Turkish military enters Syria to begin joint US safe zone patrol

US armored vehicles travel in a joint patrol of the safe zone between Syria and the Turkish border with the Tal Abyad Military Council near Tal Abyad in Syria on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. (AP)
Updated 08 September 2019

Turkish military enters Syria to begin joint US safe zone patrol

  • Vehicles with Turkish flags joined those in Syria with US flags some 15 kilometers east of the Turkish border town of Akcakale
  • Damascus said it strongly opposes joint patrols in northeast Syria, calling it a flagrant ‘aggression’

TAL ABYAD, Syria: Turkish and US troops conducted their first joint ground patrol in northeastern Syria Sunday as part of a planned so-called “safe zone” that Ankara has been pressing for in the volatile region.
Turkey hopes the buffer zone, which it says should be at least 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep, will keep Syrian Kurdish fighters, considered a threat by Turkey but US allies in the fight against Daesh, away from its border.
Associated Press journalists in the town of Tal Abyad saw about a dozen Turkish armored vehicles with the country’s red flag standing along the border after crossing into Syria, and American vehicles about a mile away waiting. The two sides then came together in a joint patrol with American vehicles leading the convoy.
At least two helicopters hovered overhead. The Turkish Defense Ministry confirmed the start of the joint patrols and said unmanned aerial vehicles were also being used.
Washington has in the last years frequently found itself trying to forestall violence between its NATO ally Turkey and the Kurdish fighters it partnered with along the border to clear of Daesh militants.
An initial agreement between Washington and Ankara last month averted threats of a Turkish attack. But details of the deal are still being worked out in separate talks with Ankara and the Kurdish-led forces in Syria known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.
Turkey, which has carried out several incursions into Syria in the course of the country’s civil war in an effort to curb the expanding influence of the Kurdish forces, carried out joint patrols with US troops in the northern town of Manbij last year.
Sunday’s joint patrol is the first one taking place east of the Euphrates River, where US troops have more presence, and as part of the safe zone that is being set up.
Anadolu Agency said six Turkish armored vehicles crossed into Syria on Sunday from the border town of Akcakale, opposite from Syria’s Tal Abyad, and joined US vehicles for their first joint patrol of an area east of the Euphrates river.
AP reporters in Tal Abyad said the patrol was headed to a Kurdish-controlled base to inspect it, apparently to ensure that trenches and sand berms had been removed. US troops had inspected the base on Saturday during patrols with the SDF during which some of the berms Turkey had complained about were removed.
The patrol ended after two and a half hours, with four stops along the way in villages near the border to inspect bases.
Helicopters flew low. Local commuters patiently waited while the convoy blocked traffic. The patrol then continued driving along dirt tracks as farmers and kids looked on.
“We don’t know what this will do. We will see,” said one onlooker.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, speaking hours after the joint US-Turkey patrols began, said on Sunday Ankara and Washington have constantly disagreed over establishing the planned “safe zone.”
“We are negotiating with the US for the safe zone, but we see at every step that what we want and what they have in mind is not the same thing,” he said. “It seems that our ally is looking for a safe zone for the terrorist organization, not for us. We reject such understanding.”
The Syrian government, which withdrew from the area in the chaos of war after the conflict erupted in 2011, condemned the joint patrol Sunday and labeled it “an aggression in every sense of the word.”
In a statement issued by the Syrian Foreign Ministry, it said the move was a “blatant violation of international law and the sovereignty” of Syria.
The Syrian government also reiterated its “absolute rejection” of the planned safe zone in the area, calling it a violation of Syria’s territorial unity.
“The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in the strongest terms the joint patrols conducted by the United States and the Turkish regime,” said state news agency SANA, citing a foreign ministry source.
The source described the patrols as an “aggression” that “aims to complicate and prolong the crisis in Syria,” SANA added.
For Turkey, a “safe zone” is important because it is hoping some of the Syrian refugees it has been hosting for years could be resettled there, although it is not clear how that would work.
On Thursday, Erdogan warned that Turkey could “open its gates” and allow Syrian refugees in the country to move toward Western countries if a safe zone is not created and Turkey is left to shoulder the refugee burden alone. Turkey hosts 3.6 million refugees from Syria.
Rather than calling it a safe zone, Washington and the Kurdish-led forces have said a “security mechanism” is taking shape to diffuse tensions in northeastern Syria.


Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

Updated 24 January 2020

Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

JERUSALEM: President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’ll likely release the long-awaited White House Mideast peace plan before his meeting early next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz.
“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida.
He said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in Washington.
“They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace,” Trump said. “Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not everyone wants to say it.”
He said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have rejected the administration’s peace plan before it even comes out.
“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” Trump said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them.”
Vice President Mike Pence announced the invitation for Netanyahu and Gantz to visit during at a meeting with the prime minister in Jerusalem after addressing an international forum Thursday on the Holocaust. He said that at Netanyahu’s request, the invitation was also issued to Gantz, a former army chief.
The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.
“We have had no better friend than President Trump,” Netanyahu said. “With this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security that it deserves.”
The Palestinians rejected Trump’s peace efforts after he recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there in May 2018. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war and annexed, to be their capital.
“If this deal is announced with these rejected formulas, the leadership will announce a series of measures in which we safeguard our legitimate rights, and we will demand Israel assume its full responsibilities as an occupying power,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He appeared to be referring to oft-repeated threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. That would force Israel to resume responsibility for providing basic services to millions of Palestinians.
“We warn Israel and the US administration from crossing the red lines,” Abu Rdeneh said.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV, citing Israeli officials, said the plan is expected to be extremely favorable toward Israel and offer it control over large parts of the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians seek the entire territory, which was also captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the international community supports the Palestinian position.
Netanyahu has said he plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish settlements across the West Bank, which would all but extinguish any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has tried to make that the cornerstone of his campaign for reelection following unprecedented back-to-back elections last year that left him in a virtual tie with Gantz, with neither able to cobble together a ruling coalition.
The deadlock was deepened by Netanyahu’s indictment last year on serious charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three long-running corruption investigations. Netanyahu has asked Israel’s parliament to grant him immunity.
Next week’s meeting could produce an awkward scene. Gantz has made Netanyahu’s indictment the focus of his campaign to oust the prime minister. And his Blue and White party is leading an effort in parliament to block Netanyahu’s immunity request before the election. At the same time, they will be joined by an impeached president who is being tried in the Senate.
The US was believed to be holding back on releasing the peace plan until Israel had a permanent government. Those calculations may have changed as the deadlock in Israeli politics looks to be further prolonged.
Trump may also be looking for a boost from evangelical and pro-Israel supporters as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office after he was impeached last month, and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
Pence was among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday for the World Holocaust Forum. Many of the participants, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid visits to the Palestinians in the West Bank.
A Palestinian official said Abbas asked the visiting French and Russian presidents to support the Palestinian position when the plan is published.
“He asked them to refuse and act against any Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing closed meetings.
While the plan is expected to be friendly to Israel, it could still face opposition from Netanyahu’s hard-line partners.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist Yamina party, called Trump a “true friend” of Israel and said the country likely stands before a “historic opportunity.” But he said his party would not allow the transfer of any land to Palestinian control or for a Palestinian state to be established.