Turkey to US: End support for YPG or risk confrontation

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey January 24, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
Updated 25 January 2018

Turkey to US: End support for YPG or risk confrontation

ANKARA/BEIRUT: Turkey urged the US on Thursday to halt its support for Kurdish YPG fighters or risk confronting Turkish forces on the ground in Syria, some of Ankara’s strongest comments yet about a potential clash with its NATO ally.
The comments, from the spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, underscore the growing bilateral tensions, six days after Turkey launched its air and ground operation, “Olive Branch,” in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region.
Turkey’s targeting of the YPG, which it views as a security threat, has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war.
Any push by Turkish forces toward Manbij, part of a Kurdish-held territory some 100 km east of Afrin, could threaten US plans to stabilize northeast Syria and bring them into direct confrontation with US troops deployed there.
“Those who support the terrorist organization will become a target in this battle,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said.
“The US needs to review its solders and elements giving support to terrorists on the ground in such a way as to avoid a confrontation with Turkey,” Bozdag, who also acts as the government’s spokesman, told broadcaster A Haber.
The US has around 2,000 troops in Syria, officially as part of an international, US-led coalition against Daesh. Washington has angered Ankara by providing arms, training and air support to Syrian Kurdish forces that Turkey views as terrorists.
US forces were deployed in and around Manbij last March to deter Turkish and US-backed fighters from attacking each other and have also carried out training missions in the area.
US President Donald Trump urged Erdogan on Wednesday to curtail the military operation in Syria, the White House said.
However Turkey has disputed that characterization of the conversation.
“President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” a Turkish official said.
“The two leaders’ discussion of Operation Olive Branch was limited to an exchange of views,” the official said.
Six days into the campaign, Turkish soldiers and their Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighter allies have been battling to gain footholds on the western, northern and eastern flanks of Afrin.
They appear to have made only limited gains, hampered by rain and clouds, which have limited the air support.
Turkish warplanes struck the northern borders of Afrin, in tandem with heavy artillery shelling, and one civilian was killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
Dozens of combatants and more than 2 dozen civilians have been killed so far since Turkey launched the offensive, the Observatory has said.
Turkey said the US had proposed a 30 km “safe zone” along the border with Syria.
“(But) in order for us to discuss the security zone or any other issue with the US, we have to reestablish trust,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters.
The Afrin operation has also triggered some concern in Germany, another NATO ally, where the caretaker government said on Thursday it would put on hold any decision on upgrading Turkey’s German-made tanks.
Turkey’s use of the Leopard 2 tanks in Afrin has fueled a debate about Berlin’s approval of arms exports.
A senior Kurdish official said on Thursday Syria’s main Kurdish groups would not attend a Syrian peace congress in Russia next week and that there could be no discussion of ending the war while the Turkish offensive continues.

Longtime Lebanese Parliament Speaker Berri re-elected to post

The 128-seat assembly voted 98 in favor of Nabih Berri, with 29 blank ballots and one that was annulled. (AP)
Updated 33 min 7 sec ago

Longtime Lebanese Parliament Speaker Berri re-elected to post

  • The 128-seat assembly voted 98 in favor of Berri, with 29 blank ballots and one that was annulled.
  • The re-election of Nabih Berri, a Shiite ally of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group who has held the post since 1992, reflects Lebanon’s entrenched sectarian-based political system, which has held despite rising discontent.

BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers overwhelmingly re-elected the country’s longtime Parliament speaker to the post on Wednesday, giving the 80-year-old monopoly of the office for three decades now.

The re-election of Nabih Berri, a Shiite ally of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group who has held the post since 1992, reflects Lebanon’s entrenched sectarian-based political system, which has held despite rising discontent.

The 128-seat assembly voted 98 in favor of Berri, with 29 blank ballots and one that was annulled. The newly elected Parliament convened Wednesday for the first time after May 6 nationwide balloting. It’s Berri’s sixth consecutive term; he ran unchallenged.

