Assad snubs Erdogan’s demand to halt attack

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AP)
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Syrian Army soldiers advance in Tall Sultan town toward Saraqeb city, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. (AFP)
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Updated 06 February 2020

Assad snubs Erdogan’s demand to halt attack

  • Erdogan said the Turkish military would carry out air and ground operations in Idlib, when necessary.

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued an ultimatum on Wednesday for Syrian leader Bashar Assad to halt his offensive in the northwestern province of Idlib by the end of this month.

“If the regime does not pull back, Turkey will be obliged to take matters into its own hands,” Erdogan said. 

He said two of Turkey’s 12 observation posts, set up around a proposed de-escalation zone as part of a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran, were now behind Syrian regime front lines.

“We hope that the process of the regime pulling back behind our observation posts is completed in the month of February,” he said. “If the regime does not pull back during this time, Turkey will have to do this job itself.”

He said the Turkish military would carry out air and ground operations in Idlib, when necessary.

The Assad regime’s response was to continue its offensive, which has killed 300 civilians since December and displaced 520,000 people in one of the biggest upheavals of the nine-year war.

Regime forces have seized more than 20 towns and villages from opposition forces and militants in the past 24 hours. 

Russian airstrikes killed three members of the same civilian family near Idlib city on Wednesday, and regime rocket fire killed another civilian in the town of Anjara in the west of Aleppo province.

Earlier in the week, eight Turkish troops and civilians and at least 13 Assad regime troops were killed in the most violent clashes since Erdogan sent fighters to Syria in 2016.

Erdogan said the confrontations between his forces and those of the regime was a “new era” in Syria, and that any further attacks would be “responded to in kind.”

“The air and ground elements of the Turkish armed forces will freely move in the Idlib region and if needed will launch an operation,” he said.

Erdogan said the latest fighting had sent nearly 1 million civilians moving toward the Turkish border and Syrian territory under Turkish control. “No one has the right to place such a weight on our shoulders,” he said. 

The mass displacement has also coincided with a biting winter, and humanitarian aid organizations called on Wednesday for an immediate cease-fire to avoid a humanitarian disaster.

Eight aid groups and charities including Save the Children, Care and the International Rescue Committee called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities in addition to immediate access to safety for the millions of civilians currently under fire.”

They said: “After nine long years of suffering for Syrian civilians, a peaceful solution to this conflict is now more urgent than it ever has been.”



WHO denies Houthi ‘faulty testing kit’ claims

Updated 03 June 2020

WHO denies Houthi ‘faulty testing kit’ claims

  • The batch of almost 7,000 COVID-19 test kits provided to Yemen by the WHO are the same PCR test kits provided to over 120 countries
  • Yemeni Prime Minister says the Houthis have suppressed information about the pandemic

AL-MUKALLA: The World Health Organization (WHO) office in Yemen has rejected a claim by Iran-backed Houthis that COVID-19 test kits provided by the organization are faulty and hampered their efforts to declare an accurate number of infections in their territories.

In a statement seen by Arab News, the WHO said that the kits were made in Germany and have been used in 120 countries.

“The batch of almost 7,000 COVID-19 test kits provided to Yemen by the WHO are the same PCR test kits provided to over 120 countries. An estimated 2 million of these kits were manufactured by TIB Molbiol, a company based in Germany,” the statement said.

Under local and international pressure to disclose accurate information about the pandemic in their territories, Houthi Health Minister Taha Al-Mutwakel said in a press conference on May 30 that one reason they did not reveal the number of infections in areas under their control was faulty testing kits that returned false positive results on non-human samples.

The WHO said: “The PCR test kits manufactured by TIB Molbiol met ISO standards for quality manufacturing. The kits were tested and validated by three external laboratories, and the validation results were published in a peer-reviewed journal.”

Despite ruling the most densely populated areas in Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, the Houthis have reported only two deaths and two recoveries.

In less-populated liberated provinces, the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee reported on Tuesday 45 new coronavirus cases, including three deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 399, including 86 deaths and 15 recoveries.

Speaking at the virtual donors conference hosted by Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed said the Houthis have suppressed information about the pandemic, and intimidated Yemeni doctors and relatives of coronavirus patients who might speak out about their ordeal.

“The Houthis have rejected and disregarded all our initiatives for working together to fight the pandemic,” Saeed said.  

In Aden, Dr. Ishraq Al-Subaee, a spokesman for the National Coronavirus Committee, told Arab News on Wednesday that there is no direct communication between the committee and Houthi health authorities.

“There is indirect cooperation through international agencies. There is great secrecy about the scale of the pandemic inside Houthi-controlled areas,” she said.


Ironically, when the Houthi health chief was boasting about the health-care facilities and accusing the WHO of wrongdoing, a Houthi militia official was using social media to appeal for help after developing symptoms of COVID-19.

Ahmed Al-Hubaishi, a media adviser to the Houthi Supreme Political Council, wrote on Twitter, urging Houthi officials to send a medical team to his house. “I suffer from acute and intermittent fever, dry and severe coughing, and difficulty breathing,” he said.

Al-Hubaishi died on Wednesday of the virus. But instead of saying his father died of coronavirus based on his post, Al-Hubaishi’s son deleted his father’s old posts about his illness and said that he had died of diabetes, another indication of pressure on the families of infected people, experts said.

At the same time, new amateur videos posted on social media showed health workers in white protective clothing burying victims of COVID-19 in Sanaa and other northern provinces.

Confirmed images also show a notice from Houthis outside a closed cemetery in Sanaa, saying the cemetery was full.

Experts in Yemen believe that the health situation in Sanaa and other areas under Houthi control is dire, despite their efforts to suppress information about deaths and infections.

Ali Al-Fakih, editor of Al-Masdar Online, whose news site extensively covered COVID-19 deaths in Houthi areas, told Arab News that he had documented the deaths of at least 30 doctors since early May. 

“They suppress information about the pandemic because they want life to continue as it is. The disruption of life would have an impact on their mobilization and recruitment efforts,” he said, adding that many COVID-19 patients prefer to isolate themselves at home to avoid Houthi harassment.

Al-Subaee said that her colleagues in different health facilities in Sanaa told her they receive more than 100 new virus cases every day. 

“The infection has spread through society. Doctors in our Whatsapp group say that Kuwait hospital alone receives 90 coronavirus patients in 24 hours,” she said.