Archive for September, 2016

Turkish tanks cross into Syria in ‘new phase’ against IS

September 03, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish tanks have crossed into Syria to the west of a frontier town seized from the Islamic State group last week, in a “new phase” of an operation aimed at sealing off the last stretch of border controlled by the extremists.

The private Dogan news agency reported at least 20 tanks and five armored personnel carriers crossed at the Turkish border town of Elbeyli, across from the Syrian town of al-Rai. The new incursion is unfolding about 55 kilometers (34 miles) west of Jarablus, where Turkish forces first crossed into Syria ten days ago.

The tanks entered from the Turkish border village of Elbeyli and linked up with Turkish-backed Syrian rebels at al-Rai, who are participating in the operation, dubbed Euphrates Shield. The official Anadolu News Agency said that “with this new phase of the operation, the Azaz-Jarablus line is expected to be cleared of terror elements.”

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels meanwhile said they had captured three more villages to the west of Jarablus from the Islamic State group, bringing them to 21 kilometers (13 miles) from those positioned at al-Rai. The gap is the last remaining stretch of the Syrian border under IS control.

Three rockets fired from IS-held territory in Syria meanwhile struck the Turkish border town of Kilis, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Elbeyli, according to the Turkish governor’s office, which said one person was lightly wounded.

The governor’s office said five others were wounded last Monday when three rockets hit Kilis. Anadolu said the wounded were children. Dogan says rockets have killed 21 Kilis residents and wounded scores since January.

The Turkish Armed Forces responded to the rockets with howitzers, striking two weapons pits and bunkers, and “destroying the locations and the Daesh terrorists there,” Anadolu said, referring to IS by an Arabic acronym.

Turkey’s military says its right to self-defense as well as U.N. resolutions to combat the IS group justify its Syria incursions. Turkey and allied Syrian rebels have also fought U.S.-backed Kurdish forces known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, around Jarablus. Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK, which Turkey and its allies consider a terrorist organization.

The U.S. has provided extensive aid and airstrikes to the YPG-led Syria Democratic Forces, which have proven to be highly effective against IS. The Syria Democratic Forces, which also includes Arab fighters, has taking a large swath of territory from the extremists along the border with Turkey and closed in on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the extremist group’s self-styled caliphate.

Associated Press writer Philip Issa in Beirut contributed to this report.

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Syria: Fear rises as Moadamiyeh evacuation begins

3rd of September 2016, Saturday

By Dylan Collins

Buses carrying more than 300 Syrians left the besieged Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh on Friday, in the first stage of a deal that will enable the government to retake control of the rebel-held area.

In the first stage of the deal, 303 people, including 62 gunmen who agreed to lay down their arms and accept a presidential amnesty deal, were bused out of the area and taken to the nearby government-controlled town of Horjelah, according Syrian state news agency SANA.

The Moadamiyeh agreement comes just a week after a deal was struck in neighboring Daraya that brought about the full evacuation of the suburb, a move heavily criticized by the international community as forced displacement.

Those who left Moadamiyeh on Friday were originally from Daraya, having fled heavy bombardments earlier in the year.

“The heroic acts of the Syrian army in Daraya led to the achievement in Moadamiyeh,” Alaa Ibrahim, the governor of rural Damascus, told Syrian state TV.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border, said the concept of “forcing deals on local populations” has been criticized by the United Nations and the international community as something “that would give the government precedent to continue starving its own population into surrender”.

The UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura voiced concern that the Daraya agreement was part of a larger strategy by the government to empty rebel enclaves and that it may soon be extended to other areas.

There are “indications that after Daraya we may have other Darayas,” he told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.

“There is clearly a strategy at the moment to move from Daraya” to other besieged areas “in a similar pattern”.

Jan Egeland, the UN humanitarian chief, said the UN humanitarian task force for Syria had “failed the people of Daraya”.

The UN has underlined that it was not consulted on the Daraya deal, and described the evacuation of the suburb as a forced displacement.

Fears of ‘demographic change’

In the second stage of the Moadamiyeh deal, rebels who refuse to hand over their weapons will be forced to leave the suburb, probably to rebel-controlled Idlib province.

It was not clear when the second stage would be implemented or when government security forces would take over control of the suburb.

The deal was reportedly reached on Tuesday in a meeting between Moadamiyeh’s local council, government officials and Russian military officers at the army’s 4th Armored Division headquarters in the mountains on the southern outskirts of Damascus.

“It wasn’t a negotiation or a conversation, it was a threat,” Moadamiyeh-based media activist Dani Qappani told Al Jazeera. “They basically told us: ‘Either surrender or we burn Moadamiyeh.'”

“They know the situation here. There’s little to no food or medical supplies,” said Qappani, adding that residents of the besieged suburb could not hold out much longer.

“Once they finish evacuating people of Daraya who are living here, they’ll try to begin the process of surrendering arms and dismantling the revolutionary establishments inside the city.”

Moadamiyeh was hit with toxic sarin gas in 2013, according to the UN, and has suffered a three-year government siege, leaving its 28,000 residents with little food or medical supplies.

Rebel fighters in Moadamiyeh have negotiated several local truces with the government since 2012, and the suburb has been spared much of the destruction and bombing that occurred in Daraya, just a mile away.

“At the core of the matter is the clearing of the area,” said Qappani.

“A large portion of people don’t want to leave their homes because they don’t want the regime to forcefully change the demography of the area.”

Abo Kanan al-Dimashqi, a member of the Moadamiyeh local council, told Al Jazeera he believes the government “clearly wants to do what it did in Daraya”.

“They want to clear the area and put a different sect here. That’s their plan – a demographic change.”

After last week’s deal in neighboring Daraya, government troops took control of a completely empty suburb – once home to a quarter of a million people.

“The government is now gaining some momentum on the outskirts of the capital with this new tactic, forcing the population into leaving their areas through years of siege,” said Al Jazeera’s Ahelbarra.

“Now after Daraya, today is Moadamiyeh. There are concerns that the government is going to further replicate the resettling of the Sunni community in different parts of the capital. There are fears that Douma, a major opposition stronghold near the capital, could be the next.”

Source: al-Jazeera.

Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/syria-fear-rises-moadamiyeh-evacuation-begins-160902132143798.html.

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/.

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