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Air Strikes Target 3 Hospitals in Syria’s Idlib
07 May, 2019


This picture taken on May 5, 2019 shows destruction at the entrance of a hospital in the village of Kafranbel, south of the opposition-held Syrian province of Idlib. (AFP)

London, Hass (Idlib) – Asharq al-Awsat

Russian warplanes carried out air strikes targeting three hospitals in northwestern Syria, leaving two out of service, according to UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Eight civilians were killed in Russian and Syrian regime shelling in several parts of the region, according to the Observatory, which said that one person was killed during the Russian raids on the hospitals.

Over the past few months, air raids in and around Idlib have escalated.

The Orient Hospital in Kafranbel and Nabd al-Hayat Hospital in Hass town were targeted during Sunday’s attacks, which an AFP cameraman filmed.

"The hospital in Kafranbel is out of order. The patients were transferred to other facilities in the region," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding one civilian was killed in the attacks.

Official at the Syria Relief and Development NGO, Ubaida Dandush said that services were halted at a hospital in Hass following the Russian strikes.

He indicated that the facility had been evacuated shortly before the bombardments thanks to alerts from a warning system set up to analyze the flight paths of warplanes.

Footage filmed by the AFP cameraman showed a white cloud rising over farmland where the hospital is located.

Earlier in April, the United Nations said that a medical center and two hospitals were also out of service due to aerial bombardment and artillery.

Separately on Sunday, the state-owned Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that a civilian was killed in a rocket attack by “terrorist groups” that fired rockets at a regime-controlled area near Idlib.

SANA quoted a military source as saying that “terrorist organizations in Idlib of planning attacks” against regime areas and military positions.

In September 2016, Russia and Turkey signed a deal rendering Idlib a demilitarized zone separating the areas of opposition-held area from adjacent areas controlled by regime forces.

The agreement prevented a large-scale offensive by the Syrian regime, which has continued its strikes on the region.

 

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Ankara: Escalation In Idlib Aims at ‘Expanding Regime Control’
07 May, 2019


Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a news conference following their talks in Sochi, Russia September 17, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS

Ankara - Said Abderrazak

The escalation of the Syrian regime and its allies in Idlib aims at enabling the regime to expand its areas of control, according toTurkish diplomatic sources.

The sources pointed out that Turkey deals with this escalation in the framework of agreements reached with various parties on the de-escalation zone in Idlib through Astana talks and Sochi agreement on the demilitarized buffer zone that was reached with Russia.

Turkey continues talks with Moscow and Tehran to maintain the cease-fire agreement and reduce the escalation, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that the ongoing contacts with Moscow are important given the existing coordination on Idlib.

The contacts are at the level of politicians, military and intelligence bodies with Russia to stop the attacks and conduct joint patrols in Tel Rifaat, sources explained.

They said they come following the attack carried out by Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) last Saturday, killing a Turkish officer and wounding another.

There are several points of dispute between Moscow and Ankara over the explanation of the agreement on Syria's Idlib, reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in September 17, 2018.

Moscow believes Ankara hasn’t fulfilled its commitments to expel the terrorist groups, especially Nusra Front from Idlib or to open the M5 and M4 roads linking the government-controlled cities.

The first few days of the attack targeted towns in northern Hama and southern Idlib province within the buffer zone agreed on between Russia and Turkey under the Sochi agreement, which avoided a major attack on Idlib, the last major stronghold of the Syrian opposition.

Russia and the Syrian regime say they are responding to an escalation by militant attacks on government-controlled areas and deny indiscriminate attacks.

However, medics and rescuers said the attacks killed dozens of civilians in recent days, destroyed at least five medical centers and paralyzed daily life.

Speaking at a NATO meeting in the capital Ankara on Monday, Erdogan pointed to his country’s successful efforts in restoring peace in Idlib.

“In this way, we have not only saved the lives of thousands of innocent Syrians but also prevented a new irregular wave of refugees from heading toward Europe,” he stressed.


 

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Intense fighting in northwest Syria as army tries to advance
Reuters
May 07, 2019
  • Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Assad government forces seized Tel Othman
  • The organization says 69 civilians were killed in bombardments since April 30
BEIRUT: The Syrian army has made a small advance into the rebels’ last major stronghold in Syria, a pro-government newspaper and a war monitor reported on Tuesday, after massive bombardments that began late last month.

