Posts Tagged ‘Idlib’

Air strikes hit in Ghouta despite rebel ceasefire effort, monitor says

March 23, 2018


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Syrian Army soldiers stand next to a military tank, at the city limits of Harasta, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki TPX IMAGES OF THE DAYREUTERS

BEIRUT (REUTERS) – AIR strikes hit a rebel-held enclave of Syria’s eastern Ghouta region on Friday despite a ceasefire that the rebel group who controlled the area had said would take effect at midnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The air strikes hit Ein Terma and Zamalka on Friday morning and pro-government forces had advanced into a large part of the town of Hezzeh after the midnight ceasefire deadline, according to the Britain-based Observatory, a war monitoring group.

On Thursday, a spokesman for rebel group Failaq al-Rahman said the ceasefire had been agreed in principle.

The army’s assault on eastern Ghouta, the last major rebel bastion near the capital, has been one of the most intense in Syria’s seven-year-old war.

The Syrian government and its Russian allies used tactics that had proved successful elsewhere in Syria since Moscow joined the war in 2015: lay siege to an area, bombard it, launch a ground assault and finally offer safe passage out to rebels who agree to leave with their families.

Eastern Ghouta’s rebels still hold only the town of Douma, under the control of Jaish al-Islam, and another pocket that includes Ein Terma, Arbin and Zamalka, under the control of Failaq al-Rahman.

On Thursday, Ahrar al-Sham rebel fighters withdrew from what had been a third rebel-held enclave in eastern Ghouta, the town of Harasta. They were put on government buses and driven to an opposition-held area of northern Syria.

A second group of fighters is expected to leave Harasta on Friday.

The Observatory said air strikes also hit the Jaish al-Islam-controlled town of Douma on Friday and there were clashes on the ground between the rebels and pro-government forces.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, editing by David Goodman, Larry King)



Hours before cease-fire, 37 killed in Syrian town

March 23, 2018

The Associated Press

A woman runs after an airstrike in Idlib, Syria. (Reuters)
BEIRUT: Syrian rescuers and a war monitoring group say 37 people were killed in airstrikes in a town in the eastern Ghouta region near the capital, Damascus, just hours before a cease-fire went into effect after midnight.
The rebel group Faylaq al-Rahman, one of at least three operating in the sprawling region, says intense government attacks targeted the area it controls on Thursday.
Rescuers, known as White Helmets, say the casualties were from an airstrike that hit an underground shelter in the town of Arbeen.
Rebel spokesman Wael Oweilan said Friday negotiations with Russia will follow to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the area.
A similar deal with another rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, led to the evacuation of hundreds of fighters and civilians from Harasta, an eastern Ghouta town.
Meanwhile, hundreds of fighters evacuated by the Syrian regime from their Eastern Ghouta bastion arrived in rebel-held Idlib province on Friday, a monitor said.
Buses carrying the fighters and their families entered the northwestern province after their evacuation from the rebel-held town of Harasta in Eastern Ghouta on Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
An AFP reporter at a camp for the displaced in the Maaret al-Ikhwan area in the north of Idlib province saw some of the evacuees arrive.
Families entered the camp but the fighters were not allowed in, he said.
Before dawn, some 400 fighters and hundreds of civilians on buses and ambulances had stopped in the town of Qalat al-Madiq in Hama province to the south, the Observatory said.
Among them was a man who had died of his injuries on the way, said the monitor, which relies on a wide network sources inside Syria for its information.
The AFP reporter saw hundreds of people on buses draw into Qalat al-Madiq, where rebel fighters and members of the Red Crescent and of the White Helmets civil defence organisation were waiting.
The evacuation from Harasta comes after pro-regime forces launched a blistering air and ground offensive on Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel bastion near Damascus, on February 18.
The assault has retaken 80 percent of the enclave, the Observatory says, and divided what remains into three shrinking pockets, each controlled by a different rebel group.
The evacuation of rebels from Harasta could empty the smallest of these pockets and pile pressure on those controlling the two other to accept similar deals.
Eastern Ghouta is within mortar range of central Damascus, and the evacuation deal could be a major first step in the regime’s efforts towards securing the capital.
The one-month offensive on Eastern Ghouta has killed more than 1,500 civilians, the Observatory says, and caused tens of thousands to flee into government-held areas.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since it broke out in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Stakes rise in Turkish Afrin attack as pro-Assad militia arrive

February 21, 2018


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s warnings fail to deter groups loyal to Damascus from entering the region where Turkey is fighting Kurdish forces, risking a new front line in the spiraling Syrian conflict.

