Turkey warns Syria as rival forces clash

Supporting Free Syrian Army fighters, Turkey launched its incursion into northern Syria on Jan. 20. (Reuters)
Updated 21 February 2018
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Turkey warns Syria as rival forces clash

ANKARA: The Syrian regime will face “serious consequences” if it insists on deploying militias against Turkish troops in the north of the country, Ankara has warned.
Armed groups allied to Damascus were sent to Afrin this week to help Kurdish rebels counter a month-long military offensive by Turkish forces in the region. But the convoy of about 50 vehicles withdrew after coming under artillery fire, marking a dangerous new escalation in the seven-year Syrian civil war.
Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters on Wednesday that more violence could follow if Damascus pressed ahead with sending reinforcements to the highly charged area.
“Any step by the regime or other elements in this direction will surely have serious consequences,” he said.
The Syrian state news agency, SANA, responded defiantly soon afterward, reporting that “new groups of popular forces” were arriving in Afrin to fight back against “the continued aggression of the Turkish regime” — a move that leaves both sides perilously close to all-out confrontation.
Turkey launched its incursion into northern Syria on Jan. 20 with the aim of routing militants belonging to groups including the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It considers both groups as terrorist organizations and threats to its national security.
Ankara claims more than 1,600 YPG and Daesh fighters have either been killed, captured or surrendered since “Operation Olive Branch” began. In remarks to reporters, Kalin said anyone who intervened to help the Kurdish rebels was “on the same level” and “for us, that would make them legitimate targets.”
Having swept through the surrounding countryside, Turkey intends to lay siege to Afrin city in the coming days. However, Syria has vowed to fight back, with Riyad Haddad, its ambassador to Russia, describing Ankara’s decision to fire on its militias as “a blatant violation of Syria’s sovereignty.”
The YPG has controlled Afrin since Damascus pulled its forces from Kurdish majority areas in the north of the country in 2012 — a strategic withdrawal that appeared designed to sow confusion among the country’s disparate insurgent groups and keep neighboring Turkey on guard.
Experts told Arab News that the Syrian regime’s decision to deploy militias to Afrin this week could not have been made without the knowledge of its staunch ally Russia.
Metin Gurcan, a former military officer and senior security analyst at the Istanbul Policy Center, said the move was deliberately designed to “create a risky operational environment.”


21 Daesh militants escape Iraqi jail, most recaptured

Updated 15 min 41 sec ago
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21 Daesh militants escape Iraqi jail, most recaptured

  • Kurdish security officials launched manhunt operations after the break-out late on Wednesday and 15 of the 21 were recaptured
  • The group has resorted to guerrilla tactics since it abandoned its goal of holding territory and creating a self-sufficient caliphate that straddles Iraq and Syria

BAGHDAD: Twenty one prisoners, most of them members of Daesh jailed on terrorism charges, broke out of a prison in northern Iraq but 15 of them have been recaptured, Kurdish security officials said on Thursday.
The fortified jail of Sosa is located near the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya and include mainly militants of the hard-line group who were captured during the fight against Daesh which started in 2014.
Kurdish security officials launched manhunt operations after the break-out late on Wednesday and 15 of the 21 were recaptured, two security officials said. The whereabouts of the other six remains unknown.
Although Sosa jail is located in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, the federal government has full control over the prison.
“Almost all of the convicted inmates who escaped are from Daesh,” said one Kurdish security source.
It was not clear how the inmates managed to escape the highly secured prison.
Daesh, which once occupied a third of Iraq’s territory, has been largely defeated in the country but still poses a threat along the border with Syria.
The group has resorted to guerrilla tactics since it abandoned its goal of holding territory and creating a self-sufficient caliphate that straddles Iraq and Syria.