Turkey’s new military deployment in Idlib puts spotlight on Syria

A Syrian rebel fighter looks on while on guard duty in the west of Tal Abyad in Raqqa province, along the front-line with Syrian Kurdish forces. (AFP)
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Updated 03 October 2020

Turkey’s new military deployment in Idlib puts spotlight on Syria

  • How Turkey’s new military build-up will be considered by Moscow or whether it will lead to new concessions between the two countries

Despite claims that the South Caucasus is the new flashpoint for Turkey and Russia, the recent military reinforcements in Syria hint that the balance in the province is still fragile and could provoke a regional crisis.

On Friday, a Turkish military convoy, with.  more than 25 armored vehicles and trucks carrying logistical materials, entered northwestern Idlib province to reinforce Turkish military points in the area.

How Turkey’s new military build-up will be considered by Moscow or whether it will lead to new concessions between the two countries, which back opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, are still a source of concern.

Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, thinks that this military reinforcement is likely to disturb Russia because the Kremlin expects Turkey to reduce its military presence in Syria, mainly in the area south of the M4 highway, which runs parallel to the Turkish-Syrian border.

“Russia began allowing the regime to mobilize some of its forces in the area south of the M4. There will not be a huge military confrontation, but there may be some artillery attacks from the regime on where Turkish forces are located,” he told Arab News.

The number of Turkish military vehicles in the area is estimated to have exceeded 9,750 in the past seven months.

Russia refused to conduct new joint patrols as long as there is instability in the area.

The latest joint military drill of Turkish and Russian troops recently was held in Idlib on Sept. 21.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced on Sept. 22 that the two countries will resume joint patrols in northern Syria when the situation stabilizes after the attacks by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) targeting the Russian Hmeimim airbase.

Kyle Orton, a UK-based researcher on Syria, said Turkey’s military build-up in Idlib is intended as a message that Ankara will not surrender the remaining parts of the province.

“Turkey gave up more territory than expected and certainly more than many of its Syrian proxies were hoping. But the Turkish government does have a real red line: it needs a buffer area to keep the terrorists and refugees out of Turkey,” he said.

He sees this as a response from Turkey to recent signals from Damascus and Iran that another offensive is coming in Idlib, indicating that Ankara will resist any such action.

“The Russians are unlikely to be too alarmed by Turkey’s actions; Moscow is content to leave Turkey with Idlib, but Moscow cannot control the Assad and Iranian system, which has as its ultimate goal the reconquest of every inch of Syria,” he said.

In the meantime, the Turkish Presidency submitted a motion to parliament on Oct. 1 to extend its authority to launch cross-border military operations in northern Iraq and Syria for another year until Oct. 30, 2021. The motion underlines Turkey’s continued “security responsibilities” in northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River and in the Idlib province.

According to Ruwan Al-Rejoleh, an independent analyst in Washington, DC, there has always been talk about a “new operation” in Idlib, the last rebel bastion.

“All players have been anticipating it, preparing for it and promoting it every once in a while but the pandemic conditions postponed it. Russia has an interest in controlling all the M4 highway,” Al-Rejoleh said.

The regime forces and Russian fighter jets have recently increased their attacks on HTS and other terror groups in Idlib province with heavy bombardments.

The March agreement that was brokered between Russia and Turkey required the establishment of a security corridor around M4 highway, cleansing the area from radical elements as well as conducting joint patrols to serve a buffer between regime forces and rebels.

During a video conference on Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “Turkey will wipe out terror zones in Syria if others fail to keep their promise.”

According to Al-Rejoleh, the problem remains in the defining who are the terrorist groups between Turkey and Russia.

“While Turkey sees the existence of armed separate entities operating in northeastern Syria, such as People’s Protection Units (YPG) which are connected to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as the immediate threat to its borders, Russia’s priority is to get rid of HTS, an internationally designated terrorist group, and other Syrian opposition armed groups that have connections to Turkey either through direct support or through Turkish intelligence channels,” she said.

On the Syrian front, Al-Rejoleh added, Turkey and Russia are likely to come to an agreement about possible concessions, where Turkey will “again” give up control of certain parts of Idlib in return for pressure-relief in other conflict zones or potentially the elimination of certain figures affiliated with PKK and a guarantee to prevent any new wave of refugees.


Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Updated 4 sec ago

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

BEIRUT: Judicial authorities in Lebanon Wednesday ordered the temporary seizure of the property of two deputies in the case of the deadly explosion which destroyed Beirut port two years ago.
“Judge Najah Itani has issued a temporary seizure order worth 100 billion Lebanese pounds on the property of MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter,” a judicial source told AFP.
The source said the decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two for having “used their rights... in an arbitrary manner by filing complaints intended to hinder the investigation.”
Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought.
On Thursday, crisis-hit Lebanon marked two years since the massive port blast ripped through Beirut.
The dockside blast of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate, one of history’s biggest non-nuclear explosions, killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and decimated vast areas of the capital.
After the tragedy, the bar launched legal proceedings against the state on behalf of nearly 1,400 families of victims.
However, an investigation into the cause has been stalled amid political interference and no state official has yet been held accountable over the tragedy.
Khalil and Zeaiter, of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal party, filed a total of 20 complaints against Judge Tareq Bitar for obstructing the investigation which he himself was carrying out.
Politicians on all sides have refused to be questioned by the judge.
Officials close to the powerful Hezbollah movement have also curtailed Bitar’s work with a series of lawsuits.
His investigation has been paused since December 23.
On Thursday’s second anniversary of the blast, relatives of victims demanded an international inquiry.

