Turkey-backed Syrian rebels being sent to join Libya fighting

Fighters loyal to the Tripoli administration run for cover during clashes with forces loyal to eastern commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar south of Tripoli. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 28 December 2019

Turkey-backed Syrian rebels being sent to join Libya fighting

  • Recruitment centers in Aleppo offering young men salary of up to $2,000 for fighting

ANKARA: Turkey-backed Syrian rebels will be dispatched to support Libya’s government in its fight against veteran commander Khalifa Haftar, according to press reports.

The fighters have close ties to Turkey and will mainly be those who have fought alongside it in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this week that Parliament would vote in early January on a motion to send troops to Libya.

The parliamentary vote is a continuation of Ankara’s recent commitments to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) through a security and military cooperation deal, and an agreement to delimit maritime borders.

Sultan Murad Division, Suqour Al-Sham Brigades and Faylaq Al-Sham are reported to be among the armed groups destined for Libya, but the Syrian Interim Government has denied any possibility of sending troops who have fought government forces during the civil war.

But deploying fighters from such groups can be done immediately, without the need for a parliamentary green light.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkey-backed Syrian rebels had opened recruitment centers in Aleppo for dispatching young men to western Libya with a monthly salary of up to $2,000, while Russian media said Turkey had already sent 7,000 fighters to the north African nation.

“If the war’s impact was nightmarish before, it’ll be even worse now if this is confirmed,” tweeted Emadeddin Badi, a Libya analyst with the Middle East Institute. “TFSA/Turkmen Syrian with Sultan Murad have been responsible for some horrendous war crimes against Kurds in Northern Syria (as part of Turkey’s offensive). Their deployment in Libya might halt Haftar’s offensive; but at what price? This was an entirely avoidable outcome.” 

FASTFACTS

• There are several risks for a Turkish presence in the region, and not only diplomatic ones.

• It is unclear how the process of moving Turkey’s Syria assets to Libya will develop in the coming days ahead of a Jan. 8 meeting between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

There are several risks for a Turkish presence in the region, and not only diplomatic ones. Eastern Libyan forces last week intercepted a Turkish ship bound for the western Libyan port of Misrata.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, said Turkey was moving to limit potential Turkish casualties.

“The government has declared that the objective of Turkish support will be in an advisory capacity and therefore Turkey does not want to have its troops to be involved directly in the fighting,” he told Arab News. “But given the situation on the ground in Libya, the Tripoli government is under pressure and therefore there is a need for more boots on the ground.

Ankara was calculating that support would be available for Tripoli in the form of some foreign fighters and Turkish personnel as advisers or deployed for targeted special operations, Ulgen added.

“The Turkish move will certainly lead to a new reprisal by the countries supporting Haftar, particularly Egypt. There is a risk that, in reaction to Turkey’s more overt military engagement, other countries will also increase their military support to the Haftar side, and it might be an escalation of the conflict.”

It is unclear how the process of moving Turkey’s Syria assets to Libya will develop in the coming days ahead of a Jan. 8 meeting between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia is against any interference in Libya’s internal affairs by an outsider, the Russian president’s press secretary told reporters earlier this week, although it welcomed attempts to resolve the crisis there.

Ben Fishman, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said it would be a huge mistake to counter one mercenary force with another.

“If Turkey wants to assist the GNA it should do so first with diplomacy and, if necessary, with a contingent of Turkish forces that could serve as a deterrent,” he told Arab News.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 22 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”