Al-Watan daily said the army had captured the villages of Al-Janabara and Tel Othman, where rebels said on Monday they had repulsed government assaults. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops had seized Tel Othman.

Northwest Syria is the only significant territory still in rebel hands. The area being targeted in the latest bombardment was the subject of a Russian-Turkish agreement last September to hold off a government offensive.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization that monitors the war, said 69 civilians had been killed by bombardments since April 30. At least 41 insurgents had been killed by air strikes and fighting, it said.

The dominant rebel force in the northwest said on Monday it would meet any government attempt to advance with “iron and fire.” The group, Tahrir Al-Sham, includes Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate the Nusra Front.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has recaptured most of the country from rebels since Russia joined the war on his side in 2015, deploying its air power in support of the army and allied Iran-backed militias.

The United Nations has said the northwestern Idlib region is home to 3 million people, half of whom have already fled their homes at least once during the conflict, and that a big battle there risks causing a new humanitarian disaster.

Bombardments since April 28 have displaced more than 158,000 people, the US-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) said on Monday.

A media spokesman for the Civil Defense organization, which conducts rescue operations in opposition-held areas of Syria, said the bombardment was non-stop.

“There is a first wave of barrel bombs dropped by helicopters. A few minutes later a jet will drop another wave of weapons hitting first responders. Then it’s followed by a wave of artillery,” the spokesman said.

The Observatory said nine civilians were killed after midnight by bombardment and reported helicopters dropping barrel bombs — improvised munitions filled with explosives.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is following the hostilities with great concern, his spokesman, and urged parties to recommit to the cease-fire that was agreed last year.

Part of the rebels’ northwestern enclave is held by Turkish-backed groups aided by the Turkish army. The rest, including the southern flank where fighting has focused this week, is dominated by Tahrir Al-Sham group.

 

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Syria fighting escalates in last opposition stronghold
By Clyde Hughes
MAY 7, 2019

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for Syria and opposition forces to protect civilians in the current clashes in the last rebel stronghold. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

May 7 (UPI) -- Fighting between pro-Assad forces and the opposition in northwestern Syria Tuesday marked a new wave of violence in the region, forcing civilians to again flee for their lives.

Syrian troops took control of a village and a key strategic hill in the region during the latest wave of fighting that started April 30 in the opposition's last stronghold in the country.

It marked the worst fighting since September when Russia and Turkey agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in the Idlib Province in hopes of de-escalating the fighting among the government forces and rebels.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine civilians died in the escalated clashes. Since Monday, at least 53 fighters died in confrontations.

The observatory said two children and two women were among the dead when Syrian government planes bombed Kafr Zita in the northern portion of Hama. Civilians also died in a raid on al-Zerba by Russian soldiers, and the bombing of the villages of Shannan, Morek and Om al-Nur.

"In the same context, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights learned that the regime forces managed after midnight to regain control of the strategic hill of Tal Osman north of Hama," the group wrote.

Syria has been engulfed in a civil war since 2011, when protests against the Bashar al-Assad regime connected with the Arab Spring were met with armed suppression by the government.

In the meantime, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Monday called for measures to be taken to protect civilians and to prevent further displacement.

"He is alarmed by reports of aerial attacks on population centers and civilian infrastructure resulting in hundreds of civilian dead and injured and over 150,000 newly displaced persons," Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarricsaid in a statement.

"On 5 May, three health facilities were reportedly hit by airstrikes, bringing the total to at least seven struck since 28 April. ....The secretary-general urges all parties to uphold international humanitarian law and protect civilians ... as the holy month of Ramadan begins," the statement continued.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported the pro-government soldiers attacked "terrorist groups" and their supply routes in Hama, destroying their gathering locations on the outskirts of Kafr Zita and al-Arba'ain. The opposition suffered heavy losses in the attack.

 

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Russian Khmeimim airbase in Syria attacked twice in one day
May 7, 2019

On Monday, May 6, The Russian Khmeimim airbase in Syria was shelled twice, reports RBC with reference to a report from the head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in the Syrian Arab Republic, Major General Viktor Kupchishin.

