Turkey launches operation against Syrian regime troops

Turkey launches operation against Syrian regime troops
Turkish troops patrol the town of Atareb in Syria’s Aleppo province. (Getty Images)
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Updated 21 February 2020

Turkey launches operation against Syrian regime troops

Turkey launches operation against Syrian regime troops
  • The offensive by Turkish troops and National Liberation Front fighters targeted Assad regime forces near the village of Neirab
  • Analyst warns of a growing risk of clashes between Turkish forces and Russians in the region amid mounting tension between the two countries

ANKARA: Turkey launched a military operation on Thursday to push back Syrian government forces in northwest Syria, defying warnings by Russia that an armed response would be “a worst-case scenario.”

The offensive by Turkish troops and National Liberation Front fighters targeted Assad regime forces near the village of Neirab, a strategic center southeast of the rebel-held city of Idlib.

Two Turkish soldiers were killed and five others wounded during the operation after an airstrike hit Turkey’s troops.

The offensive came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of an imminent military operation in Idlib despite Russian warnings.

Neirab is located on a major highway linking the city of Latakia with the Iraqi border and is about 10 km from Idlib city center. Regime forces seized the village two weeks ago.

Syrian troops supported by Russian aircraft and special forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel strongholds in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the nine-year civil war.

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Emre Kursat Kaya, a researcher with Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, said the risk of a direct clash between Turkish and Syrian army forces is now “extremely high.”

“Reports suggest that in contrast with previous opposition counter-offensives, Turkish commando units and mechanized artillery units are actively present in the zones of operation,” he told Arab News.

Troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have captured one-fifth of the territory in Idlib.

About 15,000 Turkish troops are believed to be stationed in northwest Syria. Turkey has given the Assad regime until the end of the month to withdraw behind a demarcation line agreed under the 2018 Sochi deal.

However, Moscow and Ankara disagree in their interpretation of the agreement for de-escalation in Idlib. While Turkey insists on maintaining a cease-fire in and around Idlib, Russia focuses on fighting terrorism and eradicating jihadi elements on the ground.

Shortly after Turkey launched its offensive on Thursday, the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, a peace monitoring unit founded by Turkey and Russia in 2016, accused the Turkish military of backing “terrorists” in Syria, and called on Ankara to stop providing arms and support to terror groups.

Talks between Turkish and Russian delegations in the past two weeks failed to reach a compromise.

Kaya warned of a growing risk of clashes between Turkish forces and Russian mercenaries in the region amid mounting tension between the two countries.

The analyst said that he anticipated “a limited but intense opposition counter-offensive backed by Turkish forces, while Turkey will continue to use diplomatic channels with Russia.”

He said: “So far, a broad military operation does not seem to be part of Turkey’s plans. Ankara’s main objective in Idlib will continue to be to force the hand of Russia as much as it can while avoiding a larger conflict.”

But, according to Kaya, Turkey’s military deployment in Idlib sends a clear message to the Kremlin: “While we can agree on some issues, we also have red lines and it is time that you acknowledge them.”

As the three guarantor states, Turkey, Russia and Iran are set to meet in Tehran early next month to discuss the Syrian conflict.

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the Ankara-based think tank ORSAM, said Neirab was a “psychological frontier” for Turkey during the fighting because the next step was to capture Idlib city center.

However, he said that if it was shown that Turkish soldiers had been killed by the airstrikes conducted by Russian warplanes, it could lead to direct conflict between Turkey and Russia, with Ankara “hitting back hard.”

“So far both countries have managed the process through their proxy forces. They were abiding by some rules without confronting each other directly. But if Russia claims responsibility for the attack killing the Turkish soldiers, the message is clear: I can target you and more serious costs might incur,” he said.


US, at UN, accuses Russia of blocking ‘accountability’ on Syria chemical weapons

US, at UN, accuses Russia of blocking ‘accountability’ on Syria chemical weapons
Updated 8 min 47 sec ago

US, at UN, accuses Russia of blocking ‘accountability’ on Syria chemical weapons

US, at UN, accuses Russia of blocking ‘accountability’ on Syria chemical weapons

UNITED NATIONS: The new US envoy to the United Nations on Thursday accused Russia of seeking to stymie efforts to hold the government of Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad accountable for its use of chemical weapons during its long civil war.
"We all know the Assad regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons. So why hasn't the Syrian government been held accountable?" the ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told a Security Council meeting via videoconference.
"The answer is sadly simple: the Assad regime has tried to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations... and the regime's allies, in particular Russia, have also sought to block all efforts to pursue accountability."


Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry
Updated 58 min 40 sec ago

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

ISTANBUL: A military helicopter crashed in southeast Turkey, killing nine soldiers and injuring four, the defence ministry said on Thursday.
The helicopter took off from the Bingol province at 1055 GMT, it said in a statement, adding that search operations were launched after it lost contact at 1125 GMT.
It described the crash as accidental, but did not elaborate. The four injured soldiers were being taken to hospital, the ministry added.


Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses
Updated 04 March 2021

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses
  • Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport
  • The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February

KHARTOUM: Sudan will begin vaccinating health care workers followed by people aged 45 or older with chronic conditions for free next week after becoming the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to benefit from COVAX facility vaccines.
Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport, a health ministry official said. The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February.
Sudan says it expects to receive the remainder of a total 3.4 million doses through COVAX, a vaccine-sharing program co-led by the World Health Organization, in the second quarter of this year.
It aims to cover 20% of its population of 44 million through COVAX by September, health ministry officials said.
“This is an essential part of our battle against coronavirus,” Health Minister Omer Elnageib said.
Sudan was also in initial discussions to produce the vaccine domestically, Elnageib added.
Sudan is a young country, with only about 4% of its population over the age of 65, according to UN statistics.
It has been suffering from a long economic crisis that has left it unable to import some basic medicines and its health care system suffered from decades of neglect and sanctions under former President Omar Al-Bashir before his overthrow in 2019.
As of March 1, Sudan had officially recorded 28,545 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic one year ago, including 1,895 deaths.


Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April
Updated 04 March 2021

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April
  • France, Britain and Germany planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors criticizing Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections
  • Diplomats said the resolution will now not be put forward

VIENNA: Iran has accepted holding a series of meetings with the UN nuclear watchdog in order to “clarify a number of outstanding issues,” the body’s Director General Rafael Grossi said Thursday.

“We are going to be starting this process... with a technical meeting which will take place in Iran at the beginning of April, which I hope will be followed by other technical or political meetings,” Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters at a press conference.

The new process will be aimed at clarifying queries the IAEA has raised about the possible previous presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites.

Meanwhile, The European nations will not go ahead with a planned resolution criticising Iran at this week’s meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog, diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

France, Britain and Germany had planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, with the support of the United States, criticising Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections.

However, diplomats said the resolution, which had not yet been formally submitted, will now not be put forward.

The decision to hold off was taken “to give time to diplomacy,” one diplomatic source said, pointing to “initiatives undertaken by (IAEA Director General Rafael) Grossi” and signs of “good faith” on the Iranian side.

The latest moves come at a delicate moment for diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear issue, with fragile efforts underway to revive the ailing 2015 deal between Iran and world powers on its nuclear programme.

The Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharib Abadi, tweeted on Thursday that “due to extensive diplomatic consultations” at the IAEA, “a glimpse of hope is looming to prevent unnecessary tension.”

“Wisdom prevails,” he added.

The US told IAEA that Iran has been given a chance to address the concerns on uranium particles found at undeclared, old sites and Washington will watch closely.

“Iran has now been given another opportunity by the Director General to offer up the necessary cooperation before this Board next meets,” the US statement to the board said, shortly after diplomats said plans for a resolution criticizing Iran had been scrapped.

“The United States, like all Board members, will calibrate our views on the Board’s next steps according to whether Iran seizes the opportunity now before it to finally and credibly address the IAEA's concerns,” it added.

US President Joe Biden has said he is willing to bring the United States back to the landmark 2015 deal, known as the JCPOA.

It has been unravelling since Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018.

Earlier this week, a report in the Iranian Vatan-e-Emrouz newspaper said Tehran had “temporarily suspended the production of uranium metal on the order of the President (Hassan Rouhani).”

The government in Tehran has not disputed the accuracy of the report.

The production of uranium metal goes against a 15-year ban in the JCPOA on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys”

However, Iran says it has the right to breach this and a series of other constraints on its nuclear activities laid down in the deal in retaliation for the US withdrawal from the accord and subsequent imposition of sanctions.

Iran says the uranium metal production is part of its plans to provide advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

But the topic is sensitive because uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons.

Late last month Iran suspended some IAEA inspections as US sanctions had not yet been lifted, described by Grossi as a “huge loss” for the agency.

However, after two days of talks with Iranian officials in Tehran, a three-month arrangement was agreed under which Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

Iran had threatened to suspend that arrangement in the event of a critical resolution at the IAEA.

European states and the US criticised Iran’s suspension of inspections in their statements to the IAEA's board this week.

“How does ending such monitoring serve Iran’s goal of re-establishing confidence in its nuclear programmes and intentions?” asked US Charge d'Affaires Louis L Bono.

“These steps are counterproductive, and Iran should reverse them,” he added.


US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes
Updated 04 March 2021

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes
  • Secretary of state: International Criminal Court ‘has no jurisdiction over this matter’
  • ICC prosecutor: Decision to investigate ‘followed painstaking preliminary examination that lasted close to five years’

CHICAGO: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken condemned the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a formal investigation into war crimes committed by both Israel’s military and Palestinian militants.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who will be replaced by Karim Khan on June 16, said in December 2019: “War crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

She named both the Israel Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

Blinken said: “The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the court’s jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel.”

The Biden administration “firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed” by this decision, he added. “The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in, participate as a state in, or delegate jurisdiction to the ICC.”

Despite his denunciation, Blinken said the US “remains deeply committed to ensuring justice and accountability for international atrocity crimes. We recognize the role that international tribunals such as the ICC can play — within their respective mandates — in the pursuit of those important objectives.”

The US “believes a peaceful, secure and more prosperous future for the people of the Middle East depends on building bridges and creating new avenues for dialogue and exchange, not unilateral judicial actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” he added.

“We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.”

Israel also denounced the ICC decision, while the Palestinian Authority welcomed it. Bensouda said the decision to open an investigation “followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years.”

She added: “In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”

Ned Price, State Department press secretary, said despite opposing an ICC investigation, the Biden administration “would always stand up for human rights.”

He added: “We are thoroughly reviewing sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13928 as we determine our next steps.”

Executive Order 13928, issued by former US President Donald Trump in June 2020, “blocks property of certain parties associated with the International Criminal Court.”