Turkey intensifies operation in Syria’s Idlib

Children wave Turkish national flags near soldiers during a demonstration on Tuesday in support of the Turkish army’s Idlib operation near the Turkey-Syria border near Reyhanli, Hatay. (AFP)
Updated 11 October 2017
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Turkey intensifies operation in Syria’s Idlib

ANKARA: There was fierce fighting on Tuesday between Turkish-backed units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) in Syria’s north-western province of Idlib.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country’s military operations in jihadist-controlled Idlib aim to prevent a potential influx into Turkey.
Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said Turkish soldiers would remain in Idlib until threats against Turkey are dealt with.
While Ankara had long supported rebels fighting the Syrian regime, it is now concentrating on securing Turkey’s southern border against possible terrorist infiltration, and on thwarting territorial gains by the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is outlawed in Turkey and has waged a bloody war against the state for more than three decades.
On Sunday, a team from the Turkish Army entered Idlib to carry out reconnaissance activities and determine the location of surveillance posts before the creation of a “de-escalation zone,” the Turkish military said.
After Operation Euphrates Shield to clear the border of Daesh and roll back Syrian-Kurdish territorial gains, this is the second time the Turkish Army conducts an operation in Syria, this time with Russian air support.
Ankara is determined to prevent Syrian Kurds from creating a strategic corridor between the cantons of Kobani and Afrin.
In the framework of the Astana peace talks — brokered on Sept. 15 between Turkey, Russia and Iran to establish de-escalation zones — Ankara will create control points in Idlib for future deployments.
The presence of observers is expected to prevent violations of the cease-fire agreement, and to pacify internal conflicts between militant groups and civilians. HTS is spearheaded by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and is not party to the deal.
Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Tuesday announced a six-point summary of the stance of his Republican People’s Party on the Idlib operation, and emphasized the need to protect the lives of Turkish soldiers in Syria.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an expert on extremist movements, said Turkey’s efforts in Idlib are unlikely to go smoothly.
“There are various and competing armed groups in Idlib whose only common denominator is standing against the Assad regime,” he told Arab News.
“No armed resistance occurred during the entry of Turkish troops into Idlib, but these groups don’t want to see in Idlib any rebel faction that fought alongside Turkey in Euphrates Shield.”
Sohtaoglu said the establishment of the de-escalation zone in Idlib aims to provide safety for about 2 million civilians in the region.
“In contrast to Euphrates Shield, this cross-border deployment intends to persuade various armed groups to halt fighting and restore peace,” he added.
“The fate of Afrin, which is controlled by the YPG, will be determined by the joint efforts of Russia and Iran,” he said.
“Moscow is trying to create a pro-regime regiment to counterbalance the YPG presence there,” Sohtaoglu added.
“Turkey’s only contribution on this issue has been preventing Syrian Kurds from reaching the Mediterranean.”
Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of the Ankara-based think tank ANKASAM, said the Idlib operation reflects Turkey’s determination and common stance with neighboring countries to bring stability and peace to Syria
“The next step is Afrin. With these operations, Turkey intends to end the civil war in Syria, which requires the eradication of the Syrian branch of a potential Kurdish state,” Erol told Arab News.
“In that regard, the Idlib operation doesn’t only mean eliminating a terror corridor along Turkey’s southern border. It’s also a step to terminating a greater project to destabilize the region.”


Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Updated 22 May 2018
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Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

  • US Secretary of State laid out Trump administration’s strategy for constraining Iran’s nuclear program
  • US threatens "strongest sanctions in history" if Iranian government does not change course

WASHINGTON: The US told Iran on Monday to drop its nuclear ambitions and pull out of the Syrian civil war in a list of demands that marked a new hard-line against Tehran and prompted an Iranian official to warn that Washington seeks regime change.

Weeks after US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran, his administration threatened to impose “the strongest sanctions in history,” setting Washington and Tehran on a deeper course of confrontation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded sweeping changes that would force Iran effectively to reverse years of its foreign policies.

“The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen for itself and the people of Iran,” Pompeo said in his first major speech since becoming secretary of state.

“These will be the strongest sanctions in history by the time we are done,” he added.

Pompeo took aim at Iran’s policy of expanding its influence in the Middle East through support for proxy armed groups in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

He warned that the US would “crush” Iranian operatives and allies abroad and told Tehran to pull out forces under its command from the Syrian civil war where they back President Bashar Assad.

Iran is unlikely to accede to the US demands. Tension between the two countries has grown notably since Trump this month withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Pompeo warned that if Iran fully resumed its nuclear program Washington would be ready to respond and said the administration would hold companies doing prohibited business in Iran to account.

“Our demands on Iran are not unreasonable: Give up your program,” Pompeo said, “Should they choose to go back, should they begin to enrich, we are fully prepared to respond to that as well,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Pompeo said if Iran made major changes, the US was prepared to ease sanctions, re-establish full diplomatic and commercial relations and support the country’s re-integration into the international economic system.

The speech did not explicitly call for regime change but Pompeo repeatedly urged the Iranian people not to put up with their leaders, specifically naming President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“At the end of the day the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful, if they choose not to do so we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes I set forward,” said Pompeo.