Is Turkey mulling a counterattack in Idlib?

A Turkish military mobile rocket launcher fires from a position in Idlib toward Syrian regime forces’ positions on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 15 February 2020

Is Turkey mulling a counterattack in Idlib?

  • Ankara gives ultimatum to Syria: Withdraw forces by the end of the month or face a large-scale war

ANKARA: As Turkey is poised to send additional troops to Syria’s rebel-held northwestern province of 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. This has angered Russia, which recently said the crisis in the province is being worsened by the inflow of weapons from Turkey.
Any military operation by Ankara would aim to push Syrian regime forces back. The possibility of this has led to a nadir in Turkish-Russian relations not seen since 2016.
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 between Turkey and the US regarding Idlib, following days-long meetings in Ankara.
Turkey backs some rebel groups, which it has used against Kurdish forces in Syria over the last two years.
Frantzman said Ankara wants to cement control of the provinces of Afrin and Tel Abyad, which it seized from Kurdish forces, as part of a deal with Russia that sees fewer refugees fleeing to Turkey from Idlib, which is home to 3 million civilians.

FASTFACTS

• Any military operation by Ankara would aim to push Syrian regime forces back.

• No deal has been reached yet between Turkey and the US over Idlib.

• Importance of Idlib needs to be understood in light of Turkey’s agenda.

Ankara recently gave Damascus an ultimatum to withdraw from seized territory in Idlib by the end of this month or face military action.
In the span of one week, 13 Turkish soldiers were killed by shelling from forces loyal to Damascus. There are 10 Turkish observation posts entirely surrounded by regime forces.
“The consolidation of Russian and Iranian power in Syria threatens Turkey’s positions in, and its goals for, northern Syria,” Prof. Michael Tanchum, senior associate fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, told Arab News.
“The importance of Idlib must also be understood in light of Turkey’s agenda for the region of northern Syria along Turkey’s border.”
He said any further refugee influx into Turkey would be detrimental to the country’s economy and the popularity of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party.
“Thus, making a defiant stand against Russia in Idlib wouldn’t harm the ruling party’s support in Turkey and serves the AK Party’s needs,” Tanchum added.
But he said the question is one of calibration: “Can Turkey raise the cost to Russia to bring Moscow back to the table, or will escalation simply impel Russia to forcefully seek an endgame in Syria without concern for its impact on Russia-Turkey relations? If the former possibility exists, it will be a very narrow window of opportunity.”


Lebanese govt approves plan to fly home expats trapped abroad by virus

A general view of the northern Lebanese coastal city of Tripoli. Lebanon has taken strict measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease. (AFP)
Updated 27 min 56 sec ago

Lebanese govt approves plan to fly home expats trapped abroad by virus

  • Ministers agree on the repatriation initiative as Lebanon records 17 new cases of infection

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Cabinet on Tuesday approved plans for special flights to bring home expatriates trapped abroad by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
Ministers agreed the repatriation initiative as Lebanon recorded 17 new cases of infection, taking the total to 463. One COVID-19 patient in his 40s with underlying health issues was reported to have died. Twelve people in the country have now lost their lives after contracting the virus.
During the Cabinet session, proposals were passed to “repatriate Lebanese expatriates wishing to leave their countries of residence due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This would allow an exceptional opening of the airport for Middle East Airlines (MEA) flights to organize the repatriation process.”
The flights will take place as soon as medics have received newly ordered COVID-19 test kits which will allow them to check if returnees have been infected.
The Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently finding out how many individuals want to return to Lebanon at their own expense.
With Lebanon now into the third week of restrictions on movement to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, reports were emerging of shops reopening and traffic returning to the streets in regions outside of the capital Beirut.
In the northern city of Tripoli there were demonstrations outside the office of the Tripoli and north mufti, Sheikh Malek Al-Shaar, against the deterioration of living conditions. Protesters waved banners stating, “people are hungry but are not begging.”
With many businesses closed and people forced to stay at home under government orders, some Lebanese have found other methods of making money.
Omar Hijazi, the owner of a large sanitaryware store in Beirut, set up a vegetable stall in front of his shop after being told to shut. He told Arab News that he needed to provide food for his family and had “to pay for loans, rent, and expenses to support his little child.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• During the Cabinet session, proposals were passed to ‘repatriate Lebanese expatriates wishing to leave their countries of residence due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This would allow an exceptional opening of the airport for Middle East Airlines (MEA) flights to organize the repatriation process.’

• The flights will take place as soon as medics have received newly ordered COVID-19 test kits which will allow them to check if returnees have been infected.

He said Lebanese security forces had imposed measures on him to allow him to sell the vegetables which included covering and sterilizing them.
“The merchandise in my store is worth $100,000, yet by the end of the month I am not able to pay $100. Two days ago, I started selling vegetables, which is not my profession. I am totally devastated yet selling vegetables will procure food and beverages for my family until the crisis is over,” he added.
However, many people in Lebanon have been supporting health workers, with TV campaigns seeing generous donations for Rafik Hariri University Hospital’s medical and nursing teams, and also toward the Lebanese Red Cross. Municipalities, and political and public figures have also been working to distribute aid to families in need.
However, the Consumer Protection Association warned that poor people in the country could soon have no choice but to leave their homes to make money regardless of the dangers of contracting COVID-19.
Association head, Dr. Zuhair Berro, said: “The poor do not care about the coronavirus. They are more concerned with their livelihood. We are witnessing a deterioration in living standards.”