Turkey reacts to threat of US sanctions with military deployment near Syria

Turkey reacts to threat of US sanctions with military deployment near Syria
Turkish army tanks gather close to the Syrian border at Hassa in Hatay province, a southern Turkish province on the Mediterranean coast. (AFP)
Updated 14 July 2019

Turkey reacts to threat of US sanctions with military deployment near Syria

Turkey reacts to threat of US sanctions with military deployment near Syria
  • Significant deployment of heavy weapons has taken place near the strategic northern border town of Tal Abyad, controlled by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia

ANKARA: An increase in Turkish military deployments near the Turkish-Syrian border has raised fears of an extensive conflict east of the Euphrates.

A significant deployment of heavy weapons has taken place near the strategic northern border town of Tal Abyad, controlled by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. The control of Tal Abyad helped the YPG connect noncontiguous territory in northern Syria and organizing it into cantons such as Afrn, Kobani and Al-Jazira.

The Turkish operation into Syria might be linked with the risk of approaching US sanctions through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) over the purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.

A US delegation is set to arrive Ankara next week, and military movements by Turkey in Syria are expected to form part of its agenda.

Dr. Sinan Hatahet, a Syrian analyst based in Istanbul, believed that conflict was unlikely because there are ongoing negotiations about the safe zone in northern Syria and Manbij.

“Both countries are still resolved to solve their bilateral issues through diplomatic channels. But if the US impose sanctions, it could harm this long-dated relationship,” Hatahet said.

The Turkish military has initiated troop deployments several times over recent years to put pressure on the US to realize its agreement in the northern city of Manbij.

“The only unique aspect of this deployment is that it is happening just after the delivery of S-400 components. The American priority in Syria is to advance negotiations for a political solution and to challenge Iranian expansion,” Hatahet said.

Mehmet Emin Cengiz, a research assistant at the Al Sharq Forum in Istanbul, said even though Ankara constantly emphasizes its willingness to find a workable solution in northern Syria, US sanction threats could lead Turkey to consider new options.

“If the US decides to impose harsh sanctions that will cripple the Turkish economy, Turkey can go for a unilateral military operation in Northern Syria. Sanctions might trigger a new military operation in the east of the Euphrates,” Cengiz said.

Cengiz believes that Ankara’s decision to amass troops along the Turkish-Syrian border adjacent to YPG-controlled areas is a direct signal to the US.

“Turkey has been losing its patience with the US in recent years. The Manbij issue has been problematic between the two sides for a long time. The shared plan for the city was not implemented for more than a year,” he added.

“The nature and scale of the planned safe zone in Northern Syria is still an issue between the two sides. The US seems to be clear in its decision to back the YPG in the future,” Cengiz added.

According to Cengiz, with this recent military deployment, Turkey is trying to strengthen its hand in response to US threats.

Joe Macaron, a fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, DC, thinks that Erdogan has two goals in mind: Influence Trump’s thinking on sanctions and react to the US’ decision last week to consider deploying European troops along the Syrian-Turkish border.

“Since Trump and his national security advisers are not talking in one voice on the S-400, Erdogan is trying to weigh in on this debate by highlighting the potential risks to US forces, however this move might further antagonize the US against Ankara,” he said.

“While Erdogan is trying to have leverage over the upcoming talks between the Turkish and American militaries regarding northern Syria, the unintended risk is provoking a confrontation with Kurdish forces, which might increase the cost of Turkish intervention in Syria at a critical time in Erdogan’s political future,” Macaron said.

In addition to CAATSA sanctions, Ankara could likely face punitive measures from Brussels. In response to Turkey’s gas drilling activities in Cypriot waters, the EU is also threatening to cut pre-accession funding to Ankara by €145.8 million ($164.6 million), Politico recently reported.


Palestine slams UK opposition to ICC war crimes probe

Palestine slams UK opposition to ICC war crimes probe
Updated 30 min 34 sec ago

Palestine slams UK opposition to ICC war crimes probe

Palestine slams UK opposition to ICC war crimes probe
  • Rejection of investigation ‘marks low point’ in bilateral ties: Diplomatic mission
  • UK stance ‘farcical and hypocritical,’ Palestine Solidarity Campaign tells Arab News

LONDON: Palestine has said its relations with Britain have reached a “new low” after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his opposition to an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into alleged war crimes in the Israeli-occupied territories.

In a letter to the lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel, Johnson said his government had “respect (for) the independence” of the ICC but opposed the inquiry.

“This investigation gives the impression of being a partial and prejudicial attack on a friend and ally of the UK’s,” he wrote.