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey shelled Afrin overnight on Tuesday and showed no sign of slackening its assault on the Kurdish-held region despite the arrival of pro-Syrian government militia there, a war monitor said.

It opens the door to a further escalation in Syria’s messy northern battlefront where Turkey, Syrian rebels, the army, Iran-linked militias backing the Damascus government, Kurdish fighters, Russia and the United States are all present.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Turkey’s month-long offensive against Afrin, backed by Syrian rebel groups, continued and included shelling of the main town there overnight.

Ankara aims to drive the Kurdish YPG militia from Afrin, seeing it as linked to an insurgency inside Turkey and as a threat to its border.

On Tuesday, militias that back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Afrin at the Kurds’ invitation to help thwart the Turkish assault, and Turkey and its allies tried to force them back with artillery fire.

A commander in the pro-Assad alliance said late on Tuesday that the militias had returned fire on the Syrian rebels fighting alongside Turkey.

The new phase of confrontation, pitting the Turkish army and its allies directly against pro-Assad forces, further scrambles the complex web of alliances and rivalries already at play in northern Syria.

Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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BBC News

Syria war: Pro-government forces enter Kurdish-held Afrin

Pro-government forces waved Syrian flags as they entered Afrin, in footage posted by the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah

Syrian pro-government forces have entered the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, provoking an immediate response from Turkish forces besieging the area.

The government was asked for military help by a Kurdish militia that has been trying to repel an offensive by Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels.

Fighters were seen passing through a checkpoint in armoured vehicles.

Turkish troops then shelled the area and Turkey said it had forced the pro-government fighters to retreat.

Turkey had threatened to confront government forces if they intervened, raising the prospect of direct conflict between two of the main players in Syria’s civil war.

The development comes as:

Why is Turkey attacking Afrin?

Turkish leaders say they want to clear the Kurdish enclave of members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which they consider a terrorist group.

They say it is an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey for three decades.

Map showing control of Afrin

The Syrian Kurds deny any direct organisational links to the PKK – an assertion backed by the US, which has provided the militia and allied Arab fighters with weapons and air support to help them battle the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).

The Turkish air and ground assault on Afrin, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch”, began on 20 January.

Since then, Turkish troops and Syrian rebels have taken about 45 villages, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The UK-based monitoring group says the fighting has left at least 205 Syrian rebels and 219 Kurdish militiamen dead, along with 112 civilians. Turkey says 32 of its soldiers have been killed and denied reports of any civilian casualties in Afrin.

Why is the Syrian government intervening?

The government has denounced the Turkish offensive as a “blatant attack” on its sovereignty.

Soon after it began, the Kurdish authorities in Afrin called on the government to “carry out its sovereign obligations” and send troops to help defend the border from Turkish attacks.

The government, which has so far avoided conflict with Kurdish forces since the start of the civil war in 2011, did not immediately respond to the appeal for help.

Tank of Turkish-backed rebels fires towards Kurdish fighters in Afrin (19/02/18Image copyrightAFP
Image captionTurkey launched a cross-border operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria last month

But on Tuesday state media reported that members of the “Popular Forces” had arrived in Afrin to “support the locals against the aggression waged by the Turkish regime” and to confront IS, which has no known presence in the area.

A military media unit run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement – an ally of the Syrian government – posted photos and video of men brandishing Syrian flags passing through a checkpoint on a number of pick-up trucks and lorries mounted with heavy weapons.

