Russia announces ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib from Saturday

Residents inspect the rubble of damaged buildings, looking for victims, after a deadly airstrike in Maarat Al-Numan, Idlib province, Syria August 28, 2019. (Syria Civil Defense/Reuters)
Updated 31 August 2019

Russia announces ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib from Saturday

  • Russia's defense ministry urged armed militant groups in the region to join the ceasefire
  • The Turkish FM said continued attacks on Idlib may push another wave of Syrian refugees to Europe

MOSCOW/BEIRUT:  The Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria announced on Friday that an agreement had been reached on “a unilateral cease-fire by Syrian government forces in the Idlib de-escalation zone, from 6 a.m. on Aug. 31.”

The statement said the cease-fire aimed “to stabilize the situation” and urged anti-government fighters to “abandon armed provocations and join the peace process.”

The announcement came after Russian-backed regime forces advanced in the jihadist-held bastion — one of the last holdouts of opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime — after months of intense bombardment.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011. Many of those displaced are currently living in desert camps inside Syria, and on Friday the United Nations announced that it will help evacuate civilians from an “abysmal” Syrian desert camp near the border with Jordan, after a mission last week — sent by the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent — determined who wanted to leave.

“We are ready to facilitate” evacuations from the Rukban camp, said Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s Syria humanitarian chief. “We want to make sure it happens in a voluntary way.”

IN NUMBERS

370,000 - Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.

According to the UN official, around 12,700 people remain in the isolated Rukban camp near a base used by the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group, and just over one-third of them expressed their desire to leave.  

Jordan has largely sealed its border in the area since 2016, after a deadly attack claimed by Daesh on Jordanian soldiers.

The Syrian government and key backer Russia said in February they had opened corridors out of the camp, calling on residents to leave. More than half of the original population has since left, the UN claims.

Conditions inside Rukban are dire, with many surviving on just one simple meal a day, often bread and olive oil or yoghurt, according to one resident. “The situation is desperate,” Moumtzis said, describing Rukban as one of the hardest places to reach in Syria for humanitarian actors. Abu Ahmad Al-Dirbas Khalidi, the head of an opposition-run civil council in the camp, said the UN has vowed to deliver food aid by the first week of September.

Some 47 percent of surveyed camp residents said they wanted to remain in Rukban despite the conditions there, citing reasons including “security concerns” and “fear of detention.” Rights groups have warned that civilians returning to government-held territory have faced detention and conscription.

Although Rukban has not received aid since February, the latest UN mission did not deliver any relief items beyond “a minimal number of health supplies,” Moumtzis said.

But last week’s visit is only the first part of a “two-step” plan — the second of which will involve aid delivery, according to the UN official.

“The next mission — I hope very quickly — will go back and deliver desperately needed assistance,” he said, without providing a specific date.


Iraqi protesters block commercial ports, split capital

Updated 19 November 2019

Iraqi protesters block commercial ports, split capital

  • Iraqi civilians are increasingly relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs shut key bridges in Baghdad
  • The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges connect both sides of the city by passing over the river

BAGHDAD: Anti-government protesters blocked access to a second major commercial port in southern Iraq on Tuesday, as bridge closures effectively split the capital in half, causing citizens to rely on boats for transport to reach the other side of the city.
Since anti-government protests began Oct. 1, at least 320 people have been killed and thousands wounded in Baghdad and the mostly Shiite southern provinces. Demonstrators have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands over what they say is widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, despite the country’s oil wealth.
Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun guns to repel protesters, tactics that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday would be punished with sanctions.
“We will not stand idle while the corrupt officials make the Iraqi people suffer. Today, I am affirming the United States will use our legal authorities to sanction corrupt individuals that are stealing Iraqis’ wealth and those killing and wounding peaceful protesters,” he said in remarks to reporters in Washington.
“Like the Iraqi people taking to the streets today, our sanctions will not discriminate between religious sect or ethnicity,” he added. “They will simply target those who do wrong to the Iraqi people, no matter who they are.”
Over a dozen protesters blocked the main entrance to Khor Al-Zubair port, halting trade activity as oil tankers and other trucks carrying goods were unable to enter or exit. The port imports commercial goods and materials as well as refined oil products.
Crude from Qayara oil field in Ninewa province, in northern Iraq, is also exported from the port.
Khor Al-Zubair is the second largest port in the country. Protesters had burned tires and cut access to the main Gulf commercial port in Umm Qasr on Monday and continued to block roads Tuesday.
Iraqi civilians are increasingly relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs between demonstrators and Iraqi security forces on three key bridges has shut main thoroughfares connecting east and west Baghdad.
The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges, which have been partially occupied by protesters following days of deadly clashes, connect both sides of the city by passing over the Tigris River. The blockages have left Iraqis who must make the daily commute for work, school and other day-to-day activities with no choice but to rely on river boats.
“After the bridges were cut, all the pressure is on us here,” said Hasan Lilo, a boat owner in the capital. “We offer a reasonable transportation means that helps the people.”