Archive for February, 2018

Turkey calls French warning about Syria an ‘insult’

February 01, 2018

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey has fired back after France’s president warned it against invading a Kurdish enclave in Syria, calling his remarks an “insult.” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that France was in no position to “teach a lesson” to Turkey over its cross-border offensive, referring to past French military interventions in Algeria and other parts of Africa.

His comments were in response to remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, who warned Turkey against an “invasion operation.” Turkey launched the offensive against the Afrin enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out the Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Units, or YPG, a militia it says is an extension of the outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

Cavusoglu said France understood that Turkey was fighting “terrorists” and did not aim to invade Afrin.

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Turkey defends our interests: Kurdish FSA fighter

24.01.2018

By Adham Kako and Muhammed Misto

AZAZ / ANKARA

The Kurdish fighters of the Free Syrian Army say they are defending their own land against the PYD/PKK terrorist organization, vowing to free Afrin from their occupation.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency in the northwestern Syrian town of Azaz, Abu Fayad, one of the Kurdish fighters, who vigorously make the case that the PYD/PKK can never represent the Kurds living in the region, said they were Kurds speaking Kurdish and had nothing to do with the PKK.

“We’ve been defending our villages, our land for a long time. What do they [the PKK] want from us? They are terrorists whereas we are a free army,” Fayad said.

“The PKK has no religion and they came from some place far away. In order to do what? Of course, to steal our land. So what kind of relationship can we possibly have with them? We won’t let them get anywhere near us,” Abu Fayad said.

He stressed that Turkey was a Muslim country that would never harm them.

“If our people here think that Turkey would harm them, they are wrong. Turkey wants our well-being. They won’t harm us,” he said.

As regards the recent situation in Afrin, where the Free Syrian Army and the Turkish Armed Forces have launched Operation Olive Branch, Abu Fayad reiterated:

“Turkey has our best interests at heart in this region, and it is hand in hand with us, working with us. God bless the people and government of Turkey,” Abu Fayad added.

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) launched Operation Olive Branch on Saturday to remove all PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, establish security and stability along Turkish borders and the region as well as to protect the Syrian people from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists, according to a statement issued the same day.

The military notes that the operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council’s decisions, self-defense rights under the UN charter and respect to Syria’s territorial integrity.

It is also frequently emphasized that “utmost care” is being shown not to harm any civilians.

Afrin has been a major hideout for the PYD/PKK since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without putting up a fight.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: http://aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/turkey-defends-our-interests-kurdish-fsa-fighter/1041160.

Turkey vows imminent assault on Kurdish enclave in Syria

January 14, 2018

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s president said Sunday the country will launch a military assault on a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria “in the coming days,” and urged the U.S. to support its efforts. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation against the Afrin enclave aims to “purge terror” from his country’s southern border.

Afrin is controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged a bloody insurgency within its borders.

A YPG spokesman in Afrin said clashes erupted after midnight between his unit and Turkish troops near the border with Turkey. Rojhat Roj said the shelling of areas in Afrin district, in Aleppo province, killed one YPG fighter and injured a couple of civilians on Sunday.

Turkey and its Western allies, including the U.S., consider the PKK a terrorist organization. But the U.S. has been arming some of Syria’s Kurds to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria — a sore point in already tense U.S.-Turkish relations.

The Turkish president said “despite it all” he wants to work with the U.S. in the region and hopes it will not side with the YPG during the upcoming Afrin operation. “It’s time is to support Turkey in its legitimate efforts” to combat terror, said Erdogan.

He added that the new operation would be an extension of Turkey’s 2016 incursion into northern Syria, which aimed to combat IS and stem the advance of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces. Turkish troops are stationed in rebel-held territory on both sides of Afrin.

Roj said the Kurdish militia will fight to “defend our gains, our territories.” Senior Kurdish official Hediye Yusuf wrote on Twitter that the Turkish operation against Afrin is a “violation” of the Syrian people and undermines international efforts to reach a political solution in Syria.

The Turkey-PKK conflict has killed an estimated 40,000 people since 1984 and the resumption of hostilities in July 2015 killed more than 3,300 people, including state security forces, militants and civilians.

Turkey: Syria’s ‘Assad is definitely a terrorist’

December 27, 2017

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan today called Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad a terrorist and said it was impossible for Syrian peace efforts to continue with him, Reuters reported.

Turkey has demanded the removal of Al-Assad from power and backed opposition groups fighting to overthrow him, but it has toned down its demands since it started working with Al-Assad’s allies Russia and Iran for a political resolution.

