Turkey-US joint patrols ‘aim to keep Kurdish fighters away from border’

A US military convoy takes part in joint patrol with Turkish troops in the Syrian village of Al-Hashisha on the outskirts of Tal Abyad town along the border with Turkish troops, on September 8, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 09 September 2019

Turkey-US joint patrols ‘aim to keep Kurdish fighters away from border’

  • The operation aims to keep the YPG away from the border with Turkey

ANKARA: As part of their efforts to set up a “safe zone” east of the Euphrates River in Syria, Turkey and the US embarked on their first joint ground patrols on Sunday on the suggested site of the zone. The troops were backed by helicopters and reconnaissance drones.

The patrol “maintained security within the area, and demonstrates our continued commitment to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns,” said Col. Myles Caggins, spokesman for the international anti-Daesh coalition.

The operation aims to keep the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from the border with Turkey, he added.

But whether this will revive bilateral relations is uncertain because just after the patrol ended, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Washington of siding with “terrorists,” and warned that his country will implement its own “safe zone” if talks with the US stall.

“It seems Turkey’s ally is after a safe zone in northern Syria not for Turkey, but for the terrorist group (the YPG). We reject such an approach,” Erdogan said on Sunday.

Mehmet Emin Cengiz, a research assistant at the Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, told Arab News that the first joint ground patrol is a good step regarding implementation of the “safe zone,” but “it was quite limited and is not enough to revive cooperation between Turkey and the US. Such a move alone can’t create a magical effect on bilateral relations.”

On Aug. 7, Turkish and US military officials decided to establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria, and a peace corridor to help displaced Syrians return home. 

But “the language of the deal … was pretty vague,” said Cengiz. 

“We shouldn’t forget that the US continues its military help to the YPG.”

Aaron Stein, Middle East program director at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the joint patrols are better than the alternative: A Turkish military operation in the area.

“But Erdogan has made clear repeatedly that these won’t be enough to satisfy the Turkish government,” Stein told Arab News.

“The US has bought time, but nothing has been resolved and I don’t expect things to get any better from here on out.”

Joe Macaron, a fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, DC, said the objective of the preliminary US-Turkish agreement in Syria is to manage the conflict of interest between both sides rather than resolve it.

“As long as the US continues its support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (of which the YPG is the primary component), and Turkey remains in alliance with Russia, the revival of cooperation in Syria between Washington and Ankara isn’t feasible,” he told Arab News.

Under Turkish pressure, the US has rushed to start joint patrols before agreeing on the depth of the “safe zone” and who controls it, he added.

“Erdogan is criticizing the US administration and betting on his meeting with (US President Donald) Trump in New York this month to settle this issue, as both sides always aim to find a consensus rather than go to confrontation,” Macaron said.

“Regardless of what might happen though, the safe zone is a temporary fix. These contentious issues they’re facing will remain pending moving forward.”

Erdogan is expected to hold talks with Trump during the UN General Assembly meeting in late September to discuss several issues, including Syria.


Lebanese donor hands Nazi artifacts to Israel, warns of anti-Semitism

Updated 36 min 9 sec ago

Lebanese donor hands Nazi artifacts to Israel, warns of anti-Semitism

  • Abdallah Chatila spent about 600,000 euros ($660,000) for eight objects connected to Hitler
  • He said he had felt compelled to take the objects off the market

JERUSALEM: wealthy Lebanese-Swiss businessman said Sunday he had bought Adolf Hitler’s top hat and other Nazi artifacts to give them to Jewish groups and prevent them falling into the hands of a resurgent far-right.
Abdallah Chatila said he had felt compelled to take the objects off the market because of the rising anti-Semitism, populism and racism he was witnessing in Europe.
He spent about 600,000 euros ($660,000) for eight objects connected to Hitler, including the collapsible top hat, in a November 20 sale at a Munich auction house, originally planning to burn them all.
But he then decided to give them to the Keren Hayesod association, an Israeli fundraising group, which has resolved to hand them to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center.
Chatila told a Jerusalem press conference it had been a “very easy” decision to purchase the items when he saw the “potentially lethal injustice that those artifacts would go to the wrong hands.”
“I felt I had no choice but to actually try to help the cause,” he added.
“What happened in the last five years in Europe showed us that anti-Semitism, that populism, that racism is going stronger and stronger, and we are here to fight it and show people we’re not scared.
“Today — with the fake news, with the media, with the power that people could have with the Internet, with social media — somebody else could use that small window” of time to manipulate the public, he said.
He said he had worried the Nazi-era artifacts could be used by neo-Nazi groups or those seeking to stoke anti-Semitism and racism in Europe.
“That’s why I felt I had to do it,” he said of his purchase.
The items, still in Munich, are to be eventually delivered to Yad Vashem, where they will be part of a collection of Nazi artifacts crucial to countering Holocaust denial, but not be put on regular display, said Avner Shalev, the institute’s director.
Chatila also met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and visited Yad Vashem.
Chatila was born in Beirut into a family of Christian jewellers and moved to Switzerland at the age of two.
Now among Switzerland’s richest 300 people, he supports charities and causes, including many relating to Lebanon and Syrian refugees.
The auction was brought to Chatila’s attention by the European Jewish Association, which has sought to sway public opinion against the trade in Nazi memorabilia.
Rabbi Mehachem Margolin, head of the association, said Chatila’s surprise act had raised attention to such auctions.
He said it was a powerful statement against racism and xenophobia, especially coming from a non-Jew of Lebanese origin.
Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war and Lebanese people are banned from communication with Israelis.
“There is no question that a message that comes from you is 10 times, or 100 times stronger than a message that comes from us,” Margolin told Chatila.
The message was not only about solidarity among people, but also “how one person can make such a huge change,” Margolin said.
“There’s a place for optimism.”