Ankara, Turkey – Since last April, Syrian government forces have conducted an off-and-on military campaign to retake the final rebel stronghold in northwestern Idlib province. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed while hundreds of thousands of others have been displaced.
In the early hours of Monday, the offensive took a dramatic and potentially critical turn when forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed eight Turkish military and civil personnel.
Turkey’s operation in Syria exposed Europe’s double standards
Turkey deploys tanks to Syrian border amid fresh Idlib violence
In Pictures: Exodus in Syria’s Idlib as conflict escalates
“Since the start of the offensive, we’ve seen a cycle whereby the regime forces attack, Turkey complains and Russia intervenes to slow the attacks. Then the process starts again,” said Ahmet Evin, a senior scholar at Sabanci University’s Istanbul Policy Centre
“This time could be different because the killing of Turkish soldiers raises the stakes considerably.”
The escalation has threatened to damage relations between Moscow and Ankara. Despite supporting opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Libya, the two countries have been moving closer in recent years with growing energy, defence and trade ties.
The Turkish deaths came on the eve of a visit to Ukraine by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who used the trip to call on Russia to honour the 2017 Astana agreement that seeks to pave the way for a political solution in Syria.
It also established a number of “de-escalation zones” in Syria, including Idlib province, which Ankara said have been violated by Assad’s forces.
Even before the latest developments, Erdogan said Syrian government advances meant there was “no such thing as the Astana process any more”.
Alexey Khlebnikov, a Middle East expert and Russian foreign policy analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow, said Erdogan could be overestimating the Kremlin’s power over al-Assad.
“Russia can’t make Assad do whatever it wants,” he said. “Moscow had significant difficulties with Damascus in the past and I don’t see Moscow as being in full control of what Damascus is doing on the ground.”
Ankara has also failed to follow the demands of Astana, such as separating “moderate” Turkey-backed fighters from radicals or preventing attacks on a Russian airbase, Khlebnikov added.
Despite the apparent fracture in Turkey-Russia relations, Ali Bakeer, an Ankara-based political analyst and researcher, said cooperation between them was deep enough to weather such a rift.
“There’s a deep relationship between Turkey and Russia and they have common interests on many levels,” he said. Among these ties are a Black Sea gas pipeline unveiled last month and an air defence deal that has caused concern among Turkey’s NATO allies.
In particular, Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin appear to have a good personal relationship, often referring to one another as “dear friend” when they meet. In a sign that the two countries were working to repair the damage from the latest escalation, they spoke directly on the phone on Tuesday.
In the call, Erdogan told Putin that the attack on Turkish military personnel had damaged joint peace efforts and that Turkey would defend itself in case of a similar attack, the Turkish presidency said.
In its report on the same phone call, the Kremlin said the leaders agreed to take immediate measures to improve coordination of their countries’ actions in Syria.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had already spoken with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Monday. The following day Cavusoglu told a meeting in Ankara that the Astana process and last year’s Sochi deal with Russia over Syria “did not disappear completely but the damage has started”.
He added: “We want to give momentum to the political process as soon as possible, along with a permanent ceasefire and a constitutional commission. But there’s no way we can tolerate attacks on us.”
Turkish and Russian cooperation in northeast Syria, where Turkey’s operation against Kurdish forces in October was brought to an end by Russian mediation, seemed to suffer a setback. Turkish broadcaster NTV reported that joint a Turkish-Russian patrol in the border region was cancelled on Monday.
“These two things are parallel,” Khlebnikov said. “There may be some trade-off between Turkey and Syria over Idlib and the northeast, which is more important for Turkey.”
Idlib is where opposition forces dominated by Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, a former al-Qaeda affiliate, are making a last stand against government forces backed by Russian airpower. Among the anti-Assad fighters are groups backed by Turkey.
Under an agreement reached with Russia last year, Turkey has 12 military observation posts dotted around Idlib, some of which have become engulfed by al-Assad’s troops.
The Turkish deaths happened near Saraqib, a town that lies at the junction of the strategically important M4 and M5 highways where Turkey deployed extra troops at the weekend.
Turkey responded with attacks on Syrian positions that, according to a war monitor, led to 13 Syrian fatalities. Turkey claimed to have “neutralised” – a term it applies to killed, wounded or captured enemies – more than 70 “regime members”. The Syrian government made no immediate statements on any casualties.
As well as protecting the rebel groups that it backs, Turkey is concerned about hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians who, according to Erdogan, have fled towards the Turkish border to escape the Syrian assault.
