Europeans tell Syrian regime, Russia: Return to 2018 Idlib deal

Smoke billows above buildings during an airstrike by regime forces on the village of Nayrab, about 14 km southeast of Idlib in northwestern Syria. (AFP)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Europeans tell Syrian regime, Russia: Return to 2018 Idlib deal

  • Foreign ministers from 14 countries call on Damascus, Moscow to immediately end hostilities

PARIS, ANKARA: Foreign ministers from 14 European countries, including France and Germany, demanded on Wednesday that Syrian regime forces and their Russian backers end their offensive in Idlib province and return to the terms of a 2018 cease-fire deal.

Turkey however plans to push regime forces away from its military observation posts in the  Idlib region this week, despite continued advances by Damascus’s Russian-backed military.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday vowed Turkey would not take the “smallest step back” in an escalating standoff with Damascus and Russia over the northern Syrian region of Idlib.

Meanwhile, a meeting between Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, is expected to take place ahead of a possible summit including EU heavyweights Germany and France to find a political solution to the Idlib crisis.

“We will not take a smallest step back in Idlib, we will certainly push the regime outside the borders we designated, and ensure the return of the people to their homes,” Erdogan told ruling party’s lawmakers in parliament in Ankara.

Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced in the past three months by fighting between Turkish-backed rebels and Syrian forces backed by Moscow trying to recapture the last major insurgent-held region in Syria after nine years of war.

‘End offensive’

The 14 ministers said in a column published in French daily newspaper Le Monde: “We call on the Syrian regime and its supporters, especially the Russians, to end this offensive and return to the cease-fire arrangements of autumn 2018,” 

“We call on them to immediately end hostilities and to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the protection of humanitarian workers and medical personnel, who pay with their lives for their engagement in favor of civilian populations.”

Turkey and Russia agreed in September 2018 to create de-escalation zones in Idlib, but that has since unraveled amid the Syrian regime offensive.

Ankara has sent thousands of troops and truckloads of equipment into the region, in Syria’s northwest corner bordering Turkey, to support the rebels, and Erdogan has vowed to push back Bashar Assad’s forces.

But Assad’s forces made fresh gains in southern Idlib province where they took a number of villages on Wednesday, with more hospitals and schools struck by airstrikes.

“The fight against terrorism cannot, should not, justify the massive violations of international humanitarian law, which we are witnessing every day in northwest Syria,” the ministers said.

“We also call on Russia to continue negotiations with Turkey, in order to achieve de-escalation in Idlib and contribute to a political solution,” they said, calling on Moscow to not block the renewal by the UN Security Council of a mechanism allowing cross-border aid to enter the area.

Erdogan bluntly warned the Syrian regime to “stop its attacks as soon as possible” and to pull back by the end of February.

“The time we have given to those who besieged our observation towers is running out,” Erdogan said.

“We are planning to save those of our observation posts from the besiegers one way or another by the end of this month.”

Erdogan said: “The biggest problem we currently have is that we cannot use the air space” over Idlib which is controlled by Russia. “God willing, we will find a solution soon.” In recent weeks, Damascus backed by Russian airstrikes has pressed a major offensive against the remaining territory held by militants and Turkish-backed rebels in Idlib.

In a statement read on public television, the Syrian army on Wednesday announced it had “regained control” of a dozen of areas in recent days, including Kafranbel in the south of Idlib, a town known to have been among the first to rebel against Damascus. The army vowed to “liberate the territories of the Syrian Arab Republic from terrorism and its supporters.”

Displaced

Idlib hosts more than 3 million people — half of them already displaced by violence elsewhere and the UN has warned against an imminent “bloodbath” amid the contiuing fighting.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying on state-run TRT tv, that as a first step, “what President Erdogan and Putin have agreed is to come together at a bilateral format.”

While backing opposite sides, Russia and Turkey have worked to end the conflict but strains have soared in recent weeks over Idlib.

The tensions are seen as the biggest threat to Ankara-Moscow ties since Turkey shot down a Russian warplane over Syria in November 2015.

The Kremlin indicated Tuesday however, that an Erdogan-Putin meeting was not on the cards, also saying that a tripartite summit with another regime ally Iran could be planned instead of a multilateral one with France and Germany.

A Russian delegation was due to hold another round of talks with Turkish officials in Ankara Wednesday.


Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

Updated 26 September 2021

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own
  • The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s president has said he would consider buying a second Russian missile system in defiance of strong objections by the United States.
In an interview with American broadcaster CBS News, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own.
Speaking to correspondent Margaret Brennan in New York this past week, Erdogan explained that Turkey wasn’t given the option to buy American-made Patriot missiles and the US hadn’t delivered F-35 stealth jets despite a payment of $1.4 billion. Erdogan’s comments came in excerpts released in advance of the full interview being broadcast Sunday.
NATO member Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program and defense officials were sanctioned after it bought the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system. The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s. Turkey maintains the S-400s could be used independently without being integrated into NATO systems and therefore pose no risk.
The US also sanctioned Turkey in 2020 for its purchase under a 2017 law aimed at pushing back Russian influence. The move was the first time that the law, known as CAATSA, was used to penalize a US ally.
But Erdogan has remained defiant. “Of course, of course, yes,” Erdogan said after stating Turkey would make its own defense choices, in response to Brennan’s question on whether Turkey would buy more S-400s.
The issue is one of several sticking points in Turkish-American relations that also include US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey considers terrorists, and the continued US residency of a Muslim cleric accused of plotting the failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 29.


Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raids — Palestinian health ministry

Updated 26 September 2021

Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raids — Palestinian health ministry

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Israeli forces killed at least four Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a statement, said Israeli forces had mounted an operation against "Hamas terrorists who were about to carry out imminent terrorist attacks".

He made no mention of casualties and an Israeli military spokesperson had no immediate comment on the raids.

Israeli officials have long voiced concern that Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, intends to gain strength in the West Bank and challenge its rival, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA).

The PA Health Ministry said three Palestinians were killed in the West Bank village of Biddu, northwest of Jerusalem. It said another Palestinian was killed in Burqin, a village near the Palestinian city of Jenin.

Reports on Israel's main radio stations and news websites said that at least four militants were killed in raids on several locations in the West Bank aimed at capturing Hamas members.


Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

Updated 26 September 2021

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

  • Abdalla Hamdok: Aim is to build ‘safe, stable’ country ‘where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom, justice’
  • He thanked international partners, such as Saudi Arabia, who have provided assistance to Sudan’s fledgling government

NEW YORK: The prime minister of Sudan’s transitional government has outlined its plans for a “safe and stable” nation, and urged world leaders to work together to deliver more COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.
“The transitional government in Sudan continues to implement policies aiming to lay the foundations for democracy and rule of law, and to promote human rights,” Abdalla Hamdok told UN General Assembly delegates.
“At the same time, it aims to tackle the chronic structural problems beleaguering our economy,” he said.
“These programs and these policies underpin a common goal — that is, building a safe and stable Sudan where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom and justice, as expressed in the slogans of the glorious revolution of December.”
At the end of 2018 and into 2019, the Sudanese people overthrew Omar Bashir, bringing to an end 30 years of autocratic rule.
Since then, Hamdok said, “the reforms undertaken have had an effect on the most vulnerable people in our society. We’ve launched social protection programs … with the aid of regional and international partners.”
Among those international supporters is Saudi Arabia, which in May provided a $20 million grant to assist Sudan with servicing its debts to the International Monetary Fund. More investment by the Kingdom is expected.
But while Sudan’s revolution achieved its initial goal of establishing a civilian government, the country faces a plethora of systemic and economic challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamdok said Sudan has witnessed an influx of refugees from neighboring countries, and it does not have the resources to effectively manage this.
“Host communities are the first providers of protection and solidarity to these people. They share their scant resources and don’t, unfortunately, receive the support they require,” he added.
“Conditions in refugee camps are better than those in many host communities. The international community needs to effectively contribute to the development of these communities as part of distributing the burden involved. More money is needed.”
Hamdok also urged regional countries to reach a lasting agreement on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, which has fueled tensions between Addis Ababa on one hand and Egypt and Sudan on the other because of the Nile’s critical importance to each country.
He commended the role of the World Health Organization in combating the pandemic, which he said has hit poor nations particularly hard.
“International cooperation and multilateral action” are required to ensure people in poor countries are able to access COVID-19 vaccines, he said.
A cooperative and global approach to ending the pandemic is “the only way to give true meaning to the slogan ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’,” he added.