“Both times the fire originated in the east, coming from the area of the Zawiya settlement located in the Idlib de-escalation zone and controlled by the Hayat Tahrir ash-Sham group,” Kupchishin said. According to him, a total of 36 missiles were fired at the base. The militants controlled the shots using a drone.

The air defense systems command repelled the shelling and there were no casualties or damage to the base, the Center said.

“All the militants’ missile launch points were detected and countered by the Russian air forces and artillery fire of the Syrian government forces,” Kupchishin added. He noted that in the Idlib de-escalation zone, there has been an increase in cease-fire violations by illegal armed groups.

Ministry of Defense headquarters also reported that during the day, in addition to Khmeimim, the settlements of Al-Suqaylabiyah, Mgayr, Buraydij and As-Sifsafeh were shelled several times. Militants fired using mortars, multiple launch rocket systems and artillery guns.

On May 2, the militants attempted to attack the Khmeimim base and according to the Defense Ministry, the shots were fired by militants belonging to illegal armed groups operating out of Qalaat al-Mudiq and Bab Atiq. The attack was repelled, there were no injuries and no damage was done to the base’s infrastructure.

 

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Syrian Regime Forces Capture Entire Village in Northwestern Syria
09 May, 2019

A Syrian government forces’ tank is seen at a position in the village of Qart Saghir northwest of the northern town of Manbij. GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP

Asharq Al-Awsat

Syrian regime troops captured the entire northwestern village of Qalaat al-Madiq on Thursday as they move deeper toward Idlib province, the last major opposition stronghold, activists and pro-regime media reported.

The village, known for its medieval fortress, was taken after militants pulled out, according to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Idlib-based activist Alaa Moadamani also confirmed the village's capture.

The pro-regime Syrian Central Military Media said troops took Qalaat al-Madiq and two smaller nearby villages. Regime troops had been holding the nearby fortress, which also carries the name of Qalaat al-Madiq, the Associated Press reported.

The village, near the Orontes River, is a gateway to the fertile plain of al-Ghab, a breadbasket for the central province of Hama.

Thursday's push came a day after regime troops took the nearby village of Kfar Nabudah.

According to UN data, more than 150,000 people have been displaced recently within the enclave.



 

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Syrian government captures strategic town from rebels-residents: war monitor
Reuters
May 09, 2019
  • The town is close to a Russian air base
  • Insurgents attacked the air base with rockets previously
BEIRUT: The Syrian government captured the town of Qalaat Al-Madiq in northwest Syria, some of its residents and a war monitor said on Thursday, as it pushes into the biggest remaining rebel territory under a massive bombardment.

Syria’s army, backed by Russian air power, launched ground operations this week against the southern flank of the rebel zone consisting of Idlib and parts of adjacent provinces.

The area is nominally protected by a Russian-Turkish deal agreed last year to avert a major new battle.

Qalaat Al-Madiq was the rebel area closest to the Russian Hmeimim air base at Latakia, which insurgents have previously targeted with rocketfire.

It was also the entrance point into rebel territory for many insurgents and civilians who were evacuated from territory captured by the army under surrender deals negotiated with the government over recent years.

Local residents said Syrian government forces had captured Qalaat Al-Madiq and two nearby villages — Tal Hawash and Al-Karkat.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitoring group said rebels had withdrawn there after being nearly encircled by the army.

The fighting has pushed 150,000 civilians from their homes, raising concerns of a new humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria. Some 13 health facilities have been hit in the bombing, the US-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations which funds some hospitals in the area said on Wednesday.

 

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Syrian Government Forces Advance in NW Region Between Idlib, Hama
May 09, 2019
by Edward Yeranian
The destroyed remnants of Nabd Al-Hayat hospital that was hit by an airstrike is seen in Hass, Idlib province, Syria, May 6, 2019, in this still image taken from a video on May 9, 2019.

The destroyed remnants of Nabd Al-Hayat hospital that was hit by an airstrike is seen in Hass, Idlib province, Syria, May 6, 2019, in this still image taken from a video on May 9, 2019.