A reporter for the official Sana news agency said Turkish artillery had targeted the convoy after it crossed into the Kurdish enclave, as well as media personnel accompanying it.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels fire based in southern Turkey fire towards Kurdish YPG militia fighters in the Afrin region, on 19 February 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionTurkey and its allies wants to drive Kurdish YPG militia fighters from Afrin

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency later reported that Turkish troops had fired “warning shots” at “pro-regime terrorist groups trying to advance” towards Afrin, forcing them to retreat about 10km (6 miles).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the convoy was made up of Shia militiamen acting independently, adding that he had earlier persuaded the Syrian government’s main allies, Russia and Iran, to stop any troops being deployed.

“Unfortunately, these kinds of terror organisations take wrong steps with the decisions they take. It is not possible for us to allow this. They will pay a heavy price,” the Reuters news agency quoted him as telling an news conference.

Does this risk a wider escalation?

By Selin Girit, BBC News, Istanbul

For Turks this was not surprising, but it is alarming.

Turkey had said that if Syrian forces came in to Afrin to support the Kurdish YPG forces, there would be serious consequences.

The confrontation risks an escalation in Turkey’s one-month old offensive that is aimed at driving the YPG out of Afrin.

hy do the two biggest military powers in Nato risk fighting each other in Syria?

There has not yet been an official statement regarding the latest events. But presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin had tweeted to say that reports suggesting that Syrian government had struck a deal with the YPG were not based on facts, adding that “dirty and secret negotiations were being held”.

Ankara says it is determined to carry on its operation whatever happens. But many argue Turkey would need Russia’s backing in order to avoid confronting Syrian troops along with the YPG.

What else is going on in Syria?

Afrin is just one of many active fronts in the country’s civil war, which began as a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

Government forces, supported by Russian air strikes and Iran-backed militias, are also carrying out offensives on two major rebel strongholds – the north-western province of Idlib and the besieged Eastern Ghouta region.

The UN says more than 300,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Idlib since December, while almost 200 civilians are reported to have been killed in government air and artillery strikes on the Eastern Ghouta since Monday.

Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry acknowledged that dozens of its citizens and people from other former Soviet states were killed or wounded in a recent battle.

It gave no details, but it is believed to be a reference to an incident in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour on 7 February, when the US military said it had killed an estimated 100 pro-Syrian government fighters in response to an attack on an allied, Kurdish-led militia force battling Islamic State militants in the area.

Strikes hit yet another hospital in Syria’s Idlib

February 15, 2018


A Syrian medic checks the damage at the “Sham Surgical” hospital, one of several hospitals targeted by air strikes in Idlib province over the past few days, after it was hit in the night, in the town of Hass on Feb. 15, 2018. (AFP)
HASS: Air strikes have hit a hospital in Syria’s last province beyond government control, in the seventh such raid on a medical facility there by the regime or its ally Russia in two weeks, a monitor said Thursday.
The strikes, thought to be Russian, hit the hospital in the northwestern province of Idlib late Wednesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.
The Observatory, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information, says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.
Inside the hospital in the village of Hass on Thursday, boxes of medicine lay scattered on the floor while part of a wall had collapsed onto a bed and medical equipment, an AFP correspondent said.
The strikes come after the regime in December last year launched an offensive on Idlib, which is dominated by an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate.
“The hospital was the last functional one in all of southeast Idlib,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“In two weeks, seven hospitals and medical clinics have been hit in Idlib in strikes by the regime or its Russian ally,” he said, adding that a blood bank was also hit.
After another strike on a hospital in Idlib last week, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) expressed alarm at the repeated targeting of health care centers.
“Civilian areas — specifically health care facilities — are being hit in northwestern Syria,” said Omar Ahmed Abenza, MSF head of mission for northwestern Syria, after the strike on the area of Mishmishan.
“The strikes, despite their regularity during the seven years long conflict, are currently at an intensity that should be a landmark, another wake-up call,” he said.
The bombardment of medical facilities has a “terrible knock-on effect,” he said, with fearful staff at other facilities reducing their services after each strike.
“The result is more people in greater need, with fewer health services open and available.”
Jihadists and rebels overran Idlib in 2015, but since then hard-liners have expanded their control and the influence of mainstream rebels has shrunk drastically.
Some 2.5 million people, including more than one million displaced Syrians, live in the province.
More than 340,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


Turkey creates new ‘observation point’ in Syria’s Idlib — The post is the sixth such position Turkey has established in Idlib since October

February 15, 2018


© AFP | The post is the sixth such position Turkey has established in Idlib since October.

