Turkey-backed fighters retaliate against Syria-allied troops

A fighter stands guard during a rally to denounce the recent attacks by Turkish forces on northeastern Syria on Oct. 24, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2020

Turkey-backed fighters retaliate against Syria-allied troops

  • Renewed violence has undermined an already shaky cease-fire in place since March

BEIRUT: Syrian opposition groups lobbed hundreds of missiles and artillery rockets at government posts in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, in retaliation for a deadly attack that killed dozens of their fighters a day earlier.
The renewed violence has undermined an already shaky cease-fire in place since March that aimed to quell military operations and government troop advances in the overcrowded rebel enclave.
The Turkey-backed groups, operating under the umbrella of the National Front for Liberation, fired hundreds of artillery rounds and missiles since late Monday at government posts in territories adjacent to areas they control in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
A spokesman for the NFL, Naji Al-Mustafa, said the rebel’s military retaliation targeted and killed Russian officers in southern Idlib, as well as Syrian soldiers working in the area.
The report could not be independently verified and there was no immediate comment from Russia or Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recorded hundreds of projectiles lobbed by opposition fighters at nearly 20 government posts in different locations in southern Idlib, western Aleppo and the coastal province of Latakia. The Observatory said there were casualties but had no details.
Monday’s strike was the deadliest in Idlib since the Turkish-Russian-brokered truce there came into effect in March, raising fears that the truce could further fray. Some 1 million people were displaced by the last offensive inside the already packed enclave, home to over 3 million.
The airstrike on a rebel training camp near the border with Turkey killed more than 50 Turkish-backed fighters, according to one opposition spokesman, and wounded nearly as many, in one of the heaviest blows to the opposition’s strongest groups. The Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, put the toll at 78 fighters dead and nearly 90 wounded.
The camp, operated by Faylaq Al-Sham, an NFL faction, was hosting training sessions for new recruits. The NFL said a “large number” of fighters were killed, but declined to give details. It vowed retaliation and blamed Russia for the attack.
US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey said the escalation in Idlib in violation of the March cease-fire deal is “dangerous” and threatens to prolong the conflict and deepen the Syrian people’s suffering. Jeffrey said the UN-led political process is the only way to peace and stability in Syria.
“By continuing their quest for a military victory, the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are threatening the stability of the surrounding region,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “It is time for the Assad regime and its allies to end their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people.”
Russia and Turkey, although they support opposite sides in Syria’s nine-year conflict, have worked together to maintain a cease-fire in the last enclave of Syria’s rebels. But the attack comes as relations between the two countries have shown signs of strain over Turkey’s increased military involvement in a region stretching from Syria to the Caucasus and the Mediterranean.


Turkey rejects Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory

Updated 59 sec ago

Turkey rejects Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it rejects Russia’s annexation of four regions in Ukraine, adding the decision is a “grave violation” of international law.
Turkey, a NATO member, has conducted a diplomatic balancing act since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Ankara opposes Western sanctions on Russia and has close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, its Black Sea neighbors. It has also criticized Russia’s invasion and sent armed drones to Ukraine.
The Turkish ministry said on Saturday it had not recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, adding that it rejects Russia’s decision to annex the four regions, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
“This decision, which constitutes a grave violation of the established principles of international law, cannot be accepted,” the ministry said.
“We reiterate our support to the resolution of this war, the severity of which keeps growing, based on a just peace that will be reached through negotiations,” it added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the annexation of the regions on Friday, promising Moscow would triumph in its “special military operation” even as he faced a potentially serious new military reversal.
His proclamation came after Russia held what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.
The United States, Britain and Canada announced new sanctions in response.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said on Friday his country had submitted a fast-track application to join the NATO military alliance and that he would not hold peace talks with Russia while Putin was still president.

Iran’s leaders ‘in disarray’ as protests grow

Updated 01 October 2022

Iran’s leaders ‘in disarray’ as protests grow

  • Nationwide unrest over Mahsa Amini's death coincide with new rumors about the supreme leader’s ailing health
  • The two candidates viewed as favorites to replace Khamenei are his son Mojtaba and President Ebrahim Raisi

JEDDAH: Iran’s clerical rulers are in disarray over how to crush mass anti-government protests amid rifts over security tactics and high-level maneuvering over who will succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, analysts say.
Nationwide unrest over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody has coincided with new rumors about the 83-year-old supreme leader’s ailing health, posing a threat to Iran’s religious establishment.
Although in theory, the 86-member Assembly of Experts will choose the next leader, jockeying for influence has already begun, making it difficult for the ruling clerics to unite around a set of security tactics.
“This race has caused disarray inside the leadership. The deepening rift is the last thing we need when the country is in turmoil,” one hard-line official said. “The main issue right now is the Islamic Republic’s survival.”

