SAT 17 - 8 - 2019
Aug 2, 2019
The Daily Star
Syria’s govt says it agreed to cease-fire in rebel stronghold
DAMASCUS: Syria’s government said it has agreed to a conditional cease-fire starting late Thursday in northwestern Syria, according to state media.
Government troops and allied Russia warplanes have been carrying out a three-month offensive against the rebel’s last stronghold, which has displaced hundreds of thousands and has targeted health facilities and other infrastructure.
The decision came hours after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres authorized an investigation into attacks on health facilities and schools in the rebel-held enclave, following a petition from 10 members of the U.N. Security Council.
The offensive in Idlib and surrounding areas has unfolded since April 30, displacing more than 400,000 people and killing hundreds. Images of attacks on health facilities and residential homes were reminiscent of the peak of the violence in the 8-year-old conflict. International rights groups, western countries and the U.N. had appealed for a cease-fire. Around 3 million people are living inside the rebel-held area.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britian-based activist group, said there was no sign of a cease-fire. It said intense clashes continued on the southern edge of the rebel stronghold.
The Syrian decision, announced in state media through an unnamed military official, said the cease-fire is conditional on the rebel’s retreat 20 kilometers deep and away from demilitarized areas that ring the stronghold, which were agreed to in a deal reached last September.
Idlib was supposed to be a de-escalation zone under the agreement signed between Russia, a key Syrian government ally, and Turkey, which backs the opposition. The rebel stronghold is dominated by Al-Qaeda-linked militants and other groups.
The Syrian military official didn’t offer a timeline for applying the condition. Failure to implement the retreat and disarmament of militants was one of the reasons why the September cease-fire collapsed. At the time, the retreat was for up to 25 kilometers in some areas.
The declaration comes as a new round of talks sponsored by Russia began Thursday in the Kazakh capital, attended by Iran and Turkey. The Syrian government and the opposition are also in attendance. The two-day talks were expected to focus on Idlib and plans to form a new constitutional committee.
Thursday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Guterres was using his authority under the U.N. Charter to establish an internal board of inquiry to ascertain facts on the destruction and damage to civilian facilities in Idlib province on the so-called “de-confliction” list given to the warring parties to prevent attacks. He said the probe will also include U.N.-supported facilities in the area.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock urged an end to the bombing and shelling in Idlib by Syrian and Russian warplanes, warning the Security Council Tuesday that continued violence could create the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st century. The petition from 10 Security Council members was delivered to Guterres Tuesday asking for an investigation into attacks on medical facilities and other sites on the “de-confliction” list.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky, whose country backs the Syrian government, told reporters Thursday that Moscow was “amazed” at Guterres’ decision to establish an investigation, calling it “a mistake” and questioning whether the U.N. chief had the authority to take such action.
Guterres stood by his decision, speaking to reporters shortly afterward. “I fully respect the rights of the Russian Federation to disagree with me, as I also respect the position of 10 other members of the Security Council that have the opposite opinion,” he said. “I believe that this inquiry can produce an important result, and I can guarantee that everything will be done to make sure that this board of inquiry acts with full objectivity, not to prove anything but to simply say what the truth is.”Humanitarian chief Lowcock said it was an “extremely important question” whether information provided through the de-confliction system was being used to protect civilian facilities - or to target them.
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