Erdogan threatens to restart Syria operation Tuesday if deal not respected

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks media members in Istanbul, Turkey. (Reuters)
Updated 18 October 2019

Erdogan threatens to restart Syria operation Tuesday if deal not respected

  • The NATO allies agreed Turkey would suspend its offensive for five days in northern Syria while Kurdish fighters withdraw from the area
  • "If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved. If it fails, the operation... will start the minute 120 hours are over," Erdogan said

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday warned that Ankara would restart its operation against Kurdish forces in Syria on Tuesday evening if they do not withdraw from a "safe zone".
After US Vice President Mike Pence came to Ankara for talks with Erdogan on Thursday, the NATO allies agreed Turkey would suspend its offensive for five days in northern Syria while Kurdish fighters withdraw from the area.
"If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved. If it fails, the operation... will start the minute 120 hours are over," Erdogan told reporters during a foreign media briefing in Istanbul.
He said Turkish armed forces would remain in the region "because the security there requires this", adding that there had been no issues so far.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday there were Turkish air strikes on the village of Bab al-Kheir, east of Ras al-Ain on the border. The war monitor said 14 civilians were killed.
Turkey launched the cross-border incursion on October 9 after repeatedly threatening to clear the border area from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.
The Turkish forces are supporting Syrian rebel fighters under the "Syrian National Army" banner but the proxies have been accused by Amnesty International of committing "war crimes" including summary executions.
Erdogan also condemned the abuses that some Syrian proxies are accused of committing during the offensive.
"Whoever commits such an act is no different from (the Islamic State group). We cannot accept such a thing," he said, adding that the army was investigating the claims.
Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria also accused Turkey of resorting to banned weapons such as napalm and white phosphorus munitions, which Erdogan denied.
"There are certainly no chemical weapons in the inventory of our armed forces. This is all slander against our armed forces," he added.
He accused the YPG of freeing nearly 750 IS extremists including 150 Turks but said 195 of them had been caught.

While US President Donald Trump appeared to initially green light the offensive, he made repeated threats against Turkey, often in tweets, following international outrage.
He then sent Pence and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with other US officials to Ankara to thrash out a deal, which was announced on Thursday after hours of talks.
Erdogan said the "safe zone" would be 32 kilometres (20 miles) deep, and 444 kilometres in length, not between Kobane and Tal Abyad, and patrolled by Turkey.
He added that the region between the border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain had been cleared, "but this is not over. The process is ongoing."
Pointing to a map, he said 12 observation posts would be set up to monitor the zone.
But, he said, "We have no intention to stay there. This is out of the question."
Just hours before the US-Turkey talks, a bizarre letter appeared in the US media from Trump to Erdogan, in which the US leader urged Erdogan not to be a "fool" and warned his Turkish counterpart that history risked branding him a "devil."
Turkish media reported that Erdogan had "binned" the letter.
Erdogan said Friday the letter was not in line with "political and diplomatic courtesy... but our mutual love and respect does not allow us to keep it on the agenda."


Iran announces 3 new cases of new virus after 2 deaths

Updated 20 February 2020

Iran announces 3 new cases of new virus after 2 deaths

  • A health ministry official said the number of confirmed cases of the virus in Iran was five, including the two elderly Iranian citizens who died on Wednesday in Qom
  • Authorities were now investigating the origin of the disease, and its possible link with religious pilgrim

TEHRAN: Iran said Thursday that three more people have been infected with the new virus that originated in central China, following an announcement the day before that two people had died of the illness caused by the virus in the Iranian city of Qom.

All schools and universities, including religious Shiite seminaries, were shut down in the holy city of Qom, according to the official IRNA news agency. Other news reports said Iran had recently evacuated 60 Iranian students from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the epidemic.

Qom, located around 140 kilometers (86 miles) south of the capital, Tehran, is a popular religious destination and a center of learning and religious studies for Shiite Muslims from inside Iran, as well as Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. It is also known for its cattle farms.

An official in Iran's health ministry, Kiyanoush Jahanpour said on his twitter account that the number of confirmed cases of the virus in Iran was five, including the two elderly Iranian citizens who died on Wednesday in Qom.

IRNA reported that the three new cases are all Iranians residing in Qom, with one of the infected having visited the city of Arak. Mohammad Mahdi Gouya, Iran’s deputy health minister, said they did not appear to have had any contact with Chinese nationals.

Iranian authorities were now investigating the origin of the disease, and its possible link with religious pilgrims from Pakistan or other countries.

Iran’s health minister, Saeed Namaki said the roughly 60 Iranian students evacuated from Wuhan had been quarantined upon their return to Iran and were discharged after 14 days without any health problems.

Iran once relied heavily on China to buy its oil and some Chinese companies have continued doing business with Iran in the face of U.S. sanctions. Unlike other countries — such as Saudi Arabia, which barred its citizens and residents from traveling to China — Iran has not imposed such measures on travel there.

The new virus emerged in Wuhan, China in December. Since then, more than 75,000 people have been infected globally, with more than 2,000 deaths being reported, mostly in China.

The new virus comes from a large family of coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal. The World Health Organization recently named the illness it causes COVID-19, referring to both coronavirus and its origin late last year.

The virus has had few cases in the Middle East so far. There has have been nine cases of the virus confirmed in the United Arab Emirates, which is a popular tourist destination, and one case in Egypt. Of the nine in the UAE, seven are Chinese nationals, one is a Filipino and another an Indian national.

On Thursday, Iraq's Interior Ministry announced the suspension of tourist visas for Iranians.

Meanwhile, Egypt's national air carrier announced Thursday that it would resume flights to China as of Feb. 27 after nearly three weeks of suspension.

Egypt Air said in a statement it will operate one flight a week between Cairo and two Chinese cities, Beijing and Guangzhou. Before the suspension, the carrier used to operate a daily flight to Guangzhou and three weekly ones to Beijing and Hangzhou.