Turkey is currently home to around 3.6 million Syrians and the presence of such a large refugee community has become a contentious domestic political issue.
“Turkey knows the inevitable outcome of Idlib falling is a fresh wave of refugees, which would cause problems for Erdogan domestically,” said Kamal Alam, a UK-based military analyst who wrote a recent article on Turkey-Syria relations.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, waves of civilians continued to flee their homes on Tuesday as regime troops pushed towards Idlib city and Russian jets bombed targets.
The UK-based war monitoring group said most were escaping towards the Turkish border or parts of Syria’s Aleppo province under Turkish control while others were trying to cross into Turkey itself with the help of smugglers.
Poverty ‘could surge to over 1 billion’: Coronavirus live updates |NationalTribune.com
A vaccine against COVID-19 developed by United States biotech firm Moderna will enter the third and final stage of its clinical trial in July with 30,000 participants, the manufacturer has announced. Russia surpassed 500,000 coronavirus cases after 8,779 new infections were reported by health officials. The death toll stands at 6,532, a number the World…
A vaccine against COVID-19 developed by United States biotech firm Moderna will enter the third and final stage of its clinical trial in July with 30,000 participants, the manufacturer has announced.
Russia surpassed 500,000 coronavirus cases after 8,779 new infections were reported by health officials. The death toll stands at 6,532, a number the World Health Organization (WHO) has cast doubt over.
Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, whose modelling helped set the United Kingdom’s coronavirus strategy, says the country’s death toll could have been halved if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier. The UK has more than 291,000 cases and at least 41,000 deaths.
Students’ mental health is in focus in post-lockdown China, amid an increase in the number of suicides. In one Shanghai district, there have been 14 suicides by primary and secondary school students so far this year.
More than 7.48 million people have now been confirmed to have the coronavirus and at least 420,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Here are the latest updates:
Friday, June 12
03:30 GMT – Beijing reports first local infection in weeks
China has reported seven new coronavirus cases, including the first instance of local transmission in Beijing in weeks.
Authorities said the other six cases were all brought into the country by Chinese citizens arriving from abroad. No new deaths were reported.
Officials in Beijing say the locally transmitted case involves a 52-year-old man who arrived alone at a clinic displaying an intermittent fever but no other symptoms. He was swiftly diagnosed as having COVID-19, prompting authorities to isolate family members and reinstate anti-virus measures in his neighbourhood.
The man said he had not left Beijing for more than two weeks and had not been in contact with anyone from outside the city.
A street vendor selling sweets waits for customers along a street in Beijing on June 11, 2020 [Noel Celis/ AFP]
02:46 GMT – Double lung transplant saves young virus patient
Surgeons in Chicago in the United States have given a new set of lungs to a young woman with severe lung damage from the coronavirus.
Only a few other COVID-19 survivors, in China and Europe, have received lung transplants. The patient, who is in her 20s, was on a ventilator and heart-lung machine for almost two months before her operation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
The 10-hour procedure was challenging because the virus had left the patient’s lungs full of holes and almost fused to the chest wall, said Dr Ankit Bharat, who performed the operation.
“This important milestone indicates that, while the transplant procedure in these patients is quite challenging technically, it can be done safely,” he said. “And it offers the terminally ill COVID-19 patients another option for survival.”
“For many days, she was the sickest person in the COVID ICU and possibly the entire hospital.” A woman in her 20s is the first #COVID19 patient to receive a double-lung transplant @NorthwesternMed. Details from the press conference: https://t.co/sl7QkZuKvI. #COVIDLungTransplant pic.twitter.com/orka3YBhzj
— NM Media Relations (@NMHC_News) June 11, 2020
02:27 GMT – Report says UK BAME groups must get targeted health advice
An unpublished United Kingdom government report said that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups in the UK should be given targeted health advice in the event of a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, according to Sky News.
Earlier this month, a Public Health England report revealed that Black and Asian people in the UK are up to 50 percent more likely to die after being infected with COVID-19.
01:26 GMT – Famed Thai temple bars foreigners entry
One of Thailand’s major tourist attractions is barring entry to foreigners, professing fear that they could spread the coronavirus.
Signs seen Thursday morning at the main gate of Wat Pho, the Buddhist temple adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, said in English: “Open for Thai only,” “ONLY THAI PEOPLE,” and “NOW NOT OPEN FOR FOREIGNERS.”
The temple is one of the country’s grandest, with murals and gold trim covering many surfaces, but is best known for housing the 46-metre-long (151-foot-long) Reclining Buddha, which is covered in gold leaf.
