Turkey-backed rebels regain key Syrian town of Saraqeb

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters load ammunition at a frontline near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province. (AP)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Turkey-backed rebels regain key Syrian town of Saraqeb

  • Three weeks ago, the armed opposition lost the northwestern town at the junction of two main highways
  • Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced by the latest fighting

AMMAN: Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military have recaptured the strategic town of Saraqeb, the first significant reverse for the Syrian army in a Russian-backed offensive that had made swift gains, the rebels said on Thursday.
Three weeks ago, the armed opposition lost the northwestern town at the junction of two main highways, following advances by the Syrian army in its bid to retake the last large rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war.
Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced by the latest fighting.
“The city of Saraqeb has been liberated completely from Assad’s gangs,” Naji Mustafa, a spokesman for a Turkey-backed coalition of rebel factions, the National Liberation Front, said in a statement, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
With Russian backing, government forces aided by Iranian militias have gained ground in northwest Syria since December.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported on Thursday that Russian-backed government forces had seized full control of southern Idlib province after fresh advances against the rebels.
Government forces have seized about 60 towns and villages in the southern Idlib area and the adjoining province of Hama in the last three days, the Observatory said.
The opposition advance on Saraqeb comes ahead of an end-February deadline set by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for Assad’s forces to pull back from territory that Turkey says is part of a buffer zone agreed with Russia.
Erdogan has said Turkey would otherwise drive them back.
Turkish and Russian officials were expected to hold a second day of talks in Ankara on Thursday on the conflict.
Ankara has sent thousands of troops and truckloads of equipment into Syria’s northwest corner bordering Turkey to back the rebels and set up new outposts that rebels say was in preparation for a Turkish operation to push back Assad’s forces.
Ibrahim Al-Idlibi, an opposition figure in touch with the rebel factions, said the seizure of the town eases pressure on rebels who in recent days lost a string of significant territory in southern Idlib province and Jabal al Zawiya highlands.
“The rebels this morning completed their control of Saraqeb after having advanced from several fronts. This eases the pressure after the Syrian army’s recent gains,” Idlibi said.
Saraqeb is at the juncture of two main roads linking the capital of Damascus and its second largest city of Aleppo and another highway west to the Mediterranean.
Taking back the M5 highway, which goes south to Damascus, from the insurgents had marked a big gain for Assad’s forces as they restored state control over the route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years of conflict.
Opening major highways in rebel hands to revive a shattered war economy has been a key goal of the Russian-led campaign.
“The opposition have now cut the highways and brought the regime to square one,” said Syrian opposition defector general Ahmad Rahhal.

Egyptian electricity minister heads to Russia to launch equipment manufacturing project for Dabaa nuclear plant

Updated 43 min 2 sec ago

Egyptian electricity minister heads to Russia to launch equipment manufacturing project for Dabaa nuclear plant

CAIRO: Egyptian Electricity and Renewable Energy Minister Mohammed Shaker headed to Russia to attend a joint celebration ceremony to begin manufacturing the first long-term equipment for the Dabaa nuclear power plant.

A high-level technical delegation is accompanying the minister.

According to a statement, Shaker and Rosatom Director-General Alexey Likhachev are set to discuss the progress of the Dabaa nuclear power plant and its future work.

Russia’s Rosatom is leading the Dabaa construction work.

The minister will also visit a group of Russian companies responsible for manufacturing long-term equipment for the nuclear plant.

The tour will cover Atomenergomash, which is responsible for manufacturing the compressor vessel, and Tagmash, which is responsible for manufacturing the reactor’s core catcher.

The past period witnessed intense technical meetings at the Nuclear Power Plants Authority.

The talks resulted in agreements regarding the quality assurance program for the manufacturer and quality plans for the equipment, as part of preparations to start manufacturing the plant’s long-term components.

The reactor’s core catcher is distinctive for its advanced third-generation reactors, to which the reactors of the Dabaa nuclear plant belong.

All the technical stages of its manufacture are carried out within the Russian Federation.

Logistical executive measures will then be taken to transfer it to the Dabaa site.

The manufacture of the reactor core catcher is a major milestone in the implementation of the Dabaa nuclear plant and comes as part of a series of continuous achievements that the project has been witnessing recently as a result of the concerted efforts of the Egyptian and Russian technical teams.

Egypt completes initial design phase of MisrSat-2 satellite

Updated 29 July 2021

Egypt completes initial design phase of MisrSat-2 satellite

CAIRO: Egypt’s new satellite, MisrSat-2, is scheduled to launch in December 2022, just three months behind schedule despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the CEO of the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA) said on Thursday.

