Archive for September 2nd, 2016

Turkey to build refugee cities on security-zone

26 August 2016 Friday

New details are coming to light in Turkey’s military operation in Syria, Euphrates Shield, which has continued with great determination.

The operation, conducted together with opposition groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), primarily aims to build new settlements in northern Syria, which will host millions of refugees who had been forced to flee the war in their homeland, according to reports.

Turkey has already accepted 2.7 million Syrian refugees, who have found shelter across 81 provinces in Turkey, many of whom live in overcrowded refugee camps. A majority still wants to emigrate to a third country.

The aim of the safety zone is to establish an area where Syrians, who are fleeing to Turkey from the Syrian regime’s violence, can be accommodated without security risks. Turkey demands the safety zone to be imposed under the umbrella of NATO, rather than be under supervision of a few countries.

Ankara is believed to be setting up such a zone in line with UN resolution No. 2170, which calls on all UN member states to mobilize to suppress the flow of foreign fighters, their financing and other support to notorious groups in Iraq and Syria. Authorities in Ankara have planned to establish temporary settlements for refugees, who have been registered in Turkey, in the southern areas of Kilis and Gaziantep provinces before building permanent settlements.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/176664/turkey-to-build-refugee-cities-on-security-zone.

Turkey sends more tanks to Syria, insists on Kurdish retreat

August 25, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey sent more tanks into northern Syria on Thursday and gave Syrian Kurdish forces a week to scale back their presence near the Turkish border, a day after it launched a U.S.-backed cross-border incursion to establish a frontier zone free of the Islamic State group and Kurdish rebels.

Skirmishes broke out between Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, raising the potential for an all-out confrontation between the two American allies that would also jeopardize the fight against the Islamic State group in the volatile area.

Turkey’s incursion Wednesday to capture the town of Jarablus was a dramatic escalation of Turkey’s role in Syria’s war and adds yet another powerhouse force on the ground in an already complicated conflict.

But Ankara’s objective went beyond fighting extremists. Turkey is also aiming to contain the expansion by Syria’s Kurds, who have used the fight against IS and the chaos of Syria’s civil war to seize nearly the entire stretch of territory along Syria’s northern border with Turkey.

Above all, Ankara seeks to avoid Kurdish forces linking up their strongholds along the border. The U.S. has backed its NATO ally, sending a stern warning to the Syrian Kurds with whom it has partnered in the fight against IS to stay east of the Euphrates River. The river crosses from Turkey into Syria at Jarablus.

“The U.S. is interested in stopping this from becoming a confrontation between the YPG and Turkey. That would be a huge detriment to the anti-IS campaign,” said Chris Kozak, a Syria researcher at the Washington-based Institute of the Study of War, referring to the main U.S.-backed Kurdish faction fighting IS. Turkey accuses the group of links to Kurdish groups waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

Kozak said an open confrontation between Turkey and the Kurds in Syria would undo much of the progress made working with the Kurdish forces against IS in northern Syria. If there are direct clashes, the U.S. would be forced to take sides, he said, and Washington would likely side with its NATO ally, whose air base is used to launch coalition airstrikes against the extremists in Syria and Iraq.

Also, if the Syrian Kurdish forces are distracted in clashes with the Turks and have to shift resources toward front lines with Turkey or with Turkish-backed opposition groups, that “buys (IS) some breathing space,” Kozak said.

On Thursday, Turkish officials said Syrian Kurdish forces had started withdrawing east of the Euphrates River. The news was relayed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.

Syrian Kurdish officials contacted by The Associated Press would not confirm or deny that their forces were withdrawing east. Instead, the main Syrian Kurdish faction, the YPG, said its troops had “returned to their bases” after helping liberate the northern Syrian city of Manbij from the Islamic State group earlier this month. Manbij lies west of the Euphrates about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Jarablus, and Ankara has demanded the Kurds hand it over to Syrian rebels and withdraw.

The Kurdish forces’ statement said they handed control of the city to a newly-established Manbij Military Council, made up mostly of Arab rebel fighters from the town. By day break, at least 10 more Turkish tanks crossed into Syria, Turkey’s private Dogan news agency reported. An Associated Press journalist saw three armored vehicles cross the border, followed by a heavy construction vehicle. Explosions reverberated across the border, followed by billowing gray smoke.

