Heavy Fighting in Syria; War of Words Between U.S. and Iran; Erdogan Does Not Expect U.S. Sanctions
Dozens killed in heavy fighting in northwest Syria
More than 100 combatants have been killed over the past 48 hours in fighting between Syrian forces and rebels in the country’s besieged northwest, AlJazeera reported.
Ongoing clashes and aerial bombardment centred on the village of Tal Meleh in the north of Hama province, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.
According to the Observatory, which has a network of sources on the ground in Syria, 89 opposition fighters were dead with 41 fatalities among government forces.
On Wednesday, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported “army operations” had been launched against the former wing of al-Qaeda – Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – in Tal Meleh and the surrounding countryside that it dominates.
“Bodies of the terrorists and their vehicles scattered in the surroundings of al-Jalmah village due to the strikes of the army,”SANA reported, without specifying a death toll.
Tal Meleh sits near the southwestern edge of Hama’s neighbouring Idlib province, which has come under increasing bombardment by Syrian government forces and warplanes from Russia, an ally of President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran, U.S. in war of words after U.S. drone shot down
Iran on Thursday shot down a U.S. military drone it said was on a spy mission over its territory but Washington said the aircraft was targeted in international air space in “an unprovoked attack”, Reuters reported.
The incident fanned fears of wider military conflict in the Middle East as U.S. President Donald Trump pursues a campaign of to isolate Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and role in regional wars.
It was the latest in an escalating series of incidents in the Gulf region, a critical artery for global oil supplies, since mid-May including explosive strikes on six oil tankers as Tehran and Washington have slid towards confrontation.
Iran has denied involvement in any of the attacks, but global jitters about a new Middle East conflagration disrupting oil exports have triggered a jump in crude prices. They surged by more than $3 to above $63 a barrel on Thursday.
Tensions flared with the U.S. pullout last year from world powers’ 2015 nuclear accord with Iran and have worsened as Washington imposed fresh sanctions to throttle Tehran’s vital oil trade and Iran retaliated earlier this week with a threat to breach limits on its nuclear activities imposed by the deal.
Upping the ante, Washington said on Monday it would deploy about 1,000 more troops, along with Patriot missiles and manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, to the Middle East on top of a 1,500-troop increase announced after the May tanker attacks.
Erdogan does not expect U.S. sanctions on Turkey over Russia deal
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday he did not expect the United States to impose sanctions on Turkey over its planned purchase of a Russian missile defence system, but would retaliate if it did, Reuters reported.
Speaking at a rare news conference for foreign media in Istanbul, Erdogan repeated that the purchase of Russian S-400 systems was a ‘done deal’ and said the United States should think carefully before imposing sanctions on Turkey, a NATO member.
“I say this very openly and sincerely, our relations with (President Donald) Trump are at a place that I can call really good … In the event of any issues, we immediately work the phones,” Erdogan said.
“I do not see any possibility of these sanctions happening,” Erdogan said. But he said Turkey would not remain silent if they were imposed. “The U.S. has to think about this very carefully. We will have sanctions of our own.”