Syrian army clashes with Turkish forces in northeast border area

A vehicle belonging to Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters is parked next to a Turkish military bulldozer in the Syrian town of Ras al Ain on October 30, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 30 October 2019

Syrian army clashes with Turkish forces in northeast border area

  • Erdogan called US recognition of the Armenian genocide “worthless”
  • The joint patrols will start on Friday

ANKARA: Syrian army troops on Wednesday were engaged in heavy clashes with Turkish forces in the countryside around the border town of Ras Al-Ain in an area where a military offensive by Ankara aims to create a "safe" zone, state media said.
It did not give details but Turkish-backed rebels said intermittent clashes have taken place in recent days with Syrian troops south of Ras Al-Ain, which was seized from Syrian Kurdish-led forces.
Syrian troops have with the agreement of Kurdish forces stepped in to take up positions in the area.

Meanwhile, Syria's army and police Wednesday called on Kurdish fighters and security forces in northeast Syria to join their ranks following a Turkish cross-border incursion, state media said.
The appeal comes after regime troops deployed along parts of Syria's northeastern border in a deal with Kurdish authorities to help stave off the Turkish offensive, launched October 9.
It is the largest Syrian army deployment in the area since 2012.
A separate ceasefire agreement reached between Ankara and Damascus-backer Moscow last week provided for members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to withdraw from the border and solidified the presence of pro-government forces there.
"The general command of the armed forces is ready to welcome members of SDF units who are willing to join its ranks," said a Syrian defence ministry statement carried by state news agency SANA.
It said all Syrians, including the Kurdish minority, are confronting "one enemy".
Syria's interior ministry said it was willing to provide police services to residents of the northeast, calling on members of the Kurdish internal security services, known as Asayish, to join its ranks, SANA reported.
The Turkish military and its Syrian proxies attacked Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria in early October with the aim of creating a roughly 30-kilometre (20-mile) deep buffer zone along the frontier.
Left in the lurch by a US troop withdrawal from the border area, Kurdish forces turned to the Syrian government for protection.
Damascus forces rushed north and are expected to deploy along much of the border zone, but a 10-kilometre-deep strip is set to be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops under their deal.

Earlier on Wednesday, Turkey’s president said that Turkish-Russian joint patrols will start in Syria on Friday. 

“We will start the joint work on the ground on Friday, namely we are starting the joint patrols,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech to parliament.

In the same speech, he commented on the US’ recognition of the Armenian genocide, calling it “worthless.”
"From here I am addressing US public opinion and the entire world: this step which was taken is worthless and we do not recognise it,” Erdogan said.


Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

Updated 24 min 52 sec ago

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

  • The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year

TEHRAN: Iran’s low voter turnout reflects a wider malaise in a country long buckling under sanctions and more recently also hit hard by the coronavirus, spelling “a threat for everyone,” Tehran’s mayor Pirouz Hanachi told AFP.

“The turnout at the ballot box is a sign of people’s satisfaction level,” said Hanachi, mayor of Iran’s political and business center and largest city, with more than 8 million people.

“When there is dissatisfaction with the government or the state, it then reaches everyone and that includes the municipality too,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Iran has suffered the double blow of a sharp economic downturn caused by US economic sanctions over its contested nuclear program, and the region’s most deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Reformists allied with moderate President Hassan Rouhani lost their parliamentary majority in a landslide conservative victory in February, in a major setback ahead of presidential elections next year.

Voter turnout hit a historic low of less than 43 percent in the February polls after thousands of reformist candidates were barred from running by the Islamic republic’s powerful Guardian Council.

Such voter fatigue “can be a threat for everyone, not just reformists or conservatives,” warned the mayor, a veteran public servant with a background in urban development who is tied to the reformist camp.

The conservative resurgence reflects dissatisfaction with the Rouhani camp that had sought reengagement with the West and the reward of economic benefits — hopes that were dashed when US President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year.

“We’re doing our best, but our situation is not a normal one,” Hanachi said. “We are under sanctions and in a tough economic situation.”

As he spoke in his town hall office, the shouts of angry garbage truck drivers echoed from the street outside, complaining they had not received pay or pensions for months.

The mayor downplayed the small rally as the kind of event that could happen in “a municipality in any other country,” adding that the men were employed not by the city itself but by contractors.

Iran’s fragile economy, increasingly cut off from international trade and deprived of crucial oil revenues, took another major blow when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in late February.

Since then the outbreak has killed more than 12,000 people and infected over 248,000, with daily fatalities reaching a record of 200 early this week, according to official figures.

A temporary shutdown of the economy in recent months and closed borders sharply reduced non-oil exports, Iran’s increasingly important lifeline.

This accelerated the plunge of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, threatening to further stoke an already high inflation rate.

In just one impact, said Hanachi, the Teheran municipality lost 2 trillion rial ($9 million) because of sharply reduced demand for public transport in recent months.

As many Tehran residents got back into their cars to avoid tightly packed subways and buses, this has done nothing to help solve Tehran’s long-standing air pollution issue.

Tehran has had only 15 “clean” air quality days since the March 20 Persian New Year, according to the municipality.

One of Hanachi’s tasks is to fight both the virus and air pollution — a tough juggling act as car travel is safer for individuals but also worsens the smog that often cloaks the capital.

The mayor said he worried that, after restrictions on car travel were reimposed in May to reduce air pollution, subways are once again packed during peak hours, as is the bustling city center.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, which is now crowded with shoppers, warned Hanachi, “can become a focal point for the epidemic.”