One of Wat Pho’s administrative staff explained by phone that the temple committee decided to exclude foreigners because of concerns about COVID-19. However, there is no known government order to ban foreigners from the temple.
In this March 13, 2020 photo, a tourist wearing a protective mask walks in front of the giant Buddha at Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, Thailand [Sakchai Lalit/ AP]
00:46 GMT – Hundreds of suspected child virus deaths in Indonesia
Hundreds of children in Indonesia are believed to have died from COVID-19, giving the Southeast Asian country one of the world’s highest rates of child deaths from the new coronavirus.
Since Indonesia announced its first coronavirus case in March, it has recorded 2,000 deaths, the highest in East Asia outside of China.
A total of 715 people under 18 had contracted the coronavirus, while 28 had died, according to a health ministry document dated May 22 and reviewed by Reuters news agency.
Indonesia also recorded more than 380 deaths among 7,152 children classified as “patients under monitoring”, meaning people with severe coronavirus symptoms for which there is no other explanation but whose tests have not confirmed the infection.
Indonesia’s Jakarta is reopening after weeks of lockdown (2:39)
Even the official figure for children who have died of the coronavirus, at 28 as of May 22, would give Indonesia a high rate of child deaths, at 2.1 percent of its total. In comparison, deaths for those aged under 24 in the US are a little over 0.1 percent of that country’s fatalities.
“COVID-19 proves that we have to fight against malnutrition,” Achmad Yurianto, a senior health ministry official, told Reuters.
He said Indonesian children were caught in a “devil’s circle”, a cycle of malnutrition and anaemia that increased their vulnerability to the coronavirus. He compared malnourished children to weak structures that “crumble after an earthquake”.
00:17 GMT – Puerto Rico to reopen beaches, gyms
Wanda Vazquez, the governor of Puerto Rico, announced that she will lift nearly all restrictions aimed at curbing coronavirus cases, which means beaches, churches and businesses including movie theatres and gyms across the US territory will reopen after three months.
The changes will occur starting on June 16, Vazquez said, when businesses also will be allowed to operate seven days a week and restaurants at 50 percent capacity. However, she tweaked an ongoing curfew that will remain in place for two weeks from 10pm to 5am.
Vazquez also said Puerto Rico will be officially ready to welcome tourists starting July 15 and that airport screenings will continue.
Many stranded in Philippines capital after losing jobs amid pandemic (2:39)
00:07 GMT – Number of extreme poor ‘could rise to 1.1 billion’
The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could plunge an extra 395 million people into extreme poverty and swell the total number of those living on less than $1.90 a day worldwide to more than one billion, according to a new report.
The document – published by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) – played through a number of scenarios, taking into account the World Bank’s various poverty lines – from extreme poverty, defined as living on $1.90 a day or less, to higher poverty lines of living on less than $5.50 a day.
Under the worst scenario – a 20 percent contraction in per capita income or consumption – the number of those living in extreme poverty could rise to 1.12 billion. The same contraction, applied to the $5.50 threshold among upper-middle-income countries, could see more than 3.7 billion people – or just over half the world’s population – live below this poverty line.
“The outlook for the world’s poorest looks grim unless governments do more and do it quickly and make up the daily loss of income the poor face,” said Andy Sumner, one of the report’s authors.
“The result,” he said, “is progress on poverty reduction could be set back 20 to 30 years, making the UN goal of ending poverty look like a pipe dream.”
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives.
You can find all the updates from yesterday, June 11, here.
Could The 4-Day Work Week Be the Way to Recover From Coronavirus? New Zealand Thinks So.
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested that the country should consider moving to a four day work week in order to encourage domestic tourism as the country looks beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Ardern said in a Facebook Live video earlier this…
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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested that the country should consider moving to a four day work week in order to encourage domestic tourism as the country looks beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ardern said in a Facebook Live video earlier this week that the decision “sits between employers and employees,” but that shortening the work week could ultimately boost productivity and help stimulate the country’s economy.
“I’d really encourage people to think about that if you’re an employer and in a position to do so,” Ardern said. “To think about if that’s something that would work for your workplace because it certainly would help tourism all around the country.”
The New Zealand government adopted strict lockdown measures in March, with one study showing that without aggressive action, the country could see an infection rate as high as 89% and as many as 80,000 deaths. Instead, the country of 4.9 million has virtually eliminated the pandemic, seeing just 21 deaths so far and going on its third day with no new cases, according to its tracker.
The country has also seen relative success at limiting economic losses due to the virus. Just an additional 1.6% of the country’s workforce had applied for unemployment as of April 17, helped by a “job seeker” benefit that offers USD320 to businesses per employee per week that continue to pay 80% of worker salaries, according to the centrist Brookings Institute.
