Turkish forces converge on Syria border; attack on Afrin imminent

A photo made available by the Dogan News Agency shows Turkish military trucks transporting armored vehicles to reinforce the border units in Sanliurfa close to the Syrian border on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2018
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Turkish forces converge on Syria border; attack on Afrin imminent

ANKARA: Turkish troops and tanks were seen on Wednesday near the Afrin region of Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey, suggesting Ankara’s long-threatened attack on US-backed Syrian Kurds is imminent. Turkey’s top security board also convened on Wednesday, under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss the prospective military offensive on Afrin.
The latest statements from Turkish officials suggest Ankara’s planned military operation may even extend beyond Afrin to the distant Arab-majority town of Manbij, west of the Euphrates, which is currently under the control of the predominantly Kurdish militia group Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
YPG is seen by Ankara as a terrorist organization and the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
In a meeting with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson on Wednesday in Vancouver, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey’s “precautions” against YPG forces in Syria are not limited to Afrin, but could expand to Manbij.
Experts are divided over the likelihood and feasibility of such an operation, but they all agree that it could cause an abundance of problems for Turkey in terms of its relationship with other regional players.
Metin Gurcan, a security analyst at the Istanbul Policy Center, underlines the strategic location and regional significance of Manbij for both America and Russia.
“Manbij is a buffer zone and a bridgehead where Russia and the United States have interests,” he told Arab News. “The north of Manbij is under the control of the YPG, while the southern part is held by the (Syrian President Bashar) Assad regime.”
According to Gurcan, threatening an offensive against Manbij may be Turkey’s strategy to escalate tension “in a controlled way” and to show “determination” ahead of the military operation.
He stressed that any operation on Manbij is dependent on what happens in Afrin, and that an assault of Afrin is unlikely without the consent of Moscow.
“In military terms, it would be unfeasible and very tough to conduct an operation first by advancing to the west, and then turning in the opposite direction. It would be less effective because of its extended scope,” he noted.
“In Manbij, Turkey runs the risk of upsetting both Russia and the US. In that case, Ankara would have to negotiate with these two countries, and make concessions. This would further complicate the situation,” Gurcan explained.
According to Gurcan, Turkey is increasingly the subject of a power struggle between Moscow and Washington in the north of Syria.
On Tuesday, Ryan Dillon, spokesperson for the US-led coalition, announced that the Pentagon would not oppose any Turkish operation against Afrin, as the canton does not fall under the operation area of the coalition, a statement Gurcan describes as “a critical maneuver.”
“By taking an indifferent approach vis-a-vis Turkey’s impending operation in Afrin, the Pentagon has transferred the problem of the ties between Turkey and the YPG to Russia, while the latter has been unexpectedly quiet about Turkey’s military preparations, and has not withdrawn its soldiers from Afrin,” he said.
However, Serhat Erkmen, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, does not share Gurcan’s opinion that Turkey’s talk of a possible Manbij operation is just rhetoric.
“If Turkey can afford to (upset) the US, such an operation is completely possible, considering that the town of Manbij currently faces a lot of ethnic and management problems,” Erkmen told Arab News.
Manbij is of considerable strategic importance, Erkmen explained: “It controls the water supply to the region, which may be at grave risk of severe water shortages for drinking and agricultural purposes if instability continues,” Erkmen said.


Egypt says Israel’s Jewish nation-state law undermines Middle East peace

Updated 21 July 2018
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Egypt says Israel’s Jewish nation-state law undermines Middle East peace

  • Egypt on Saturday said a new Israeli law giving Jews the exclusive right to self-determination in the country undermined the chances for peace
  • The law, which was passed on Thursday, has drawn rebuke from the EU and was denounced by the Palestinian Authority

CAIRO: Egypt on Saturday said a new Israeli law giving Jews the exclusive right to self-determination in the country undermined the chances for peace in the Middle East and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
The law, which was passed on Thursday, has drawn rebuke from the EU and was denounced by the Palestinian Authority and Arab citizens of Israel as racist legislation.
“The Arab Republic of Egypt announces...its rejection of the law passed by the Israeli Knesset on the “national state for the Jewish people” law ... for its ramifications that consecrate the concept of occupation and racial segregation,” the Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement.
“It undermines the chances for achieving peace and reaching a just and comprehensive solution for the Palestinian issue,” it said.
It said the law would also have a potential impact on the right of Palestinians displaced from their homes in 1948 when Israel was founded, and their descendants, to return to their homes under United Nations resolutions.
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to forge a peace treaty with Israel under the US-sponsored Camp David accord that provided for the Jewish state to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula.
But relations between two countries remained lukewarm, with Egypt demanding that Israel quit other lands it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, including the Syrian Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem.
On Friday, Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, the most prestigious Sunni Muslim institution, denounced the Israeli law calling it “a step that reflects repugnant racism“