Turkish troops have set up a new “observation point” in the Syrian province of Idlib as part of efforts to reduce violence in the conflict, state media reported Thursday.

The point — an outpost staffed by a small number of troops to monitor any fighting — was established nearly 70 kilometres (44 miles) from the Turkish border in the northwestern province, state-run news agency Anadolu said.

Idlib is nearly completely under the control of anti-government forces, predominantly Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.

Anadolu said a Turkish military convoy crossed the Turkey-Syria border Wednesday night.

The latest post is in Maarrat al-Numan town in southeastern Idlib.

This is the sixth such position in the province after two were established earlier this month by the Turkish army. The other three were set up in October and November.

Turkish convoys have come under attack including one incident early in February which killed one soldier. The Turkish army said “terror groups” were responsible.

Establishing the observation points is a key element in peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana aimed at ending the seven-year Syrian conflict.

One of the agreements of the talks — sponsored by Turkey, Russia and Iran — was to create four so-called de-escalation zones including Idlib.

The other three are the greater Damascus area, the southern Daraa region and Homs city.

Turkey last week said it would host a three-way summit with the Russian and Iranian leaders following last year’s Sochi summit hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The date has yet to be fixed but is one of many moves Turkey has been making with Moscow and Tehran despite being on opposite sides of the war.

Iran and Russia are staunch supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime but Ankara has called for Assad’s ouster and supported Syrian opposition fighters.

Since January 20, Turkey has conducted a cross-border offensive with ground troops and air strikes supporting Syrian rebels against the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) viewed by Ankara as “terrorists”.

Syrian Rebels Down Russian Military Plane, Kill Pilot

February 3, 2018

Iblib encounter highlights risks of Moscow’s continued involvement in conflict


Image result for Sukhoi 25, photos

Sukhoi Su-25 attack plane

MOSCOW—Syrian rebels shot down a Russian military plane and killed the pilot, Russia’s Defense ministry said, highlighting the risks of Russia’s military operation even after President Vladimir Putin declared victory at the end of last year.

The Sukhoi Su-25 attack plane was downed near the de-escalation zone around the rebel-held Idlib province, the defense minstry said, Interfax news agency reported

The incident took place in an area of Syria’s northern Idlib province that has seen heavy air strikes and fighting on the ground between government forces backed by Russia and Iran, and rebels who oppose President Bashar al-Assad.

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Syrians opposed to Assad see Russia as an invading force they blame for the deaths of thousands of civilians since Moscow joined the war on the side of the Syrian government in 2015.

The Russian plane was shot down over the town of Khan al-Subl near the city of Saraqeb, close to a major highway where the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militias are trying to advance, a rebel source said.

Although the Russian pilot escaped the crash, he was killed by rebels who had tried to capture him, the source said.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said that the aircraft was downed by a portable surface-to-air missile. The pilot reported that he had ejected by parachute, and he was later killed on the ground.

“The pilot died in a fight with terrorists,” it said.

Tass news agency quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying Moscow retaliated with a strike from an undisclosed high-precision weapon that killed more than 30 militants in an area of Idlib province where the plane was downed.

The Syrian opposition had shown on social media what they said was the wreckage of the plane and the body of the pilot surrounded by rebels.

They said the downed warplane was one of the planes used to target civilian convoys fleeing along a major Syrian highway from villages that the army and foreign militias had overrun.

Syria’s civil war, which is now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.

A Russian plane was blamed for the death of seven civilians and scores of injuries after cars were targeted on the highway, according to a witness and two rebels sources.

Syrian soldiers and Iranian-backed militiamen were now around twelve kilometers from Saraqeb, advancing towards the Damascus-Aleppo highway under cover of heavy Russian air strikes, two opposition sources said.

At least five civilians were killed in Saraqeb city on Saturday, which residents blamed on Russian planes.

Syrians in rebel-held areas say they can distinguish between Russian warplanes and those of the Syrian air force, because the Russian planes fly at higher altitude.

Residents say thousands of people have been forced by air strikes to flee the area, moving further north to the safety of makeshift camps on the Syrian side of the Turkish border.

