Turkey: Syria road map to ‘rebuild mutual trust’ with US

Members of the Manbij military council wait prior to a press conference in Manbij on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2018

Turkey: Syria road map to ‘rebuild mutual trust’ with US

  • The YPG, which forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-Arab alliance that has received extensive American backing, said on Tuesday it would withdraw.
  • Turkey has repeatedly accused the YPG of unbalancing the pre-war ethnic balance of towns like the former Daesh de-facto capital of Raqqa which were predominantly Arab.

ANTALYA/BEIRUT: A road map agreed with Washington for the withdrawal of a US-backed Kurdish militia despised by Ankara from a flashpoint Syrian town will help rebuild trust between the two NATO allies, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier this week reached a deal on the withdrawal of People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters from the town of Manbij which lies west of the River Euphrates close to the Turkish border.

The YPG, which forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-Arab alliance that has received extensive American backing, vowed on Tuesday it would withdraw.

Cavusoglu told AFP in an interview that the move was a key part of rebuilding ties with Washington damaged by a string of rows including Syria and also issues such as American citizens detained in Turkey.

“The US couldn’t keep its promises in the past. But I think they also understood that it is a very critical issue, and this is why we agreed to work,” Cavusoglu told AFP in his home southern region of Antalya where he is campaigning for Turkey’s June 24 elections.

“The implementation of this roadmap will help us actually to rebuild the mutual trust between two allies,” he added.

But he warned that the plan now had to be implemented on the ground. “If not, there will be a lack of trust,” he said. Tensions between Washington and Ankara have so far scotched expectations of a strong alliance emerging between President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Cavusoglu expressed skepticism over the vow to withdraw by the YPG, who Turkey accuses of being the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“I’m not sure they are leaving,” said Cavusoglu.

In a related development, the dominant US-backed Syrian Kurdish party that controls large swaths of oil-rich territory in northeastern Syria is prepared to hold talks with the Syrian regime over the future of the area, a senior Kurdish official said Wednesday.

The proposition came a day after Turkey and the US agreed on the “roadmap” to resolve a dispute over the northern Syrian town of Manbij, which is controlled by the US-backed Kurdish fighters, Washington’s main ally in Syria.

He said the aim of the roadmap is to ensure that the YPG leaves Manbij and then have the US and Turkey work together to establish a local security structure and “decide together who is going to govern Manbij.

“This is the aim, so now it is time to implement it,” he said.

He said the assurance of stability in the area would encourage the return home of Syrian refugees, some 3.5 million of whom live in Turkey.

Turkish forces earlier this year ousted the YPG from the Afrin region of northern Syria in a military operation.

But Cavusoglu indicated that he wanted similar agreements with the US to prise the YPG from towns it had seized from Daesh militants with American backing close to the Turkey border.

Turkey has repeatedly accused the YPG of unbalancing the pre-war ethnic balance of towns like the former Daesh de-facto capital of Raqqa which were predominantly Arab.

“Eventually they should also leave from other areas... because Raqqa for instance is a 90 percent Arab city,” said Cavusoglu.

Ankara has long opposed the YPG controlling a continuous stretch of territory on its border up to Iraq, fearing the creation of an autonomous region or even independent entity that could embolden Turkey’s own Kurds.


Homemade bomb kills Israeli teen, wounds two others in West Bank

Updated 41 min 46 sec ago

Homemade bomb kills Israeli teen, wounds two others in West Bank

  • Israeli security forces deployed throughout the area where the attack took place near the settlement of Dolev, northwest of Ramallah, to search for suspects
  • Palestinians sporadically clash with Israeli settlers and security forces in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967, but bomb blasts have been rare in recent years

JERUSALEM: A rare homemade bomb attack in the occupied West Bank killed an Israeli teen and seriously wounded her father and brother Friday as they visited a spring near a Jewish settlement, officials said.
Israeli security forces deployed throughout the area where the attack took place near the settlement of Dolev, northwest of Ramallah, to search for suspects.
Israeli medics had earlier reported that a 17-year-old had been critically wounded in the attack and officials later announced her death, naming her as Rina Shnerb from the central Israeli city of Lod.
Medics from the Magen David Adom rescue service initially gave the ages of the two wounded as 46 and 20, before amending to 21 in the latter case.
The army said the three victims were a father and his two children.
The two wounded were taken by helicopter to hospital, the army said.
“Three civilians who were in a nearby spring were injured in an IED (improvised explosive device) blast,” it said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “harsh terrorist attack” and sent condolences to the family, while pledging to continue building settlements.
“The security arms are in pursuit after the abhorrent terrorists,” he said in a statement.
“We will apprehend them. The long arm of Israel reaches all those who seek our lives and will settle accounts with them.”
United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov condemned the “shocking, heinous” attack, saying there was nothing heroic in Shnerb’s “murder,” calling it a “despicable, cowardly act.”
“Terror must be unequivocally condemned by ALL,” Mladenov wrote on Twitter.
Israeli forces meanwhile entered the Palestinian village of Beitunia, south of the spring, to take footage from surveillance cameras.
An AFP reporter said Palestinians clashed there with Israeli soldiers, but no casualties were reported.
Chief of the army, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi visited the site of the attack to understand the incident and oversee the efforts to locate the perpetrators, which he was “confident” would happen quickly, the military said.
Later in the day, Shnerb was buried in her hometown Lod, with thousands participating in the funeral.
Shnerb’s father Eitan, who was wounded and couldn’t attend the funeral, relayed through an uncle his request that people focus on “our strength and love and the wonderful nation and our good land” and avoid sinking into “weakness and anger and strife.”
“We should be worthy of the great sacrifice we offered today,” Eitan Shnerb was cited by the uncle as saying.
In a speech on Friday, Ismail Haniya, the leader of the Islamist Hamas movement which rules Gaza, praised the attack but did not claim responsibility for it.
He referred to a recent clash between Israeli police and Palestinian worshippers at the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and sought to draw a link between the two incidents.
AFP reporters said thousands of Gazans participated in weekly Friday protests at the Israeli border fence, with some youths using slingshots to launch stones at the barrier and a few approaching it.
The health ministry in the enclave said over 122 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli forces, dozens of them hit by live fire.
Palestinians sporadically clash with Israeli settlers and security forces in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967, but bomb blasts have been rare in recent years.
Palestinian attacks have mostly involved guns, knives and car ramming.
There have been concerns about a possible increase in violence in the run up to Israel’s September 17 general election.
A week ago, a Palestinian carried out a car-ramming attack in the West Bank, wounding two Israelis before being shot dead.
On August 8, an off-duty Israeli soldier’s body was found with multiple stab wounds. Two Palestinian suspects were later arrested.
Late Thursday, a Palestinian threw grenades at Israeli soldiers while attempting to cross the Gaza border and was shot by Israeli forces, leaving him wounded, the army and the Gaza health ministry said.
Gaza militants have also launched six missiles at Israel in the past week; the most recent were on Wednesday.
In retaliation, the Israeli army said it struck “a number of military targets in a Hamas naval facility in the northern Gaza Strip.”