Syrian Kurdish official: deal for Syrian army to enter Afrin

A picture taken from the Syrian village of Atme in the northwestern province of Idlib shows smoke plumes rising in the village of Deir Ballut in the Afrin region. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018
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Syrian Kurdish official: deal for Syrian army to enter Afrin

BEIRUT: Syrian Kurdish forces and the Damascus government have reached an agreement for the Syrian army to enter the Afrin region to help repel a Turkish offensive, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters on Sunday.
Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish-led administration in north Syria, said army troops will deploy along some border positions and could enter the region within the next two days.
The agreement underscores the increasingly complex situation in northern Syria where Kurdish groups, the Syrian government, rebel groups, Turkey, the United States and Russia are tangled in a complex web of enmities and alliances.
The complex relationship between the Damascus government and the Syrian Kurds, which each holds more territory than any other side in the war, will be an important element in determining the future course of the conflict.
Turkey launched an air and ground offensive last month on Syria’s Afrin region, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war to target Kurdish fighters in the autonomous canton in the north.
The Kurdish YPG militia, which has received arms from the United States, has seized swathes of northern Syria from Daesh during the conflict, and has a rival vision for the country’s future to that of the Damascus government.
But while the United States has a military presence in the much larger area of Syria the YPG and its allies control further east, it has not given any support to the YPG in Afrin.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has had a complex relationship with the YPG during the conflict. They have mostly avoided direct conflict and both sides have at times suggested a long-term agreement between them might be possible, but they have also sometimes clashed and espouse utterly different visions for Syria’s future. Assad has said he wants to take back control of the whole country.
Jia Kurd said the agreement that had been reached with Damascus was purely military and that no wider political arrangements had been made yet.
“When it comes to the political and administrative matters in the region, it will be agreed upon with Damascus in the later stages through direct negotiations and discussions,” he said.
He added that there was opposition to the deal that could prevent it being implemented: “We don’t know to what extent these understandings will last because there are sides that are not satisfied and want to make (the understandings) fail.”


Israeli planes hit 25 targets in response to Gaza rocket fire

Updated 22 sec ago
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Israeli planes hit 25 targets in response to Gaza rocket fire

JERUSALEM: Israeli jets struck 25 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Wednesday after militants launched rockets and mortar shells at Israeli territory, the military said.
Two Hamas security men were lightly hurt in one air strike in the southern Gaza Strip, residents said. No casualties were reported in Israel after one of the most intense recent barrages of militant rocket launches and Israeli air strikes.
Air raid sirens and Israeli phone warning applications sounded throughout the pre-dawn hours.
The military counted 30 rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli territory and said its Iron Dome anti-missile shield intercepted seven rockets.
Since its last war with Gaza’s dominant Hamas in 2014, Israel has stepped up efforts to prevent cross-border attacks, improving rocket interceptors and investing in technologies for detecting and destroying guerrilla tunnels.
In recent weeks, Palestinians have sent kites dangling coal embers or burning rags across the Gaza border to set fire to arid farmland and forests, others have carried small explosive devices in a new tactic that has caused extensive damage.
At least 127 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops during mass demonstrations along the Gaza border since March 30 and the men sending the kites over the fence believe they have found an effective new weapon.
Israel’s deadly tactics in confronting the weekly Friday protests have drawn international condemnation.
Palestinians say the protests are an outpouring of rage by people demanding the right to return to homes their families fled or were driven from following the founding of Israel 70 years ago.
Israel says the demonstrations are organized by the Islamist group Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip and denies Israel’s right to exist. Israel says Hamas has intentionally provoked the violence, a charge Hamas denies.
Around two million people live in Gaza, most of them the stateless descendants of refugees from what is now Israel. The territory has been controlled by Hamas for more than a decade, during which it has fought three wars against Israel.
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade of the strip, citing security reasons, which has caused an economic crisis and collapse in living standards there over the past decade.