Russia’s Defence Ministry regularly says it targets only hardline Islamist militants in Syria.

Syria rebels down Russian plane, capture injured pilot, says monitor

February 3, 2018


A picture taken on February 1, 2018, shows a Sukhoi-25 fighter jet flying over the Syrian city of Saraqib, southwest of Aleppo. Rebel fighters shot down a Russian plane over Syria’s northwest Idlib province on February 3, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, taking its Russian pilot captive. / AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR
BEIRUT: Rebel fighters shot down a Russian plane over Syria’s northwest Idlib province on Saturday and captured its pilot, a monitor said.
“Rebel factions shot down a Sukhoi 25. The Russian pilot came down in a parachute, before being captured,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He could not immediately confirm which faction had downed the plane but hard-line opposition groups and the jihadist Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) are active in Idlib.
Image result for Sukhoi 25, photos
Sukhoi 25
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Syrian troops launched a fierce offensive on Idlib in late December, with backing by Russian warplanes.
“There have been dozens of Russian air strikes in the area over the past 24 hours. This plane was also carrying out raids there,” said Abdel Rahman.
Opposition factions have shot Syrian regime planes in the past, but downing Russian warplanes is much rarer.
In August 2016, a Russian military helicopter was shot down over Syria and all five people on board were killed.
Moscow began conducting air strikes in Syria in September 2015.
Two months later, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, leading to the worst crisis in ties between the two countries since the end of the Cold War.

Turk border guards shoot at fleeing Syrians: Human Rights Watch

February 3, 2018


ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish guards at the border with Syria are indiscriminately shooting at and summarily returning asylum seekers attempting to cross into Turkey, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.

The spokesman for Turkey’s president said it was highly unlikely that Turkish soldiers would shoot at Syrian war refugees but the government would look into the report. Turkey has taken in 3.5 million Syrian war refugees since 2011.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Syrians were now fleeing heightened violence in the northwestern province of Idlib to seek refuge near Turkey’s border, which remains closed to all but critical medical cases.

Syrian armed forces have thrust deeper into the mainly rebel-held province in recent months and Turkey last month launched military action in the nearby Afrin region targeting Kurdish YPG militia fighters.

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“Syrians fleeing to the Turkish border seeking safety and asylum are being forced back with bullets and abuse,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Asked about the HRW statement, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said Turkish soldiers were there to protect these people and that Ankara has had an “open-door policy” since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011.

“We will certainly look into it. It’s very unlikely that our soldiers would shoot at people,” Ibrahim Kalin told reporters in Istanbul. “We never ask anyone whether they are Kurdish or Arab or Muslim Christian, from this region or that region. I don’t know if it’s an isolated incident or not.”

HRW cited U.N. figures saying 247,000 Syrians were displaced to the border area between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15, 2018.

“As fighting in Idlib and Afrin displaces thousands more, the number of Syrians trapped along the border willing to risk their lives to reach Turkey is only likely to increase,” Fakih said.

Thirteen of 16 Syrian refugees to whom HRW spoke accused Turkish border guards of having shot toward them or other fleeing asylum seekers as they tried to cross while still in Syria, killing 10 people, including one child, and injuring several more.

 A woman crosses the Syrian-Turkish border at Akcakale on 14 June 2015. Turkey said it was taking measures to limit the flow of Syrian refugees onto its territory.

Turkey has taken in more Syrian refugees than any other country, granting many temporary protection status and providing them with basic services, including medical care and education.

“However, Turkey’s generous hosting of large numbers of Syrians does not absolve it of its responsibility to help those seeking protection at its borders,” the HRW statement added.

It said Erdogan’s government should issue standard instructions to border guards at all crossing points that lethal force must not be used against asylum seekers and that no asylum seeker is to be mistreated.

Additional reporting by Dominic Evans; Writing by Daren Butler; editing by Mark Heinrich


HRW urges Turkey to end ‘lethal force’ against fleeing Syrians

February 3, 2018


© AFP/File | Human Rights Watch has called on Ankara to stop using “lethal force” against Syrians trying to cross into Turkey and instead to open its border to the tens of thousands who have fled a government offensive in the northwestern province of Idlib
BEIRUT (AFP) – Human Rights Watch called on Ankara on Saturday to stop using “lethal force” against Syrians trying to cross into Turkey, urging it to open its border to those seeking asylum.A major offensive waged by Syrian government troops in the northwestern province of Idlib has displaced more than 270,000 people since mid-December, according to the United Nations.