(With AP)

 


Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis

Updated 26 September 2021

Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis

  • Party leader Rached Ghannouchi chided for making “bad political choices” and forming “inappropriate alliances”

TUNIS/JEDDAH: Tunisia’s main Islamist political party was on the verge of collapse on Saturday after more than 100 key members resigned in protest against their leader.

Among the 113 members who resigned from the Ennahda party were key figures from the party leadership, including members of parliament and former ministers.

They directed their anger at veteran party leader Rached Ghannouchi, 80, who co-founded the party in 1981 inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood and has led it ever since. “The current party leadership is responsible for Ennahdha’s isolation and largely for the deteriorating situation in the country,” the former members said.

They blamed Ghannouchi for making “bad political choices” and forming “inappropriate alliances” with other movements that “undermined Ennahdha’s credibility.”

Ghannouchi had “failed” and “refused all the advice” that was given to him, they said.

Former Minister of Health Abdellatif Mekki, one of those who resigned, said: “I feel deeply sad ... I feel the pain of separation ... but I have no choice after I tried for a long time, especially in recent months ... I take responsibility for the decision that I made for my country.”

Ghannouchi was Tunisia’s parliamentary speaker until July, when President Kais Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament, removed the immunity of lawmakers and put himself in charge of prosecutions.

On Wednesday, Saied announced decrees that strengthen the powers of his office at the expense of the government and parliament, and said he would rule by decree.

Ennahdha, the largest bloc in parliament, claimed the president had carried out a coup, but Saied’s actions remain overwhelmingly popular with Tunisians. They blame Ennahda for the country’s political and economic paralysis since the removal of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, and for the failure to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Fractious coalitions and short-lived governments since the uprising have failed to resolve mounting social and economic crises. Ennahda officials have demanded that Ghannouchi resign over the party’s response to the crisis, and strategic choices he has made since elections in 2019. Last month Ghannouchi dismissed the party’s executive committee in an effort to calm the protests against him.

Ennahda has been the most powerful party in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution, and has played a role in backing successive coalition governments. However, it has lost support as the economy stagnated and public services declined.

Ghannouchi admitted last week that his party was in part responsible for Saied taking executive power. “Ennahdha is not in power but it backed the government, despite some criticism we had,” he said.

(With Reuters)

 


Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

Updated 26 September 2021

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

  • Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protesters on Saturday blocked two key oil pipelines in Port Sudan, the main seaport on the Red Sea, over a peace deal with rebel groups, the oil minister said.

Warning of “an extremely grave situation,” Oil Minister Gadein Ali Obeid told AFP one pipeline transports oil exports from South Sudan while the other handles Sudanese crude imports.

“Entrances and exits at the port’s export terminal have been completely shuttered” since early Saturday, he said.

Last October, several rebel groups signed a peace deal with Sudan’s transitional government which came to power shortly after the April 2019 ouster of longtime President Omar Bashir.

The protesters, from Sudan’s Beja minority, say that the deal, with rebels from the Darfur region and Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, ignored their interests.

Beja rebels agreed on a peace deal with the Bashir regime in 2006 after a decade of low-level conflict in Port Sudan and the east.

Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy.

The Khartoum government receives around $25 for every barrel of oil sold from South Sudan, according to official figures.

South Sudan produces around 162,000 barrels per day, which is transported by pipeline to Port Sudan and then shipped to global markets.

“There are enough (oil) reserves to last the country’s needs for up to 10 days,” Sudan’s oil ministry said in a statement.

It warned the export pipeline could sustain damage after demonstrators prevented a vessel from loading crude.

Protests against the October 2020 deal have rocked east Sudan since last week.

On Sept. 17, demonstrators impeded access to the docks in Port Sudan.

On Friday, demonstrators blocked the entrance to the airport and a bridge linking Kassala state with the rest of the country.

The unrest comes as Sudan grapples with chronic economic problems inherited from the Bashir regime.

Shortly after it began, the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said it had foiled a coup attempt by supporters of the ousted president.