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.


Israeli air strikes kill three Palestinians in Gaza after rocket fire

Updated 30 min 42 sec ago
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Israeli air strikes kill three Palestinians in Gaza after rocket fire

GAZA: Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed three Palestinians on Monday after a barrage of rocket fire from the enclave, as renewed violence threatened to derail efforts to restore calm.

Israel's military said it had so far struck more than 20 militant sites in response to some 80 launches from the Hamas-run territory, reportedly rockets and mortars.

Missile defences had intercepted a number of the rockets, the military said.

The army said an Israeli bus was hit by fire from the Gaza Strip. Medics reported one person severely wounded.

A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018 shows missiles being launched toward Israel. (AFP)

Medics also said six people from the southern Israeli city of Sderot were lightly wounded.

Israeli police said a rocket hit a house in Netivot, another southern Israeli town.

Gaza's health ministry said three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes.

Militant group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said two were its members.

A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018 shows missiles being launched toward Israel. A number of rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel. (AFP)

Hamas meanwhile said it was behind the rocket fire on behalf of all Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, saying it was in revenge for a deadly Israeli military operation late Sunday.

On Sunday, a clash erupted during an Israeli special forces operation in the Gaza Strip that killed seven Palestinian militants, including a local commander for Hamas's armed wing, and an Israeli army officer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Paris and rushed home as tensions rose, and on Monday convened a meeting of security chiefs.

Israel had stressed its covert operation on Sunday was an intelligence-gathering mission and “not an assassination or abduction,” but Hamas strongly denounced it and vowed revenge.

Israel signalled that Sunday's mission did not go as planned and resulted in the clash, which Palestinian officials said included Israeli air strikes.

In the immediate aftermath of the clash, Israel said it identified 17 launches - likely rockets or mortars - toward its territory from Gaza, with three intercepted by missile defences. No injuries were reported.

Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said the Israeli special forces team had infiltrated near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip in a civilian car.

Al-Qassam agents stopped it and wanted to search it, realised it was an Israeli operation and confronted them, it said in a statement.

An exchange of fire followed in which local Al-Qassam commander Nour Baraka was killed along with another militant, it said.

The car then attempted to flee and Israeli aircraft provided covering fire.

An Israeli helicopter landed near the fence and took away the special forces troops, according to Al-Qassam.

Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus declined to comment on the Al-Qassam account "because of the sensitive nature of the operation".

Israel provided few details on Sunday's operation, saying it was carried out by special forces and resulted in an "exchange of fire".

A funeral was held for the seven Palestinian militants on Monday attended by thousands, including masked Al-Qassam members carrying rifles, some firing into the air.

On the Israeli side of the border, residents said they had stayed close to shelters throughout the night.

“I was sitting in my living room and around 10 pm or 11 pm, I suddenly heard the sound of helicopter gunships firing,” said Gadi Yarkoni, head of a regional council in the area and a resident of Nirim Kibbutz.

“It was right above the village I'm living in. It was very unpleasant.”

The clashes came after months of deadly unrest along the Gaza-Israel border had appeared to be calming.

Recent weeks have seen Israel allow Qatar to provide the Gaza Strip with millions of dollars in aid for salaries as well as fuel to help ease an electricity crisis.

Before the flare-up, Netanyahu had defended his decision to allow Qatar to transfer the cash to Gaza despite criticism from within his own government over the move, saying he wanted to avoid a war if it was not necessary.

Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu's education minister and right-wing rival, compared the cash flow to "protection money" paid to criminals.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008, and recent months have raised fears of a fourth.

Deadly clashes have accompanied major protests along the Gaza-Israel border that began on March 30.

At least 230 Palestinians have since been killed by Israeli fire, the majority shot during protests and clashes, while others died in tank fire or air strikes.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed in that time.

Egyptian and UN officials have been mediating between Israel and Hamas in an effort to reach a long-term truce deal.