Turkish-Western diplomacy intensifies over Idlib

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, talks to Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Mass, left, during a visit to the German High School, in Istanbul. Maas is on a two-day visit to Turkey where he met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials. (AP Photo)
Updated 06 September 2018
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Turkish-Western diplomacy intensifies over Idlib

  • As Ankara and Berlin try to mend ties, Maas tweeted in Turkish upon his arrival that Turkey is a partner of Germany
  • There are fears that an assault on Idlib could lead to 700,000 Syrians fleeing to Turkey and trying to go to Europe from there

ANKARA: There has been heavy diplomatic traffic between Ankara and its Western allies since Russian warplanes began bombing Syria’s Idlib province, which borders Turkey and is home to more than 3 million civilians.

James Jeffrey, US special representative to Syria and a former ambassador to Turkey, visited Ankara on Tuesday, as did German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday. They met their counterparts to discuss Syria.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo spoke with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday.

“Both agreed any Assad regime military offensive in Idlib would be an unacceptable, reckless escalation of the conflict in Syria,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

As Ankara and Berlin try to mend ties, Maas tweeted in Turkish upon his arrival that Turkey is a partner of Germany.

There are fears that an assault on Idlib could lead to 700,000 Syrians fleeing to Turkey and trying to go to Europe from there.

The Syrian regime, with the backing of Iran and Russia, is gearing up for a major military offensive in the province, which is controlled by various armed opposition groups.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently warned of a potential massacre if missiles are fired into Idlib.

During a joint press conference with Maas, Cavusoglu condemned Russia’s bombing of the province, and said the Turkish and German positions on Syria overlap.

Nicholas Danforth, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Project, told Arab News: “The looming regime assault on Idlib represents an ideal opportunity for the US, Europe and Turkey to work together to forestall a strategic and humanitarian disaster.”

He added: “While none are eager to see extremist groups remain in control of the territory, all three have more to lose from a regime takeover that sends militants and refugees flooding into Turkey and perhaps on to Europe.”

Without Western military and diplomatic backing, Turkey would seem to have little choice but to accept, if not help facilitate, the Syrian regime’s plans, Danforth said.

With a trilateral summit between Turkey, Russia and Iran set to take place on Friday, Ankara’s stance on Idlib diverges from that of Moscow and Tehran. The province was originally designated a “de-escalation zone” by the three countries.

Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst on Turkish-Russian relations and Eurasian affairs, said Ankara’s increasing contacts with its Western partners may have little, if any, impact on Russian policy in Syria.

“Other than the US and UK, the leading European countries don’t have a strong presence on the ground in Syria,” he told Arab News.

“Europeans’ negotiations with Turkey are mostly related to a possible new refugee influx and a transfer of the jihadist threat to Europe,” he said.

“I think Russia and the EU have similar perspectives on eliminating the terrorist and jihadist threat on the ground without causing mass migration into Turkey and so on.”

The US and UK “may try to disrupt Moscow’s plans in Idlib and Russian-Turkish relations in general, but preventing the Idlib operation doesn’t seem to be a priority for them,” Has said.

He anticipates that at the trilateral summit, Erdogan will ask Moscow for more time to persuade the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham jihadist alliance to lay down its arms, to prevent Syrian regime forces from entering the center of Idlib, and to permit the creation of a safe zone along Turkey’s border with the province for refugees and Ankara-backed rebels.

“But I’m not sure that most of these requests will be welcomed by Moscow,” Has said. “In that sense, I don’t expect a critical or meaningful impact from Turkey’s recent dialogue with its Western partners on Russian plans in Idlib.”


Sudan protesters, police clash as anti-Bashir unrest spreads

Updated 18 January 2019
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Sudan protesters, police clash as anti-Bashir unrest spreads

  • Worst clashes in Khartoum’s Burri district
  • rotests spread to six other cities
KHARTOUM: Stone-throwing Sudanese demonstrators battled security forces in Khartoum on Thursday, witnesses said, and a child and a doctor were reported killed at the start of a fifth week of protests against President Omar Al-Bashir’s 30-year rule.
Protests also broke out in six other cities in some of the most widespread disturbances since the unrest began on Dec. 19. The Sudan Doctors’ Committee, a group linked to the opposition, said the doctor and child were killed by gunshot wounds during the violence.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of a government-affiliated private hospital in Khartoum’s Burri neighborhood, where activists said the two died of their injuries. The protests continued into early Friday. Demonstrators chanted: “Freedom” and “Until the morning, we’re staying,” video footage showed.
Police could not immediately be reached for comment on the reported deaths.
The protests were triggered by price rises and cash shortages, but have quickly developed into demonstrations against Bashir.
In the day’s most violent clashes, police in Burri fired rubber bullets and tear gas and chased demonstrators with batons, witnesses said. Several people were overcome with tear gas, while some were bruised by rubber bullets and others beaten.
Hundreds of young men and women blocked streets and alleyways with burning tires, witnesses said. Some hurled stones at security forces. Many recited the chant that has become the crying call of demonstrators: “Down, that’s it,” to send the message that their only demand is Bashir’s fall.
Demonstrators also taunted security forces by ululating each time a stone-throwing demonstrator hit police, witnesses said.
A live video posted on social media and verified by Reuters showed security forces pointing guns at protesters in Burri. A sound of gunfire could be heard.

‘Why are you shooting?’
In the video, a demonstrator yelled: “Why are you shooting?” as protesters, some wearing masks as protection from tear gas, ducked to avoid the firing. It was not clear if rubber or live bullets were used. One man who appeared to be injured and had spots of blood on his shirt was carried away.
“There were people shooting at us,” one protester told Reuters.
He said he saw five people fall to the ground, adding he was not sure if they were hit by rubber or live bullets. He said he saw a few other injured people being carried away. Security forces blocked the area and the wounded were unable to reach a hospital, he said.
Instead they were being treated in a makeshift emergency room inside a home. At some point, security forces approached the makeshift clinic and fired tear gas into it as the wounded were being treated, three witnesses said.
A police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the witnesses’ account of the Burri clashes.
Hundreds also protested in Al-Qadarif, Atbara, Port Sudan, Al-Dueim, Omdurman and Al-Ubayyid, drawing tear-gas volleys from police, witnesses said.
Security forces have at times used live ammunition to disperse demonstrations. The official death toll stands at 24, including two security forces personnel. Amnesty International has said that more than 40 people have been killed.

”Bashir blames foreign ‘agents’
Bashir has blamed the protests on foreign “agents” and said the unrest would not lead to a change in government, challenging his opponents to seek power through the ballot box.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Thursday that she was deeply worried about reports of excessive use of force by Sudanese security forces.
“The government needs to ensure that security forces handle protests in line with the country’s international human rights obligations by facilitating and protecting the right to peaceful assembly,” said Bachelet, a former Chilean president.
Sudan has struggled economically since losing three-quarters of its oil output — its main source of foreign currency — when South Sudan seceded in 2011, keeping most of the oilfields.
The protests began in Atbara, in northeastern Sudan, a month ago when several thousand people took to the streets after the government raised bread and fuel prices to reduce the cost of subsidies.
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges, which he denies, of masterminding genocide in the Darfur region, had been lobbying to be removed from the list of countries, along with Syria, Iran and North Korea, that Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.
That listing has prevented an influx of investment and financial aid that Sudan was hoping for when the United States lifted sanctions in 2017, according to economists.
Sudan has been rapidly expanding its money supply in an attempt to finance its budget deficit, causing spiralling inflation and a steep decline in the value of its currency.
Sudan’s inflation rate increased to 72.94 percent in December from 68.93 percent in November, state news agency SUNA said.