The two candidates viewed as favorites to replace Khamenei are his son Mojtaba and President Ebrahim Raisi. “Neither of them has popular support,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “But what keeps the Islamic Republic in power is not popular support, but repression — and both men are deeply experienced in repression.”
As the protests spread to 80 cities nationwide, Iran’s rulers have accused a coalition of “anarchists, terrorists and foreign foes” of orchestrating the troubles — a narrative few Iranians believe.
Alarmed by the depth of popular outrage, some senior clerics and politicians have appealed for restraint to avoid bloodshed that could galvanize and embolden protesters.
But that has not stopped hard-liners calling for tougher measures, despite the death of at least 75 protesters in the security crackdown. “A part of the establishment fears that this time using more lethal force can push the Islamic Republic to a no return point,” said a senior former Iranian official.


Iran’s leaders ‘in disarray’ as protests grow

Updated 01 October 2022

Iran’s leaders ‘in disarray’ as protests grow

  • High-level jockeying for position over who will succeed Khamenei as supreme leader

JEDDAH: Iran’s clerical rulers are in disarray over how to crush mass anti-government protests amid rifts over security tactics and high-level maneuvering over who will succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, analysts say.
Nationwide unrest over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody has coincided with new rumors about the 83-year-old supreme leader’s ailing health, posing a threat to Iran’s religious establishment.
Although in theory, the 86-member Assembly of Experts will choose the next leader, jockeying for influence has already begun, making it difficult for the ruling clerics to unite around a set of security tactics.
“This race has caused disarray inside the leadership. The deepening rift is the last thing we need when the country is in turmoil,” one hard-line official said. “The main issue right now is the Islamic Republic’s survival.”

FASTFACT

Nationwide unrest over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody has coincided with new rumors about the 83-year-old supreme leader’s ailing health.

The two candidates viewed as favorites to replace Khamenei are his son Mojtaba and President Ebrahim Raisi. “Neither of them has popular support,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “But what keeps the Islamic Republic in power is not popular support, but repression — and both men are deeply experienced in repression.”
As the protests spread to 80 cities nationwide, Iran’s rulers have accused a coalition of “anarchists, terrorists and foreign foes” of orchestrating the troubles — a narrative few Iranians believe.
Alarmed by the depth of popular outrage, some senior clerics and politicians have appealed for restraint to avoid bloodshed that could galvanize and embolden protesters.
But that has not stopped hard-liners calling for tougher measures, despite the death of at least 75 protesters in the security crackdown. “A part of the establishment fears that this time using more lethal force can push the Islamic Republic to a no return point,” said a senior former Iranian official.

 

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Lebanon schools struggle to open as finance woes bite

Updated 30 September 2022

Lebanon schools struggle to open as finance woes bite

  • Student dropout rate rising with parents unable to pay for basics, UNICEF rep warns

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s public education system is facing collapse a week before the start of the academic year, with teachers unable to pay for transport, and students dropping out because their parents cannot afford essential school items.

After three years of an economic crisis that shows no sign of ending, schools are also struggling to provide basic needs, such as heating and electricity.

An adviser to Abbas Halabi, the minister of education and higher education in the caretaker government, told Arab News that meetings are being held with donor countries, international organizations, the World Bank and ambassadors in an effort to cover the costs of teachers’ transport to school.

Assistance to help students attend school has not yet been discussed, the official said.

Lebanon’s spiralling economy has forced thousands of parents to transfer their children from private schools and universities to public institutions.

Edouard Beigbeder, the UNICEF representative in Lebanon, warned of an increase in the number of students dropping out of school.

Estimates suggest that up to 16 percent of Lebanese children and 49 percent of Syrian refugee students have not been enrolled in primary school, despite education ministry efforts to encourage a return to study.

Parents blame the country’s financial woes for the problem, saying they cannot afford their children’s transport fees, books or stationery.

Halabi warned from New York during an education summit held on the sidelines of the UN’s General Assembly 10 days ago that “if Lebanese students do not receive education, no others will.”

He had previously pleaded with donors to “secure aid that will enable the ministry to launch the school year, which seems impossible in light of the educational bodies refusing to show up at public schools and the Lebanese University.” 

Lebanon is seeking aid of around $100 million for pre-university education, $37 million for the Lebanese University and $20 million for vocational education.

In addition to implementing a host of economic and political reforms, the international community has asked Lebanon to integrate Syrian and Lebanese students in morning and afternoon periods in order to reduce expenses.

Private schools and universities demanded payment of tuition fees partly in Lebanese pounds and partly in dollars.

However, the education ministry opposed the move, claiming it breached laws that stipulates the use of Lebanese currency.

Education institutions ignored the objection, claiming the only alternative would be to close, and established a “parents’ contribution fund” separate from the budget.

Parents who were unable to pay the tuition fees were left with the option of transferring their children from private schools or universities to public institutions.

Huda Suleiman, president of the Human and Future Association for children with special needs, said that she will be unable to open the school in Taanayel in the Bekaa Valley this year because the Ministry of Social Affairs, which “provides us aid, did not pay what it owes us.”

A limit on monthly bank withdrawals means she can pay only two teaching salaries.

