Erdogan: We will continue Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, listens during a joint news statement with Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, following their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 10 January 2018

Erdogan: We will continue Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s military will continue its operation in Syria’s Afrin and Manbij regions, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday during a parliamentary address to his ruling AK Party.
In 2016, Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield operation on its Syrian border to eradicate what it called a “corridor of terror,” made up by the dual threat of Daesh and Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Turkish foreign minister accused the Syrian regime of striking moderate opposition forces in Idlib province near the Turkish border, warning it could torpedo talks aimed at ending the war.
Ankara is working closely on Syria with Russia and Iran, President Bashar Assad’s main allies, but has stepped up criticism of the regime’s behavior in recent days.
“Regime forces are striking moderate opposition with the pretext of fighting against Al-Nusra (Front),” Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency, referring to the former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
Idlib province is almost entirely controlled by anti-regime forces that are dominated by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) consisting mostly of former Al-Nusra fighters.
“This attitude would scupper the political solution process,” Cavusoglu said.
“The parties that will come together in Sochi should refrain from” any action that could threaten the talks, he warned.
Russia is hoping to hold a Syria peace congress in its Black Sea resort of Sochi on Jan. 29-30.
Meanwhile, US-brokered talks based in Geneva between the regime and the opposition are also going forward, albeit at a stuttering pace.
A previous attempt in November to convene talks in Sochi failed due to disagreements between the prospective participants.
Turkey says it will oppose any talks involving the Kurdish militia of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara views as a terror group.
In 2016, Ankara and Moscow brokered a fragile cease-fire in certain areas — which has been bolstered by the negotiations in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
Both Damascus and the opposition factions regularly accuse one another of violating the cease-fire in the de-escalation zones, including in Idlib.
A likely future sticking point between Russia and Turkey is the fate of Assad, who Ankara has vehemently opposed throughout the conflict.
Last month, Erdogan said it was impossible to advance with Assad in power, describing him as a “terrorist.”
Syrian regime forces on Monday pounded Idlib as well as the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus, the two last opposition bastions in Syria.
Cavusoglu also accused the regime forces of attacking moderate opposition fighters under the guise of fighting extremists.
His comments came a day after regime forces captured 14 villages as they advanced on the largest opposition-held enclave in the country’s north amid a wave of airstrikes. The troops aim to reach an opposition-held air base in Idlib province and secure the road linking the capital, Damascus, with Aleppo.
The regime offensive around Idlib has forced thousands of civilians to flee toward the border with Turkey.
Cavusoglu said Syrian regime attacks on moderate opposition forces would “ax” peace efforts.
Turkey, Russia and Iran have taken the lead in Syria peace efforts over the past year. Turkey however, backs the opposition while Russia and Iran are close allies of Assad.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said the number of Russian troops left in Syria is sufficient for fending off any attacks by militants.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said late on Monday that its forces have repelled a series of drone attacks on its bases in Syria — the Hemeimeem air base and a naval facility in Tartus. It said that out of the 13 drones involved, seven were shot down and six were forced to land. The ministry said there was no damage.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Syria last month and ordered a partial troops pullout.
Asked Tuesday whether the withdrawal could have been premature in view of the drone attack, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian forces in Syria have “all the necessary means” to counter any challenge.


Lebanese protests swell as cabinet to hold key meeting

Updated 21 October 2019

Lebanese protests swell as cabinet to hold key meeting

  • Hundreds of thousands of people from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides rallied on Sunday
  • The protests have grown steadily since public anger first spilled onto the streets Thursday

BEIRUT: Lebanese protesters were expected to return to the streets for a fifth day Monday, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri holding a cabinet meeting to try to calm the unprecedented demonstrations.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides rallied against corruption and the entire political class Sunday, the largest such demonstrations in the country for years.
Early Monday morning protesters began to block main roads and prevent employees going to work, while calls on social media urged people to boycott work.
Banks, universities and schools closed their doors Monday, with Hariri expected to offer reforms in a bid to stem the anger.
“It’s a day of destiny for us. All our hard work and efforts in previous days and years were to get us to this moment,” said Roni Al-Asaad, a 32-year-old activist in central Beirut.
“If they could have implemented these reforms before, why haven’t they? And why should we believe them today?”
At the nerve center of the demonstrations near the country’s houses of government in central Beirut, volunteers were once again collecting rubbish from the streets, many wearing face masks and plastic gloves.
The protests have grown steadily since public anger first spilled onto the streets Thursday evening in response to a proposed tax on calls via WhatsApp and other messaging services.
While the government quickly dropped that plan, the leaderless protests morphed into demands for a sweeping overhaul of the political system, with grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
Hariri had given his coalition partners three days to support reforms he said were crucial to get the economy back on track.
On Sunday evening a cabinet official said that the parties had agreed.
The cabinet will hold a meeting chaired by President Michel Aoun at 10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) to discuss the reforms.
Demonstrators said Hariri’s proposals would not be enough, with demands for the entire political class to resign.
“All of them are warlords,” said Patrick Chakar, 20. “We waited 30 years or more for them to change and they didn’t.”
More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives below the poverty line, the World Bank says, while the political class has remained relatively unchanged since the end of a devastating 15-year civil war in 1990.
Lebanon ranked 138 out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2018 corruption index, and residents suffer chronic electricity and water shortages.
Lebanese media hailed the demonstrations.
Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Shiite Muslim militant party Hezbollah, published a picture of protesters carrying a giant flag on its front page with a commentary on “Test Day: Power or People?”
The French-language newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour said “The hour of truth has arrived,” while the English-language The Daily Star said: “Lebanon’s only paths: reform or abyss.”