Erdogan renews threat of another Syria incursion as Kurdish militia still in Manbij

A Syrian fighter sits at the newly renamed Salahuddin Ayyubi circle in Afrin whose residents say they are suffering a litany of rights violations at the hands of Turkey-backed rebels. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2018
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Erdogan renews threat of another Syria incursion as Kurdish militia still in Manbij

  • Fear grips Syrian city of Afrin seized from Kurds by Turkey-backed fighters
  • Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish militia as terrorist and part of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey

ISTANBUL/AFRIN,Syria: The Turkish president is suggesting that Turkey’s military could soon launch a new operation across the border into northern Syria, in zones held by Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement is renewing a threat to expand Turkey’s military operations into areas east of the Euphrates River held by US-backed Syrian Kurds.

Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish militia as terrorist and part of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

Erdogan says: “God willing, very soon ... we will leave the terror nests east of the Euphrates in disarray.” He spoke on Friday at a military ceremony honoring Turkish commando soldiers.

Turkey launched incursion into Syria in 2016 and 2018, into areas west of the Euphrates, pushing Daesh militants as well as Syrian Kurdish fighters from the border area.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that the Kurdish YPG militia has not left the northern Syrian town of Manbij, contrary to a US-Turkish agreement, and Turkey will do what is necessary.

“They are now digging trenches in Manbij. What does this mean? It means ‘we’ve prepared the graves, come and bury us’,” Erdogan said at a rally in southern Turkey. “They said they would abandon the area in 90 days, but they haven’t. We will do what is necessary.” 

Meanwhile, residents of Syria’s Afrin region say they are suffering a litany of abuses at the hands of Turkish-backed fighters.

They say the fear of harassment has kept them shuttered inside their homes since Ankara and its Arab opposition allies overran the then overwhelmingly Kurdish city in March after a two-month air and ground offensive.

Their testimonies, given under pseudonyms because of fear of retribution, paint a picture of a chaotic city with little protection for civilians. “They robbed my son’s house and didn’t leave a thing — not even the clothes,” says 55-year-old resident Ahmad.

His own motorcycle and 20 gas canisters were seized by opposition fighters, who also looted his family’s liquor store.

Since Turkish troops and pro-Ankara Arab fighters captured the city from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the UN and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have documented widespread abuses.

Half of the enclave’s 320,000 residents fled, according to a recent report by the UN Commission of Inquiry, and most are unable to return.

Those who have often found their homes occupied by fighters or by Arab civilians displaced from other parts of Syria, the UN said.

Other returned to homes “stripped of furniture, electrical appliances and all decor,” in large-scale looting.

Ahmad and his family fled the fighting but came back recently to scenes of devastation with their property looted and their hometown barely recognizable. “When we came back, not even our tractor was left,” he said. “They don’t even let us sleep at night, with all the shooting.”

Turkey has denied allegations of abuses, and fighters say proven offenders are punished.

But residents say not enough is done to curb violations. And it is not only Kurds who have fallen victim to the lawlessness.

Samia, an Arab student in Afrin, says she has been permanently scarred by her father’s brutal killing by armed men trying to steal their family car. “The first time they tried, my father kicked them out of the house. They came back a second time for revenge and killed him,” she recounts. Fighters investigated, but “the killer went to jail for just one month,” she said.

Separately, The UN’s World Food Program is preparing for a vast new wave of refugees likely to flee to Turkey if a looming conflict breaks out in Syria’s flash point Idlib region, WFP Executive Director David Beasley said Friday.

Beasley said the agency is “pre-positioning rations for short term, middle range, along the Turkish border.”

He said the WFP is working with Turkish, Russian, Syrian, US and other officials “to do what we can to minimize the impact when a war truly goes into full scale mode there.”

 


Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 22 October 2018
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Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.