It remained unclear whether Turkey-backed Syrian rebels would move against IS-held towns or nearby Kurdish-controlled areas, including the town of Manbij. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu agency, reporting from Jarablus, said the Syrian opposition forces were working to secure the town to allow its resident’s to return, including defusing explosives inside the town or on roads leading to it. Estimates put the town’s population at 25,000.

Turkey’s defense minister, Fikri Isik, said Thursday that Turkish forces were securing the area around Jarablus. He said the Turkish-backed operation had two main goals — to secure the Turkish border area and to make sure the Syrian Kurdish forces “are not there.”

“It’s our right to remain there until” the Ankara-backed Syrian opposition forces take control of the area, Isik said. He said Turkey and the U.S. have agreed that the Syrian Kurdish forces would pull out of the northern area around Jarablus within a week.

“For now, the withdrawal hasn’t fully taken place. We are waiting for it and following it,” he told the private NTV television station. A spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition, Col. JD Dorrian, said some members of the force that seized control of Manbij went east of the river, but some remained to secure and clear land mines.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Kurdish forces appeared to be on the move south of the newly captured town of Jarablus, making the potential for all-out confrontation all the more possible overnight. The Kurdish-led group known as the Syria Democratic Forces, or SDF, was advancing south of Jarablus, taking over at least three towns in what appeared to be a push by the Kurdish-led forces to secure Manbij and the river separating it from Jarablus. The advances triggered brief clashes with the Turkish-backed Syrian rebels who had advanced south of Jarablus.

Sharwan Darwish, a spokesperson for the SDF-affiliated Manbij Military Council, said there were no direct confrontations, only warning shots. A Turkish official said he had no immediate comment on the reported clashes.

Meanwhile, U.N. officials said they had received word from Russia that it supports a 48-hour pause in fighting in and around Syria’s largest city so that humanitarian aid can be delivered to its increasingly embattled population.

Jan Egeland, who heads up humanitarian aid in the office of the U.N. Syria envoy, said the U.N. now awaits assurances from two rebel groups and written authorization from President Bashar Assad’s government before any aid convoys can go through to Aleppo amid an upsurge in fighting that has left the city nearly surrounded by Russian-backed Syrian troops.

Egeland said Russia backs a three-point U.N. plan that is to involve separate road convoys of aid delivered both from Damascus and across the Turkish border through the critical Castello Road artery into Aleppo.

“We are very hopeful that it will be a very short time until we can roll,” Egeland told reporters.

El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Mucahit Ceylan in Karkamis, Philip Issa and Zeina Karam in Beirut, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

Turkey says operation launched to free IS-held Syrian town

August 24, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s prime minister’s office says the Turkish military and the U.S.-backed coalition forces have launched an operation to clear a Syrian border town from Islamic State militants.

The Prime Ministry said the operation launched early Wednesday by the Turkish military and the U.S.-led coalition warplanes aimed to free the IS-held town of Jarablus. The state-run Anadolu Agency says the operation began at 4 a.m. with Turkish artillery launching intense fire on Jarablus followed by Turkish warplanes bombing IS targets in the town.

It’s not clear if any Turkish or Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces have crossed the border. The agency says the operation aims to clear Turkey’s border of “terror organizations” and increase border security. It says the aim also is to “prioritize and support” Syria’s territorial integrity.

Turkey in cross-border operation to free IS-held Syrian town

August 24, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s and the U.S.-backed coalition forces on Wednesday launched an operation to clear a Syrian border town from Islamic State militants, the office of the Turkish prime minister said.

The operation began at 4 a.m. (0100 GMT), with Turkish artillery launching intense cross-border fire on the town of Jarablus, followed by Turkish warplanes bombing IS targets in the town, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

It was not immediately clear if any Turkish or Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces crossed the border to take part in the operation. The news agency said the operation aims to clear Turkey’s border of “terror organizations” and increase border security, as well as “prioritize and support” Syria’s territorial integrity. The assault followed Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlet Cavusolgu pledge on Tuesday of “every kind” of support for operations against IS along a 100-kilometer (62-mile) stretch of Syrian frontier.

The development puts the NATO member on track for a confrontation with U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria, who have been the most effective force against IS and who are eyeing the same territory. Cavusolgu said Turkey would support twin operations stretching from the Syrian town of Afrin in the northwest, which is already controlled by Kurdish forces, to Jarablus, in the central north, which is held by the Islamic State group.

