Turkey claims capture of 15 villages on Day 3 of Afrin offensive

Turkish army tanks enter Afrin, an enclave in northern Syria controlled by US-allied Kurdish fighters, in Hassa, Hatay, Turkey, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2018

Turkey claims capture of 15 villages on Day 3 of Afrin offensive

ANKARA: Turkey claimed the capture of 15 Kurdish-held villages on Monday on the third day of Operation Olive Branch aimed at driving out Syrian Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from their Afrin enclave in northwest Syria.
Turkish artillery shelled YPG targets inside Syria and ground troops opened a new front by moving on Afrin from the town of Azaz to the east.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 21 civilians, six of them children, had been killed in the operation.
Ankara denied causing civilian casualties, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the YPG of sending out “nonsense propaganda and baseless lies.”
France called for a UN Security Council meeting on Monday to discuss concerns over flashpoint areas in Syria, including the Turkish offensive. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had Russia’s support for the operation and would not back down. “We are determined. Afrin will be sorted out. We will take no step back,” he said in a televised speech in Ankara.
In a sign of the risks to Turkey, 11 rockets fired from Syria hit the Turkish border town of Reyhanli on Sunday, killing one Syrian refugee and wounding 46 people, 16 of them Syrian.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said 170 Kurdish military targets had been destroyed since Saturday and the Turkish army had suffered no losses.
Turkish authorities detained 24 people on Monday accused of posting “terror propaganda” on social media in support of the YPG and against the military operation. Ankara views the YPG and its political wing the PYD (Democratic Union Party) as terrorist groups linked to the outlawed PKK.
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller met Turkish officials in Ankara on Monday and said all countries had the right to self-defense, provided “this is done in a proportionate and measured way.”
Turkey claims to have captured up to 8km of territory in Afrin, and Naim Baburoglu, a military strategist and retired Turkish brigadier general, told Arab News he did not expect the operation to last much longer.
“In each military operation, there should be a political objective which precedes military targets,” he said. “For this one, Turkey wants to neutralize the PYD, to prevent a Kurdish corridor from reaching to the Mediterranean shores and to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity.”
Afrin was merely a tactical operation, he said, while the strategic objective was to eradicate the PYD threat east of the Euphrates, and the offensive was likely to be extended in that direction.
“If not, Turkey’s territorial integrity and border security will still be under threat from the PYD presence in the region in the short to medium term,” Baburoglu said.
Kerim Has, a lecturer in Turkish-Russian relations at Moscow University, warned that if the Turkish army suffered heavy losses in the offensive and sought further Russian military, political and diplomatic support, this would change the whole picture in Syria, Turkey and throughout the region.
“Requests to Russia from Ankara in such a scenario can directly cause a sharp and irrevocable break in Turkey-NATO relations,” he told Arab News.
The US State Department has already asked Turkey to restrict the scope of the operation and “to exercise restraint.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Turkey had been “candid” and had informed Washington beforehand about its operation.
Sakir Dincsahin, a Middle East expert from Hasan Kalyoncu University in Gaziantep, told Arab News: “Russia’s influence in the region has risen considerably and it has become a real power broker in Syria. So Moscow’s diplomatic support for the operation contributes a lot to its success.”
Washington was losing influence over Turkey because of its close partnership with the YPG and its latest attempt to establish a Kurdish-led border security force, he said.
“And at the same time it will also suffer an enormous image loss as it is currently not in a position to safeguard its local PYD/PKK allies from Turkish attacks.”

Yemen govt, Houthis to start first phase of Hodeidah pullout

Updated 19 February 2019

Yemen govt, Houthis to start first phase of Hodeidah pullout

  • The UN statement said both sides ‘made important progress on planning for the redeployment of forces as envisaged in the Hodeidah agreement.’
  • Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil.

NEW YORK: Yemen’s government and the Houthi militias have agreed on the first stage of a mutual pullout of forces from the port city of Hodeidah, a key entry point for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the government agreed in talks in December to withdraw troops by Jan. 7 from Hodeidah under a truce accord aimed at averting a full-scale assault on the port and paving the way for negotiations to end the four-year-old war.

“The parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces,” the UN spokesman’s office said in a statement without giving details on what was agreed.

Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil. This would be met by a retreat of Saudi-led coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of Hodeidah, where battles raged before a cease-fire went into effect on Dec. 18.

The Houthis occupy Hodeidah, the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid imports, while Yemeni government forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi are massed on the outskirts.

The UN statement said the two sides also agreed “in principle” on Phase 2, entailing full redeployment of both parties’ forces in Hodeidah province.

Two sources involved in the negotiations said both sides had yet to agree on a withdrawal timeline or on a mechanism for local forces to take over security at the ports and city.

“The UN is still discussing how to reduce the gap between the two sides on how to choose the forces that will control the city,” one source told Reuters.

The parties could decide within 7-10 days on where they would reposition forces, said the other source, adding that Houthi fighters could pull back as far as 20 km from the port.

Disagreement on withdrawal had delayed opening humanitarian corridors in Yemen.

Under the first phase, the two sides agreed to reopen main roads linking Hodeidah to the Houthi-occupied capital Sanaa and in Yemen’s third city of Taiz, said a UN source.

They also agreed to enable access to Red Sea Mills, which holds some 50,000 tons of World Food Program grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month, the source said. Access to the site has been cut off since September due to fighting.

The Hodeidah truce has largely been respected but there have been intermittent skirmishes in flashpoints on the city’s edges.

Hodeidah became the focus of the war last year when the coalition twice launched an offensive to seize the port and weaken the Houthis by cutting of their main supply line.