Israel is now arming seven rebel groups in Syria

February 28, 2018

The illegal Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights has now been in place for more than 50 years. This substantial territory, part of southern Syria, was conquered by Israeli occupation forces in the 1967 war.

The majority of the Syrian population in the territory was then either expelled, or fled towards safety. Israel demolished their homes, buildings and entire villages in the Golan in order to build Jewish settlements where they once stood.

In 1981, in defiance of the United Nations and international law, Israel annexed the Golan Heights. This move – unrecognized even by Israel’s allies – was intended to solidify Israel’s de facto control of the occupied Syrian territory, giving it a gloss of legalistic self-recognition. What’s more, over the past few years Israel has used the cover of the long-running and bloody war in Syria to expand its control of the Golan, far into the rest of the south of its neighbor’s sovereign territory; it wants as much control as possible.

As I wrote here last summer, Israel is now establishing a buffer zone in the south of Syria, extending from the Golan. Working with local proxies in the south, Israel is establishing what its front organisations claim is a “safe zone”.

That summer we learned that Israel was supporting a “border force” rebel group between the Golan and the rest of Syria to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. In the years prior to that, Israel had worked to support Al-Qaeda-linked groups in the south of Syria. This support took the form of treating wounded fighters in Israeli hospitals across the border, before sending them back to Syria to fight the regime.

The latest news is that Israel’s arming of proxy forces in Syria seems to be escalating. A report in Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz last week stated that Israel is now arming “at least” seven rebel groups in the Golan, which are “getting arms and ammunition from Israel, along with money to buy additional armaments.”

The groups in question all report a recent increase in Israeli aid. This comes in the wake of various states, including Jordan and the US, scaling down their armament operations in Syria. As Haaretz reported, “In January, the Trump administration closed the operations center the CIA ran in Amman, the Jordanian capital, which coordinated aid to rebel organisations in southern Syria. As a result, tens of thousands of rebels who received regular economic support from the US have been bereft of this support.”

The Israeli aim here seems to be twofold. First of all, it is to keep the armed forces of Iran and Hezbollah – the Syrian regime’s allies – away from the boundary line of the Golan. The quickest way to do this is to make sure that there is a feasible armed opposition in that area.

Secondly, Israel’s arms proliferation program is intended to promote its official strategic objective in the region; to “let both sides bleed” in order to prolong the war for as long as possible. Weakening Syria and its allies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran, is an important goal for Israel and its superpower backer, the United States. Even more important is the goal of making sure that the war carries on.

All of this is in addition to the general Israeli goal of controlling the maximum amount of land that it can grab and keep. The buffer zone that Israel is stealthily attempting to extend as much as 40 kilometers further into Syria is being achieved through front groups posing as supposedly “non-governmental” aid organisations, as well as covering the salaries of rebel fighters and sending funding to buy arms.

These bogus “civil society aid” groups backed by Israel in the south of Syria – extending its Golan occupation – are a front. In reality, they are a way to extend Israeli proxy control throughout the region.

All of this is very much out of the Israeli play book in Lebanon. Between 1982 and 2000, Israel illegally occupied the south of Lebanon. After the 1982 invasion — which reached as far as Beirut — Israel withdrew to a “buffer” zone in southern Lebanon. Instead of occupying the zone with Israeli soldiers, much of the work was handled by Lebanese proxy forces. These puppet armed groups oppressed the population on behalf of Israel. This soon led to armed resistance to the Israeli occupation, and it was in this environment that Hezbollah was born.

Israel illegally occupied the south of Lebanon until 2000, when the resistance led by Hezbollah drove out the main Israeli proxy, the so-called South Lebanon Army. Today, Israel is attempting to establish what is, in all but name, a “South Syria Army”. Whether it succeeds is questionable but, as the history of Lebanon shows, even if it does, Israel is unlikely to maintain control in the long run.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180228-israel-is-now-arming-seven-rebel-groups-in-syria/.

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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.

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.

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