Turkey says it will not let the US hold it back in Syria

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters in Istanbul, Turkey, December 16, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 17 December 2018
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Turkey says it will not let the US hold it back in Syria

  • Turkey said it would launch a new operation within days against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia
  • Relations between the two NATO allies have long been strained by Syria policy

ISTANBUL: Turkey pledged on Monday to press ahead with plans to target a Kurdish militia in northern Syria, brushing off what it said were American efforts to stymie Turkish military operations east of the Euphrates.
President Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Turkey would launch a new operation within days against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The Pentagon expressed grave concern and said unilateral military action there by any party would be “unacceptable.”
Relations between the two NATO allies have long been strained by Syria policy. The United States has backed the YPG against Daesh fighters. Ankara, however, sees the YPG as terrorists tied to PKK militants who have fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey for 34 years.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Washington had tried to hold Turkey back during two operations in Syria in the last two years against Daesh and the YPG, which controls swathes of Syria’s northern border region.
“The United States thought it could deter us with the men it has nurtured,” he said during a visit to Pakistan, state-owned news agency Anadolu reported. “Now, they will try to hold us back east of the Euphrates. Turkey did not, and will not, allow that.”
Turkey has not yet launched an operation east of the Euphrates but has kept up regular air strikes against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants based in Iraq’s mountains.
Baghdad summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq on Friday after Ankara said it killed eight PKK fighters. But Turkish warplanes have since carried out further strikes.
On Monday, Turkey’s defense ministry said air strikes on Sunday targeted northern Iraq’s Gara and Hakurk areas and “neutralized” seven militants preparing to attack Turkish bases.
Erdogan has said Turkish forces will enter the Syrian town of Manbij, west of the Euphrates, if the United States does not remove YPG fighters there and will also target the eastern side, where the YPG controls an area stretching more than 400 km (250 miles) along the border toward Iraq.
On Sunday he vowed again to maintain attacks on militants.
“We are always in the heads of the terrorists. We are burying them in the ditches they dig. We will continue to bury them,” he said in a rally in Istanbul.
“Terrorists will cease to be an affliction for my nation,” he said. “Together with God’s permission we are making those who attack our homeland and borders pay the price.”
The United States has set up observation posts on the Syrian border, saying they will deter security threats against Turkey coming from Syria. It has warned Turkey against a new incursion.


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”