Turkey rejects allegation of gas attack in Afrin; Kurds rally in France against Turkish offensive

Pro-Kurdish demonstrators protest in Geneva against Turkish operations in the northern Syrian city of Afrin. (AP)
Updated 18 February 2018

Turkey rejects allegation of gas attack in Afrin; Kurds rally in France against Turkish offensive

ANKARA: Turkey has “never used” chemical weapons in Syria and accusations that it had done so during its offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia are “baseless,” a Turkish diplomatic source said on Saturday.
Turkey last month launched military operation dubbed “Olive Branch” supporting Syrian rebels with ground troops and air strikes against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia viewed as “terrorists” by Ankara.
The Turkish source was reacting to claims by the head of Afrin hospital in northern Syria that six men were treated late Friday after shelling during the offensive and had symptoms that were in line with exposure to toxic agents.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said shelling from either Turkey or allied factions hit Al-Sheikh Hadid, west of the town of Afrin, and left six people with “enlarged pupils” and “breathing difficulties.”
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP he could not confirm whether toxic gases were used.
But the Turkish source said Ankara took the “utmost care” regarding civilian safety and that the claims Turkey was responsible for an alleged gas attack were “baseless.”
“Turkey never used chemical weapons,” the source added. “(These are) lies... this is black propaganda.”
Turkey says the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by the United States and the European Union.
But the YPG has been working closely with Washington to oust the Daesh extremist group from Syria, which has strained relations between the two NATO allies.
The Observatory says at least 78 civilians have died during Turkey’s operation but Ankara repeatedly insists it is taking all the necessary measures to protect civilians.

Kurds rally in France
In the French city of Strasbourg, thousands of Kurds took to the streets on Saturday to call for the release of jailed PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan and protest against Turkey’s military offensive in Syria.
“UN, take your responsibility and stop the genocide in Afrin,” read one banner, referring to the region in northern Syria where Turkey is waging a campaign against a Syrian Kurd militia.
The protesters who came from across Europe also waved Kurdish flags and pictures of the leader of the outlawed PKK, chanting “Freedom for Ocalan.”
There was a strong police presence at the demonstration, which police said attracted 11,000 people while organizers put the number at between 25,000-30,000.
The march has taken place each year in the city that hosts the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe since Ocalan was detained in 1999.
Ocalan, the figurehead of the PKK’s bloody insurgency against the Turkish state, remains behind bars on a prison island off Istanbul.
Ankara launched an offensive in the Afrin area of northern Syria last month against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which it considers a terror group but which is allied with US forces in the fight against the Daesh group.
“(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan is becoming very aggressive toward the Kurds and the situation is getting a lot worse, year after year, month after month,” said Newroz, who came from Germany to attend the rally with his sister and friends.
“Erdogan is a 100 percent dictator, every European should know this,” added Okce, who also came from Germany.


US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

Updated 22 October 2020

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

  • Intelligence director: “These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries”

WASHINGTON: US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the US has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
The officials also said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were intended to hurt Trump, though he did not elaborate on how. An intelligence assessment released in August said: “Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the press conference but repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Iran doesn’t want to let me win. China doesn’t want to let me win,” Trump said. “The first call I’ll get after we win, the first call I’ll get will be from Iran saying let’s make a deal.”
Both Russia and Iran also obtained voter registration information, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Asked about the emails during an online forum Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific information. “I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things and others,” she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so.
The voter intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.