Israel reinforces troops outside Gaza as border protests enter 7th month

Israeli soldiers walk amidst smoke from a fire in a wheat field near the Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, along the border with the Gaza Strip, on May 14. (AFP)
Updated 04 October 2018

Israel reinforces troops outside Gaza as border protests enter 7th month

  • Israel accuses Gaza’s dominant Hamas group of inciting violence at the border, an allegation it denies
  • Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods along their borders with Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israel said it was reinforcing troops around the Gaza Strip on Thursday as a precaution against incursions by Palestinians during violent protests along the border that have often been met by lethal Israeli fire.
The language of the Israeli military statement did not appear to herald any imminent offensive in Gaza but seemed to suggest stronger action at the frontier to foil any further Palestinian attempts to breach Israel’s security fence during the demonstrations, which began in March.
Israel accuses Gaza’s dominant Hamas group of inciting violence at the border, an allegation it denies. Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007, during which time it has fought three wars with Israel, most recently in 2014.
Since the protests began in March at least 193 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, Gaza medics say. One Israeli soldier has been killed by a Palestinian sniper.
The protesters demand the easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory and rights to lands Palestinian families fled or were driven from on Israel’s founding in 1948.
The Israeli military said it “decided on wide-scale reinforcements in the southern command in the coming days and the continuation of a determined policy to thwart terror activity and prevent infiltrations into Israel from the Gaza Strip.”
Commenting on the deployment, Tzachi Hanegbi, a non-voting member of Israel’s security cabinet, told Israel Radio: “Our wish is to prevent escalation. I hope that the other side has a similar desire.”
In an interview published on Thursday in Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth daily and Italy’s la Repubblica newspaper, Hamas’s Gaza-based leader Yehya Al-Sinwar was quoted as saying that “a new war was not in anyone’s interest” but “an explosion was unavoidable” unless Gaza’s “siege” was lifted.
Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods along their borders with Gaza, a policy that the World Bank says has brought the enclave of 2 million people to economic collapse.
Hanegbi said Hamas, which is engaged with Egypt in efforts to achieve a long-term cease-fire with Israel, had “gone back to its old ways” in recent weeks by encouraging “bombs, shooting and attempts to carry out terrorist attacks on the fence.”
“Therefore, a mobilization of troops is really required,” he said.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.