CAIRO —
Syrian government forces reportedly have captured at least three towns from Islamic militias, which control portions of the country's northwest between Idlib and Hama. Arab media also are reporting the government was battling its adversaries in an effort to capture parts of the country's main highway that runs from Damascus to Aleppo.

Arab media broadcast amateur video of heavy Russian airstrikes in the northwest of Syria, as government forces advanced, recapturing the towns of Kafr Nabouda and Qalaat al-Madiq.

Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Arab media that government forces have recaptured at least five small towns, including Kafr Nabouda and Qalaat al-Madiq. He says there have been at hundreds of airstrikes over these areas during the past 10 days and that at least 100 civilians were killed.

Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV is saying the number of civilians that were killed was even higher, adding that more than 100 opposition fighters also were killed, in addition to close to 120 government soldiers and allied militiamen.

The TV showed video of civilians fleeing from the areas that were being bombed, using farm vehicles and other form of transportation to escape. Arab media interviewed families that said they were camped out under olive trees to avoid airstrikes and shelling in their villages.

Syrian government analyst Ali Maqsoud told state TV the battle for Idlib is coming to a head and that a military solution to the conflict appears to be on the horizon.

He said the political decision appears to have been made to put an end to the pockets of terrorism around Idlib and that the government is no longer willing to compromise and allow terrorist groups to operate there.

Amateur video showed government soldiers inside the town of Kafr Nabouda, asserting they either would capture or destroy their enemies.
The Syrian opposition's chief negotiator, Naser al-Hariri, told journalists Thursday in the Turkish town of Gaziantep the government advance on opposition-held regions "makes a mockery" of the entire negotiating process that Russia has been conducting in Astana and Sochi.

He said his read of the situation is that what is taking place is a total breach of the Sochi accords between Russia and Turkey, regarding war crimes and the concept of a military victory. He said it makes a mockery of every agreement that has been reached, in both Geneva and Astana.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, told VOA the Syrian government has been pursuing a military victory in Syria from the very beginning of the conflict and things now seem to be evolving in that direction.

He said the Assad regime has been trying to achieve a military victory from the outset and that all the de-escalation zones that were set up by the Astana process were just an illusion to mask the eventuality the government would try to recapture those zones. He argued that both Russia and Turkey allowed extremists to set up shop in these zones, providing an excuse to cover military operations there.

The Syrian government says rebel forces have been shelling civilians in the towns and cities that it controls, including Aleppo, while the opposition forces claim Russia and the Syrian government have been bombing civilians in areas that it controls.

Arab media report the United Nations Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss the situation in northern Syria behind closed doors.

 

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Turkish defense minister says Syrian forces must halt attacks in northwest Syria
May 10, 2019

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s defense minister said Syrian government forces need to halt attacks in northwestern Syria, state-owned Anadolu Agency reported on Friday.

Syria’s army, backed by Russian air power, launched ground operations this week against the southern flank of a rebel zone consisting of Idlib and parts of adjacent provinces.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Syrian forces should return to territories agreed in an international deal in Kazakhstan to reduce hostilities and casualties.

“Humanitarian problems grow each day and it is increasingly showing a tendency to turn into a catastrophe,” he said.

Akar also said the attacks pose a threat to the security of Turkey’s observation posts in the northwest, where Turkey carries out patrols.

“We expect Russia to take effective and determined measures to make regime forces stop their attacks on the south of Idlib and immediately return to the borders set by the Astana agreement,” Akar said, referring to the Kazakh capital by its previous name.

On Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said the operation was a reaction to terrorists in the area, and was being carried out “in coordination with our Turkish partners,” TAS news agency reported.

The United Nations Security Council was briefed behind closed doors on Friday on the situation in northwest Syria. Afterward, 11 the 15 members - including the United States, France and Britain - jointly condemned the killing of civilians and warned of a possible humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib.

“We are alarmed by the displacement of over 150,000 persons as well as the targeting of population centers and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and schools,” Belgian U.N. Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve told reporters on behalf of the 11 members.

Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Sarah Dadouch; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Dominic Evans and Toby Chopra

 

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Turkey urges end to regime attacks on Idlib
AFP
May 10, 2019
  • “We expect Russia to take effective and decisive measures to ensure regime forces end their attacks on the south of Idlib,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said
  • Akar made his comments during a visit to the Turkish border with Syria, joined by top military commanders
ANKARA: Turkey on Friday called for an end to regime attacks on Idlib, accusing Damascus of seeking to extend its control of the province’s south in violation of previously agreed boundaries.

