What’s next after two weeks of Afrin operation?

Turkish soldiers can be seen in this file photo.(Reuters)
Updated 03 February 2018

What’s next after two weeks of Afrin operation?

ANKARA: At the end of the second week of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch into Syria’s northwestern province of Afrin, Ankara’s ties with its longtime NATO ally Washington are further deteriorating.
Turkey is expected to push the operation into Manbij, another Kurdish-held city in the east, and then further east to the Iraqi border — a move that is likely to pit the Turkish army against American troops that are deployed in the region as part of the anti-Daesh international coalition.
Turkey is still demanding that the US keep its pledge to stop supplying weapons to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and to immediately remove its troops from Manbij before Turkey’s planned operation.
But the Pentagon seems to be stubborn on this issue, although YPG is viewed by Turkey as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party — considered by both the US and Turkey as a terrorist group.
At a news conference on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the Pentagon’s joint staff director, said supplies to the YPG would be retrieved after the conclusion of operations against Daesh. But he also added that the Pentagon condemned “any attack targeting Turkey.”
The latest remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, who warned against an “invasion operation” of Afrin, also angered Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “France cannot teach a lesson to Turkey,” referring to the previous military interventions of France in Algeria.
Some 823 terrorists have been killed so far during Turkey’s operation, while Turkey has lost five soldiers. By clearing key villages and mountains of the YPG, Turkish forces with the support of Free Syrian Army gained full control of a large zone in Afrin’s north.
Over the past 12 days, about 82 rockets have been fired by the YPG into Turkey’s border provinces, killing six people. The rockets targeted civilians and hit locations including a local restaurant and houses, including one occupied by 17-year-old Fatma, who was killed in her sleep.
“These rocket attacks are mainly conducted by mobile vehicles from a Kurdish-held region between Mount Burseya and the Bulbul region with a 100-km long border with Turkey, which makes it difficult for the Turkish army to intercept them in the air,” Sakir Dincsahin, a Middle East expert from Hasan Kalyoncu University in Gaziantep, told Arab News.
“These attacks by a non-state terror group that target civilians have once more showed the legitimacy of Turkey’s operation based on self-defense rights,” he said.
According to Dincsahin, it is still the early phase of the operation, where the mountains and key locations overlooking the Turkish border are targeted while the city center is not yet captured.
“It is likely that the operation will last until the second half of the year, with a de-escalated intensity,” he said.
Dincsahin also noted that against the latest claims of Western powers and the disagreements with the United States over the scope of this operation, Turkey would gain significant diplomatic leverage when the operation in Afrin succeeded.
“Then a consecutive Manbij operation may come up. But at that point Turkey will likely use diplomatic channels as it would have strengthened its hand on the military front by bringing stability to the Afrin region and resettling Syrian refugees back home,” he said.
Experts, however, note that adverse weather and topography conditions complicate the progress of the operation as the area is surrounded by high hills.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based Middle East researcher, expects that in the coming period Turkey will further support its operation with armed drones equipped for bombing missions.
“The Turkish army is gearing up for urban warfare through implementing a 3D urban model in Afrin,” he told Arab News.
“Accordingly, the aerial photos will be transferred into the computers in real time, and it will enable a detailed preparation for a street-based warfare as the Turkish army is approaching the Afrin city center,” Sohtaoglu said.
He explained: “This relatively new warfare technique for the Turkish army will not only help reduce the casualties, but it will also provide an opportunity to examine all military deployments inside the city, including explosives, from a computational system ahead of an incursion.”
However, according to Sohtaoglu, the rocket attacks from YPG-controlled zones will only stop after Turkey establishes a secure zone along its border with Syria by linking all regions that it captured from the Kurdish militia.
On Friday, Turkish gendarmerie and police special forces were deployed to the Turkey-Syria border for the projected urban warfare in Afrin.

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

Updated 19 April 2019

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

  • Divers find pottery and stone in shipwrecks dating back 2,300 years
  • Discoveries are from Alexander the Great’s siege of Tyre in 332 BC

BEIRUT: Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history.

Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years.

“The shape of the pottery confirms that it dates back to more than 332 BC,” said the Lebanese archaeologist Dr. Jafar Fadlallah.

Mohammed Al-Sargi, captain of the diving team that found the wrecks, is even more certain. “The pottery and stone found on these wooden ships indicate that they were part of the campaign of Alexander the Great, who in 332 BC attempted to capture the city of Tyre, which was then an island,” he said.

“According to the history books, Alexander built a causeway linking the mainland to the island. These vessels might have been used to transport the stone required for the construction of the road, but due to the heavy loads and storms, they might have sunk.”

UNESCO recognized the archaeological importance of Tyre in 1979, when it added the city to its list of World Heritage Sites. Lebanon’s Directorate of Antiquities, in cooperation with European organizations, has carried out extensive excavations since the 1940s to uncover its historical secrets. They have revealed that the ancient maritime city included residential neighborhoods, public baths, sports centers, and streets paved with mosaics. The discoveries date back to the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine periods.

During the Phoenician era, Tyre played an important role as it dominated maritime trade. It contributed to the establishment of commercial settlements around the Mediterranean and the spread of religions in the ancient world. It also resisted occupation by the Persians and the Macedonians, choosing to remain neutral in the struggle between the two bitter enemies. However, Macedonian king Alexander the Great considered gaining control of the island and establishing a naval base there to be a key to victory in the war, and he set out in January 332 BC to conquer it at any cost.

The area in which the diving team discovered the wrecks is “an underwater desert with no valleys or seaweed, a few hundred meters from the coast of Tyre,” said Al-Sargi.

“We found 11 sites, some of them close to each other and others far apart. In each location, there were piles of stones and broken pots.

“We continued to explore the sites quietly to keep away fishermen and uninvited guests. We sought the help of archaeologists, who assured us that the discovery rewrites the history of the city, and specifically the campaign of Alexander the Great. So, we decided to put the discovery in the custody of the General Directorate of Antiquities for further exploration and interpretation.”

The most recent find, which Al-Sargi described as a “time capsule,” is only the latest important discovery made by the team in Lebanon.

“In 1997, the divers discovered the submerged city of Sidon,” Al-Sargi continued. “In 2001, we discovered the city of Yarmouta opposite the Zahrani area. In 1997, we discovered sulfuric water in the Sea of Tyre. We conducted studies on fresh-water wells in the sea off the city coast.

“We are not archaeologists and we cannot explain what we have seen. Our role is to inspect and report to the relevant Lebanese authorities and abide by the law.”

Fadlallah, an archaeologist with 40 years experience of working at Lebanon’s ancient sites, picks up the story to explain what he believes to be the significance of the discovery at Tyre.

“The sites are about 700 meters from where Tyre beach was when it was an island,” he said. “The piles of stones were 50 meters to 200 meters apart and the pots seemed to have been broken by a collision because there was not one left intact. This means that these stones and pots were on ships and there was a violent collision between them.”

He said that studies of the remains of the pots suggest that they are of Greek origin.

“There are various forms of them,” he said, “and it is clear that the ships that were carrying them were related to the ships of Alexander the Great during his campaign on Tyre, and they appear to have been hit by storms.”

There are, of course, always skeptics — among them Dr. Ali Badawi, director of archaeological sites in the south at Lebanon’s General Directorate of Antiquities. The pots alone did not constitute sufficient “evidence that the ships belonged to the campaign of Alexander the Great,” he said.

“What was published by the captain of the divers contains unclear details, and the subject should be based on scientific explanations. I think that the sea is wide and piracy was possible at the sites of the submerged ships.

“Exploration operations are taking place in the breakwater area, involving a French mission and Lebanese archaeologists. Before that, a Spanish expedition along with marine archaeologists participated in examining the remains of a ship dating back to the BC era.

“Ship exploration is very expensive, and the city of Tyre was subjected to numerous military siege campaigns and many ships sank. But this does not mean that we will not investigate this new discovery, according to the instructions of the minister of culture.”