“Assad is definitely a terrorist who has carried out state terrorism,” Erdogan told a televised news conference with his Tunisian counterpart Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis.

Despite its differences with Russia and Iran, Turkey has worked with the two powers in the search for a political solution in Syria.

Ankara, Moscow and Tehran also brokered a deal to set up and monitor a “de-escalation zone” to reduce fighting between insurgents and Syrian government forces in Syria’s rebel-held northwestern Idlib province.

“We can’t say [Assad] will handle this. It is impossible for Turkey to accept this. Northern Syria has been handed over as a terror corridor. There is no peace in Syria and this peace won’t come with Assad,” Erdogan said.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171227-turkey-syrias-assad-is-definitely-a-terrorist/.

Syrian Kurdish leader detained in Prague on Turkey’s request

February 25, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Czech authorities detained a former leader of a Syrian Kurdish political party under an Interpol red notice that was based on Turkey’s request for his arrest, Turkish and Syrian Kurdish officials said Sunday.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Salih Muslim, former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, was “caught.” Speaking in Sanliurfa Sunday, Erdogan said, “Our hope, God willing, is that the Czech Republic will hand him over to Turkey.”

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said Turkey requested Muslim’s detention for extradition after locating him in a Prague hotel. Bozdag called Muslim the “terrorist head.” A Kurdish official close to Muslim, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the former PYD leader was in Prague attending a conference. After a Turkish participant took a photograph of him, Czech police detained the Syrian politician Saturday, following a request by Turkey.

Czech police say that have arrested and placed in detention a 67-year-old foreigner at the request of Turkey’s Interpol. No further details were immediately released by Czech police. Muslim was put on Turkey’s most-wanted list earlier in February with a $1 million reward.

The Turkish justice ministry said Muslim was being tried in absentia for his alleged involvement in a March 2016 car bomb attack on Turkey’s capital, which killed 36 people and injured 125. Turkey considers the PYD a “terrorist group” linked to outlawed Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s own borders for more than three decades.

The party is the leading political Kurdish force in northern Syria, and Muslim remains highly influential even after stepping down as co-chair last year. The PYD condemned in a statement Muslim’s detention, saying the move is an “illegal and immoral act by Czech authorities” and calling for his immediate release.

The group also accused Turkey of adopting “dirty methods in chasing personalities that are playing a role in the fight against terrorism,” highlighting Muslim’s major role in mobilizing international opinion in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The United States has been backing the PYD’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units or YPG, in combating the extremist IS. The alliance has tensed relations between Washington and Ankara, who are NATO allies.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria, seeking to rout the YPG from the enclave of Afrin. The Kurdish official said the former PYD leader was invited to Prague to take part in a conference held once every six months to discuss issues linked to the Middle East such as the Syrian crisis, Turkey, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The justice ministry said it was submitting an extradition request for Muslim. An extradition request would have to be approved by a Czech court and by the justice minister. Muslim is a Syrian citizen.

Turkey shares a 911-kilometer border with Syria. The YPG controls much of the territory along the border.

Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.

At least 220 in four-day regime assault on Syria rebel enclave

2018-02-09

ERBIN – Syrian regime jets have pounded Eastern Ghouta, sending the death toll from a four-day assault on the rebel enclave on the outskirts of Damascus soaring past 220.

Violence also flared in eastern Syria on Thursday, where the US-led coalition said it had killed at least 100 pro-regime fighters to fend off an attack on its Kurdish allies.

The clash marked a fresh escalation between Washington, which has threatened the regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons, and Damascus, which labelled the latest incident in eastern Syria a “war crime”.

Moscow also slammed the US-led strikes, with Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia saying he had lodged a protest about the assault during a closed-door Security Council meeting.

“To confront those who really fight international terrorism on the ground in Syria is criminal,” he said.

The UN Security Council on Thursday failed to back a UN appeal for a month-long humanitarian ceasefire in Syria.

In Eastern Ghouta, which lies east of the capital and has been besieged since 2013, residents had no time to mourn their dead or treat their wounded from the previous day’s bombardment.

“These are the worst four days that Eastern Ghouta has ever gone through,” said Hamza, an overwhelmed doctor at the Erbin clinic who was treating wounded patients.

“From 2011 until now, there has never been the level of bombardment we’ve seen in the last 96 hours.”

The death toll mounted steadily throughout Thursday, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights giving 75 civilians dead by the evening. Three died of wounds suffered on Wednesday.

– Dozens of children –

That brought to 228 the number of civilians killed since the regime launched a campaign Monday of heavy air raids on the area, which has an estimated 400,000 residents.