Syrian regime forces together with their Russian allies have increased air strikes and shelling in the militant-controlled northwestern province since
last April.

“We expect Russia to take effective and decisive measures to ensure regime forces end their attacks on the south of Idlib and the (forces) immediately withdraw to the borders agreed as part of Astana Process,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.

“The regime is trying to widen its area of control in Idlib’s south in violation of the Astana agreement,” Akar added, quoted by state news agency Anadolu.

He said the attacks were also a “risk” to Turkey’s 12 military observation posts around the region.

Akar made his comments during a visit to the Turkish border with Syria, joined by top military commanders.

While Moscow backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, Ankara has called for his ouster and supports Syrian rebels in the civil war which began with anti-government protests in 2011.

Despite being on opposing sides of the war, Turkey has been working closely with regime backers Russia and Iran to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war.

Their talks have been known as the Astana process which was launched in early 2017 in the Kazakh capital now called Nur-Sultan.

A separate deal agreed by Moscow and Ankara last year aimed to set up a buffer zone around Idlib, and avoid a massive Syrian regime assault on the province.

www.arabnews.com/node/1495611/middle-east
 

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Aid groups suspend aid to Syria’s embattled northwest

Updated 11 sec ago
AFP
May 11, 2019
  • he World Food Programme said it has suspended deliveries to about 47,000 people
  • OCHA said five humanitarian workers, including two health professionals, have been reportedly killed
BEIRUT: UN-linked aid groups have suspended activities in parts of violence-plagued northwest Syria, where stepped up bombardment by the regime and Russia is jeopardizing the safety of humanitarian workers.

“As of 8 May, at least 16 humanitarian partners have suspended their operations in areas impacted by conflict,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA said Friday.

The World Food Programme said it has suspended “deliveries to about 47,000 people in towns and villages... (that) have come under bombardment.”

Since late April, government forces have mounted a major bombardment of southern Idlib and neighboring areas with Russian support.

The uptick in air strikes and shelling on the region dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate has displaced 180,000 people between 29 April and 9 May, OCHA said.

It has also affected 15 health facilities and 16 schools, it added.

“Some organizations suspended activities as their premises were damaged, destroyed or rendered unsafe by the violence,” OCHA said.

“Others have suspended activities in order to keep their staff and beneficiaries safe, or because the beneficiary population has left,” it added.
OCHA said five humanitarian workers, including two health professionals, have been reportedly killed due to air strikes and shelling.
WFP also said that some of its partners inside Idlib have been “displaced due to the violence, while a few others have sustained injuries.”

The northwestern part of Syria controlled by jihadists is made up of a large part of Idlib province, as well as adjacent parts of the Aleppo and Hama provinces.

It has been protected from a massive regime offensive by a September deal inked by Damascus ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.

The region of some three million people has come under increasing bombardment since Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, which is dominated by jihadists
from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch, took full control of it in the beginning of the year.

Western powers are concerned that the Russia-backed Syrian government will launch a full-scale assault.

On Friday, air strikes and shelling killed 10 civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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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Erdogan to Putin: Syria 'Seeking to Sabotage' Turkey-Russia Relations
15 May, 2019
[IMG]

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan give a joint press conference at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 8. (AFP)

Ankara- Saeed Abdulrazek

Ankara has intensified its contacts with Moscow in light of the escalation of the Syrian regime’s attacks in Idlib, supported by Russia.

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.

Erdogan told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, during a phone call late on Monday that the offensive by Head of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad’s forces “sought to sabotage Turkish-Russian cooperation” in Idlib by violating the ceasefire agreement and breaching outcomes of Astana talks.

Targeting civilians, schools and hospitals couldn’t be considered fighting against terrorism, Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency, quoted Erdogan as telling Putin.

The two leaders discussed bilateral relations and recent developments in Idlib, reiterating their commitment to Sochi Agreement, which was concluded on September 17 and stipulated the establishment of a demilitarized zone separating the regime and the opposition in Idlib.

