US-led coalition jets strike Syria militia threatening US-backed forces

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A man checks the damage at the mountain resort town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside, Syria, on Thursday. A US airstrike struck pro-Syrian government forces for the first time, hitting a convoy in the desert near the border with Jordan, US officials and Syrian activists said, an apparent signal to President Bashar Assad to keep his forces out of a zone where US-backed rebels are fighting the Daesh group. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
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A formation of US Navy F-18E Super Hornets are seen over northern Iraq as part of US led coalition airstrikes on the Daesh group and other targets in Syria in this file photo. US jets on Thursday attacked a convoy of Syrian government-supported militia in southern Syria (AP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2017

US-led coalition jets strike Syria militia threatening US-backed forces

JEDDAH: US-led coalition jets carried out an airstrike on Thursday against a militia supported by the Syrian regime that ignored warnings and posed a threat to US-backed fighters in the country’s south, said the spokesman of the coalition.

“The coalition warned pro-regime forces advancing in a de-escalation zone near At Tanf. Even Russia tried to dissuade the militia from advancing toward At Tanf,” said Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) being carried out by the coalition. “The coalition forces have been operating in the At Tanf area for many months, training and advising vetted partner forces,” Dillon added.

One US official said the strikes near the town of At Tanf destroyed at least one tank and a bulldozer. Another official said the strikes followed warning shots by US aircraft meant to dissuade the fighters from advancing any further.

Jordanian political analyst Faisal Malkawi told Arab News that the US base in At Tanf was established to thwart Iran’s plans to keep an open route for its forces in Iraq to sustain logistical support to its militias in Syria.

“Furthermore, with the military operations against Daesh in Iraq nearing the end, the coalition is reinforcing its presence on the ground in Syria to stop the terrorist group from entering Syria,” Malkawi said.

He said Jordan has repeatedly issued warnings against the pro-Syrian regime militias and Iranian forces coming near its border. “Jordan has warned it will take action if those forces pose any serious threat to its security.”

He added: “For the past two years, Jordan has been securing both sides of its borders with Syria by training tribal and moderate forces from Syria to counter the terrorist groups and prevent them from coming near the border. However, as part of the US-led coalition, the Jordanian air force has also been conducting sorties and strikes on several targets in Syria.”

Muzahem Al-Saloum from the Maghawir Al-Thawra group told Reuters that the jets struck after some opposition forces clashed with Syrian and Iranian militias after they had advanced to about 27 km from the base.

“We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian Army and Iranians at this point, and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy,” Al-Saloum said.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Since they appeared defensive in nature, Thursday’s strikes did not suggest a shift in the US military’s focus in Syria, which has been on battling Daesh militants.

Still, the strikes would be the first against fighters aligned with Syria’s regime since the US waged cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base in April.

The April strikes were ordered in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that Washington blamed on Damascus, and were described as a one-off measure to deter any future chemical weapons use.

By May 17, the US and coalition forces had conducted a total of 21,495 strikes (12,689 in Iraq, 8,806 in Syria), according to figures released by the US Department of Defense.

The US conducted 17,099 strikes in Iraq and Syria (8,690 in Iraq and 8,409 in Syria) while the rest of the coalition conducted 4,396 strikes (3,999 in Iraq and 397 in Syria).

Erdogan proclaimed winner of Turkey’s presidential election

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters as he leaves his residence in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 min 46 sec ago

Erdogan proclaimed winner of Turkey’s presidential election

  • Erdogan has just under 53 percent in the presidential poll while Ince, of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), was on 31 percent, state-run Anadolu news agency said, based on a 96 percent vote count
  • The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was polling 11 percent, well over the 10 percent minimum threshold needed to win 46 seats, which would make it the second largest opposition party in the new chamber

ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won Turkey’s landmark election Sunday, the country’s electoral commission said, ushering in a new system granting the president sweeping new powers which critics say will cement what they call a one-man rule.
The presidential and parliamentary elections, held more than a year early, complete NATO-member Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary system of government to a presidential one in a process started with a referendum last year.
“The nation has entrusted to me the responsibility of the presidency and the executive duty,” Erdogan said in televised remarks from Istanbul after a near-complete count carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency gave him the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Speaking early Monday, Supreme Election Council head Sadi Guven said 97.7 of votes had been counted and declared Erdogan the winner.
Guven said that based on unofficial results, five parties passed the threshold of 10 percent of votes required for parties to enter parliament.
Cheering Erdogan supporters waving Turkish flags gathered outside the president’s official residence in Istanbul, chanting, “Here’s the president, here’s the commander.”
“Justice has been served!” said Cihan Yigici, an Erdogan supporter in the crowd.
Thousands of jubilant supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, also spilled into the streets of the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir after unofficial results from Anadolu showed the party coming in third with 11.5 percent of the legislative vote — surpassing the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.
The HDP’s performance was a particular success since presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas, eight more of its lawmakers and thousands of party members campaigned from jails and prisons. HDP says more than 350 of its election workers have been detained since April 28.
The imprisoned Demirtas, who has been jailed pending trial on terrorism-related charges he has called trumped-up and politically motivated, was in third place in the presidential race with 8.3 percent of the vote, according to Anadolu.
Revelers waved HDP flags and blared car horns. One party supporter, Nejdet Erke, said he had been “waiting for this emotion” since morning.
Erdogan insisted the expanded powers of the Turkish presidency will bring prosperity and stability to the country, especially after a failed military coup attempt in 2016. A state of emergency imposed after the coup remains in place.
Some 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 civil servants have been fired under the emergency, which opposition lawmakers say Erdogan has used to stifle dissent.
The new system of government abolished the office of prime minister and empowers the president to take over an executive branch and form the government. He will appoint ministers, vice presidents and high-level bureaucrats, issue decrees, prepare the budget and decide on security policies.
The Turkish Parliament will legislate and have the right to ratify or reject the budget. With Erdogan remaining at the helm of his party, a loyal parliamentary majority could reduce checks and balances on his power unless the opposition can wield an effective challenge.
The president’s critics have warned that Erdogan’s re-election would cement his already firm grip on power and embolden a leader they accuse of showing increasingly autocratic tendencies.
Erdogan’s apparent win comes at a critical time for Turkey. He recently has led a high-stakes foreign affairs gamble, cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin with pledges to install a Russian missile defense system in the NATO-member country.
Ince said the results carried on Anadolu misrepresented the official vote count by the country’s electoral board. The main opposition party that nominated him for the presidency, the CHP, said it was waiting for an official announcement from the country’s electoral board.
Erdogan also declared victory for the People’s Alliance, an electoral coalition between his ruling Justice and Development Party and the small Nationalist Movement Party, saying they had secured a “parliamentary majority” in the 600-member assembly.
The unofficial results for the parliamentary election showed Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, losing its majority, with 293 seats in the 600-seat legislature. However, the small nationalist party the AKP allied with garnered 49 seats.
“Even though we could not reach out goal in parliament, God willing we will be working to solve that with all our efforts in the People’s Alliance,” Erdogan said.
The president, who has never lost an election and has been in power since 2003, initially as prime minister, had faced a more robust, united opposition than ever before. Opposition candidates had vowed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances and have decried what they call Erdogan’s “one-man rule.”
A combative president, Erdogan enjoys considerable support in the conservative and pious heartland, having empowered previously disenfranchised groups. From a modest background himself, he presided over an infrastructure boom that modernized Turkey and lifted many out of poverty while also raising Islam’s profile, for instance by lifting a ban on Islamic headscarves in schools and public offices.
But critics say he has become increasingly autocratic and intolerant of dissent. The election campaign was heavily skewed in his favor, with opposition candidates struggling to get their speeches aired on television in a country where Erdogan directly or indirectly controls most of the media.
Ince, a 54-year-old former physics teacher, was backed by the center-left opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP. He wooed crowds with an unexpectedly engaging campaign, drawing massive numbers at his rallies in Turkey’s three main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
More than 59 million Turkish citizens, including 3 million expatriates, were eligible to vote.