What’s next after two weeks of Afrin operation?

Turkish soldiers can be seen in this file photo.(Reuters)
Updated 03 February 2018

What’s next after two weeks of Afrin operation?

ANKARA: At the end of the second week of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch into Syria’s northwestern province of Afrin, Ankara’s ties with its longtime NATO ally Washington are further deteriorating.
Turkey is expected to push the operation into Manbij, another Kurdish-held city in the east, and then further east to the Iraqi border — a move that is likely to pit the Turkish army against American troops that are deployed in the region as part of the anti-Daesh international coalition.
Turkey is still demanding that the US keep its pledge to stop supplying weapons to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and to immediately remove its troops from Manbij before Turkey’s planned operation.
But the Pentagon seems to be stubborn on this issue, although YPG is viewed by Turkey as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party — considered by both the US and Turkey as a terrorist group.
At a news conference on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the Pentagon’s joint staff director, said supplies to the YPG would be retrieved after the conclusion of operations against Daesh. But he also added that the Pentagon condemned “any attack targeting Turkey.”
The latest remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, who warned against an “invasion operation” of Afrin, also angered Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “France cannot teach a lesson to Turkey,” referring to the previous military interventions of France in Algeria.
Some 823 terrorists have been killed so far during Turkey’s operation, while Turkey has lost five soldiers. By clearing key villages and mountains of the YPG, Turkish forces with the support of Free Syrian Army gained full control of a large zone in Afrin’s north.
Over the past 12 days, about 82 rockets have been fired by the YPG into Turkey’s border provinces, killing six people. The rockets targeted civilians and hit locations including a local restaurant and houses, including one occupied by 17-year-old Fatma, who was killed in her sleep.
“These rocket attacks are mainly conducted by mobile vehicles from a Kurdish-held region between Mount Burseya and the Bulbul region with a 100-km long border with Turkey, which makes it difficult for the Turkish army to intercept them in the air,” Sakir Dincsahin, a Middle East expert from Hasan Kalyoncu University in Gaziantep, told Arab News.
“These attacks by a non-state terror group that target civilians have once more showed the legitimacy of Turkey’s operation based on self-defense rights,” he said.
According to Dincsahin, it is still the early phase of the operation, where the mountains and key locations overlooking the Turkish border are targeted while the city center is not yet captured.
“It is likely that the operation will last until the second half of the year, with a de-escalated intensity,” he said.
Dincsahin also noted that against the latest claims of Western powers and the disagreements with the United States over the scope of this operation, Turkey would gain significant diplomatic leverage when the operation in Afrin succeeded.
“Then a consecutive Manbij operation may come up. But at that point Turkey will likely use diplomatic channels as it would have strengthened its hand on the military front by bringing stability to the Afrin region and resettling Syrian refugees back home,” he said.
Experts, however, note that adverse weather and topography conditions complicate the progress of the operation as the area is surrounded by high hills.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based Middle East researcher, expects that in the coming period Turkey will further support its operation with armed drones equipped for bombing missions.
“The Turkish army is gearing up for urban warfare through implementing a 3D urban model in Afrin,” he told Arab News.
“Accordingly, the aerial photos will be transferred into the computers in real time, and it will enable a detailed preparation for a street-based warfare as the Turkish army is approaching the Afrin city center,” Sohtaoglu said.
He explained: “This relatively new warfare technique for the Turkish army will not only help reduce the casualties, but it will also provide an opportunity to examine all military deployments inside the city, including explosives, from a computational system ahead of an incursion.”
However, according to Sohtaoglu, the rocket attacks from YPG-controlled zones will only stop after Turkey establishes a secure zone along its border with Syria by linking all regions that it captured from the Kurdish militia.
On Friday, Turkish gendarmerie and police special forces were deployed to the Turkey-Syria border for the projected urban warfare in Afrin.

Lebanese vow to reject any Palestinian resettlement linked to Trump peace plan

Updated 39 min 55 sec ago

Lebanese vow to reject any Palestinian resettlement linked to Trump peace plan

  • Trump’s plan includes billions of dollars of investment in the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries
  • Figures from the Lebanese Ministry of Interior reveal that the country hosted almost 600,000 Palestinian refugees between 1948 and 2016

BEIRUT: In response to the unveiling of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan on Tuesday, politicians and activists in Lebanon reiterated their support for the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland, and said they would reject any attempt to permanently resettle refugees on its soil.

