Turkish tanks roll into Syria to fight Kurdish militia
Turkish tanks roll into Syria to fight Kurdish militia
Turkey on Saturday launched operation “Olive Branch” seeking to oust from the Afrin region of northern Syria the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) which Ankara considers a terror group.
But the campaign risks further increasing tensions with Turkey’s NATO ally Washington, which has supported the YPG in the fight against Daesh militants and warned Ankara about distracting the focus from that fight.
In its first reaction to the offensive, the US State Department urged Turkey Sunday “to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration and scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties.”
“We call on all parties to remain focused on the central goal of defeating” Daesh, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said troops crossed into YPG-controlled region in Syria at 0805 GMT, the Dogan news agency reported.
Thirty-two Turkish planes destroyed a total of 45 targets including ammunition dumps and refuges used by the YPG on the second day of the operation, the Turkish army said.
Turkish troops were advancing alongside forces from the Ankara-backed rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and were already five kilometers (three miles) inside Syria, state media said.
An AFP photographer saw more Turkish tanks lined up at the border waiting to cross into Syrian territory.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in televised comments several villages had already been taken in the advance.
But a YPG spokesman claimed Turkish forces seeking to enter Afrin had been “blocked” and that it had hit two Turkish tanks.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of 18 civilians had been killed so far in the two-day operation. Ankara denied any civilian casualties, with Cavusoglu accusing the YPG of sending out “nonsense propaganda and baseless lies.”
In his first comments on the offensive since it began, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed hope the “operation will be finished in a very short time” and vowed “we will not take a step back.”
Following calls from some Turkish pro-Kurdish politicians for people to take to the streets, he warned that anyone protesting in Turkey against the operation would pay “a heavy price.”
Police stopped demonstrations against the campaign taking place in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir and in Istanbul, making arrests, AFP correspondents said.
In a sign of the risks to Turkey, six rockets fired from Syria hit the Turkish border town of Reyhanli Sunday, killing one Syrian refugee and wounding 32 people, its mayor said.
Earlier, several rockets hit the Turkish border town of Kilis without causing fatalities.
The operation is Turkey’s second major incursion into Syria during the seven-year civil war after the August 2016-March 2017 Euphrates Shield campaign in an area to the east of Afrin, against both the YPG and Daesh.
Turkey accuses the YPG of being the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a rebellion in Turkey for more than three decades and is regarded as a terror group by Ankara and the EU and US.
Afrin is an enclave of YPG control, cut off from the longer strip of northern Syria that the group controls to the east, extending to the Iraqi border which has a US military presence.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag ruled out the risk of a clash with American forces, saying they were not present in the Afrin region.
Yildirim was quoted as saying that the Turkish forces aimed to create a security zone some 30 kilometers (18 miles) deep inside Syria.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly said the fighting “must stop” as it could deter YPG fighters helping the international coalition against Daesh.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was calling the UN Security Council meeting as it was deeply worried by the “brutal degradation of the situation” in flashpoints like Afrin.
Crucial is the attitude of Russia, which has a military presence in the area and is also working with Turkey on a drive to end the civil war.
The Russian foreign ministry voiced concern and urged Turkey to show restraint, while the defense ministry said its troops were withdrawing from the Afrin area to ensure their security and prevent any “provocation.”
The Turkish foreign ministry said it had informed the Syrian regime — through its Istanbul consulate — of the operation despite being at odds with Damascus throughout the civil war.
But the Syrian foreign ministry strongly denied this and President Bashar Assad slammed the offensive as “support for terrorism.”
Cairo looks to curb street sheep slaughter for Eid holiday
- The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recommends strict guidelines for the slaughter of animals
- Egypt’s state-sponsored Islamic religious authorities, which rule on sharia law, have also come out against the practice
CAIRO: Faced with scenes of blood flowing in rubbish-strewn roads and of streets littered with animal entrails, authorities in the Egyptian capital say they aim to crack down on the outdoor slaughter that marks one of Islam’s main holidays.
Eid Al-Adha, or the festival of sacrifice, is marked by Muslims sacrificing animals according to religious traditions at the end of the Hajj annual pilgrimage to Makkah and Medina.
Ahead of the holiday, which this year starts on Tuesday, temporary sheep markets have sprung up amid the exhaust fumes and garbage heaps of the sprawling metropolis.
But the governor’s office in Cairo insists it is on a “cleanliness” drive to stop the widespread slaughter of animals in the distinctly unhygienic surroundings of the city’s streets.
To prevent the “barbaric and unacceptable” spectacle, officials in each neighborhood have been ordered to “strictly” enforce laws prohibiting the practice, city spokesman Khaled Mostafa told AFP.
Offenders risk a fine of at least 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($280, 250 euros), a hefty sum that exceeds the average monthly wage in the country.
In the crowded Sayeda Zainab neighborhood near central Cairo, local merchants keep the sheep up for sale for the feast down muddy alleyways.
Traders like Hussein Abul Al-Aziz say they welcome the push to eliminate the killings in the streets and claim they don’t engage in the practice.
“It is unacceptable to slaughter in the street, it must be done in an abattoir with a veterinarian who examines the animal and under the supervision of the health ministry,” Aziz said, standing among his well-fed beasts.
But it clear that the message from the authorities has not reached most people.
Local resident Ahmed Ragab shops around for a sheep for Eid Al-Adha.
The father in his fifties confides that he has not heard of the official sanitation drive and was planning to slaughter his animal in the street outside his house.
“But it is true that it’s dirty and dangerous,” he concedes.
It is not just Cairo officials who are seeking to dissuade people from street sacrifices.
Egypt’s state-sponsored Islamic religious authorities, which rule on sharia law, have also come out against the practice.
The Dar Al-Ifta institution published a speech this month condemning street sacrifices as a “great sin and serious crime.”
A potential cause of diseases and epidemics, leaving behind the remains of the animal is also considered “impure” by the Qur'an holy book, the government body said on its website.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recommends strict guidelines for the slaughter of animals.
It says abattoirs should be “situated away from residential areas” and calls for “a well-planned, well-executed and controlled cleaning and sanitation program.”
However, the aspirations of the authorities and advice of experts seem at odds with the reality in the marketplace.
On the outskirts of Cairo, makeshift pens hold sheep close to an open sewerage drain.
Local butchers complain of financial woes they face as the cost of living soars in Egypt.
Most did not want to answer questions but it was clear they would meet customers’ demands — including butchering animals in the streets — to make ends meet.
“We’ll do anything,” one told AFP.