Turkey poised for new Syria military operation as talks restart with US on safe zone

Russia and the US have been informed about the imminent Turkish operation in northeastern Syria. (AFP)
Updated 06 August 2019

Turkey poised for new Syria military operation as talks restart with US on safe zone

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Sunday that his country’s forces would carry out operations in an area controlled by Kurdish YPG militia

ANKARA: Turkey on Monday remained poised for military action in northeastern Syria as critical talks got underway again with the US over the establishment of safe zone in the region.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Sunday that his country’s forces would carry out operations in an area controlled by Kurdish YPG militia, as several high-level diplomats warned that Turkish patience had run out.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels were recently killed during clashes with the YPG.

Russia and the US have been informed about the imminent operation that would be Turkey’s third such offensive into Syria. 

“We entered Afrin, Jarablus, and Al-Bab. Now we will enter the east of the Euphrates,” Erdogan said.

However, the US State Department responded on the same day, warning Ankara against taking uncoordinated military action, particularly as American personnel could be there.

The announcement came on the eve of a new round of negotiations between Turkish and American military officials in Ankara on the creation of a safe zone.

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the Ankara-based think-tank ORSAM, said the threat of a Turkish military operation had been aimed at enhancing Ankara’s bargaining position with the US to secure the best possible deal and show its determination over the issue.

“However, Ankara expects a deeper safe zone where the military control is totally in its hands, and where Turkish-backed political elements become much more efficient,” Orhan told Arab News.

Turkey’s National Security Council met last Tuesday to discuss a possible military offensive into Syria against the YPG which the country accuses of being affiliated with the PKK terror group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Ankara sees the presence of the YPG as a security threat that could exploit the power vacuum in the Syrian territory and intends to create a 32 km safe zone in the region clear of Kurdish forces.

But, in the stalled safe-zone negotiations between Turkey and the US, Washington now proposes a more restricted security zone of 5 km to 14 km, with heavy weapons drawn back.

Thousands of Turkish soldiers, along with tanks and armor, have been deployed along the Syrian border over recent days.

However, any unilateral operation poses a significant risk with both parties still struggling to find a compromise over the Kurds: Washington supports the YPG and is against any Turkish military action in the area.

Orhan said that, after notifying Washington, Turkish armed forces could take possession of some settlements along the border avoiding any clashes with American forces whose numbers have already been cut and who are mostly settled in US bases in Syria.

“Some strategic hills, towns such as Tal Abyad and its southern towns with a high density of Arab population may become first targets of such an operation. Such a move will cut the geographic continuity between the settlements held by the YPG. It will also push Washington to revise its current negotiation position,”
he added.

However, considering the de-facto no-fly zone of the US over northeastern Syria, any Turkish operation in the region would not require aerial support as it would be conducted in nearby settlements within missile and artillery range, experts noted.

Dr. Nicholas Danforth, visiting senior fellow at the US German Marshall Fund think tank, said that negotiations between Turkey and the US had been hindered by the discrepancy between Turkey’s stated desire for a safe zone that will keep its border safe and its deeper strategic interest in occupying enough of the region to prevent the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish statelet.

“The deeper the incursion the deeper the ensuing rift between Ankara and Washington,” he told Arab News.

Some experts also argue that the defeat of the YPG by a Turkish operation may lead to the formation of a new Syrian Democratic Forces with non-YPG elements which could cooperate with Turkey, while suggestions for Ankara to cooperate with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime for any eventual offensive in northeastern Syria are also being discussed among prominent experts in Turkey.

“Ironically, so far, the US has proved more supportive of a safe zone than any other actors in the region, including Russia and Syria. Even if America left tomorrow, Ankara would face a choice between permanently occupying the region and turning it over to Damascus,” Danforth said.

“Both of these would forestall the creation of a PKK-dominated statelet, but not necessarily bring Ankara a lasting victory against the PKK.”


54 injured as Lebanese security forces and Hezbollah supporters clash in central Beirut

Updated 2 min 42 sec ago

54 injured as Lebanese security forces and Hezbollah supporters clash in central Beirut

  • Attackers threw stones and firecrackers at security forces, who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets
  • The Internal Security Forces said at least 20 police were wounded, some of them badly

BEIRUT: Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Lebanese protesters in central Beirut on Saturday in clashes that went on into the night and wounded dozens of people.

Among the badly injured were policeman after Hezbollah and Amal Movement supporters clashed with anti-government protesters, less than 32 hours before a key parliamentary meeting to nominate a new Lebanese leader.

Attackers threw stones and firecrackers at security forces, who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

State news agency NNA said the tear gas made several people faint. The Lebanese Civil Defense said it treated 54 people for injuries, taking more than half to hospital.

The Internal Security Forces said at least 20 police were wounded.

Riot police took more than 90 minutes to contain the attackers in areas surrounding Riad El-Solh and Martyrs squares, forcing them to retreat to the Khandak El-Ghamik and Zqaq El-Blat neighborhoods, where Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have strong support.

Clashes have become more frequent in recent weeks, with supporters of Hezbollah and Amal attacking protest camps in several cities amid counter-demonstrations.

The renewed attacks on protesters came a day after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed that both the militant group and Amal “are exercising control over their supporters and that attackers do not belong to them.”

Khandak El-Ghamik residents told reporters that the attackers are not from the area.

“We do not know who they are,” one resident said.

The counter-protests have taken place in the capital and other Lebanese cities in recent weeks, prompting the leader of Hezbollah on Friday to urge his supporters — and those of Amal — to stay calm.

Following the violence, a local sheikh went to the minaret of a neighborhood mosque and called on the attackers to “go back to their homes.”

Abu Ali, an elder of the region, said that the attackers came from areas outside Beirut and infiltrated Khandak El-Ghamik before launching attacks on protesters in Riad El-Solh and Martyrs squares.

Activist Mahmoud Fakih told Arab News: “The attackers were chanting slogans showing their political affiliations. These attacks are repeated after every speech by Nasrallah. They want to spread fear in our ranks.”

The attacks coincided with plans by protesters to stage a sit-in in Nejmeh Square, near the Parliament. Activists said they wanted “to rescue the Parliament from corrupt authority.”

Security forces blocked the square to prevent protesters getting close to Parliament.

Hundreds of people had been marching in the capital as part of a historic wave of protests that has swept Lebanon since Oct. 17, furious at a ruling elite that steered the country toward its worst economic crisis in decades.

Since the protests pushed Saad Al-Hariri to resign as prime minister, talks between the main parties have been deadlocked for weeks over forming a new cabinet.

Lebanon urgently needs a new government to pull it out of the crisis. Foreign donors say they will only help after the country gets a cabinet that can enact reforms.

The unrest erupted in October from a build-up of anger at the rising cost of living, new tax plans and the record of sectarian leaders dominating the country since its 1975-90 civil war. Protesters accuse the political class of milking the state for their own benefit through networks of patronage.

Lebanon’s economic crisis, long in the making, has now come to a head: Pressure has piled on the pegged Lebanese pound. A hard currency crunch has left many importers unable to bring in goods, and banks have restricted dollar withdrawals. 

(With Reuters)