PKK dismisses Turkey withdrawal reports

Updated 01 February 2013
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PKK dismisses Turkey withdrawal reports

ISTANBUL: The Kurdish militant PKK group said yesterday media reports that its fighters had agreed to withdraw from Turkey as part of a peace pact to end their 28-year-old insurgency were lies and part of a psychological war.
A local newspaper said yesterday Kurdistan Workers’ Party guerrillas had agreed to withdraw to northern Iraq, where the group is based, by March 21 as part of peace talks with the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan started late last year.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has staked much political capital on the talks, given the potential for a nationalist backlash ahead of elections next year.
Media reports in recent days of a planned pullout have fuelled optimism about progress towards an end to the conflict which has killed some 40,000 people.
The PKK statement denied those reports as well as others in Turkish media that said Ankara was in talks with the militants in northern Iraq.
“The stories on this subject are also completely invented lies,” the statement said. “These stories are activities in a deliberate psychological war aimed at manipulation.”
The newspaper said the PKK pullout would begin at the start of March when the weather in southeast Turkey turns milder. It said Ocalan, imprisoned on Imrali island south of Istanbul, was expected to issue a call within 10 days for the militants to declare a ceasefire after Kurdish politicians visit him.
The paper did not name its source. Only a few officials are involved in the talks and have not disclosed details publicly, with the government wary of endangering its support ahead of local and presidential elections in 2014.
The PKK said it fully supported Ocalan representing the group in negotiations and called for him to be allowed to hold talks with the rest of the rebel leadership. He has been held in near isolation since he was captured in 1999.
“Talks between the leader Apo (Ocalan), our leadership and elements in the KCK (rebel umbrella group) must be facilitated for the process to advance properly in a way that will achieve results,” it added.
The rebels took up arms in 1984 with the aim of creating a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. Declared a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union, the PKK has since moderated its goal to one of autonomy.
In return for the withdrawal of the militants and their ultimate disarmament, the government is expected to boost the rights of Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey’s population of 76 million.
As part of those reforms, Turkey’s Parliament last week passed a law allowing defendants to use Kurdish in court in a move seen aimed at breaking a deadlock in the trials of hundreds accused of links to the PKK.
President Abdullah Gul approved the law late on Wednesday and a court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir officially allowed the first Kurdish testimony on Thursday. Defendants have spoken in Kurdish before but on those occasions the court switched off their microphones.
The PKK are likely to be wary about pulling out of Turkey.


First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2018
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First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

  • Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
  • Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year

BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.

Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.

“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.