Turkey begins Afrin operation; shells Syrian Kurds

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People wave flags during a demonstration in the opposition-held town of Azaz, northern Syria, on Friday, in support of a Turkish military operation in Afrin. (AFP)
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Syrians demonstrate in the rebel-held town of Azaz in northern Syria on January 19, 2018, in support of a joint rebel and Turkish military operation against Syrian-Kurdish forces in Afrin. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2018
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Turkey begins Afrin operation; shells Syrian Kurds

ANKARA: The Turkish military on Friday shelled several Democratic Union Party (PYD) targets in the besieged Syrian border town of Afrin.

Ankara considers the Syrian-Kurdish PYD an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency against the Turkish state.

To encircle Kurdish-held Afrin, Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters were deployed to Syria’s northern Azaz region near the Turkish border on Thursday. Turkish forces and military equipment were also amassed at the border.

On Friday, about 170 Russian troops began pulling out of the region ahead of Ankara’s imminent military operation there, Turkish media reported.

The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that Russian soldiers are set to withdraw 17 km southward to the Nubul and Zehra districts, which are controlled by the Syrian regime. But there are reports that some Russian police remain in Afrin.

The reported withdrawal, which has not yet been confirmed by Russian official sources, came hours after a meeting between Turkey’s and Russia’s military and intelligence chiefs in Moscow on Thursday. Damascus has warned it could shoot down any Turkish planes in Syrian airspace.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s military has reportedly built its fourth observation post in the de-escalation zone in the Syrian province of Idlib, as part of the Astana deal that was brokered by Ankara, Moscow and Tehran last year.

Turkey was tasked with setting up 14 military observation posts around the zone to monitor de-escalation efforts, but Moscow has accused it of stalling in fulfilling its commitments.

“We are still waiting for Turkey to set up the observation posts as soon as possible,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Jan. 11.

Commentators say an increase in Ankara’s efforts in Idlib is aimed at securing Russia’s blessing for a Turkish offensive in Afrin.

“Russia is trying to play its own game in Afrin,” Timur Akhmetov, a researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News.

“Due to the fact that Moscow’s priority is to strengthen the Syrian government, Russia could be trying to influence the Afrin-based PYD to compromise with Damascus on issues of security.”

But Moscow will only give Afrin to Turkey if it gets something significant in return, he said. “Turkey and Russia may agree on a handover of the canton to the (Syrian) central government,” Akhmetov added.

Enes Ayasli, a research assistant at Sakarya University in Turkey, said Russia, with five military bases in Afrin, is the primary actor that Turkey needs to consider in terms of its operation.

“Contrary to the US, which is adopting a wait-and-see policy, Russia has been using Afrin as a trump card to promote security in western Idlib,” he told Arab News, adding that there is a trade-off between Ankara and Moscow.

But experts are cautious about the full opening of Afrin’s airspace to Turkish flights. “Turkey has missiles and howitzers that can destroy predetermined targets given Afrin’s proximity to the Turkish border,” said Ayasli.

“So it’s not a must for Ankara to wait for approval for the opening of Afrin’s airspace. The operation could be carried out under any circumstances,” he added.

“Turkey’s military plans not only include Afrin but also (the Arab-majority town of) Manbij, where there’s a US military base. The increasing US sphere of influence in Syria is a threat (to Ankara),” he said.

“Properly managing the conflict of interests between Russia and the US will strengthen Turkey’s position in Syria.”


German firms end Iran projects amid new US sanctions

Updated 9 min 34 sec ago
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German firms end Iran projects amid new US sanctions

  • New US sanctions against Iran took effect last week and several European companies have suspended plans to invest in Iran in light of the US sanctions

BERLIN: German rail operator Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Telekom are ending projects in Iran after Washington imposed new sanctions against Tehran and said firms doing business with Iran would be barred from doing business with the United States.
New US sanctions against Iran took effect last week and several European companies have suspended plans to invest in Iran in light of the US sanctions, including oil major Total as well as carmakers PSA, Renault and Daimler.
State-owned Deutsche Bahn is involved in two projects in Iran via its subsidiary DB Engineering&Consulting, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.
“Both projects will be ended in August and September 2018 respectively,” she said. “Due to the altered banking practice we have sought to bring the contract to an amicable and timely conclusion.”
Deutsche Bahn signed a memorandum of understanding with the Iranian rail operator Bonyad Eastern Railways (BonRail) in May 2017 for the first project, which aimed to identify and address potential in rolling stock and organization, she said.
The second project, which started around 1-1/2 years ago, was a consulting contract for Iranian state railway RAI that included restructuring the company, the spokeswoman added.
Separately, Detecon, a subsidiary of T-Systems — Deutsche Telekom’s IT services arm — has terminated its business in Iran, a spokesman said. Detecon offers consulting services to companies in the telecommunications industry.
“Until the decision to stop operations was made, sales in Iran in 2018 amounted to around €300,000,” he said.
“Given the sensitivity in relations with Iran worldwide, Detecon ended its business in Iran with immediate effect in mid-May 2018.”
The ending of Telekom’s involvement in Iran followed soon after the announcement that its US unit, T-Mobile, would buy Sprint Corp. in a $26 billion deal that remains subject to the approval of US regulators.