Turkish tanks, troops surge into Afrin

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Free Syrian Army fighters shout slogans before heading toward the Syrian border, in Kirikhan, Turkey. (AP)
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Turkish military trucks carrying tanks and other armored vehicles cross through a border gate into a Turkish-controlled region of the Oncupinar border crossing with Syria, known as Bab al Salameh in Arabic, near the city of Kilis, Turkey, late Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. The deployment occurred hours after dozens of Turkish jets bombed Syrian Kurdish militia targets in the enclave of Afrin. (Can Erok/DHA-Depo Photos via AP)
Updated 22 January 2018
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Turkish tanks, troops surge into Afrin

ANKARA: Turkish tanks and ground troops surged across the border into northwest Syria on Sunday, on the second day of Operation Olive Branch against Kurdish forces in Afrin.
The ground assault, supported by 25,000 fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), followed a day of air strikes and artillery shelling that continued on Sunday. The Turkish military said they struck more than 150 Kurdish military targets.
The operation is aimed at driving out Syrian Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey views as a terrorist group linked to the outlawed PKK.
The Turkish military said their forces had driven several kilometers into Afrin and captured the villages of Shinkal and Hay Ughlu, but the YPG said they had repelled the attack.
Analysts told Arab News they believed Turkey had obtained limited Russian support for the military operation by agreeing to limit it to a 30-kilometer zone on the border, rather than capturing all of Afrin.
Kerim Has, a lecturer in Turkish-Russian relations at Moscow University, said there appeared to be an agreement between Ankara and Moscow on specific targets and a strict deadline, which meant a limited operation by the Turkish military.
“Moscow probably did give the green light by opening the airspace over Afrin and withdrawing its soldiers from the region on the condition that the territory captured by Turkey would be turned over to Assad regime control after some time freed from the YPG,” he said.
Metin Gurcan, a former military officer and security analyst at the Istanbul Policy Center, said the military operation would face difficulties.
“The terrain of Afrin is hilly, which makes it challenging for armor and favorable for guerilla warfare, providing shelter against airstrikes,” he told Arab News. “The resistance of the YPG forces will also determine the duration.”
The military operation also risks straining Turkey’s ties with the US, which views the YPG as an ally in the fight against Daesh. The US has moved to allay such fears. Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said: “We recognize Turkey’s security concerns regarding the PKK, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization. The US does not provide any support to the PKK.”
However, Abdullah Agar, a security expert and retired special warfare and commando officer, said: “The US has tested Ankara’s most profound sensitivities, which relate to state security and the unitary state, and that has resulted in Turkey’s determination in this operation.
“I don’t believe in the sincerity of the US statements on this operation. The Pentagon has always preferred to support, train and equip the groups Turkey considers terror groups. Its sincerity will be tested through its policy toward, and actions against, the PKK.”
Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News the military operation was taking place because extremist Kurdish parties such as the PYD and PKK posed a threat to the local population in Afrin, and to Turkey.
Al-Aridi rejected President Bashar Assad’s claims that the Turkish offensive was part of Ankara’s support for extremist groups.
“Anything that does not suit the regime is labelled terrorism,” he said. “The PYD and PKK are the ones who are terrorizing the local population.”
Hisham Marwa, a representative of Syria’s opposition High Negotiations Committee, told Arab News many Syrian people in the area were opposed to Kurdish militants who were pursuing their own agenda.
Marwa voiced concern about the plight of civilians. “We do not want civilians to be affected by the conflict. Kurds are Syrians too, and their safety is a sensitive matter for all Syrians.”
He called on Kurdish militants to respect the human rights of the local population and avoid any confrontation with the Free Syrian Army.
Jaish Al-Thuwar, an Arab group affiliated to YPG forces in Afrin, denied reports on Sunday that they had switched sides and joined opposition forces taking part in the Turkish operation.
 


Lebanon’s Hariri on track to become PM for third time

Lebanon’s Saad Hariri won the backing of a majority of MPs in official consultations on Thursday to become prime minister for a third time. (AFP)
Updated 2 min 10 sec ago
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Lebanon’s Hariri on track to become PM for third time

  • The post of prime minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power sharing system, and the Western-backed Hariri was the clear frontrunner as the country’s leading Sunni despite losing more than a third of his MPs in a May 6 election.
  • While Hariri won wide backing, Hezbollah MPs named nobody for the post. The group would cooperate “positively” with whoever was designated, Mohammed Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said after meeting Aoun.

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Saad Hariri is on track to become prime minister for a third time after winning the backing of a majority of MPs in official consultations on Thursday, and is expected to launch negotiations on a coalition government.

The post of prime minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power sharing system, and the Western-backed Hariri was the clear frontrunner as the country’s leading Sunni despite losing more than a third of his MPs in a May 6 election.

Lebanon's president began consultations on Thursday with lawmakers on naming a new prime minister following this month's parliamentary elections and amid increasing pressures by the US and its Arab allies on the militant Hezbollah group.

President Michel Aoun was holding the official talks with MPs who were holding separate meetings with him on Thursday. The meetings are due to continue into the afternoon. Aoun must designate the candidate with the greatest backing.

By noon, many of the blocs, including the two largest in Parliament, named Hariri as their favorite.

The new coalition government is expected to reflect the enhanced political position of the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah and allies that support its possession of arms, which together won at least 70 of Parliament’s 128 seats.

 

Hariri wins backing

While Hariri won wide backing, Hezbollah MPs named nobody for the post. The group would cooperate “positively” with whoever was designated, Mohammed Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said after meeting Aoun.

Hezbollah, which has 13 seats in the legislature, did not name its own candidate for the premiership as it has done in the past — signaling it will likely go along with Hariri's re-appointment despite tense relations between the Iran-allied Shiite group and the Western-backed Hariri.

All Lebanese leaders have called for the rapid formation of a new government that will aim to revitalize a stagnant economy situation and address unsustainable public debt levels.

But like the outgoing Cabinet, the new government will have to balance out the interests of all the main competing Lebanese parties and may take time.

Hezbollah, which is designated a terrorist group by the US, intends to secure three Cabinet seats in the next coalition government, an increase from the two portfolios it held in the outgoing Cabinet of 30 ministers, a senior official familiar with the group’s thinking told Reuters.

A UN-backed tribunal has indicted five Hezbollah members in the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father and former Premier Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah denies the charges.

Hezbollah, which has to date held only marginal Cabinet posts, is also seeking more significant service-providing ministries in the new Cabinet, sources familiar with its thinking have told Reuters.

Hezbollah also believes a Cabinet post should be allocated to one of its Sunni allies who wrested seats away from Hariri’s Future Movement.

The staunchly anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces party, which almost doubled its number of MPs to 15, is also seeking a bigger slice of Cabinet portfolios.

Parliament re-elected the Hezbollah-allied Shiite politician Nabih Berri as its speaker on Wednesday, extending his tenure in the post he has held since 1992. Another Hezbollah ally, Elie Ferzli, was elected as his deputy. A wave of sanctions by the US and its Arab allies has targeted Hezbollah, which made gains in this month's balloting and which says it wants to play a bigger role in Lebanon's new government. Those demands could complicate Hariri's mission in the coming weeks.

The six GCC countries and the US consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization while the European Union only labels its military wing as a terrorist group.

“This action highlights the duplicity and disgraceful conduct of Hezbollah and its Iranian backers,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin in a statement. "Despite Nasrallah’s claims, Hezbollah uses financiers like Bazzi who are tied to drug dealers, and who launder money to fund terrorism,”