Many have tried to flee into Turkey, but border guards have been “indiscriminately shooting at and summarily returning Syrian asylum seekers,” HRW said.

Turkey, which hosts an estimated 3.5 million Syrian refugees, has tried to push back anyone trying to enter across its southern border since August 2015.

Some Syrians have managed to cross by resorting to the services of smugglers, including more than a dozen who crossed between May and December 2017 and shared their accounts with HRW.

“Syrians fleeing to the Turkish border seeking safety and asylum are being forced back with bullets and abuse,” HRW’s deputy Middle East director Lama Fakih said.

Others described being detained, beaten and prevented from seeking medical attention, and said at least 10 people, including a child, were killed by fire from Turkish border guards.

“The Turkish government should issue standard instructions to the border guards at all crossing points that lethal force must not be used against asylum seekers and no asylum seeker is to be mistreated, but should be given access to medical aid when required,” HRW said.

“It should ensure that all crossing points comply with these core legal obligations, as well as the ban on refoulement,” the return of refugees to a country where they could be persecuted.

Public debate on the return of Syrian refugees has been growing in Turkey, as well as in Lebanon and Jordan, which also host large numbers.

But HRW warned that Syria remained too dangerous for civilians to be sent back, particularly after Turkey opened up a new front in the conflict last month with a cross-border assault on Kurdish militia in the Afrin enclave.

“Conditions in Syria are not safe for refugee returns,” Fakih said.

“With hostilities in Afrin contributing to the growing displacement crisis in the country, Turkey should allow the thousands of desperate Syrians seeking refuge to cross the border.”

© 2018 AFP

UN calls on Russia, Iran and Turkey to break Syria aid deadlock

February 1, 2018


United Nations Syria envoy’s Special Adviser Jan Egeland attends a briefing after the meeting of the humanitarian task force on Syria in Geneva, Switzerland. (Reuters)
GENEVA: A United Nations humanitarian task force has been unable to make deliveries to desperate Syrians for the past two months as President Bashar Assad’s government has witheld approval for aid convoys, the UN humanitarian adviser said on Thursday.
Before they can move into besieged areas or across front lines, the convoys require letters from the government and security guarantees from armed groups.
“It’s an all-time low in giving us the facilitation letters,” adviser Jan Egeland told reporters after meeting senior diplomats in Geneva.
Insurgents fighting Assad’s forces were also creating obstacles, contributing to the worst situation since 2015, he said.
Egeland called on Russia, Turkey and Iran to de-escalate the fighting in Idlib governorate, which he said was “screaming for a cease-fire.”
“When we need their ability to influence the parties the most, in this bleak hour for humanitarian work, humanitarian diplomacy seems to be totally impotent. We’re getting nowhere at the moment.”
This week Russia convened a Syrian peace congress in Sochi. Egeland said it had so far not resulted in any progress but he hoped that it would.
Air strikes hit two crowded markets in Idlib this week, killing at least 31 people, and have deprived hundreds of thousands of health care.
“I told the members of the humanitarian task force, we cannot have conventional warfare in what is essentially a refugee camp,” Egeland said.
Further north, a Turkish offensive in Afrin district has displaced about 15,000 people, Egeland said, adding: “There are also reports…that local authorities have made it hard for people to flee from the Afrin area.”
And outside Damascus, the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, where almost 400,000 people are under siege and about 750 need urgent medical evacuation, desperately needs a pause in the fighting, he said.
“We have indications from both sides that they want it, but it hasn’t happened. And it’s both sides that have to help us here. There are air raids, fighting from the government side, but there is a barrage of mortars and grenades going from this area going into civilian neighborhoods in Damascus.”
He also said 112 people had been killed by explosions in the town of Raqqa since it was recaptured from Daesh fighters in October because people had been allowed back to their homes before the town had been cleared of bombs.