Turkey’s Erdogan threatens to expand offensive to other northern Syrian cities

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, gestures during a briefing led by Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces Hulusi at the Operating Base in Hatay in this handout photo, with blurred classified information, taken on Thursday, January 25. (Turkish Presidential Press Service via AFP)
Updated 26 January 2018
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Turkey’s Erdogan threatens to expand offensive to other northern Syrian cities

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday threatened to expand Turkey’s offensive against the Afrin region in Syria to other cities in the country’s north to remove the presence of the Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara views as terrorists.
“We will continue our fight until there is no terrorist on our border leading to Iraq,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, vowing to “clean up” the city of Manbij, east of Afrin, also held by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.
Turkey launched its military operation dubbed “Olive Branch” against the YPG on Saturday, supporting Syrian rebels with ground troops, air strikes and artillery fire.
While the YPG is still working closely with Washington against the Daesh extremist group in Syria, Ankara views the YPG as a terror group allied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Turkey.
The PKK is blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies as a terror outfit.
The seven-day offensive has seen Washington’s NATO ally Ankara attacking a US-allied force, even raising fears of military confrontation between two alliance powers since the US has a military presence in Manbij.
Erdogan promised the operation would continue until “we reach our goals,” adding: “After we will, as promised, clean up Manbij of terrorists.”
Tensions between Ankara and Washington are already high but the operation added further strain to the allies’ relationship. The two sides disagreed about the content of telephone talks between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump late on Wednesday.
The US said Trump had urged Turkey to “limit its military actions” but a Turkish official said the US statement did “not accurately reflect the content” of the call.
Erdogan criticized Turkey’s allies, including the US, who have called, he said, for the operation to be “short” and “limited” in scope, referring to previous interventions.
“How long has Afghanistan lasted? Nearly 20 years. How long has it lasted in Iraq? Nearly 18 years!” he thundered.
Erdogan added that “343 terrorists were neutralized” during the operation thus far. It was not possible to independently verify the toll.
Three Turkish soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said 58 Ankara-backed Syrian rebels and 53 US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG fighters had been killed.


UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians, Israel says ‘no’

Updated 18 August 2018
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UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians, Israel says ‘no’

  • Israel rejects report saying the protection should be against Palestinian leaders
  • The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday presented four options aimed at boosting the protection of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories, from sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers to deploying a military or police force under UN mandate.

But the report has been rejected by the Israelis.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement late Friday that “the only protection the Palestinian people need is from their own leadership.”
“Instead of suggesting ways to protect the Palestinian people from Israel, the UN should instead hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for continually endangering its own people,” Danon said.
“The report’s suggestions will only enable the Palestinians’ continued rejectionism.”
The proposals were contained in a report requested by the General Assembly in response to a surge of violence in Gaza, where 171 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since late March.
The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary. It remained unlikely however that Israel would agree to the proposals.
In the 14-page report, Guterres proposed:
• Providing a “more robust UN presence on the ground” with rights monitors and political officers to report on the situation.
• Pouring in more UN humanitarian and development aid to “ensure the well-being of the population.”
• Creating a civilian observer mission that would be present in sensitive areas such as checkpoints and near Israeli settlements, with a mandate to report on protection issues.
• Deploying an armed military or police force, under a UN mandate, to provide physical protection to Palestinian civilians.
A UN mandate for a protection force would require a decision from the Security Council, where the United States could use its veto power to block a measure opposed by Israel.
A small European-staffed observer mission was deployed in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994, but Israel has since rejected calls for an international presence in flashpoint areas.
In the report, Guterres said the United Nations was already undertaking many protection initiatives but that “these measures fall short” of the concerns raised in a General Assembly resolution adopted in June.
In that measure, the 193-nation assembly condemned Israel for Palestinian deaths in Gaza and tasked Guterres with the drafting of proposals for “an international protection mechanism” for the Palestinians.
Guterres argued that a political solution to the conflict was needed to address the safety of Palestinians but that “until such a solution is achieved, member-states may further explore all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”
“Such measures would also improve the security of Israeli civilians.”
On Friday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians taking part in protests along the Gaza border and 270 other Palestinians were wounded.
Israel has defended its use of live ammunition in Gaza by invoking its right to self-defense. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.
“The targeting of civilians, particularly children, is unacceptable,” Guterres said in the report, adding that “those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.”
UN efforts to ensure the well-being of Palestinians must strengthened, he added, singling out the funding crisis at the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as being “of particular concern.”
UNRWA is facing a major budget shortfall after President Donald Trump’s administration decided to withhold its contribution to the agency.
The report released to all UN member-states comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as European and other big powers await a peace plan from the Trump administration that has been under discussion for months.
UN diplomats have recently begun questioning whether the US peace plan will ever materialize.
The United Nations has warned that a new war could explode in Gaza.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including its Hamas rulers, have fought three wars since 2008.