In a statement posted on its website, the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Britain said Johnson’s letter was “deeply regrettable” and “marks a low point in UK-Palestine relations and undermines the UK’s credibility on the international stage.”

The letter contradicts both international law and Britain’s own policy on Palestine, the mission said, stressing the need to respect international law for the good of all parties.

“We sincerely hope the UK will reconsider its position and that in the cold light of day understand that the best option for everyone, including Israel, is a firm commitment to international law and the basic principle of equality for all,” it added.

A panel of judges at the ICC ruled in February that the court has jurisdiction in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

The court is expected to look at possible war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants during and after the 2014 Gaza war, as well as Israel’s establishment of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem. 

“Shamefully, Johnson has made clear that the government’s opposition to the ICC’s investigation is rooted in the fact that it’s being initiated against ‘a friend and ally of the UK’s’,” Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, told Arab News.

“It also renders farcical and hypocritical the prime minister’s simultaneous assertion that the UK is ‘a strong supporter’ of the court,” Jamal added.

“We call upon the UK government to adopt a more consistent position supporting the court but not exempting Israeli officials from proper investigation.”
A joint letter penned by several charities and aid groups accused Johnson of “political interference” in the ICC’s work.

The UK government “could be a bastion of international law and human rights — but instead it is undermining international criminal proceedings and standing in the way of justice,” said the signatories, which include Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for Arab-British Understanding.

The government “should respect the impartiality and independence of the court, and should support — rather than substantially undermine — international legal frameworks and judicial mechanisms,” they added.


Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast

Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast
Updated 57 min 35 sec ago

Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast

Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast
  • Investigating judge ordered the release of 6 men including an officer, who had warned top officials of dangers of material stored at port
  • The six will be banned from traveling outside Lebanon, according to a judicial official

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge investigating 2020’s massive blast at Beirut’s port on Thursday ordered the release of six people, including security officers, who had been detained for months, state news agency reported.
It was not immediately clear what triggered the release of the men, who include an officer who had written a detailed warning to top officials prior to the explosion about the dangers of the material stored at the port.
Judge Tarek Bitar was named to lead the investigation in February after his predecessor was removed following legal challenges by two former Cabinet ministers he had accused of negligence.
State-run National News Agency said Bitar ordered the release of the six including Maj. Joseph Naddaf of the State Security department and Maj. Charbel Fawaz of the General Security Directorate. The four others are customs and port employees.
Nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrates, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded on Aug. 4, killing 211 people, wounding more than 6,000 and damaging nearby neighborhoods.
The six will be banned from traveling outside Lebanon, according to a judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity to follow regulations. The official added that 19 people are still being held in the case. Among those who are still held are the head of the customs department and his predecessor as well as the port’s director general.
In a July 20 report, State Security warned that one of the doors of the warehouse where the material had been stored was separated from the wall enough to allow anyone to enter and steal the ammonium nitrate.
The report that was sent to President Michel Aoun and then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab warned that thieves could steal the material to make explosives. Or, it said, the mass of material could cause an explosion “that would practically destroy the port.”
Holding Naddaf for months had angered some in Lebanon especially that his report two weeks before the blast was a clear warning of the dangers.
The Beirut port explosion has been one of the most traumatic national experiences the Lebanese have faced and families of those killed are skeptical that any investigation into the explosion can be transparent and independent in a country where a culture of impunity has prevailed for decades.


Lebanon demands Israel halt offshore gas exploration in disputed area

Lebanon demands Israel halt offshore gas exploration in disputed area
Updated 15 April 2021

Lebanon demands Israel halt offshore gas exploration in disputed area

Lebanon demands Israel halt offshore gas exploration in disputed area
  • Talks stalled after Lebanon demanded larger area, including Karish gas field, where Israel has given a Greek firm rights for exploration
  • "Lebanon is within its rights to evolve its position according to its interest and as suitable under international law," Aoun told US envoy Hale

