Two Turkish soldiers have been killed and two others wounded in an air strike in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib as Turkey-backed Syrian rebels regained a key town during heavy fighting.
Hours after the seizure of Saraqeb, Syrian government forces launched a major counterattack.
The retaking of Saraqeb that sits on the highway is a setback for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces who have scored major gains in a weeks-long Russian-backed campaign in the last rebel stronghold in Idlib province.
The latest casualties brought the number of Turkish security personnel killed during the Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in Idlib this month to 19. Over the past weeks, Turkey sent thousands of troops into the province.
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Turkey-backed Syrian rebels said on Thursday they recaptured the strategic town – the first significant reverse for the Syrian army operation that has made swift gains.
From inside Saraqeb, activist Taher al-Omar said the town was now under opposition control. He posted a video with a fighter saying the government forces “ran away like rats”.
Three weeks ago, opposition fighters lost the key northwestern town at the junction of two main highways following rapid advances by Syrian forces in their bid to retake Idlib.
“The city of Saraqeb has been liberated completely from Assad’s gangs,” Naji al-Mustafa, a spokesman for a Turkey-backed coalition of rebel factions, the National Liberation Front, said in a statement.
Syria’s state news agency SANA acknowledged there were “fierce clashes” between the army and “terrorist groups on the Saraqeb front”.
State media reported intense clashes near Saraqeb, saying rebels sent suicide car bombs and Turkish forces bombarded the area. It said a small group of insurgents reached the highway to score a “propaganda stunt”, adding “Syrian troops are dealing with them.”
‘Pounding rebel positions’
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Alhelbarra, reporting from Hatay, Turkey, said it remained to be seen whether the opposition fighters could hold the town.
“The Syrian army and the Russian military are now mounting a counteroffensive, pounding rebel positions and trying to hold their advance. It will be extremely difficult for the rebels to continue their control of Saraqeb against the backdrop of air strikes by Russian and Syrian forces,” he said.
Damascus, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian armed groups, launched the offensive to take back the last rebel bastion of Idlib.
Nearly one million people have been forced to flee their homes since December in the largest displacement since the civil war in Syria broke out almost nine years ago.
Attacks on Turkish forces have caused severe tensions between the Syrian government’s key ally Russia and Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed again on Wednesday to launch a major military operation to push back Syrian forces if they did not retreat behind Turkish-held areas by the end of February.
Ibrahim al-Idlibi, an opposition figure in touch with fighters on the ground, said the seizure of the town was key for the rebels, who in recent days lost a string of significant territory in southern Idlib province and the Jabal al-Zawiya highlands.
“The rebels this morning completed their control of Saraqeb after having advanced from several fronts. This eases the pressure after the Syrian army’s recent gains,” Idlibi said.
Syria’s Idlib sees ghost towns as hundreds of thousands flee
Saraqeb links the capital, Damascus, and its second-largest city Aleppo, as well as another highway west to the Mediterranean.
Taking back the M5 highway from opposition fighters marked a big gain for al-Assad’s forces as they restored state control over the route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years of conflict.
Opening major highways to revive a shattered war economy has been a key goal of the campaign.
“The opposition has now cut the highways and brought the regime to square one,” said Syrian opposition defector, General Ahmad Rahhal.
The opposition advance on Saraqeb comes ahead of an end-February deadline set by Erdogan for al-Assad’s forces to pull back from territory that Turkey says is part of a buffer zone agreed with Russia.
UK-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday that Russian-backed government forces had seized full control of southern Idlib province after a series of advances against the rebels.
Syrian forces have seized about 60 towns and villages in southern Idlib and the adjoining province of Hama over the last three days, the Syrian Observatory said, adding more than 60 fighters were killed on both sides since Wednesday.
Russian diplomats and military officials were set to hold a second round of negotiations with their Turkish counterparts on Thursday.
Ankara has sent thousands of troops and truckloads of equipment into Syria’s northwest across its border to back the rebels and set up new military outposts.
Turkey vows to drive Syrian forces back from Idlib
Myanmar soldiers ‘in Hague after confessing to killing Rohingya’ |NationalTribune.com
Two Myanmar soldiers have been taken to The Hague after confessing to murdering Rohingya minority during a 2017 crackdown, two news organisations and a rights group have reported. The two men admitted to killing dozens of villagers in northern Rakhine state and burying them in mass graves, according to the New York Times, the Canadian…
Two Myanmar soldiers have been taken to The Hague after confessing to murdering Rohingya minority during a 2017 crackdown, two news organisations and a rights group have reported.
The two men admitted to killing dozens of villagers in northern Rakhine state and burying them in mass graves, according to the New York Times, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the non-profit Fortify Rights, citing statements the men made on videos filmed in Myanmar this year.
Reuters news agency on Tuesday said it has not seen the videos cited by the news organisations.
The New York Times said it could not independently confirm that the two soldiers committed the crimes to which they confessed.
Myanmar government and military spokesmen did not answer calls seeking comment.
US law firm says Myanmar committed genocide against Rohingya
The reports said the men had been in the custody of the Arakan Army group, which is now fighting Myanmar government troops in Rakhine state, when they made the admissions and were later taken to The Hague in the Netherlands, where they could appear as witnesses or face trial.
It was not clear from the reports how the men fell into the hands of the Arakan Army, why they were speaking, or how they were transported to The Hague and under whose authority.
A spokesman for the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, said it did not have the men in custody.
“No. These reports are not correct. We don’t have these persons in the ICC custody,” said the spokesman, Fadi el Abdallah.
Payam Akhavan, a Canadian lawyer representing Bangladesh in a filing against Myanmar at the ICC, said the two men had appeared at a border post requesting the protection of the government and had confessed to the mass murder and rape of Rohingya civilians in 2017.
