity among the peoples of the world, and who spared no effort for the good of all humanity.”
Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said Sheikh Sabah was a voice of wisdom and moderation. “He was one of the leaders of Kuwait who worked on its prosperity and supported its stability,” he said.

Crown Prince Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah succeeds Sheikh Sabah. (AP)

Sheikh Sabah has been succeeded as emir by his brother, Crown Prince Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, 83, who will be sworn in on Wednesday.
Dahim Alqahtani, a Kuwaiti politics expert, said the emirate’s policies were unlikely to change under the new emir. “I believe Kuwait will follow Sheikh Sabah’s policies, which are based on balance and bridging differences,” he told Arab News.