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.


Secretary-General of Arab League warns Palestine situation critical

Updated 24 min 14 sec ago
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Secretary-General of Arab League warns Palestine situation critical

  • The United States recently announced that it is ending all funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA
  • The Secretary-General stated that this deprives Palestinians of any political solution in the future

The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned of the deteriorating situation of Palestinians in occupied territories, pointing out that the current situation is cause for concern.

Aboul Gheit said in a statement: “The US administration is exerting unprecedented pressure on the weakest party in this conflict, and it is not understood how such an approach could eventually lead to peace, which actually distances us from the two-state solution.”

The United States recently announced that it is ending all funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA. Washington’s aid cuts to the Palestinians also affects cancer patients and peace groups.

The Secretary-General stated that this deprives Palestinians of any political solution in the future and puts them under unprecedented pressure, both at a political level and on a humanitarian level with regards to the standard of daily life of millions of people living in occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Aboul Gheit stressed that the explosion of the situation in Palestine will not be in the interest of any party, and that there is a responsibility on the international community to prevent the situation to deteriorate even more.

Aboul Gheit blamed the US, calling Washington responsible for creating this state of anger and despair among Palestinians, stating that the situation has negative consequences for stability in the region.