Trump’s plan includes billions of dollars of investment in the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries, including Lebanon, which is grappling with an unprecedented economic crisis. Some are worried that the investment might be an inducement to accept the permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees, sparking renewed fears of a shift in the country’s Christian-Muslim balance.

Lebanon hosts 12 refugee camps for Palestinians. A day of protest about the Trump plan was due to take place in the camps on Wednesday, including a general strike, marches and rallies.

Figures from the Lebanese Ministry of Interior reveal that the country hosted almost 600,000 Palestinian refugees between 1948 and 2016. The number registered with The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is 459,292. A census carried out in 2017 by Lebanon’s Central Statistics Department and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2017 found that 174,422 refugees lives in the camps.

“Lebanon does not currently have any strategy on how to face this difficult moment,” said Hassan Mneimneh, head of the Lebanese–Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), an inter-ministerial government body.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not prepared any strategy on how to deal with any attempt to impose resettlement as a fait accompli. We, as Lebanese, must strive to confront this long path because resettlement will not happen overnight, and Lebanon must refuse any trade off between its faltering economic situation and the resettlement issue. There should be no compromise on this matter at all.

“The solutions to the economic crisis must be far removed from the temptations that might be offered to Lebanon in exchange for resettlement.”

Walid Ghayad, a spokesman for the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate in Lebanon, stressed that it “absolutely rejects any attempt to resettle the Palestinians in Lebanon and supports the official Lebanese position, which is enshrined in the constitution.”

He added: “All kinds of deals calling for resettlement are rejected, and (the church) supports the establishment of the two-state solution. It hosted an Islamic-Christian spiritual summit when the US president announced his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi also participated in the Al-Azhar Al-Sharif International Conference on Supporting Jerusalem.”

The leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, said that Trump’s so-called deal of the century “is the end of the two-state solution and the beginning of the project of displacement to reach an alternative homeland.”

MP Simon Abi Ramia from the Free Patriotic Movement, which opposes any resettlement in Lebanon for fear of upsetting the sectarian balance, described the deal of the century as “the result of a policy of deception adopted by some sister states against the Palestinian issue.”

Ali Faisal, a member of the Political Bureau of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and himself a refugee in Lebanon, said: “A number of Palestinian youths and Palestinian families have migrated from Lebanon to work abroad. There are 160,000 Palestinians working in the Gulf countries, while others migrated in stages to Europe and Canada, and a limited number to Australia.”

He said that there are “fewer than 100,000 Palestinian refugees from Lebanon who are abroad and have another nationality. Those who were removed from the Lebanese records in 2009 as a result of possessing a second nationality began to regain their Palestinian citizenship after efforts made by the Palestinian authorities and the Lebanese state to assert the Palestinian right of return.”

Faisal described Trump’s peace deal as “a political holocaust against the Palestinians and their right of return.”

He added: “The new Palestinian generation is more attached to Palestine than its predecessors. Palestinians (do not want) resettlement, rather they want support to continue (their struggle) to return.

“The economic crisis that Lebanon is experiencing has affected Palestinian refugees, who are already deprived of their human rights. The unemployment rate among Palestinians in Lebanon’s camps has risen from 60 percent to 70 percent. UNRWA’s medical and relief services have declined. What is needed is an emergency plan from UNRWA to help Palestinians survive Lebanon’s economic crisis.”

The Fatah movement in Lebanon announced the “comprehensive mobilization of its ranks” and declared Wednesday a “day of rage” and protest in all Palestinian camps and communities in Lebanon.

Fatah said “it stands behind President Mahmoud Abbas” and vowed to “resist the damned deal by all methods guaranteed by international and humanitarian laws.”

Ayman Shana’a, Lebanese relations officer in the Hamas movement, said that Trump’s plan “is an obituary to all the agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization and international agreements, as well as the Oslo agreements and international resolutions. The only way to confront this deal lies in Palestinian national unity that stands in the face of all challenges.”

Ihsan Ataya, a representative of the Islamic Jihad movement in Lebanon, said: “Trump is trying to give an electoral boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is throwing out all international resolutions, humanitarian standards and norms, and we will not allow this deal to pass.

“Our people at home and in the diaspora will remain attached to all their rights and will not accept resettlement or displacement...and resistance is ready."