Syrian subgroups merge to form new National Army under Turkey’s guidance

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army pose for a photo near the town of Qabasin, northeast of Al-Bab, some 30 km from Aleppo. (AFP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Syrian subgroups merge to form new National Army under Turkey’s guidance

ANKARA: The National Army, Syria’s largest armed group since the breakout of the civil war in 2011, has reportedly formed under the guidance of Turkey.
About 30 sub-groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have reportedly come together to establish the country’s “National Army.”
The army, founded by the head of Syria’s Interim Government Jawad Abu Hatab, is set to fight against Daesh, the Assad regime and PKK terrorists.
The country’s new 22-000 strong army, or Al-Jaysh Al-Watani in Arabic, includes troops with fighting experience in the provinces of Raqqa, Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Homs, Hasaka, Deir Ezzor and Latakia. It is expected to potentially play a significant role in an eventual operation by Turkey in the Kurdish-held Syrian canton of Afrin.
Experts note that the aim of establishing this army is to create an alternative, more inclusive opposition fighting force, bringing in all ethnical groups, especially Kurds.
“During his visit to Ankara in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed this issue,” Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from Istanbul-based think-tank Bilgesam, told Arab News.
Semin said this is an alternative army project to the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but will comprise Kurdish groups that oppose the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main component of the SDF.
According to Turkish news reports, three Turkmen brigades will also take part in the Syrian National Army.
The Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army in northwestern Syria is mainly composed of Sunni Arab and Syrian Turkmen rebels, with few Kurdish groups.
The FSA was used by Ankara as an allied proxy force during its Euphrates Shield Operation between August 2016 and March 2017.
“By integrating the troops it has trained, Turkey will have a greater say in this new army,” Semin said, adding that Turkey has close ties with opposition groups in Syria.
“There are many Kurdish tribes in the regions where YPG is active. So there is a need to integrate them into this national army,” Semin added.
But, Semin, who thinks this is a welcome but belated initiative, underlines that Moscow’s priority for giving the green light to this project is that the army does not engage Syrian regime forces.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher on Middle East politics, said previously Ankara had decided not to support this plan upon Russia’s objections, but now things seem to have changed.
“Apparently now Turkey wants to take a different path and implement its own decision on Syria rather than looking at the Syrian conflict through Russia’s prism,” Sohtaoglu told Arab News.
“This project gathers three army corps. The first army corps are the ones that were trained in Turkey, while the other two are composed of about 30 groups throughout Syria,” he said.
According to Sohtaoglu, Ankara intends to turn the territories under its control into one single entity militarily and politically that will be affiliated with the Syrian transitional government.
“This regular army initiative will be also supported by Turkish aerial and ground forces, which will increase its influence. At the end of the day, they have been fighting in Syria for seven years with their high-capacity weapons, missiles and rockets,” he said.
Sohtaoglu also noted that during the political transition process and the resolution of the “Assad problem,” all armed groups will lay down arms and be put under the auspices of the new regime.
“Then the army will be restructured. But currently Russia doesn’t want to see any military forces against Assad, including the YPG,” he added.


Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

Updated 23 May 2019
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Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

  • Israel reduced the fishing limit to 10 nautical miles
  • The countries agreed to 20 nautical miles in the Oslo accords of 1990s

JERUSALEM: Israel reduced the offshore fishing limits it imposes for vessels operating out of Gaza from Thursday after Palestinians floated balloons fitted with incendiaries over the border, officials said.
The cut came just two days after Israel restored the limits to those set in April ahead of an Israeli general election.
“A decision was taken this Wednesday evening to reduce the fishing zone off the Gaza Strip to 10 nautical miles until further notice,” said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.
“The decision was taken after the launch of incendiary balloons from Gaza toward Israel,” it added.
Palestinians in Gaza have frequently floated balloons fitted with firebombs over the border to damage Israeli property and have in the past succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland.
Israel banned fishing completely when two days of deadly violence erupted earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following a truce.
The 15-nautical-mile limit that had been restored on Tuesday was the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.
But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.
Israeli authorities have not said whether the 15-mile limit was one of the understandings reached as part of the May 6 cease-fire in Gaza but Israel media reported on Monday that it was.
The additional nautical miles are important to Gaza fishermen as they bring more valuable, deeper water species within reach.
Four Israeli civilians and 25 Palestinians, including at least nine militants, were killed in this month’s exchanges across the border.