Russia, Turkey launch joint patrols in Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia Oct. 22, 2019. (Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters)
Updated 23 October 2019

Russia, Turkey launch joint patrols in Syria

  • A five-day pause in Turkey’s cross-border military offensive to allow the withdrawal of Kurdish YPG fighters from the border area expires at 10 pm
  • Turkey says Kurdish YPG militia forces must leave a ‘safe zone’ it wants to establish along its border with northeast Syria

SOCHI: Russia and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to ensure Kurdish forces withdraw from areas close to Syria's border with Turkey and to launch joint patrols, in a deal hailed as "historic" by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
After marathon talks in Russia's southern city of Sochi, Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced the deal just hours ahead of a deadline for Turkey to restart its assault on Syrian Kurdish forces.
The agreement cements Russia and Turkey's roles as the main foreign players in Syria, after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from the country's north earlier this month.
That announcement cleared the way for Turkey to launch a cross-border offensive on October 9 against the Kurdish YPG militia, viewed by Ankara as "terrorists" linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Turkey has seized control of a "safe zone" inside Syria about 120 kilometres long (75 miles) and 32 kilometres (20 miles) deep.
Tuesday's agreement with Moscow will see it preserve that zone between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, giving Ankara a crucial presence inside the country.
From noon (0900 GMT) on Wednesday, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will "facilitate the removal" of Kurdish fighters and their weapons from within 30 kilometres (18 miles) of the border outside the zone.
This withdrawal must be finalised within 150 hours, according to a text of the agreement released after the talks.
Russian and Turkish forces will then begin joint patrols along the Turkish-controlled zone.
Putin said the decisions were "very important, if not crucial, to allowing us to resolve the acute situation on the Syrian-Turkish border."
Erdogan had earlier threatened to resume Ankara's military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria if they did not withdraw as agreed under a US-brokered deal.
A deadline for the withdrawal passed at 1900 GMT on Tuesday, with a Kurdish official telling AFP they had "fully complied" ahead of the deadline.
The Turkish operation "is ending, and everything will depend now on the implementation of these agreements," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Sochi.
Turkey's assault had sparked Western outrage and accusations of betrayal from the Kurds, whose frontline fighters were crucial in the battle against the Islamic State group in Syria.
Russia is a key ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and has demanded that Turkey respect the country's territorial integrity.
As the US troops began to withdraw last week, Russian forces moved in to support the Syrian army, whose help against Turkey was requested by the Kurds.
Erdogan said last week he was not bothered by the Damascus regime's return as what mattered to Ankara was pushing back the Kurdish fighters from the safe zone.
Despite being on the opposite sides of the Syria conflict, Turkey and Russia have been working together to find a solution to the war.
Tuesday's agreement said the two countries would try "to find a lasting political solution to the Syrian conflict".
It said Russia and Turkey were determined "to combat terrorism in all forms... and to disrupt separatist agendas in Syrian territory".
Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the PKK, which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984. The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.
The agreement said efforts would also be launched for the return of refugees to Syria "in a safe and voluntary manner".
Ankara has said some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey can be rehoused inside the safe zone.


Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2020

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.