Turkish troops, Kurdish militia clash in Idlib

A member of the Syrian pro-regime forces flashes the victory gesture from the hatch of a tank before advancing towards rebel-held positions west of Aleppo, near Abu al-Zuhur military airport in the Idlib province countryside, in this November 11, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 21 November 2017
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Turkish troops, Kurdish militia clash in Idlib

ISTANBUL: The Turkish army and Kurdish militia exchanged fire Monday in the northern Syrian province of Idlib where Ankara’s troops are stationed as observers, the first report of such an incident in the area, state media said.
Kurdish militia fighters fired five mortars at an observation post in Idlib staffed by Turkish troops, the Anadolu news agency said. No casualties were reported and the mortars did not hit their target, it added.
In response, the Turkish army fired toward Kurdish militia-held positions around the town of Afrin, it added.
Turkish troops are deployed in Idlib as part of of an agreement with Iran and Russia to implement four so-called de-escalation zones in flashpoint areas around Syria.
Up until the deployment of Turkish troops in mid-October, Idlib had largely been controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a group led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.
The incident comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to host Turkish and Iranian counterparts Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani for summit talks on Syria in Sochi on Wednesday.
Turkey has repeatedly threatened to launch a military operation on Afrin, which is controlled by the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militia considered by Turkey to be a terror group.
Ankara views the YPG as the Turkish branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.
Turkish troops have repeatedly clashed with the YPG in Aleppo province, especially during Ankara’s incursion last year, but this is the first time such an incident has been reported in Idlib.
Russia, along with Iran, is the key supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad while Turkey has backed the opposition seeking Assad’s ouster.
But Russia and Turkey have been working together since a 2016 reconciliation deal ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian war plane over Syria.
Analysts say that Erdogan will be keen to discourage Putin from backing the YPG in Syria at the Sochi talks, as Ankara seeks a say in post-war Syria after over six years of conflict.


Netanyahu faces snap election calls after defense minister quits

Updated 43 min 23 sec ago
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Netanyahu faces snap election calls after defense minister quits

  • Avigdor Lieberman quit on Wednesday over what he described as the government’s too-soft policy on cross-border violence with Palestinian militants
  • The loss of the five seats of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced calls on Thursday from his coalition partners to hold an early election, a day after the defense minister’s resignation left the government with a razor-thin majority.
Avigdor Lieberman quit on Wednesday over what he described as the government’s too-soft policy on cross-border violence with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
The loss of the five seats of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament, raising the prospect that a scheduled November 2019 election would be brought forward.
Lieberman’s resignation takes effect 48 hours after being handed in, which he did early on Thursday. Each coalition partner will then have the power to bring down the government.
To avert a crisis, Netanyahu has been holding talks with ministers in an effort to stabilize the government.
Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads the centrist Kulanu party, said he told Netanyahu in their meeting that the responsible step to take would be to establish a new and stable government.
“The best thing for Israel’s citizens and economy is to hold an election as soon as possible,” Kahlon said in a statement. His call was echoed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas faction.
Adding to the pressure, Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home party, has demanded the defense brief by given to him.
Both Lieberman and Bennett, who compete with Netanyahu’s Likud for right-wing voters, have spoken in favor of harsh Israeli military action against Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists.
Israel has fought three wars in Gaza since Hamas took over the enclave in 2007.
“I asked the prime minister yesterday to appoint me defense minister to fulfil one goal only — that Israel start winning again,” Bennett said at a conference near Tel Aviv.
Jewish Home said on Wednesday that without the defense brief, there would be no point in keeping the government together.
However Bennett did not repeat this in his remarks on Thursday nor did he render an explicit ultimatum to Netanyahu, with whom he is due to meet on Friday.
It was unclear whether Netanyahu would opt for an early election.
Netanyahu is under investigation for corruption, and speculation has been rife that he may bring the ballot forward in order to win a renewed mandate before Israel’s attorney-general decides whether to indict him.
A poll published on Wednesday by Israel’s Hadashot television news showed Likud falling by one seat from 30 to 29 after months of surveys that have shown it gaining power. Only 17 percent of respondents were happy with Netanyahu’s Gaza policy.