Opinion

UN fears ‘bloodbath’ in Syria

A picture taken from the town of Sarmin in northwestern Syria on Feb. 21, 2020 shows smoke billowing over the village of Qaminas, about 6 kilometers southeast of Idlib city, following reported Syrian air strikes. (AFP / Omar Haj Kadour)
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Updated 22 February 2020

UN fears ‘bloodbath’ in Syria

  • Turkey turns to West amid escalation, calls for Patriot missile systems to be deployed along the border
  • French doctor condemns international silence on carnage, bombing of medical facilities in Idlib

ANKARA/PARIS: The UN warned on Friday that fighting in northwest Syria could “end in a bloodbath” and called again for a cease-fire, while Moscow denied reports of a mass flight of civilians from a Russian-led Syrian regime offensive.

Syrian regime troops backed by Russian air power have been battling since December to eliminate the last opposition strongholds in the region in a war that has killed an estimated 400,000 Syrians, displaced millions more and left much of the country in ruins.

The latest offensive in the regions of Aleppo and Idlib has uprooted nearly 1 million people who have fled clashes to seek sanctuary further north, near the Turkish border.

The unfolding crisis is pushing Turkey to improve its relations with the West.




Syrians displaced by war walk at an empty school and university compound used as shelter, in Azaz, Syria, on Feb. 21, 2020. (REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi)

The following day, in a phone call with his French and German counterparts, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for “concrete action” to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib.

Erdogan “stressed the need to stop the aggression of the regime and its supporters in Idlib, and emphasized the importance of providing strong support through concrete actions to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on Thursday to Russian President Vladimir Putin to express their concern about the humanitarian crisis and to urge an end to the escalating fighting in Idlib.

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Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Arab News: “Despite many differences between Turkey and EU member states on foreign policy issues ranging from northeast Syria to Libya, they’re stakeholders in preventing a humanitarian disaster in Idlib and a new wave of refugees from Syria to Turkey and Europe.”

He said it would be out of the question for Western countries to send troops to Idlib, but they could provide Turkey with political support and Patriot surface-to-air missile systems close to the border with Syria.

“A declaration of commitment to improving the livelihoods of residents in Idlib after the regime offensive is averted should also be in the mix,” he added.

“A follow-up of the quadripartite meeting between the leaders of France, Germany, Turkey and the UK, this time in Turkey, would be a very good platform for announcing solidarity with Turkey.”

Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat and cofounder of People Demand Change Inc., told Arab News: “Nobody considers the humanitarian crisis a top priority right now. The humanitarian tool has become the price of the ongoing struggle among the powers in the region.”

He said any potential summit between Turkey and EU leaders should focus on the refugee issue because of the influx of civilians in Idlib fleeing from Russian-backed bombings toward the Turkish border.

A French doctor who has played a prominent role in the provision of humanitarian assistance to victims of the Syrian war has denounced the indifference of the global community to the bombing of civilians, medical facilities and relief centers in Idlib by Russian and regime forces.

Dr. Raphaël Pitti is in charge of medical and relief care training for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations. “The indiscriminate bombings hit a refugee camp on Wednesday and these acts make it very difficult for the UN humanitarian convoys to bring assistance from across the border,” said Pitti.

“Before the bombings, the people in camps received aid after registering with the town and village civilian committees but now, with some 800,000 people displaced, the population is scattered and humanitarian aid is very difficult to deliver. For the time being, the organizations in charge of refugee camps will receive humanitarian aid brought by the UN to the north.”

 


Tunisia bans internal travel to contain pandemic

Updated 2 min 22 sec ago

Tunisia bans internal travel to contain pandemic

  • Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi has said Tunisia cannot afford a second lockdown

TUNIS: Tunisia on Thursday banned travel between the country’s regions, suspended schools and public gatherings and extended a curfew, as it tried to contain a rapid surge of COVID-19 cases with hospitals nearly full.
Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi has said Tunisia cannot afford a second lockdown with the government already fighting the central bank over a projected deficit double what it had originally foreseen.
However, after successfully containing the coronavirus in the spring and summer, Tunisia is now experiencing a very rapid spread of the disease with more than 55,000 cases and intensive care units full in some regions.
As well as banning internal travel in most cases, the new rules include a suspension of schools until Nov. 8, a two-week suspension of universities and a ban on protests and public gatherings of more than four people.
A night curfew already in place in several regions has been extended across the country and brought forward to start at 8pm instead of 9pm on weekdays, while remaining at 7pm on weekends.