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.


Netanyahu faces snap election calls after defense minister quits

Updated 15 November 2018
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Netanyahu faces snap election calls after defense minister quits

  • Avigdor Lieberman quit on Wednesday over what he described as the government’s too-soft policy on cross-border violence with Palestinian militants
  • The loss of the five seats of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced calls on Thursday from his coalition partners to hold an early election, a day after the defense minister’s resignation left the government with a razor-thin majority.
Avigdor Lieberman quit on Wednesday over what he described as the government’s too-soft policy on cross-border violence with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
The loss of the five seats of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament, raising the prospect that a scheduled November 2019 election would be brought forward.
Lieberman’s resignation takes effect 48 hours after being handed in, which he did early on Thursday. Each coalition partner will then have the power to bring down the government.
To avert a crisis, Netanyahu has been holding talks with ministers in an effort to stabilize the government.
Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads the centrist Kulanu party, said he told Netanyahu in their meeting that the responsible step to take would be to establish a new and stable government.
“The best thing for Israel’s citizens and economy is to hold an election as soon as possible,” Kahlon said in a statement. His call was echoed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas faction.
Adding to the pressure, Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home party, has demanded the defense brief by given to him.
Both Lieberman and Bennett, who compete with Netanyahu’s Likud for right-wing voters, have spoken in favor of harsh Israeli military action against Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists.
Israel has fought three wars in Gaza since Hamas took over the enclave in 2007.
“I asked the prime minister yesterday to appoint me defense minister to fulfil one goal only — that Israel start winning again,” Bennett said at a conference near Tel Aviv.
Jewish Home said on Wednesday that without the defense brief, there would be no point in keeping the government together.
However Bennett did not repeat this in his remarks on Thursday nor did he render an explicit ultimatum to Netanyahu, with whom he is due to meet on Friday.
It was unclear whether Netanyahu would opt for an early election.
Netanyahu is under investigation for corruption, and speculation has been rife that he may bring the ballot forward in order to win a renewed mandate before Israel’s attorney-general decides whether to indict him.
A poll published on Wednesday by Israel’s Hadashot television news showed Likud falling by one seat from 30 to 29 after months of surveys that have shown it gaining power. Only 17 percent of respondents were happy with Netanyahu’s Gaza policy.