Turkey-backed opposition in major Idlib operation

Pro-Ankara Syrian opposition fighters riding pickup trucks near the village of Hawar Killis along the Syrian-Turkish border in Aleppo as they advance toward province. (AFP)
Updated 08 October 2017
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Turkey-backed opposition in major Idlib operation

ANKARA: Syrian opposition fighters launched a major military operation on Saturday in militant-held Idlib province, supported by Turkish troops and Russian air power.
“There’s a serious operation in Idlib today and it will continue,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech to his AK Party. Turkey would not allow a “terror corridor” on its border with Syria, he added.
“For now, the Free Syria Army (FSA) is carrying out the operation there,” Erdogan said. “Russia is supporting the operation from the air, and our armed forces from inside Turkey’s borders.”
Turkey supports the opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Russia has helped him to survive. Erdogan’s comments, however, suggested Russia and Turkey would fight together against Tahrir Al-Sham, an extremist alliance led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that changed its name last year from the Nusra Front.
Tahrir Al-Sham has taken over much of Idlib province and northwestern Syria, where the population has increased to at least 2 million as thousands of civilians and fighters fled other parts of Syria seized by Assad regime forces and Iran-backed militias.
Turkey, Russia and Iran announced a deal in Astana last month to establish and patrol a de-escalation zone in Idlib region, but Tahrir Al-Sham pledged to continue fighting.
Turkey already has troops inside Syria after an incursion east of Idlib last year, Operation Euphrates Shield, to drive back Daesh militants and prevent further gains by Kurdish fighters on the border.
“We will continue to take other initiatives after the Idlib operation,” Erdogan said in his speech.
Turkey’s aim is to clear militants from its border with Syria, and to prevent the Syrian Kurds from creating a strategic corridor between Kobane and Afrin.
Turkey recently built a 688-km-long security wall along its border with Syria. Some parts of the wall have now been dismantled, Mete Sohtaoglu, an expert on Middle East and global jihadist movements, told Arab News.
“In the first stage, about 1,000 FSA fighters will enter Idlib, guided by Turkish military and intelligence officers who have experience on the ground,” he said.
“About 5,000 commando units from the Turkish Army will intercept the road between Idlib and Afrin.
“The aim of Turkey is to isolate Afrin region. If Turkish soldiers engage in operations, they will be deployed on military bases that Turkey constructed before in Idlib, one of them on a mountain that overlooks Afrin.
“However, the fighters in the region have high combat and guerrilla capability. They have fought before in regions like Afghanistan and Bosnia. They can inflict serious casualties on the FSA and the fighting may go on for months. If the FSA faces great resistance when heading toward the center of Idlib, the Turkish Army might be obliged to intervene.”
Ahmet Han, international relations professor at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, said the new military operation had three messages.
“First, it will provide Turkey with greater border security. Second, it will secure additional Turkish leverage on the future of Syrian politics through its protectorate over the local fighter groups, such as the FSA. Third, Turkey will find the opportunity to show that it still has a role in shaping the ground in accordance with its priorities.
“The immediate next step, at least as envisaged by Turkish decision makers, would be, if possible, to use the momentum of this operation in order to increase its pressure on Afrin and secure its southern border.”
Meanwhile, Some 120 Daesh fighters and 60 foreign mercenaries were killed in a series of Russian airstrikes in Syria over the past 24 hours, the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow said on Saturday.
Puzzlingly, the ministry also said three senior Daesh commanders including Omar Al-Shishani had been confirmed dead as a result of an earlier Russian strike.
Moscow reported Al-Shishani’s death despite the fact that the Pentagon said in 2016 the notorious fighter had been killed by American troops in Iraq, AFP said.


Ex-child soldier presents damning testimony of Houthi recruitment in Yemen

Updated 9 min 22 sec ago
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Ex-child soldier presents damning testimony of Houthi recruitment in Yemen

  • Children who try to flee are recaptured and forced to continue fighting
  • The study shows 80 percent of child soldiers in Yemen begin fighting to earn much-needed money

JEDDAH: Children recruited as fighters by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen are beaten into submission and face psychological abuse, as well as the risk of death, injury and disability, a former child soldier said on Friday.
Those who try to flee are recaptured and forced to continue fighting, he told the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV).
The child’s testimony is part of a documentary about the recruitment of children in Yemen, which was broadcast during the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Legal expert Lisa Al-Badawi highlighted efforts to rehabilitate former child soldiers and children affected by the war in Yemen.
She said children make up a third of fighters in the Houthi militias, according to a field study by the Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation.
The study showed that 80 percent of child soldiers in Yemen begin fighting to earn much-needed money amid deteriorating economic conditions, while just 10 percent join Houthi ranks for “ideological reasons.”
Al-Badawi revealed numerous human rights violations faced by the recruits, including the risk of death and injury, deprivation of education, and exposure to sexual and psychological abuse.
She also discussed the methods used to treat and rehabilitate these children, emphasizing the importance of promoting awareness among parents.
She presented statistics on the areas covered by the rehabilitation process, which is carried out with support from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief).
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said he is not surprised by the Houthis’ large-scale recruitment of children.
“By devious design, they push children onto the frontlines so that when the children become victims, the Houthis can cry foul and blame the legitimate Yemeni government for killing children,” he told Arab News.
“These are terrorist militias, and like all terrorists, they have no qualms about playing with the lives of children.”
It is easy for the militias to brainwash children, Al-Shehri said. “Grown people are difficult to convince, but children become easy prey,” he added.
“In most cases, the Houthis don’t even tell children that they’re going to the frontlines. They lure them by saying they’ll be helping their men.”
Now that the Houthis have been cornered in Hodeidah, they will use children and the civilian population as human shields, Al-Shehri said, asking: “What can we expect from such terrorists?”
Meanwhile, the Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of Hodeidah port to the UN, according to sources quoted by Reuters. The port is a principal entry point for relief supplies for Yemen.
This week, UN envoy Martin Griffiths has been in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital Sanaa and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to try to negotiate a solution.
The source, quoted by Reuters, said the Houthis indicated that they would accept overall UN management and inspections of the port.
A Western diplomat said the UN would oversee income from the port and make sure it gets to Yemen’s central bank. The understanding is that Yemeni state employees will work alongside the UN.
Griffiths on Thursday said he was “encouraged by the constructive engagement” of the Houthis, and will be holding meetings with Yemen’s internationally backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Speaking earlier at the UN, Saudi Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi reiterated the Saudi-led coalition’s demand that the Houthis quit the city of Hodeidah entirely.
“What we are offering is for the Houthis to hand over their weapons to the government of Yemen and to leave, to leave peacefully, and to provide information about the locations of mines and improvised explosive devices,” he said.