Mohammed ElKoosy said the “first phase of the initial designs” had been completed and that the “engineering model” was currently being manufactured “with Chinese support.”

The satellite was initially set to launch in September next year, but the timeline has been slightly altered because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he explained.

The EgSA CEO also revealed that the satellite assembly center — located in Egyptian Space City near the New Administrative Capital — is close to completion. Egyptian Space City is due to open in March or April, he said.

Once the center is complete, assembly of MisrSat-2 will begin almost immediately, he said.

ElKoosy said Egypt’s ambitious plans for its space industry are in line with the country’s strategy for sustainable development. He cited the African Development Satellite — currently being manufactured by five African countries, with Egypt taking the lead — as an example. That satellite is designed to “measure the climate considerations of African countries, reducing their danger and controlling emissions rates.”

Yemen's Houthi militia reject US call to stop Marib offensive

Updated 29 July 2021

Yemen's Houthi militia reject US call to stop Marib offensive

  • Yemeni government complying with peace efforts while resisting militia’s attempts to seize control of new areas

ALEXANDRIA: The Iran-backed Houthis have rebuffed the latest US call to stop their deadly military offensive on the central Yemeni city of Marib, accusing the Americans of supporting their opponents.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam lashed out at the US on Wednesday for calling for the offensive to cease, and for renewing support for the internationally recognized government, accusing Washington of fueling the war in Yemen and imposing a “blockade.”

The latest Houthi statement was part of a series of criticisms of other countries and rights groups for rebuking them for refusing to stop military operations in the area, which have claimed the lives of thousands of combatants and civilians.

On Wednesday, the US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, slammed the Houthis for attacking the city, warning that their offensive in the province would aggravate the already miserable humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

In a tweet sent by the US State Department’s Near Eastern Affairds branch, Lenderking and Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik “condemned the Houthi offensive on Marib for exacerbating humanitarian suffering and sacrificing Yemen’s young men, and agreed on the need to restore political stability in southern Yemen.”

The US envoy also echoed his concerns about the impact of the Houthi attacks on Marib during a meeting with the Acting UN Special Envoy for Yemen Muin Shreim.

The Yemeni government said on Thursday that it would keep resisting Houthi attempts to seize control of new areas whilst complying with peace efforts to end the war.

Speaking to a gathering of government officials in Yemen’s Seiyun city on Thursday, Yemen’s Parliament Speaker Sultan Al-Barkani stated that tens of thousands of Yemenis who fled Houthi repression and sought refuge in Marib would not allow the militia to capture the city.

“We will continue to seek peace, but at the same time, we will not abandon fighting,” Al-Barkani said.

“The Houthis will not reach Marib. This is impossible for the Yemenis since Marib hosts hundreds of thousands (of people) who escaped from Houthi oppression and tyranny,” said Al-Barkani.

The government’s renewed pledges to defend Marib against Houthi incursions came as fighting raged on Thursday between government troops and the Houthis in several locations outside the city, near a military base in the west of the province and in mountainous areas and valleys in Rahabah to the south.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that 11 Houthis were killed in the southern city of Taiz after an attack on government-controlled areas in the northwest were foiled.

In the western province of Hodeidah, a landmine planted by the Houthis killed three civilians and wounded 11 on Thursday in Al-Durihimi district, the Yemeni Landmine Monitor said.

Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Thursday returned to the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh from Cleveland, Ohio after a medical checkup, official news agency SABA said.

For almost a decade, Hadi has traveled frequently to the US to receive medical treatment for heart problems.


Greece arrests Moroccan Daesh suspect

Updated 29 July 2021

Greece arrests Moroccan Daesh suspect

  • Greek police sources told AFP the 28-year-old man was arrested in Thessaloniki
  • Morocco's MAP news agency said he was detained on Tuesday for alleged involvement in terror actions

RABAT: Greek security services have arrested a Moroccan suspected of belonging to Daesh in Syria who had appeared in one of their propaganda videos, police and security sources said Thursday.
Greek police sources told AFP the 28-year-old man was arrested in Thessaloniki on the basis of an international warrant issued in 2017 by Rabat, and that a decision would be taken on his possible extradition to Morocco.
Morocco’s MAP news agency, quoting a security source, said he was detained on Tuesday for alleged involvement in the planning of “terrorist” actions in Morocco.
The suspect, known as Abu Mohamed Al-Fateh, had joined the extremist group in Syria in 2014 and held “positions of responsibility,” it said.
He had appeared in a video showing the body of a Syrian fighter being mutilated.
About 1,600 Moroccans joined extremist groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, of whom 137 were killed, according to official figures in Morocco.

