x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Turkey and US 'discuss no-fly zone' for Syria

Nato members and some Gulf states are discussing possible military intervention in Syria, according to a senior Russian security official.

BEIRUT // Nato members and some Gulf states are discussing possible military intervention in Syria, according to a senior Russian security official.

Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Security Council of Russia, said the United States and Turkey, both Nato members, were discussing the possibility of a no-fly zone.

"Working under the 'Libyan scenario', they intend to move from indirect intervention in Syria to direct military intervention," said Mr Patrushev, former head of the FSB, the intelligence agency that succeeded the Soviet-era KGB.

There has been speculation that the crisis in Syria might follow a trajectory similar to the uprising in Libya, where a Nato-imposed no-fly zone and bombing campaign helped to topple Muammar Qaddafi.

Some Syrian opposition groups, including the Free Syrian Army, have been calling for a no-fly zone and buffer zones to assist the 10-month revolt against the regime of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad. Russia is expected to oppose any Nato role.

The Arab League has taken the lead in attempts to end the violence in which the United Nations estimates more than 5,000 people have died. The Syrian government says 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed since the uprising began in March.

An observer mission sent to Syria by the 22-member league to monitor its peace plan has been heavily criticised.

Anwar Malek, a league monitor from Algeria, quit on Wednesday and says three more of his colleagues have done the same. His claim could not be independently verified.

"We were giving them cover to carry out the most repugnant actions, worse than what was taking place before the monitors came," Mr Malek said yesterday.

Mr Malek, who is now in Qatar, claims some monitors have been reporting to their own governments instead of to the Arab League.

An unnamed official at the Arab League dismissed the accusations, and said Mr Malek had been bedridden and was never in the field.

More than 400 people have been killed since the first monitors arrived on December 26, the UN says. At least 21 were killed yesterday, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a Syrian opposition group that documents the uprising and plans events on the ground.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi yesterday, Radwan Bin Khadra, an adviser to the Arab League secretary-general and head of its legal department, said he could not be sure no other observers would follow Mr Malek's lead.

"We hope the mission continues and brings about results and that there is co-operation with them."

He said the observers were scheduled to stay in the country until there was an end to the bloodshed, with political stability and a political solution. "The escalation of events is saddening," he said.

Gerard Peytrignet, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross's regional delegation in Kuwait, said ambulances were being prevented from reaching wounded civilians.

"We do not participate in fights, we have to be respected in all circumstances, we are not there to take sides, just help," he said.

Meanwhile questions remain about who was behind a mortar attack in Homs on Wednesday that left at least eight people dead, including a French journalist, Gilles Jacquier, who was on a government-organised visit to the city.

The French government has called for an investigation into the bombing.

The state-run Syrian news agency, Sana, said the attack was carried out by an "armed terrorist group". Some opposition groups have blamed the government.

The president, Mr Al Assad, has continued to maintain that foreign-backed extremist groups are behind the escalating violence.


* With additional reporting by Ola Salem in Abu Dhabi, Bloomberg and Reuters