Syria will ‘go all the way’ in Idlib offensive as UN envoy offers to help civilians leave

The anticipated Idlib offensive has raised fears that millions of civilians would be trapped. (AFP)
Updated 30 August 2018

Syria will ‘go all the way’ in Idlib offensive as UN envoy offers to help civilians leave

  • The UN's Syria peace envoy offers to personally travel to Idlib to help civilians leave via humanitarian corridor
  • De Mistura calls on Russia, Iran and Turkey to forestall a battle in Syria's Idlib province

GENEVA: The UN’s Syria peace envoy offered Thursday to travel to Idlib to help ensure civilians can leave through a humanitarian corridor as the regime warned it would “go all the way” to recapture the province .

Fears are growing that a government offensive to retake the last major region controlled by rebels is imminent.

“I am once again prepared... personally and physically to get involved myself... to ensure such a temporary corridor would be feasible and guaranteed for the people so that they can then return to their own places once this is over,” Staffan de Mistura said in Geneva.

His comments came amid fears the Syrian government, backed by long-time ally Russia, is mobilizing for a military offensive to retake Idlib.

Syrian foreign minister Walid Al-Moualem said on Thursday their main targets were hardline Al-Nusra militants, Reuters reported.

Speaking after talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, Moualem said Syrian forces would not use chemical weapons in any offensive and that it did not have such weapons. Syria would try to avoid civilian deaths, he added.

Idlib, which borders Turkey, is home to nearly three million people, up to half of whom are rebels and civilians transferred en masse from other territory that has fallen to Syrian troops after intense assaults, AFP reported.

A major military operation in Idlib would pose a particular humanitarian nightmare because there is no nearby opposition territory left in Syria where people could be evacuated to.

“There is no other Idlib,” de Mistura said, stressing the need to ensure civilians can evacuate to nearby areas under government control, with guarantees their rights will be respected once they get there.

“It would be a tragic irony frankly if at almost the end of... a territorial war inside Syria, we would be witnessing the most horrific tragedy to the largest number of civilians,” he said.

De Mistura stressed the need for “constructive, effective” support from Damascus, since the possible corridor would most likely need to lead into government-controlled territory.

“Short of going to Turkey, the civilians have no other option in order not to be where fighting may take place.”

The most important thing, he said, was to avoid “a hurried escalation,” which could easily lead to “the worst-case scenario.”

“It would be quite tragic at this stage, having seen how difficult the seven years (of Syria’s war) have been.”

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Two years ago, de Mistura offered to go to eastern Aleppo and to personally escort Al-Nusra fighters out of the besieged city.

“Al-Nusra refused my offer to accompany them out, and they went to Idlib, and we lost two months at least and thousands of people died because of that,” he said.

The UN envoy said there were an estimated 10,000 Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra fighters in Idlib, along with their families.

While he stressed the legitimacy of battling such “UN-identified terrorists,” he insisted efforts to defeat them did not justify putting the lives of some 2.9 million people in the area at risk.

“There is and can be no justification... to not avoid using heavy weapons in densely populated areas,” he said.

On Wednesday, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that full-scale military operations in Syria’s Idlib province could lead to a “humanitarian catastrophe” and cautioned against the use of chemical weapons.

De Mistura echoed that concern.

“The issue of avoiding the potential use of chemical weapons is indeed crucial,” he said, stressing that such use “would be totally unacceptable.”

“We are all aware that both the government and Al-Nusra have the capability to produce weaponized chlorine, hence an increased concern by all of us.”

New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

Updated 10 August 2022

New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

  • The Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on August 1
  • A five-month delay after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “prompted the buyer and the shipping agent to reach agreement on the cancelation of the order”

BEIRUT: A new buyer is being sought for the first grain shipment to leave Ukraine under a hard-won deal with Russia after the original Lebanese buyer canceled its order, the Ukrainian embassy said.
The Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on August 1 carrying 26,000 tons of maize and had been expected to dock in the Lebanese port of Tripoli at the weekend.
But now the keenly anticipated shipment is looking for a buyer after the shipping agent agreed to a request to cancel the original order in the light of the long delay in delivery.
A five-month delay after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “prompted the buyer and the shipping agent to reach agreement on the cancelation of the order,” the Ukraine embassy said in a statement late Tuesday.
The agent is now studying alternative bids for the maize before deciding on its destination, the embassy added.
The Razoni is currently anchored off the Turkish port of Mersin, according to the Marine Traffic website.
Another ship docked in Turkey Monday with a cargo of 12,000 tons of Ukrainian maize, becoming the first to reach its destination under the deal with Russia brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.
The agreement lifted a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports and established safe corridors through the naval mines laid by Kyiv to ward off any amphibious assault by Moscow on its coast.
Ukraine said Monday it was “optimistic” that the millions of tons of wheat and other grain that had been trapped in its silos and ports could now be exported, in a major boost for world food supplies.


Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction

Updated 34 min 54 sec ago

Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction

  • The airport, which was heavily damaged in the battle, had been disused since the extremists seized Mosul and adjacent areas in 2014

MOSUL: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi on Wednesday inaugurated the reconstruction of Mosul international airport, still in disrepair five years after the battle that expelled Daesh from the city.
Entire sectors of the northern metropolis have remained in ruins since the July 2017 recapture of Mosul by Iraqi forces backed by a US-led multinational coalition.
The airport, which was heavily damaged in the battle, has been disused since the extremists seized Mosul and adjacent areas in 2014.
Kadhemi, in an official ceremony at the airport on the southern outskirts of Mosul, laid the foundation stone for its renovation.
Airport director Haider Ali told AFP that the reconstruction has been assigned to two Turkish companies and is expected to take 24 months.
Despite the slow pace of reconstruction, the city of 1.5 million inhabitants has regained a semblance of normality: shops have reopened, traffic jams are back and international agencies have been funding restoration projects for historic sites.
But huge challenges remain.
At the end of 2021, the Red Cross estimated that 35 percent of west Mosul residents and less than 15 percent in east Mosul, which bore the brunt of the fighting, have enough water to meet their daily needs.
Kadhemi, quoted in a statement issued by his office, said that “huge efforts” were being made to rebuild the city.
In January, a provincial official spoke of a $266-million budget for major reconstruction projects, notably in the health, education and transport sectors for 2021-2022, according to the state news agency INA.

Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for ‘spying’

Updated 10 August 2022

Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for ‘spying’

  • The satellite, called Khayyam, was launched into space from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome
  • Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran dismissed as “childish” Wednesday claims by the United States that an Iranian satellite launched by Russia is intended for spying.
The satellite, called Khayyam, was launched into space on a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome in neighboring Kazakhstan on Tuesday.
Responding to the launch, Washington said Russia’s growing cooperation with Iran should be viewed as a “profound threat.”
“We are aware of reports that Russia launched a satellite with significant spying capabilities on Iran’s behalf,” a US State Department spokesperson said.
The head of Iran’s Space Agency, Hassan Salarieh, told reporters Wednesday that the spying allegation was “basically childish.”
“Sometimes, some comments are made to incite tensions; saying that we want to spy with the Khayyam satellite... is basically childish,” he said.
“The Khayyam satellite is entirely designed and built to meet the needs of the country in crisis and urban management, natural resources, mines, agriculture and so on.”
Ahead of the launch, there was speculation that Russia might borrow Iran’s satellite temporarily to boost its surveillance of military targets in Ukraine.
Last week, The Washington Post quoted anonymous Western intelligence officials as saying that Russia “plans to use the satellite for several months or longer” to assist its war effort before allowing Iran to take control.
Iran’s space agency stressed on Sunday that it would control the satellite “from day one” in an apparent reaction to the Post’s report.
The purpose of Khayyam is to “monitor the country’s borders,” enhance agricultural productivity and monitor water resources and natural disasters, according to the space agency.
Khayyam is not the first Iranian satellite that Russia has put into space.
In 2005, Iran’s Sina-1 satellite was deployed from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal, or any other international agreement.
Western governments worry that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, something Iran has always denied wanting to build.
Iran successfully put its first military satellite into orbit in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from the United States.

Iran navy says repelled attack on ship in Red Sea

Updated 10 August 2022

Iran navy says repelled attack on ship in Red Sea

  • Navy escort flotilla was headed by the destroyer Jamaran

TEHRAN: An Iranian naval flotilla thwarted an overnight attack on an Iranian vessel in the Red Sea, a senior commander said Wednesday.
“The escort flotilla of the naval arm of Iran’s armed forces, headed by the destroyer Jamaran... promptly deployed to the scene last night after receiving a request for help from an Iranian ship in the Red Sea, and engaged with the attacking boats,” said the navy’s deputy head of operations, Rear Admiral Mustafa Tajeddini.
“Thanks to the effective (naval) presence and after heavy exchanges, the attacking boats made off,” he told state television.
Tajeddini did not give details of the ship which was targeted or of who was suspected of mounting the attack.
In November 2021, pirates attempted to seize an Iranian oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, ISNA news agency said at the time.
Two weeks earlier, an Iranian warship repelled an attack by pirates against two oil tankers that it was escorting in the Gulf of Aden.
Like other countries dependent on the shipping lane through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, Iran stepped up its naval presence in the Gulf of Aden after a wave of attacks by Somalia-based pirates between 2000 and 2011.
But the number of attacks has fallen sharply in recent years.

US and Iran study text of revived nuclear deal

Updated 10 August 2022

US and Iran study text of revived nuclear deal

  • EU expects quick decision on 25-page document after Vienna talks conclude

JEDDAH: The final text of a proposed new nuclear deal with Iran has been sent to Washington and Tehran amid rising expectations that a revived agreement is imminent.

The EU said on Tuesday it expected a rapid response from the two capitals. “There is no more space for negotiations,” EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano said. “We have a final text. So it’s the moment for a decision, yes or no. And we expect all participants to take this decision very quickly.”

Talks concluded in Vienna on Monday aimed at reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 agreement with world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions on Tehran. The original deal collapsed in 2018 when the US pulled out and reimposed sanctions.

Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia, as well as the US indirectly, resumed talks on the issue last week, after a months-long hiatus. The EU-coordinated negotiations began in April 2021 before coming to a standstill in March.


EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who coordinated the talks, said the text of a proposed new deal had been submitted to the countries involved for a political decision on whether to accept it. Iran said it was studying the 25-page document.

“What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text,” Borrell said. “However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals.”

Key challenges to a revived deal remain. European officials urged Iran to drop its “unrealistic demands” outside the scope of the original agreement, including those related to an International Atomic Energy Agency probe into undeclared nuclear material found in Iran.

Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani has flown back to Tehran for political consultations, but the final decision will be made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The US said the new draft was “the best and only basis on which to reach a deal.” The State Department said: “Our position is clear: We stand ready to quickly conclude a deal on the basis of the EU’s proposals.” Thedeal’s restoration was up to Iran, it said. “They repeatedly say they are prepared for a return to mutual implementation. Let’s see if their actions match their words.”