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun demanded Israel on Thursday to halt exploration in an offshore gas field on its southern border amid ongoing dispute over their shared sea frontier.
Still technically at war, the two countries last year took part in indirect US-brokered talks to discuss demarcation to clear the way for offshore oil and gas exploration.
The talks stalled after Lebanon demanded a larger area, including part of the Karish gas field, where Israel has given a Greek firm rights for exploration.
“Lebanon is within its rights to evolve its position according to its interest and as suitable under international law,” Aoun told visiting United States envoy David Hale.
Aoun “demanded international experts... draw the line according to international law,” the presidency said in a statement.
He also called for a “commitment to not carrying out any oil or gas activities and not starting any exploration in the Karish field and its adjacent waters” until the matter was settled.
The talks last year were supposed to discuss a Lebanese demand for 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of territory in the disputed maritime area, according to a map sent to the United Nations in 2011.
But Lebanon then said the map was based on erroneous calculations and demanded 1,430 square kilometers (552 square miles) more territory further south, including part of Karish.
Lebanon’s outgoing public works minister this week signed a decree to make official Lebanon’s demand for the larger area.
Aoun, the caretaker prime minister, and the outgoing defense minister still have to sign it before Lebanon sends it to the UN to make its new demand official.
For his part, Hale on Thursday said the US was ready to continue brokering Israel-Lebanon talks “on the basis on which we initiated these discussions,” appearing to reject the Lebanese move toward demanding a larger area.


Italian leaders consider Libya a ‘strategic priority’

Italian leaders consider Libya a ‘strategic priority’
Updated 15 April 2021

Italian leaders consider Libya a ‘strategic priority’

Italian leaders consider Libya a ‘strategic priority’
  • Lorenzo Guerini, Italy’s defense minister, said that the presence in Libya of Italian troops was ‘part of an overall national strategy’
  • According to Italian military statistics, the country has 400 troops deployed in Libya, as well as a field hospital

ROME: Italy considered Libya to be a “strategic priority” and has pledged to provide the peace-seeking north African country’s transitional government with “every assistance needed.”

Lorenzo Guerini, Italy’s defense minister, said that the presence in Libya of Italian troops was “part of an overall national strategy.”

He pointed out that Libya was of “huge significance” to Italy for a number of reasons, “from our national security, economic, historical, and cultural point of view.”

And the minister added that a democratic Libya could act as a barrier for Italy and the EU against the “strong jihadist presence in Africa.”

According to Italian military statistics, the country has 400 troops deployed in Libya, as well as a field hospital.

“Our approach to Libya always remains the same. We support the training to local security forces. And we intend this support to continue on a long-term basis,” Guerini told Italian daily newspaper La Stampa.

“This investment requires patience and persistence, but I am sure that the results we will achieve will be lasting and effective.”

Military and technical cooperation between Italy and Libya began in December following the signing in Rome of a bilateral agreement between the two nations.

“Our action is focused on providing training to the local security forces, but we will be happy to comply with the other priorities the Libyan government indicated, such as de-mining expertise and support for a military health service. We now look with confidence at the action of the new government,” Guerini said.

Italy is supporting the European Irini naval mission, launched in March last year by the Council of the EU, that aims to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya. The operation in the Mediterranean was recently extended until March 2023.

Irini also has secondary tasks including monitoring illegal oil trafficking from Libya, helping to counter human trafficking and smuggling activities, and contributing to the training of the Libyan coast guard and navy.

Guerini added: “Irini should be strengthened. A wider contribution from the members states is needed so that the mission can fully reach its goals.”


1 killed, 12 wounded in market explosion in Baghdad

1 killed, 12 wounded in market explosion in Baghdad
Updated 15 April 2021

1 killed, 12 wounded in market explosion in Baghdad

1 killed, 12 wounded in market explosion in Baghdad
  • The car was parked at a busy second-hand equipment market in the mainly Shiite district of Sadr city

BAGHDAD: A powerful explosion rocked a market in east Baghdad on Thursday, killing one person and injuring 12 others, according to Iraq’s military.

The cause of the blast in the city’s Sadr City area, in the Habibiya neighborhood, was not immediately known. It sent a cloud of black smoke above the area. Shortly afterward, a crowd of people gathered around the wreckage of a charred car, indicating a possible car bomb. A fire engine was parked nearby.

A military statement said one person was killed and 12 injured, according to a preliminary investigation. Five vehicles were burned, it added.

Explosions in the Iraqi capital were once almost daily occurrences but have become less frequent in the past few years, particularly following the defeat of the Daesh group in 2017. In January, twin suicide bombings ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital, killing more than 30 people and wounding dozens.

The development comes hours after a drone strike targeted US-led coalition troops near Irbil airport and a Turkish military base in northern Iraq.

Wednesday night’s drone attack targeted coalition forces based near Irbil international airport and caused a fire that damaged a building, according to the Kurdish region’s Interior Ministry and coalition officials.

Separately, a rocket attack targeting a Turkish military base in northern Iraq’s Bashiqa region killed one Turkish soldier and wounded a child in a nearby village, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said.

There was no claim of responsibility for either attack.