Syria regime forces surround Turkish army post

Syrian army soldiers in Idlib province. The Syrian regime has upped the stakes with Turkey in its months-long Russian-backed offensive in the region. (Reuters)
Updated 23 August 2019

Syria regime forces surround Turkish army post

  • The town of Morek, where the Turkish troops have been cut off, lies in Hama province, part of the region centered on neighboring Idlib province that has been under government assault
  • Extremists and allied rebels withdrew ahead of the army’s entry into the strategic town of Khan Sheikhun on Wednesday and government forces took control without resistance

BEIRUT: Syrian government forces surrounded a Turkish observation post in the northwest Friday after overrunning nearby areas, sparking anger from Ankara which vowed not to leave its outpost.
Speaking at a news conference in the Lebanese capital, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “our observation point there is not cut-off and nobody can isolate our forces and our soldiers.”
“We are there, not because we can’t leave but because we don’t want to leave,” he said, adding that the issue was being discussed with Damascus allies Russia and Iran.
The Syrian regime has upped the stakes with Turkey in its months-long Russian-backed offensive against the extremist-ruled Idlib region.
Moscow said on Friday that it has agreed with Ankara to “activate mutual efforts” to ease the situation in Syria’s last major opposition bastion.
The town of Morek, where the Turkish troops have been cut off, lies in the north of Hama province, part of the region centered on neighboring Idlib province that has been under government assault since late April.
Government forces took control of Morek and nearby towns including Kafr Zita on Friday, Syrian state news agency SANA said.
Extremists and allied rebels withdrew from the area ahead of the army’s entry into the strategic town of Khan Sheikhun on Wednesday and government forces took control without resistance, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Regime forces have surrounded the Turkish observation post in Morek after capturing other towns and villages in this pocket,” said the Britain-based monitor.
The Morek observation post, established under a deal with Moscow, is one of 12 the Turkish army set up along the front line between Syrian government forces on one side — and the extremists and Ankara’s rebel allies on the other side — last year.
On Tuesday Cavusoglu vowed that the Turkish army “will do whatever is necessary” to defend these positions.
The Turkish presidency has also said that it will not abandon any of its observation posts in Syria.
The Turkish troops’ mission was to oversee the establishment of a buffer zone agreed by Ankara and Moscow in September.
But the extremists failed to pull back from the zone as agreed and in April, government and Russian forces resumed intense bombardment of the region.
The Kremlin on Friday said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to “activate mutual efforts” to ease the situation in the Idlib region.
“They discussed the issues of Russian-Turkish cooperation in the context of stabilization of the de-escalation zone,” a statement said.
Erdogan is to host his Russian and Iranian counterparts for a summit in Ankara next month to discuss the latest developments.
The Turkish presidency on Friday said regime attacks in Idlib have led to a “grave humanitarian crisis.”
“These attacks damage the efforts to regulate the Syrian conflict,” it said.
The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper on Friday said the latest regime gains in Idlib will force amendments to the buffer zone deal.
Since January, the Idlib region has been ruled by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance, which is led by extremists from Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
Other rebel groups allied with Turkey were forced to cede overall control.
On August 8, Syrian government forces launched a ground offensive with Russian support against the southern part of the rebel-held region, eyeing control of the main highway from Damascus through Idlib province to second city Aleppo.
Khan Sheikhun and Maarat Al-Numan both lie along the highway.
The Syrian army on Friday said that its military “push is ongoing,” after it captured Morek and neighboring areas.
“Armed terrorist groups have lost the ability to stop our army’s heroes” it said.
Damascus said Thursday it will open a corridor for civilians to leave the area.
But most civilians had already fled before the pocket was cut off, according to the Observatory.
Since the end of April, more than 400,000 people have fled their homes, particularly in the south of Idlib and north Hama, the United Nations says.
Around 900 civilians have been killed, according to the Observatory.
Following a string of victories against extremists and other rebel groups, Assad’s government now controls around 60 percent of Syrian territory.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people since it started with the brutal suppression of anti-government protests in 2011.


Lebanese burn ruling parties’ offices after night of clashes

Updated 58 min 58 sec ago

Lebanese burn ruling parties’ offices after night of clashes

  • Attacks came just hours after Beirut was rocked by the most violent government crackdown on protesters

BEIRUT: Attackers in northern Lebanon set fire to the offices of two major political parties on Sunday, the state-run National News Agency said.
The assaults came just hours after the capital Beirut was rocked by the most violent government crackdown on protesters since nationwide demonstrations began two months ago. Lebanese security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas and used water cannons throughout the night to disperse anti-government protesters from the city center — the epicenter of the protest movement in Beirut — and around parliament.
The overnight confrontations in Beirut left more than 130 people injured, according to the Red Cross and the Lebanese Civil Defense.
In the northern Akkar district on Sunday, attackers broke the windows and torched the local office for resigned Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s political party in the town of Kharibet Al-Jindi.
In a separate attack in Akkar district, assailants stormed the local office of the largest party in parliament, affiliated with President Michel Aoun and headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Their party said the contents of the office in Jedidat Al-Juma town had also been smashed and burned.
Lebanon is facing one of its worst economic crises in decades, and the protesters accuse the ruling political class in place for three decades of mismanagement and corruption.
The violence comes a day before the president is due to hold talks with different parliamentary blocs to name a new prime minister on Monday.
Interior Minister Raya Al-Hassan on Sunday ordered an investigation into the clashes which she said injured both protesters and security forces. She said she watched the confrontations “with concern, sadness and shock.”
Al-Hassan blamed “infiltrators” for instigating the friction and called on the demonstrators to be wary of those who want to exploit their protests for political reasons. She didn’t elaborate.
Nationwide protests began on Oct. 17, and the government headed by Hariri resigned two weeks later.
Political parties have since been bickering over the shape and form of the new Cabinet. Protesters want a technocratic government, not affiliated with established political parties.
After weeks of back and forth, Hariri has emerged as the likely candidate for the job.