UN warns Idlib assault by Syrian regime could be “six times worse” than Ghouta

Cars use the highway extending from Harasta in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2018
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UN warns Idlib assault by Syrian regime could be “six times worse” than Ghouta

UNITED NATIONS, New York: The UN special envoy to Syria warned Wednesday that a regime assault on the northern rebel-held area of Idlib would be “six times” more destructive than the battle to recapture Ghouta, which fell last month after years of siege.
“If we see a Ghouta scenario in Idlib, this could be six times worse, affecting 2.3 million people,” Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council’s monthly meeting on the Syria conflict.
De Mistura described what he called the classic Syrian regime tactic of a bombardment of a rebel territory followed by negotiations and then mass evacuations from the defeated area.
But the special envoy noted that half of the people in the northern rebel province of Idlib had already fled from other parts of Syria, “and will have nowhere else to go because there is no other place to go.”
Regime forces recaptured Ghouta from rebels last month after a ferocious offensive that displaced tens of thousands, both to government-controlled zones around Damascus and to opposition-held parts of northern Syria.
Nevertheless de Mistura said he was “encouraged” by talks earlier this week in the Kazakh capital Astana on “how to avoid worst-case scenario in Idlib.”
The latest round of peace talks, which wrapped up on Tuesday, did not however make any concrete progress toward ending the seven-year conflict that has cost 350,000 lives.
The high-level talks ended merely with a declaration by the three main guarantor nations of Russia and Iran — both of which are allies of the Damascus regime — and Turkey, which backs rebel groups, that negotiations would resume in July in the Russian city of Sochi, but rebel groups said they would not attend.
Since the Astana negotiations began at the beginning of last year, they have mostly focused on attempts to keep Syrian regime forces and their rebel opponents at arm’s length.
Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanski, said that the solution to the Syria conflict was “simple: restore the sovereignty of Damascus over its territories.”
“If you cannot or will not help solve the problem, at least do not stand in our way!” he said in a statement directed at the United States, which did not send a delegation to the latest Astana talks.
Shortly before the UN meeting, the Dutch ambassador Karel Van Oosterom told reporters that the main obstacle to resolving the conflict was that “the Syrian government is not engaging.”
He said that was the message that De Mistura himself had made during a recent meeting of the council.


Speaker’s long tenure embodies Lebanon’s political stasis

Updated 5 min 12 sec ago
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Speaker’s long tenure embodies Lebanon’s political stasis

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s longtime parliament speaker Nabih Berri often seems like a veteran schoolteacher, using threats and jokes to keep unruly students in order.
The 80-year-old has held the job for a quarter-century, and is set to be re-elected for a sixth time on Wednesday, when the new assembly convenes after national elections earlier this month — the first in nine years.
That he faces no challengers, and rarely has over the years, owes much to Lebanon’s sectarian-based and elite-dominated political system, which has mostly kept the peace since the 1975-1990 civil war but has also spawned political paralysis and endemic corruption.
Berri is one of Lebanon’s most influential politicians but is also seen as a moderate, unifying figure who lifted his Shiite community’s profile and role in the country’s postwar politics.