Syria ‘captures’ drone near Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

One of two drones that came down over a media center of the Lebanese Hezbollah in the south of the capital Beirut. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2019

Syria ‘captures’ drone near Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

  • Israel says it targets bases of Iranian forces and its militant group Hezbollah in Syria

DAMASCUS, ISTANBUL: Syrian authorities captured and dismantled on Saturday a drone rigged with cluster bombs near the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, state news agency SANA said.

SANA gave no further details about the drone but posted several photos of the unmanned aerial vehicle.

Israel frequently conducts airstrikes and missile attacks inside war-torn Syria but rarely confirms them. Israel says it targets mostly bases of Iranian forces and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said it was not clear if Syrian troops or members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah controlled the drone. Hezbollah has fighters in different parts of Syria where they are fighting on the side of Bashar Assad’s forces.

The incident came two days after another drone was destroyed over the Damascus suburb of Aqraba, where an Israeli airstrike killed two Hezbollah operatives last month.

No one claimed responsibility for the drones on Saturday.

In neighboring Lebanon, a government investigation concluded on Thursday that two Israeli drones were on an attack mission when they crashed in the capital last month, one of them armed with 4.5 kilo of explosives.

Erdogan frustrated

Meanwhile in neighboring Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday expressed frustration with what he said was the US’ continued support for Syrian Kurdish militants.

Speaking to reporters before his departure for the UN meetings in New York, Erdogan reiterated that Turkey had completed all preparations for a possible unilateral military operation in northeast Syria, along the Turkish border east of the Euphrates River.

Last month, Turkey and the US agreed to take steps toward establishing a so-called “safe zone” in the area that would keep US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces away from Turkey’s border. 

Turkey has, however, warned that it will not allow the US to delay the establishment of the safe zone and has threatened to launch an operation on its own within two weeks.

Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters to be “terrorists” due to their links to Kurdish rebels in Turkey.

“We have no wish of confronting the United States,” Erdogan said. “However, we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the support that the United States is giving terrorist organizations in an area where it was not invited to be.”

Erdogan said he would discuss the issue during a possible meeting with US President Donald Trump in New York.

The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces has said they will pull back up to 14 km in some areas. Turkey says the US had agreed that the “safe zone” should extend 32 km into Syria.

Erdogan reiterated complaints over US support for the Kurdish fighters, saying Washington was providing them with arms.

His comments about border preparations came a day after two security sources said doctors have been stationed in southern Turkish provinces to prepare for a possible incursion into Syria.


US to pull last troops from north Syria

Updated 14 October 2019

US to pull last troops from north Syria

  • The developments illustrate Washington’s waning influence over events in Syria
  • Turkey aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of US’s Kurdish-led ally the Syrian Democratic Forces

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT: The United States said on Sunday it will withdraw its remaining 1,000 troops from northern Syria in the face of an expanding Turkish offensive while Syria’s army struck a deal with Kurdish forces to redeploy along its border with Turkey, both major victories for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The developments illustrate Washington’s waning influence over events in Syria and the failure of the US policy of keeping Assad from reasserting state authority over areas lost during the more than eight-year conflict with rebels trying to end his rule.
The developments also represent wins for Russia and Iran, which have backed Assad since 2011 when his violent effort to crush what began as peaceful protests against his family’s decades-long rule of Syria exploded into a full-blown civil war.
While the US withdrawal moves American troops out of the line of fire, the return of Syrian soldiers to the Turkish border opens up the possibility of a wider conflagration should the Syrian army come in direct conflict with Turkish forces.
The Turkish onslaught in northern Syria has also raised the prospect that Daesh militants and their families held by the Kurdish forces targeted by Turkey may escape — scores were said to have done so already — and permit the group’s revival.
The remarkable turn of events was set in motion a week ago when US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw about 50 special operations forces from two outposts in northern Syria, a step widely seen as paving the way for Turkey to launch its week-long incursion against Kurdish militia in the region.
Turkey aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of Washington’s Kurdish-led ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been a key US ally in dismantling the “caliphate” set up by Daesh militants in Syria.
Ankara regards the YPG as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said the offensive would extend from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east and extend some 30 kilometers into Syrian territory, with the town of Ras al Ain now in Turkish control.
US Defense Secretary Mike Esper said the United States decided to withdraw its roughly 1,000 troops in northern Syria — two US officials told Reuters it could pull the bulk out in days — after learning of the deepening Turkish offensive.
It was unclear what would happen to the several hundred US troops at the American military outpost of Tanf, near Syria’s southern border with Iraq and Jordan.
Another factor behind the decision, Esper indicated in an interview with the CBS program “Face the Nation,” was that the SDF aimed to make a deal with Russia and Syria to counter the Turkish onslaught. Several hours later, the Kurdish-led administration said it had struck just such an agreement for the Syrian army to deploy along the length of the border with Turkey to help repel Ankara’s offensive.
The deployment would help the SDF in countering “this aggression and liberating the areas that the Turkish army and mercenaries had entered,” it added, referring to Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, and would also allow for the liberation of other Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin.
The fighting has sparked Western concerns that the SDF, holding large swathes of northern Syria once controlled by Daesh, would be unable to keep thousands of militants in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.