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

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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.


Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

Israeli border policemen take up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 January 2020

Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

  • The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property

JERUSALEM: Israeli police launched a manhunt on Friday after an apparent arson attack, accompanied by Hebrew-language graffiti, at a mosque in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
“Police were summoned to a mosque in Beit Safafa, in Jerusalem, following a report of arson in one of the building’s rooms and spraying of graffiti on a nearby wall outside the building,” a police statement said.
“A wide-scale search is taking place in Jerusalem,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP. “We believe that the incident took place overnight. We are searching for suspects.”
The spokesman would not say if police viewed it as a hate crime. The graffiti, on a wall in the mosque compound and viewed by an AFP journalist, contained the name Kumi Ori, a small settlement outpost in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Times of Israel newspaper said on Friday that the wildcat outpost “is home to seven families along with roughly a dozen extremist Israeli teens.”
“Earlier this month security forces razed a pair of illegally built settler homes in the outpost,” it reported.
All settlements on occupied Palestinian land are considered illegal under international law, but Israel distinguishes between those it has approved and those it has not.
The paper said: “A number of young settlers living there were involved in a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and (Israeli) security forces.”
Police said that nobody was injured in the mosque incident.
The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property in revenge for nationalistic attacks against Israelis or Israeli government moves against unauthorized outposts like Kumi Ori.
“This is price tag,” Israeli Arab lawmaker Osama Saadi told AFP at the scene.
“The settlers didn’t only write words, they also burned the place and they burnt a Qur’an,” said Saadi, who lives in the area.
Ismail Awwad, the local mayor, said he called the police after he found apparent evidence of arson, pointing to an empty can he said had contained petrol or some other accelerant and scorch marks in the burned room.
“The fire in the mosque burned in many straight lines which is a sign that somebody poured inflammable material,” he said.
There was damage to an interior prayer room but the building’s structure was unharmed.
In December, more than 160 cars were vandalized in the Shuafaat neighborhood of east Jerusalem with anti-Arab slogans scrawled nearby.
The slogans read “Arabs=enemies,” “There is no room in the country for enemies” and “When Jews are stabbed we aren’t silent.”
The attackers were described by a local resident as “masked settlers.”