At least two civilians have been killed in air raids launched by Russian military jets on several villages in Syria’s northwest Idlib province, according to activists and rescuers.
The attacks on Monday were the first since a ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia came into effect more than three months ago, helping halt major fighting in Syria’s last rebel-held enclave.
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The air raids hit a string of villages in Jabal al-Zawiya, southern Idlib, and in towns in Sahl al-Ghab, an area bordering neighbouring Hama province.
Waleed Asslan, a member of the Syrian Civil Defence – also known as the White Helmets, a volunteer search-and-rescue group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria – said two people were killed after their homes were stuck in the attacks.
“Two people died so far and three others were injured in the town of al-Maouzrah,” Asslan told Al Jazeera from the town of Ariha.
He said men, women and children were fleeing from their homes in Jabal al-Zawiya towards the north fearing more air raids.
Obaidah Dandoush, a pro-opposition activist in the area, confirmed the two deaths and said at least 12 towns were targeted as civilians fled.
“There are two civilian deaths and several injuries so far,” Dandoush told Al Jazeera, identifying the two civilians as Mostafa al-Hamsho, 30, and Hussein al-Aboud, 38.
There was no immediate comment by the Syrian government or Russian officials.
Fleeing to safety
The ceasefire, negotiated in March by opposition backer Turkey and Syrian government ally Russia, halted a bloody three-month air and ground campaign that killed hundreds of people.
It also created the worst displacement crisis of the war in Syria, now in its 10th year. Nearly one million people were forced to flee, with many seeking shelter in the already overcrowded camps near the sealed border with Turkey.
While some had returned to their homes over the past three months, most remained in the area near the Turkish border.
According to Asslan, families who fled towards the border on Monday were fleeing for the second time this year.
Home to some three million people, the Idlib region of the northwest is controlled by Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaeda affiliate, and other rebel groups.
In the past, Russia has cited the HTS’s presence as the reason for attacking areas in Syria’s Idlib.
Last week, Russian air raids targeted Sahl al-Ghab but no injuries were reported.
At the time, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a United Kingdom-based war monitor, said the attacks were intended to push opposition fighters away from the key M4 highway in northern Syria, where Turkish and Russian forces often conduct joint patrols as part of the truce agreement.
They were also intended to push HTS and its allies further away from the Sahl al-Ghab area, where government and Russian forces are present, it added.
After holding barely a fifth of the country five years ago, Russian intervention has helped the government reclaim control of more than 70 percent of Syria.
In the northwest, HTS and its allies control about half of Idlib province and slivers of territory in the neighbouring provinces of Hama, Latakia and Aleppo.
In recent years, Moscow and Ankara have become the main power-brokers in Syria, shattered by a civil war since 2011.
The war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more.
Additional reporting by Farah Najjar
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.
“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.
Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.
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The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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