Syria’s Idlib clashes kill at least 60 fighters

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Syrian government forces are in possession of the critically strategic town of Khan Sheikhun, in Idlib province. (AFP)
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Firefighters from the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the ‘White Helmets’, extinguish a fire after a government forces’ airstrike at Maar Shurin, in Idlib province. (AFP)
Updated 27 August 2019

Syria’s Idlib clashes kill at least 60 fighters

  • Russia-backed regime fighters have for weeks been chipping away at the edges of the extremist stronghold of Idlib, which borders Turkey
  • Regime forces recaptured Khan Sheikhun last week, and have been massing north of the town in recent days

BEIRUT: Clashes between anti-government fighters and regime forces killed more than 50 combattants on both sides in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, a war monitor said.
At a meeting in Moscow, the presidents of Turkey and Russia expressed “serious concern” over the violence in Idlib province.
Russia-backed regime fighters have for weeks been chipping away at the edges of the extremist stronghold, which borders Turkey, after bombarding it for months.
But hard-line rebels and extremists on Tuesday attacked loyalist positions in the south of the bastion, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Violent clashes east of the town of Khan Sheikhun broke out at dawn after extremist and opposition groups attacked regime positions,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The attack was led by the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras Al-Deen group and another extremist faction, Ansar Al-Deen, he said.
The clashes killed at least 29 regime forces and 31 rebels and extremists, the Observatory said in an updated death toll, before government troops repelled the extremists.
In the southeast of the bastion, eight rebels were killed trying to sneak through frontlines toward regime positions near the Abu Duhur military airport, the monitor added.
Elsewhere in southern Idlib, 10 civilians, among them a child, were killed in regime air strikes, the Observatory said.
Regime forces recaptured Khan Sheikhun last week, and have been massing north of the town in recent days.
The town lies on a key highway running through Idlib province, and fully recapturing the artery would allow the government to reconnect Damascus to second city Aleppo.
Heavy regime and Russian bombardment has hit areas north of Khan Sheikhun in recent days, in the vicinity of the town of Maaret Al-Noman, the next stop north on the highway.
On Monday, regime and Russian air strikes killed 12 civilians in the extremist stronghold, the Observatory reported.
“The situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone is of serious concern to us and our Turkish partners,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a press conference with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He said Turkey had “legitimate interests” to protect on its southern borders and supported the creation of a security zone in the area.
Putin said he and Erdogan had agreed “additional joint steps” to “normalize” the situation in Idlib, but did not provide details.
The Idlib offensive comes despite a deal signed in September last year by Moscow and rebel backer Ankara to avert a full-blown assault on the Idlib region which hosts some three million people.
The presidents of both countries were set to meet in Moscow on Tuesday.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham — a group led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate — extended its administrative control over the whole of Idlib in January, but other rebel factions remain present.
A spike in bombardment since late April has killed more than 920 civilians, the Observatory says. The United Nations says it has caused more than 400,000 people to flee their homes.
The Syrian civil war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.


Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

Updated 10 December 2019

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

  • Former US vice president sounds warning during panel discussion on ‘The global order 2030’
  • Remarks seen as indirect criticism of President Trump’s pledge to pull forces out of Syria

DUBAI: Dick Cheney, one of the most influential vice presidents in US history, has warned that “American disengagement” from the Middle East would only benefit Iran and Russia.

The 78-year-old politician’s warning came during a speech at the Arab Strategy Forum (ASF) in Dubai, an annual event in which the world’s leading decision-makers address global challenges and opportunities in “a precise, balanced and politically scientific manner.”

Cheney’s remarks could be seen as indirect criticism of US President Donald Trump’s pledges to pull forces out of northern Syria.

Addressing conference delegates, he cited the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the 2015 lifting of sanctions against Iran during Barack Obama’s presidency, as events that amplified instability in the region.

“Our allies were left abandoned, and no one wants to feel that way again,” said Cheney, who was chief executive of Halliburton between 1995 and 2000 and held high posts in several Republican administrations.

The former VP’s remarks came during the forum’s concluding session titled, “The global order 2030: The Unites States and China,” which was attended by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Joined by Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese foreign minister, in a candid panel discussion, Cheney offered his views on the world order in the next decade within the context of Iran’s regional ascendancy, China’s rise and Russian ambitions in the Middle East.

“I am not here to speak on behalf of the US government, or to speak to it,” Cheney said, adding that his talking points reflected concerns he suspected everyone shared.

“For decades, there’s been a consensus of America’s influence in the world and how to use it,” he said, citing instances where US disengagement had caused the political situation in the Middle East to implode.

“Humanity has benefited from America’s protectionism of the world and its relationship with its allies in the region.”

According to him, the upcoming decade would be bleak should the US adopt a disengagement policy, with the pressures most felt by supporters and partners in the Middle East.

Turning to the role that the US and China would play in the global status quo by 2030, Cheney said there were still concerns over China’s reputation.

“We had hoped that there would be a political evolution in China, but that hasn’t happened yet,” he added.

Li said: “China will never learn from a world superpower and will never try to be hegemonic,” citing as examples China’s strong relations with the UAE and the wider Arab world, and the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative (a global development strategy) on Chinese foreign policy.

“History is the best teacher, but the US has forgotten its own history. You don’t keep your promises,” added Li, directing his statement at Cheney.

Cheney said that since the end of the Cold War, the US had expected that its policy toward China would have had a beneficial effect on its behavior and helped to deepen bilateral relations.

“It was disappointing to see that these expectations were not borne out – China has only grown richer, the regime has become more oppressive, and instead of evolving, it became more assertive,” he said.

In a separate ASF meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Center, Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, discussed Iran’s policies in a session titled, “The race for relevance and influence in the region: GCC, Iran, Turkey and Russia.”

Sadjadpour said he expected in the next 10 years to see the arrival of “an Iranian Putin” with a military background as the country’s next leader.

“After 40 years of a clerical regime and a military autocracy, there is now a rise of Persian nationalism. This is a shift from the sheer revolution ideology,” he said.

Sadjadpour said there had been an evolution of “Shiite Arab” identity during the past two decades, with the focus more on religion than nationality.

Under the circumstances, he noted that Sunni Arab powers had an important role to play in welcoming Shiite Arabs into their fold “and luring them away from Iran.”

The analyst added that the future of the Arab world could not be explored and forecast without considering a growing mental health crisis. “Today, hundreds of millions of people in the region suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of this will be with us for decades to come, resulting in issues like radicalism.”

He said there was a need for training thousands of counselors in the field of mental health in order to reach out to those whose lives had been robbed by extreme violence and conflicts.