Erdogan noted that rising tensions in the region would jeopardize the formation of a Constitutional Committee in Syria and the political process.

The guarantor states (Turkey, Russia, and Iran) announced mid-September 2017 reaching a deal to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib, in accordance with a deal concluded in May that year.

In September 2018, they agreed to create along the contact line between the armed opposition and government troops a demilitarized zone of a depth of 15-20 km, with the withdrawal from there of radically-minded rebels, to be implemented by October 15.

But Moscow has repeatedly blamed Turkey for failing to oust militant groups, notably the Nusra Front, from Idlib, as well as failing to meet its obligations to open international roads.

Regime forces stepped up the assault on southern Idlib in an effort to regain control of the main roads.

Turkey, for its part, fears a new wave of massive displacement to happen with some four million civilians living in Idlib’s demilitarized zone, including masses displaced by the regime.


https://aawsat.com/english/home/art...yria-seeking-sabotage-turkey-russia-relations
 

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U.S.-backed forces crack down on Islamic State fighters in Syria's Deir al Zor
May 16, 2019
Suleiman Al-Khalidi

(Reuters) - U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces said on Wednesday they had begun a campaign against “terrorists” linked to Islamic State in a strategic town in the oil rich eastern province of Deir al Zor that residents and witnesses say has been at the center of protests opposing the rule of U.S.-supported militia.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spearheaded by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said it had so far arrested 20 militants and confiscated weapons in the security sweep in the vicinity of the town of Shuhail on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River and its outlying desert region.

“Our forces began a campaign in the early hours of the morning ... we have discovered two tunnels used by terrorists to launch attacks,” the SDF said in a statement.

Last week, a U.S.-led special operations raid on a suspected Islamic State fighters’ hideout in the town had sparked violent protests and attacks on SDF garrisons, three residents and social media footage showed. Eight people were killed in the raid, residents said.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali denied any civilians were killed in the operation that he said sought an “important” Islamic State militant cell inside Shuhail, part of a large swathe of territory in northeastern Syria the U.S.-backed group controls.

“The operation was executed carefully and highly professionally and achieved its aims,” Bali told Reuters. He blamed the Syrian government for fueling anti-SDF protests in a string of towns in the region in recent weeks.

“The Syrian regime is influencing some tribal figures to aggravate the situation and trying to benefit and agitate people to protest,” Bali said.

A meeting two days ago called by the main Akaidat tribe in Shuhail urged the U.S.-led coalition to hand over the running of the affairs of their towns to them.

Growing unrest against the SDF in areas they control in Deir Zor province east of the Euphrates River has been aggravated by poor services, lack of jobs and compulsory conscription of youth, residents and tribal figures said.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry on Monday urged the U.N. Security Council to act against what it said were “crimes perpetuated” by the SDF, warning it reserved the right to defend its citizens.

Protesters carrying placards have accused Kurdish officials of discrimination and want an end to forcible conscription of Arab youths. They have also been angry with the YPG selling crude oil from fields within their region to the Syrian government.

Kurdish YPG commanders have denied discrimination against Arabs in local administrations they run and warned that tribal unrest in former Islamic State areas could undermine stability of the U.S protected territory and encourage a militant comeback.

They say militants who have reverted to guerrilla tactics after the loss of territorial control are behind a rise in hit and run attacks on SDF checkpoints and assassinations.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Grant McCool



 

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Syria: International Organization to Reduce Beneficiaries to 35%
Wednesday, 15 May, 2019

Damascus Countryside - Asharq Al-Awsat

World Food Program (WFP) plans to reduce the number of households that benefit from food aid baskets in regime-controlled areas to about 35 percent of the current beneficiary families and to allocate them to the poorest.

An official of a local NGO, that partners with the United Nations and other international organizations told Asharq Al-Awsat a new program for aid distribution had been devised and will be implemented after two months.

He explained that the new program includes canceling the names of about 65 percent of the current beneficiary families and keeping 35 percent of the poorest families.

Meanwhile, Syrian Center for Policy Research in partnership with the Department of Environmental Health of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut, issued a study indicating that overall poverty rates in Syria reached as high as 93.7 percent at the end of 2017, while abject poverty levels reached 59.1 percent in the same year.