“We have physical, motor and occupational specialists whose salaries are high, in addition to fuel costs,” she said.

Suleiman said parents were unable to contribute or even drop their children at school, as some traveled long distances.

Transport costs are beyond the salaries of most parents, many of whom are farmers or members of the military and internal security forces, she added.

The education ministry has yet to solve a dispute with education bodies demanding a salary increase and further financial incentives.

According to a study by the Center for Educational Research and Development, the number of students in Lebanon exceeded 1 million two years ago.

They include 334,536 students or 31 percent in public schools, 565,593 students or 52 percent in private schools, and 140,312 students or 13 percent in private free schools.

There are 36,375 students, or more than 3 percent, at UNRWA schools for Palestinian refugees.

Lebanon is home to 40 universities and institutes, and more than 40 percent of tertiary students attend the Lebanese University, a public institution.

 
 


Iran says it has arrested 9 foreigners over protests

Updated 30 September 2022

Iran says it has arrested 9 foreigners over protests

  • Iran has claimed that the daily protests that have swept the country for the past two weeks were instigated by foreigners
  • Earlier in June, Iran arrested two French citizens for meeting protesting teachers

DUBAI: Iran’s intelligence ministry says it has arrested nine foreigners over recent anti-hijab protests sweeping the country.
In a statement carried by the state-run news agency IRNA, the ministry said Friday that those arrested included citizens of Germany, Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly wearing the mandatory Islamic headscarf too loosely, has triggered an outpouring of anger at Iran’s ruling clerics.
Her family says they were told she was beaten to death in custody. Police say the 22-year-old Amini died of a heart attack and deny mistreating her, and Iranian officials say her death is under investigation.
Iran has claimed that the daily protests that have swept the country for the past two weeks were instigated by foreigners. Protesters have denied such claims, portraying their actions as a spontaneous uprising against the country’s strict dress code, including the compulsory hijab for women in public.
Iran has detained individual foreigners in the past, often on claims that they were spies while not providing evidence. Critics have denounced the practice as an attempt by Iran to use detained foreigners as bargaining chips for concessions from the international community.
Earlier in June, Iran arrested two French citizens, Cecile Kohler, 37, and Chuck Paris, 69 over meeting with protesting teachers and taking part in an anti-government rally.
A number of Europeans were detained in Iran in recent months, including a Swedish tourist, two French citizens, a Polish scientist and others.
The arrests come as leaked government documents show that Iran ordered its security forces to “severely confront” antigovernment demonstrations that broke out earlier this month, Amnesty International said Friday.
The London-based rights group said security forces have killed at least 52 people since protests over the Amini’s death began nearly two weeks ago, including by firing live ammunition into crowds and beating protesters with batons.
It says security forces have also beaten and groped female protesters who remove their headscarves to protest the treatment of women by Iran’s theocracy.
The state-run IRNA news agency meanwhile reported renewed violence in the city of Zahedan, near the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. It said gunmen opened fire and hurled firebombs at a police station, setting off a battle with police.
It said police and passersby were wounded, without elaborating, and did not say whether the violence was related to the antigovernment protests. The region has seen previous attacks on security forces claimed by militant and separatist groups.
Videos circulating on social media showed gunfire and a police vehicle on fire. Others showed crowds chanting against the government. Video from elsewhere in Iran showed protests in Ahvaz, in the southwest, and Ardabil in the northwest.
Amnesty said it obtained a leaked copy of an official document saying that the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces ordered commanders on Sept. 21 to “severely confront troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries.” The rights group says the use of lethal force escalated later that evening, with at least 34 people killed that night alone.
It said another leaked document shows that, two days later, the commander in Mazandran province ordered security forces to “confront mercilessly, going as far as causing deaths, any unrest by rioters and anti-Revolutionaries,” referring to those opposed to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which brought the clerics to power.
“The Iranian authorities knowingly decided to harm or kill people who took to the streets to express their anger at decades of repression and injustice,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Amid an epidemic of systemic impunity that has long prevailed in Iran, dozens of men, women and children have been unlawfully killed in the latest round of bloodshed.”
Amnesty did not say how it acquired the documents. There was no immediate comment from Iranian authorities.
Iranian state TV has reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the demonstrations began Sept. 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities tallied at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 demonstrators arrested.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday that at least 28 reporters have been arrested.
Iranian authorities have severely restricted Internet access and blocked access to Instagram and WhatsApp, popular social media applications that are also used by the protesters to organize and share information.
That makes it difficult to gauge the extent of the protests, particularly outside the capital, Tehran. Iranian media have only sporadically covered the demonstrations.
Iranians have long used virtual private networks and proxies to get around the government’s Internet restrictions. Shervin Hajjipour, an amateur singer in Iran, recently posted a song on Instagram based on tweets about Amini that received more than 40 million views in less than 48 hours before it was taken down.
Non-governmental Iran Human rights Organization said that Hajjipour has reportedly been arrested.