Global community now sees Turkey’s key role in Syria

01 March 2017 Wednesday

The international community is beginning to realize Ankara’s crucial role in paving the way for a permanent solution in war-torn Syria thanks to the ongoing Turkey-led operations, head of Syrian Turkmen Assembly in Turkey said Wednesday.

The Turkey-led Operation Euphrates Shield began late August 2016 to improve security, support coalition forces and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border using Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters backed by Turkish artillery and jets.

“Wherever Turkey goes to clear terrorists from an area and provide security, it succeeds,” Emin Bozoglan, who is currently in Geneva to attend the Syria peace talks, told Anadolu Agency over the phone.

He said Turkey’s power in the international arena was now more apparent due to the successful Operation Euphrates Shield, adding this could also be observed at the talks in Geneva.

“The PYD [PKK terrorist group’s affiliate in Syria] is not at the table because Turkey doesn’t want it and this is the right approach,” he said.

According to Bozoglan, the recent liberation of Jarabulus city as well as the strategic Al-Bab town in Syria is a positive development not only for Turkey’s national security but also for the Syrian opposition who want a terrorist-free Syria.

He added the Syrian opposition always supports the territorial integrity of Syria and blamed the international community for backing terrorist groups.

“The U.S. government is supporting PYD and it threatens peace in Syria. If they [the U.S.] leave Syria to the Syrian people, peace can be achieved,” Bozoglan said.

The PYD is a Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which is recognized as a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and U.S. While Turkey considers PYD/YPG as Syrian affiliates of the PKK, neither the EU nor the U.S. regard the groups as its offshoots.

Turkey-backed forces have killed more than 3,000 ISIL terrorists — as well as some PKK/PYD elements — in northern Syria under Operation Euphrates Shield, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish government has long said it would not participate in any formation in the region where the PKK/PYD is included.

Ankara has repeatedly said one terror group should not be used against another and urged the U.S.-led coalition to stop using the YPG to eliminate ISIL terrorists in the region.

After having completed successful operations in Jarabulus, Al-Rai, Dabiq and Al-Bab, the FSA forces could next lead the Raqqah — ISIL’s self-proclaimed capital — operation, according to Turkish authorities.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/185592/global-community-now-sees-turkeys-key-role-in-syria.

Turkish Red Crescent opens ‘compassion stores’ in Syria

13 February 2017 Monday

A string of “compassion stores” have been opened by the Turkish Red Crescent to provide clothing to refugees in Syria’s Idlib, the charity said Monday.

Three shops in the northwestern city will also provide toiletries, according to a statement. The supplies have been provided by Turkish donors and will be paid for on Red Crescent debit cards handed out to registered refugees.

Turkish Red Crescent President Kerem Kinik said aid distribution had focused on Christian refugees in Idlib. “They are in more difficult conditions,” he said. “We have invited the small group of Christians left in Idlib to the Red Crescent compassion store and provided them with clothing.”

The charity also distributed gas stoves to refugees around the village of Atme in Idlib.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/184723/turkish-red-crescent-opens-compassion-stores-in-syria.

Trump to visit Israel, Saudi Arabia, Vatican, meet with pope

May 04, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday his first foreign trip as president will feature stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, where he will meet with Pope Francis, an ambitious foray onto the world stage that will include meetings with NATO and a summit in Italy.

Senior administration officials said Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first stop to show his commitment to improving U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Trump will meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and other leaders where they are expected to discuss efforts to defeat terrorism and discredit radical ideologies, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal planning.

Trump, joining religious leaders in the Rose Garden on Thursday, said his first foreign trip would “begin with a truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders all across the Muslim world.” “Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries,” Trump said.

The weeklong trip will mark the president’s first trip abroad and come about six weeks after the U.S. launched Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian air base in the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack in the war-ravaged country.

The trip will inject Trump into the thorny quest for Middle East peace, a prospect that has proven elusive for Trump’s predecessors. The announcement follows Trump’s meeting on Wednesday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his optimistic pledge to mediate peace efforts between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Trump has sought to forge strong ties with Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of his presidency in hopes of facilitating peace. The visit to Israel will reinforce that alliance, officials said.

“Our task is not to dictate to others how to live but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East,” Trump said.

The Palestinians want to create a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Abbas noted that demand when he joined Trump at the White House.

But Netanyahu has rejected the 1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks and ruled out partitioning Jerusalem where Palestinians hope to establish a capital. Netanyahu’s government has expanded settlements despite U.S. efforts to curb the construction.

The White House had said previously that Trump would travel to Belgium for the NATO meeting and Italy for the G7 summit before Memorial Day. The president previously called NATO “obsolete” but has since recanted after listening to European leaders make the case for the military alliance.

Trump will be making his first overseas trip late into the start of his presidency compared to his predecessors. Former President Barack Obama visited nine countries by late April 2009, his first three months in office, meeting with allies such as Canada, Britain and Germany. The last first-term president to wait until May to venture abroad was Jimmy Carter in 1977.

