Turkey condemns ‘escape’ of Raqqa militants

Syrian government forces sit next to an armoured vehicle in a northeastern district of Deir Ezzor on November 5, 2017, after retaking the city from Daesh group jihadists. (AFP)
Updated 15 November 2017

Turkey condemns ‘escape’ of Raqqa militants

ANKARA: Turkey on Wednesday condemned as “an extremely grave revelation” the potential escape of hundreds of militants from the Syrian city of Raqqa, saying it underscored the perils of Washington’s alliance with Kurdish fighters.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said over 3,000 civilians had left Raqqa on Oct. 14 as part of a deal negotiated between officials from the provisional Raqqa Civil Council and Daesh fighters.
The US-led coalition later acknowledged that of these up to 300 were seen as “potential” Daesh fighters, following a BBC report that hundreds of militants, including foreigners, had left as part of the deal.
Daesh lost control of Raqqa on Oct. 17 after months of fighting against the SDF, a Kurdish-dominated force regarded with disdain by Turkey.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry described the information as an “extremely grave and eye-opening revelation,” accusing the SDF of negotiating with Daesh to evacuate fighters.
The SDF is dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a “terror” group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) waging an insurgency inside Turkey.
Ankara has long lambasted Washington for working with and arming the YPG as the main US ally in the fight against Daesh.
Meanwhile, the main Syrian Kurdish political party, the PYD, on Wednesday welcomed a longer-term role for US forces in Syria after the defeat of Islamic State, saying the Americans should continue to play a role until a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
On Monday, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis described a longer-term role for US troops long after Daesh militants lose control of all the territory they hold.
In a written message to Reuters, the PYD’s co-President Shahoz Hasan agreed that this would be beneficial.
“Without achieving a political solution to the Syrian crisis, and with the continuation of the Turkish and Iranian intervention in Syria, and with the continued presence of Al-Qaeda groups in Syria, the continued operation of the coalition is better,” Hasan said.
While all sides in Syria were battling against Daesh, the US-backed, Kurdish-led forces mostly avoided direct confrontation with the Syrian government, backed by Iran and Russia. But as Daesh has been driven from nearly all its territory in recent months, the government and its Iranian allies have increasingly spoken of taking back areas held by the Kurdish-led militias.
Syria’s main Kurdish groups hope for a new phase of negotiations to shore up their autonomy in northern Syria.
Mattis said the US military’s longer-term objective would be to prevent the return of an “ISIS 2.0.”


Turkey announces record coronavirus death toll for fifth consecutive day

Updated 47 min 4 sec ago

Turkey announces record coronavirus death toll for fifth consecutive day

  • From July until Wednesday, Ankara had only reported symptomatic cases

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s daily COVID-19 death toll hit a record high for a fifth consecutive day at 177, data from the Health Ministry showed on Friday.
Turkey also recorded a new high of 29,845 coronavirus infections in the space of 24 hours, including asymptomatic ones, on Friday. However, from July until Wednesday, Ankara had only reported symptomatic cases, of which there were 6,592 on Friday. The total number of deaths stood at 13,191.
Historical data and the cumulative number of all cases were not available.