Among them were at least 58 children, the Observatory said.

“Children and teachers are terrified that at any moment they could be hit. The siege means there is nowhere for them to escape,” said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria response director.

“There must be an immediate halt to the fighting and an end to the siege.”

Moayad al-Hafi, a rescue worker, said his team was targeted as they retrieved bodies near Erbin.

“As we were pulling out the children and the dead from under the rubble, they targeted us with five rockets — directly targeting us,” said Hafi, 24.

At least two civilians were killed in retaliatory rebel mortar fire on government-controlled areas of Damascus, according to state news agency SANA.

AFP correspondents said mortars were raining down on Bab Touma on Thursday night.

Eastern Ghouta was one of several so-called de-escalation zones agreed last year by three of the main outside players in the conflict — Turkey, Iran and Russia.

Ankara announced Thursday it would host a new three-way summit to revive efforts to end the war, which has killed at least 340,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.

Recent attempts to bring the conflict’s protagonists and brokers to the table have floundered, but the UN made a fresh call this week for conflicting sides to halt fighting.

The United States backed the plea but Russia — a longtime ally of Syria’s government — shrugged it off.

“That is not realistic,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters at the UN.

– US strikes regime forces –

A US military official said the US-led coalition that still assists Kurdish-led forces in the hunt for surviving IS members in eastern Syria killed at least 100 pro-regime fighters overnight.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the coalition acted in self-defense after pro-government forces moved on an area under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The pro-Damascus forces “began shelling it with artillery,” he added. “They were moving with tanks, obviously in the same direction as they were firing.

“At the end of our effort to defend ourselves, their artillery was knocked out, two of their tanks were knocked out, they had casualties.”

Syrian state media confirmed dozens were killed but appeared to deny the forces were army soldiers, describing them as “popular forces”.

Wounded fighters were taken to the military hospital in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor city, which is controlled by the government.

A reporter contributing to AFP saw at least six fighters there, lying on hospital beds in sparsely equipped rooms.

The Observatory said the regime forces may have been aiming to capture a key oil field and a major gas plant in an SDF-held area.

The Omar oil field, one of the biggest in Syria, had a pre-war output of 30,000 barrels per day, while the Conoco gas field had a pre-war capacity of 13 million cubic meters a day.

According to the Observatory, the forces that launched the attack on SDF positions were local tribal fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and Afghan Shiite militia fighting alongside the regime.

In a letter addressed to the UN secretary general, the Syrian foreign ministry said the attack “represents a war crime and a crime against humanity”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=87183.

Syria’s Kurds push US to stop Turkish assault on key enclave

February 01, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s Kurdish militia is growing frustrated with its patron, the United States, and is pressing it to do more to stop Turkey’s assault on a key stronghold in Syria. The issue reflects a deeper concern among the Kurds over their alliance with the Americans, which proved vital to defeating the Islamic State group in Syria. The Kurds fear that ultimately they and their dream of self-rule will be the losers in the big powers’ play over influence in Syria. Already the U.S. is in a tough spot, juggling between the interests of the Kurds, its only ally in war-torn Syria, and its relations with Turkey, a key NATO ally.

The Kurdish militia views defending the Kurdish enclave of Afrin as an existential fight to preserve their territory. Afrin has major significance — it’s one of the first Kurdish areas to rise up against President Bashar Assad and back self-rule, a base for senior fighters who pioneered the alliance with the Americans and a key link in their efforts to form a contiguous entity along Turkey’s border. The offensive, which began Jan. 20, has so far killed more than 60 civilians and dozens of fighters on both sides, and displaced thousands.

“How can they stand by and watch?” Aldar Khalil, a senior Kurdish politician said of the U.S.-led coalition against IS. “They should meet their obligations toward this force that participated with them (in the fight against terrorism.) We consider their unclear and indecisive positions as a source of concern.”

Khalil, one of the architects of the Kurds’ self-administration, and three other senior Kurdish officials told The Associated Press that they have conveyed their frustration over what they consider a lack of decisive action to stop the Afrin assault to U.S. and other Western officials. They said U.S. officials have made confusing statements in public. One of the officials who agreed to discuss private meetings on condition of anonymity said some U.S. comments even amounted to tacit support for the assault.

The fight for Afrin puts Washington in a bind with few good options. The Americans have little leverage and no troops in Afrin, which is located in a pocket of Kurdish control at the western edge of Syria’s border with Turkey and is cut off from the rest of Kurdish-held territory by a Turkish-held enclave. The area is also crowded with other players. Russian troops were based there to prevent friction with Turkey until they withdrew ahead of the offensive, and the area — home to more than 300,000 civilians — is surrounded by territory held by Syrian government forces or al-Qaida-linked militants.