His visit will also give him the opportunity to connect with Roman Catholics with his visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The White House said the president met privately Thursday with Roman Catholic cardinals.

Trump and Francis couldn’t be more different in their approaches to some of the pressing issues of the day, with immigration and climate change topping the list. Francis has spoken of the need for bridges between nations, not the walls that Trump has called for. He has called for an end to the use of fossil fuels, while Trump has pledged to cancel payments to U.N. climate change programs and pull out of the Paris climate accord.

But both share a populist appeal and speak with a down-to-earth simplicity that has endeared them to their bases of supporters. And both share a common concern about the plight of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic militants.

Francis recently called for the U.S. and North Korea to step away from the brink and use negotiations and diplomacy to diffuse tensions on the Korean peninsula — an issue that is likely to feature in any Vatican audience.

During the campaign, when asked about Trump’s border wall with Mexico, Francis famously said anyone who wants to build a wall is “not Christian.” Trump shot back that it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question someone’s faith.

Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Vatican City contributed to this report.

U.S.-backed Syrian militia close to full capture of al-Tabqah

By Andrew V. Pestano

May 2, 2017

May 2 (UPI) — The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the Syrian Democratic Forces militia is close to fully capturing the city of al-Tabqah from the Islamic State as its offensive to free Raqqa escalates.

The SOHR on Monday said the SDF and U.S. Special Forces control about 80 percent of al-Tabqah. The monitor said local mediators are working to negotiate an agreement to secure a passage for remaining Islamic State militants to travel to Raqqa to fully withdraw from al-Tabqah.

The SDF, with the help of the U.S.-led international coalition, said it captured six al-Tabqah districts on Saturday and another three on Sunday from the control of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh.

“In the last 48 hours, the ISIS defense lines have been destroyed, and [we] were able to liberate nine districts,” SDF Cmdr. Abdulqadir Hafidli said on Monday.

Hafidli said Islamic State militants have established strong defenses in the last three districts of al-Tabqah and at the Euphrates Dam.

The SDF seeks to surround and isolate Raqqa before launching an offensive to recapture the city, similar to what Iraqi security forces did in their offensive on Mosul.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2017/05/02/US-backed-Syrian-militia-close-to-full-capture-of-al-Tabqah/4051493733015/.

Observers: Large explosion rocks Syrian capital

April 27, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — A large explosion rocked the Syrian capital early Thursday, followed by a fire near the Damascus airport, Syrian opposition activists and a monitor said. The explosion was heard across the capital, jolting residents awake, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdurrahman said. He said the explosion was reported to have happened near the Damascus airport road.

The dawn explosion was also reported by other activists’ networks but the source was unclear. Activist-operated Diary of a Mortar, which reports from Damascus, said the explosion near the airport road was followed by flames rising above the area. A pro-government site Damascus Now said the explosion was near the city’s Seventh Bridge, which leads to the airport road.

Syria is in the sixth year of a bloody civil war pitting the government of President Bashar Assad and his allies against opposition forces that has left more than 400,000 people dead. The explosion comes a day after France said that the chemical analysis of samples taken from a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria earlier this month “bears the signature” Assad’s government and shows it was responsible.

Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said France came to this conclusion after comparing samples from a 2013 sarin attack in Syria that matched the new ones. The findings came in a six-page report published Wednesday.

Russia, a close ally of Assad, denounced the report, saying the samples and the fact the nerve agent was used are not enough to prove who was behind it. The United States has also blamed Assad’s government for the April 4 attack. The Trump administration ordered the cruise missile attack on the air base and issued sanctions on 271 people linked to the Syrian agency said to be responsible for producing non-conventional weapons. Syria has strongly denied the accusations.

Death toll in Turkish air raids on Syria Kurds rises to 28

2017-04-26

AL-MALIKIYAH – The toll in Turkish air raids on Kurdish positions in northeastern Syria rose to 28 killed, a monitor said Wednesday, a day after Ankara said it had targeted “terrorist havens” near its border.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of those killed were members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is battling the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said 19 others were wounded in the Tuesday raids on a media center and other buildings in Al-Malikiyah, a town in Hasakeh province.

YPG spokesman Redur Khalil on Tuesday said 20 fighters were killed and 18 wounded in the Turkish strikes, which the United States said were carried out without the knowledge of a Washington-led international coalition fighting IS in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

Abdel Rahman said a female Kurdish fighter was among the dead.

Turkey, which backs Syrian rebel groups and which launched a ground operation in northern Syria last year, vowed to continue acting against groups it links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

It also killed six Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq on Tuesday in an apparent accident.

The strikes underlined the complexities of the battlefields in Iraq and Syria, where twin US-backed offensives are seeking to dislodge IS from its last major urban strongholds.

