Syria fighting looms over Putin-Erdogan meeting

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters perform maneuvers past tents with posters showing the flags of the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces during a military exercise on Syria’s northern border with Turkey. (AFP)
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Updated 05 January 2020

Syria fighting looms over Putin-Erdogan meeting

  • The Russian president is sensitive about areas outside Turkey’s proposed safe zone

ANKARA: Russian media is reporting that Moscow is unhappy with Turkey for its attacks on Syrian Kurds, ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Ankara on Jan. 8. Turkish troops launched Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria last October. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the aim was to “prevent the creation of a terror corridor across the southern border and to bring peace to the area.” Turkish armed forces were hoping to establish a safe zone extending 32 km into Syrian territory.
Two weeks after the launch a deal was struck between Turkey and Russia, ending the operation and establishing a deal that laid the ground for joint Turkish-Russian military patrols across areas of the safe zone.
The Turkish attacks, on the position of Syrian Kurds at Tal Tamir where Russia recently set up an observation post, are reportedly seen by Moscow as noncompliance of the joint agreement. Dozens of Russian military police have been deployed recently to Tal Tamir.
Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the Ankara-based think tank ORSAM, said Russia was sensitive about areas outside the Turkish proposed “safe zone.”
“Another scenario is that Turkey might have tried to increase its bargaining chip by putting more pressure on Russia before any negotiations during Putin’s planned visit, because Russia is still weak in the eastern flank of the Euphrates River while Turkey intends to get more Russian support before any move to Libya,” Orhan told Arab News.
Turkey considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia (YPG) a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against Turkey since 1984. The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been Turkey’s main target in its operation.

Turkey might have tried to increase its bargaining chip by putting more pressure on Russia.

Oytun Orhan, Foreign affairs expert

“So far, the YPG shared its authority with (Syrian) regime forces and Russia, however it did not completely withdraw from the region,” Orhan added. “Turkey might use its military force to convince Russia to meet its commitments under bilateral deals and break up Kurdish control in the adjacent zones.”

Summit on Syria
A four-way summit on Syria is expected to be held in Istanbul in February with the participation of Britain, France, Germany and Turkey.
Sinan Hatahet, an Istanbul-based Syria analyst, said that Russia and Turkey had their own reasons for cooperating in the region.
“Russia sees Turkey’s role in containing the opposition. Turkey considers Russia’s role as important in containing the YPG and producing an alternative to their forces near Turkey’s borders,” he told Arab News. “Nevertheless, they don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. Both of them gave their own definitions about how the final security arrangement should be in Syria.”
According to Hatahet, the latest fighting around Tal Tamir represents the Russian and Turks trying to delimit their red lines and push their zones of influence because the agreements signed have been very broad.


Eritrean navy urged to free dozens of Yemeni fishermen from custody

Fishermen work on their boats in the southern city of Aden, Yemen, in this file photo taken on March 18, 2015. (AP)
Updated 30 min 9 sec ago

Eritrean navy urged to free dozens of Yemeni fishermen from custody

  • Naval attacks getting more brazen, say Yemenis

AL-MUKALLA: There have been calls for Eritrea to release dozens of Yemeni fishermen who were caught last week after sailing into a maritime flashpoint.

On Wednesday 15 armed boats from Eritrea’s navy seized 120 Yemeni fishermen from the Red Sea between Hanish Islands and the coast of Khokha.

Eritrea briefly occupied the Hanish Islands in 1995 before retreating after the international arbitration court granted Yemen sovereignty over them. But Yemeni authorities complain that the Eritreans have attacked and seized hundreds of Yemeni fishermen over the last couple of years.

The most recent incursion triggered a brief clash with the Yemeni coastguards that ended with the capture of seven Eritreans, local security officials said. On Thursday the Eritreans released 62 Yemeni fishermen after confiscating their boats.

“We demand all concerned authorities to work on releasing our colleagues and their boats that are in Eritrea’s custody,” Khaled Al-Zarnouqi, the head of Yemen’s Shabab Al- Khokha fishery association, told Arab News on Saturday. “We demand the international community, the (Saudi-led) coalition and the (Yemeni) government to protect us from the repeated attacks by Eritrea’s navy that violates Yemeni sovereignty, attacks Yemeni fishermen and seizes boats.”

Hashem, one of the fishermen who was released on Thursday, said that armed Eritrean vessels approached their boats on Tuesday and asked them to sail to Eritrea’s Ras Tarma.

“They were tough,” Hashem told Arab News, preferring to be identified by his first name. “Before releasing us, they gave us little fuel and rickety boats and asked us to sail back home.”

The Eritreans refused to release their boats. “Each boat costs YER2.5 million ($9,987). They seized the finest and most expensive boats and allowed us to sail back with the worst ones.”

Local security officials and fishermen say that Eritrea’s naval attacks have become more brazen and are getting closer to the Yemeni coastline.

“They have attacked Yemeni fishermen less than 17 miles from the Yemeni coastline,” a local security official who documents Eritrea’s navy attacks on Yemeni fishermen told Arab News. “The Eritreans are also still holding 24 fishermen who were detained in the Red Sea on Dec. 1, 2019 and refuse to release them,” he said, adding that many fishermen were thinking of taking up arms to protect themselves.

Yemen’s coast guard authority crumbled in early 2015 when the Iran-backed Houthis expanded across Yemen after taking over Sanaa, triggering heavy clashes with their opponents.

Since the beginning of its military operations in Yemen in support of the internationally- recognized government, the Saudi-led coalition has trained and armed hundreds of coast guard troops and deployed them along the country’s coastline.

Yemeni officials say they are battling Eritrea’s navy attacks, Houthi arms' smugglers and drug gangs.