The Americans’ priority for the YPG — the main Kurdish militia that forms the backbone of forces allied to the U.S. — is for them to govern the large swath of territory wrested from the Islamic State group in northern and eastern Syria, including the city of Raqqa. Washington wants to prevent IS from resurging and keep Damascus’ ally, Iran, out of the area.

Afrin is not central to those American goals and U.S. officials say it will distract from the war on IS. The U.S-led coalition has distanced itself from the Kurdish forces in Afrin, saying they have not received American training and were not part of the war against the Islamic State group in eastern Syria. But it also implicitly criticized the Turkish assault as unhelpful.

“Increased violence in Afrin disrupts what was a relatively stable area of Syria. Furthermore, it distracts from efforts to ensure the lasting defeat of Daesh and could be exploited by Daesh for resupply and safe haven,” the coalition said in an emailed statement to the AP, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

For its part, Turkey views the YPG as an extension of its own Kurdish insurgent groups and has vowed to “purge” them from its borders. While the U.S. may distance itself from the fighting in Afrin, it can’t sit by silently if Turkey goes ahead with its threat to expand the fight to Manbij, a Syrian town to the east where American troops are deployed alongside Kurdish forces that took the town from IS in 2016.

One option is a proposal by the Kurds to persuade Assad to deploy his troops as a buffer between the Kurds and Turks in Afrin. Nobohar Mustafa, a Kurdish envoy to Washington, said the Americans appear open to that proposal. However, so far Assad’s government has refused; they want full control of the area.

Another option could be to seek a compromise with Turkey by withdrawing U.S. and Kurdish forces from Manbij, said Elizabeth Teoman, a Turkey specialist with the Institute for the Study of War. “The Turks may accept that as an intermediate step, but the U.S. will consistently face threats of escalation from Turkey as long as we maintain our partnership with the Syrian Kurdish YPG,” Teoman said.

U.S. officials have reportedly said recently that they have no intention of pulling out of Manbij. Kurdish officials say they don’t expect the Americans to go to war with Turkey or send troops to fight with them in Afrin.

But “this doesn’t mean the U.S. doesn’t have a role in stopping the war on Afrin,” said Mustafa, the Kurdish envoy to Washington. She said Kurdish officials weren’t surprised the Americans have distanced themselves from the Afrin dispute “but we didn’t expect their stance to be that low.”

She and Khalil have lobbied Washington and Europe for a more aggressive stance against Turkey’s advances. Other than the proposal to allow Syrian border guards to deploy, they have suggested international observers along a narrow buffer zone. Mustafa said the U.S. could argue that the YPG presence in northwestern Syria, where al-Qaida-linked militants have their stronghold, is necessary to fight terrorism. Khalil said he has pressed other NATO members to urge Turkey to stop airstrikes.

Meanwhile, a heated media campaign has been launched to “Save Afrin,” while Kurdish supporters in Europe have staged regular protests and a senior YPG official wrote an op-ed for the New York Times. In Washington, U.S. officials rejected the notion that the United States hasn’t tried hard enough to rein in Turkey. In addition to publicly urging Turkey to limit its operation and avoid expanding further east, they noted that President Donald Trump spoke about it directly with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The White House said that Trump used that call to urge Turkey to “deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees.”

They say that since Turkey has proceeded, the U.S. has been left with only bad options. Although the U.S. doesn’t want to see Assad’s government return to the area between Afrin and Turkey, it may be the “least worst situation,” said a U.S. official involved in Syria policy.

The United States has less ability to influence negotiations about how to secure the border than Russia, whose forces have long had a strong presence in the area, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private diplomatic discussions.

The Trump administration has also quietly acknowledged that ultimately, the Kurds may be disappointed if they are expecting loyalty even on matters where U.S. and Kurdish interests diverge. Turkey, after all, is a NATO ally. Asked recently if Washington had a moral obligation to stick with the Kurds, senior Trump administration officials said Trump’s “America first” doctrine dictated that the U.S. must always prioritize its own interests.

From the Kurdish perspective, “the Americans are missing the whole point. If Erdogan is not stopped at Afrin, he will turn eastward and will not stop until he has destroyed the entire edifice” built by the Kurds in eastern Syria, said Nicholas Heras, of the Center for a New American Security.

“The challenge for the YPG is that it has power only so long as it continues to act as the key, local proxy for the U.S. mission in Syria,” Heras said.

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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