Earlier, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said some 500 Syrian rebels were massed on the Turkish side of the border in preparation for an assault, including local fighters from Jarablus. One rebel at the border told the BBC the number was as high as 1,500 fighters.

The Syrian town of Jarablus, which lies on the western bank of the Euphrates River where it crosses from Turkey into Syria, is one of the last important IS-held towns standing between Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria.

Located 20 miles (33 kilometers) from the town of Manbij, which was liberated from IS by Kurdish-led forces earlier this month, taking control of Jarablus and the IS-held town of al-Bab to the south would be a significant step toward linking up border areas under Kurdish control east and west of the Euphrates River.

In recent days Turkey has increased security measures on its border with Syria, deploying tanks and armored personnel carriers. On Tuesday, residents of the Turkish town of Karkamis, across the border from Jarablus, were told to evacuate after three mortars believed to be fired by IS militants landed there, Turkey’s Dogan news agency said.

Turkey has vowed to fight IS militants at home and to “cleanse” the group from its borders after a weekend suicide bombing at a Kurdish wedding in southern Turkey killed at least 54 people, many of them children. Turkish officials have blamed IS for the attack.

Ankara is also concerned about the growing power of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, who it says are linked to Kurdish groups waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey. The Kurdish-led group known as the Syria Democratic Forces, or SDF, recaptured Manbij from IS earlier this month, triggering concerns in Ankara that Kurdish forces would seize the entire border strip with Turkey. The U.S. says it has embedded some 300 special forces with the SDF, and British special forces have also been spotted advising the group.

Syrian activists, meanwhile, said that hundreds of Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters were gathered in the Turkish border area near Karkamis in preparation for an attack on Jarablus. Nasser Haj Mansour, an SDF official on the Syrian side of the border, said the fighters gathering in Turkey include “terrorists” as well as Turkish special forces. He declined to comment on whether the SDF would send fighters to the town, but an SDF statement said the Syrian Kurdish force was “prepared to defend the country against any plans for a direct or indirect occupation.”

The reports and rhetoric appeared to set up a confrontation between the SDF, the most effective U.S. proxy in Syria, and NATO ally Turkey. Abdel-Sattar al-Jader, a rebel commander affiliated with the SDF was killed late Monday, shortly after broadcasting a statement announcing the formation of the so-called Jarablus Military Council and vowing to protect civilians in Jarablus from Turkish “aggression.”

Al-Jader had pledged to resist Turkish efforts to take control of the city and warned Ankara against further aggression. The Jarablus Military Council blamed the killing on Turkish security agents. The Kurds’ outsized role in the Syrian civil war is a source of concern for the Syrian government as well. Fierce clashes erupted between the two sides over control of the northeastern province of Hasakeh last week, and Syrian warplanes bombed Kurdish positions for the first time, prompting the U.S. to scramble its jets to protect American troops in the area.

The Syrian government and the Kurds agreed on a cease-fire Tuesday, six days after the clashes erupted. The Kurdish Hawar News Agency said government forces agreed to withdraw from Hasakeh as part of the truce.

Syrian state media did not mention any withdrawal, saying only that the two sides had agreed to evacuate the wounded and exchange detainees. Government and Kurdish forces have shared control of Hasakeh since the early years of the Syrian war.

Issa reported from Beirut.

Turkey’s IHH to provide humanitarian aid to 400,000 people in Syria’s Aleppo

August 22, 2016

Chairman of Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) Bulent Yildirim said his organisation plans to provide aid to some 400,000 civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo after opposition factions were able to lift a siege imposed by the regime forces nearly two weeks ago.

In an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, Yildirim said the organisation will deliver 100- 150 thousand loaves of bread to Aleppo every day.

“We have started a campaign in this regard. In the first phase we will send 300 trucks of flour and we hope to deliver food parcels to 400,000 people,” he said.

Yildirim said the need for assistance is high in the city, with people also needing items such as diapers and detergents to stop the spread of disease.

Yildirim expected a higher need during the Eid al-Adha holiday in a few weeks.

“Aleppo has been exposed to aerial and ground bombings. Most of the buildings in the city were destroyed while the lack of equipment makes it more difficult to save people from under the rubble,” he said.

He added: “There are ambulances in some hospitals, but they are not sufficient. The regime forces do not want even to rescue the wounded. They force people to starve and depress them with these attacks.”

