SUN 26 - 5 - 2019
 
Date: May 14, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Syria regime of undermining Turkey-Russia deal: Erdogan
Regime takes villages, Golani calls for fighters
Agence France Presse
ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Syrian regime of "seeking to sabotage" Ankara's relationship with Russia through its latest offensive in the northwest of the war-torn country.

Clashes in Idlib province in northwestern Syria have killed at least 42 fighters in 24 hours, a monitoring group said Monday, and the regime bombardment on the region has devastated health services.

Idlib's three million inhabitants are supposed to be protected by a buffer zone deal signed last September by Russia and Turkey.

Erdogan told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, during a phone call late on Monday that the offensive by President Bashar Assad's forces "sought to sabotage Turkish-Russian cooperation," according to Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency, on Twitter.

The readout of the phone call made no mention of the fact that Russian forces are involved in the Syrian offensive.

Russia and Turkey are on opposing sides of the conflict, with Moscow strongly supporting Assad, while Ankara has called for his ouster and supported Syrian rebels in the civil war since it began in 2011.

However, Turkey and Russia have worked closely, along with Iran, to find a political solution to the conflict.

Erdogan lamented that "the regime's ceasefire violations targeting the Idlib de-escalation zone over the last two weeks have reached an alarming dimension."

He said it was impossible to explain it as a counter-terror effort given the number of casualties and damage to health services.

The Turkish leader also warned that the attacks risked undermining the fate of the political process in Syria.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls most of Idlib province as well as parts of neighboring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 16 loyalists and 19 militants died between Sunday and Monday in clashes in the area of Jabal al-Akrad in Latakia province, which lies on the bastion's northwestern edge.

Russian and regime aircraft bombarded the area on Monday, while they also hit southern parts of the militant stronghold, said the Britain-based monitoring group.

HTS and its allies launched a counter-attack late Monday, bombing areas in the north of the province and sparking fierce clashes on the ground, according to the Observatory.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

Regime takes villages, Golani calls for fighters

Agencies
BEIRUT: Syrian troops Monday captured five small villages and a hill on the edge of the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in the country, pro-government media said.

The militant leader of the main rebel group in the region also released a video calling on every able person to “perform his religious duty” and join the fight.

The pro-government Syrian Central Military Media said government forces had captured the villages of Hawash, Jabrieh, Tawbeh, Sheikh Idriss, Jub Suleiman and Hawash hill on the southern edges of Idlib.

The villages are near the strategic village of Kafr Nbouda, which Syrian troops entered last week.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government fighters and 19 militants died from Sunday to Monday in clashes in the area of Jabal al-Akrad in Latakia province, which lies on the bastion’s northwestern edge.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Monday that 18 health facilities had been knocked out of service in a little over a two-week period, two of them hit twice.

Abu Mohammad al-Golani, the leader of the Al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, claimed in a video interview with a local activist that government forces had suffered many losses while trying to advance into rebel-held areas over the past few days. Dressed in military uniform and holding an automatic rifle while seated under a tree, he claimed that his militant group was gaining more fighters each day.

Golani also said insurgents had the right to strike at a Russian base in Syria because “more than 90 percent of the Russian airstrikes are targeting women and children.”

Syrian troops have been advancing on the rebels for nearly two weeks under the cover of Syrian and Russian airstrikes. In turn, the rebels have been blamed for firing rockets into Russia’s air base in the nearby coastal province of Latakia. Opposition activists say Russian warplanes have been bombarding rebel-held areas intensely in recent weeks.

Much of Idlib is controlled by HTS, the largest and most powerful group in the area. Most of its fighters belonged to Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, formerly known as the Nusra Front.

France, Germany and Britain issued a joint statement calling for an end to the escalation of violence in northwestern Syria between government forces and HTS and “other terrorist groups.”

The three European nations said that the presence of extremist groups in Idlib “remains of grave concern,” but said the current Syrian advance “is not about fighting terrorism. It is about pushing forward the ruthless reconquest by the regime.”

“We urge all the parties to avoid any military offensive in the region,” the joint statement said.

The capture of more territory by Syrian troops comes as part of the latest push by government forces against the rebel-held enclave.

So far, dozens have been killed and more than 150,000 have been displaced. Idlib is home to some 3 million people, many of them internally displaced from other parts of the country.

Opposition activists also reported government airstrikes and shelling of different areas in Idlib.

Syrian state media reported that insurgents fired rockets into the Christian government-held town of Suqailabiyah, killing one person and wounding five. The shelling came a day after a rocket attack on the town killed five children and a woman.

Clashes in northwest Syria kill 35 fighters: monitor

Agence France Presse
BEIRUT: Clashes on the edge of a jihadist bastion in northwestern Syrian have killed 35 fighters in 24 hours, an activist group said Monday, after weeks of regime bombardment of the region.

The northwestern region has come under increasing fire by the regime and its ally Russia in recent weeks, despite a buffer zone deal intended to shield it from any government offensive.

The region controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, includes most of the Idlib province as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia provinces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 16 loyalists and 19 jihadists died from Sunday to Monday in clashes in the area of Jabal al-Akrad in Latakia province, which lies on the bastion's northwestern edge.

Russian and regime aircraft bombarded the area on Monday with missiles and barrel bombs, while they also carried out strikes on southern areas of the region, said the Britain-based group.

Russian air strikes hit a branch of the White Helmets rescue volunteers in the town of Kafranbel, knocking it out of action, the Observatory and a rescue worker said.

"Two high-explosive missiles hit the centre" just minutes after its personnel had headed out to the site of strikes in a nearby village, Oneida Zikra, the civil defence chief for the area, told AFP.

In a regime-held town in Hama province to the south of the bastion, retaliatory rocket fire on Monday killed one child, the Observatory and state news agency SANA said.

Five others were also wounded in the Christian-majority town of Suqaylabiyah, SANA added.

Idlib's three million inhabitants are supposed to be protected from a massive regime assault by a September buffer zone deal signed by Russia and rebel backer Turkey.

But that agreement was never fully implemented after jihadists refused to withdraw from the planned buffer area.

An uptick in air strikes and shelling displaced 180,000 people between April 29 and May 9 alone, the United Nations says.

The Observatory says 119 civilians have been killed in the bombardment since late April.

In a filmed interview released on Sunday night, HTS chief Abu Mohammad al-Jolani urged supporters to "take up weapons" to defend Idlib.

The spike in violence signalled "the death of all previous agreements and conferences," he said.

Damascus has not announced a wide offensive, but instead regularly announces targeting "terrorist" - meaning jihadist or rebel - positions.

Analysts believe the offensive will be limited.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.


 
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