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.

Iran reopens key shrines as virus cases reach 137,724

Updated 26 May 2020

Iran reopens key shrines as virus cases reach 137,724

  • Authorities are yet to say when similar measures will be allowed in other provinces

TEHRAN: Iran on Monday reopened major shrines across the country, more than two months after they were closed.

At Tehran’s Shah Abdol-Azim shrine, worshippers had to wear a mask, walk through a disinfection tunnel and have their temperature checked as they began returning from the early morning, according to AFP reporters.

The Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad in northeast Iran and the Fatima Masumeh shrine and Jamkaran mosque in Qom also reopened.

They are allowed to open starting from an hour after dawn until an hour before dusk.

Shrines were closed alongside schools, universities and all nonvital businesses in March after Iran reported its first two coronavirus deaths in Qom in late February.

On Monday, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the total number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Iran had reached 137,724, while the overall number of death had risen to 7,451.

In the past 24 hours, Iran recorded 2,032 new cases while the number of fatalities stood at 34 — the lowest daily count recorded since March 7 — he told a news conference.

Experts inside and outside Iran have cast doubt on the country’s official figures, and say the real toll could be much higher.

Iran has allowed a phased reopening of its economy and gradual relaxation of restrictions since early April, with a further easing expected in the coming days despite a recent uptick in new cases.

“High-risk” businesses such as restaurants, cafes and wedding halls in Tehran, which were left shuttered, will reopen from Tuesday, the capital’s deputy police chief Nader Moradi told ISNA news agency.

Authorities are yet to say when similar measures will be allowed in other provinces.