Yildirim said: “We continue to send aid to Aleppo. In the first phase we sent flour, vegetables, fruits and food parcels. We also provided flour to some bakeries in the city but they stopped working.”

Yildirim stressed that there is a need for everything and not only food, including ambulances and medical equipment, as well as the restoration of destroyed hospitals.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160822-turkeys-ihh-to-provide-humanitarian-aid-to-400000-people-in-syrias-aleppo/.

Syrian rebels make gains in northern Hama province, capture strategic town

Tue Aug 30, 2016

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

Syrian rebels have captured a strategic town in northern Hama province in a major offensive that threatens government loyalist towns populated by minority Christians and Alawites north of the provincial capital, rebels and a monitor said on Tuesday.

The town of Halfaya was stormed on Monday after the hardline jihadist Jund al-Aqsa alongside Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades launched a battle overnight that overran several army and pro-government checkpoints in northern Hama countryside.

The town, which is near a main road that links the coastal areas with the Aleppo-Damascus highway is only a few kilometers from the historic Christian town of Mahrada to the west.

“We are now cleansing the town after liberating it from the regime and will have more surprises in store,” said Abu Kinan, a commander in Jaish al Ezza, a rebel group that fought in the town.

A rapid collapse in government defenses allowed the rebels to also take a string of villages including Buwaydah, Zalin and Masassnah. They were threatening Taybat al Imam to the east of Halfaya.

The offensive brought them closer to the army stronghold of Soran, the army’s northern gateway to the city of Hama, the provincial capital.

A Syrian military source said airstrikes conducted by the army killed dozens of rebels and would neither deny nor confirm Halfaya had fallen to rebels. Pro-government websites said the army was sending reinforcements to retake these towns.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which confirmed the fall of the town, said jets believed to be Syrian struck rebel outposts in the area, killing at least 20 rebels.

The militant Jund al-Aqsa group deployed suicide bombers to storm army checkpoints.

Jaish al Ezza threatened in a statement to hit the Mahrada power plant near the town, one of Syria’s largest, if civilians areas in rebel-held areas were bombed in retaliation.

The rebel offensive comes after weeks of heavy Russian and Syrian army bombing of rebel controlled Hama and southern Idlib countryside that rebels say has claimed dozens of civilian lives.

Syrian army offensives backed by heavy Russian air strikes to retake territory from rebels in the Hama countryside have had limited success.

The latest gains will consolidate rebels who captured at the end of last year the strategic town of Morek, north of Hama city on a major north-south highway crucial to control of western Syria.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-rebels-idUSKCN115025.

Clashes subside in Syria between Turkish, Kurdish forces

August 30, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Clashes between Turkey’s military and Kurdish-backed Syrian forces subsided Tuesday evening after days of fighting between the two had frustrated efforts by a U.S.-led coalition to drive the Islamic State group from northern Syria.

Western officials had expressed alarm that the fighting between the two sides, both backed by the U.S. in Syria’s 5-year-old civil war, has diverted their attention from the fight against the extremist group.

In a speech Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande criticized Turkey for targeting Kurdish and Kurdish-backed fighters in Syria, while a top U.S. general ordered the sides to stop fighting one another and focus instead on the Islamic State.

Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, told Pentagon reporters that the U.S. was striving to separate the parties. The Kurdish-backed Jarablus Military Council said in a statement it had agreed to a cease-fire with the Turkish military in a disputed area in north central Syria after lengthy consultations with the coalition.

The Pentagon denied reports it was monitoring a cease-fire but said Turkish forces had moved to the west, while Kurdish forces had moved east of the Euphrates River, per the insistence of Turkish and U.S. authorities.

“We welcome the calm between the Turkish military and other counter-ISIL forces in Syria,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said. “We encourage these moves as a way to prevent further hostilities and loss of life between all counter-ISIL forces operating in the area.”

Cook said the coalition is establishing communication channels “for de-conflicting operations and maneuvers in this crowded battlespace.” The Britain-based Syrian Observer for Human Rights monitoring group, which relies on contacts inside Syria, said a tense calm had prevailed in the area Tuesday evening.

Turkey’s military said three of its soldiers were wounded in northern Syria when their tank was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. A statement said “terrorists” fired the rocket west of Jarablus, where Turkish troops have been fighting Kurdish-led forces after Turkey’s Aug. 24 incursion into Syria.

