Erdogan: We will continue Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, listens during a joint news statement with Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, following their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 10 January 2018
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Erdogan: We will continue Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s military will continue its operation in Syria’s Afrin and Manbij regions, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday during a parliamentary address to his ruling AK Party.
In 2016, Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield operation on its Syrian border to eradicate what it called a “corridor of terror,” made up by the dual threat of Daesh and Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Turkish foreign minister accused the Syrian regime of striking moderate opposition forces in Idlib province near the Turkish border, warning it could torpedo talks aimed at ending the war.
Ankara is working closely on Syria with Russia and Iran, President Bashar Assad’s main allies, but has stepped up criticism of the regime’s behavior in recent days.
“Regime forces are striking moderate opposition with the pretext of fighting against Al-Nusra (Front),” Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency, referring to the former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
Idlib province is almost entirely controlled by anti-regime forces that are dominated by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) consisting mostly of former Al-Nusra fighters.
“This attitude would scupper the political solution process,” Cavusoglu said.
“The parties that will come together in Sochi should refrain from” any action that could threaten the talks, he warned.
Russia is hoping to hold a Syria peace congress in its Black Sea resort of Sochi on Jan. 29-30.
Meanwhile, US-brokered talks based in Geneva between the regime and the opposition are also going forward, albeit at a stuttering pace.
A previous attempt in November to convene talks in Sochi failed due to disagreements between the prospective participants.
Turkey says it will oppose any talks involving the Kurdish militia of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara views as a terror group.
In 2016, Ankara and Moscow brokered a fragile cease-fire in certain areas — which has been bolstered by the negotiations in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
Both Damascus and the opposition factions regularly accuse one another of violating the cease-fire in the de-escalation zones, including in Idlib.
A likely future sticking point between Russia and Turkey is the fate of Assad, who Ankara has vehemently opposed throughout the conflict.
Last month, Erdogan said it was impossible to advance with Assad in power, describing him as a “terrorist.”
Syrian regime forces on Monday pounded Idlib as well as the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus, the two last opposition bastions in Syria.
Cavusoglu also accused the regime forces of attacking moderate opposition fighters under the guise of fighting extremists.
His comments came a day after regime forces captured 14 villages as they advanced on the largest opposition-held enclave in the country’s north amid a wave of airstrikes. The troops aim to reach an opposition-held air base in Idlib province and secure the road linking the capital, Damascus, with Aleppo.
The regime offensive around Idlib has forced thousands of civilians to flee toward the border with Turkey.
Cavusoglu said Syrian regime attacks on moderate opposition forces would “ax” peace efforts.
Turkey, Russia and Iran have taken the lead in Syria peace efforts over the past year. Turkey however, backs the opposition while Russia and Iran are close allies of Assad.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said the number of Russian troops left in Syria is sufficient for fending off any attacks by militants.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said late on Monday that its forces have repelled a series of drone attacks on its bases in Syria — the Hemeimeem air base and a naval facility in Tartus. It said that out of the 13 drones involved, seven were shot down and six were forced to land. The ministry said there was no damage.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Syria last month and ordered a partial troops pullout.
Asked Tuesday whether the withdrawal could have been premature in view of the drone attack, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian forces in Syria have “all the necessary means” to counter any challenge.


Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

Updated 22 May 2019
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Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

  • The acts of sabotage near the UAE coast highlight new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies
  • Experts say increased threat to navigation and global oil supplies not limited regionally but has global dimension

DUBAI: Amid rising tensions between the US and Iran, sabotage attacks on four commercial vessels off the coast of the UAE’s Fujairah port have raised serious questions about maritime security in the Gulf.

The incidents, which included attacks on two Saudi oil tankers, were revealed by the UAE government on May 12, drawing strong condemnation from governments in the Middle East and around the world as well as the Arab League.

Now experts have warned that the sabotage attacks highlight a new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies.

A Saudi government source said: “This criminal act constitutes a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation, and adversely affects regional and international peace and security.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the incidents threatened international maritime traffic.

While crimes on the high seas, including piracy, have tapered off in recent years, the attacks on the ships, three of which are registered to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have called into question common assumptions about the Gulf’s stability.

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Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., said governments of the Gulf region are mandated to watch over oceans and waterways. “On top of this requirement is the need for a new regime of maritime coordination to prevent attacks on shipping because of the repercussions for logistical chains, corporate strategies and insurance rates,” he told Arab News.

The sabotage attacks took place east of Fujairah port, outside the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which most Gulf oil exports pass and which Iran has threatened to block in the event of a military confrontation with the US.

Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence, said the recent attacks underscore the need for closer intelligence-coordinated capabilities among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including satellite communication and maritime or vessel security technology.

“The threats to oil tankers are not limited to the Gulf, but have a global dimension,” he said.

According to Obdola: “A coordinated joint task force integrating oil, intelligence security and military forces should be (established) to project and prepare (for potential future attacks). This is a time to be as united as ever.”

GCC countries have intensified security in international waters, the US navy said. Additionally, two US guided-missile destroyers entered the Gulf on May 16 in response to what the US called signs of possible Iranian aggression.

“The attack has brought (the region) a bit closer to a possible military confrontation amid the escalation in tensions between the US and Iran,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, told Arab News.

He said Iran is purposely dragging Saudi Arabia, the UAE and possibly other Gulf countries into its fight with the US. “The credibility of the US is at stake and Trump has said he will meet any aggression with unrelenting force. If Iran continues on this path, we might see some kind of a military showdown on a limited scale.”

Given the importance of the region’s oil supplies to the US, Abdulla said “it’s not just the responsibility of Arab Gulf states but an international responsibility” to keep the shipping lanes safe.