Cease-fire deal sees extremists take over Syria’s Idlib

Since September, Idlib has been shielded from a threatened government offensive by a precarious truce agreed between government ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Cease-fire deal sees extremists take over Syria’s Idlib

  • “This morning, HTS and the NLF signed an agreement to put an end to ongoing fighting...,” a propaganda website said
  • The agreement brings an immediate end to the fighting between Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and the rival Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF)

BEIRUT: The main extremist alliance in Syria’s Idlib region reached a deal on Thursday ending days of deadly fighting with rival rebels and extending its influence over the whole rebel enclave.
The agreement brings an immediate end to the fighting between Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate, and the rival Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), according to the extremists’ propaganda website Ebaa.
“This morning, HTS and the NLF signed an agreement to put an end to ongoing fighting... and establish the control of the salvation government in all areas,” Ebaa said.
The so-called “salvation government” is the administrative arm of HTS, which has been gaining ground inside Syria’s last major rebel bastion in recent days.
Since September, Idlib has been shielded from a threatened government offensive by a precarious truce agreed between government ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said Thursday’s deal saw the whole rebel enclave come under HTS administrative control.
Other extremist factions — such as the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras Al-Deen group and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) — are present in other areas of Idlib but are allied with HTS, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
On Wednesday, a deal between HTS and rival rebel commanders saw the extremist-led alliance take control of two parts of Idlib, Sahl Al-Ghab and Jabal Shahshabo.
Last week, HTS seized dozens of villages from another NLF faction in the northeast of the enclave.


Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

Updated 11 min 31 sec ago
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Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday suggested the mosque in Athens should open with minarets if the Greek premier wants to reopen a seminary in Istanbul.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was in Turkey this month and visited the disputed landmarks of Hagia Sophia and the now-closed Greek Orthodox Halki seminary.
Tsipras said during the visit to the seminary located on Heybeli island off Istanbul on February 6 he hoped to reopen the school next time with Erdogan.
Future priests of the Constantinople diocese had been trained at the seminary, which was closed in 1971 after tensions between Ankara and Athens over Cyprus.
Erdogan on Saturday complained that the Fethiye Mosque in Athens had no minarets despite Greek insistence that it would open.
The mosque was built in 1458 during the Ottoman occupation of Greece but has not been used as a mosque since 1821.
“Look you want something from us, you want the Halki seminary. And I tell you (Greece), come, let’s open the Fethiye Mosque,” Erdogan said during a rally in the northwestern province of Edirne ahead of local elections on March 31.
“They said, ‘we are opening the mosque’ but I said, why isn’t there a minaret? Can a church be a church without a bell tower?” he said, describing his talks with Tsipras.
“We say, you want to build a bell tower? Come and do it... But what is an essential part of our mosques? The minarets,” the Turkish president added.
Erdogan said Tsipras told him he was wary of criticism from the Greek opposition.
After the independence war against Ottomans began in 1821, the minaret is believed by some to have been destroyed because it was a symbol of the Ottoman occupation.
Ankara had returned land taken from the seminary in 1943 but there is still international pressure on Turkey to reopen it.
Erdogan has previously said that its reopening is dependent on reciprocal steps from Greece to enhance the rights of the Turkish minority.