One Turkish soldier was killed and three were wounded in fighting Saturday. The tough talk from Washington and Paris came as a spokesman for the Kurdish-led forces in Syria said IS militants carried out a two-pronged attack on villages south and west of the former militant stronghold of Manbij, taking advantage of the clashes between his forces and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels.

In Paris, Hollande said “multiple, contradictory interventions carry the risk of a general inflammation” of the fighting that has devastated Syria. He said he could understand Turkey’s concern about protecting its borders and fighting the Islamic State group, but he criticized Ankara’s actions against Kurdish rebels allied with the coalition fighting the extremists. France is part of the coalition.

Hollande also urged Russia to cooperate with the coalition and said he would invite President Vladimir Putin to France in October, noting Moscow should be “a player in negotiations, not a protagonist in the action.”

He said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government uses Russian military support to carry out bombings of civilians, which “plays into the hands of extremists”. “The absolute urgency is a halt to fighting and a return to negotiations,” Hollande said. He also called for an “immediate truce” in Aleppo, a main battlefield of the war.

The Kurdish-led forces seized Manbij from IS earlier this month after a 10-week campaign. Last week, Turkey sent its troops and warplanes to back Syrian rebels in their advance on Jarablus, a town near the Turkish border and the next IS-stronghold after Manbij. That prompted clashes between the two U.S.-allies — Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish forces an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a domestic group it deems a terrorist organization.

Shervan Darwish, a spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, part of the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces, said the militants used at least three car bombs Tuesday. The SDF, aided by coalition airstrikes, repelled the attack initially, but Darwish said clashes continued. In a statement on Twitter, IS said it had seized two villages.

“The Turkish occupation of parts of Syria hampers the war against terrorism, and by targeting us (the Turkey-backed forces) gave Daesh the space to reorganize its ranks and attack us,” Darwish told The Associated Press, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Turkish troops and the rebels they are backing are “aiming for our troops, not Daesh,” he added. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said U.S. criticism of the scope and aims of its offensive in northern Syria is “unacceptable” and that it has summoned the U.S. ambassador over the issue.

Bilgic demanded that Washington live up to its assurances that the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, withdraw to the east of the Euphrates “as soon as possible.” Turkey’s president has vowed to press ahead with the military operation until IS and Kurdish Syrian fighters no longer threaten his country. In comments published Tuesday in the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin urged U.S. officials to “revise their policy of supporting (the Kurdish-led force) at all costs.”

The Kurdish-led forces “are shamelessly using the war in Syria to create a de facto terrorist state in Syria,” the spokesman wrote. “Turkey will not allow that.” In recent months, the U.S.-led allied Kurdish forces gained control of most of the territory along the Turkey-Syria border, reinforcing the ethnic group’s aspirations for a contiguous autonomous region there.

Turkey appears determined to create a “safe zone” free of IS and the Kurds near its border. The Turkish military said Turkey-backed Syrian rebels — a mix of Islamist rebel factions — have cleared several villages of “terrorist entities” and now control an area of about 400 square kilometers (150 square miles) south and west of Jarablus.

Turkish-backed rebels posted video of their troops praying and walking in captured villages north of Manbij, across the Sajour River, a tributary of the Euphrates. Darwish said SDF forces have pulled back to south of the Sajour and into the Manbij area, a move unlikely to be accepted by Turkey, which wants them to withdraw completely east of the Euphrates.

He accused Turkey of targeting civilians and said Turkey-backed rebels shelled a village south of Jarablus, killing at least five. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five people were killed by shelling in the village of al-Dandanieh, in rural Manbij. The Observatory said it was not clear who was behind the shelling.

Stojanovic contributed to this report from Istanbul. Associated Press writers Philip Issa in Beirut, Sylvie Corbet in Paris, and Wendy Benjaminson in Washington contributed to this report.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels advance towards Manbij

30 August 2016 Tuesday

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels say they are now advancing towards Manbij in northern Syria, a city captured earlier this month by Kurdish forces, as the US condemned the weekend clashes between the sides as “unacceptable”.

Turkey’s military said on Monday that the Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) had cleared fighters from 10 more villages in northern Syria, as part of a cross-border offensive that had already captured a string of settlements south of the Syrian frontier town of Jarablus.

The statement did not say whether these fighters belonged to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group or Kurdish forces.

