Clashes in northwest Syria kill 35 fighters

Smoke billows following reported shelling around the village of Al-Muntar on the southern edges of the rebel-held Idlib province on May 12, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 May 2019

Clashes in northwest Syria kill 35 fighters

  • Priest says a rocket struck near a group of children, instantly killing five and wounding others
  • Syrian troops have been on the offensive under the cover of airstrikes for days

BEIRUT: Clashes on the edge of a rebel bastion in northwestern Syria have killed 35 fighters in 24 hours, a war monitor said Monday, after weeks of regime bombardment of the region.
The northwestern region has come under increasing fire by the regime and its ally Russia in recent weeks, despite a buffer zone deal intended to shield it from any government offensive.
The region controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, includes most of the Idlib province as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia provinces.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 16 loyalists and 19 rebels died from Sunday to Monday in clashes in the area of Jabal Al-Akrad in Latakia province, which lies on the bastion's northwestern edge.
Russian and regime aircraft bombarded the area on Monday with missiles and barrel bombs, while they also carried out strikes on southern areas of the region, said the Britain-based war monitor.
Russian air strikes hit a branch of the White Helmets rescue volunteers in the town of Kafranbel, knocking it out of action, the Observatory and a rescue worker said.
"Two high-explosive missiles hit the centre" just minutes after its personnel had headed out to the site of strikes in a nearby village, Oneida Zikra, the civil defence chief for the area, told AFP.
In a regime-held town in Hama province to the south of the bastion, retaliatory rocket fire on Monday killed one child, the Observatory and state news agency SANA said.
Five others were also wounded in the Christian-majority town of Suqaylabiyah, SANA added.
Idlib's three million inhabitants are supposed to be protected from a massive regime assault by a September buffer zone deal signed by Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
But that agreement was never fully implemented after rebels refused to withdraw from the planned buffer area.
An uptick in air strikes and shelling displaced 180,000 people between April 29 and May 9 alone, the United Nations says.
The Observatory says 119 civilians have been killed in the bombardment since late April.
In a filmed interview released on Sunday night, HTS chief Abu Mohammad Al-Jolani urged supporters to "take up weapons" to defend Idlib.
The spike in violence signalled "the death of all previous agreements and conferences", he said.
Damascus has not announced a wide offensive, but instead regularly announces targeting "terrorist" - meaning rebel - positions.
Analysts believe the offensive will be limited.

Meanwhile, Britain, Germany and France called on Monday for an end to the military escalation in north western Syria, saying they were gravely concerned at recent violence which had led to the death of more than 120 civilians.
"This military escalation must stop," the joint statement from the three countries, issued by Britain's Foreign Office, said.
"Airstrikes on population centers, indiscriminate bombardment and use of barrel bombs as well as the targeting of civilian and humanitarian infrastructures, notably schools and health facilities, are blatant violations of International Humanitarian Law."
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.


Turkey picks up the pieces after devastating quake

Updated 31 October 2020

Turkey picks up the pieces after devastating quake

  • Although the local residents are used to living with frequent tremors, the 7.0 magnitude quake on Friday evening was the biggest they had experienced

ANKARA: Canan Gullu was having coffee with her friends on her balcony when the quake struck. The head of the Ankara-based Women Associations of Turkey, she had decided to spend the weekend in her summer house in the coastal town of Seferihisar after sleepless nights spent helping victims of domestic violence in the capital.

The teacups fell on the ground, and they hid under a table until they feel safer.

“I felt the building shaking, then the house began moving toward the house next door. It was as if the ground was moving back and forth under our feet. We could barely stand,” Gullu told Arab News.

It was followed by a mini-tsunami that hit the district where she was living.

“I am now focusing on providing essential goods for the women living on the streets or whose buildings collapsed. It is the other face of poverty in Turkey,” Gullu said.

The powerful quake that hit Turkey’s western province of Izmir on Oct. 30 revealed the weak infrastructure of the country’s building stock. Although the local residents are used to living with frequent tremors, the 7.0 magnitude quake on Friday evening was the biggest they had experienced; it was as powerful as the 1999 earthquake near Istanbul when more than 17,000 people died.

The search and rescue operations continued on Saturday, with touching footages showing a mother and her three children as well as a cat and a dog being rescued 18 hours after being trapped under the debris of their building.

Turkish survivors continue to stay outside in the tents provided by the municipality for fear of aftershocks. Some hotel and restaurant owners offered free rooms and free dinners to the traumatized people.

To prevent traffic blocking rescue efforts, the authorities have banned vehicles entering the city center.

Friday’s quake killed more than 30 people in Turkey and the neighbouring Greek islands, although that figure was expected to rise. Almost 900 people were injured, with 243 under treatment and eight in intensive care, officials said.

Despite their diplomatic row over energy drilling operations in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean, Turkish and Greek officials exchanged solidarity messages on Twitter.

“Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted.

Many people were still waiting for news of relatives trapped under the debris.

Izmir is crossed by 17 different fault lines and has been prone to frequent tremors in the past. The quake resilience of the buildings in the city and unplanned urbanization have come under the spotlight, sparking criticism of the authorities.

The Turkish government issued a controversial zoning amnesty ahead of the general elections of 2018, resulting in 10 million illegally constructed buildings throughout the country.

These were eligible for legitimate deeds, with disastrous consequences during the quakes. Izmir tops the list for the number of illegal buildings that were “forgiven” by a government move to garner more votes.

Several buildings that benefited from that amnesty have collapsed over the years, killing dozens of people. Estimates say that one-fifth of the buildings in Istanbul could be completely destroyed in a quake with a magnitude of 7 or above.

In a past interview, Turkey’s famous contractor Ali Agaoglu, who was proud of selling massive residences to Arab clients, confessed that his company used sand from the Marmara Sea during their construction work. “If there is an earthquake in Istanbul, (the number of the dead and collapsed buildings will be so high that) the army won’t even be able to enter the city,” he said.

Turkey’s earthquake tax was also the subject of intense debate earlier this year with the quakes in eastern provinces of Elazig and Malatya, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “We spent it where it was meant to be spent. And after this, we do not have time to provide accountability for matters like this.”

Special taxes were levied in Turkey after the 1999 earthquake and were later made permanent. However, there is widespread skepticism about whether these taxes were spent on quake resilience or whether they only helped the state budget at that time.