Turkey prepares for urban warfare in Afrin

A convoy of civilian and fighters coming from Kurdish territories in northeastern Syria and headed to Afrin was targeted by shelling from Turkish forces and pro-Turkish Syrian rebels on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2018
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Turkey prepares for urban warfare in Afrin

ANKARA: Turkey has despatched high-tech weaponry, designed for urban warfare, to Syria amid growing fears of an operation into the center of Afrin.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week that the Turkish army is set to lay siege to the northern city after his forces launched an operation last month against Syrian Kurdish militias.
The offensive has sparked tensions between various factions in the complex Syrian civil war. The Kurdish militants have called in support from pro-government forces, while Operation Olive Branch has heightened tensions with the US, which supports the Kurds. Turkey supports sections of the Syrian opposition rebels.
Turkish media reported that about 20 remote-controlled vehicles, mounted with sophisticated weaponry, were on their way to the Turkish forces in Afrin.
Hundreds of special operations soldiers have also been deployed to Afrin along with “volunteer village guards” — militias from predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey, set up as a defense against attacks from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK is linked to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey is fighting in Afrin. Ankara views both groups as terrorist organizations, while the US is an ally of the YPG in the war against Daesh.
Involvement by the village guards is designed to avoid tension between Turks and Kurds within Turkey. On Thursday night, Turkish Armed Forces bombed a convoy of between 30-40 YPG vehicles carrying ammunition and weapons. The attack happened about 15 km south-east of Afrin, the military said.
Pro-regime forces, backed by Iranian militia, were reported to have entered Afrin to defend the city earlier this week.
But with Turkey showing its intention to continue the offensive, there is an increasing risk of direct clashes with forces linked to Damascus and Tehran.
Erol Bural, a former military officer and a terrorism expert at the Ankara-based research organization 21st Century Turkey Institute, said Turkey has experience in urban fighting from operations targeting the PKK in cities in south-east Turkey.
“Two years ago the PKK was pushed out of 33 different residential areas,” he told Arab News.
Experts predict the YPG will show the greatest resistance in Afrin city center, which has been heavily reinforced during the Syrian conflict.
“Several bombproof tunnels, and the watchtowers built by the YPG against aerial and ground operations, were revealed during Turkey’s ongoing Afrin offensive,” Bural said. “We will probably see the same in the city center, along with widespread sniper positions hidden between the houses and alleys, as well as the use of improvised explosive devices.”
Naim Baburoglu, a security analyst from Istanbul Aydin University, said he would expect the operation to reach Afrin city center to be speeded up, after critical zones surrounding the city have been captured.


White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

Keeping spirits alive Palestinian youths play with rollerblades by walls covered with graffiti at the sea port in Gaza City on Tuesday. AFP
Updated 20 June 2018
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White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

  • The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas
  • Jared Kushner’s team plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them

AMMAN: President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, kicked off a swing through the Middle East on Tuesday, meeting with Jordan’s king as part of a broader effort to lay the groundwork for an expected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Kushner and White House envoy Jason Greenblatt held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a key US ally.
A White House statement said the talks focused on US-Jordan cooperation, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the US efforts “to “facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
US officials have said their peace plan is near completion and could be released this summer. But it faces resistance from the Palestinians, who have cut off ties since Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the US Embassy in Israel to the holy city last month. The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, accuse the US of siding with Israel in the most sensitive issue of their decades-long conflict.
Kushner’s team also plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for an independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas militants seized control of the territory two years later.
The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas. The US, Israel and Western allies shun Hamas as a terrorist group. Details of the plan have not been released, but Palestinians fear they will get little more than a symbolic foothold in Jerusalem. They also fear that aid to Gaza will help strengthen Hamas’ control over the territory.
Jordan also has a stake in east Jerusalem, serving as the custodian of major Muslim and Christian shrines there. Jerusalem’s walled Old City, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967, is home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites.
Abdullah has also rejected Trump’s moves in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to relinquish any part of the city.
Netanyahu traveled to Amman on Monday for a surprise meeting with Abdullah, telling the king that Israel remains committed to the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Abdullah told Netanyahu that the fate of Jerusalem must be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and that a solution should be based on establishing a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on lands Israel captured in 1967.
Palestinian officials fear the Trump administration plan will leave them with a mini-state in the Gaza Strip, parts of the West Bank and a foothold in Jerusalem. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he will reject any plan being floated by the Trump team, arguing that the US has forfeited its role as mediator because of decisions seen as pro-Israel.