“After seizing control of the border town of Jarablus, the FSA fighters moved under Turkish air cover to control villages such as Amarna, Yousef Beq and Ain al-Baida within hours,” Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said.

“But their main target is to take over Manbij,” he said. “YPG fighters maintain a significant presence along that area with their local allies.”

Just weeks ago, Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by US coalition air strikes, drove ISIL fighters out of Manbij after months of fighting.

Turkish forces have been pressing on with a two-pronged operation inside Syria against ISIL (also known as ISIS) fighters and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) since Wednesday, shelling more than a dozen targets.

“Taking on the YPG is a risk for the Turkish government,” said our correspondent. “The Kurdish group is a crucial ally for the US in its fight against ISIL in Syria.”

Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense condemned the clashes between Turkish forces and the YPG on Monday, calling them “unacceptable”.

Ankara said it had killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists” in strikes on YPG positions on Sunday, a day after a Turkish soldier died in a rocket attack it blamed on Kurdish forces

On Monday, the Pentagon called the clashes “unacceptable” and urged an immediate de-escalation.

“We want to make clear that we find these clashes – in areas where ISIL is not located – unacceptable and a source of deep concern,” said Brett McGurk, US special envoy for the fight against ISIL, also known as ISIS.

“We call on all armed actors to stand down,” he wrote on Twitter, citing a US Department of Defense statement.

Later on Monday, Ash Carter, the US defense secretary, urged Turkey to not target Kurdish elements of Syrian rebels.

“We have called upon Turkey … to stay focused on the fight against ISIL and not to engage Syrian Defense Forces, and we’ve had a number of contacts over the last several days,” Carter told reporters.

Turkey’s operation aims to push the YPG back across the Euphrates River to prevent it from joining up the region east of the river already under its control with a Kurdish-held area to the west.

US Vice President Joe Biden, visiting Ankara last week, said Washington had told the YPG to go back across the Euphrates or risk losing American support.

After Biden’s warning, Kurdish officials seemed to have acceded to Turkish demands and said they withdrew the YPG forces from Manbij.

“The YPG said they have withdrawn to the East,” said Al Jazeera’s Ahelbarra. “But activists on the ground doubt that.”

Ankara also said it had seen no evidence of this.

‘Ethnic cleansing’

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said on Monday the YPG “needs to cross east of the Euphrates as soon as possible. So long as they don’t, they will be a target.

“In the places where it has moved, the YPG forces everyone out – including Kurds – who do not think like it does and carries out ethnic cleansing,” he added.

Cavusoglu said the ethnic composition of the area around the city of Manbij was largely Arab.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus on Monday also confirmed one of the key aims of Turkey’s operation in northern Syria was to prevent the creation of a corridor stretching from Iraq to the verge of the Mediterranean controlled by the YPG.

“If that happens, it means Syria has been divided,” he was quoted as saying by Turkish broadcaster NTV.

He added that all relevant parties had been informed of Turkey’s operation in Syria, including the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

But Kurtulmus denied Turkey was at war. “We are not pursuing an aim of becoming a permanent power in Syria. Turkey is not an invader. Turkey is not entering a war.”

“It’s unclear whether Turkish commanders will send ground forces all the way to Manbij to help the FSA take control of the city or only provide air cover, said Al Jazeera’s Ahelbarra.

“Either way, the conflict has become deepened with multiple frontlines and agendas at play.”

Source: al-Jazeera.

Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/turkish-backed-syrian-rebels-advance-manbij-160829154225197.html.

Kurdish-led Syria forces face off with Turkish-backed rebels

August 27, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Backed by Turkish tanks and reports of airstrikes, Turkey-allied Syrian rebels clashed with Kurdish-led forces in northeastern Syria in a new escalation that further complicates the already protracted Syrian conflict.

Turkey’s military didn’t specify what the airstrikes hit, saying only that “terror groups” were targeted south of the village of Jarablus, where the clashes later ensued. A Kurdish-affiliated group said their forces were the target and called the attack an “unprecedented and dangerous escalation.” If confirmed, it would be the first Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish allied forces on Syrian soil.

Late Saturday night, Turkey’s official news agency reported that one Turkish solider had been killed and three wounded by what it said was a Kurdish rocket attack in Jarablus, near where the fighting has raged. It is the first reported Turkish fatality in Syria.