As living conditions in regime-controlled areas worsened, charities launched a project to distribute food baskets, namely provided by WFP, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and other charities.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which is also a subsidiary of the United Nations, distributes food parcels to Palestinian refugees.

International organizations are required to carry out the relief operation in coordination with the regime through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Syria's regime prevents any relief organization from working on Syrian territory without its consent.

Earlier in 2018, the United Nations announced that the number of recipients of WFP assistance amounted to 3 million Syrians, after it used to support 4 million in 2017, due to lack of funding.

The official of the local NGO indicated that the new relief plan does not include a reduction in the total amount of aid distributed in regime-controlled areas, but limits it to the poorest families only based on documentation provided by these families.

Under the new plan, the quantities and quality of the food basket will increase and will be distributed once a month after it was distributed every three months, said the official.

According to the leaflets attached to the food basket, those who are entitled to register for the "basket of food" are the displaced families, the very poor families and the families that lost the breadwinner, given that they provide proper documentation to prove that.

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says Syria has 7.5 million people displaced from their areas of residence to safer areas and more than 5 million refugees outside the country.

Ironically, those who take the food baskets are mostly residents who have not fled their areas, and some even still live in their homes.

Locals say some distribution center officials are manipulating the registration processes and giving the aid and baskets to families that are not in need.


 

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After fleeing bombs, Syrian families shelter in olive groves
May 17, 2019
Khalil Ashawi


ATMEH, Syria (Reuters) - Families who fled Syrian government and Russian strikes in northwestern Syria are sleeping in an olive grove near the Turkish border without enough food and no place else to go.

They are some of the 180,000 people who have escaped an upsurge in violence in the last major Syrian rebel stronghold in the last few weeks. It marks the most intense escalation between President Bashar al-Assad and his rebel enemies since last summer, with dozens killed in the shelling of insurgent territory.

“The house fell in over my children and grandchildren at night ... but God saved them, they emerged from the rubble,” said a 70-year-old woman who gave her name as Aziza as she spoke under the shade of an olive tree.

Aziza’s family is one of scores who fled targeted parts of southern Idlib and northern Hama province and are now living in the olive groves at the Turkish border.

There is no room for them at the nearby camp for the displaced in the town of Atmeh.

Aziza fled her town of Kfar Nabuda with 17 relatives nearly two weeks ago, taking nothing with her, as the warplanes flew overhead. The exodus has left many towns and villages empty.

Some have made makeshift tents by stringing sheets between the olive trees. Infants sleep under mosquito nets suspended from the branches. One of the shelters was equipped with a kitchen stove.

The jihadist Tahrir al-Sham is the dominant insurgent faction in the northwest. Rebels launched a counterattack this week to counter ground advances by Syrian government forces.

AIR STRIKES
Air strikes have struck 18 health facilities and violence has destroyed at least 16 schools, U.N. humanitarian adviser Najat Rochdi told reporters in Geneva.

“Aerial bombardment, including the reported use of barrel bombs causing severe damage to civilian infrastructures and civilian casualties is a war practice which goes against every single humanitarian principle,” she said.

Medical charity UOSSM said the Tarmala Maternity and Children’s Hospital was destroyed by an air strike on Wednesday, but there were no casualties as it had been evacuated.

The Syrian government says it is responding to attacks by al Qaeda-linked militants.

Much of the bombardment has hit a buffer zone agreed in September under a Russian-Turkish deal that spared the region and its 3 million residents from a full-blown assault.

Ankara, which backs some rebels, has deployed forces into the region in agreement with Russia. They are stationed at a dozen positions, one of which was hit by shelling from Syrian government territory.

Turkey has called on the Syrian government to stop the attacks. Still, Abu Abdo al-Khani said Ankara’s deal with Moscow had failed to help his family.

“We were supposed to be within the secure zone, where is it?” Khani, 30, said. “Where are (Turkish President) Erdogan and his guarantees to protect us?”

Khani’s family fled the town of Khan Sheikhoun on foot through the countryside. He said they had received some blankets and water in the olive field.

“We haven’t showered in 15 days ... We’re living under the trees at the border, who would accept such a life?”

Writing by Ellen Francis; additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Tom Perry and Janet Lawrence


 
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