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Kuwait warns of disaster – Turkey boosts arms to Syrian rebels

Syrian rebel fighters from the recently-formed ‘National Liberation Front’ take part in combat training at an unknown location in the northern countryside of the Idlib province on Sept 11, in anticipation of an upcoming government forces offensive. The Syrian regime and its Russian ally are threatening an offensive to retake the northwestern province of Idlib, Syria’s last rebel bastion. (AFP)

NEW YORK, Sept 12, (Agencies): Any military escalation in Idlib, Syria would result in humanitarian disaster, as women, elderly, children, and patients will pay the price of such action. “As the international community witnessed the consequences of similar steps in the remaining parts of Syria, which were classified as escalation reduction areas”, a Kuwaiti senior diplomat said.

This came in Kuwait’s speech before the United Nations’ session on Syria held on Wednesday given by Kuwait’s Permanent Representative to UN Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi. Al-Otaibi offered thanks to the Russian delegation for briefing the UN Security Council on the Astana summit’s results which were held last Friday in Tehran, Iran, during which the participants discussed the situation in Syria, and especially in Idlib.

“The session coincided with the anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took place in the 11th of September 2001 that resulted in the death of thousands of innocent US nationals, and Kuwait renews its support and condolences to the families of the victims”, he said.

“We reassure our vow to work with our partners and allies to terminate terrorism that poses a great threat to international peace and security as well as our active role in the international alliance to terminate the so-called Islamic State (IS)”, he said. He called on all involved parties to continue engaging in dialogues in order to reach a peaceful solution for the situation in Idlib, he said.

He expressed his extreme concern regarding the latest reports issued by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), revealing the displacement of 30,000 Syrians from Idlib due to the latest developments. He reiterated his call to the UN that in case a comprehensive military operation in Idlib, thus, the greatest humanitarian disaster with highest loss of people in the 21st century would definitely take place, he added.

He renewed his support to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ statement on Aug 29 as he appealed to the Syrian government and all involved parties to exercise restraint as well as Astana summit members to find a  peaceful solution to the situation in Idlib. He called for offering more time and care to diplomatic efforts to avoid further bloodshed, hoping that the meetings held by the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, today and yesterday in Geneva will contribute to finding solutions to save the lives of innocent civilians.

Turkey boosts arms – 10/012 Turkey has stepped up arms supplies to Syrian rebels to help them stave off an expected offensive by the Syrian army and its Russian and Iran-backed allies in the northwest near the Turkish frontier, rebel sources told Reuters. Senior rebel officials said Turkey had sent more military aid to rebels in and around the Idlib region since a summit meeting with Iran and Russia last week failed to agree a deal to avert a government offensive into the area.

Turkey, which is already hosting 3.5 million Syrian refugees, is warning against such an attack, fearing it could force more Syrians over the border. President Tayyip Erdogan has warned of a humanitarian disaster and security risks for Turkey. “They pledged complete Turkish military support for a long, protracted battle,” a senior FSA commander who was privy to talks in recent days with senior Turkish officials said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak publicly. The weapons, which have entered Syria in large quantities in recent days, include ammunition and GRAD rockets.

“These arms supplies and munitions will allow the battle to extend and ensure our supplies are not drained in a war of attrition,” the commander added. A second rebel commander said: “They are getting new shipments of munitions – they don’t need more than munitions.” “The Turks are making sure they have enough munitions that keep them going for a long while,” he added.

Turkish officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The Idlib area forms part of an arc of territory in the northwest representing the last big area held by the opposition. Some three million people are living in Idlib, half of them Syrians who have fled from other parts of the country. Russian and Syrian warplanes have stepped up air strikes on southern Idlib and adjacent areas of Hama province in an apparent prelude to a ground offensive. The Syrian army is building up troops near frontlines. Turkey has backed an array of Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels during the war that spiraled out of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. With decisive Iranian and Russian help, Assad has now recovered most of Syria.