The new escalation highlights concerns that Turkey’s incursion into Syria this week could lead to an all-out confrontation between Ankara and Syrian Kurds, both American allies, and hinder the war against the Islamic State group by diverting resources.

Sherwan Darwish, a spokesman for Kurdish-led forces in the village of Manbij, said on Twitter Saturday night: “While our forces fighting #IS Some #Turkey backed militias r attacking our positions & hampering our & Intl Coalition’s fight against terror.”

The clashes underscore Ankara’s determination to push back Kurdish forces from along its borders, and curb their ambitions to form a contiguous entity in northern Syria. Kurdish groups have already declared a semi-autonomous administration in Syria and control most of the border area.

Jarablus, and Manbij to the south liberated from IS fighters by Kurdish-led forces earlier this month, are essential to connecting the western and eastern semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria. Turkish officials said they will continue their offensive in Syria until there is no longer any “terror” threat to Turkey from its war-torn neighbor. Ankara backed Syrian rebels to gain control of Jarablus last week. They are now pushing their way south.

On Saturday, the Syrian rebels said they have seized a number of villages south of Jarablus from IS militants and Kurdish forces. Clashes were fiercest with the Kurdish-allied forces over the village of Amarneh, eight kilometers (five miles) south of Jarablus.

The media office of the Turkish-backed Nour el-din el-Zinki rebel group said the Syrian rebels were backed by Turkish tanks. A news report on ANHA, the news agency for the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas, said local fighters destroyed a Turkish tank and killed a number of fighters in an attack by the Turkish military and allied groups on Amnarneh.

There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials. The clashes were preceded by Turkish airstrikes against bases of Kurdish-affiliated forces and residential areas at Amarneh. The Jarablus Military Council, affiliated with the U.S-backed Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces, said the Turkish airstrikes marked an “unprecedented and dangerous escalation” that “endangers the future of the region.”

It vowed to stand its ground. Other groups which are part of the SDF vowed to support them, calling on the U.S-led coalition to explain the Turkish attacks on allied forces. Turkey’s state news agency, citing military sources, said the Turkish Military Joint Special Task Forces and coalition airplanes targeted an ammunition depot and a barrack and outpost used as command centers by “terror groups” south of Jarablus Saturday morning. The Anadolu Agency did not say which group or village was targeted.

Turkey has long suspected the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, of being linked to Kurdish insurgents in its own southeast, which it labels as a terror group. It has demanded the YPG, which makes up the bulk of the SDF and has been one of the most effective U.S. ally in the fight against IS, withdraw to the east bank of the Euphrates River.

The U.S. supported Turkey’s call for the Kurdish forces to move back, and Kurdish officials said they withdrew the YPG forces from Manbij. But following the Turkish offensive, local forces with Kurdish fighters and backed by YPG advisers pushed their way north of Manbij, in a rush for control of Jarablus.

Meanwhile, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, appealed to the opposition to approve plans to deliver aid to rebel-held eastern Aleppo and government-held Aleppo through a government-controlled route north of Aleppo during a 48-hour humanitarian pause.

Aleppo has been caught in a bloody circle of violence, with rebels and government forces each promising to unite the divided city. The U.N. said it has pre-positioned aid ready for delivery into Aleppo, to reach 80,000 people on the rebel side and some on the government side. But the opposition, whose fighters have opened another route in the south, were wary of the use of the government-controlled route.

“People are suffering and need assistance. Time is of the essence. All must put the civilian population of Aleppo first and exert their influence now,” de Mistura said in a statement, urging an approval by Sunday.

But violence raged. Suspected government helicopters dropped two barrel bombs on a wake held for children killed a few days earlier, killing at least 15, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Aleppo Media Center, an activist group in the city, and volunteers on the scene put the death toll higher at 24. Mohammed Khandakani, a hospital volunteer, said one of the injured told him a barrel bomb was dropped in the Bab al-Nairab neighborhood as people paid their condolences for children killed Thursday in an airstrike that left 11 children dead in the same neighborhood. Minutes later, Khandakani said another barrel bomb was dropped, injuring an ambulance driver, and hampering rescue efforts.

The Syrian government and its Russian ally are the only ones operating helicopters over Aleppo. The government denies it uses barrel bombs. Elsewhere, the Syrian government said it now has full control of the Damascus suburb of Daraya, following the completion of a forced evacuation deal struck with the government that emptied the area of its remaining rebels and residents and ended a four-year siege and grueling bombing campaign.

