UN chief asks Russia, Turkey to ‘stabilize’ Syria’s embattled Idlib

Members of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the ‘White Helmets,’ carry away a body on a stretcher following a reported regime airstrike in the village of Benin, about 30 km south of Idlib in northwestern Syria, on June 19, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2019

UN chief asks Russia, Turkey to ‘stabilize’ Syria’s embattled Idlib

  • There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The solution must be political: UN

NEW YORK: UN chief Antonio Guterres called on Russia and Turkey on Tuesday to “stabilize the situation” in the Syrian province of Idlib, rocked by intense fighting that the UN body warned is creating a humanitarian disaster.

“I am deeply concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib and the situation is especially dangerous given the involvement of an increased number of actors. Yet again civilians are paying a horrific price,” Guterres told reporters.

His comments came ahead of a UN Security Council session on Tuesday to discuss the situation.

The world is facing “a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes,” Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told the council.

Parts of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib — the last bastion of jihadist forces in Syria — are supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September. But it was never fully implemented as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, militant group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) extended its administrative control over the region. The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region in Syria’s northwest since late April.

“Over the last six weeks, the conduct of hostilities has resulted in more than 230 civilian deaths, including 69 women and 81 children. Hundreds more have been injured,” Lowcock said, adding that an estimated 330,000 have been forced to flee their homes and move toward Turkey since early last month.

“Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure need to stop and they need to stop immediately,” Lowcock said.

Several diplomats indicated that the aim of the council meeting was to “renew attention” on Idlib and maintain pressure on Russia and Syria to stop their attacks on civilians.

Guterres appealed to Russia and Turkey, as signatories of the September deal, to stabilize the situation “without delay.”

“There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The solution must be political,” he said, stressing the need to respect human rights and international humanitarian law “even in the fight against terrorism.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia responded that “we never attack civilian installations,” and added that the September accord is being “fully implemented.” His Turkish counterpart disagreed.

“Unfortunately, cease-fire violations are still on the rise. Consequences of the attacks by the regime against civilians are dire,” said Ankara’s Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 14 pro-regime forces and 41 militants and opposition fighters were killed in clashes on Tuesday.

The fighting flared on the edge of Hama province when HTS launched a dawn attack on regime positions, the observatory said.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, explained to the council the contrasting priorities of Russia and Turkey.

HTS’s presence in the de-escalation area “is not tolerable” for Moscow, while for Ankara, “time is required to effectively isolate and address HTS’s most hard-line fighters,” she said.

Tuesday’s Council meeting occurred at the request of Belgium, Germany, the US and Kuwait.

In May, the council held several meetings on Syria and the situation in Idlib.

Syria’s war began in 2011 and has now claimed more than 370,000 lives. Several million more have been displaced.

Tunisia media mogul still candidate despite arrest: commission

Updated 9 min 18 sec ago

Tunisia media mogul still candidate despite arrest: commission

  • Karoui is one of 26 presidential candidates given preliminary approval this month to run in the September 15 election

TUNIS: Media magnate Nabil Karoui remains in the race for Tunisia’s upcoming presidential election despite his arrest for alleged money laundering, the head of the country’s electoral commission said on Saturday.
Karoui, one of 26 presidential candidates given preliminary approval this month to run in the September 15 election, was arrested on Friday, his party said.
A judicial official said an arrest warrant had been issued for Karoui and his brother Ghazi for money laundering.
“Nabil Karoui is still a candidate and his name remains on the preliminary and definite list of candidates” who are vying to become Tunisia’s next president, electoral commission (ISIE) head Nabil Baffoun said.
“Following his arrest... as long as there are no changes in his legal status... he remains a presidential candidate,” Baffoun told the private Mosaique FM radio station.
According to Baffoun, candidatures of individuals who have been convicted in Tunisia are accepted as long as the verdict against them does not specifically say they are banned from running in an election.
The tycoon was charged with money laundering in early July shortly after stating his intention to stand in the polls, but has remained a leading candidate.
His party announced his arrest the same day that authorities declared a ban on three local outlets — including Karoui’s Nessma TV — from reporting on the election campaign over unlicensed “illegal” broadcasts.
Karoui has been accused by regulators and some politicians of using Nessma to bolster his political ambitions.
He was nearly removed from the race in June when parliament passed an amended electoral code that would bar any candidate who handed out “favors in cash or in kind” in the year before the vote.
But then-president Beji Caid Essebsi neither rejected nor enacted the bill, leaving the door open for Karoui to run.