US strikes Al-Qaeda leaders in Syria as regime violates Idlib ceasefire

People walk amidst the rubble of damaged buildings following a reported airstrike by Syrian regime forces in the area of Maaret Al-Numan in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on August 28, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 31 August 2019

US strikes Al-Qaeda leaders in Syria as regime violates Idlib ceasefire

  • The strike north of Idlib targeted leaders of the group the Pentagon calls Al-Qaeda in Syria (AQS)
  • Regime bombardment on Syria's northwest province of Idlib on Saturday killed a civilian just hours after a Russian-backed truce for the area started

BEIRUT: US forces attacked extremist leaders in Syria Saturday, the Pentagon said, in what a battlefield monitor called a missile strike that left at least 40 dead.
The US Defense Department said the attack targeted leaders of Al-Qaeda in Syria north of Idlib. It did not say what kind of weapon was used or give any details.
The missiles targeted leaders of terrorist groups and allied factions near Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

 "A missile attack targeted a meeting held by the leaders of Hurras Al-Deen, Ansar Al-Tawhid and other allied groups inside a training camp" near Idlib city, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory.
The attack killed at least 40 extremist leaders, the Britain based monitor said.
The US Central Command said in a statement that the attack targeted leaders of Al-Qaeda in Syria (AQ-S) "responsible for attacks threatening US citizens, our partners and innocent civilians. Additionally, the removal of this facility will further degrade their ability to conduct future attacks and destabilize the region."
An AFP correspondent saw clouds of black smoke rising over the area after blasts rocked the extremist stronghold.
Ambulances rushed to the site of the attack, which was closed off to journalists, he said.
It was not immediately clear if the missiles were launched from war planes or positions on the ground, the monitor said.
CENTCOM declined to say what kind of weaponry was used.

Regime bombardment on Syria's northwest province of Idlib on Saturday killed a civilian just hours after a Russian-backed truce for the area started, Abdel Rahman also said. 
The truce that came into effect on Saturday is the second such agreement between the Syrian regime and extremists since an August 1 ceasefire deal covering the Idlib region broke down only days after going into effect.
Russia-backed regime forces have been pressing an offensive against the major opposition stronghold in Idlib since April.
But Russia and Damascus are not the only players with a history of strike activity in the area.
On July 1 the United States said it had carried out a strike on Hurras Al-Deen in northwestern Syria, in its first such operation there in two years.
Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras Al-Deen was established in February 2018 and has some 1,800 fighters, including non-Syrians, according to the Observatory.
The group and its ally Ansar Al-Tawhid both operate in the Idlib region and are members of a joint extremist operation room that also includes Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.
Most of Idlib province and parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces are controlled by HTS.
Syrian state news agency SANA on Saturday said the government agreed to the Idlib ceasefire deal, which Russia said aimed "to stabilise the situation" in the anti-government bastion.
But the army "reserves the right to respond to violations" by extremists and allied rebel groups, SANA added, citing a Syrian military source.
The Idlib region is home to some three million people, nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of Syria.
Air strikes by Damascus and Russia have killed more than 950 civilians since the end of April, according to the Observatory.
The United Nations says the violence has also displaced more than 400,000 people.
The Idlib region is supposed to be protected from a massive government offensive by a Turkish-Russian deal struck in September 2018 that was never fully implemented as extremists refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarised cordon.
Turkey backs rebels in northwestern Syria.
"Russia and the Syrian government may be willing to give Turkey another opportunity to implement the terms of its September 2018 bilateral agreement with Russia," said Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group.
"Alternately, this ceasefire may just be an operational pause for Damascus and Moscow to consolidate their territorial gains and prepare for the next phase of their offensive," the Syria expert added.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whose forces control around 60 per cent of territory, has vowed to reclaim the rest of the country, including Idlib.
Saturday's truce is the latest attempt to avert a full-blown offensive, which the UN has said would result in one of the worst humanitarian "nightmares" in Syria's eight-year conflict.
Only a few hours before it went into effect, a Russian air strike hit a health facility in Aleppo's western countryside, putting it out of service, the Observatory said.
The UN has said 43 hospitals and clinics and 87 educational facilities have been impacted by fighting since April.
"The attacks we have seen on health facilities, educational facilities and water points is one of the highest in the world," Panos Moumtzis, the UN's Syria humanitarian chief, told AFP.
The Syrian conflict has killed more than 370,000 people and driven millions from their homes since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

Trump, Pence back Iran protests as IAEA seeks answers on uranium traces

Updated 42 min 14 sec ago

Trump, Pence back Iran protests as IAEA seeks answers on uranium traces

  • Nuclear watchdog’s top inspector’s visit set
  • Internet only restored in 10% of the country

JEDDAH: US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday expressed support for anti-government protesters in Iran. 

Trump said Iran is so “unstable” that the government has shut down the Internet so Iranians cannot disclose what he says is the “tremendous violence” occurring in the country.

Trump tweeted Thursday that the Iranian government wants “ZERO transparency” and believes that by shutting down the Internet the rest of the world will not find out about the “death and tragedy that the Iranian Regime is causing!”

Pence, also in a tweet, he said: “As Iranians take to the streets … the Ayatollahs in Tehran continue to use violence and imprisonment to oppress their people. The United States’ message is clear: The American people stand with the people of Iran.”

More than 100 protesters have been killed by security forces, according to Amnesty International. The EU, France, Germany and human-rights organizations have condemned the use of lethal force against the protesters.

The unrest erupted on Nov. 15 after the government announced gasoline price hikes of at least 50 percent. Protests began in several provincial areas before spreading to about 100 cities and towns across the country. They soon turned political, with protesters demanding top officials step down.

On Thursday, the regime began restoring Internet access in Tehran and a number of provinces, following a nationwide shutdown designed to stifle the unrest.

The blockage made it difficult for protesters to post videos on social media to generate support, and to obtain reliable reports on the extent of the unrest.

Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said the restoration of connectivity in Iran was only partial, covering about 10 percent of the country.

Meanwhile, the UN nuclear watchdog’s top inspector will travel to Tehran next week to demand an explanation of the origin of uranium traces found at an undeclared site, the agency’s acting chief said on Thursday.

It was first reported in September that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had found uranium traces at the site. Tehran said the site is a carpet-cleaning facility.

Two weeks ago, the IAEA confirmed that environmental samples taken at an unspecified site had shown traces of uranium that was processed but not enriched.

“We have continued our interactions with Iran since then, but have not received any additional information and the matter remains unresolved,” acting IAEA Director General Cornel Feruta told a quarterly meeting of his agency’s 35-nation board of governors in Vienna.

Feruta told Iran in September that “time is of the essence” in clearing up the origin of the traces. 

The IAEA has not been convinced by Tehran’s explanations.

“A meeting between the agency and Iran is scheduled next week in Tehran to discuss it further,” Feruta said. “It is essential that Iran works with the agency to resolve this matter promptly.”