After US green light, Turkey prepares military operation in Syria

Syrian Kurdish women carry flags and banners as they demonstrate against Turkish threats (AFP)
Updated 08 October 2019

After US green light, Turkey prepares military operation in Syria

  • The announcement followed a phone call between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan
  • American soldiers began withdrawing from observation posts along the Turkish-Syrian border, at Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ain early on Monday

ANKARA: US troops will withdraw from northeast Syria ahead of an imminent Turkish military offensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its main component, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the White House said.

The announcement followed a phone call between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The US, which will not support or be involved in the operation, said it is giving Ankara responsibility for thousands of Daesh captives who are currently held in SDF facilities.

In its fight against Daesh, Washington has long backed the SDF, which Ankara considers a terrorist group.

The White House announcement angered the SDF, which said “American forces did not fulfill their commitments,” and it will cause a “great negative” impact on the war against Daesh.

American soldiers began withdrawing from observation posts along the Turkish-Syrian border, at Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ain early on Monday.

Ankara is determined to establish a 300-mile-long, 18-mile-deep “safe zone” in northeast Syria, including the towns of Kobani and Qamishli, after the withdrawal of US forces to secure Turkey’s southern border and enable up to 2 million Syrian refugees to settle in the zone.

Turkish and US defense chiefs have discussed details of the zone in recent days, but the timing and scope of the operation are still unclear.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said: “Turkey will correct the demographics changed by the Syrian-Kurdish YPG in the region.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

If Ankara launches a military operation against Syrian Kurds, experts say it will pave the way for a Russian-brokered deal between Damascus, Turkey and the Kurds.

“The YPG is left with only two scenarios: Either ally with the (Syrian) regime to face Turkey and pull out from the southern flanks of areas under its control in order to defend the northern parts, or try to negotiate a new deal with the US in which the YPG retreats from limited border areas and maintains its presence in the south,” Dareen Khalifa, a senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Arab News.

She said the latter option might be more difficult given the broken trust in US promises and the significance of the border towns to the YPG.

Trump and Erdogan are expected to meet in Washington in the first half of November. Meanwhile, US Sen. Lindsey Graham said: “I will do everything I can to sanction the Turkish military and economy if they set one foot in Syria.”

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, said Turkey’s long-term goal is to completely eradicate the YPG from northern Syria.

“But as this is close to impossible due to the YPG’s relations with the US, Russia and potentially the Syrian regime, Turkey is adopting a strategy through which it will change the facts on the ground in a limited way and continue negotiating with other actors until it’s ready to further change the facts on the ground, after which it will continue to negotiate from that point,” he told Arab News.

Unluhisarcikli said the last thing Turkey or the US want is their troops clashing in Syria. He added that while the US would certainly object to a massive Turkish incursion, or one that targets major Kurdish towns such as Kobani, it has begrudgingly chosen to turn a blind eye.

“There are wide swathes of territory in northern Syria without a significant Kurdish population, and Turkey will probably limit its incursions to those territories for the time being,” he said.


Major roads reopened in Lebanon after 2-day closure

Updated 14 November 2019

Major roads reopened in Lebanon after 2-day closure

  • The roads linking Beirut with the country’s south and north were opened shortly before noon Thursday
  • Thousands of people attended the funeral of a 38-year-old father who was shot dead by a soldier at a protest Tuesday night

BEIRUT: Lebanese troops reopened major roads around Lebanon Thursday after a two-day closure triggered by a TV interview with President Michel Aoun in which he called on protesters to go home.
The roads linking Beirut with the country’s south and north were opened shortly before noon Thursday, as well as others around the country.
Protesters have been holding demonstrations since Oct. 17 demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has ruled the country for three decades.
Aoun said Thursday that the demands of protesters are being followed adding that “they will be among the top priorities of the government that we are working on forming in the near future.”
Aoun expressed hopes in comments released by his office that a new Cabinet “will be formed in the coming days” after removing obstacles that have been delaying the formation.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned his government on Oct. 29, meeting a key demand of the protesters. Since then there have been disagreements over the new Cabinet as Hariri insists it should be made up of technocrats who will concentrate on solving Lebanon’s worst economic and financial crisis in decades while other politicians, including Aoun, want it to be a mixture of technocrats and politicians.
“Dealing with the developments should be based on national interests that need cooperation from all sides to achieve pursued goals,” Aoun said.
Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil tweeted that the priority is to form a “salvation government” and prevent anyone from taking the country into a confrontation. Bassil is Aoun’s son-in-law and close aide.
The opening of the roads came a day after protesters started building a wall inside a tunnel on the highway linking Beirut with north Lebanon leading to an outcry by the public who saw it as a reminder of the 1975-90 civil war.
In the town of Jal Al-Dib, just north of Beirut, troops pushed away protesters from the highway and removed barriers that had been blocking the road since Tuesday night.
In the town of Choueifat south of Beirut, thousands of people attended the funeral of a 38-year-old father who was shot dead by a soldier at a protest Tuesday night. Alaa Abou Fakher’s death marked the first such fatality since the economically driven demonstrations against the government engulfed the country last month.
That protest was ignited by comments made by Aoun in a televised interview, in which he said there could be further delays before a new government is formed.
Abou Fakher’s coffin was carried through the streets of Choueifat as women dressed in black threw rice on it from balconies in a traditional Lebanese gesture.
Bank employees announced they will continue with their strike on Friday for the fourth day amid concerns for their safety as some of them have been subjected to insults by bank clients who were not allowed to withdraw as much as they wanted from their accounts. The country’s lenders are imposing varying capital controls that differ from bank to bank, fueling the turmoil.