Washington will not allow Turkish army into Manbij, says Kurdish leader

A convoy of US forces armoured vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij. (AFP)
Updated 06 February 2018
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Washington will not allow Turkish army into Manbij, says Kurdish leader

LONDON: The commander of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has said Washington told YPG forces that it will not allow the Turkish army and Ankara-backed militants to enter Manbij, northeast of Aleppo.
Sipan Hemo said that his fighters had destroyed “11 Turkish tanks and other tanks that were operating under the Ankara-backed militants” and that “the only aid we are provided is from Damascus, and it’s medical, rescue and humanitarian aid.”
Since Jan. 20, Turkey, along with Syrian rebel factions, has launched an offensive “targeting members of YPG” — seen by Ankara as a “terror group” — in Afrin, along the northern Syrian borders. Ankara fears that the Kurds will establish self-rule on its borders along the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan.
More than 20,000 fighters from Syrian factions are participating in Operation Olive Branch, along with the Turkish Army and affiliated “special units” under the cover of the Turkish air force, after Ankara had the green light from Russia, which is covering its air force in the regions in the West of Syria’s Euphrates River.
In a phone call with Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday, Hemo said from Afrin: “Seventeen days after launching the offensive, Turkey has not achieved any of it goals. Turkey is now reviewing and calculating, as it considers the current situation a matter of irreversible survival. As Turks launched the operation, they thought they would achieve their goals within days but that has not yet happened.”
He added: “Turkey is looking to destroy the will of the Kurds. However, tactically, what it really wishes to do is to take control over Afrin and the eastern and western country sides of Aleppo up to the city of Aleppo, as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has always wanted to annex Aleppo, considering it part of the Ottoman Empire. However, Turkey has not achieved a significant military advance.”
Hemo, leading the “units” from his residence in Afrin, indicated that his fighters “destroyed 11 Turkish tanks and other tanks. Many Turkish and pro-regime soldiers were killed.”
Hemo and Syrian Kurdish commanders sent Asharq Al-Awsat videos of fighters launching tank attacks with anti-tank missiles between Afrin and Turkish borders, as well as pictures of raids launched on Kurdish cites in the region. Some reports indicated that the units have used long-range Grad rocket-launchers, but this has yet to be confirmed.
It was said that it was Washington that handed the American-made TOW missiles to the YPG — the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces — to fight Daesh initially and that Moscow and Damascus provided the Russian-made Konkurs missiles.
Hemo said: “The missiles are not American nor Russian, but thermobaric missiles we found on the black market and developed ourselves. The US said many times that it has nothing to do with Afrin and Al-Shahba’ regions near Aleppo. Our joint work with the US is limited to the fight against Daesh in eastern Euphrates river.”
When asked about Damascus’ support of the Kurdish units to fight the Turkish army, Hemo said: “Our position is very clear. Syria should be protecting the Syrian border from any Turkish assault. However, we were only provided with medical, rescue and humanitarian aid.”


Gaza massacre probe: Human rights advocates accuse Israeli military of whitewash

Israeli airtrikes in areas such as Rafah in 2014 caused massive damage. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Gaza massacre probe: Human rights advocates accuse Israeli military of whitewash

  • The Israeli investigation identified over 110 dead — including 42 militants and up to 72 civilians who were "unintentionally killed"
  • The 2014 war was the third and most devastating round of fighting between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said its investigation into one of the bloodiest incidents of the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip found no criminal wrongdoing by Israeli forces and there were no grounds to prosecute any troops.
The announcement drew condemnations from Palestinians and human rights advocates, who accused the military of a whitewash.
The investigation focused on an Aug. 1, 2014, battle in the southern Gaza town of Rafah that erupted after an Israeli military officer was feared abducted by Palestinian militants during a cease-fire. Over 110 Palestinians were killed in daylong fighting, and Palestinian witnesses had complained of heavy and indiscriminate shelling by Israeli forces.
Following what it called a comprehensive investigation, the army said its military advocate general (MAG) determined "a criminal investigation is not warranted into the incidents that occurred during the fighting."
Fearing a soldier had fallen into enemy hands, Israel invoked its "Hannibal" procedure — a protocol that allowed the heavy use of force to prevent the capture of a comrade. Israeli forces attacked the area with artillery fire, tanks shells and airstrikes.
At the time, Palestinian residents described a terrifying ordeal as they fled their homes and searched for cover amid heavy shelling of their neighborhood, located on the outskirts of the city. Human rights groups identified 121 people killed and accused Israel of committing war crimes by allegedly using disproportionate or indiscriminate force and failing to distinguish between civilians and combatants.
The Israeli investigation identified over 110 dead — including 42 militants and up to 72 civilians who were "unintentionally killed." In one instance, it said 16 civilians were killed in an airstrike on a family home that was targeted due to faulty intelligence.
But it said all of its actions had "clear and legitimate military purposes" and found no evidence that attacks were indiscriminate, aimed at civilians or motivated by revenge.
"The MAG did not find that the actions of the IDF forces that were examined raised grounds for a reasonable suspicion of criminal misconduct," it said.
"The MAG found that the IDF's policy with respect to the use of firepower during the fighting — whether by tanks, by artillery and mortars, or from the air — accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements."
The "Hannibal" directive was canceled by the military in 2016 following heavy criticism. Last year, the military introduced a revised version.
Human rights groups have accused the Israeli military of ignoring or covering up wrongdoing in its investigations over the years. B'Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group, condemned the latest findings.
"The military advocate general proves again that no matter how high the number of Palestinians killed is, nor how arbitrary the circumstances of their killing by the military was, the Israeli whitewash mechanism he heads will find a way to bury the facts," it said.
Wael Al-Namla, who lost three family members that day, said the army's findings were "crazy." Al-Namla, as well as his toddler son, both lost legs in the shelling as well.
"They were bombing us from the ground and air randomly. They did not just violate the human rights, they forgot that there were humans in Rafah," he said.
"I want an independent international investigation that can guarantee my rights."
The 2014 war was the third and most devastating round of fighting between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers. Over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians, and widespread damage was inflicted on Gaza's infrastructure. During the 50-day war, 73 people were killed on the Israeli side and continued rocket fire on Israeli cities disrupted life throughout large parts of the country.
The Palestinians are seeking to press war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The court's prosecutor has opened a preliminary investigation, but not made a decision on whether to move ahead with a case.
A key factor in that decision could be whether the prosecutor believes Israel's own investigations into actions by its troops are credible.