Turkish tanks roll into Syria to fight Kurdish militia

Trucks, one transporting a Turkish Army tank, form a convoy on the outskirts of Kilis, Turkey, near the border with Syria. Turkey’s ground troops entered the enclave of Afrin in northern Syria and were advancing with Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces in their bid to oust US-allied Syrian Kurdish forces from the region. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2018

Turkish tanks roll into Syria to fight Kurdish militia

HASSA, Turkey: Turkish troops and tanks entered Syria on Sunday to push an offensive against Kurdish militia as rockets hit border towns in apparent retaliation and the United States urged Ankara to show restraint.
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.”

Israel to build 2,500 new settler homes

Many Palestinians regard the announcement of the new settlements as being directly linked to the recent opening of the new US Embassy and the killings in Gaza. (Reuters)
Updated 25 May 2018

Israel to build 2,500 new settler homes

  • The stark warning comes after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed on Thursday that he would seek final approval for 2,500 homes to be built across 30 settlements.
  • They are working to superimpose greater Israel on all of historic Palestine, says Hanan Ashrawi

AMMAN, Jordan: Israel’s decision to build thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied West Bank has “ended the two-state solution,” according to Palestinian officials.

The stark warning comes after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed on Thursday that he would seek final approval for 2,500 homes to be built across 30 settlements. The work is likely to be approved at a planning committee meting next week.

The timing of Lieberman’s announcement is regarded as particularly provocative by Palestinian officials, still angered by the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem and the killing of 60 protesters in Gaza on May 15.

In a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian president, said: “The continuation of the settlement policy, statements by American officials supporting settlements, and incitement by Israeli ministers have ended the two-state solution and ended the American role in the region.”

The 2,500 houses, which are illegal under international law, will be spread across the occupied West Bank, with construction work due to begin immediately after approval is granted. The new houses will include 400 dwellings in Ariel, north of Jerusalem, and 460 in Ma’ale Adumim, a city already inhabited by about 40,000 people. Lieberman also said that “in coming months” he would push for the approval of another 1,400 settler houses now in the preliminary stages of planning.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) executive committee, said the plans reveal “the real nature of Israeli colonialism, expansionism and lawlessness.”

She said: “Undoubtedly, Israel is deliberately working to enhance its extremist Jewish settler population and to superimpose greater Israel on all of historic Palestine.”

In an appeal to the International Criminal Court earlier this week, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry branded Israeli settlements “the single most dangerous threat to Palestinian lives and livelihoods.” 

Ashrawi called for the legal body to “open an immediate criminal investigation into Israel’s flagrant violations of international law.”

According to a June 2017 article in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, more than 380,000 settlers live in the West Bank, with more than 40 percent based outside official settlements. Many Palestinians regard the announcement of the new settlements as being directly linked to the recent opening of the new US embassy and the killings in Gaza.

Khalil Tufakji, director of the maps and survey department at the Arab Studies Society, a Jerusalem-based NGO, told Arab News that the houses were designed to placate demands from the Israeli rightwing to create “a single state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.”