Even prior to the pandemic, the idea of the four day work week had been gaining traction in labor and social democratic parties across Europe and the English-speaking world.
Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin has spoken favorably of a shortened number of work days or hours per day as a long-term goal for her party, and a four day work week proposal was part of the UK Labour Party’s manifesto before its crushing defeat at the polls last December. France famously adopted a 35-hour work week in 2000, which has been a point of contention basically ever since.
Ardern’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has made her the country’s most popular prime minister in nearly a century, a poll showed earlier this week, putting her party on track for a huge victory in parliamentary elections later this year. Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark attributed Ardern’s success to her background as a “communicator” in an interview with the Atlantic last month.
“This is the kind of crisis which will make or break leaders,” Clark said. “And this will make Jacinda.”
Cover: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a press conference after the 2020 budget at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, May 14, 2020. New Zealand’s government plans to borrow and spend vast amounts of money as it tries to keep unemployment below 10% in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. (Hagen Hopkins/Pool Photo via AP)
Could the oil price crisis radically redefine US-Saudi relations?
An armada of tankers laden with an estimated 50 million barrels of Saudi Arabian crude is heading towards United States shores – cargo US shale oil producers regard as a foreign invasion delivered by a lower-cost competitor hell-bent on driving them out of business. For President Donald Trump, the timing is particularly vexing. With US…
An armada of tankers laden with an estimated 50 million barrels of Saudi Arabian crude is heading towards United States shores – cargo US shale oil producers regard as a foreign invasion delivered by a lower-cost competitor hell-bent on driving them out of business.
For President Donald Trump, the timing is particularly vexing. With US voters heading to the polls in November, Trump is under fire for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, while the US economy – a cornerstone of his re-election campaign – is being annihilated by lockdowns.
Now an oil price crash rooted in COVID-19 disruptions and aggravated by Saudi shenanigans has many US oil firms staring down the barrel of bankruptcy. Last week, prices of US benchmark crude turned negative for the first time ever. Tens of thousands of energy jobs in Republican-controlled states are at risk of vanishing. US lawmakers who previously supported the status quo in US-Saudi relations are calling for a ban on crude imports from the kingdom.
More ominously for Saudi Arabia, the threat posed to the US shale patch has landed the 75-year-old alliance between Washington and Riyadh firmly in the electoral crosshairs, heaping pressure on Trump to make good on his signature campaign motto to put “America first”.
The latest inflection point
Despite diametrically opposed core values, the US-Saudi relationship has held together for three-quarters of a century on the strength of mutual security and business interests. But the marriage of convenience has been far from frictionless.
The 1973 oil embargo by the Saudi-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) helped push the US economy into recession. Images of American motorists queuing in petrol lines are still etched in the nation’s collective consciousness. The kingdom is also inextricably linked with the 9/11 attacks carried out by 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals.
Over the past two decades, whenever oil prices become uncomfortable for US consumers and businesses, the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act (NOPEC) tends to rear its head on Capitol Hill. By taking aim at OPEC price fixing, the legislation, which has struggled through the years to find White House support, would strip Saudi Arabia of the sovereign immunity that shields it from a potential tsunami of lawsuits in the US.
The Saudis have also had their grievances with Washington. Riyadh famously bristled at the Obama administration’s efforts to defuse tensions with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s fiercest regional rival.
But the relationship between Riyadh and the White House warmed significantly when Trump took up residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
To the kingdom’s delight, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the Iran-nuclear deal in 2018 and went on to slap Tehran with relentless rounds of economic sanctions.
Trump has vigorously supported weapons sales to Riyadh despite its abysmal record on human rights, while his son-in-law Jared Kushner has forged a close relationship with the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
But politicians in Congress have not been nearly as willing to ignore troubling behaviour by Riyadh.
MBS’s disastrous military campaign in Yemen and the profound humanitarian crisis it has spawned prompted efforts in Congress to block weapons sales to Riyadh. US politicians on both sides of the aisle were horrified by the murder of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi – an assassination US intelligence concluded had been ordered by MBS.
But the existential threat to the US oil and gas sector – and the more than 150,000 Americans directly employed by it – has prompted a backlash against Saudi Arabia arguably not seen since the 1970s.
“The United States-Saudi Arabia relationship was in trouble before the coronavirus and oil double-crisis,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project.
“The Saudis are now losing support across the board politically. Trump and his son-in-law Jared are the only holdouts and that is not a good place to be when oil prices are so low,” Riedel told Al Jazeera.
