Turkey to hit Syrian Kurd fighters if they do not leave Manbij

Turkish soldiers participate in an exercise on the Turkish-Syria border near the southeastern city of Kilis, Turkey. (Reuters)
Updated 03 March 2017
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Turkey to hit Syrian Kurd fighters if they do not leave Manbij

ANKARA: Turkey on Thursday threatened to strike Syrian Kurdish militia forces if they do not withdraw from Manbij, a former bastion of Daesh extremists that has been taken over by predominantly-Kurdish forces.
“We will strike the YPG if they do not retreat,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists, referring to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units.
The YPG, which Ankara considers a “terrorist” organization, is backed by Washington as the most effective fighting force on the ground in the battle against Daesh.
Turkey launched a military campaign inside Syria in August, backing opposition fighters who captured a number of towns from Daesh, including Al-Bab near the Turkish border.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week said the next target would be Manbij — which is now controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a group dominated by Kurdish fighters that Ankara denounces as “terrorists.”
“We have not yet started our operation in Manbij,” Cavusoglu said.
Turkey has also said it wanted to work with its allies to capture Daesh bastion of Raqqa, but has ruled out any operation alongside the Kurdish militia.
“Let’s be realistic ... To carry out this (Raqqa) operation with YPG is to risk Syria’s future,” he said.
“We do not want our ally the US to continue cooperating with terror organizations that target us.”
Turkey has repeatedly said it will not allow a “terror corridor” along its southern border and is trying to prevent Syrian Kurdish militia from joining up its so-called “cantons” in the area.
Separately, a US-allied militia in northern Syria said on Thursday it would hand over villages on a front line where it has been fighting Turkish-backed fighters to Syrian regime control, under an agreement with Russia.
The villages will be surrendered to the Syrian regime in the coming days, an official in the Manbij Military Council told Reuters. An earlier statement by the council said the villages would be handed to Syrian border guards.
Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara the report was false, but added there was an agreement with Russia that the Syrian regime and opposition forces should not fight each other in that area.
The villages west of the city of Manbij have been a focus of fighting between the Turkish-backed fighters and the Manbij Military Council, the US-allied militia, since Wednesday.
In another development, Syrian warplanes carried out eight airstrikes in an opposition-held district of the mostly regime-controlled city of Homs on Thursday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, said the airstrikes killed two civilians and wounded more than 24 people in Al-Waer, as UN-sponsored peace talks continued in Geneva.
Although Homs, an early center of the uprising against President Bashar Assad, has been almost entirely held by the regime since 2014, Al-Waer, a western district, remains in opposition hands.
Opposition shelling killed two people and wounded six in the regime-held district of Al-Zahra on Thursday, the Observatory said.
A US general has, meanwhile, claimed that a Russian airstrike hit US-backed Syrian Arab forces who are part of the fight against Daesh.
Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend says an unspecified number of American troops were a few miles away, out of immediate danger but close enough to see their Syrian partners being hit.
Townsend said the Americans sent word that quickly reached Russian officials. Russia then acknowledged the problem and stopped bombing.
Townsend said Wednesday he believes the Russians thought they were striking a Daesh position. But Daesh fighters had left the village before the bombing and members of what the US calls the Syrian Arab Coalition had moved in.


UN criticizes Algeria for mass deportations of migrants

Updated 1 min 15 sec ago
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UN criticizes Algeria for mass deportations of migrants

GENEVA/ALGIERS: The United Nations on Tuesday urged Algeria to stop rounding up and expelling sub-Saharan migrants, highlighting an influx of immigrants from Mali and Niger that Algeria says it needs UN help to address.
Hassen Kacimi, a senior official at Algeria’s Interior Ministry, told Reuters on Saturday that Algeria had called for help from the international community, while the United Nations had done little to save the migrants.
UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a regular UN briefing in Geneva that deportations and expulsions have increased markedly since the second half of 2017, and a UN human rights team went to Niger to investigate this month.
“What they heard was that Algerian authorities frequently carry out mass round-ups of sub-Saharan African migrants in various parts of the country,” Shamdasani said.
Of 25 migrants interviewed by the UN team, only one had had her passport checked before being expelled. Most had been told to put thumbprints on Arabic documents they could not read.
Most were not told why they were being detained and were not allowed to pick up their belongings, passports or money before being expelled. Some were taken straight to Niger, others were held in military bases, in inhuman and degrading conditions, before being taken south.
“(Some) are crammed into big trucks to be transferred to the Nigerien border where they are abandoned and left to walk hours in the desert heat to cross the border into Niger,” she said.
Algeria says it faces a huge influx of migrants.

SURGE OF MIGRATION
“A surge of migration is invading the south of Algeria,” Kacimi said. “Before reaching Algeria, the migrants are abandoned in the desert, and it is Algeria that rescues them by offering humanitarian aid.”
“Algeria is not responsible for the population of other states,” Kacimi said. “So whoever wants to cry over the outgoing migrants just (has) to put their hand in their pocket.”
Algeria, which has a 2,500 km (1,550 mile) border with Mali and Niger, spent $20 million in the past three years to handle an influx of illegal migrants from the Sahel region fleeing war, insecurity or poverty.
“Where is the UNHCR, where is the IOM, and where are the African states?” Kacimi said.
The UN migration agency IOM has rescued about 3,000 migrants in the area in the past four months, including some trying to get into Algeria and some being expelled, IOM spokesman Joel Millman said.
Many said it was not unusual for them to be dropped as much as 30 km (19 miles) from the border, in 45 degree Celsius (113F) heat, often without water and carrying children.
“Many of them report seeing migrants who have lost their lives, often unrecorded or unrecognized in the sand dunes,” Millman said.