Syria’s Afrin urges Russia to oppose Turkish-led assault

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters gesture prior to be driven to the Turkish-Syrian border in Kilis, on January 30, 2018, as part ot the operation "Olive Branch". (AFP)
Updated 04 February 2018
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Syria’s Afrin urges Russia to oppose Turkish-led assault

AFRIN: Local authorities in Syria’s Afrin called on Sunday for world powers to intervene to halt a Turkish-led assault on their region, accusing Russia of complicity in civilian deaths there.
Ankara and allied rebels launched operation “Olive Branch” on January 20 against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey has blacklisted as “terrorists.”
Afrin’s local administration — the semi-autonomous government in place since 2013 — shot back the accusation on Sunday and urged Moscow to take a firm stand.
“We ask the Russian federation in particular to rescind its support for the Turkish state’s terrorism against the people of Afrin,” it said in a statement.
“It bears responsibility for the massacres the fascist Turkish state is carrying out against innocent civilians.”
Russia, which intervened militarily in Syria’s war in 2015, had troops positioned in Afrin but withdrew them as Turkey launched the assault.
The YPG and Afrin officials say that withdrawal amounted to tacit approval of the Turkish offensive.
Officials on Sunday also called for the United States, European Union, United Nations Security Council and the US-led coalition fighting jihadists to “immediately intervene to stop Turkey’s aggression.”
Ankara says it launched the operation to protect its southern border and insists that it is doing everything it can to avoid civilian casualties.
But the campaign has sparked mass protests, including in Afrin on Sunday.
Thousands of people marched in downtown Afrin with YPG flags and posters of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkey is vehemently opposed to the YPG because of its ties to the PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency against Turkish forces.
“We’re holding the whole world responsible because we fought terrorism on behalf of everyone, but today the world agreed to kill Syrians,” said Ali Mahmoud, 45.
Other demonstrators clutched olive branches, a symbol of Afrin which is known for its abundant olive groves but also now associated with the name Turkey gave its offensive.
“They named their attack ‘Olive Branch’. It’s a thorn in their hand, but in our hands, it’s a gun,” said Fikrat Afdal, 33.
At least 68 civilians, including 21 children, have died in Turkish shelling as part of the assault, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
More than 100 pro-Ankara rebels and a similar number of YPG fighters have also died, the British-based monitor says.


Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Updated 22 May 2018
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Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

  • US Secretary of State laid out Trump administration’s strategy for constraining Iran’s nuclear program
  • US threatens "strongest sanctions in history" if Iranian government does not change course

WASHINGTON: The US told Iran on Monday to drop its nuclear ambitions and pull out of the Syrian civil war in a list of demands that marked a new hard-line against Tehran and prompted an Iranian official to warn that Washington seeks regime change.

Weeks after US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran, his administration threatened to impose “the strongest sanctions in history,” setting Washington and Tehran on a deeper course of confrontation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded sweeping changes that would force Iran effectively to reverse years of its foreign policies.

“The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen for itself and the people of Iran,” Pompeo said in his first major speech since becoming secretary of state.

“These will be the strongest sanctions in history by the time we are done,” he added.

Pompeo took aim at Iran’s policy of expanding its influence in the Middle East through support for proxy armed groups in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

He warned that the US would “crush” Iranian operatives and allies abroad and told Tehran to pull out forces under its command from the Syrian civil war where they back President Bashar Assad.

Iran is unlikely to accede to the US demands. Tension between the two countries has grown notably since Trump this month withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Pompeo warned that if Iran fully resumed its nuclear program Washington would be ready to respond and said the administration would hold companies doing prohibited business in Iran to account.

“Our demands on Iran are not unreasonable: Give up your program,” Pompeo said, “Should they choose to go back, should they begin to enrich, we are fully prepared to respond to that as well,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Pompeo said if Iran made major changes, the US was prepared to ease sanctions, re-establish full diplomatic and commercial relations and support the country’s re-integration into the international economic system.

The speech did not explicitly call for regime change but Pompeo repeatedly urged the Iranian people not to put up with their leaders, specifically naming President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“At the end of the day the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful, if they choose not to do so we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes I set forward,” said Pompeo.