They could also exacerbate tensions between Ankara and its NATO ally Washington, which sees the Kurds as instrumental in the fight against IS.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=82784.

Chinese jihadis’ rise in Syria raises concerns at home

April 22, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — Many don’t speak Arabic and their role in Syria is little known to the outside world, but the Chinese fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria are organized, battled-hardened and have been instrumental in ground offensives against President Bashar Assad’s forces in the country’s northern regions.

Thousands of Chinese jihadis have come to Syria since the country’s civil war began in March 2011 to fight against government forces and their allies. Some have joined the al-Qaida’s branch in the country previously known as Nusra Front. Others paid allegiance to the Islamic State group and a smaller number joined factions such as the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham.

But the majority of Chinese jihadis are with the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria, whose vast majority are Chinese Muslims, particularly those from the Turkic-speaking Uighur majority native to Xinjiang in China. Their growing role in Syria has resulted in increased cooperation between Syrian and Chinese intelligence agencies who fear those same jihadis could one day return home and cause trouble there.

The Turkistan Islamic Party is the other name for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement that considers China’s Xinjiang to be East Turkistan. Like most jihadi groups in Syria, their aim is to remove Assad’s secular government from power and replace it with strict Islamic rule. Their participation in the war, which has left nearly 400,000 people dead, comes at a time when the Chinese government is one of Assad’s strongest international backers. Along with Russia, China has used its veto power at the U.N. Security Council on several occasions to prevent the imposition of international sanctions against its Arab ally.

Beijing has blamed violence back at home and against Chinese targets around the world on Islamic militants with foreign connections seeking an independent state in Xinjiang. The government says some of them are fleeing the country to join the Jihad, although critics say the Uighurs are discriminated against and economically marginalized in their homeland and are merely seeking to escape repressive rule by the majority Han Chinese.

Abu Dardaa al-Shami, a member of the now-defunct extremist Jund al-Aqsa group, said the TIP has the best “Inghemasiyoun,” Arabic for “those who immerse themselves.” The Inghemasiyoun have been used by extremist groups such as IS and al-Qaida’s affiliate now known as Fatah al-Sham Front. Their role is to infiltrate their targets, unleash mayhem and fight to the death before a major ground offensive begins.

“They are the lions of ground offensives,” said al-Shami, who fought on several occasions alongside TIP fighters in northern Syria. Xie Xiaoyuan, China’s envoy to Syria, told reporters in November that the two countries have had normal military exchanges focused on humanitarian issues, although Chinese officials have repeatedly rejected the possibility of sending troops or weapons.

In the last year, however, Chinese and Syrian officials have begun holding regular, once-a-month high-level meetings to share intelligence o militant movements in Syria, according to a person familiar with the matter. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to reveal military secrets.

“These people not only fight alongside international terrorist forces in Syria, but also they will possibly return to China posing threat to China’s national security,” said Li Wei, terrorism expert at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations and Director of the CICIR Institute of Security and Arms Control Studies.

Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there are about 5,000 Chinese fighters in Syria, most of them with the TIP fighters in northern Syria who along with their families make about 20,000. Li, the terrorism expert, said Abdurrahman’s numbers are way too high, adding that he believes the number are about 300 Chinese fighters in Syria who brought with them about 700 family members.

“As the control of the passage along the borders between Turkey and Syria is being tightened, it is becoming more difficult for them to smuggle into Syria,” Li said. Syrian opposition activists and pro-government media outlets say dozens of TIP fighters have carried out suicide attacks against government forces and their allies and for the past two years have led battles mostly in the north of the country.

The suicide attackers include one known as Shahid Allah al-Turkistani. He was shown in a video released by TIP taken from a drone of an attack in which he blew himself up in the vehicle he was driving near Aleppo late last year, allegedly killing dozens of pro-government gunmen.

In 2015, members of the group spearheaded an attack on the northwestern province of Idlib and captured the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour on the edge of Assad’s stronghold of Latakia region. They reportedly damaged a church in the town and raised their black flag on top of it.

In late 2016, TIP was a main force to briefly break a government siege on the then rebel-held eastern parts of the northern city of Aleppo. The role of the Chinese jihadis in Syria was a topic that Assad spoke about last month in an interview with Chinese PHOENIX TV, saying “they know your country more than the others, so they can do more harm in your country than others.”

Unlike other rebel groups, TIP is a very secretive organization and they live among themselves, according to activists in northern Syria. They are active in parts of Idlib and in the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour, as well as the Kurdish Mountains in the western province of Latakia.

Abdul-Hakim Ramadan, a doctor who was active in Idlib province, said one of his teams was trying to enter a northwestern village to vaccinate children when TIP fighters prevented them from entering, saying only Chinese can go into the area.

Ramadan said unlike other fighters who have come to Syria, the Chinese have not merged into local communities and the language has been a major barrier.

Shih reported from Beijing.