NATO hammers Turkey on Syria operation

NATO defense ministers gather for a two-day meeting to discuss the invasion of northern Syria by alliance member Turkey, amid deep concern over Ankara's actions. (AP)
Updated 24 October 2019

NATO hammers Turkey on Syria operation

  • The first day of a two-day meeting of the ministers in Brussels was dominated by the Turkish operation in Syria

BRUSSELS: NATO defense ministers Thursday slammed Turkey for its military operation in Syria conducted with Russia’s help, but recognized there was little they could do to sanction their strategically important ally.
The first day of a two-day meeting of the ministers in Brussels was dominated by the issue, with Turkey isolated among the 29 member states because of its incursion against Kurdish fighters it considers “terrorists” but who are key in the fight against the Daesh group in Syria.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described discussions as “frank and open” — euphemisms for sharp discord — and noted “we have seen disagreements before” but the transatlantic alliance has endured.
He stressed that the ministers agreed on the need to “maintain our unity in the fight against Daesh,” referring to the IS group being fought in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere by a broad international coalition including many NATO members.
Germany presented an idea it floated this week of international troops being deployed to create a security zone in northeast Syria — a notion that has been met tepidly by allies because of the situation on the ground and the need for a UN mandate.
The top commander of Syria’s Kurdish force, Mazloum Abdi, welcomed the proposal, telling journalists in northern Syria that “we demand and agree to this.”
But the NATO ministers did not directly embrace the German plan. Stoltenberg said they instead stressed their “broad support... for ways to engage the international community to find a political situation” in northern Syria.
Before the meeting, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said she and her French and British counterparts believed a Turkish-Russian agreement to jointly patrol a “safe zone” inside northern Syria “does not provide a permanent basis for a political solution.”
Belgium’s defense minister, Didier Reynders, said of Germany’s troops idea: “In principle we are in favor of such an agreement to work together — but then again, the situation is totally different now” following the Turkey-Russia agreement.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, speaking at a think tank conference in Brussels before the NATO meeting, was blunt about Turkey, saying it was “heading in the wrong direction.”
“Turkey put us all in a very terrible situation and I think the incursion’s unwarranted,” Esper said.
He defended the withdrawal of “less than 50” US troops from northern Syria that cleared a path for the Turkish operation, arguing it was the only way to preserve the soldiers’ lives, and that in any case he was not “about to start a fight with a NATO ally.”
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday summed up American strategy in Syria by saying: “Let someone else fight over this long blood-stained sand.”
However on Thursday, he tweeted: “I appreciate what the Kurds have done. Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!“
That referred to a non-Kurdish, crude-rich desert zone in Syria’s northeast under US control that Trump wants to prevent falling into the hands of the Syrian regime or its Iranian or Russian partners.
Turkey’s actions, its rapprochement to Russia and its threat to its European allies in NATO to unleash a wave of refugees if they dared criticize the assault in Syria have unnerved many in the transatlantic alliance.
“When we say we will open the gates, they are up in arms. Don’t be up in arms, the gates will be opened when the time comes,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech in Ankara.


Israeli defence chief says he's preparing for consequences of West Bank annexations

Updated 38 min 54 sec ago

Israeli defence chief says he's preparing for consequences of West Bank annexations

  • Gantz said he ordered the military to step up preparations for Israel's pending annexation of parts of the West Bank
  • Netanyahu has pledged to begin cabinet discussions on July 1 on the plan

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Monday he ordered the military to step up preparations for Israel's pending annexation of parts of the West Bank, a plan that could stoke Palestinian violence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to begin cabinet discussions on July 1 on extending Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, occupied territory that Palestinians seek for a state.
Gantz's directive appeared to indicate that the centrist politician had either signed on to the move, or at least believed it would be inevitable, given right-wing support in the Netanyahu-led coalition cabinet.
In public remarks to legislators of his centrist Blue and White party, Gantz noted a recent uptick in anti-Israeli violence in the West Bank and the Palestinians' declaration last month that they were ending security cooperation with Israel over the annexation issue.
He said he had subsequently ordered the chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Aviv Kochavi, to "examine all the ramifications and the required preparations" stemming from moving ahead with the peace plan US President Donald Trump announced in January, a blueprint that could ease annexation.
In a separate written statement, Gantz said "preparations by the Israel Defence Forces should be stepped up ahead of pending diplomatic moves regarding the Palestinians".
The Palestinians have rejected Trump's proposal, under which the vast majority of West Bank settlements built by Israel on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war would be incorporated into "contiguous Israeli territory".
The Palestinians and most countries consider such settlements illegal. Israel disputes this.
The Trump plan also envisages a Palestinian state under near-complete Israeli security control, creating what Palestinians leaders say would be an unviable country.
Sami Abu Zuhri, an official with militant group Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip, another part of Palestinians' hoped-for future state, told Reuters: "The call of the occupation army to get ready for annexation of the West Bank is a call for war, and the occupation will regret this crime, and soon realise they are committing a grave mistake."