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.”


Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

Israeli border policemen take up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 January 2020

Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

  • The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property

JERUSALEM: Israeli police launched a manhunt on Friday after an apparent arson attack, accompanied by Hebrew-language graffiti, at a mosque in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
“Police were summoned to a mosque in Beit Safafa, in Jerusalem, following a report of arson in one of the building’s rooms and spraying of graffiti on a nearby wall outside the building,” a police statement said.
“A wide-scale search is taking place in Jerusalem,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP. “We believe that the incident took place overnight. We are searching for suspects.”
The spokesman would not say if police viewed it as a hate crime. The graffiti, on a wall in the mosque compound and viewed by an AFP journalist, contained the name Kumi Ori, a small settlement outpost in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Times of Israel newspaper said on Friday that the wildcat outpost “is home to seven families along with roughly a dozen extremist Israeli teens.”
“Earlier this month security forces razed a pair of illegally built settler homes in the outpost,” it reported.
All settlements on occupied Palestinian land are considered illegal under international law, but Israel distinguishes between those it has approved and those it has not.
The paper said: “A number of young settlers living there were involved in a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and (Israeli) security forces.”
Police said that nobody was injured in the mosque incident.
The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property in revenge for nationalistic attacks against Israelis or Israeli government moves against unauthorized outposts like Kumi Ori.
“This is price tag,” Israeli Arab lawmaker Osama Saadi told AFP at the scene.
“The settlers didn’t only write words, they also burned the place and they burnt a Qur’an,” said Saadi, who lives in the area.
Ismail Awwad, the local mayor, said he called the police after he found apparent evidence of arson, pointing to an empty can he said had contained petrol or some other accelerant and scorch marks in the burned room.
“The fire in the mosque burned in many straight lines which is a sign that somebody poured inflammable material,” he said.
There was damage to an interior prayer room but the building’s structure was unharmed.
In December, more than 160 cars were vandalized in the Shuafaat neighborhood of east Jerusalem with anti-Arab slogans scrawled nearby.
The slogans read “Arabs=enemies,” “There is no room in the country for enemies” and “When Jews are stabbed we aren’t silent.”
The attackers were described by a local resident as “masked settlers.”