Turkey-US deal: End to Turkish ambitions for an offensive into Syria?

US and Turkey announced on Wednesday to form a joint military operations center in the safe zone in Syria. (AFP)
Updated 09 August 2019

Turkey-US deal: End to Turkish ambitions for an offensive into Syria?

  • Damascus criticizes, it is a violation of Syria’s sovereignty and accused Ankara of “expansionist ambitions,” according to the state-run SANA news agency

ANKARA: Ankara’s agreement with Washington to set up a so-called safe zone in northeastern Syria, along with a joint coordination center, has sparked debate about whether it will completely prevent a Turkish offensive into the region.

A day after the announcement of the deal, Damascus criticized it harshly, saying that it is a violation of Syria’s sovereignty and accused Ankara of “expansionist ambitions,” according to the state-run SANA news agency.

As the deal is meant to resolve Turkey’s security concerns, experts think it may lead Ankara to halt its plans for an incursion into Syria, at least for now, although no details were given about the scope of the safe zone and timetable for its implementation.

The US State Department said it welcomed the results of its recent talks with Turkey on setting up a “peace corridor” in northern Syria.

“The talks seem to me like a pretty good outcome under the circumstances. The agreement on establishing a new process buys time and space, which ideally can be used to shift from arguing over tactical steps to arguing over more substantive ones,” Dareen Khalifa, senior Syria analyst at International Crisis Group, told Arab News.

Ankara’s main priority is to push back US-allied Syrian Kurdish YPG militia from the region. Turkey’s National Security Council met last week over a possible military offensive into Syria against the YPG, which it believes is affiliated with the PKK terror group that has been waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

According to Khalifa, the prospects for a rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus are clearly fading, especially after the statement of Syria’s Foreign Ministry.

Turkish soldiers were killed in opposition-held Idlib province by regime forces and “Ankara’s control over swaths of Aleppo and their support to the opposition are all contributing factors,” she said.

Khalifa also noted that “it is not clear that there was an agreement over permanent Turkish forces in the north east.”

In its statement, Damascus urged Syrian Kurds to align with the Assad government to prevent the implementation of the “aggressive US-Turkish project.”

Yasin Kucukkaya, a Syria expert from the Global Political Trends Center think tank in Istanbul, said Turkey preferred an “unarmed diplomacy” with the US for a certain time in northern Syria.

“I think all relevant parties, including the Syrian Democratic Forces which include the YPG, were satisfied by the outcome of the negotiations between American and Turkish delegations, because any unilateral move of Turkey would bring damage on the ground,” he told Arab News.

Ankara had blamed Washington for dragging its feet over its security concerns, and had insisted on it breaking its ties with the YPG militia, which controls a large part of northern Syria.

Kucukkaya said that the deal halted Turkey’s possible intervention into the region for now.

“Although Turkey’s target is to eradicate the YPG and its offshoots, it also prioritizes any withdrawal of the support given to this group,” he added.

However, experts are cautious in any medium-term assessment of Turkey’s plans into the region.

“It is premature to consider whether this deal has definitely ended Turkish ambitions for an offensive. The bilateral negotiations only prevented an extensive war potential on the ground,” Kucukkaya said.

Appeals for calm after Lebanese protester shot dead in front of wife and child

Updated 20 min 48 sec ago

Appeals for calm after Lebanese protester shot dead in front of wife and child

  • Demonstrators call on president to leave country as Aoun tells them to ‘migrate’
  • Banks, schools closed for second day running

BEIRUT: A Lebanese soldier has been detained and an investigation launched after an anti-government protester was shot in the head in front of his wife and child.

The wounded demonstrator, Alaa’ Abu Fakher, a member of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) led by influential Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, was rushed to hospital but died from his injuries.

The shooting took place in the coastal town of Khalde, south of Beirut, as the Lebanese army attempted to break up a protesters’ roadblock.

The action was part of the latest wave of demonstrations to hit the country which followed comments made by President Michel Aoun in a TV interview on Tuesday evening. When asked if he felt the Lebanese people had lost faith in the ruling authority, Aoun said: “If they cannot find anyone in power who is honest and genuine, let them migrate … they will not reach the authority.”

As news spread on social media, angry groups again took to the streets, blocking roads, burning tires, and calling on Aoun to leave the country.

The army and republican guard were forced to set up a cordon to stop crowds marching on the presidential palace to protest at the president’s failure to announce a date for consultations on the formation of a new government, following the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Cameras witnessed the incident in which Fakher was shot, and Jumblatt later appealed for supporters to remain calm. He also phoned the commander of the Lebanese Army, Gen. Joseph Aoun, and said: “In spite of what happened, we have no other refuge than the state. If we lose hope in the state, we enter chaos.”

Calling on Lebanese citizens “to maintain their peaceful protests,” caretaker PM Hariri stressed “the need to take all measures to protect citizens and ensure protesters’ safety.”

Army officials said a soldier had been detained over the Fakher incident and an investigation into the incident was underway.

Protesters in Beirut reacted to the shooting by throwing stones at soldiers, and in the Christian-majority town of Jal El-Dib, church bells rang to mourn the victim.

One activist in Jal El-Dib said: “The president was not fair at all in his interview. We are respectful people and not thugs. We took to the streets to make him hear our voices, but he is still not listening to us.”

Another woman said: “Does the president know that our salaries have been cut in half, that people are eating from the garbage, and that young people are being fired from their jobs, while taxes are imposed and we are accused of disrupting the lives of people? Are we not the people?”

A protester on Beirut’s Ring Bridge highway said: “We withdrew from the streets and protested in squares hoping that our voice had been heard and that the authority would meet our demands, but they thought that our revolution had ended and they could go back to the same ruling authority. Our revolution is stronger now more than ever and we are not going to leave the streets anymore.”

On Wednesday banks, schools and universities throughout Lebanon remained closed. 

According to media sources, Hariri was unlikely to preside over the next Cabinet, with Aoun and his allies, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, insisting on a new government made up of an equal mix of politicians and technocrats. Protesters and Hariri however want a technocrat-led government.

On Tuesday night, during the Paris Peace Forum, the Russian foreign minister said that “the idea of forming a technocrat government in Lebanon is not realistic.”

In meetings with Lebanese officials, Christophe Varno, the French envoy, responsible for France’s MENA affairs, conveyed his country’s concerns to Aoun “to preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, safety and unity of people.” 

He also indicated France’s “commitment to help Lebanon overcome the current hardships.”

But Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil told Varno that “no foreign sides should interfere in and use the Lebanese crisis,” adding that “the formation of a new government is a national matter and it has reached advanced and positive phases.”