Syrian troops press ahead with campaign as strikes kill 16

People check the damage in a street following an air strike by pro-Syrian regime forces in the town Maarrat Misrin in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, on February 25, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 February 2020

Syrian troops press ahead with campaign as strikes kill 16

  • The violence came as Turkey’s president announced that a Russian delegation would arrive the following day to resume talks
  • Erdogan said no consensus was reached for a four-way meeting next month between the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Turkey

ANKARA: Airstrikes on rebel-controlled northwestern Syrian killed at least 16 people Tuesday, including two students and two teachers, opposition activists said, as government forces closed in on a town considered a symbol of the uprising against President Bashar Assad.
The violence came as Turkey’s president announced that a Russian delegation would arrive the following day to resume talks aimed at easing tensions in the northwest Idlib region. The area is the country’s last rebel-controlled stronghold and the Syrian government’s military campaign there, backed by Russia, has created a humanitarian catastrophe with nearly 1 million people displaced from their homes since Dec. 1.
Most of them are now crowding areas close to the border with Turkey, living in camps, shelters, abandoned homes and in open fields. It is the largest single displacement of Syria’s war, now in its ninth year.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said no consensus was reached for a four-way meeting next month between the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Turkey meant to address the crisis. He added, however, that Russia’s Vladimir Putin may still come to Turkey next week for a bilateral meeting. Moscow has so far not confirmed a March 5 visit by the Russian president to Turkey.
Tensions have been running high between Turkey and Russia, which support opposing sides of the war in Syria. The Syrian government offensive has shattered a fragile cease-fire agreement that Turkey and Russia reached in 2018 and Turkey has threatened military action unless Syrian forces retreat to positions they held before the advance by the end of February.
“Russia supports Syria at the highest level,” Erdogan told reporters before departing for a visit to Azerbaijan. “Even if they deny it, we have evidence. We are forced to be in this fight.”
Turkish officials had reported small progress in two previous rounds of Turkey-Russia meetings but said the results were not satisfactory.
Turkey had set up a dozen observation posts as part of the 2018 agreement, many of which are now behind Syrian government lines. Ankara also sent thousands of additional troops into Idlib in recent weeks and has frequently engaged in military exchanges with Syrian troops.
At least 16 Turkish soldiers were killed in clashes this month during the Syrian government’s push on the last rebel stronghold.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news conference at the State Department Tuesday that the Syrian government’s offensive “only heightens the risk of conflict with our NATO ally, Turkey,” adding that the US was working together with Turkey “on seeing what we can do together.”
He called for a permanent cease-fire, saying “the regime will not be able to obtain military victory.”
The fighting appeared to intensify, however, with dozens of airstrikes reported Tuesday.
Opposition activists and a war monitor said at least 16 people were killed in Idlib province Tuesday. They included two students and two teachers who were killed in Idlib city when a school was struck with a cluster bomb-filled rocket, and 10 civilians who were killed in airstrikes on the town of Maarat Misreen in Idlib province. The deaths were reported by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Idlib-based opposition activist Hadi Abdullah.
The Observatory and Idlib-based opposition activist Taher Al-Omar said insurgents captured the village of Nairab late Monday after intense fighting with government forces that had captured the village earlier this month. The village is close to the town of Saraqeb where two major highways in the country meet.
To the south of Nairab, Syrian troops captured two new villages raising to 10 the number of areas captured in the province since Monday, according to state media.
The capture of Maaret Tamater and Maaret Seen brings government forces closer to Kafranbel, a major opposition-held town that gained attention in the early years of the Syrian conflict during weekly anti-government protests because of humorous English-language banners carried by protesters.
The banners were initiated by anti-government journalist Raed Fares who was shot dead in the town along with his friend Hammoud Al-Juneid in November 2018. Fares was a harsh critic of Islamic militants that control much of Idlib.
In Damascus, one civilian was killed and two others were injured by bombs planted in two cars near the Umayyad square in the Syrian capital Damascus, state-run news agency SANA said. It was not immediately clear who the target was.


Emirates and Etihad ready to resume transit flights

Updated 29 min 38 sec ago

Emirates and Etihad ready to resume transit flights

  • UAE’s two largest carriers lead the way as hard-hit aviation sector struggles to shake off pandemic paralysis

DUBAI: Emirates and Etihad Airways, the UAE’s two largest carriers, said they will resume transit flights as the country’s key aviation sector slowly emerges from pandemic paralysis.

Dubai-based Emirates said on Thursday it will operate transit flights to 29 destinations by June 15, while Abu Dhabi’s Etihad said it would transit passengers to 20 destinations from June 10.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become key global layover hubs for passengers moving between Asia, Europe and the Americas and the resumption of transit services is an important step toward returning the cities’ two vast and modern airports to normal operations.

It comes more than two months after the UAE stopped all passenger flights in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Foreign citizens without UAE residency remain banned from flying to the country.

Emirates said it would also offer flights to Bahrain, Manchester, Zurich, Vienna, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, New York JFK, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Taipei, Hong Kong, Perth and Brisbane.

“Customers can book to fly between destinations in the Asia Pacific and Europe or the Americas, with a convenient connection in Dubai, as long as they meet travel and immigration entry requirements of their destination country,” Emirates said.

Meanwhile, Etihad said transfer connections via Abu Dhabi will now be available from Jakarta, Karachi, Kuala Lumpur,
Manila, Melbourne, Seoul, Singapore, Sydney, and Tokyo to
major cities across Europe — including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, Geneva, London Heathrow, Madrid, Milan, Paris Charles de Gaulle, and Zurich.

Other major carriers are also slowly resuming services as some governments discuss the possibility of opening limited “air bridges” to allow for the possibility of overseas vacations.

Virgin Atlantic said on Thursday it would restart some flights that had been grounded with further services planned for August. It said that flights to Orlando and Hong Kong from London Heathrow would resume on July 20. New York JFK, Los Angeles, and Shanghai are set to restart on July 21.

Global aviation body IATA has warned that post-coronavirus fare discounting was delivering an added financial blow to carriers.

“Airlines need cash because of the crisis and they’re seeking to encourage passengers into seats by offering low fares,” said IATA Chief Economist Brian Pearce.

Carriers reduced domestic fares by an average 23 percent last month according to IATA.