“All I can say is that those two individuals are no longer in Bangladesh,” he said.
A spokesman for the Arakan Army, Khine Thu Kha, said the two men were deserters and were not held as prisoners of war.
He did not comment further on where the men were now but said the group was “committed to justice” for all victims of the Myanmar military.
Myanmar has repeatedly denied allegations of genocide, saying its military operations in 2017 were targeting Rohingya rebels who attacked police border posts.
Speaking from the Hague, Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen said that the case had been stalled for a long time because Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the basis for ICC. But with Bangladesh being a signatory, the ICC has ruled that is has jurisdiction over the case
“Part of the crimes that happened in Myanmar, were happening in Bangladesh as well. For example, the forced deportations, where hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya were deported to Bangladesh. That’s why the case has been speeding up since last November,” she said.
“The court has ordered the investigation to be continued and if we have these two former military men… if they say they were involved and have given a very detailed account of what they did and who was with them, then this will be an enormous move for this investigation.”
Commenting from Amman, Antonia Mulvey, executive director of Legal Action Worldwide, said that if the evidence turns out to be credible, it would be a huge push for the investigation.
“While the ICC has made no comment on whether or not they have them [the men] in custody, the stories [of the soldiers] are said to be credible and corroborative,” she said explaining that the statements included a mention of ordered killings and rape.
“While they [the soldiers] may be very low in the ranks, we hope more will come forward. There was shown to be a clear chain of command,” she added.
The ICC is investigating the crime against humanity of forced deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh, as well as persecution and other human rights violations.
“The office does not publicly comment on speculation or reports regarding its ongoing investigations, neither does the office discuss specifics of any aspect of its investigative activities,” a statement from the ICC prosecutor’s office said.
Myanmar is also facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague, though that body does not bring cases against individuals or hear witnesses.
In 2015, before the alleged 2017 genocide, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit revealed the inner workings of the Myanmar regime, drawing on documents from the Myanmar military, an unpublished United Nations report and other government paperwork.
Those documents, assessed by Yale University Law School and the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London, constituted “strong evidence” of a state-led genocide according to experts.
Soldiers in uniform appear during American Samoa DNC roll call vote
Two soldiers appeared in uniform for the Democratic National Convention’s Tuesday evening nomination of Joe Biden as its presidential nominee. Their presence during American Samoa’s turn in the official roll call vote raises potentially thorny issues about military involvement in politics, ABC News reported. U.S. military members, like all citizens, may support political candidates, but…
Two soldiers appeared in uniform for the Democratic National Convention’s Tuesday evening nomination of Joe Biden as its presidential nominee.
Their presence during American Samoa’s turn in the official roll call vote raises potentially thorny issues about military involvement in politics, ABC News reported.
U.S. military members, like all citizens, may support political candidates, but only on their own time and never while wearing their uniforms, a point that military leaders specifically emphasize to members.
American Samoa delivers its delegate votes at the #DNCConvention with what appears to be two uniformed service members in the background, which is potentially a problem. pic.twitter.com/RG581SWZTo
— Leo Shane III (@LeoShane) August 19, 2020
“All members of the Armed Forces … are prohibited from wearing military uniforms at political campaign or election events,” the Defense Department said in a statement cited Tuesday evening by Leo Shane, Military Times deputy editor.
The soldiers flank two of American Samoa’s Democratic delegates casting the territory’s votes before an iconic South Pacific backdrop.
The faces of the two junior enlisted personnel were hidden behind pandemic-era masks but their names are clearly visible on the uniform.
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Four soldiers killed in Azerbaijan-Armenia border clashes |NationalTribune.com
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh [File: Karen Minasyan/AFP] Four Azerbaijani soldiers have been killed as troops from Azerbaijan and Armenia have clashed on their border in a new escalation of their decades-long territorial dispute. Three of the soldiers were killed on Sunday and one on Monday in the artillery…
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh [File: Karen Minasyan/AFP]
Four Azerbaijani soldiers have been killed as troops from Azerbaijan and Armenia have clashed on their border in a new escalation of their decades-long territorial dispute.
Three of the soldiers were killed on Sunday and one on Monday in the artillery fire that erupted on Sunday near Tavush region, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defence said on Monday.
The clashes also injured two Armenian troops and five Azerbaijani soldiers.
Armenia’s defence ministry said Azerbaijan resumed shelling its positions on Monday morning after a night of clashes.
The countries have traded accusations over which side started the fighting.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told a cabinet meeting that Azerbaijani “provocations will not be unanswered”.
Armenia’s Defence Minister David Tonoyan warned that Yerevan “will be reacting to Azerbaijani actions, including by taking advantageous positions” in their territory.
He said Armenian forces “do not shell civilian targets in Azerbaijan and only target the engineering infrastructure and technical facilities of the Azerbaijani armed forces”.
Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan discussed the crisis over the phone with the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Russia-led military bloc.
Referring to the military alliance, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s office said on Sunday Armenia’s “military adventure” was aimed at drawing CSTO into the fighting.
Turkey’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement, backing Azerbaijan.
“Turkey will continue, with all its capacity, to stand by Azerbaijan in its struggle to protect its territorial integrity,” the ministry said.
All-out war between the two countries could drag in regional powers including Armenia’s military ally Russia and Azerbaijan’s patron Turkey, which compete for geopolitical influence in the strategic region.
Former Soviet republics Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a simmering conflict for about 30 years over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway territory which was at the centre of a bloody war in the 1990s.
The continuing clashes are far from Karabakh and are directly between the two Caucasus states, which happens rarely.
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