25,000 FSA fighters ‘support Turkish force in Syria’

Turkish troops gather near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2018

25,000 FSA fighters ‘support Turkish force in Syria’

AMMAN: Around 25,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters are joining the Turkish military operation in northern Syria with the goal of recapturing Arab towns and villages seized by the YPG Kurdish militia almost two years ago, an opposition commander said on Sunday.
Major Yasser Abdul Rahim, who is also the commander of Failaq Al-Sham, a main FSA opposition group in the operations room of the campaign, said the fighters did not seek to enter the mainly Kurdish city of Afrin but encircle it and expel the YPG (people’s protection units).
“We have no interest in entering the city only the military targets inside the city and the villages around it. We aim to encircle the city and ensure the militias are evicted. We won’t fight in the city as we have no problem with civilians,” he said.
A leading goal of the military operation was to recapture Tel Rifaat, a town southeast of Afrin, and a string of Arab villages the YPG captured from rebels in February 2016, driving out tens of thousands of inhabitants, Abdul Rahim said.
“The task of the Free Syrian Army is first to regain 16 Arab towns and villages occupied by the foreign militias (YPG) with the help of the Russian air force,” Abdul Rahim told Reuters in a phone interview from inside Syria.
The fighting forced at least 150,000 residents of these villages to flee to Azaz. They are sheltering in camps at the Turkish border and rebels say they have not been allowed to go back to their homes.
The mainly Arab fighters accuse the Syrian Kurdish militia of forcibly displacing Arabs from the villages in what they say is a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing. The YPG denies these allegations.
Tel Rifaat and nearby areas including the Menigh air base fell to the YPG as the rebels were trying to fend off a major assault by Syrian regime forces backed by the Russian air force and Iranian-backed militias.
It was a prelude to the rebels’ defeat in eastern Aleppo — their biggest single setback of the civil war.
Turkish troops have targeted these YPG-held Arab villages in artillery and aerial attacks on the US-backed Kurdish militia it aims to sweep from its border, the fighters said.
The capture of Tel Rifaat and the villages would allow the rebels to create a territorial link from a Turkish protected northern border strip stretching from Azaz and Jarablus on the western banks of the Euphrates to mainly rebel-held Idlib province further southwest.
Currently tens of thousands of civilians living in this de facto Turkish-backed buffer zone have to pass through Kurdish YPG-controlled border crossings, where residents and traders say they pay hefty taxes to move further south to Idlib province, the only province that is nearly fully under opposition control.
The fighters taking part in the assault are mainly the same factions that took part in the Turkey-backed operation launched in 2016 to drive Daesh from the border and to prevent further expansion of YPG influence.
Abdul Rahim, an army defector, also said reinforcements and weapons were moving to the YPG from the mainly-Arab populated city of Manbij, south of rebel controlled Jarablus and west of the Euphrates, across government controlled territory. “Their convoys are moving from Manbij to Afrin ...they are passing through regime territory,” Abdul Rahim said.
Diplomats say Syria’s government has tolerated the Kurdish militia because it focused its firepower on fighting the insurgency against President Bashar Assad’s rule. Damascus denies any support for the YPG.


US lawmakers set measure opposing Trump on Syria troop withdrawal

In this file photo taken on September 8, 2019 US troops walk past a Turkish military vehicle during a joint patrol with Turkish troops in the Syrian village of al-Hashisha on the outskirts of Tal Abyad town along the border with Turkish troops. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2019

US lawmakers set measure opposing Trump on Syria troop withdrawal

  • Senate and House aides said lawmakers were working on legislation to impose stiffer sanctions on Turkey, hoping to force Turkish President Erdogan to halt his military campaign in northeastern Syria

WASHINGTON: US Democratic lawmakers, joined by some of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, introduced a resolution on Tuesday opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, the latest sign of deep disapproval in Congress of his action.
“We have always maintained that, while certainly needed, a sanctions package alone is insufficient for reversing this humanitarian disaster,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement introducing the resolution.
In addition to Pelosi and Schumer, the resolution was led by Representatives Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mike McCaul, the committee’s top Republican.
It also is backed by Senators Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Todd Young, a Republican member of that panel.
Senate and House aides said lawmakers were working on legislation to impose stiffer sanctions on Turkey, hoping to force Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to halt his military campaign in northeastern Syria.
Several sanctions bills were introduced in the Senate and House, supported by Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, before Trump said he would impose sanctions.
Trump announced a set of sanctions on Monday to punish Ankara, and a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday that Washington would threaten more sanctions to persuade Turkey to reach a cease-fire and halt its offensive. The measures — mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks — were less robust than financial markets had anticipated. Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact, and the Turkish currency recovered.