FRI 18 - 1 - 2019
Sep 3, 2018
The Daily Star
Pope calls for safeguarding civilians in Idlib
VATICAN CITY/BEIRUT: Pope Francis Sunday appealed to all parties who have influence in Syria to defend human rights and safeguard the civilian population in the rebel-held northern region of Idlib, which faces an imminent attack by government forces. After seven years of civil war, the Syrian province of Idlib and surrounding areas are the last major enclave held by rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
A source has told Reuters Assad is preparing a phased offensive to regain the province.
“The winds of war are blowing and we are receiving troubling news about the risk of a possible humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, in the province of Idlib,” Francis told thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly blessing.
“I renew my heartfelt appeal to the international community and all the actors involved to use the tools of diplomacy, dialogue and negotiation to ensure the respect of international human rights and to safeguard civilian lives,” he added.
A major offensive in the Idlib area, where displaced people already make up half the population, risks forcing another 700,000 Syrians from their homes, the United Nations has said.
France’s foreign minister said that Assad has won his country’s civil war but won’t “win the peace” without a political solution brokered by the international community.
“Assad won the war, we have to state this. But he hasn’t won the peace,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on France-Inter radio.
Le Drian also reiterated threats of Western retaliation if Assad cedes to the “temptation” of using chemical weapons in the looming battle for the northern Idlib province, the last major opposition stronghold.
He also said France will press at this month’s U.N. General Assembly for a political solution in Syria, and is holding talks with Russia, Turkey and Iran to push them to use their influence with Assad to ensure political negotiations after the war ends. While Russia and Iran back Assad, Turkey provides significant support for the opposition. Recently it has supported the formation of the “National Liberation Front,” a coalition of rebel factions in Idlib.
Syrian state media Saturday denied, quoting a military source, reports that the explosions heard near a military base outside Damascus were caused by Israeli aggression, instead saying it was caused by an electrical fault. An official in the regional alliance backing Assad and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had earlier attributed the blasts to Israeli missile strikes.
There was no immediate comment from Israel.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA quoted an unnamed Iranian military official based in Syria as saying that the blast was caused by “an electrical short-circuit in an ammunition depot” on the outskirts of Damascus.
The official in the regional pro-Assad alliance had said the blasts were caused by Israeli missile fire from across the Golan Heights frontier between the two countries and by Syrian air defenses responding.
Israel has previously acknowledged having carried out airstrikes in Syria aimed at degrading the capacity of Iran and its allies.
In May, it said it attacked nearly all of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time in the most extensive military exchange ever between the two adversaries. with Reuters, AP
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