Price routs and rhetoric
Oil prices started to retreat in January and February as COVID-19 marched across the globe, decimating demand. But they fell off a cliff in March after Saudi Arabia initiated an oil price war in retaliation for Russia’s refusal to back Riyadh’s calls for deep output cuts.
The resulting market carnage roiled US shale oil producers, especially firms that took on heavy debts to drill new wells when prices were higher.
With a strategically crucial industry on the ropes and tens of thousands of jobs on the line, Republicans in Congress – led by legislators from states whose fortunes depend heavily on a thriving domestic oil patch – amped up the rhetoric.
The Saudis were accused of engaging in “economic warfare”. On March 24, Senators Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Dan Sullivan of Arkansas introduced the Strained Partnership Act calling for the removal of US troops and military equipment from Saudi Arabia unless it slashed output.
As Congressional pressure piled on, Trump personally appealed to MBS and Russian President Vladimir Putin to call a truce and stabilise oil markets.
During a phone call on April 2, Trump told MBS he could not stop US politicians from passing The Strained Partnership Act if OPEC did not curb production, Reuters News Agency reported on Thursday, citing sources familiar with the matter.
Trump’s diplomatic efforts culminated in an April 12 agreement by OPEC and its allies to scale back production by a record 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd).
But coronavirus has crushed demand by at least 30 million bpd. So while the historic production cut deal rendered the Strained Partnership Act moot, it failed to arrest, let alone reverse the oil price crash. Or calls for Trump to get tough with the Saudis.
“Trump thinks he delivered the deal of the century for everyone a few weeks ago – it doesn’t seem to be working out that way,” Tarik Yousef, senior fellow and director at Brookings Doha Center told Al Jazeera. “At some point, he will have to reinvent his own message.”
Indeed the price rout has since gotten worse as crude supplies continue to overwhelm demand.
Analysts estimate the storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma – where US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude is delivered – will reach capacity sometime next month.
That prospect triggered yet another historic milestone in oil markets last week when the price of WTI for May delivery plunged to negative $40 a barrel as investors paid to have oil taken off their hands rather than get stuck with crude they have nowhere to stash.
That same day, Trump said he would look into a proposal by Senator Cramer of Oklahoma calling on the White House to block Saudi Arabian oil shipments to the US.
“We cannot allow Saudi Arabia to flood the market, especially given our storage capacity dwindling. Right now, the highest number of Saudi oil tankers in years is on its way to our shores,” Cramer said.
But some analysts say such calls will not fix the underlying problem, nor are they likely to find real traction with the White House.
“While a discussion about a Saudi flotilla of oil is a popular rhetorical device, in practice it really doesn’t do much to reverse the oil dynamics,” Reed Blakemore, deputy director of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center told Al Jazeera. “The President is aware of how much that would contradict the sentiment behind his negotiations with the Russians and Saudis. ”
Rhetoric and reality
The trajectory of oil prices ultimately hinges on how quickly demand will rebound and how long it takes to draw down the glut.
“At some point, the consequence for Saudi Arabia and Saudi-US relations will crystallise, especially when the US shale and oil industry is really disseminated,” said Yousef. “The big question is how much of this is temporary and how much of it is permanent.”
Like the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the outlook for oil prices and US producers is cloaked in uncertainty. But there are possible lifelines Trump could throw to struggling US oil firms that do not involve punitive measures against Riyadh.
“The administration is exploring a range of options to try to provide a bit of a safety net to oil and gas companies, including SPR [Strategic Petroleum Reserve] buys to alleviate the storage crisis,” said Blakemore.
The Trump administration is also considering offering bridge loans to struggling US energy firms, possibly in exchange for a financial stake, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday, citing sources familiar with the matter.
Given the unprecedented and innovative measures that have been deployed to shore up businesses against the ravages of the coronavirus, some analysts say legislation like NOPEC that could complicate US foreign policy objectives, is unlikely to come out of hibernation.
“While the US has a limited hand to save US Shale, it recognises that a bill like NOPEC will likely do more harm than good,” said Blakemore. “The president has remained committed to having a productive and pragmatic relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is an important element of this situation.”
But with an election less than seven months away and an economy that is already shrinking dramatically, that commitment could be sorely tested.
“My intuitive feeling is the president is hoping this will wash away soon but I don’t think it’s going to,” said Yousef. “The impact even with recovery and some of the demand coming back will not come on time for him. He will do what he does best: start pointing his finger and blaming others for whatever damage has been done.”
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