The declaration comes a day after the evacuation of nearly 5,000 residents and fighters from the suburb began. The deal followed an extensive government campaign of aerial bombing and shelling of Daraya, the last bastion against President Bashar Assad in the western Ghouta region, southwest of Damascus.

Some 700 gunmen and 4,000 civilians were evacuated. The gunmen and their families headed to the northern rebel-controlled Idlib province. Other civilians were escorted to shelters in government-controlled suburbs of Damascus.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria and Dusan Stojanovic in Istanbul contributed to this report.

Syria: Evacuation of Daraya begins in deal to end siege

27 August 2016 Saturday

The first buses carrying residents and rebel fighters left the Damascus suburb of Daraya on Friday under a deal that will see the area evacuated after a four-year siege by government forces.

Aid convoys arranged by the medical charity Red Crescent entered the suburb early on Friday, as part of the deal that grants control of the area to government forces.

Rebel fighters and government forces agreed to a deal on Thursday to evacuate the town, which pro-government forces have surrounded since 2012. Since then, only one aid shipment has reached the area, according to the United Nations.

Residents were suffering from severe shortages and malnutrition prior to the aid deliveries, according to local activists.

A Reuters news agency witness saw six buses leaving the town, and footage on state television showed buses carefully driving past a large group of soldiers through streets lined with rubble.

The Syrian opposition criticized the evacuation, saying that the international community had failed the people of Daraya.

“Daraya did not fail today,” George Sabra of the opposition peace talks team told DPA news agency. “It was the international community who failed, and failed the people of Daraya.”

Sources told Al Jazeera that about 8,000 civilians and 800 rebels would be evacuated from the Damascus suburb, which, before the war, was home to a quarter of a million people.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said the rebels were “forced to sign the deal”.

“For nearly four years, residents of Daraya have lived under siege, with civilians being starved to death by government forces. This is a deal that the rebels had to sign, and we will now see civilians moved to Sahnaya – a town in the Damascus governorate – under regime control,” he said.

UN ‘not consulted’ on deal

The UN, which has repeatedly called for the lifting of the siege, said it was “not involved and not consulted in this deal”, in a statement put out by the UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura’s office.

De Mistura, who met with the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, said the situation in Daraya was “extremely grave and tragic” and that “the repeated appeals to lift the siege of Daraya have not been headed”.

Reporting from Geneva, Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays said the Syrian government’s “starvation of surrender policy has actually worked because they have now managed to close down Daraya and remove everyone from Daraya”.

Rebel forces from Daraya will be taken to the northern province of Idlib, held by the Army of Conquest, a coalition of armed anti-government groups.

The rebels who controlled Daraya belonged to two rebel groups: Ajnad al-Sham and the Martyrs of Islam, groups allied with the Army of Conquest.

However, activists told Al Jazeera that they were extremely concerned over the safety of civilians, many of whom are relatives of the rebels, as the government offered little to no guarantee.

‘A major setback’

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Jordan, advocacy adviser Chairman Mohamed of the Norwegian Refugee Council said although the end of hostiles in the town was a positive step, her team was “concerned about the protection of civilians” and that any evacuations “should be voluntary in nature”.

“There should be absolutely unfettered humanitarian access, and civilians should be protected, according to international humanitarian law”.

Some opposition groups also criticized the deal, calling it a major setback as Sunnis would be forced from their homes, further fracturing the country along sectarian lines.

“This is a pattern by the government to push Sunnis out of communities they control and have been living in for decades. In 2015, there was a similar deal in Zabadani on the outskirts of the capital,” our correspondent added.

In 2012, several hundred people were killed in Daraya, including civilians, many execution-style, when security forces stormed the suburb after locals took up arms.

According to the UN, nearly 600,000 live under siege across Syria, most surrounded by government forces.

In several places, lengthy government sieges have prompted rebels to agree to evacuation deals with the regime, leading activists to accuse Damascus of using “starve or surrender” tactics.

Earlier this year, de Mistura estimated that 400,000 people had died throughout the last five years.

The UN no longer keeps track of the death toll due to the inaccessibility of many areas and the complications of navigating conflicting statistics put forward by the Syrian government and armed opposition groups.

Source: al-Jazeera.

Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/syria-aid-convoys-enter-daraya-deal-siege-160826084006363.html.