Turkey rejects allegation of gas attack in Afrin; Kurds rally in France against Turkish offensive

Pro-Kurdish demonstrators protest in Geneva against Turkish operations in the northern Syrian city of Afrin. (AP)
Updated 18 February 2018
0

Turkey rejects allegation of gas attack in Afrin; Kurds rally in France against Turkish offensive

ANKARA: Turkey has “never used” chemical weapons in Syria and accusations that it had done so during its offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia are “baseless,” a Turkish diplomatic source said on Saturday.
Turkey last month launched military operation dubbed “Olive Branch” supporting Syrian rebels with ground troops and air strikes against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia viewed as “terrorists” by Ankara.
The Turkish source was reacting to claims by the head of Afrin hospital in northern Syria that six men were treated late Friday after shelling during the offensive and had symptoms that were in line with exposure to toxic agents.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said shelling from either Turkey or allied factions hit Al-Sheikh Hadid, west of the town of Afrin, and left six people with “enlarged pupils” and “breathing difficulties.”
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP he could not confirm whether toxic gases were used.
But the Turkish source said Ankara took the “utmost care” regarding civilian safety and that the claims Turkey was responsible for an alleged gas attack were “baseless.”
“Turkey never used chemical weapons,” the source added. “(These are) lies... this is black propaganda.”
Turkey says the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by the United States and the European Union.
But the YPG has been working closely with Washington to oust the Daesh extremist group from Syria, which has strained relations between the two NATO allies.
The Observatory says at least 78 civilians have died during Turkey’s operation but Ankara repeatedly insists it is taking all the necessary measures to protect civilians.

Kurds rally in France
In the French city of Strasbourg, thousands of Kurds took to the streets on Saturday to call for the release of jailed PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan and protest against Turkey’s military offensive in Syria.
“UN, take your responsibility and stop the genocide in Afrin,” read one banner, referring to the region in northern Syria where Turkey is waging a campaign against a Syrian Kurd militia.
The protesters who came from across Europe also waved Kurdish flags and pictures of the leader of the outlawed PKK, chanting “Freedom for Ocalan.”
There was a strong police presence at the demonstration, which police said attracted 11,000 people while organizers put the number at between 25,000-30,000.
The march has taken place each year in the city that hosts the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe since Ocalan was detained in 1999.
Ocalan, the figurehead of the PKK’s bloody insurgency against the Turkish state, remains behind bars on a prison island off Istanbul.
Ankara launched an offensive in the Afrin area of northern Syria last month against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which it considers a terror group but which is allied with US forces in the fight against the Daesh group.
“(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan is becoming very aggressive toward the Kurds and the situation is getting a lot worse, year after year, month after month,” said Newroz, who came from Germany to attend the rally with his sister and friends.
“Erdogan is a 100 percent dictator, every European should know this,” added Okce, who also came from Germany.


UN chief warns of risk of war in Gaza

Updated 55 min 57 sec ago
0

UN chief warns of risk of war in Gaza

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning that Gaza is close to the brink of war and expressed shock over the number of Palestinians killed and wounded by Israeli live fire during protests, in a report obtained by AFP on Monday.
Guterres told the Security Council that he “unequivocally condemns the steps by all parties that have brought us to this dangerous and fragile place” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The report was sent to the council last week ahead of a meeting on Tuesday on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
The violence in Gaza marks the most serious escalation between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war.
“It is and should be a warning to all how close to the brink of war the situation is,” said Guterres.
“I am shocked by the number of deaths and injuries of Palestinians resulting from the use of live fire by Israel Defense Forces” since protests began on March 30, he said.
At least 132 Palestinian have been killed. The Red Cross says more than 13,000 have been wounded including 1,400 who suffered multiple gunshot wounds, many in the legs.
Israel has a responsibility to “exercise maximum restraint” and protect civilians in line with international humanitarian law, the UN chief wrote.
“The killing of children, as well as of clearly identified journalists and medical staffers by security forces during a demonstration are particularly unacceptable,” he added.
Two Palestinian journalists were killed while covering the protests in April while a 21-year-old medic was shot dead in early June.
Guterres renewed his call for an independent investigation of the shooting deaths in Gaza. Israel has rejected the appeal and argues that the use of force is justified to defend its borders.
The UN chief criticized Hamas and other militant groups for attempting to put explosives near the fence and for shooting rockets at Israel on May 29 and 30.
He singled out “senior Israeli government officials” for asserting that all Palestinians were affiliated with Hamas, signalling a “permissive Israeli policy toward the use of live fire against protesters.”
Israel’s settlement activities “continue unabated,” Guterres added, citing a May 30 decision by Israel to approve 3,500 housing units in the West Bank — the largest batch of new housing since June 2017.
The United Nations considers the expansion of settlements on land earmarked for a future Palestinian state to be illegal. Guterres said the construction must “cease immediately and completely.”