Forest fires spread out of control in Lebanon for second day amid political crisis

Updated 29 July 2021

Forest fires spread out of control in Lebanon for second day amid political crisis

  • At least 122 people have also been injured in the fires
  • President Erdogan announced that an arson investigation has already been initiated

BEIRUT: Wildfires raged for a second day across pine forests in the mountainous north of Lebanon on Thursday.

George Abu Mousa, the head of the Civil Defense Service and Operations Division, told Arab News the “fires returned on Thursday mainly because of the heavy winds. We had extinguished most of the fires on Wednesday but the wind was not in our favor.”

With President Michel Aoun preoccupied with monitoring the response to the fires, the crisis has overshadowed efforts to form a new government, according to his media office.

This is adding a further complication to the negotiations to finally appoint a new authority, almost a year after the previous government resigned following the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port. Najib Mikati was appointed prime minister-designate on Monday following the resignation of his predecessor, Saad Hariri, after nine months of failed talks with Aoun over the composition of a new government. Comments from politicians in the past two days suggest that Mikati will not find the task any easier.

The main stumbling block remains the same: The distribution of government portfolios among the parties. The head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil, raised the issue during a television interview on Wednesday night.

He insisted on the “blocking third,” which means control of a third of cabinet portfolios, giving the power to veto any proposal that requires a two-thirds majority. He said he “will not give his vote of confidence to the government if all portfolios are rotated except for the Ministry of Finance,” control of which Hezbollah and the Amal movement want to keep within the Shiite community.

Meanwhile efforts to extinguish the wildfires in the north of the country continue. Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair, secretary-general of Lebanon’s High Relief Commission, said a request had been sent to Cypriot authorities for helicopters to help battle the blaze.

The fires, in Qobayat in Akkar governorate, have spread out of control in the past 24 hours, reaching the outskirts of the town of Hermel.

Amin Melhem, a young volunteer, died while helping to put out the flames in the town of Kafrtun. According to reports, he was 15 years old. Dozens of cases of suffocation were reported as the fires reached residential buildings.

Local mayors and residents of the affected areas complain that the state organizations fighting the fires lack logistical support because of the nation’s economic crisis. Fire departments and civil defense centers are suffering as a result of shortages of vital resources such as fuel, electrical power and even water.

Residents are working alongside professionals to help fight the fires. Church bells are being rung and WhatsApp messages sent urging people to try to contain the flames any way they can until fire trucks arrive. Still, the damage has been devastating.

“We lost a lot of the abundant forest wealth,” said Abu Mousa, the Civil Defense head. “Many trees caught fire, most of which are pines, oaks and olives, because of the dry weeds extending over large areas.”

He did not comment on whether or not the fire might have been started intentionally, as many residents believe.

“One fire erupted and expanded, not several fires,” he said. “We will now extinguish the flames and then wait for the investigation to find out the circumstances.”

Army helicopters joined the efforts to battle the blaze, with help from the Cypriot helicopters that had been requested.

The fires have spread across the border into Syria, where authorities put out the flames in the border towns of Shan and Ain Al-Dahab but their assistance did not extend beyond there, according to Michel Al-Murr, a first lieutenant in the Beirut Fire Brigade,.

“The rugged nature of the area makes it more difficult for the firefighters and civil defense forces to work,” he told Arab News. “Many valleys cannot be reached; we fear that volunteers and firefighters could get trapped by the fire there.

“The fire reached an army barracks in the Akkar region, as well as military checkpoints in the area.”

He added that an investigation will be needed to establish the cause of the fire.

The General Directorate of Civil Defense in the Ministry of Interior said that three civil defense workers were slightly injured on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Army Command announced on Twitter that the fires have been renewed in the Al-Ruwaymah and Al-Bustan areas, and spread to the vicinity of the houses in the forests of the Qaltabah-Qobayat area,

It added that the army units, with helicopter support, were working to extinguish the fires with help from civil defense teams and civilian volunteers.

“Four helicopters are working to put out the fires that broke out in Jabal Akrum in Akkar, and army units are participating in the extinguishing operations,” the Army Command said.

The flames ravaged the forests of Qobayat, Aandqet, Kafrtun, Akrum, Al-Ruwaymah, and mountain villages in the Beit Jaafar area, destroying tens of square kilometers of forests.

Abdo Abdo, the mayor of Qobayat, said: “About eight people were taken to hospital, and the Red Cross rescued more than 40 residents who were suffocating, and helped evacuate the area.”

The Civil Defense reported it has put out 52 forest fires in Beirut, Mount Lebanon, the North, the South, and the Bekaa Valley, during the past 24 hours.