The country’s first parliamentary elections in nine years ended years of political stalemate over a new election law and repeated extension of the Parliament’s terms. Hezbollah and its political allies scored significant gains in those elections.

Outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri called Berri a “national symbol.” The oldest member of Parliament, 86-year-old Michel Murr commended Berri for successfully managing the country’s sectarian politics over the years, preventing conflict.

“I extend my sincere thanks, for the sixth time, to the members of Parliament for their confidence in renewing my responsibilities as Parliament speaker,” Berri said, addressing the assembly following the vote.

Keeping on Berri as Parliament speaker is expected to smooth the way for the formation of a new government in the coming weeks. Like the outgoing Cabinet, it’s also likely to be a unity government that incorporates Hezbollah members.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, a Christian, is now expected to begin consultations with lawmakers about a prime minister-designate and Parliament majority leader Hariri, a Sunni, is tipped to yet again head the government.

That Berri faced no challengers, and rarely has over the years, owes much to Lebanon’s sectarian-based and elite-dominated political system, which has mostly kept the peace since the 1975-1990 civil war, but has also spawned political paralysis and endemic corruption.

Berri is seen by some as an embodiment of that system, which shows no signs of changing despite rising discontent. But the Parliament speaker, who is one of Lebanon’s most influential and enduring politicians, is also seen as a moderate, unifying figure who lifted his Shiite community’s profile and role in the country’s postwar politics, often acting as mediator among feuding Lebanese factions.

Celebratory gunfire and firecrackers erupted across southern Beirut after Berri was approved. A pro-Syrian member of Parliament, Elie Firzli, was re-elected as his deputy.

Lebanon’s political system, built to distribute power among its various sects, mandates a Christian president, a Sunni prime minister and a Shiite Parliament speaker, while the Cabinet and Parliament seats are equally divided between Muslims and Christians.

As leader of the Shiite Amal movement, which is closely allied with the powerful Hezbollah, Berri is virtually untouchable. The two parties hold all but one of the 27 seats allotted to Shiites in Parliament.

A lawyer by training, Berri won power as a militia leader during the 1975-1990 civil war and transitioned to politics as the war ended.

His career since has mirrored the Shiite community’s steadily rising clout in a country where it had long been marginalized both economically and politically.

He has nimbly navigated shifting tides over the past three decades to seal both his popularity in the Shiite community and his grip on the post of speaker.

Even as he fashioned himself into a mediator among Lebanon’s deeply divided political factions, he has remained firmly allied to Hezbollah.

That partnership is likely to remain intact. In an AFP interview shortly after this month’s election, Berri said the triumvirate of “the army, the people, the resistance (Hezbollah)” was key to keeping Lebanon safe.

Like many Lebanese from the south, Berri’s parents moved to Africa to make a better living. He was born on Jan. 28, 1938, in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He earned a law degree from the state-run Lebanese University in 1963 before completing post-graduate law studies at the Sorbonne in Paris.

During Lebanon’s war, he rose to prominence by taking over the leadership of the Amal movement in 1980, two years after the mysterious disappearance in Libya of its founder, Imam Mussa Sadr.

In 1984, he led his militiamen in an uprising against the US- and Israeli-backed regime of President Amin Gemayel. Between 1985 and 1988, he helped crush supporters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the so-called “war of the camps.”

In 1988, his militia fought a deadly power struggle with Hezbollah, which took control of almost all the Shiite southern suburbs of Beirut and swathes of Lebanon’s Shiite-dominated south.

Amal continued to fight against Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon until the latter withdrew in 2000.



“I am proud of my participation in the resistance against Israel,” Berri told AFP in an earlier interview. “But the rest (of the war) could have been avoided.”

Like many of Lebanon’s war-time chiefs, Berri transitioned to politics when the frontlines calmed, making himself an indispensable ally to Syria, which kept its troops in Lebanon.

Berri was named minister several times between 1984 and 1992. That year, in the first elections after the war ended, Berri was simultaneously elected a member and speaker of Parliament — the highest post for a Shiite in the country’s sectarian political system.