Erdogan vows to clear ‘terrorists’ from Manbij

Turkish tanks have been stationed near the Syrian border as part of the operation ‘Olive Branch’ that aims to oust the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia from its enclave of Afrin. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2018
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Erdogan vows to clear ‘terrorists’ from Manbij

ANKARA: The Turkish president promised on Sunday to clear the entire Syrian border of “terrorists” after Ankara urged Washington to withdraw its military from a Kurdish-held town.
The call followed new commitments from the US to cease supplying weapons to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey has been fighting in northern Syria for more than a week.
As Turkish troops intensified the Olive Branch operation in Afrin on Sunday, Turkey continued to warn that the offensive would move eastwards to Manbij, where hundreds of US troops are based.
“The terrorists in Afrin and Manbij cannot run from the painful end that awaits them,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told members of his party in northern Turkey.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday it was “compulsory for the US to withdraw from Manbij as soon as possible.”
Turkey says an offensive against Manbij, about 100 km from the current operation, is an extension of its plan to remove what it describes as a terror threat along its border with Syria.
But if it goes ahead, the offensive would move the Turkish operation into a new level of military and diplomatic complexity, pulling in different groups and parties in the area.
H.R. McMaster, national security adviser to US President Donald Trump, spoke with Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser on Saturday to attempt to rebuild broken trust between the two countries.
According to Turkish press reports, McMaster repeated that weapons will no longer be delivered to the YPG. The same commitment was given many times to Ankara in recent months by both Trump and his Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Manbij is located 30 km west of the Euphrates and was captured from Daesh by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in 2016. The SDF are backed by the US and dominated by the YPG.
The town, which has a mixed ethnic population including Arabs and Kurds, has been one of the main fronts for the anti-Daesh coalition’s ground war. Following its liberation, the Pentagon preferred that the YPG remained in the town to guard it against a potential Daesh counter attack.
But Ankara is concerned that the Syrian Kurdish militias want to establish a corridor to the Mediterranean coast by linking the regions they administer.
Turkey has called for the YPG to be withdrawn from Manbij and has been enraged by the US support for the group. The militia is an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is seen by Ankara and many Western countries as a terror group. The US and Turkey are suppose to be allies through their memberships of NATO.
“It is unthinkable for a strategic ally to arm and train what its decades long strong ally consider to be a terrorist organization,” Mehmet Ogutcu, a former diplomat and chairman of the Bosphorus Energy Club, told Arab News.
He said Turkey’s request for the US to withdraw from Manbij is to avoid completely rupturing ties between the two countries.
Dr. Eray Gucluer, a terror expert from Altinbas University in Istanbul and at the think tank ASAM, said: “The US is currently losing power and prestige in the region, and it wouldn’t afford keeping its soldiers in Manbij if Turkey conducts an operation.”
Ali Semin, a Middle East expert at Istanbul-based think-tank BILGESAM, thinks Turkey would prefer to resolve the Manbij situation through agreement with the US.
“There will probably be no military offensive or Turkey may use Free Syrian Army fighters to avoid any direct clash with the US if the American soldiers remain there. It was the same case when Turkey agreed with Russia before the operation to Afrin as Russian troops were deployed in the region,” he told Arab News.
As concern grows over Manbij, fighting ramped up in Afrin on Sunday, with Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters capturing a strategic hill.
AP reported that constant shelling and clashes could be heard at the Turkish border town Kilis as Turkish aircraft whizzed above and plumes of smoke rose in the distance.
The Turkish forces have been trying to capture Bursayah hill since the offensive started on Jan. 20.
The Turkish military said its soldiers and allied Syrian opposition fighters captured the hill, assisted by airstrikes, attack helicopters, armed drones and howitzers.
“In its previous cross-border operation, Turkey’s aim was to secure a safe zone to resettle the Syrians who fled war in their country, but this time Turkey wants to clear these zones completely from all kinds of terror threat until the border with Iraq,” Semin said.
“Manbij bears a strategic importance for Kurdish militia to reach the Mediterranean shores. It is exactly the establishment of such a YPG-controlled ‘terror corridor’ that Ankara wants to block along its border.”


Israeli forces kill Palestinian suspected over West Bank shooting

Sunday’s shooting north of Jerusalem was the most serious attack in the West Bank since October 7. (AP)
Updated 27 min 51 sec ago
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Israeli forces kill Palestinian suspected over West Bank shooting

  • The statement did not say if Barghouti was suspected of being the gunman or an accomplice

JERUSALEM: Israeli security forces on Wednesday shot dead a Palestinian suspected in the shooting of seven Israelis including a pregnant woman whose baby later died.
The Shin Bet security service said in a statement that a suspect named as Salah Omar Barghouti, 29, who tried to evade capture during a raid on a West Bank village was shot and killed.
The statement did not say if Barghouti was suspected of being the gunman or an accomplice. It said an unspecified number of other suspects were arrested.
The Shin Bet announcement came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that those who carried out Sunday’s drive-by shooting near a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West bank would be found and brought to justice.
He spoke shortly after a Jerusalem hospital announced the death of the baby boy, delivered by emergency caesarean section after his mother was shot. She was 30-weeks pregnant.
“We lost a few hours ago a newborn baby, four days old,” Netanyahu said in an address to foreign media.
“We will find the killers, we haven’t stopped searching. We will find them and bring them to justice,” he said.
The newborn was buried late Wednesday on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, opposite the walled Old City.
US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt said in a Twitter message that the death was “absolutely heart-breaking.”
“My thoughts & prayers are with the family of the baby who died today as a result of the despicable terror attack on Sunday,” he wrote. “This is an attack Hamas praised as ‘heroic’.”
“The world must strongly condemn this terror and not remain silent,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, said in a statement.
The Hamas movement, which runs the Gaza Strip, saluted the shooting and in a statement said it proved “resistance” was still alive in the West Bank.
Following the attack the 21-year-old mother was reported as stable, but the Shaare Zedek hospital said Monday that her baby had taken a turn for the worse.
The child died “despite the medical efforts of the premature baby unit to save him,” the hospital said on Wednesday.
Palestinian attacks against Israelis occur sporadically in the West Bank.
Sunday’s shooting north of Jerusalem was the most serious attack in the West Bank since October 7, when Palestinian Ashraf Naalwa shot two Israelis dead in an industrial zone for a nearby settlement.