Palestinian PM to visit Gaza next week for reconciliation efforts

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Tuesday, April 21, 2015 (AP)
Updated 25 September 2017
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Palestinian PM to visit Gaza next week for reconciliation efforts

JERUSALEM: Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah will travel to Gaza on October 2 as part of a fresh push to end a decade-long split between Fatah and Hamas, which runs the enclave, his government said Monday.
The visit follows concessions by Islamist group Hamas after discussions with Egypt, which has urged it to take steps toward reconciliation with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank.
Fatah and Hamas have been divided for a decade, with separate administrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“Prime minister Rami Hamdallah has decided after consulting with president Mahmud Abbas that the government will hold its weekly meeting in Gaza next week,” government spokesman Yusuf Al Mahmoud said in a statement published by official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
“Hamdallah and members of the government will arrive in Gaza next Monday to start taking over government responsibilities after Hamas announced its agreement to dissolve the administrative committee and enable the government to assume its full responsibilities.”
Hamdallah, who is not believed to have traveled to the Gaza Strip since 2015, also wrote about the visit on his Facebook page.
“I am heading to the beloved Gaza Strip next Monday with the government and all bodies, authorities and security services,” he wrote.
“We hope all parties and all Palestinians will focus on the national interest to enable the government to continue carrying out all of its functions in a way which serves the Palestinian citizens first.”
Hamas said a week ago that it had agreed to steps toward resolving the split with Abbas’s Fatah, announcing it would dissolve a body seen as a rival government — known as the administrative committee — and was ready to hold elections.
The statement came after Hamas leaders held talks with Egyptian officials and with the Gaza Strip facing a mounting humanitarian crisis.
It remains unclear whether the steps will result in further concrete action toward ending the deep division with Fatah.
Hamas for now continues to run a de facto separate administration in the Gaza Strip and is in charge of security forces there.
Previous attempts to resolve the split have repeatedly failed. The last attempt at a unity government fell apart in 2015, with the two sides exchanging blame.
Hamas has run Gaza since 2007, having seized it in a near civil war from Fatah following a dispute over parliamentary elections won by the Islamist movement the previous year.
It formed the administrative committee in March, and since then Abbas has sought to put further pressure on the Islamist movement, reducing electricity payments for the Gaza Strip and cutting salaries for public employees.
The West Bank and Gaza have not participated in an election together since 2006.
Abbas, whose term was meant to end in 2009, has remained in office with no election held.
The Gaza Strip has meanwhile faced deteriorating humanitarian conditions, including a severe electricity crisis and a lack of clean water.
The coastal enclave of some two million people also has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates and has seen three wars with Israel since 2008.
It has been under an Israeli blockade for around a decade, while its border with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.
Facing those conditions, Hamas has turned to Egypt for assistance, particularly for fuel to produce power and with hopes of opening the border — and has faced pressure to take steps toward Palestinian reconciliation in return.


Turkey may launch new offensive against US-backed Kurdish militia in Syria

Updated 22 September 2018
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Turkey may launch new offensive against US-backed Kurdish militia in Syria

  • The operation is expected to begin from Turkey’s southeastern border town of Suruc
  • Turkey maintains its regional alliance with Russia as leverage against US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia

ANKARA: Turkey is gearing up for a military offensive on Tal Abyad in Syria, according to some news reports, with video footage showing the Turkish military deploying troops near its border town Akcakale. 

Experts interviewed by Arab News noted that the military deployment to the Syrian border with many tanks and howitzers was aimed at putting additional pressure on the US to accelerate the implementation of a roadmap endorsed by Turkey and the US in June for the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

A recent agreement between Ankara and Moscow that forestalled a full-scale Syrian regime offensive against the Syrian province of Idlib also triggered Turkey’s ambitious military activities along the border. 

Turkey maintains its regional alliance with Russia as leverage against US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, seen as a domestic security threat to Turkey due to their links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for more than three decades. 

And the Manbij roadmap between Turkey and the US consists of the withdrawal of the YPG from the city to stabilize the region.

Tal Abyad, an Arab-majority town located to the north of Raqqa city and near the Turkish border, was captured from Daesh in 2015 by the YPG in an offensive supported by US-led airstrikes. The YPG remains a reliable American partner in Syria. 

A potential operation in Tal Abyad, if it happens, would likely mark a new phase in Turkey’s military intervention in Syria by directly clashing with the YPG on the ground. 

Mete Sohtaoglu, an analyst on Syrian politics, expects Turkey’s operation in Tal Abyad to start by March 2019. 

“Turkey’s main objective is to wipe out all YPG presence in the east of the Euphrates. The details of the operation, if it occurs, will become clear following an upcoming meeting between Turkish and American presidents,” he told Arab News. 

“The operation is expected to begin from Turkey’s southeastern border town of Suruc, then will specifically include the zone between Tal Abyad and Kobani cantons,” he said. 

Although not officially confirmed, Trump and Erdogan are likely to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s 73rd session, which will begin on Sept. 25. 

According to Sohtaoglu, the prime condition for the US to address Ankara’s concerns and withdraw its support for the YPG would be a change of policy by Turkey about Iran. 

Ankara recently gave the green light for military cooperation with Washington in Syria. Since June 18, US and Turkish troops have been conducting “coordinated independent patrols” to the north of Manbij as part of the roadmap. 

In a press conference on Friday, Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced that Turkey would soon start joint training and patrols with the US in the Syrian Kurdish-held town of Manbij, but said Washington’s continuous arms support of the YPG was unacceptable.

The US State Department omitted the YPG and its political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD) from its 2017 Country Reports on Terrorism, which was released on Wednesday.

However, some experts do not expect any decrease of US support to its local partner YPG, while mobilizing the forces alongside the border is a tactical move. 

“I don’t expect an imminent and direct military operation to Tal Abyad. I think the recent military reinforcement intends to put pressure on the US to quickly operationalize the joint roadmap on Manbij, another Kurdish-held province,” Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert at the Ankara-based think-tank ORSAM, told Arab News. 

Orhan thinks that Turkey’s tactical move would change the local balance in Tal Abyad. 

“It would create a sense that the Turkish army wants to enter the area and would incite some rebels. The removal of YPG from this province would undermine the terror group’s aim to create an integrated zone in this region because it will break the geographical continuity between the cantons,” he said. 

Further increasing its geographical importance, Tal Abyad is located on an intermediate point between the major cantons of Kobani and Qamishli. 

Orhan said that Turkey already had the support of Arab tribes that took refuge in Turkey from Tal Abyad, and Ankara’s ability to rally this support in an Arab-majority town would force the US to reconsider its alliance with the YPG. 

“In the past, the Arab tribes that took shelter in Turkey often expressed their willingness to take part in an Turkish operation to Tal Abyad if Ankara supports them,” he said. 

Last year in March, Turkey convened a meeting of about 50 Sunni Arab tribal leaders in the Turkish southeastern province of Sanliurfa that lies to the north of Tal Abyad, and their position against the YPG was put on the table.