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

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.”


Pioneering school in Cairo struggles to fund pupils

Pupils participate in a choir at the Mahaba School in Ezbet Al-Nakhl, a shanty town north of Cairo. (AFP)
Updated 20 October 2018

Pioneering school in Cairo struggles to fund pupils

  • Mahaba shields around 3,000 students from outside world in clean environment
  • Extremists have hit several targets in Egypt in recent years, including Coptic churches and institutions

CAIRO: Among the poorest of Egypt's poor, the so-called “zabbaleen” who scavenge through garbage to eke out a living in a Cairo slum struggle to keep their children in school.
Residents of the Ezbet Al-Nakhl shanty town earn a living from rubbish they collect across the capital and sort in privately-owned recycling workshops.
But a school in the midst of the unpaved muddy alleys in the mostly Coptic district of the zabbaleen, meaning the garbage people in Arabic, has long been something of an oasis.
Set up 30 years ago by French nun Sister Emmanuelle, the Mahaba School — taking its name from the Arabic word for love — shields around 3,000 pupils from the outside world in a clean and friendly environment.
The walls of its classrooms are brightly decorated with pupils' work, and football posts with a net stand proudly in the playground. The Vatican once compared Sister Emmanuelle to Mother Teresa for her charitable work with slum dwellers. The founder died 10 years ago at the age of 99, and the school is now run by Sister Demiana.
Sister Demiana recalls how she and Sister Emmanuelle went door to door urging parents to enrol their children in a bid to fight illiteracy. Today, around 20 percent of Egypt's population are illiterate, the state-run CAPMAS statistics office said in a report released last year. Mahaba and other slum-based education initiatives have found it especially hard to make ends meet in recent years, due to a financial crisis in Egypt. In 2016, the government signed a $12 billion three-year loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund to support a string of economic reforms. Since then, authorities have imposed harsh austerity measures, including hikes to fuel and electricity prices, and adopted VAT.
Consumer prices have soared and the Egyptian pound has lost more than half its value against the US dollar since the central bank floated the currency in November 2016.
And a fiscal crisis saw the deficit balloon to 12.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product in the 2015-2016 tax year.
Around 28 percent of Egypt's 96 million inhabitants were living under the poverty line in 2015, according to official figures which have not been updated since.
But experts say the reality on the ground is even worse. “Everything has become expensive and people are feeling the pressure,” said Sister Demiana.
Many of the children who attend Mahaba School are malnourished and their parents struggle to buy them clothes and school supplies, she said. Mahaba charges 3,000 pounds ($167) in annual school fees. But the poorest families do not have to pay, while those who are slightly less poor pay only a token amount.
The school is part-funded by Asmae — the NGO set up by Sister Emmanuelle in 1980 that sponsors 200 pupils. But Mahaba also depends on private contributions.
"The main challenge is (for the parents) to find money" to pay for their general needs, said school teacher Sabah Sobhi, who has worked at Mahaba since it first opened.
“Life has become very expensive and families are finding it hard to keep their children in school,” she said. Fear is another major worry, Sobhi said.
Egypt has been shaken by political and security instability since the 2011 revolt that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, including deadly attacks claimed by Dahesg. Terrorists began an insurgency in Egypt after the 2013 ouster of Mubarak's successor, Mohammed Mursi, who was forced out by the military in the face of mass protests against his rule and that of his Muslim Brotherhood.
Extremists have hit several targets in Egypt in recent years, including Coptic churches and institutions. And in October 2011, nearly 30 people were killed at a Coptic Christian demonstration that was violently crushed by security forces. The Copts — who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population — were protesting against the torching of a church. "We fear for the future and because of the events that we have experienced," said Sobhi. Mahaba has set up a "psychological support" system for pupils who have been traumatized by violence, she said. Associations like Asmae are also anxious about the government's plans to implement a contentious law adopted last year that would allow authorities to oversee foreign funding of Egyptian NGOs and the activities of foreign ones. "We are all worried," said Asmae's representative in Egypt, Sherif Abdelaziz.