Turkey welcomes US plan for Syria ‘safe zone’

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would solve issues with a ‘spirit of alliance’ with US President Donald Trump as long as his country’s sensitivities were taken into account. (Reuters)
Updated 16 January 2019

Turkey welcomes US plan for Syria ‘safe zone’

  • Ankara ‘not targeting Kurds in a military operation in Syria’
  • Although technical details have not yet been disclosed, it will cover strategic areas such as Kobani, Tal Abyad, Ras Al-Ayn, Ayn Al-Arab and Qamishli

ANKARA: President Donald Trump, who last month announced his intention to withdraw US forces from Syria, tweeted on Sunday that the creation of a “safe zone” in the north of the country is on the horizon.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who on Monday spoke on the phone with Trump, said he responded positively to the idea. 

“Turkey will continue to do what it has to in order to solve this issue in line with the spirit of its alliance, so long as our rights and laws are respected,” Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday. “We reached a historic understanding with Trump last night.”

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, met his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar on Tuesday in Ankara. 

Dr. Magdalena Kirchner, a senior analyst at Conias Risk Intelligence in Germany, said a safe zone should prevent direct confrontation between the Turkish Army and the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), reduce the YPG’s military presence near the border, and prevent an influx of Daesh and other extremist fighters. 

“This would reduce Turkish post-US-withdrawal fears of being confronted at the border by a YPG no longer constrained by the US, or a Daesh no longer targeted by American forces,” she told Arab News. 

However, experts say it is unclear how sustainable the zone will be, and whether it can be implemented quickly. 

Although technical details have not yet been disclosed, it will cover strategic areas such as Kobani, Tal Abyad, Ras Al-Ayn, Ayn Al-Arab and Qamishli. It is as yet unknown whether Turkish troops will be allowed in the zone.  Kirchner said among the challenges is if the YPG refuses to withdraw from strategic towns such as Kobani. 

“A safe zone as described is a political win for Turkey, and could give Ankara major leverage over questions such as local governance and refugee returns,” she added.

But “the proximity to local elections in Turkey in March could limit Ankara’s patience regarding such an agreement and trigger military action nevertheless.” 

Another challenge will be maintaining the morale and commitment of YPG elements in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to continue fighting Daesh in such a scenario, as the plan for the safe zone threatens the idea of Kurdish autonomy and local governance, Kirchner said.  She expects a return to cooperation between Ankara and Damascus against Kurdish autonomy, as a strengthened central government in Syria will seek to regain full control and sovereignty over Syrian territory.

“Border control and containing YPG and PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) forces will be a key Turkish demand in any negotiations over a withdrawal of Turkish forces from northern Syria,” she said.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said he is skeptical about how the YPG can be persuaded to withdraw from what it sees as its future autonomous region to areas where there are few Kurds.

“Even if the YPG is persuaded and the plan is implemented, this will mean that the US will need to continue controlling the airspace east of the Euphrates (river) and leave behind a small force to monitor… the safe zone,” he told Arab News. 

“The US government is working on a Manbij-like plan — involving joint Turkish-American patrols — which would address Ankara’s concerns and make a Turkish operation east of the Euphrates unnecessary,” Unluhisarcikli added. 

Oubai Shahbandar, an Ankara-based defense analyst, told Arab News that a safe zone in northern Syria “will provide a sustainable security solution along Turkey’s sensitive border with Syria,” and “allow commerce and local governance to thrive.” 

It would also prevent groups such as Daesh and the PKK from re-establishing a foothold in areas they once controlled, he added. 

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin recently rejected US claims that Ankara was targeting Kurds in a planned military operation in Syria, saying the aim of such an operation would be to protect Kurds from oppression by terrorist groups. 

Shahbandar said although Turkish leaders have pledged to protect the Kurdish community, the YPG has threatened to attack Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army (FSA) ally if they enter cities controlled by the YPG.


Ex-housekeeper sues Israeli PM’s wife over abusive behavior

Updated 14 min 31 sec ago

Ex-housekeeper sues Israeli PM’s wife over abusive behavior

  • Last year, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing state funds

JERUSALEM: A former housekeeper at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence is suing the leader’s wife Sara for pain and suffering allegedly caused during her employment there, the housekeeper’s attorney said on Thursday.

Opheer Shimson says his client is demanding $190,000 in damages for the abuse from Sara Netanyahu. He said the woman, an immigrant from France in her mid-50s and a mother of five who wished to keep her identity secret, worked at the residence for five months until last November, when she was injured from a fall caused by what he described as Sara Netanyahu’s tyrannical demands.

He said the woman, a staunch supporter of the prime minister, kept a diary detailing the verbal abuse she endured from his wife.

“She adores the prime minister and saw her work at his home as a form of national service,” Shimson told The Associated Press. “But she’s been traumatized by her experience. Everyone knew what was going on there, and no one can say otherwise.”

Sara Netanyahu has been accused of abusive behavior toward her personal staff before. This, together with accusations of excessive spending and using public money on her own extravagant personal tastes, has earned her an image as the Israeli Imelda Marcos, the Philippines’ former first lady who became infamous for her massive collection of designer shoes.

Last year, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing state funds after she reached a plea bargain settling allegations that she overspent some $100,000 of state money on lavish meals. She’d previously been indicted for graft, fraud and breach of trust.

In 2016, a court ruled the prime minister’s wife mistreated a housekeeper and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Several other employees have accused her of abuse, mistreatment and harassment. Another pending lawsuit alleges she forbade a former staffer to eat or drink on the job and required her to change her clothes dozens of times a day. The plaintiff, who is also seeking damages, says Sara Netanyahu also required her to wash her hands dozens of times a day and dry them with a towel separate from the one used by the Netanyahu family.

The Netanyahus have angrily rejected all the charges, calling them part of a media-orchestrated campaign against the family to oust them from power.

Israel heads to the polls next week for its third election in less than a year. Two weeks later, Benjamin Netanyahu goes on trial for charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from accusations he accepted lavish gifts from billionaire friends and promised to promote advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in exchange for favorable coverage.

The latest allegations against Sara Netanyahu include details on a bevy of berating comments she unleashed on those who worked for her. Shimson said the personal diary would be presented in court as evidence.

“Enough, save me, I want to die, the problem is that I don’t have any choice and everyone knows that,” reads one of his client’s entries, which was first published on Israel’s Channel 12 news. ”It’s impossible to live every day with a psychopath. I’m dying to leave before it’s too late.”

In another entry, she said Sara Netanyahu screamed at her for forgetting to throw out the garbage, called her stupid and dirty and demanded she take a shower. The woman wrote that Sara Netanyahu accused her of trying to cause friction with the prime minister.

“She said to me: ‘What do you want? For me to be like you, divorced?’” she wrote. “Even the prime minister told her to stop. She was in a trance. In the afternoon she had a fit, lay down on the ground, screamed and screamed like a lunatic, and shook with rage. She rolled around on the floor, and said that all of that was because of me.”

The ruling Likud Party denounced the TV report about the lawsuit as a “cruel, false, recycled and gossipy piece that was timed for release on the eve of elections and whose purpose was to harm the Likud.”