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Updated 7 min 11 sec ago

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

  • Security forces carried out a "special operation" in the Daraa area that led to the death of "the terrorist Abu Salem al-Iraqi"
  • The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country's south

DAMASCUS: A leader of Daesh group blew himself up in southern Syria after being surrounded by government forces, state media reported on Wednesday, citing a security source.
The official SANA news agency said security forces carried out a “special operation” in the Daraa area that led to the death of “the terrorist Abu Salem Al-Iraqi.”
Iraqi “triggered his explosive belt after being surrounded and wounded,” the agency said.
The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country’s south.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, which has a vast network of sources on the ground, said Iraqi died on Tuesday.
It said he had been hiding out in the area since 2018, and had taken part in killings and attacks there.
Daraa province has mostly been under regime control since 2018, but rebel groups still control some areas under a truce deal agreed with Russia, an ally of Damascus.
After a meteoric rise in 2014 in Iraq and Syria that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, Daesh saw its self-proclaimed “caliphate” collapse under a wave of offensives.
It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells of the extremist Sunni Muslim group still carry out attacks in both countries.
Syria’s war began in 2011 and has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.


Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus

Updated 52 min 20 sec ago

Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus

  • 3 Jewish passengers refused to travel with Arabs
  • Company: Driver swayed by ‘racist manipulation’

LONDON: An Israeli public transport firm has issued an apology after a racist incident in which 50 Palestinian workers were removed from a bus following complaints from Jewish customers. 

The incident in Tel Aviv sparked controversy after reports that three Jewish passengers boarded in an ultra-Orthodox suburb of the city and refused to share the bus with Arabs. 

The bus firm, Tnufa, said one of the Jewish passengers conned the driver into believing that he was an official from the Transport Ministry, and threatened the driver.

Israelis and Palestinians use the bus to go to and from the West Bank, the BBC reported, adding that Israeli law prohibits segregated services.

Tnufa said the driver was inexperienced and had been swayed by “racist manipulation.” It added that one of the Jewish passengers falsely claimed that the Transport Ministry had ordered that Arabs needed to be kicked off the route.

“The new driver said he argued with the imposter, but he told him that he could lose his job or receive a large fine if he did not follow the instructions immediately,” Tnufa said.

“The company apologises to the passengers for the unfortunate incident,” Tnufa’s CEO Mikhael Kopilovsky said in a statement, adding that “many of our drivers and workers at the company are Arabs.”


New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

Updated 10 August 2022

New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

  • The Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on August 1
  • A five-month delay after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “prompted the buyer and the shipping agent to reach agreement on the cancelation of the order”

BEIRUT: A new buyer is being sought for the first grain shipment to leave Ukraine under a hard-won deal with Russia after the original Lebanese buyer canceled its order, the Ukrainian embassy said.
The Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on August 1 carrying 26,000 tons of maize and had been expected to dock in the Lebanese port of Tripoli at the weekend.
But now the keenly anticipated shipment is looking for a buyer after the shipping agent agreed to a request to cancel the original order in the light of the long delay in delivery.
A five-month delay after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “prompted the buyer and the shipping agent to reach agreement on the cancelation of the order,” the Ukraine embassy said in a statement late Tuesday.
The agent is now studying alternative bids for the maize before deciding on its destination, the embassy added.
The Razoni is currently anchored off the Turkish port of Mersin, according to the Marine Traffic website.
Another ship docked in Turkey Monday with a cargo of 12,000 tons of Ukrainian maize, becoming the first to reach its destination under the deal with Russia brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.
The agreement lifted a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports and established safe corridors through the naval mines laid by Kyiv to ward off any amphibious assault by Moscow on its coast.
Ukraine said Monday it was “optimistic” that the millions of tons of wheat and other grain that had been trapped in its silos and ports could now be exported, in a major boost for world food supplies.

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Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction

Updated 10 August 2022

Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction

  • The airport, which was heavily damaged in the battle, had been disused since the extremists seized Mosul and adjacent areas in 2014

MOSUL: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi on Wednesday inaugurated the reconstruction of Mosul international airport, still in disrepair five years after the battle that expelled Daesh from the city.
Entire sectors of the northern metropolis have remained in ruins since the July 2017 recapture of Mosul by Iraqi forces backed by a US-led multinational coalition.
The airport, which was heavily damaged in the battle, has been disused since the extremists seized Mosul and adjacent areas in 2014.
Kadhemi, in an official ceremony at the airport on the southern outskirts of Mosul, laid the foundation stone for its renovation.
Airport director Haider Ali told AFP that the reconstruction has been assigned to two Turkish companies and is expected to take 24 months.
Despite the slow pace of reconstruction, the city of 1.5 million inhabitants has regained a semblance of normality: shops have reopened, traffic jams are back and international agencies have been funding restoration projects for historic sites.
But huge challenges remain.
At the end of 2021, the Red Cross estimated that 35 percent of west Mosul residents and less than 15 percent in east Mosul, which bore the brunt of the fighting, have enough water to meet their daily needs.
Kadhemi, quoted in a statement issued by his office, said that “huge efforts” were being made to rebuild the city.
In January, a provincial official spoke of a $266-million budget for major reconstruction projects, notably in the health, education and transport sectors for 2021-2022, according to the state news agency INA.