Syrian TV: Pro-Syrian government forces to enter Syria’s Afrin “within hours”

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters fire from the town of Salwah, less than 10 kilometres from the Syria-Turkey border, towards Kurdish forces from the People's Protection Units (YPG) in the Afrin region. (AFP)
Updated 20 February 2018

Syrian TV: Pro-Syrian government forces to enter Syria’s Afrin “within hours”

BEIRUT: Militias allied to the Syrian government will enter the Afrin region within hours, Syrian media reported on Monday, after a Kurdish official said a deal had been struck it to help Kurdish forces to end a Turkish offensive there.
Turkey said in response that it would welcome any move by Damascus into Afrin to get rid of the YPG Kurdish militia, but that if Syrian troops were entering to protect the Kurdish fighters, then the Turkish assault would go on.
Turkey began its operation last month with allied Syrian rebel groups to drive out the YPG, which Ankara regards as a terrorist group linked to an insurgency at home and sees as a security threat to its border.
That offensive further complicated the web of rivalries and alliances in northern Syria among Kurdish forces, the Syrian government, rebel factions, Turkey, Iran, the United States and Russia.
But on Sunday, a senior Syrian Kurdish official said Kurdish forces and the Syrian government had reached a deal for the Syrian army to enter Afrin, and that it could be implemented within two days.
All dealings between the Syrian government and the Kurds, which each hold more territory than any other side in Syria, are closely watched because they could prove pivotal for the future course of the war.
While President Bashar al-Assad's government and the YPG espouse different visions for Syria's future and their forces have clashed at times, they have mostly avoided direct conflict.
"Popular forces will arrive in Afrin in the next few hours to support the steadfastness of its people in confronting the aggression," state news agency SANA reported, citing its correspondent in Aleppo, 35 km (22 miles) from Afrin.
Strains
Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish-led autonomous administration that runs swathes of northern Syria, told Reuters that Syrian army troops would deploy along some border positions under the deal between the Kurds and the government.
The deal was only on military aspects and any political or other agreements would have to wait for further negotiations between Damascus and the Kurdish administration, he said.
There was some opposition to the deal that could stand in its way, he added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday: "If the regime is entering there to cleanse the PKK and PYD, then there are no problems". The PKK is the Kurdish group mounting an insurgency in Turkey. The PYD is an influential Syrian Kurdish political party.
But, speaking at news conference in Jordan, he added: "If it comes in to defend the YPG, then nothing and nobody can stop us or Turkish soldiers."
The Afrin offensive has put strains on the complex ties between the warring sides in northern Syria and their external supporters.
Turkey's NATO ally the United States has armed the YPG as part of an alliance it backs in Syria against Islamic State, causing widespread anger in Ankara.
But while Washington has a military presence in the much larger swathes of Syria that the YPG and its allies control further east, it has not given support to the YPG in Afrin.
This month the United States said it had killed hundreds of pro-government troops in strikes in eastern Syria because they were attacking the alliance of militias of which the YPG is a major part.
Neither the Syrian military nor Syrian Kurdish officials were immediately available for comment on Monday.


Coronavirus claims over 20,000 lives across Mideast, half in Iran

Updated 42 min 31 sec ago

Coronavirus claims over 20,000 lives across Mideast, half in Iran

  • 907,736 reported infections and 20,005 deaths from the COVID-19
  • Iran has been struggling to contain the outbreak since announcing its first cases

PARIS: The novel coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 20,000 people across the Middle East, half of them in Iran, according to an AFP tally at 1000 GMT Sunday based on official tolls.
But despite having 907,736 reported infections and 20,005 deaths from the COVID-19 illness, the Middle East has been relatively lightly hit by the virus which has killed over half a million people across the globe.
Iran, which has been struggling to contain the outbreak since announcing its first cases in February, has reported more than 12,829 deaths and 257,303 infections, according to Sunday’s official figures.
With a population of more than 80 million, Iran is the 9th worst-affected country in the world and has seen the region’s deadliest outbreak.
Infections in the Islamic republic have been on the rise since early May, prompting authorities to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces.
On Sunday the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the resurgence “truly tragic” and urged all citizens to help rein it in.
In the region covered by Iran in the north and east, Israel in the west and Yemen in the south, the other worst-hit countries are Iraq and neighboring Kuwait, as well as Saudi Arabia and war-torn Yemen.
Iraq is the second-most affected nation in the Middle East with 3,055 deaths and 75,194 infections, followed by Saudi Arabia with 2,181 deaths and 229,480 infections.
Yemen, one of the world’s poorest nations, has recorded 464 deaths and 1,380 infections, while Kuwait has confirmed 386 deaths and 54,058 infections.
Iran also ranks as the region’s worst-affect country on a per-capita basis, with 153 deaths per million — 25th worldwide — followed by Kuwait with 90 deaths per million and Saudi Arabia with 63.
According to the AFP tally, the average number of deaths in the region is 43 per million inhabitants, against a global average of around 70.
The Middle East represents around 3.5 percent of all global deaths, far behind Europe (one third), North America (one quarter) and Latin America and the Caribbean (one quarter).