Idlib’s main towns and cities are under the sway of jihadists linked to al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, though they are outnumbered by Turkey-backed FSA fighters grouped under “The National Front for Liberation”. The Turkish army has also deployed in the last week more troops and heavy weaponary to 12 positions in the Idlib region that observe a “de-escalation zone” agreed with Iran and Russia.

The Turkish army has also sent troops into Syrian rebel-held territory further east, in an area north of Aleppo city. With extensive Turkish support, efforts have been underway to organise FSA groups north of Aleppo into a unified force known as the “National Army” numbering some 30,000 fighters. Two rebel commanders said Turkey had ordered the bulk of this force to move towards the Idlib frontlines. At the summit in Tehran, Erdogan, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani agreed in a statement that there could be no military solution to the conflict and it could only end through a negotiated political process. But while Erdogan had also called for a truce, Putin said this would be pointless as it would not involve the Islamist militant groups that Russia deems terrorists, and Rouhani said Syria must regain control over all its territory. Russia has said Turkey has the job of separating Islamist militants from the moderate opposition in Idlib. Rebel sources said Turkey had pledged to take strong measures against the jihadists once Russia holds back the Syrian army from waging a major assault.

The jihadists have so far resisted calls by Ankara to dissolve themselves or take an offer that allows fighters to join FSA factions after breaking all ties to al-Qaeda. UN investigators meanwhile warned Wednesday that a war against some 10,000 extremists in northwestern Syria should not take 3 million people hostages. They added that the expected attack by Syrian troops on Idlib province would make other battles in the country look minor. The UN Commission of Inquiry said government forces carried out three chemical weapons attacks in Syria and that violence displaced the largest number of people the year, the largest since the conflict began in 2011. It warned that an attack on Idlib “with little regard for civilian life would generate a catastrophic human rights and humanitarian crisis.” It called on parties to the conflict to protect civilians, as required by international humanitarian law. Government forces have been massing troops on the edge of Idlib in preparation for an offensive on the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.

Government bombardment of Idlib has dropped as of Tuesday after days of stepped up bombing campaign against the Syrian opposition’s last bastion in the country. A summit between Russia, Turkey, and Iran on Friday failed to bring about a settlement. Iran and Russia are main backers of the government while Turkey backs the opposition. “Idlib should not become the next massacre, the final massacre in the battles in Syria and common sense now needs to prevail,” Commissioner Hanny Megally told reporters after the release of the report. The civilian population “should not be held hostage to a war on terror.”

UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said last month that 10,000 al-Qaeda-linked fighters and their families are located in the densely populated region, which is now home to 2.9 million people. Many of those have been displaced from other parts of Syria in recent years. Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro said the presence of 3 million civilians in the area is “something that has to move the powers involved in the decision.”

“You are fighting 10,000 armed people, terrorists, and the 3 million population will be the price to fight,” said Pinheiro. “Of course we don’t have anything against fighting terrorists but something has to be done to protect the rights of the 3 million people and (including) 1 million children.” “All the other disasters would be minor events compared to what can happen in Idlib,” he said. The inquiry blamed the government for chlorine gas attacks during its offensive on eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus known as eastern Ghouta and on Idlib as well.

“To recapture eastern Ghouta in April, government forces launched numerous indiscriminate attacks in densely populated civilian areas, which included the use of chemical weapons,” the report said. It said in the Idlib attack, government helicopters dropped at least two barrels carrying chlorine payloads in the Taleel area near the town of Saraqeb.

The eastern Ghouta attack occurred in Douma. “The Commission concludes that, on these two occasions, government forces and/or affiliated militias committed the war crimes of using prohibited weapons and launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian populated areas in eastern Ghouta,” it said.

It said the Douma attacks occurred on Jan 22 and Feb 1. The report added that “specifically, the munitions documented were built around industrially produced Iranian artillery rockets known to have been supplied to forces commanded by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic.” The US, Britain and France launched a missile attack in April to punish President Bashar Assad for another chlorine attack that they blamed the government.

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