Erdogan: Assad is ‘a terrorist’

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017. Erdogan is railing against the United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan who re-tweeted a post that accused the Turkish leader's Ottoman "forefathers" of mistreating Arabs and stealing manuscripts from the holy city of Medina.(AP)
Updated 28 December 2017

Erdogan: Assad is ‘a terrorist’

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan labeled Syrian President Bashar Assad “a terrorist” in a news conference in Tunis on Wednesday. He was speaking alongside his Tunisian counterpart Beji Caid Essebsi.
“Assad is definitely a terrorist who has carried out state terrorism,” Erdogan said. “It is impossible to continue with Assad. How can we embrace the future with a Syrian president who has killed close to a million of his citizens?”
Erdogan also said that peace would not come to Syria while Assad remained its president and that the Syrian regime should play no part in designing the country’s political future.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher of Middle East politics, thinks that Erdogan’s statement is a message for Moscow and Tehran, encouraging them to clarify the schedule for Assad’s removal.
“The key question is: What can Turkey achieve through talking to Assad that it cannot achieve through talking to Iran and Russia?” Sohtaoglu told Arab News. “Talking to Assad would not be a solution to any of Turkey’s problems. It would, instead, lead to Turkey losing all of its trump cards in Syria.
“Establishing a dialogue with Damascus will cause the US to perceive Ankara as part of the Russia-Iran-Syria axis,” he continued. “Then the US and all anti-Assad actors would increase their political support for the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a consequence.”
According to Sohtaoglu, no party will be able to instigate a plan in the region or determine a political direction without the support of Turkey.
“At the end of the day, Russia and Iran will have to give up their support of Assad,” he said.  
Dozens of Syrian opposition parties have refused to take part in the Russian-sponsored Sochi peace talks slated for next month because they believe Moscow has failed to put sufficient pressure on Assad. 
Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst from Marmara University in Istanbul, said the problem of Assad’s political future has always topped the list of Turkey’s disagreements with Russia and Iran.
“President Erdogan’s latest statement proves once again that Turkey’s position on this issue has not changed substantially despite its strategic rapprochement with Moscow and Tehran through the Astana process,” Ersen told Arab News.
Yet, according to Ersen, Turkey currently faces more pressing issues in Syria, including the presence of Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed affiliate the People’s Protection Units (YPG), along with a possible Turkish military operation in Syria’s Afrin district, which is currently under the control of Syrian Kurdish militia.
Ersen believes that Turkey might want to exploit the growing rift between the Assad regime and the PYD/YPG in order to advance its own interests in Syria, as Assad has recently been critical of the PYD/YPG forces, even calling them “traitors” in one of his latest interviews.
Even if that happens, however, Turkey still needs the backing of Russia and Iran for any action it takes against the PYD/YPG.
“Ankara needs the support of Russia and Iran in order to take steps to solve these problems,” Ersen noted. “Therefore, at this stage, the issue of Assad will probably be secondary in Ankara’s negotiations with Moscow and Tehran.”


Assad forces mass for new attack on opposition stronghold

Updated 10 min 23 sec ago

Assad forces mass for new attack on opposition stronghold

  • Troops drive north toward Turkish border
  • Kurdish buffer zone ‘fully operational’

BEIRUT: Assad regime troops massed in northwest Syria on Saturday in preparation for a new drive north toward the border with Turkey.

The border region of Idlib is the last bastion of the Syrian opposition. Until last week, it was controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes captured the key town of Khan Sheikhun from the militants on Wednesday, and on Friday they overran the countryside to the south of the town.

“The day after they controlled the area south of Khan Sheikhun, regime forces began massing in the area north of it,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They were “preparing to continue their advance toward the area of Maaret Al-Noman,” a town about 25km north, he said.

Heavy bombardment hit the area on Saturday in preparation for a further push north. Thick gray smoke billowed up into a clear blue sky after a strike on the outskirts of Maaret Al-Noman. Like Khan Sheikhun, the town sits on the main highway between Damascus and Aleppo, a key target for the regime to recapture.

However, the new offensive that began in April has heightened tension with Turkey, which fears an influx of refugees fleeing the fighting. Turkish troops have been deployed at 12 observation posts around the Idlib region in an attempt to set up a buffer zone to protect civilians.

FAST FACTS

  • The border region of Idlib is the last bastion of the Syrian opposition.
  • Turkish troops have been deployed at 12 observation posts around the Idlib region.

The regime accuses Turkey of using the observation posts to arm and supply the militants. Last week, airstrikes targeted a Turkish military convoy traveling south down the main highway toward one of the posts at Morek. The convoy was still stranded on Saturday north of Khan Sheikhun.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denied the Morek observation post had been surrounded and said Turkish troops would not withdraw from the position.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Further east in Syria, a joint Turkish-US control center to establish and manage a safe zone is fully operational, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said. 

“The command of the center is by one US general and one Turkish general,” he said, and the first joint helicopter flight took place on Saturday after Turkish drones carried out surveillance work in the safe zone last week.

Syrian Kurds said on Saturday they would support the implementation of the buffer zone. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) played a key role in the battle against Daesh in Syria, but Ankara views them as terrorists.

“The SDF will be a positive party toward the success of this operation,” said Mazloum Kobani, head of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces.